Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)
Verses 43 & 44
Chapter 2, Verses 43 and 44
And maintain the prayer, and give the zakat, and bow along with those who bow (Chapter 2: verse 43)
Establishing prayer is well known. It is commenced with the takbir (the phrase ‘God is greater’ and it concludes with tasleem (which is the offering of peace and greetings to the Prophet, his family, and all the believers). Prayer is carried out in a specific manner that includes standing, bowing and prostration. In this verse, Allah addresses the children of Israel and asks them to give almsgiving, and bow along with those who bow. Bowing is a reference to prayer in Islam, as prayer in Judaism does not include bowing. In other words, Allah is inviting the Jewish people to join the new faith that they were informed about. More importantly, God wants them to believe in Prophet Muhammad, and not to think that their faith in Prophet Moses and his message will suffice. From the moment the new revelation came to Muhammad, they could no longer say that our religion is sufficient and Islam has only came for those who do not have a religion. Allah answers: ‘and bow along with those who bow’ because He wants them to realize that their prayer (which includes prostration but not bowing) is no longer adequate.
Perhaps, the most important point to remember is that the children of Israel's faith in Moses and the Torah requires that they believe in Muhammad and the message of Islam. All the prophet of the Israelites and all their revelations instruct them to do so. Thus, the lack of faith in Muhammad is a sign of disbelief in the Torah and a contradiction to its teachings. When God said in the 41st verse of 'The Cow': ‘and do not exchange My signs for a small price,' He was warning them against disregarding these teachings and what was revealed to them about Muhammad and the new message. The true believer amongst them would choose to follow his or her faith and believe in the seal of the Prophets: Muhammad (peace be upon him).
Prayer is the act of standing before one's Lord. When you stand before Allah, any feelings of pride and arrogance should leave your heart, and in their place a sense of reverence, submission and humbleness should flourish. God is asking the children of Israel to first and foremost perform prayer as it will help to extinguish any pride they may have against the new religion.
The command to join the Muslims in prayer is followed by the command to pay almsgiving (zakah.) God commanded you to strive on earth, not only to earn what satisfies your needs and then stop, but He also wants you to bring in more so you can help anyone unable to earn a living. It is through giving that you can turn the society into a welcoming place for everyone; a place that leaves no room for hatred and envy.
We continue to the next verse in 'The Cow.' God says:
How can you tell people to do what is right and forget to do it yourselves, even though you recite the Scripture? Have you no sense? (Chapter 2: Verse 44)
God made it clear to the Children of Israel that their disbelief in the message of Islam is in fact a disbelief in the teaching of the Torah. The scriptures, after all, gave a detailed description of Prophet Muhammad. In this verse God is reprimanding them with a question: ‘How can you tell people to do what is right and forget to do it yourselves, even though you recite the Scripture?’ The Jewish tribes of Medina often boasted the near arrival of a new Messenger and announced to the Arab tribes that they will believe and fight for him. But when the new Prophet emerged from amongst the Arabs, they understood that they may lose their social and economic status, and, thus, they were the first to disbelieve.
It is very important to note that while these verses were revealed addressing the children of Israel; that does not mean that they apply only to them. Rather, these verses apply to all people of scripture, the disbelievers, and any Muslim who trades God’s signs for a small gain. Sadly, there are many who take the words of the Quran out of context in exchange for influence or political power.
During his ascent to the heavens in the night journey, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) saw a group of people being tormented by having their lips and tongues sliced with molten blades. He questioned Gabriel: 'Who are they?' Gabriel answered: 'They were the spokesmen for injustice, the ones who distorted religion according to their desires and the desires of unjust rulers.
The purpose of religion is to reign in human whims and greed, and shape society according to God's teachings. The people and the Imams of mischief try -in the name of religion- to do the exact opposite. They give people an excuse for sin. A true religious scholar can never justify evil actions, nor can he or she bend God’s teachings to satisfy human inclinations. It is not sufficient for those who do so to repent, they must also correct what they have done.
The phrase ‘How can you tell people to do what is right and forget to do it yourselves?' brings up a very important point about those who invite others to faith. If you preach well to others and forbid them from evil, you are in effect, trying to bring them out of actions that they are accustomed to. As you well know, breaking a habit is a difficult task. Moreover, you are asking someone to admit that they were wrong in their beliefs and actions. A person who is about to change his or her beliefs and break long term habits is going to look at you with very critical eye. Do you adhere to your own statements and recommendations? If you do, then the person you are preaching to becomes confident in you and your message. If, on the other hand, it turns out that you don't do as you say, then that will not only undermine you, but it will undermine the message of Islam.
Faith is the words we say and the actions we take. If our words are not in line with our behaviour, then all is lost. God says:
O you who believe! Why do you say what you do not do? How despicable it is in the sight of Allah that you should say what you do not do. (61:2-3)
We should always lead by example as the following verse illustrates:
Assuredly you have in God’s Messenger an excellent example to follow for whoever looks forward to God and the Last Day, and remembers and mentions God much. (33:21)
Being aware of the religious doctrines is not sufficient; it has to be put to practice. The Prophet (peace be upon him) did not enjoin others to any act unless he was the first to put it into practice. The companions saw in him the best example of words and actions.
When Omar Ibn Al-khattab wanted to issue a new law, he used to invite his family and relatives and say to them: I want to order people to do so and so. Beware, whoever breaks the law amongst you, I will surely make out of him or her an example for all Muslims. This is how Omar closed the doors of corruption, as he knew how corruption could creeps into society.
When it comes to the science of Islamic theology, religious scholars and preachers have to be role models. Good conduct is not required by experts in other fields. If you were told, for example, that this great chemist is an adulterer, you can reply that I benefit from his knowledge in chemistry because he has mastered it; his personal conduct, on the other hand, is his own burden. Likewise is the case with every worldly scholar. But in case of a religious scholar who guides you towards the correct path, adultery or stealing cannot be tolerated.
People look up to such a person and examine him closely. Will you listen to a hypocrite preacher? Never! In fact he will hold no value to you regardless of how much he has excelled in knowledge.
Islam was preached through good conduct. Early converts were impressed by the good manners of Muslims. Islam spread in China through the Muslim merchants who were known for their honesty and fairness. They inspired many around them. God says:
Who speaks better than someone who calls people to God, does what is right, and says, ‘I am from amongst the Muslims’? (41:33)
This verse highlights for us the three conditions of preaching: the first is calling towards God, and the second is doing righteous deeds. The last is to say ‘Indeed I am one of the Muslims,’ which in effect gives credit to God and His message, not to the preacher himself. What is point of saying that we are Muslims while do not behave like ones?
This brings us back to the verse that addressed the children of Israel ‘How can you tell people to do what is right and forget to do it yourselves, even though you recite the Scripture? Have you no sense?’