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Lesson - 23
"O Children of Israel, call to mind My favor which I
bestowed on you and be faithful to (your) covenant with Me, I shall
fulfill (My) covenant with you; and Me, Me alone, should you fear.
And believe in that which I have revealed, verifying that which
is with you, and be not the first to deny it; neither take a mean
price for My messages; and keep your duty to Me, Me alone.
And mix not up truth with falsehood, nor hide the truth while
you know. And keep up prayer and pay the poor rate and bow down
with those who bow down. Do you enjoin men to be good and neglect
your own souls while you read the Book? Have you then no sense?
And seek assistance through patience and prayer, and this is
hard except for the humble ones.
Who know that they will meet their Lord and that to Him they
will return." Ch. 2:40-46
Divine Blessings on the Israelites
This is the fifth section of Al-Baqarah which starts with
the mention of the children of Israel. The discussion on this subject
continues to a variable degree right up to the eighteenth section.
The question that comes to mind is, what is so important about this
nation that the Holy Quran has mentioned it at such great length
over here, and briefly in several other locations in its text? ‘Israel,’
which means the servant of Allah, was the name of Prophet Yaqoob
(Jacob), and from his twelve sons evolved the twelve tribes of Israel.
After Prophet Moses, with great patience and persistence released
the Israelites from the bondage of the Pharaoh, Allah brought about
their spiritual reformation from an abject state. He gave them blessings
both in the spiritual and material sense that are unparalleled in
the history of nations. They were delivered from a state of servitude,
and were given both kingdom, and kingship which reached its pinnacle
during the time of David and Solomon. They were given abundance
of material wealth in the form of gold, silver and precious stones,
but above and beyond that, they were also given incomparable spiritual
blessings. A great number of prophets were sent to this nation for
their moral and spiritual development A father would be followed
by his son in prophet-hood, several prophets would be raised contemporaneously,
thus there was no time when they did not have a righteous servant
of Allah amongst them.
A brief history
Ten of the tribes of Israel established their kingdom under the
name of ‘Israel’ in the northern part of Palestine, and around Syria.
The remaining two tribes formed their kingdom in southern Palestine,
which included Jerusalem, and named it Yehuda. A prolonged
struggle with neighboring nations followed, and the ten tribes of
Israel were taken into captivity, and transported to eastern lands.
Ultimately they settled in what is Afghanistan, the North Western
Frontier Province of Pakistan and Kashmir. Due to lack of communications,
they were totally cut off from their original homeland, and were
therefore, considered as lost. These were the, ‘lost sheep of Israel,’
in search of which Prophet Jesus set out. This occurred after the
two tribes of Israel who had established the kingdom of Yehuda,
and now called themselves the Yehudis, had not only rejected
him, but attempted to crucify him. All the twelve tribes of Israel,
lost their worldly power, and the Jews of Palestine, because of
the gross inequity they had committed against Prophet Jesus became,
‘those upon whom wrath was brought down.’
The cause of Divine Wrath
After this brief history, I would like to come back to the question
I had put forth, in the very beginning of this lesson, ‘Why is it
that the nation of Israel has been mentioned at such great length
in the very beginning of the Holy Quran, starting from the fifth
to the eighteenth sections of Al-Baqarah?’ If you look through
the pages of the Holy Quran, you will notice that just prior to
these sections is the description of Adam being appointed vicegerent
of Allah on Earth, and being blessed with the serenity of mind,
or the paradise on earth besides all other Divine favors. We also
learn in these very same pages as to how both Prophet Adam and Mother
Eve were instigated by the devil to be disobedient towards Allah,
thereby loosing not only their inner peace and happiness, but also
the external favors conferred upon them.
Every individual, like the Prophet Adam, is within his own limited
circle of influence a vicegerent of Allah on earth. In fact, in
a broader sense this applies to every nation in its own territory.
