Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)
Chapter 2, Verse 48
Have fear of a Day when no self will be able to compensate for another in any way. No intercession will be accepted from it, no ransom taken from it, and they will not be helped. (Chapter 2:Verse 48)
God is reminding all of us of the day of judgment where nothing other than good deeds will avail. Before we go into the details of this verse, let's look at another one from the same chapter:
Have fear of a Day when no self will be able to compensate for another in any way, and no ransom will be accepted from it, and no intercession benefit it, and they will not be helped. (02:123)
Is this a repetition, you may ask? The answer is simply: no. Upon close examination, you will find that the opening statement of these two verses is identical but the latter part is different. let's examine them in detail.
'Have fear of a Day' points to the Day of Resurrection, which Allah is advising us to prepare for in faith and good deeds.
‘when no self will be able to compensate for another in any way' should draw our attention that these verses are talking about two persons. One is a sinner in trouble, and the other is a righteous person trying to help and intercede on his or her behalf. In other words, one person is asking God: 'Dear Lord! I am prepared to make up for what my friend has done, I am prepared to avail him and fulfill his right.'
Let's clarify this with an example. Suppose a king was angry with a person and decided to punish. A close friend of the ruler tries to intercede on behalf of this person. Now, it is up to the ruler to accept this intercession or decline it. If the king declines, the intercessor may move on to another strategy and offer the king to pay a ransom to bail his friend out. Similarly, on the day of resurrection, the righteous man or woman will approach God and appeal for the sinner. God says:
Allah—there is no god except Him— is the Living One, the All-sustainer. Neither drowsiness befalls Him nor sleep. To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth. Who is it that may intercede with Him except with His permission? (02:255)
and in another verse:
He knows what is before them and what is behind them, and they cannot intercede without His permission––indeed they themselves stand in reverence and awe of Him. (21:28)
So righteous people will try to intercede for others who transgressed in sin, but this intercession will not be accepted, neither will compensation be taken from them.
Now we can get into the intricate difference between verse 48 and verse 123 of 'The Cow'. The 48th verse, is referring to the righteous person wanting to intervene before God and compensate for the sinful one. The righteous person even offers to pay in order to make up for the sins of his or her friend. God replies: ' No intercession will be accepted from it, no ransom taken from it’ Here, intercession is mentioned first, and then the offer of payment.
The 123rd verse, on the other hand, is referring to sinful person that is looking for help and for anyway out. Helplessness will drive this person to seek others. It is the ultimate admission of failure. On the day of judgment, the sinful person will supplicate God ‘What should I do to make amends for my sins?’ I will pay all I have. Sadly, when he or she gets no response, the only other option would be to seek a person whose intercession will be considered. God answers: ' no self will be able to compensate for another in any way, and no ransom will be accepted from it, and no intercession benefit it'
and in another verse:
If only you could see when the sinners will stand before their Lord, heads hung low, "O Lord, we have seen and heard. So send us back. We shall do the right, for we have come to believe with certainty." (32:12)
These are the sinners who ask the Lord to allow them to return to this world so they can compensate and pay for their sins with righteous deeds. What will God reply to them? we find the answer in the following verse:
So taste it. Because you forgot the meeting of this Day, We have forgotten you. Taste the punishment of eternal timelessness for what you did.’ (32:14)
and in another verse:
What are they waiting for but its fulfilment? The Day its fulfilment occurs, those who forgot it before will say, ‘The Messengers of our Lord came with the Truth. Are there any intercessors to intercede for us, or can we be sent back so that we can do something other than what we did?’ They have lost their own selves and what they invented has forsaken them. (07:53)
Unfortunately all these pleas will be rejected. Moreover, no relationship, no matter how close, can benefit a person on that day. God says:
People, be mindful of your Lord and fear a day when no parent will take the place of their child, nor a child take the place of their parent, in any way. God’s promise is true, so do not let the present life delude you, nor let the Deceiver delude you about God. (31:33)
and in another verse:
the day when a man will flee from his brother, and from his mother and his father, and his wife and his children: each of them will be absorbed in concerns of their own on that Day- (80:34-37)
The accuracy of expression and the precise differences between the 48th and the 123rd verses of 'The Cow' highlights one miraculous aspect of the Holy Quran. This speech is beyond the ability of humans. Let's look at another example in the following two verse:
and do not kill your children out of poverty We provide for you and them (06:151)
And in another verse:
And do not kill your children fearing poverty, We provide for them and you (17:31)
Some scholars say that the difference of pronouns, ‘we will provide you’ in the first verse and ‘we will provide them’ in the second, indicates elegance of style. But this is not the case. Let's take a closer look.
In the first verse: ‘and do not kill your children out of poverty’ means that poverty already exists. A poor family does not want children, and may take the news of pregnancy as a disaster. When parents are poor, they can hardly feed themselves, let alone a newborn. God answers: ‘We provide for you and them’ addressing the pressing issue of the parents first, and then assuring them that the provision of the coming baby will arrive with him or her.
In the second verse ‘And do not kill your children fearing poverty’ means that the parents are not suffering from poverty, but they are managing with their income. They may fear that the expenses of a new child will push them into poverty. In this case God answers: ‘We provide for them and for you’ addressing the parent's worry and assuring them that the newborn's bounty will come with him or her, and will not affect your own situation at all.