Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)
Chapter 2, Verse 54
And when Moses said to his people, "O my people, indeed you have wronged yourselves by your taking of the calf. So repent to your Creator and kill yourselves. That is best for you in the sight of your Creator." Then He accepted your repentance; indeed, He is the All forgiving, the most merciful. (Chapter 2: Verse 54)
The sin committed by the Israelites in Moses' absence was very grave. They took a gold calf as an idol. This is while Moses was receiving Torah and the commandments of his Lord. God informed Moses that his people have been misled and began the worship of an idol. Moses was grief-stricken; He returned full of rage and seized his brother Aaron by his beard and hair. Moses yelled: didn't I appoint you as my deputy? How could you let them go astray? Aaron replied:
He said, ‘Son of my mother- let go of my beard and my hair!- I was afraid you would say, “You have caused division among the children of Israel and have not heeded what I said.”’ (20:94)
The truth is that the Samiri was the one who misled them and called them to the worship of the golden calf. He took advantage of the fact that the Israelites were already asking Moses for an Idol, or a physical manifestation of God. He convinced them that this calf, which made a very loud noise, was their Lord and the Lord of Moses.
How can God allow such things to happen, you may ask? Don’t be surprised by the fact that events may run in the favor of evil and corruption for a while. God allows this to happen in order to test his servants. Truth and justice are heavy burdens that need men and women of strong and true character to carry and fight for them. These men and women are sculpted and finessed by tests and trials. Take the example of the believers who suffered immensely in the early days of Islam, only to carry its message to all corners of the world few years later. Before the Prophet’s migration to Medina, he and his followers suffered at the hands of the disbelievers. After being abused, ridiculed and sanctioned by Quraysh, He (peace be upon him) went to the tribe of Taif to invite them to Islam, and in the hopes of getting some support. He was confronted with refusal and mockery. The town even set their young boys to chase him away with stones that left the Prophet’s heels soaked with blood. After which he raised his hands towards the sky and made the heartfelt supplication to his Lord: "O God! I appeal to you for I am weak, short on power, and for the mistreatment, contempt and disregard I received from my people.” It was at that time, and after all these tests and trial, that Allah honored the prophet with the night journey and the ascension to the heavens.
The early followers of Islam were also subjected to abuse and persecution. These trials prepared them to carry the new faith with love and tolerance over hardship. Allah trains them to become patient over afflictions, powerful before their opponents, and able to handle difficulties with grace. This is the way true faith is built and measured.
It is in sharp contrast to man-made governing systems that are often designed to benefit the few and the elite. Members of the central committees of the communist parties are rich, while the whole population suffers wearing cheap attire and living in small houses. Capitalists prey on the weak and exploit natural resources with no regard for future generations. So is the case with every cause for falsehood. The cause for good is exactly the opposite. The preacher of truth is often the first to sacrifice, and often the one who suffers the most. He or she is rarely around to reap the benefits of the truth. You can reliably use this fact to spot good and evil causes. Any movement or mission that grants plenty of wealth and influence to its leaders early on is built on a false cause.
This brings us back to the verse. Prophet Moses is reprimanding his people for failing their test and committing the worst possible deviation from the path of monotheism to the calf-worshipping. He said '"O my people, indeed you have wronged yourselves by your taking of the calf.' The natural question to ask here is: Did those who worshiped the calf wrong themselves or did they wrong God? The answer is simple……They were unjust towards themselves because they brought themselves destruction without gaining any benefit. God says:
When Luqman said to his son, as he advised him: ‘O my son! Do not ascribe any partners to Allah. Polytheism is indeed a great injustice.’ (3:13)
God described associating partners to him as a great injustice. This is because when you regard someone or something, that did not create, nor provided, nor nourished as an equivalent to Allah who creates, provides and nourishes, you would be unfair. Worship is the obedience of the servant towards his or her Lord. Did the gold calf provide the Israelites with anything? Did it create it anything, or was it created by the Samiri? Taking the calf for worship is one of the greatest injustices one can commit. This act, however, affects the person committing it, and does not affect God. Whether you believe in Allah or you do not, He will remain the All-Powerful, the All-Competent and the Distinguished. Your faith or disbelief in Him will not decrease anything in His kingdom. Your beliefs and actions will only reflect on you.
You can enjoy a few days, weeks or even years devouring other people’s rights. You can take full advantage of God's bounties without any gratitude. Eventually you will die and face the consequences of your actions. God says:
It was not Us they wronged; they wronged themselves. (02:57)