Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)
Verses 20 & 21
Chapter 2, Verses 20 and 21
The lightning almost snatches away their sight. Whenever it gives them light, they take a few steps in it, and when the darkness covers them, they stand still. Had God so willed, indeed He would have taken away their hearing and sight. Surely God has full power over everything.(2:20)
In this verse, God continues with the example of the hypocrites' state of loss and confusion. Lightning is fleeting, only lasting a fraction of a second. Moreover, its flash is blinding and produces very little useful light. It is very similar to the light of this world which is also fleeting and a poor source of guidance. Compare that to the guiding light of Islam that ever shines, and leads to God's company in paradise. If the hypocrites had accepted God's guidance when it reached them, Islam would have illuminated their hearts and led them to paradise. But they preferred to follow their desires in this world and were left in darkness and confusion.
The verb 'snatches' means to grab something against the owner's will and without seeking permission first. If a child goes to a candy shop and snatches a piece of chocolate, the owner of the shop has no power to stop the child from stealing and running off, because it all happens suddenly. Similarly, if you live in this world without God's guidance, then life will snatch your attention, taking you in one direction and then in another against your will.
God continues: Whenever it gives them light, they take a few steps in it, and when the darkness covers them, they stand still.’ If you have no guiding light in your heart, you will have to rely on others and on the world around you for guidance. You become very vulnerable to getting lost when these lights abandon you.
God says: ‘If Allah so willed, He could indeed take away their hearing and their sight’.
Some critics of Islam claim that this verse contradicts with a previous one that described the hypocrites as ‘deaf, mute, blind; so they will never return'. How can the hypocrites be deaf, mute and blind in one verse, while in another, God is threatening to take away their sight and hearing? The answer is quite simple.
In the first verse Allah is talking about blindness of faith and loss of insight. The hypocrites do not see God's signs, nor do they hear or understand the verses of the Quran. All their perceptive abilities fail when it comes to spiritual matters. God Almighty says:
Among them are those who listen to you and then, when they leave your presence, say to those who have been given knowledge, ‘What was that he just said?’ They are those whose hearts Allah has sealed up and who follow their own desires. (47:16)
When it comes to matters of faith, they hear but do not reason, and see but do not heed. However, when it comes to the physical objects and worldly matters, their eyesight, hearing and minds work just fine. These are the senses that God is threatening to take away in the 2nd verse. Generally, these senses are our means of perception, and when we use them in the manner God intended, they help increase our faith and love for Allah. The hypocrites, on the other hand, only use their senses for worldly enjoyment and for following Satan's path. Hence, the senses of sight, hearing, and reason are used in a manner exactly opposite to their intended task. It is as though these organs do not function or even exist.
For this reason, if God had willed He would also have left the hypocrites physically blind and deaf. God, however, is the most merciful. He wants to give each one of us all the tools we need to find and follow his path. The disbelievers and hypocrites cannot come on the day of Judgement arguing that if only they were given sight they would have been able to follow the right path......And if they could only hear, they would have accepted God's messages. In fact, on the day of judgment, they will bear witness that they had all the tools needed, but chose to walk away from God's guidance. They chose the immediate short lived gratification in the world over justice and eternal paradise in the hereafter.
If you fail to pay attention to the true values of life, and spend your time chasing immediate short-lived gratification, the allure of the world will snatch you and toss you in one direction and then the next. Moreover, when you face loss or obstacles, you become vulnerable to despair as darkness encompasses you from every corner. Allah offers you an alternative that gives you peace and tranquillity in this life, and ultimate success in the next.
Now, let's move to the 21st verse in 'The Cow'. God says:
O mankind! Worship your Lord, who created you and those who were before you, so that you may be Godwary.(2:21)
In the previous thirteen verses God highlighted the characteristics of the hypocrites. He presented through examples what's in their hearts so we may be aware of their threat. The Quran explains that the hypocrites did not only deny God as their deity and creator, but they also refused to believe in Him as their Lord who provides them with all the necessities and luxuries of life. The grants of our Lord are guaranteed for all creations whether they are believers or disbelievers. He is the one who brought us into existence, and He guarantees for us the provisions of livelihood.
God does not deprive anyone from the grants of Lordship in this world. The sun rises on the believer and disbeliever alike; rain pours down on the one who testifies that there is no deity but Allah, and the atheist alike. Similarly, the one who establishes prayer and the one who has never bowed or knelt before God breath the same air, enjoy the same water and eat from the same crops. These, and countless more, are the grants of God's Lordship.
In this verse Allah directs our attention towards the fact that the grants of Lordship should be enough proof for anyone to believe in Him and follow His path. The verse begins with the phrase "O Mankind" which means that it is addressed directly to each and every one of us in every era and in every place from the time of revelation until the day of Resurrection.
God begins the verse with the most general and valuable gift, the gift of life. He says: ‘He who created you and those before you’. The gift of life is, in by itself, enough to obligate the duty of worship upon each one of us. The appreciation and respect for life also extends to include our duty towards our parents who are the means of bringing us into this world. Allah says:
Your Lord has commanded that you should worship none but Him, and that you be kind to your parents. If either or both of them reach old age with you, say no word that shows impatience with them, and do not be harsh with them, but speak to them respectfully(17:23)
While God is the creator of life, we find that He has elevated parenthood to a high status and honoured the hard work and patience every father and mother put into raising their children. And while Allah is the creator and the sustainer, He respects and values our work and effort in all aspects of life. We find an example of this concept when it comes to wealth. God says:
Who will give God a good loan, which He will increase for him many times over? It is God who withholds and God who gives abundantly, and it is to Him that you will return. (2:245)
All wealth belongs to God and He gives it to whomever He wills; however, God honours your work and effort in earning and growing this wealth. When he asks you to give alms and charity, God does not ask you to give the wealth back to Him, rather he asks you for a loan, and promises a great reward and many multiples in return.
God wants you to appreciate and value the gift of life. He says at the end of the verse: 'so that you may be Godwary.' The word Godwary is translated from the Arabic word 'Taqwa' تقوى. which is rich in meaning. It means: to be mindful of, to fear, to shield yourself from. How can we be wary and fear God, our creator, our sustainer, the one we love? The answer lies in God's attributes. God Almighty has the attributes of grandeur and the attributes of beauty. The attributes of grandeur consist of qualities such as the Compeller, the Subduer, the Supreme, the Strong, the Competent, the Dominant, and so on. God wants us to be mindful of His qualities of grandeur and hold fast to His qualities of beauty......Qualities such as the Merciful, the Affectionate, the Forgiving and many more. Our salvation from fire lies in doing good deeds and respecting the rights of our Lord and the rights of others.
If you have faith in God and if you want to know what He asks of you, what your obligations are, your rights, and the best way to receive God's mercy and protection, then look through the Quran for the verses that give you all this information. These verses are easy to find. They start with the phrase: “O you who believe”. In these verses Allah addresses you directly, and shows you the best and shortest way to be in his company in paradise. This is truly the best way to value and respect the gift of life.