Surah Al-Baqarah ( Verse 124) interpretation by Allameh Tababaei

SHAFAQNA (International Shia News Agency) –

وَإِذِ ابْتَلَى إِبْرَاهِيمَ رَبُّهُ بِكَلِمَاتٍ فَأَتَمَّهُنَّ قَالَ إِنِّي جَاعِلُكَ لِلنَّاسِ إِمَامًا قَالَ وَمِن ذُرِّيَّتِي قَالَ لاَ يَنَالُ عَهْدِي الظَّالِمِينَ2:124

2:124And (remember) when his Lord tried Ibrahim with certain words, then he fulfilled them. He said: “Surely I am going to make you an Imam for men” (Ibrahim) said: “And of my offspring?” He said: “My covenant will not include the unjust”


Beginning with this verse, the Qur’an throws light on some aspects of the life of Ibrahim (a.s.); these verses prepare the minds for the ones promulgating the change of al-qiblah (direction of prayer) as well as the rules of the hajj These stories also explain the reality of the pure Islamic religion – with its different grades and levels – looking at its fundamental beliefs, moral teachings and some rules of the shari’ah; among other things they show how Allah bestowed on him al-imamah (leadership) of the people, how he built the Ka’bah, and how he prayed to Allah to send an Apostle among them.

QUR’AN: And (remember) when his Lord tried Ibrahim with certain words then he fulfilled them:

It refers to the occasion when Ibrahim (a.m.) was given the imamah.It had happened during the end period of his life; it was the time when he had become very old, after Ismail and lshaq both had been born, and he had brought Ismail and his mother to reside in Mecca, as some other exegetes also have taken note of this fact. This timing is clearly pointed at by his words, “And of my offspring?”, when Allah told him: “I am going to make you an Imam for men.” Obviously he did not know, nor did he even expect, that he would get any offspring, until the angels brought to him the good tidings of Ismail and lshaq. Even when the angels told him that he was to get children, he responded to those tidings in such words as could apparently be construed to have sprung from despair and pessimism. Allah says: And inform them of the guests of Ibrahim: When they entered upon him, they said: “Peace.” He said: “Surely we are afraid of you.” They said: “Be not afraid, surely we give you the good news of a boy, possessing knowledge. “He said: “Do you give me good news (of a son) when old age has come upon me? – of what then do you give me good news!” They said: “We give you good news with truth; therefore, be not of the despairing” (15:51-55). The same was the reaction of his wife when she was given that good news, as Allah says: And his wife was standing (by), so she laughed; then We gave her the good news of Ishaq, and after Ishaq, of(a son’s son) Ya’qub. She said: “0 woe to me! Shall I bear a son when I am an (extremely) old (woman) and this my husband an (extremely) old (man)? Most surely this is an amazing thing.” They said: “Do you wonder at the decree of Allah? The mercy of Allah and His blessings be on you, 0 people of the house, surely He is Praised, Glorious”(11:71-73).

As you see, the talks of both Ibrahim and his wife show that by that time they had lost all hope of getting any child. That is why the angels replied to them in those words to give them hope and make them happy. Clearly neither he nor his wife knew before that time that they would be given any offspring. But on this occasion, we see that as soon as Allah told him, “I am going to make you an Imam for men”, he pleaded, “And of my offspring?” This prayer brings before our eyes the image of a man who is sure of having an offspring. How can a man, and particularly one like Ibrahim, the friend of Allah (who very well knew the nuances of the language), speak before his Lord about a thing he knew nothing about? If he had uttered these words before getting any children, it would have been necessary for him to add some proviso, like “if Thou givest me any offspring.” This event, therefore, must have taken place in the end period of lbrahim’s life some time after he had been given the good news.

