Quran Day: The Cow 62-71 Discusses Who Gets Into Heaven and What They Need to Believe

This is a very interesting passage, but I’m only going to comment on the beginning of it.

The Other Part, Though I Just Promised Otherwise

If you have anything to say or add about God’s command regarding the cow and the ensuing conversation between Moses and the Israelites, I’d love to hear it and better understand what’s going on. In part, it seems like a microcosm of Jewish law and debate, perhaps the Quran’s way of noting the constant struggle between the Jewish people and what they think they should be doing to please God: not just doing it, but arguing about it all day long and finally doing something. I certainly appreciate that sentiment and anyone’s help understanding these verses better.

Who is Going to Heaven – The Cow 62

I LOVE this verse of the Quran, which states explicitly that not just Muslims go to Heaven. This is not the most common of religious beliefs. Though many Christians today think that good people get into Heaven, traditional Christianity is quite clear that only those who believe in Jesus as God (plus other stuff) go to Heaven. The rest of us burn.

So, that the Quran states front and center that many other people besides practicing Muslims go to Heaven (pending, “shall have his reward” means that) is really incredible. Of course, you must believe a few key things, but hey, what good party lets just anybody in, right?

I also find it fascinating (and I think this is in another comment of mine elsewhere on a Quran Day Post) that instead of Christians, it’s written Nazareans, as in, those who follow the Nazarite (or Jesus), since Christians do not really do so much what Jesus said as follow the religion that Paul created about him. This Quranic verse implicitly recognizes this important historical fact, though as JDsg and I have discussed, Muslims also believe that the Torah followed by the Jews is a corrupted text, leading me to wonder if the Jews mentioned hear refers to Jews generally, or Jews whose hearts are with this real Torah or something else like that.

Follow up

What do you think about these verses from the Quran? Do you have answers to any of my questions? Who do you think gets into Heaven? And why?

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The Cow 62-71

62. Surely the believers and the Jews, Nazareans and the Sabians, whoever believes in God and the Last Day, and whosoever does right, shall have his reward with his Lord and will neither have fear nor regret. 63. Remember the day We made the covenant with you and exalted you on the Mount and said; ‘ Hold fast to what We have given you, and remember what is therein that you may take heed.’ 64. You know and have known already those among you who had broken the sanctity of the Sabbath, and to whom We had said: ‘Become (like) apes despised,’ 66. And whom We made an example for the people (of the day) and those after them, and warning for those who fear God. 67. Remember, when Moses said to his people: God demands that you sacrifice a cow,” they said: “Are you making fun of us?’ And he said: “God forbid that I be of the ignorant.’ 68. ‘Call on your Lord for us,’ they said, ‘that He might inform us what kind she should be.’ ‘Neither old nor young, says God, but of age in between,’ answered Moses. ‘So do as you are bid.’ 69. ‘Call on your Lord,’ they said, ‘to tell us the color of the cow.’ ‘God says,’ answered Moses, ‘a fawn colored cow, rich yellow, well pleasing to the eye.’ 70. ‘Call on your Lord,’ they said, ‘to name its variety, as cows be all alike to us. If God wills we shall be guided aright.’ 71. And Moses said: ‘He says it’s a cow unyoked, nor worn out by ploughing or watering the fields, one in good shape with no mark or blemish.’ ‘Now have you brought us the truth,’ they said; and then, after wavering, they sacrificed the cow.

8 Responses

  1. I’ve been rather busy the past few days, which is why I hadn’t responded to the other post. Needless to say, I was a bit amused over your consternation with respect to the Russians. 😉 Regardless… Here’s a bit on this section of the Qur’an:

    I LOVE this verse of the Quran, which states explicitly that not just Muslims go to Heaven.

    This verse is repeated in one form or another about fifteen times in the Qur’an; one verse, 5:69, is almost a duplicate of 2:62. Muslims have never claimed exclusivity to Islam; on the contrary, we believe Islam is for all mankind, for all time. The revelations brought to Muhammad (pbuh) are merely a continuation of what was brought before to all the other prophets (pbut).

