بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
“To Allah belongs all that is in the heavens and the earth. Whether you show what is in your minds or conceal it, Allah calls you to account for it. He forgives whom He pleases, and punishes whom He pleases, for Allah has power over all things. The Messenger believed in what has been revealed to him from his Lord, as do the men of faith. Each one (of them) believes in Allah, His angels, His books and His messengers. “We make no distinction (they say) between one and another of His messengers”. And they say: “We hear and we obey: (we seek) Your forgiveness, our Lord, and to You is the end of all journeys”. On no soul does Allah place a burden greater than it can bear. It gets every good that it earns, and it suffers every ill that it earns. (Pray:) “Our Lord! Condemn us not if we forget or fall into error; Our Lord! Lay not on us a burden like that which You did lay on those before us; Our Lord! Lay not on us a burden greater than we have strength to bear. Blot out our sins, and grant us forgiveness. Have mercy on us. You are our Protector; Help us against those who stand against faith”.’
(Surat Al-Baqarah: 284-286)
I tried to piecemeal together various tafsirs relating to the verses above, but for whatever reason, I just wasn’t feeling it. I’d read these verses many times in the past, but as we all know reading is not the same as understanding, in the same way that hearing isn’t the same as listening. I can’t claim to fully understand the verses, but here’s how far I got…
What struck me at first was the way Allah is speaking to us. Unlike other parts of the Quran, where many of the sentences come in the form of questions, and leave the reader pondering or nudge them to reconsider their position on life and the hereafter, the final verses of Surat Al-Baqarah are clean cut statements, which tell it how it is. The sharp and brisk nature of the words leave no room for confusion, and Allah reitterates His expectations of those who claim to have faith.
Firstly we’re reminded of Allah’s greatness, and His supremacy over all things, be it in the heavens or the earth. In turn we’re reminded that our possessions, our faculties, our wealth and any number of our worldly goods are not ‘ours’. Everything belongs to Allah, and we have merely been entrusted with these things, so as to serve Him.
We’re then told that we can be held accountable for everything, including the thoughts which remain hidden. However it should be noted that upon hearing this part of the verse the Companions of the Prophet (pbuh) came to him and said:
“O Messenger of Allah! We know that we would be punished according to our statements and our actions, but as for what occurs in our hearts, we do not control what is in them.”
After which “On no soul does Allah place a burden greater than it can bear.” was revealed, consequently abrogating the earlier verse, and therefore making us only accountable for the thoughts which we act upon. Elsewhere, Allah tells the angels :
“If My servant intends to commit a bad deed, do not record it as such for him, and if he commits it, write it for him as one bad deed. If he intends to perform a good deed, but did not perform it, then write it for him as one good deed, and if he performs it, write it for him as ten good deeds”
Alongside Allah’s greatness, the reader is told of His mercy and justice:
“He forgives whom He pleases, and punishes whom He pleases, for Allah has power over all things.”
Here, the ideas of mercy and justice sit side by side. The believer should never loose hope or become despondent, for Allah has the capacity to forgive whoever He wants, and there is no limit to His forgiveness. But at the same time we shouldn’t become too comfortable or feel that we’ll automatically be amongst the forgiven. Instead, we walk a tightrope of knowing that Allah is both merciful and just, and realising the onus is on us to earn His mercy, and take precautions against earning His anger.
Verse 285 moves onto highlight the basic tenants of faith:
“The Messenger believed in what has been revealed to him from his Lord, as do the men of faith. Each one (of them) believes in Allah, His angels, His books and His messengers. “We make no distinction (they say) between one and another of His messengers”.”
Belief in Allah, belief in the revelation of the Quran to the Prophet (pbuh), belief in the angels, of previous books and past messengers are some of the pillars of aqeeda, and form part of the criteria of being a ‘mu’min’. The mu’min is the one who completely submits to the will of Allah and whose faith is embedded in his heart.
There are no tricks here- Allah is simply telling us what it takes to be loved by Him. The importance of belief in all of the Prophets is also affirmed, as Islam built on the message given to previous Prophets, all of whom preached tawheed and tried to veer their communities to guidance.
The believers are also those who say:
“We make no distinction (they say) between one and another of His messengers”. And they say: “We hear and we obey: (we seek) Your forgiveness, our Lord, and to you is the end of all journeys”.
Accepting Islam is a simple case of taking the shahada (accepting that there is only one God, and that Muhammed is His final messenger) Allah builds upon the criteria of what a true believer is; we’ve already been told that the believer accepts all the messengers, but now were also told that the believer listens and obeys the message, calling on Allah for forgiveness because he knows that in death he will return to Allah. Allah says:
“And whoever does evil, or wrongs his own soul, but afterwards seeks Allah’s forgiveness, will find Allah is Forgiving, Compassionate.”
(Surat Al-Nisa: 110)
“On no soul does Allah place a burden greater than it can bear. It gets every good that it earns, and it suffers every ill that it earns.”
What’s beautiful about this verse is the fact that it’s so specific without addressing any individual person. The burdens I face, may not be the same that the burdens you face and vice-versa. But whatever challenge is presented to us, Allah guarantees us that it’s something He is sure we can bear. Allah has placed this burden on us, and he has every confidence that our soul can take its weight. Knowing this, we should never feel overwhelmed or loose hope, but instead take solace and draw strength from fact that Allah has told us that we can rise to the challenge.
The last part of the Surah has a special status in the Quran – upon the Prophets (pbuh) ascension to heaven (Miraj) he heard a noise as he sat with the angel Jibreel (as). Jibreel looked to the sky and said: “This is a door that was opened just now in heaven, and it was never opened before.” Then an angel came down through the door and said to the Prophet:
“Receive the good news of two lights that you have been given and which no Prophet before you was given: the Opener of the Book (Al-Fatihah) and the last Ayat in Surat Al-Baqarah. You will not read a letter of them, but you will be granted its benefit.”‘
The verse reads:
“Our Lord! Condemn us not if we forget or fall into error; Our Lord! Lay not on us a burden like that which You did lay on those before us; Our Lord! Lay not on us a burden greater than we have strength to bear. Blot out our sins, and grant us forgiveness. Have mercy on us. You are our Protector; Help us against those who stand against faith”.’
This dua (prayer) was revealed at a time when persecution of the Muslims was at its highest. It’s a plea for guidance, forgiveness, triumph over hardship, perseverance, mercy, protection and strength against adversaries – themes which have been touched upon elsewhere . Allah is equipping us with the words we need to attain all of the above; all that’s left to us is to ask with a sincere heart.
Al-Baqarah serves as a prologue to rest of the Quran, and the final verses of the Surah draw us back to the foundations of our relationship with Allah, reminding us that forgiveness and success is there for the one who asks.
Hopefully over the past month, we’ve reacquainted ourselves with the Quran. Not only by reciting it, but by really studying it to the best of our ability, and taking heed of the lessons it contains. Either way, I hope this will spur you on to look at the parts of the Quran which can easily taken for granted.