Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)
Chapter 2, Verse 30
When your Lord told the angels, ‘I am putting a successor on earth,’ they said, ‘How can You put someone there who will cause damage and bloodshed, when we celebrate Your praise and proclaim Your holiness?’ but He said, ‘I know what you do not.’ (Chapter 2, Verse 30)
In the previous verses, God informed us that He created the entire universe. Now, He presents the story of those He created to build and look after earth. The first story in the Quran is that of the first human: Adam (peace be upon him). God says:
We narrate their story to you in all truth.(18:13)
The word ‘truth’ indicates that there are many false accounts of history. Allah wants to differentiate between His narrations and those of storytellers and historians that may be filled with additions, omissions and fallacies. The word ‘narration’ is derived from the Arabic verb '?? ?????' which means to track footsteps. When you track someone's footsteps in the sand or the snow, you will be able to follow the same path they took, and reach the same destination. And as long as God, the all knowing, is the narrator of the stories in the Quran, then these stories represent the perfect truth as it exactly happened. Keep in mind that these stories are not for pastime or entertainment, rather, each has a moral lesson, or an important fact that Allah wants us to learn. At times the stories were aimed to strengthen the Prophet's resolve and at other times the aim is to strengthen the resolve of the believers and educate them. In fact, you can always turn to the stories in Quran to gain the calm and strength you need to face life's difficulties. God says:
So We have told you the stories of the prophets to make your heart firm and in these accounts truth has come to you, as well as lessons and reminders for the believers. (11:120)
All these narrations fall under what we call history. Sometimes history links certain events with a specific period of time, and in other instances, history tells us about a person rather than an event. This often presents a problem: if you read the history of any single event, you will notice that it is often told from the biased view point of the narrator. For this reason, one historical narration may differ significantly from the other. The history and experiences of the crusades, for example, will vary greatly between Christian and Muslim narrators.
The narrator of the Holy Quran is Allah, therefore, the stories in the Quran are told in their pure unbiased form. Their lessons are timeless and can be applied over and over as history tends to repeat itself. Take the story of Pharaoh, for example, as it applies to every ruler who transgresses and subjugates others, while glorifying himself. The account of the people of the cave gives strength and guidance to every group that is prosecuted and terrorized for its faith in God. Similarly, the story of prophet Joseph (peace be upon him) gives us insight into the breakdown of family ties when jealousy and the whispers of Satan are allowed to foster. The story of Zul-Qarnain is an example of how God guides and supports just rulers who intend to reform and improve the life of others. There is also the story of the people of Prophet Shuaib who cheated in all their business dealings.
From the short list above, you can probably see many examples that apply to your life today. How many contemporary Pharaohs can you think of? How many families are broken from jealousy and malice? How many societies are suffering from widespread corruption and dishonesty? Thus, it is for these very reasons that Allah narrated the stories in the Quran. In fact, many stories are narrated either with anonymous characters, or with characters that are identified only by their first name. God wants you to identify with these stories and assign them to current events in life. He did not specify the Pharaoh at the time of Moses, nor did He mention who were the people of the cave or who was the owner of the two gardens and so on. This should draw your attention that the particular person in the narration is not the objective, rather, the importance lies in the events and the messages we can learn from these events. So do not occupy your mind by wondering who was the Pharaoh at the time of Prophet Moses, or who was the historic leader named Zul-Qarnain and so on. God, the all wise, made these people anonymous because He wants you to focus on the wisdom behind the story.
There is, however, one exception to this rule: It is the story of Jesus son of Mary and Mary the daughter of Imran, both -peace be upon them- are identified by their full name. Why is it so, you may ask? It is because their story is a miracle that will never be repeated. God identified them by their full name so there would be no confusion, in case a woman should claim that she bore a child without a man like Virgin Mary.
If you take time to read several chapters of the Quran, you may get the impression that some stories are repeated over and again. However, upon closer examination, you will notice that while one part of the story is mentioned in a chapter, other parts are mentioned in different chapters. Each verse presents a new situation or circumstance absent elsewhere. Thus, if you want to have the full story, you should collect all the verses of the Noble Quran narrating it.
Let's take an example from the largest story mentioned in the Quran: The story of Prophet Moses. God says:
We inspired Moses’ mother, saying, ‘Suckle him, and then, when you fear for his safety, put him in the river: do not be afraid, and do not grieve, for We shall return him to you and make him a messenger.’ (28:7)
And in a different chapter:
We inspired your mother, saying, 'Put him in a wooden box and cast it in the river. The river will cast it on the bank. An enemy of Ours, and his, will retrieve it.' We bestowed Our love on you that you may be reared under Our eyes. (20:38-39)
At first glance, you may think that this is repetition...........Let's pause and take a closer look. The first verse states: ‘We inspired Moses’ mother, saying, ‘Suckle him, and then, when you fear for his safety, put him in the river’. This segment shows how God is preparing Moses' mother for the upcoming events. It has a slow gentle flow as Allah gives the baby and his mom time to suckle and bond in preparation for the mounting threat. The verse continues with: 'do not be afraid, and do not grieve, for We shall return him to you and make him a messenger.’ In essence, Allah is reassuring the mother that her future actions will not result in pain and grief because He will protect her baby. God gives her the good news that not only will He return Moses back to her, but He will also appoint him as a messenger.
Contrast that with the second verse that highlights the events as they are unfolding, The narration takes a new style turning words rapidly to convey the urgency of the moment. God says 'Put him in a wooden box and cast it in the river. The river will cast it on the bank.’ Here, we are given the additional information that Moses was placed in a chest and that Allah ordered the water to carry this chest onto the shore of Pharaoh's estate. We also find out that that Pharaoh will care for Moses only to end up with mutual enmity between them. This animosity will be long lasting because it is felt by both parties. All this is new information absent from the first verse. Then we run across a third verse that completes the scene. God says:
Pharaoh’s household picked him up––later to become an enemy and a source of grief for them: Pharaoh, Haman, and their armies were wrongdoers (28:8)
As you can see, different verses and chapters complement rather than duplicate each other. Each verse contributes to the story to give us a complete picture.
Here you may ask: why didn't the story of Moses appear complete in a single chapter? Recall that the purpose of these stories is to strengthen the resolve of our Prophet (peace be upon him) and the believers', and to remind us of the lessons and wisdom behind the story. Hence, God mentioned parts of the story here and there so that it may perform this task. Similar is the case of the story of Adam. It has been mentioned in several chapters, all of which collectively work to provide us with the complete story, while at the same time each individual verse carries a wisdom proper for its place and time.