2. Baqara

Syed Abu-Ala' Maududi's Chapter Introductions to the Quran


Why the name AL-BAQARAH? AL-BAQARAH (the Cow) has been so named from the story of the Cow occurring in this Sura (vv. 67-73). It has not however been used as a title to indicate the subject of the Sura. It will therefore be as wrong to translate the name Al-Baqarah into "The Cow" or "The Heifer" as to translate any English name say Baker Rice Wolf etc. into their equivalents in other languages or vice versa because this would imply that the Sura dealt with the subject of "The Cow". Many more Suras of the Quran have been named in the same way because no comprehensive words exist in Arabic (in spite of its richness) to denote the wide scope of the subject discussed in them. As a matter of fact all human languages suffer from the same limitation.


Though it is a Madani Sura it follows naturally a Makki Sarah Al- Fatihah which ended with the prayer :"Show us the straight way". It begins with the answer to that prayer This is the Book (that) . . . is guidance. The greater part of Al-Baqarah was revealed during the first two years of the Holy Prophet's life at Al-Madinah. The smaller part which was revealed at a later period has been included in this Sura because its contents are closely related to those dealt with in this Sura. For instance the verses prohibiting interest were revealed during the last period of the Holy prophet's life but have been inserted in this Sura. For the same reason the last verses (284-286) of this Sura which were revealed at Makkah before the migration of the Holy Prophet to AI-Madinah have also been included in it.

Historical Background

In order to understand the meaning of this Sura we should know its historical background: 1. At Makkah the Quran generally addressed the mushrik Quraish who were ignorant of Islam but at Al- Madinah it was also concerned with the Jews who were acquainted with the creed of the Unity of Allah Prophethood Revelation the Hereafter and angels. They also professed to believe in the law which was revealed by Allah to their Prophet Moses (Allah's peace be upon him) and in principle their way was the same (Islam) that was being taught by Prophet Muhammad (Allah's peace be upon him). But they had strayed away from it during the centuries of degeneration and had adopted many un- Islamic creeds rites and customs of which there was no mention and for which there was no sanction in the Torah. Not only this : they had tampered with the Torah by inserting their own explanations and interpretations into its text. They had distorted even that part of the Word of God which had remained intact in their Scriptures and taken out of it the real spirit of true religion and were now clinging to a lifeless frame of rituals. Consequently their beliefs their morals and their conduct had gone to the lowest depths of degeneration. The pity is that they were not only satisfied with their condition but loved to cling to it. Besides this they had no intention or inclination to accept any kind of reform. So they became bitter enemies of those who came to teach them the Right Way and did their worst to defeat every such effort. Though they were originally Muslims they had swerved from the real Islam and made innovations and alterations in it and had fallen victims to hair splitting and sectarianism. They had forgotten and forsaken Allah and begun to serve mammon. So much so that they had even given up their original name Muslim" and adopted the name "Jew" instead and made religion the sole monopoly of the children of Israel. This was their religious condition when the Holy Prophet went to Al-Madinah and invited the Jews to the true religion. That is why more than one third of this Sura has been addressed to the children of Israel. A critical review of their history their moral degeneration and their religious perversions has been made; side by side with this the high standard of morality and the fundamental principles of the pure religion have been put forward in order to bring out clearly the nature of the degeneration of the community of a prophet when it goes astray and to draw clear lines of demarcation between real piety and formalism and the essentials and non-essentials of the true religion. 2. At Makkah Islam was mainly concerned with the propagation of its fundamental principles and the moral training of its followers. But after the migration of the Holy Prophet to Al-Madinah where Muslims had come to settle from all over Arabia and where a tiny Islamic State had been set up with the help of the Ansar (local supporters) naturally the Quran had to turn its attention to the social cultural economic political and legal problems as well. This accounts for the difference between the themes of the suras revealed at Makkah and those at Al- Madinah. Accordingly about half of this Sura deals with those principles and regulations which are essential for the integration and solidarity of a community and for the solution of its problems. After the migration to Al-Madinah the struggle between Islam and un-Islam had also entered a new phase. Before this the Believers who propagated Islam among their own clans and tribes had to face its opponents at their own risk. But the conditions had changed at Al- Madinah where Muslims from all parts of Arabia had come and settled as one community and had established an independent city state. Here it became a struggle for the' survival of the Community itself for the whole of non- Muslim Arabia was bent upon and united in crushing it totally. Hence the following instructions upon which depended not only its success but its very survival were revealed in this Sura (a) The Community should work with the utmost zeal to propagate its ideology and win over to its side the greatest possible number of people. (b) It should so expose its opponents as to leave no room for doubt in the mind of any sensible person that they were adhering to an absolutely wrong position. (c) It should infuse in it's members (the majority of whom were homeless and indigent and surrounded on all sides by enemies) that courage and fortitude which is so indispensable to their very existence in the adverse circumstances in which they were struggling and to prepare them to face these boldly. (d) It should also keep them ready and prepared to meet any armed menace which might come from any side to suppress and crush their ideology and to oppose it tooth and nail without minding the overwhelming numerical strength and the material resources of its enemies (e) It should also create in them that courage which is needed for the eradication of evil ways and for the establishment of the Islamic Way instead. That is why Allah has revealed in this Sura such instructions as may help achieve all the above mentioned objects. 4. During this period a new type of "Muslims munafiqin(hypocrites) had begun to appear. Though signs of duplicity had been noticed during the last days at Makkah they took a different shape at Al-Madinah. At Makkah there were some people who professed Islam to be true but were not prepared to abide by the consequences of this profession and to sacrifice their worldly interests and relations and bear the afflictions which inevitably follow the acceptance of this creed. But at Al-Madinah different kinds of munafiqin(hypocrites) began to appear. There were some who had entered the Islamic fold merely to harm it from within. There were others who were surrounded by Muslims and therefore had become Muslims" to safeguard their worldly interests. They therefore continued to have relations with the enemies so that if the latter became successful their interests should remain secure. There were still others who had no strong conviction of the truth of Islam but had embraced it along with their clans. Lastly there were those who were intellectually convinced of the truth of Islam but did not have enough moral courage to give up their former traditions superstitions and personal ambitions and live up to the Islamic moral standards and make sacrifice in its way. At the time of the revelation of Al-Baqarah all sorts of hypocrites had begun to appear. Allah has therefore briefly pointed out their characteristics here. Afterwards when their evil characteristics and mischievous deeds became manifest Allah sent detailed instructions about them.

Theme: Guidance

This Sura is an invitation to the Divine Guidance and all the stories incidents etc. revolve round this central theme. As this Sura has particularly been addressed to the Jews many historical events have been cited from their own traditions to admonish and advise them that their own good lies in accepting the Guidance revealed to the Holy Prophet. They should therefore be the first to accept it because it was basically the same that was revealed to Prophet Moses (Allah's peace be upon him).