Moreover, the words, “And (remember) when his Lord tried Ibrahim with certain words, then he fulfilled them. He said: ‘Surely I am going to make you an Imam for men'”, show that his imamah was bestowed to him after Allah had tried him with certain trials. These consisted of various sufferings and tests, which Ibrahim (a.s.) underwent in his life. And according to the Qur’an, the clearest and hardest of all was the trial of the sacrifice of Ismail. Allah says: And when he reached (the age of) working with him, he said: “0 my son! surely I am seeing in dream that I am sacrificing you; consider then what you see.” He said: “0 my father! do what you are commanded; if Allah please, you will surely find me of the patient ones.” So when they both submitted and he threw him down upon his forehead, and We called out to him (saying): “O Ibrahim! You have indeed proved the vision true; surely thus We reward the doers of good. Most surely this is a manifest trial” (37:102-106). This manifest trial had taken place in the extreme old age of Ibrahim, because even the birth of Ismail had taken place when Ibrahim had become very old, as Allah quotes him as saying: – “Praise be to Allah, Who gave me in old age Isma’il and Ishaq; most surely my Lord is the Hearer of prayer”(14:39). And the imamah was given to him after these trials.

Now we come back to the verse under discussion:

“And (remember) when his Lord tried lbrahim”: “al-Ibtila'” and “al-bala'” both have the same meaning: to try, to put to test. You give someone an order, or put him in a difficult situation, in order to find out his inner strength, his spiritual sublimity; thus you bring out his hidden qualities like obedience, bravery, generosity, chastity, knowledge, faithfulness (or their opposite traits); it is only then that you may say, ” I have tested him”, “I have put him to trial.” One cannot be tested except through action; it is the action, which brings out the hidden qualities of a man, and not the word; words may lie but not the actions. Allah says: Surely We have tried them as We tried the owners of the garden…(68:17);… Surely Allah will try you with a stream… (2:249).

Now Allah says that He tried Ibrahim with certain words. This sentence looks at the “words” inasmuch as they are related to actions – they are the vehicles to carry the commands of the speaker to the listener. For example, Allah says: …and speak to men good(words). (2:83), that is, behave with them properly.

“With certain words, then he fulfilled them”: “al-Kalimat is plural ofal- kalimah (word). Of course, the word, “word”, has sometimes been used in the Qur’an for a substance, a corporeal being (instead of a talk or speech) as Allah says: …a Word from Him whose name is the Messiah, ‘Isa son of Maryam… (3:45). But this usage is based on the fact that ‘Isa, like Adam, was created by a word from Allah as the Qur’an says: Surely the likeness of ‘Isa is with Allah as the likeness of Adam; He created him from dust, then said to him: “Be”, and he was(3:59).

Otherwise, whenever the Qur’an attributes the “word” to Allah, it means speech and saying. For example:

and there is none to change the words of Allah (6:34). there is no changing the words of Allah (10:64).

and Allah desired to manifest the truth of what was true by His words (8:7).

Surely those against whom the word of your Lord has proved true will not believe (10:96)

But the word of punishment proved true against the unbelievers(39:71).

And thus did the word of your Lord prove true against those who disbelieved that they are the inmates of the Fire (40:6).

and had not a word gone forth from your Lord till an appointed time, certainly affair would have been decided between them(42:14).

and the word of Allah, that is the highest (9:41).

He said: “The truth then (it) is and the truth do I speak” (38: 84).

Our word for a thing when We intend it, is only that We say to it: “Be”, and it is (16:40).

These and similar verses use “word” in the meaning of “talk” because the talk conveys to the hearer the proposition which the speaker intends to communicate, or the command which he wants him to obey. It is for this reason that sometimes the Qur’an describes the “word” as being complete! It is as though a “word” emanating from the speaker remains incomplete until it is implemented, and then it becomes complete, is proved true. Allah says: And the word of your Lord has been accomplished (completed) truly and justly; there is none to change His words (6:115); and the good word of your Lord was fulfilled (completed) in the Children of Israel (7:137).

BY: Allameh Muhammad Hussein Tababaei


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