This broader concept has been mentioned in the Holy Quran in the
"And He it is Who has made you successors in the
This collective representation at a national level is treated in
a manner similar to that of Adam as an individual. Allah, the real
Master of the universe, gives such a nation all sorts of blessings,
but if they persist in their disobedience, He does not wait till
the Day of Judgment to chastise them. In order to establish a living
proof for the real chastisement of the Hereafter, such nations are
punished in this world by Allah. The best example of this is seen
in the history of the British nation in our age. When they believed
in, and worshipped God in accordance with their revealed scripture,
the Bible, Allah blessed them with a worldwide empire and treasures
of the world. In order to perpetuate their empire forever, they
tried to extend their political dominance into the religious sphere
through conversion of the subject nations to Christianity. As a
consequence of this, and the spread of atheism on a large scale
in their nation in the 20th. Century, Allah took away
His blessings, and they lost their worldly power and treasures of
wealth. Similarly, the tribes of Israel became lost in the love
of wealth and worldly gain. The two tribes of Yehuda even tried
to crucify and murder Prophet Jesus, and thus brought down the wrath
of Allah upon themselves. This further explains why the nation of
Israel, and their most depraved section, the tribes of Yehuda, are
mentioned over here.
In my earlier lessons I have discussed the grand prayer of Al-Fatihah:
"Guide us on the right path, the path of those
upon whom Thou hast bestowed favors,"
in answer to which the Holy Quran was revealed. This prayer is immediately
followed by the humble request of the suppliant to be saved from
the path of
"Not those upon whom wrath is brought down, nor
those who go astray."
The Holy Quran speaks of the Jews as incurring Divine displeasure
in (2;61,90; 3:112; 5:60). In the concluding words of the Al-Fatihah,
there is thus a warning for the Muslims to avoid following in the
footsteps of the nations before them, who had received Divine favors,
but went astray, and were subject to His wrath. Holy Prophet Muhammad
(peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) has also said:
"You shall also follow the ways of those gone before
When asked if these nations were the Jews and the Christians, he
replied, "Who else?" Thus, in the narrative of the children
of Israel, the Muslims are being taught a lesson that, like them,
they would also be made rulers in the earth. They are warned to
avoid the very same pitfalls as a result of which the gift of prophet-hood
was taken away from the children of Israel, and given to the children
of Ishmael (the great forefather of the Holy Prophet Muhammad).
The spiritual gift of Allah is far greater than His worldly beneficence,
and no loss can be greater than losing this spiritual gift.
Prophet Adam is mentioned as having received the Divine favor as
an individual, before the nation of Israel is mentioned. After being
led astray, both he and his wife repented, and reformed. This is
another reason why the Israelite nation is addressed so frequently
in the Holy Quran, so that they may repent, and reform, and accept
the Prophet of the last age. This is the same prophet about whom
all previous prophets had taken a covenant from their nations, that
they would accept him when he came. Hundreds of Israelite prophets
had taken this covenant from the Israelites, and repeatedly reminded
them of it. I would like to clarify over here that out of the twelve
tribes of Israel, ten settled down in the North West Frontier Province
of Pakistan, Kashmir, and Afghanistan. These were the blessed tribes,
who accepted Prophet Jesus when he was rejected by their Palestinian
brethren. They also heeded the often repeated call of the Holy Quran
to the tribes of Israel, and accepted Islam (all praise be to Allah
for this). Only the two tribes of Yehuda are still devoid of this
blessing excepting a few, whom Allah has blessed with the acceptance
Covenant of the Prophet
Now we shall consider the verses under discussion today. Allah’s
reminder to the children of Israel of the favors He has bestowed
upon them, is not with the spirit of contempt (we seek the refuge
of Allah from saying so), but with the Divine intent of softening
their hearts. It was to remind them that Allah Who had always blessed
them, would once again make them enter into His Mercy, provided
they uphold their covenant. This covenant, which is mentioned in
(3:81) as, "covenant through the prophets," was taken
by Allah from all nations through their respective messengers, that
they should all believe in the last of the prophets when he came.
The Israelite nation was blessed with more Divine messengers than
any other nation. Therefore, this covenant was widely proclaimed
and renewed amongst them, and the coming of ‘That Prophet,’ being
the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing of Allah be upon him),
was a term familiar even to their children. By means of this covenant,
Allah wanted to gather all nations to His final religious dispensation
and prophethood, so that all religious differences and enmity could
It is then stated that if you fulfill your covenant, I will fulfill
mine. The covenant referred to here is the one given to the believers
in the following verse:
"Allah has promised to those of you who believe and
do good that He will surely make them rulers in the earth as he
made those before them rulers" (24:55).
