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Lesson 8

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Lesson - 8


"I, Allah, am the best Knower. This Book, there is no doubt in it, is a guide to those who keep their duty."
Ch. 2, verses 1–2.

Answer to the prayer of Al-Fatihah

These are the first two verses of Surah al-Baqara (Chapter The Cow). In a way this is the beginning of the Holy Quran. In another place, the Holy Quran and Al-Fatihah have been described thus:

"And certainly We have given thee seven oft-repeated (verses) and the grand Quran" (15:87).

There is a saying of the Holy Prophet, may peace and the blessings of Allah be upon him, that these frequently repeated verses are those of Al-Fatihah. Besides other occasions every Muslim recites the Al-Fatihah at least thirty times in his five daily prayers. It is an essential component of every rakat (unit) of these prayers. The Holy Prophet himself called Al-Fatihah as the Umm-ul-Kitab, i.e., the Basis of the Book, because it contains the whole of the Quran in a nutshell. This essence of the Holy Quran was thus extracted and placed at the very beginning of the Holy Quran, just like a diamond crafted on top of a gold ring. Although a part of the ring, it still appears distinct from it. This also manifests the grandeur of Al-Fatihah, as the Holy Quran was revealed in reply to the prayer for guidance towards the right path in it. Thus in the verses under discussion today, we are told that the guidance you had asked for, has been provided by Allah in this Book.

Lessons to be learned from previous nations

Also in Al-Fatihah Divine guidance on the ‘path of those upon whom favors are bestowed,’ is requested, and ‘not of those upon whom wrath is brought down, nor those who go astray.’ The lesson implied by obligating the repetition of these verses in the daily prayers is that some nations upon whom favors were bestowed, became subject to the wrath of Allah on account of their misdeeds, and went astray after being guided. The Muslims are, therefore, given a constant reminder not to follow the path of these nations. Thus, in Al-Baqara, after referring to the benevolence of a great blessing like the Holy Quran, and its many superb lessons of guidance, mention is made of the nation of Israel. This was the nation upon whom were bestowed both spiritual and worldly blessings in great abundance and at an unprecedented scale. A nation which had been in bondage for centuries, and persecuted by the Egyptians, was led to freedom by Allah sending prophets Moses and Aaron for this purpose. Towards the end, this persecution had increased to such an extent that by the command of the Pharaoh, the female progeny of the Israelites were allowed to survive, while the male offspring were killed. The intent of the plan was to destroy this nation while they put up with dishonor and degradation of their young women. When Pharaoh pursued the Israelites with his forces, Allah manifested His supreme power by safely delivering the Israelites through the falling ocean tide, and destroying the mighty army of Pharaoh with the rising ocean currents. The Israelites witnessed this great manifestation with their own eyes. Before this also, during their period of slavery, this nation had seen great signs of Divine power. These are mentioned further on in Al-Baqara.

Significance of the name Al-Baqara (The Cow)

Despite these powerful signs and blessings, the Israelite nation did not recognize the Divine Being, and were ungrateful. They secretly continued to worship the cow which they had observed the Egyptians doing. At first they worshipped clandestinely a live cow which was a fine looking and healthy animal, but when this was sacrificed by Allah’s command, they made a calf out of gold and silver and started worshipping it. The Holy Quran says:

"And they were made to imbibe (the love of) the calf into their hearts on account of their disbelief "(2:93).

The point to note in this connection is that the cow they worshipped first, was an animal, and the subsequent one was an object of gold and silver. Today in Europe and America, in fact in most areas of the world which follow their lead, the worship of God has been discarded in favor of the animal within oneself, i.e., one’s base passions and animal desires.

Worship (ibadat), as I have previously explained in my commentary of Al-Fatihah, means service with humility and obedience of Allah. The place of the love of the Divine Being in our hearts has been taken over by the love of gold and silver, the search and acquirement of which has become the purpose of life today. The purpose of man’s creation on earth, as I have already discussed in my commentary on Al-Fatihah, is to search for and establish a relationship with God. Therefore, even today, the cow representing our animal desires, and the golden calf our lust for material wealth, is the god that many worship. In this respect, this topic and subject is as relevant today as it was in the description of the disbelief of the Children of Israel (Bani-Israil).

