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Lesson 23

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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 following verse:

"And He it is Who has made you successors in the land" (6:165).
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.

Muslims warned

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 you."
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 of truth.

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 be resolved.

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 commanded to:

"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" (20:132).

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 burden.
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