Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)
Mankind was a single community, then God sent prophets to bring good news and warning, and with them He sent the Scripture with the Truth, to judge between people in their disagreements. It was only those to whom it was given who disagreed about it after clear signs had come to them, because of rivalry between them. So by His leave God guided the believers to the truth they had differed about: God guides whoever He will to a straight path. (Chapter 2: Verse 213)
Perhaps the first question that comes to mind when you read this verse is: if people were one nation and God sent them Messengers and Prophets as a single nation, then where have all these divisions and disputes come into play? To understand this issue, you have to look at the Quran as a whole, and consider all the verses that address this matter. Allah wants you to study the Quran in its entirety because parts of the Quran will often help you better understand other parts of it. God says in chapter 10:
All people were originally one single community, but later they differed. If it had not been for a word from your Lord, the preordained judgment would already have been passed between them regarding their differences. (10:19)
Before God sent the prophets, people were one nation following Adam. God guided Adam and gave him the heavenly teachings. Adam taught his children, and they taught the next generation. So people remained on one faith and there was no dispute between them. Moreover, the world was vast with plenty of resources serving very few people, so there was little need for competition and envy. Whoever wanted something –whether fruits or land- could simply take it.
Suppose that you have three children and you brought home 20 oranges. Every child can eat his or her fill with no need to worry about others. But if you only bring two oranges then you may have a problem between the competing kids. Likewise, people were one nation when resources were plentiful. Most of our problems and differences today are over insatiable greed and dwindling resources.
Adam (peace be upon him) taught his children the heavenly guidance; his children, in turn, were supposed to carry on these values, but some of them rebelled against God’s teachings, and after that, greed and differences arose. The story of Abel and Cain explains this:
Tell them the truth about the story of Adam’s two sons: each of them offered a sacrifice, and it was accepted from one and not the other. One said, ‘I will kill you,’ but the other said, ‘God only accepts the sacrifice of those who are mindful of Him. (05:27)
We know that Adam and Eve are the origins of humanity. Eve gave birth to twins every time, and Adam wanted his children to marry. But how can they be married, while they are all siblings? God’s law gave a solution to this problem. Adam’s children born from one pregnancy were considered siblings, while children born from other pregnancies were not considered their siblings. Thus, children from one pregnancy were married to children from another.
It is narrated to us from Ibn Abbas and Ibn Mas‘ud (may God be pleased with them) that ‘Adam used to marry the male of one pregnancy to the female of another, and that Abel wanted to marry the sister of Cain. He was older than Able, and Cain’s sister was beautiful, but Cain wanted to take her for himself rather than let her marry his brother. Their father Adam ordered him to let her marry Abel but he refused, and the dispute grew. So Adam ordered both of them to make a sacrifice to God. Abel -who owned sheep- offered a healthy fat lamb, while Cain –a farmer- offered a bundle of his worst crop. A fire came down and consumed Abel’s offering, and rejected Cain’s. Cain became angry and said, ‘I will kill you so that you won’t marry my sister.’ He replied, “God only accepts the sacrifice of those who are mindful of Him.”
So the birth of the first conflict happened when two people competed over a desire and a limited resource. This was a clear example of what could happen when resources are scares and people put their greed and desire before all else.
‘Mankind was a single community, ’ but they differed the moment man let desires get the best of him. If God had wanted to make Adam’s religion the only religion until the last day, He would have done so. But He –the All-merciful- knows His creation, and He knows that we are prone to forgetting and falling into error. Thus, He sent a procession of prophets and messengers. He says: “then God sent prophets to bring good news and warning, and with them He sent the Scripture with the Truth, to judge between people in their disagreements.” The task of preaching and warning is to remind people that there is paradise and hell-fire and that our actions in this world determine the outcome of the next. Each prophet gave the glad tidings of paradise to whoever believed and did good and warned those who disbelieved and spread corruption of hellfire. Moreover, Allah instilled within each one of us the instinct that guides us towards Him as the following verses illustrate:
When your Lord took out the offspring from the loins of the Children of Adam and made them bear witness about themselves, He said, ‘Am I not your Lord?’ and they replied, ‘Yes, we bear witness.’ So you cannot say on the Day of Resurrection, ‘We were not aware of this,’ Or lest you should say: "Our forefathers used to associate partners with God before us, and we were their offspring just following after them. Will You, then, ruin us for what those did who rejected Your Lordship and invented that false way (07:172-173)
Here, Allah informs us that at the beginning of creation, he took entire mankind and made them bear witness to His Lordship and bear witness that there is no God but Him. This is where the instinct to seek the creator and the natural feeling that there is a higher power in this universe come from. Allah -the All-Merciful- did not leave us alone with just instinct. When Adam descended, God gave him the heavenly teachings to protect mankind from their greed and desires even before any problems started. It is the love of exclusive ownership, and the greed to have more and more even at the expense of others that creates divisions and ill feelings in the world.
There is no issue when resources are plentiful, and markets are stocked. You can buy whatever you want at any time you like. In such times, there are no crises. However, when supplies are low and cannot meet demand, people dogfight to gain access and secure their needs. So it is from the mercy of our Lord that He sent messengers to remind and warn us. He says: “God sent prophets to bring good news and warning, and with them He sent the Scripture with the Truth, to judge between people in their disagreements.” Allah did not want to leave people to differ and fight. In fact, it is the people’s disregard for the Lord’s teachings that spread such differences. God says: “It was only those to whom it was given who disagreed about it after clear signs had come to them, because of rivalry between them.”
The verse continues: “So by His leave God guided the believers to the truth they had differed about: God guides whoever He will to a straight path.” Allah explains that He guides and guards those who believe and follow His Messengers. Sadly, with the passage of time, people become negligent, and their desires begin to overcome them. Allah follows by sending another Messenger to remind and to restore people to the right path. This was the process throughout the centuries until Allah sent Muhammad -the final Messenger- with Islam to entire humanity till the end of time. A unified religion guarantees that all mankind share the same creed and faith. Thus, we must cling to the teachings of Islam; otherwise, our future outcome will be similar to those of the former nations. God says:
God commands you to return things entrusted to you to their rightful owners, and, if you judge between people, to do so with fairness: How excellent is what God advises you to do; assuredly, God is All-Hearing, All-Seeing. You who believe, obey God and the Messenger, and those in authority among you. If you are in dispute over any matter, refer it to God and the Messenger, if you truly believe in God and the Last Day: that is better and fairer in the end. (4:58,59)