Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 284-286 Complete the Second Sura

This repetition affirming the equality of the messages (despite differences in prophetic ability) from God’s different apostles (which is, I think, to say prophets) is very important. It makes Islam an incredibly inclusive religion, not shunning and belittling any of the other religions, which it acknowledges as other ways of believing in God and going to Heaven. I’m not particularly sure about the nuances of this understanding but generally speaking, this is my understanding after the conversations that have accompanied Quran Read-A-Long.

Asad tells us that the reference in verse 286 to God not laying the burden upon Muslims that he laid upon those before is a reference to the Mosaic law of Judaism and the world-renunciation of Christianity. If that is what’s being referred to here (and I can roll with that for the sake of argument) then I dare say that I concur with the burdensome nature of either of those things. I take this to mean, then, that the Quran considers its relatively long list of injunctions non-burdensome, and I ask, what is the difference between that which the Quran tells Muslims to do and that which the Torah tells Jews to do?

My own answer is obviously hindered by my lack of knowledge of what else, beyond the Cow, the Quran tells Muslims to do day to day, so my answer is only tentative, and it would seem to lie in the seeming arbitrariness of some of the things listed in the Torah – for instance, the kosher dietary laws. However, Islam shares a few of those laws (like a prohibition on eating pig), and so my question becomes whether or not this is a comparison not of the Torah itself but of the Rabbinic law (the Talmudic law, that is) that Mohammed would have theoretically seen the Jews around him abiding by – and that rabbinic law is a much longer and more tiresome list than the Torah’s own list. However, I would then offer a comparison between those legal minutae and the Hadith and other jurisprudence practiced of Muslims. If it is saying that the Quranic law is not burdensome because it is practical, then I would mention that a lot of what is mentioned in the Torah is practical too – like laws about sexual deviancy or treating society’s underprivileged fairly – despite the lengthy set of sacrificial laws that tax our modern sentiments.

Now, this isn’t meant to be me putting my foot down in these comparisons, because like I said, my knowledge of the rest of what the Quran is asking is not filled out yet (like my knowledge of Islamic jurisprudence, believe it or not), but the Cow does seem to have a lot of directives, many atuned to running a balanced and just society, and some seemingly slightly less necessary (no pig?) – which isn’t to say there aren’t good reasons, but just to say that the differences in those elements of the religions aren’t entirely clear to me yet. As for the comparison with Christianity, it sounds like this is the Quran’s way of saying (at least according to Asad’s interpretation) that Islam, though focused on the next life like Christianity, is not obsessed to the exclusion of an appreciation and enjoyment of this life.

I’ve left a lot up in the air here and would be incredibly appreciative of any clarifying comments and thoughts.

We’ve made it to the end of The Cow, and though it’s the second sura, it’s also the first long one so that’s exciting! Thanks to everyone who’s made it this far with me and who has joined Quran Read-A-Long. I hope you’ll continue to read and comment as we move into the third sura, Al- ‘Imran, next week.

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The Cow 284-286

284. Unto God belongs all that is in the heavens and all that is on earth. And whether you bring into the open what is in your minds or conceal it, God will call you to account for it; and then He will forgive whom He wills, and will chastise whom He wills: for God has the power to will anything. 285. THE APOSTLE, and the believers with him, believe in what has been bestowed upon him from on high by his Sustainer: they all believe in God, and His angels, and His revelations, and His apostles, making no distinction between any of His apostles; and they say: “We have heard, and we pay heed. Grant us Thy forgiveness, O our Sustainer, for with Thee is all journeys’ end! 286. “God does not burden any human being with more than he is well able to bear: in his favor shall be whatever good he does, and against him whatever evil he does. “O our Sustainer! Take us not to task if we forget or unwittingly do wrong! “O our Sustainer! Lay not upon us a burden such as Thou didst lay upon those who lived before us!* O our Sustainer! Make us not bear burdens which we have no strength to bear! “And efface Thou our sins, and grant us forgiveness, and bestow Thy mercy upon us! Thou art our Lord Supreme: succor us, then, against people who deny the truth!”

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7 Responses

  1. “Asad tells us that the reference in verse 286 to God not laying the burden upon Muslims that he laid upon those before is a reference to the Mosaic law of Judaism and the world-renunciation of Christianity”
    —an interesting point of view that I had not considered.
    If it does refer to Mosiac law and world-renunciation, it would be in the context of people putting on that extra burden on themselves in the name of God. —refer back to the discussion about the heifer–there is also a verse in the Quran that says that monasticism was not asked by God. This would fit in with the concept of free-will—that we initiate our actions/destiny. If we were unable to choose (free-will)–we would not be responsible for our actions which would then make the whole idea of Judgement obsolete. —In a more general sense —“burden” might refer to the tests and trials that we face and which we may make worse with our egoism and arrogance.

    “Islam, though focused on the next life like Christianity, is not obsessed to the exclusion of an appreciation and enjoyment of this life”
    —We cannot excercise the full potential of our free-will without totally engaging with life —with all its ups and downs. It is better to make mistakes, learn from them and grow in spirituality than to disengage with life.—as the Quran reminds us–God is compassionate and merciful.

    Marcelo and others….Thankyou for your comments. I hope you will continue to share your thoughts–I look forward to more of your posts.

    • Hi kay,

      Thanks for mentioning me above. It was very interesting to see your comments in all (or almost all) the posts of the Quran read a long. It’s very good to see people like you and JDsg who knows a lot of your religion and I hope to learn a lot from (and with) both of you.

      In another post you were talking about the apocryphal and the Quran. You said that some apocryphal were tempered using Quranic texts. Do you know where can I learn more about this subject?

      Thnak you!

