Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)
Verses 41 & 42
Chapter 2, Verses 41 & 42
And believe in what I have sent down which verifies what is already with you; and do not be the first to deny it; do not exchange My signs for a small price; and beware of Me. (Chapter 2: Verse 41).
Wealth is a good servant but it is a terrible master. Wealth can be your servant when you spend it and invest it for the betterment of your family and community. On the other hand, when you store wealth, have an inordinate desire to accumulate it, and spend your time worrying about managing it, and then it becomes your master and makes you miserable. The focus of the children of Israel in life has been wealth accumulation. God made usury (modern day interest) unlawful because it turns money from a tool into an objective. Wealth is supposed to increase through working and producing something beneficial; but if it increases without work, rather by taking advantage of others, then the life cycle becomes corrupted. The working poor increase in poverty and the rich get richer through lending and usury. This is exactly what we observe in the world today.
Poor countries are getting poorer because they borrow interest bearing loans. As interest accumulates, the burden of debt increases. On many occasions, the amount of interest owed to the lender becomes greater than the original loan itself. With the passage of time, repayment becomes difficult, sometimes impossible. At the same time, and without producing anything beneficial, the rich get richer because they give the loan and then collect it back many folds over.
When you read the verse: ‘And do not exchange My signs for a small price,’ you should not think that God’s signs can be sold or exchanged for a large price. No! Regardless of the price, it will always be small when compared to God’s guidance.
God continues: 'and be aware of me.’ This statement is an advice for today. In the previous verse when God says: ‘and fear me,’ it was a warning about the future. By being aware and mindful of God in all our daily actions, we avoid His anger and punishment in the hereafter. God Almighty commands us to fear Him, while at the same time He says: ‘fear the hellfire’. How could this be? God is the source of all mercy and compassion, while Hellfire is the ultimate torment. We answer that Allah wants you to construct a barrier between yourself and the fire. He wants to protect you against the punishment that can only result from His anger. Thus, ‘fear Me’ means fear My anger so that this great punishment does not afflict you. But how do you construct this wall between you and God’s anger? You can do this by being mindful of Allah and by choosing actions in this world that correspond to His teachings.
Now we move on to the next verse:
And do not mix the truth with falsehood, nor conceal the truth while you know. (Chapter 2: Verse 42)
The previous verse delivered a warning against exchanging faith for a small worldly gain, be it wealth or power. This verse cautions the children of Israel against mixing the truth with falsehood. The verb 'mix' is translated from the Arabic origin ‘تلبسوا’ which means to wear or to cover. It is often used referring to the clothes we wear. God is presenting the example of dressing the truth with lies in order to cover it and present it as falsehood.
Truth is the absolute established fact which does not change. Suppose that we witnessed an event, such as an accident, and then each one of us narrates what he or she saw. If we were truthful, all our statements will be consistent, and in line with the event. But if amongst us is someone who is altering the facts, then there would be many narrations, and the truth may be lost.
Similarly, there are verses in the Torah that the children of Israel did not distort, and there are some that were omitted or changed. The verses that are related to the Messenger of God (peace be upon him) and his description were altered. The end result is a book that mixes truth with falsehood. What drove them to insert falsehoods and conceal some facts, you may ask? Their primary interest was to exchange God’s verses with a small price, to gain status and temporary power over people.
Sometimes, even a small change takes things completely out of context and turns truth into lies. God wants to bring to our attention that these alterations did not happen out of forgetfulness or oversight. Rather they were done with full intension. Let’s look at the following verse in which God addressed the Israelites accompanying Prophet Moses:
Remember when We said, ‘Enter this town and eat freely there as you will, but enter its gate humbly and say, “Relieve us of our burdens” Then We shall forgive you your sins and increase the rewards of those who do good.’ But the wrongdoers substituted a different word from the one they had been given. So, because they persistently disobeyed, We sent a plague down from the heavens upon the wrongdoers. (02:58-59)
In this example, the Israelites accompanying Prophet Moses were ordered to say ‘Hitta' which is a word for repentance. In exchange, they would be forgiven for their previous actions and be granted access to the Holy land. But some, out of arrogance and ridicule, distorted the word of God and said ‘hinta’ which is a type of grain. Whoever heard them may not recognize the subtle difference, because they deliberately chose what they said in order to disobey their Lord.
Similar instances happened during the time of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him.) When they met with the prophet, some of the Jewish residents of Medina used to twist their tongues and change the common greeting 'Al Salamu Alykom' which means 'Peace be upon you' to 'Al Sam Alykom' which means 'Poison be upon you'. This greatly bothered the companions, so our beloved prophet told them to reply with a simple 'wa alykom' meaning 'and the same to you.'
Keep in mind that a those who mix truth with vanity and falsehood often do so when they unable to handle the truth or afraid to face it. Weakness and cowardice cause men to lie. The truth, on many occasions, is difficult and may exhaust men as they have to hold to it under all circumstances.
The end of the verse states: ‘Nor conceal the truth while you know.’ Here again Allah is reminding us that these actions of lying and distorting the truth were deliberate, not out of ignorance or forgetfulness. You may sometimes conceal some matters, not knowing that they were the truth. But from the examples above, we see that the phrase ‘While you know’ reflects the great sin of the children of Israel and its disastrous results. It shows that they acted while fully knowing what will befall them in the hereafter, and the torment awaiting in Hellfire.