After this it is enjoined, "and Me, Me alone, should you
fear," and this is stated because all sorts of difficulties
arise on accepting the truth. People threaten and intimidate the
righteous to back down from the acceptance of the truth, and this
creates all sorts of difficulties. The believers are advised not
to give into such pressures, and to fear Allah, and their accountability
to Him. They are then told, "And believe in that which I have
revealed, verifying that which is with you." This is a unique
distinction of the Holy Quran, that it confirms the coming of prophets
to all nations and the scriptures revealed to them. Without such
a confirmation, it would be difficult to accept the Divine origin
of existing religious scriptures because of their present corrupted
condition. The identifying characteristic of the Prophet who would
fulfill the sign of the, "covenant through the prophets"
(3:81), was that he would confirm all the previous prophets, and
their revealed scriptures. This magnificent sign was not fulfilled
by any other prophet besides the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and
blessing of Allah be upon him), who in particular confirmed the
scriptures and prophets of the Israelite nation, the Holy Quran
being a living testament to this truth. The Holy Quran, therefore,
advises the nation of Israel not to be the foremost of the deniers
like the Jews of Medina who with the exception of a few, did not
accept the truth. The Quranic statement, "neither take a mean
price for my messages," is addressed to the religious scholars
and priests of the Israelite nation. These people had a vested interest
in denying the claim of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings
of Allah be upon him), because his acceptance would jeopardize their
spiritual standing in the community. They disbelieved and adulterated
the truth with falsehood. In fact, they hid the truth by misinterpreting
the prophecies in the Jewish scriptures so as to make it appear
that the prophecies did not apply to the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace
and blessings of Allah be upon him). They used to encourage their
followers to hide such prophecies from the Muslims (2:76).
Objective of Prayer
The day of Sabbath, was appointed for this nation for the weekly
worship of God. The Jews disobeyed this Divine commandment as repeatedly
mentioned in the Holy Quran (4:47; 7:163; 16:124), by remaining
engrossed in their material pursuits. This is generally true even
to this day. As a result of this, their lives drifted away from
the Divine presence. In order to correct this deficiency, they were
"And keep up prayer, and pay the poor rate, and
bow down with those who bow down."
The remembrance of Allah once a week on the day of Sabbath did not
prove to be sufficient, therefore, Allah states that He has ordained
the keeping up of prayer five times a day in Islam. This serves
as a frequent reminder, and keeps man from forgetting the remembrance
of Allah while engrossed in the pursuit of wealth, and material
well being. The institution of Zakaat, or payment of poor rate once
a year, keeps man from worshipping wealth as his god, and from exploiting
his poor brethren. Other religions have prescribed asceticism as
a way to keep the remembrance of Allah alive, and to save mankind
from the consuming fire of the love of material wealth. Islam adopts
the middle course. It encourages the earning of wealth, and material
gain, but safeguards the spiritual health of man by instituting
certain preventive measures. The keeping up of prayer by a Muslim
keeps the memory of Allah alive in his mind by focusing on the Divine
attributes. The payment of the poor rate neutralizes the love for
material wealth within man a love, which thrives on greed
and is nurtured by the blood of his poor brethren. The closing statement
in this verse is:
"and bow down with those who bow down,"
which has been interpreted by some as the bowing down during prayer.
This manner of bowing down is, however, included in the preceding
Divine commandment about prayer. In the present context, the bowing
down enjoins man to be obedient to the Divine Being in all phases
of his life, and not to forget Him after the formal prayer is over.
In the next verse, the religious scholars and the priests of the
nation of Israel are reminded, "Do you enjoin men to be good
and neglect your own souls while you read the Book? Have you then
no sense?" It is pointed out in this verse that the Jewish
scripture, the Torah, commands them to reform their own souls before
attempting spiritual reformation of others. The depraved moral condition
of the Jewish religious scholars is described by Prophet Jesus in
his biblical statements. He has cursed them in a manner which paints
a vivid picture of their evil plight. Towards the end of this section,
the Israelites are advised to forbear in the face of adversity which
accompanies the acceptance of the truth. This leads to the strengthening
of belief, which otherwise remains a mere verbal acknowledgment.
