Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)
Verses 23 & 24
Chapter 2, Verses 23 and 24
And if you have doubts about the revelation We have sent down to Our servant, then produce a single chapter like it- enlist whatever supporters you have other than God- if you are truthful (2:23)
In the previous sessions, we discussed the doubts the disbelievers raise against the Quran and the prophet. Now that these issues have been addressed, God issues the following challenge: If the disbelievers claim that the Quran is not God's word, then surely they should be able to produce something like it.
Let's look at this challenge in detail:
First, when you study the Quran, you will find that Allah took a gradual approach in challenging the non-believers. Initially, He asked them to bring the likes of the entire Quran. Then, in another verse, He eased the challenge by asking them to produce only 10 chapters. God lowered the bar further and asked them to create a single chapter (also known as sura). This approach indicates to the ones being challenged that their efforts will never be successful, and that they are the target of ridicule.
Second, the phrases 'the likes of the Quran' or 'a Chapter like it' mean that God is challenging the disbelievers to produce a text similar to the Quran. He is not asking them to come up with an original authentic text. This lowers the bar even more to prove that the disbelievers are not competent of doing even the minimum.
And lastly, when God asks them to ‘enlist whatever supporters you have other than God’, he wants to rob them of all excuses. The disbelievers can bring whomever they wish to help them and to judge if the verses they produce resemble the Quran or not. They are free to enlist any creation and bring forth biased witnesses. Allah generalized the term ‘supporters you have other than God’ to include all species and creations. This demonstrates the ultimate power and infinite knowledge of God Almighty, and leaves the disbelievers with no excuses whatsoever.
This brings us to the phrase: ‘if you are truthful’. What does it mean to be truthful? In order for something you say to be truthful, it has to satisfy two conditions. The first one is: you say with your tongue what you truly believe in your heart. The second one is: what you say is in accordance with the reality of things. For example: If you say that ‘Walter is hardworking’, then for this statement to be truthful, there has to be a person named Walter, and he must be a hard worker. Moreover, you have to believe in your heart that Walter is a hard worker. If, on the other hand, there is no one named Walter, or if you believe that this Walter is not a hard worker, then your sentence contradicts reality and it is untrue.
Lets apply this concept to the noble verse. In order for the disbelievers to be truthful, then what they say about the Quran, or the verses they produce, must correspond to reality. In other words, the burden of proof falls on them, and if they cannot bring forth evidence of their claims, then they liars. This brings us to the next verse in 'The Cow'. God says:
But if you do not - and you will never be able to - then fear the Fire, whose fuel is men and stones, prepared for the disbelievers (Chapter 2: Verse 24).
At the beginning of this verse, Allah is informing us of the reality of things. He says: ‘But if you do not - and you will never be able to’. Inessence, He is telling us the result of this challenge even before its completion. God, after all, is the most knowledgeable, and He is aware that the disbelievers will never be able to bring forth the likes of the Quran. Perhaps more importantly, and since this challenge is ongoing, the verse predetermines the failure of the disbelievers from the moment of revelation of these verses until the Day of Resurrection. It is a foregone conclusion.
The word 'if' indicates choice and uncertainty, because the occurrence of one event is linked to a condition. For example, when you say to someone: ‘if you study, you will succeed’, then this person has a choice: to study or not to study. The outcome of success is dependent on studying. Similarly, God gave the disbelievers a choice, yet at the same time He informed them that the end result is the same regardless of the choices they make; Their failure to produce the likes of the Quran is certain. This is not because God had prevented them from trying, or restricted their choices, rather, it is because they are not capable of performing this task.
This verse is an example of the unseen matters God informed us about in the Quran. He gave us foreknowledge of what the disbelievers will and will not do in the future. In other verses God tells us about what is within their hearts as the following verse illustrates:
And they denied our signs out of malice and pride, though in their hearts they believed that they were true. So see how was the end of evil-doers! (27:14)
The disbelievers had made the conscious decision not to accept God's message. And in order to rationalize their disbelief, they continually make up excuses and false reasons for not accepting faith. God answers these excuses with a warning. He says: "Then fear the Fire, whose fuel is men and stones". Can the disbelievers who chose to ignore God signs and messages in this world do the same in the hereafter? Can they chose not to enter hellfire on the Day of Resurrection? Of course not. This warning is a reminder to all of us that our freedom of choice is temporary. If you abandon faith out of your own free will, then keep in mind that this freedom of choice is temporary and will end when you die. Can a disbeliever save him or herself from God's justice on the day of judgment? The following verses illustrate how Allah will address the people on that day:
The day when they will emerge from their graves, nothing about them will be hidden from God. ‘To whom does absolute sovereignty belong today?’ ‘To Allah, the One, the All-paramount!’ (40:16)
And in another verse:
The Day when no soul will be able to do anything for another; on that Day, command will belong to God. (82:19)
Furthermore, the false Gods and desires that a person pursues in this world will offer no protection in the hereafter. God says:
They will hear: “You and what you took as gods for yourselves will become the fuel for Hell, once you are cast in.” (21:98)
Here you may ask, Why are the false Gods and idols who were worshipped be cast in hellfire with the disbelievers? This is done to increase the anguish and suffering of the disbelievers. When a disbeliever enters hellfire, he or she might have the hope that their false God will come to their aid and rescue. However, when this person sees his or her idol in the fire, all hope is lost and the torment is magnified.
Here we should take a moment to examine the word 'prepared', which means that both heaven and hellfire already exist even if we cannot see them. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Paradise was shown to me, and I could have brought you some of its fruit if I wanted”. The verse and the prophet's narration should give the believer great reassurance, and the disbeliever a stern warning. When you know that heaven actually exists, and that faith and actions will lead you to it, happiness and longing fill your heart. God says:
Those are the inheritors, Who will inherit Paradise, and live in it for ever. (23:10-11)
Before God created mankind, He created heaven and hell. God prepared a place for each one of us in hellfire and prepared another place in paradise. Those who are admitted into the fire will leave their place in paradise vacant. These empty places, in essence lost opportunities, will be granted to the believers as an inheritance in addition to their own place in paradise. So rest assured that the word ‘prepared’ in the verse means that your destination is ready, and all you have to do is make a choice and take the appropriate actions to reach your chosen destination.