I have made these comments because most people consider this relevant only to the polytheistic beliefs of the Israelites, and do not understand its implications for the modern age. Moses liberated his nation from centuries of Egyptian political dominance, however, their slave mentality persisted, resulting in their worship of an animal, and gold and silver representing the gods of their former masters. Similarly today, although the political bondage of the European powers has diminished, their psychological dominance persists. The whole world thus follows their lead in worshipping either their own animal desires, or making the pursuit of material wealth, rather than love of the Divine Being, as the sole objective of their lives. This is true also in case of the Muslims, amongst whom individuals influenced by Western thinking follow their low desires and make the love of gold and silver rather than love of God, as the purpose of their existence. No other subject matter can therefore be of greater importance today. I have elaborated this point for you so that you can perceive the excellence of the Holy Quran. It made us aware of these truths fourteen hundred years ago which can be applied towards every age.

Allah is the Author of this Book

Let us now consider the verses which mark the beginning of the Surah Al-Baqara.

Alif Lam Meem

and letters like these precede twenty-nine chapters of the Holy Quran. These are called the huruf muqatta‘at or letters that are read separately, i.e., abbreviations. For example, in this context these letters are not joined together and read as ALM, but are read separately as Alif, Lam, Meem. Most people do not interpret these letters, although their meaning has been reported by the honorable Companions, and it is most likely that they came to know of this from the Holy Prophet. Such letters, however, had been used previously in the Arabic language and their meaning in the appropriate context was understood. In other languages such as English, similar usage of letters exists, most frequently used of which is perhaps the abbreviation o.k. meaning it is quite all right or correct. Some commentators have misinterpreted these as being the names of the scribes who wrote copies of the Holy Quran. They do not give thought to the fact that these letters being part of verses of the Holy Quran have always been enumerated with these verses, and are therefore a part of the Holy Quran. They have always been read in the prayers or recited otherwise as part of the Holy Quran. If the names of the scribes, after being written down, have become part of the Holy Quran, then what guarantee is there that the rest of the Holy Quran is safe from interpolation? (I seek the refuge of Allah from saying so). This would be quite contrary to the Quranic verse:

"Surely We have revealed the Reminder, and surely We are its Guardian." (15:9)

Hadith (Sayings of the Holy Prophet) tell us that the Holy Prophet and his Companions used to read these letters from the very beginning while reciting the Holy Quran. Were they then reciting the abbreviated names of the scribes as part of the word of God? (I seek the protection of Allah).

Those who have seen royal decrees know that in the beginning of every such document is the name and title of the emperor. These muqatta‘at or abbreviations used in the Holy Quran indicate to us the titles or attributes of Allah, the greatest Emperor of all. The attributes they refer to have a deep and meaningful connection with the subject matter of the verse or chapter in which they occur. For example, Ibn Abbas, a Companion of the Holy Prophet, has narrated:

Ana Allah alam
(I, Allah, am the best Knower)

as the interpretation of Alif-Lam-Meem. The first letter Alif was taken from the word Ana (I), letter Lam was taken as the second letter from Allah and the last letter Meem was taken from the Arabic word Alam (am the best Knower). Thus the abbreviation Alif-Lam-Meem stands for "I, Allah, am the best Knower," which is a most elegant and appropriate explanation for the context.

The Book of Guidance

The reason for the verse, "I, Allah, am the best Knower," is further elucidated by the words that follow. Allah replies, "This (here is the) Book," in response to the guidance asked for by mankind in Al- Fatihah in the form of the prayer, "Guide us on the right path." The One most capable of giving guidance is the One Who possesses the greatest amount of knowledge. Thus when somebody falls ill, we seek the advice and direction from a physician regarding what kind of medication to dispense, and what form of dietary precautions to take. This is because the doctor has more knowledge than us in this matter. If the doctor needs further consultation in this matter he would refer us to a specialist, who would have greater expertise in that field.

Who possesses greater knowledge than Allah, the Creator of the universe? All knowledge, scientific, or otherwise, is based upon discovering the laws of the Creator, and the study of His creation. Thus, Allah is the Source of all such knowledge. Allah created man and within him His spirit, He also created angels and the devil (shaitan). We shall, if Allah please, study the great purpose behind this creation in the study of the fourth section (ruku) of this Chapter Al-Baqara. Who possesses greater knowledge than Allah regarding the purpose of man’s creation? What is the path he needs to follow in order to fulfill the objective of this life and the life Hereafter (of which only Allah has knowledge)? What are the apparent and hidden dangers which one needs to avoid? In the matter of guiding mankind what could be a better and more appropriate statement than this, that Allah Who possesses the greatest degree of knowledge, including knowledge of the unseen known only to Him, is the One most capable of giving such direction.

The words Dha-li-kal-Kitabu (This Book) mean this Holy Quran is that book of direction. The Holy Quran from the very beginning has been called ‘The Book,’ indicating it will be written down and preserved in this form in this world. The Holy Quran is the only scripture which was written down as it was being revealed. I shall discuss this in the next lesson.

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