  2. Hi,

    I have to say that I’ve passed a difficult time trying to read this surah alone. hehe
    I guess it’s kinda summary of the religion. It’s very interesting.

    What amazes me in the Quran is that the speaker is God Himself. In the Torah and Gospels there are passages where it is related that God spoke to men, but in the Quran the whole book is a speech of God.

    It’s very difficult for non-muslims to understand it because they are used to the approach from the other religious books.

    This is why we always see Jay asking where Muhammad(pbuh) heard of it. hehe

    Anyways, Jay is doing an incredible job here. He is taking a very good approach to the Book and he’s much receptive with our comments and ideas.

    So thank you, Jay Solomon!

  3. Marcelo –it will be a pleasure to learn together.
    Apocryphal—I must ask you to be a bit patient, my kids crashed their computer and are temporarily using mine—which means my desk looks like a tornado flew by! —all my notes are buried in a mountain of what-nots. So I don’t know which of the Quran’s stories I was researching—when I wrote that post. —Generally—some of the stories in the Quran have some (slight) similarities with apocrypha such as the Infancy Gospel of Thomas or the Gospel of James. There are other stories that appeared (or were further elaborated) in apocrypha material after the revelation of the Quran and scholars feel, may have been influenced by the Quran. Some Eastern (Christian) churches had a good relationship with Islam and Prophet Muhammed(pbuh)–they extended their hands in friendship. A few Christian scholars later played a role in translating many of the greek knowledge into arabic. (Though — the Muslims and Jews of this later time had an even closer relationship—and some feel Islam had an influence on Judaism in its practices and doctrine.)
    Where to learn more?—I don’t know—but the similarities and differences between the Quran and other works have fascinated scholars. I just pick up on the stories in the Quran and try to find more background on them.
    —-And I agree that Jay’s questions make this blog very interesting (and keeps me comming back) which reminds me—Jay, sorry I did not answer your question about definition of faith(Iman)—hadn’t looked at it until now–and unfortunately I won’t be able to give you the site unless I shovel off the mess my kids made–but I think it was a site comparing Judaism and Islam.

  4. I must say for the record that the best part about asking questions is that I get great answers! Sometimes on the internet when people (and by people I mean myself) ask questions, it’s like doing it into a giant vacuum. Not so at Quran Read-A-Long where I feel like I have access to a wealth of information and will get to learn more by asking.

    In any case, just by way of a quick aside, I would say that Muslims and Jews in the post-Arabic expansion throughout the Middle East and North Africa had a very close relationship and Arabic culture and the Muslim religion had a profound and lasting influence on Judaism. Indeed, and by way of a brief illustrative example, Judeo-Arabic (Arabic written in Hebrew characters) was a language developed by Jews early on in their lives under Arab rule and one that Jews felt was so culturally superior (due to its Arab nature and the rich cultural heritage that went along with that – in part a reflection of Islam’s rapid and thorough absorption of Greco-Roman knowledge) that even hundreds of years after Christians had reconquered Spain from the Muslims, Jews continued to converse in and write in Judeo-Arabic. They were uninterested in adopting the languages of the Iberian Peninsula or Latin because they considered Arabic culture superior in every way. If that doesn’t indicate an influence I don’t know what does. And that’s only one example all the way from Europe – what was going on in the cultural center of Baghdad in the 9th and 10th centuries was also incredibly important to understanding the influence of Islam and Arab culture on Judaism and Judaic culture.

  5. A few comments on this section…

    As Yusuf Ali points out, we close out this surah with a renewed discussion about faith. If you recall, Surah al-Fatihah starts off by man asking Allah (swt) to “…show us the straight path…” And Allah (swt) then responds with:

    This is the Book; in it is guidance sure, without doubt, to those who fear God; Who believe in the Unseen, are steadfast in prayer, and spend out of what We have provided for them; And who believe in the Revelation sent to thee, and sent before thy time, and (in their hearts) have the assurance of the Hereafter. (2:2-4)

    In 2:285, we are told that the Messengers and men of faith believe “in God, His angels, His books, and His apostles.” We recognize that all of the Apostles are equal, that none are greater than any other, and that we obey His word, seek His forgiveness when we err, and acknowledge that we will return to Him in the hereafter. By now we should have a decent understanding of what is required of us with respect to “faith.”

    The second point is with respect to the first line of 2:286: “On no soul doth God Place a burden greater than it can bear.” This is an oft-mentioned verse by Muslims. Non-Muslims look upon Islam as being highly legalistic, which it is, and perhaps too demanding of their efforts. Especially my first Ramadan, when I was back in the US, almost all my colleagues who knew I was fasting would say, “Oh, I could never do that.” But the so-called “burden” that non-Muslims see is perhaps too light for Muslims. It is all too easy for us to slip away from our requirements (for example, not praying on time or at all). We should demand more from ourselves, especially with respect to the fundamentals of the religion, such as the five pillars, than we all too often do.

    The last point is with respect to the remainder of 2:286. There are several prayers tucked away in the ayat of the Qur’an, and this is one of them. Perhaps the most interesting line (in this day and age) in the prayer is the very last sentence: “Help us against those who stand against faith.” We Muslims often talk about the “greater” internal jihad, but there is an external jihad as well, not necessarily against the usual suspects, but those who discourage faith in one way or another. Faith in God, both in “theory” and in practice (in Islam, as demonstrated through salat) is so important, and much more so than “good works,” IMO, although that is important as well. So we ask for His help against those who stand against faith, regardless of whether they are human or non-human (e.g., Shaitan).

  6. Thanks for helping us finish off The Cow with these important thoughts. I like the return to the idea of faith and what it is to be engaged in the Quran. It’s interesting how well the Cow stands as an opening surah (even though it’s the second) without having been the first revelation delivered to Mohammed.

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