Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 83-86

The Ten Commandments, More or Less

This passage begins with what seems to be a reference to the Ten Commandments because it starts by referencing a covenant with the people of Israel. The commandments here that align with the biblical injunctions are 1. to worship only God and 2. to be good to one’s parents. We get some bonus commandments mentioned in the Quranic version which I think are excellent additions: speak of goodness to men and give charity. There are certain provisions throughout other law-giving moments in the Torah that speak about charity and caring for orphans but not right in the 10 commandments as they are presented here – and this speaking of goodness to men is a great one, I must say.

The Disobeying Israelites

The rest of the passage is about a familiar theme: the Israelites reneging on their promises. They say they won’t kill (also a commandment) but they do. They also claim that they won’t kick their people out of their homes, but they do. Is this reference to kicking certain people out of their homes a particular reference to something in the Bible or does Islam explain what event(s) this refers to in other literature (or elsewhere in the Quran)? Perhaps it refers to inner-tribal warfare (like when the Benjamites go to war with the rest of the tribes of Israel).

The Issue of the Book – Again

The Israelites are asked in verse 85 if they believe only part of the Torah and reject the rest. Within these and other quranic verses it would certainly seem that way. I can’t be sure what this refers to within Islam in particular (though I’d be fascinated to find out if you know), though I can say that within Judaism it seems that this is true.

Jews today, and in Mohammed’s time, no longer obeyed any of the sacrificial laws (a large chunk of the Torah’s laws) because they didn’t have the Temple in which to sacrifice. The rabbis had, by this time, created innumerable additional laws and turned other laws around (it should be added, not maliciously and deceptively but in order to preserve a religion that was no longer Temple-centric) and so if one were to read the Torah that the Jews had in the 7th century and compared this with their practices one would definitely see a series of discrepancies. However, I can’t be sure if this is referring to the actions of the Israelites historically (probably so) or to the contemporary Jews. Maybe both?

Judgment

In any case, a theme that has appeared repeatedly and no doubt one that will reappear again and again as a central tenet of Islam, is that we will all be judged. The bad will be disgraced and the good rewarded. No matter what we do, God is aware and there is no escaping His judgment. Verse 86 makes it clear that there is no value in trading the quality of the next life for anything in this one.

Summary

What do you think of these verses and what do they make you think of? Can you help answer anything that I mentioned above? What can you add to help us understand these verses better?

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The Cow 83-86

83. Remember, when We made a covenant with the people of Israel and said: “Worship no one but God, and be good to your parents and your kin, and to orphans and the needy, and speak of goodness to men; observe your devotional obligations, and give zakat (the due share of your wealth for the welfare of others),” you went back (on your word), except only a few, and paid no heed. 84. And remember, when We made a covenant with you whereby you agreed you will neither shed blood among you nor turn your people out of their homes, you promised, and are witness to it too. 85. But you still kill one another, and you turn a section of your people from their homes, assisting one another against them with guilt and oppression. Yet when they are brought to you as captives you ransom them, although forbidden it was to drive them away. Do you, then, believe a part of the Book and reject a part? Ther is no other award for them who so act but disgrace in the the world, and on the Day of Judgment the severest of punishment; for God is not heedless of all that you do. 86. They are those who bought the life of the world at the cost of the life to come; and neither will their torment decrease nor help reach them.

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4 Responses

  1. I must admit that this is a tough one. The verses show a consistency of previous themes already mentioned (obeying and respecting God, staying true to the covenant), but I’m not very sure about the details. What is the specific reference to driving them out of their homes? I’m guessing it might be referring to tribal disputes….? I’m stumped.

  2. Is this reference to kicking certain people out of their homes a particular reference to something in the Bible or does Islam explain what event(s) this refers to in other literature (or elsewhere in the Quran)? Perhaps it refers to inner-tribal warfare (like when the Benjamites go to war with the rest of the tribes of Israel).

    Per Ibn Kathir:

    Allah criticized the Jews who lived in Al-Madinah during the time of the Messenger of Allah . They used to suffer, because of the armed conflicts between the tribes of Al-Madinah, Aws and Khazraj. Before Islam, the Aws and Khazraj worshipped idols, and many battles took place between them. There were three Jewish tribes in Al-Madinah at that time, Banu Qaynuqa` and Banu An-Nadir, the allies of the Khazraj, and Banu Qurayzah, who used to be the allies of the Aws. When war erupted between Aws and Khazraj, their Jewish allies would assist them. The Jew would kill his Arab enemy, and sometimes they also killed Jews who were the allies of the other Arab tribe, although the Jews were prohibited from killing each other according to clear religious texts in their Books. They would also drive each other from their homes and loot whatever furniture and money they could. When the war ended, the victorious Jews would release the prisoners from the defeated party, according to the rulings of the Tawrah. This is why Allah said,

    (Then do you believe in a part of the Scripture and reject the rest)