    I am a little surprised you didn’t address the other two topics in this section. The first of the two topics, verses 63-66, ties into a later section, 7:163-67, that develops the theme a little more fully. However, I’m really surprised you didn’t try to examine verses 2:67-71. This is the cow, the section for which the entire surah is named for. Of all the different themes that are addressed in this surah, the first Muslims chose these five verses to name the surah after. It must be important! Why, then, is it important? The verses here aren’t just to show the obstinacy of some Jews. Reading through a number of commentaries about these verses, I think Muhammad Asad provides the clearest answer:

    I.e., their obstinate desire to obtain closer and closer definitions of the simple commandment revealed to them through Moses had made it almost impossible for them to fulfil it. In his commentary on this passage; Tabari quotes the following remark of Ibn ‘Abbas: “If [in the first instance] they had sacrificed any cow chosen by themselves, they would have fulfilled their duty; but they made it complicated for themselves, and so God made it complicated for them.” A similar view has been expressed, in the same context, by Zamakhshari. It would appear that the moral of this story points to an important problem of all (and, therefore, also of Islamic) religious jurisprudence: namely, the inadvisability of trying to elicit additional details in respect of any religious law that had originally been given in general terms – for, the more numerous and multiform such details become, the more complicated and rigid becomes the law. This point has been acutely grasped by Rashid Rida’, who says in his commentary on the above Qur’anic passage (see Manar I, 345 f.): “Its lesson is that one should not pursue one’s [legal] inquiries in such a way as to make laws more complicated …. This was how the early generations [of Muslims] visualized the problem. They did not make things complicated for themselves – and so, for them, the religious law (din) was natural, simple and liberal in its straightforwardness. But those who came later added to it [certain other] injunctions which they had deduced by means of their own reasoning (ijtihad); and they multiplied those [additional] injunctions to such an extent that the religious law became a heavy burden on the community.” For the sociological reason why the genuine ordinances of Islamic Law – that is, those which have been prima facie laid down as such in the Qur’an and the teachings of the Prophet are almost always devoid of details, I would refer the reader to my book, State and Government in Islam (pp. 11 ff. and passim). The importance of this problem, illustrated in the above story of the cow – and correctly grasped by the Prophet’s Companions – explains why this surah has been entitled “The Cow.” (See also 5:101 and the corresponding notes 120-123.) (Quran Ref: 2:71)

    BTW, these five verses also tie into the next section, so I will refer back to these verses next week, insha’allah.

  2. How could I have missed the whole importance of this passage! It’s fortunate for me that I have you pointing this out to make sure I’m not reading through the exceedingly relevant parts of the Quran without giving pause to them.

    A few thoughts about it: first, I’m glad to know that this is where the surah gets its name. It’s a fascinating point for the surah to focus on: the notion of overcomplicated legal injunctions and jurisprudence.

    One of my primary criticisms of Judaism (not that it’s my place to be passing judgment on different religions, of course) is that the legalism is absolutely ridiculous (see South Park episode 309 for an interesting point about this) – and as crazy as it gets in the Bible itself (specifically, the Torah) the things that the rabbis did to it make it so overcomplicated make me believe that there is NO WAY God is interested in such things.

    Basically, overcomplicated legalism and jurisprudence conflict strongly with my notion of God. Thus, it is fascinating to me that the Cow would focus on this point and that the entire surah would be named for it.

    Now, as a historian, I try to understand the relevance of the laws and injunctions throughout the Torah – or at least attempt to theorize on them. However, I do that in part by detaching modern developments and practices from the customs and needs of ancient people. Not that people today don’t require fulfillment in similar ways, but there’s a reason that Judaism has turned all of its sacrificial laws into something else entirely (more than the destruction of the location where such things are meant to take place).

    What I wonder about, though, is how much jurisprudence exists in Islam. The answer that in my head is, “a lot,” but this doesn’t come with enough else for me to make a thoughtful point. My curiosity is about whether or not scholars and imams and those within the world of Islamic jurisprudence look at the excess legalism and cite this very passage as a means of indicating that because the Quran doesn’t legislate on a particular issue, Muslims don’t need to debate it in detail and that people’s varying practices are acceptable. Again, I have no example within Islam to back this up, though I wonder to what degree this critique (esp. after reading Asad’s remark) is made internally of Islam, though it is couched in a story about the Israelites (and highly applicable there).

