Surat al-Baqarah ("the Cow") is the second, and the longest, sura of the Qur'an, with 286 ayat. The Sura's name is in reference to an argument between Moses and the Israelites over a cow they should sacrifice in order to know the murderer of a slain man (see ayahs 67-74 ). From the Muslim perspective, the story is told to demonstrate that such idle argument is the wrong way to react to a direct commandment from God, as opposed to direct submission mandated by Islam.
It is a Madinan sura; most of it was revealed during the first two years after the Hijra, but some sections (for instance, the verses prohibiting interest) were revealed later, and the last three verses had been revealed in Makka. It addresses a wide variety of topics, including substantial amounts of law, and retells stories of Adam and Moses and Abraham. A major theme is guidance: urging the pagans and Jews of Madina to become Muslim, and warning them and the hypocrites of the fate God had visited in the past on those who failed to heed his call.
It begins with the letters Alif Lam Mim.
It appears to be one of the earliest suras (with an-Nisa and some others) to be mentioned by name in a non-Muslim written source. John of Damascus (~730s) speaks of "the text of the Cow", and the Syriac Disputations of a Monk of Beth Hale and an Arab Notable (date hard to determine, but apparently post-710) has the monk saying "I think that for you, too, not all your laws and commandments are in the Qur'an which Muhammad taught you; rather there are some which he taught you from the Qur'an, and some are in surat albaqrah and in gygy (Injil?) and in twrh (Torah.)"
Surat Al-Baqarah contains several verses dealing with the subject of warfare. Ayat 190-194 are often quoted on the nature of battle in Islam:
- Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for Allah loveth not transgressors. And slay them wherever ye catch them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out; for tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter; but fight them not at the Sacred Mosque, unless they (first) fight you there; but if they fight you, slay them. Such is the reward of those who suppress faith. And fight them on until there is no more Tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah; but if they cease, Let there be no hostility except to those who practise oppression. But if they cease, Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful. The prohibited month for the prohibited month,- and so for all things prohibited,- there is the law of equality. If then any one transgresses the prohibition against you, transgress ye likewise against him. But fear Allah, and know that Allah is with those who restrain themselves. (Yusuf Ali's translation)
According to the well-known medieval tafsir of Ibn Kathir (who bases his statement on a hadith of Abul-Aliyah), ayat 190–1 were the first ayat regarding fighting revealed in Madina, and "ever since it was revealed, Allah's Messenger used to fight only those who fought him and avoid non-combatants." It mentions the minority opinion of Abdur-Rahman bin Zayd bin Aslam that this verse was abrogated by sura 9:5 "then kill the mushriks (polytheists) wherever you find them", but rejects this view as implausible. Ibn Kathir explains the "limits" that it says should not be transgressed as referring to "mutilating the dead, theft (from the captured goods), killing women, children and old people who do not participate in warfare, killing priests and residents of houses of worship, burning down trees and killing animals without real benefit", citing Ibn Abbas , al-Hasan al-Basri, Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz, and others in support. He interprets fitna (literally "disorder"; translated here "tumult or oppression") as referring to aggression against Muslims or polytheism (shirk). The "prohibited months" refers to the four "holy months" during which battle is normally forbidden, Dhul Qa'da , Dhul Hijjah, Muharram, and Rajab (see Islamic calendar.)
Verse 256 notes that "there is no compulsion in religion."
Verse 255 is termed the Throne Verse, ayat ul-kursi, and widely memorized and displayed in the Islamic world:
- Allah! There is no deity save Him, the Alive, the Eternal. Neither slumber nor sleep overtaketh Him. Unto Him belongeth whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth. Who is he that intercedeth with Him save by His leave? He knoweth that which is in front of them and that which is behind them, while they encompass nothing of His knowledge save what He will. His throne includeth the heavens and the earth, and He is never weary of preserving them. He is the Sublime, the Tremendous.
A hadith calls this "the greatest verse in the Book of Allah", and another says "It is never recited in a house but Ash-Shaytan leaves."
Last updated: 09-12-2005 02:39:13