Patience and forbearance is the greatest of Divine attributes. He
shows a great degree of tolerance to all that is said and done in
this world contrary to his approval. If He was not a tolerant Being,
His retribution would destroy the whole world in a single day. The
Israelites are, therefore, enjoined to learn this magnificent attribute
of Allah, by being patient in times of adversity. Man, however,
is weak and can call upon no one else but Allah during difficult
times; that is why man is permitted to supplicate Allah five times
a day ("And seek assistance through patience and prayer").
All the tenets of the Jewish religion were more strict than that
of Islam, except the five daily prayers. This appears cumbersome
to the followers of other religions. The last two verses of this
section are, therefore, also very important for the Muslims. It
is first said:
"and this is hard except for the humble ones."
The questions that arise are, what is humility? And, how is it manifested?
Both these questions are answered here as we shall see shortly.
Keeping up of prayer with humility
Humility signifies meekness and obedience. Humility is created
spontaneously, when one realizes his own humble origin from an extract
of clay, and that the Creator can return him back to clay, whenever
He so desires. The feeling of humbleness is generated when man’s
realizes the majesty and grandeur of the Being he is standing in
front of during prayer. The Being, Who is also responsible for nurturing
him unto perfection, and for investing him with such power that
he is able to control all the forces of nature. The earthly existence
of man is, however, for a limited time. The real part of man that
stays forever is the spirit which has been breathed into him by
the Divine Being. This spirit needs to be frequently cleansed during
a man’s life on this earth, much like an object on which dust settles
during daily use. If man commits an evil deed, or an act of negligence,
the spirit is infected and consumed like a bad malady, and the need
for cleansing is even greater. How very excellent is this saying
of the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him)!
He asked his followers, if one of them had a stream flowing through
his front yard, and he bathed in it five times a day, would it leave
any dirt on his body? Likewise, he said was the condition of the
spirit of the believer who keeps up prayer. Prayer, besides cleansing
the spirit of man (a trust of Allah which returns to Him after his
death) for which he is responsible, also serves another purpose.
It is essential for maintaining the health and growth of this spirit
which receives it sustenance by establishing a relationship with
Allah by means of prayer. This is mentioned in this verse:
"And enjoin prayer on thy people, and steadily adhere
to it. We ask not of thee a sustenance, We provide for thee"
I have discussed this in one of my earlier lessons. The condition
of the spirit is similar to the human body, which if deprived of
sustenance, would fall ill and eventually die of starvation. The
importance of the spirit is far greater, because it is the real
self of a person which has to live forever in the life Hereafter
after the body perishes away. The person, who lets this spirit fall
ill, and get weak, is responsible for its demise, and certainly
does not meet the obligations of his Divine trust. Therefore, if
Allah Who is the Supreme Being, allows a person to His presence,
five times a day, to cleanse and nurture his real and everlasting
self, it is definitely to the advantage of man and does not benefit
Allah in any way.
The last verse in this section states:
"Who know that they will meet their Lord and that
to Him they will return."
Liqa the Arabic word for ‘meeting,’ also means ‘finding someone.’
The believer comes to pray with fervor and enthusiasm for liqa
Allah. He is not only given the honor of being in the Divine presence,
but is also able to establish a relationship with Him provided he
keeps up prayer, and does not offer it merely as a matter of custom.
To recognize and establish a relationship with Allah is the purpose
of man’s creation as I have discussed in my commentary on Al-Fatihah.
The concluding words of this verse mention their return to the Lord.
All commentators agree that this means the compulsory appearance
before Allah on the Day of Judgment to account for one’s deeds.
Those who do not choose to appear before Allah by means of prayer,
will ultimately be compelled to do so on the Day of Judgment. The
fear of accountability on this day should also activate man to seek
the cleansing and reformation of his spirit through prayer. He who
is able to understand all of this does not find prayer to be a heavy