    What’s also interesting is the way that the Quranic passage makes Moses an innocent bystander in this development of legalism while it is the Israelites who crave specificity. In the Torah (and when I say that from now on, unless specified otherwise, I mean the Jewish Torah rather than the original that Muslims believe in) Moses is the giver of the laws and they come from God. In the Quran, however, this notion is reversed. God would have kept it simple and Moses is only being specific because the Israelites are nagging him about it (I guess nagging Jews is an older tradition than I thought).

    Now I’m going to have to go peek at next week’s reading and see if I can’t find some connections! (Also, glad my Russian post amused you – I didn’t know if you made it to any of my other stuff but thought that if you did you’d get a kick out of that one).

  3. What I wonder about, though, is how much jurisprudence exists in Islam. The answer that in my head is, “a lot…”

    There is a lot of jurisprudence in Islam, which is known as fiqh (“fee-kay”). Fiqh is actually a larger field of study than Shari’ah.

    My curiosity is about whether or not scholars and imams and those within the world of Islamic jurisprudence look at the excess legalism…

    Not being a scholar (imams are not necessarily scholars), this is difficult for me to answer. But based on my observations over the years, I don’t think Islam suffers from “excess legalism” all that much. In fact, I think there’s a strong desire on the part of Muslims (regardless of whether they’re a scholar or not) to minimize legalism on the basis of avoiding bida (innovation, which is rejected in Islam). So most Muslims would rather err on the side of caution.

    Now, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t lots of fatawa (pl. of fatwa, “opinion”) out there. In fact, they’re a dime a dozen. But perhaps 99.9% of them are used by average everyday Muslims for guidance on how to live a better Islamic life, and 75% of them are on really, really mundane topics. I can’t say how many times I’ve referred to various fatawa databases over the years, and I’ll usually look at two or three, minimum, just to get a consensus feeling for rulings on the topic I’m looking up. But I’ve never thought of any of this as “excess legalism.” In fact, usually, most Muslims don’t need to refer to the databases in the first place, the basic “rules and regulations” already being well known and implemented into one’s life.

    …and cite this very passage as a means of indicating that because the Quran doesn’t legislate on a particular issue, Muslims don’t need to debate it in detail…

    Actually, it’s sort of the other way around. Sunni Muslims in particular recognize that there are various issues where the Qur’an and Sunnah are completely silent on. In which cases, the ulema (jurists) are allowed to use qiyas (analogy) and ijma (consensus) to derive conclusions. There are also a couple of areas (e.g., riba, usury) where it’s generally felt that there’s too little information to make the best judgments. In which case, those areas generate more debate.

    …and that people’s varying practices are acceptable.

    Generally speaking, varying practices are acceptable as long as they stay within the confines of the primary madhhab (schools of thought). It’s when people go outside the madhhab that causes a lot of consternation among Muslims. (Once again, due to the desire to avoid bida.)

  4. “I LOVE this verse of the Quran, which states explicitly that not just Muslims go to Heaven. This is not the most common of religious beliefs. ” ….

    Hello and thankyou for looking into the Quran and providing this service.

    Quick comment on the above statement … In Islam Muslims beleive that all of the prophets sent by God (Allah) taught the same message to submit wholly to Allah and not to associate partners with Him. All of these messengers of God were therefore Muslims following the command of God (from Adam to Muhammad) and had the same teachings. Muslims also beleive that if Man repents to Allah sincerely (19:60), that Allah will forgive their sins, except for the biggest sin which is associating partners with Allah. If a person is to die while rejecting the concept of Allah’s ‘oneness’ in their heart, then we cannot say that they would go to Heaven necessarily. Ascribing partners to Allah is a serious deal and a grave abomination and disrespect to God! (Read Nisa’ 4:48). And in verse after that the concept of “God is not Unjust”

    So, we cannot necessarily say that this verse “states explicitly that not just Muslims go to Heaven”. Those who submit to the will of God and dont ascribe partners to him (including people of the Book who followed the orignial ‘Christianity and Judaism’) Will enter into heaven but only by the will of Allah. And those people who are referred to as people of the book and followed the teaching of Abraham and the other prophets are in fact submitters to God or ‘Muslims’ (those who submit their will to God).