    (After this, it is you who kill one another and drive out a party of you from their homes). Muhammad bin Ishaq bin Yasar reported that Ibn `Abbas commented on the Ayah,

    (After this, it is you who kill one another and drive out a party of you from their homes) “Allah mentioned what they were doing, and that in the Tawrah He had prohibited them from shedding each other’s blood, and required them to free their prisoners. Now they were divided into two camps in Al-Madinah, Banu Qaynuqa`, who were the allies of the Khazraj, and An-Nadir and Qurayzah, who were the allies of the Aws. When fighting erupted between Aws and Khazraj, Banu Qaynuqa` would fight along with the Khazraj, while Banu An-Nadir and Qurayzah would fight along with the Aws. Each Jewish camp would fight against their Jewish brethren from the other camp. They would shed each other’s blood, although they had the Tawrah with them, and they knew their rights and dues. Meanwhile, the Aws and Khazraj were polytheists who worshipped idols. They did not know about Paradise, the Fire, Resurrection, Divine Books the lawful and prohibited. When the war would end, the Jews would ransom their prisoners and implement the Tawrah. Consequently, Banu Qaynuqa` would ransom their prisoners who were captured by the Aws, while Banu An-Nadir and Qurayzah would ransom their prisoners who were captured by the Khazraj. They would also ask for blood money. During these wars, they would kill whomever (Jews or Arabs) they could, while helping the polytheists against their brethren. Therefore, Allah reminded them of this when He said,

    (Then do you believe in a part of the Scripture and reject the rest) This Ayah means, `Do you ransom them according to the rulings of the Tawrah, yet kill them while the Tawrah forbade you from killing them and from expelling them from their homes The Tawrah also commanded that you should not aid the polytheists and those who associate with Allah in the worship against your brethren. You do all this to acquire the life of this world.’ I was informed that the behavior of the Jews regarding the Aws and Khazraj was the reason behind revealing these Ayat.”

    Per Muhammad Asad:

    This is a reference to the conditions prevailing at Medina at the time of the Prophet’s hijrah. The two Arab tribes of Medina – AI-Aws and Khazraj – were, in pre-Islamic times permanently at war with one another; and out of the three Jewish tribes living there-the Banu Qaynuqa’, Banu ‘n-Nadir and Banu Qurayzah – the first-named two were allied with Khazraj, while the third was allied with Al-Aws. Thus, in the course of their warfare, Jew would kill Jew in alliance with pagans (“aiding one another in sin and hatred”): a twofold crime from the viewpoint of Mosaic Law. Nevertheless, they would subsequently ransom their mutual captives in obedience to that very same Law – and it is this glaring inconsistency to which the Qur’an alludes in the next sentence. (Quran Ref: 2:85)

    You must also remember that most Qur’anic verses like these have both specific and general meanings. The specific meaning often relates to an event that took place at the time of Muhammad (pbuh) in order to drive home the spiritual lesson being taught; they had or could see the example with their own eyes, the ayah then providing the lesson to be taught. However, there are often general meanings as well; these may refer to other examples that have happened in the past, such as what you provided (“when the Benjamites go to war with the rest of the tribes of Israel”), or in the future.

    Verse 86 makes it clear that there is no value in trading the quality of the next life for anything in this one.

    A theme repeated often in the Qur’an.

  3. Thank you for the clarifying passages: they clearly point out the inconsistencies in the Jews’ actions at the time in question and I’m glad to know that there was a specific story at the time under question to which this referred (well, I’m not glad that it was like this but I’m glad to know what was being discussed).

    To obey the advantageous while disobeying that which is more easily ignored for present gain does not seem an uncommon action, whether for Jews or for anyone else. I daresay, no one with a loyalty (whether, religious, ideological, political or otherwise) can’t be found guilty in some way of disobeying some element of his cause while following another.

    Not that this is a defense of the Jews, but just as in many places so far that we’ve seen in the Quran, the issue at hand is merely an example of a way that many people behave.

  4. …the issue at hand is merely an example of a way that many people behave.

    True, but that’s the point of the Qur’an, to highlight these common but wrong actions and to steer men away from committing them if they’re willing to take heed. It’s somewhat along the same lines for the drinking of alcohol: there may be some benefits to doing so but the disadvantages definitely outweigh the advantages.

    They ask thee concerning wine and gambling. Say: “In them is great sin, and some profit, for men; but the sin is greater than the profit.” They ask thee how much they are to spend; Say: “What is beyond your needs.” Thus doth Allah Make clear to you His Signs: In order that ye may consider- (2:219)

    The question then is, can we avoid this hypocrisy? I agree with your second paragraph: most of us are guilty of it at some time in our life. That’s why, I think, the Qur’an essentially says, you either believe in all of it or you don’t. Don’t make Islam a cafeteria religion, picking and choosing what you want to believe and what you don’t want to believe. And that was, perhaps, one of the reasons why it took me several years to revert back to Islam, because it took time for me to become convinced that all of the Qur’an was from Allah (swt).

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