    Muslims beleive in the original books sent to Jesus and Moses and the messengers however those books have been modified by man. The last message sent to making from God until the day of Judgment came in the form of the Quran and was sent through the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessigns upon him) and is protected and will go unchanged until the end of time. Any message meant for mankind that was in the old original unchanged books (Torah Gospel Psalms etc) is now in the Quran. It is complete and it is the word of God.

    Finally…the best Chapter to readon this subject would be chapter 19 the quran “Mary”. A verse to look at would be 5:72 where got adresses those claiming Christ to be the Son of God.

    I ask that Allah guide us all to what He loves and is pleased with and to protect us from the punishment of Hell Fire and to make our last actions and statements those proclaiming His absolute oneness. Thank you again.

  5. Hi ShemsAdeen! Thanks so much for your input on these ideas. They are indeed complicated, and at the time that I read this verse I was still grappling with them. Fortunately, as Quran Read-A-Long has progressed and these ideas of resurfaced repeatedly, as they are central to the Quran and Islam, I have been able to understand them better (see later posts for more). I really appreciate you contributing to the discussion and helping to round out my – and other readers’ – understanding.

    I hope you join us for more Quran Read-A-Long’s and contribute what you can.

  6. Hi, everyone!

    After reading a lot about what scholars say about who is going to heaven, I realized these things:

    1) We came to this world as a test (not for God, but for us).
    2) Our souls have a knowlegde of the oneness of God and this is called fitrah. We are born in the state of fitrah.
    3) So the requirement for paradise is faith in the oneness of God. After faith, it is important to do good deeds.
    4) God send prophets to remind people. They do not teach something alien to us.
    5) After receiving the message of God we must believe and follow it.
    6) Those who follow it go to paradise, those who turn away go to hell.
    7) People who don’t receive the message or receive it in a distorted form, will not be punished. They are called people of fatrah, and they will be tested on the judgment day.
    8) God has sent prophets to every nation and the message is the same since the time of the first man. Muhammad (pbuh) is the last messenger and the only one sent to the whole world. So he was sent to unite the whole world and everyone has the obligation to believe in his message.
    9) The name of this religion that every prophet brought is islam. This name is given in the Quran when the religion was completed. This is why we don’t see Jesus or Moses saying Judaism or Christianity.
    10) We cannot jugde anybody beacause only God knows who really believes and only He knows if people really receive and reject the message.

    So that verse must be read together with other verses. It’s possible that non-muslims can go to paradise if they didn’t receive the message.

    Thank you!

    • Good Post Marcelo, yes you are pretty accurate here in your post. Ive not heard that Muhammad (peace be upon him) was sent to unite the whole world, but more-so as the final messenger for all of mankind till the end of time (as opposed to beign sent to just one tribe or nation as prior prophets). But if we think about it as Muhammad was sent to deliver the final complete message from Allah, then yes we could say that he was a uniter of the world through that final message. Amazingly there are Billions of Muslim brothers and sisters in the world nowadays united by the shahada “There is no God but God and Muhammad is the messenger of God” …and Islam has reached every corner of the earth. That sounds like one of the greatest ‘uniters’ ever, great point.

      I like point # 10…this is very important.

      And your last point, sure it is possible the “non-muslims” can go to paradise, but the key is that they would still be ‘Muslims’ (as submitters to God). Whether that submission is called another name in a far-off distant place is of no consequence as long as they submit to God and do not associate partners with Him. And Allah knows best, and has all the power and all the mercy on and towards his servants.

  7. ShemsAdeen,

    Thank you for your reply. You are right in what you said. The thing about the prophet (pbuh) uniting the world it’s more an interpretation. But one good definition is the one in the bible, that God would raise a great nation from Ishmael. So the mission of Muhammad (pbuh) was to make real this great Ummah.

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