Story of Heifer of the Children of Israel: Commentary of the Quran (Chapter 2:67-74) – By: Mohammad Sobhanie

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Shafaqna –

Commentary of the Quran (Chapter 2:67-74)
By: Mohammad Sobhanie

Story of Heifer of the Children of Israel

بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ
وَإِذْ قَالَ مُوسَىٰ لِقَوْمِهِ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ يَأْمُرُكُمْ أَن تَذْبَحُوا بَقَرَةً ۖ قَالُوا أَتَتَّخِذُنَا هُزُوًا ۖ قَالَ أَعُوذُ بِاللَّـهِ أَنْ أَكُونَ مِنَ الْجَاهِلِينَ ﴿٦٧﴾ قَالُوا ادْعُ لَنَا رَبَّكَ يُبَيِّن لَّنَا مَا هِيَ ۚ قَالَ إِنَّهُ يَقُولُ إِنَّهَا بَقَرَةٌ لَّا فَارِضٌ وَلَا بِكْرٌ عَوَانٌ بَيْنَ ذَٰلِكَ ۖ فَافْعَلُوا مَا تُؤْمَرُونَ ﴿٦٨﴾ قَالُوا ادْعُ لَنَا رَبَّكَ يُبَيِّن لَّنَا مَا لَوْنُهَا ۚ قَالَ إِنَّهُ يَقُولُ إِنَّهَا بَقَرَةٌ صَفْرَاءُ فَاقِعٌ لَّوْنُهَا تَسُرُّ النَّاظِرِينَ ﴿٦٩﴾ قَالُوا ادْعُ لَنَا رَبَّكَ يُبَيِّن لَّنَا مَا هِيَ إِنَّ الْبَقَرَ تَشَابَهَ عَلَيْنَا وَإِنَّا إِن شَاءَ اللَّـهُ لَمُهْتَدُونَ ﴿٧٠﴾ قَالَ إِنَّهُ يَقُولُ إِنَّهَا بَقَرَةٌ لَّا ذَلُولٌ تُثِيرُ الْأَرْضَ وَلَا تَسْقِي الْحَرْثَ مُسَلَّمَةٌ لَّا شِيَةَ فِيهَا ۚ قَالُوا الْآنَ جِئْتَ بِالْحَقِّ ۚ فَذَبَحُوهَا وَمَا كَادُوا يَفْعَلُونَ ﴿٧١﴾ وَإِذْ قَتَلْتُمْ نَفْسًا فَادَّارَأْتُمْ فِيهَا ۖ وَاللَّـهُ مُخْرِجٌ مَّا كُنتُمْ تَكْتُمُونَ ﴿٧٢﴾ فَقُلْنَا اضْرِبُوهُ بِبَعْضِهَا ۚ كَذَٰلِكَ يُحْيِي اللَّـهُ الْمَوْتَىٰ وَيُرِيكُمْ آيَاتِهِ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَعْقِلُونَ ﴿٧٣﴾ ثُمَّ قَسَتْ قُلُوبُكُم مِّن بَعْدِ ذَٰلِكَ فَهِيَ كَالْحِجَارَةِ أَوْ أَشَدُّ قَسْوَةً ۚ وَإِنَّ مِنَ الْحِجَارَةِ لَمَا يَتَفَجَّرُ مِنْهُ الْأَنْهَارُ ۚ وَإِنَّ مِنْهَا لَمَا يَشَّقَّقُ فَيَخْرُجُ مِنْهُ الْمَاءُ ۚ وَإِنَّ مِنْهَا لَمَا يَهْبِطُ مِنْ خَشْيَةِ اللَّـهِ ۗ وَمَا اللَّـهُ بِغَافِلٍ عَمَّا تَعْمَلُونَ ﴿٧٤﴾
Translation:
2:67: And when Moses said to his people, ‘Allah commands you to slaughter a cow,’ they said, ‘Are you mocking us?’ He said, ‘I seek Allah’s protection lest I should be one of the ignorant!’
2:68: They said, ‘Invoke your Lord for us that He may clarify for us what she may be.’ He said, ‘He says, she is a cow, neither old nor young, of a middle age. Now do what you are commanded.’
2:69: They said, ‘Invoke your Lord for us that He may clarify for us what her color may be.’ He said, ‘He says, she is a cow that is yellow, of a bright hue, pleasing to the onlookers.’
2:70: They said, ‘Invoke your Lord for us that He may clarify for us what she may be. Indeed all cows are much alike to us, and if Allah wishes we will surely be guided.’
2:71 He said, ‘He says, She is a cow not broken to till the earth or water the tillage, sound and without blemish.’ They said, ‘Now have you come up with the truth!’ And they slaughtered it, though they were about not to do it.
2:72 And when you killed a soul, and accused one another about it—and Allah was to expose what you were concealing—
2:73 We said, ‘Strike him with a piece of it:’ thus does Allah revive the dead, and He shows you His signs so that you may exercise your reason.
2:74 Then your hearts hardened after that; so they are like stones, or even harder. For there are some stones from which streams gush forth, and there are some of them that split, and water issues from them, and there are some that fall for the fear of Allah. And Allah is not oblivious of what you do.
Commentary: A mysterious murder happened among the Children of Israel. According to one legend, the victim was an affluent man who enjoyed his prosperous life. His nephew was the sole heir.
The nephew coveted to inherit the uncle’s fortune. He waited many years; nevertheless, the uncle continued to enjoy a good and healthy long life. Unfortunately, temptation of wealth lured the nephew to slain his uncle. Afterwards, he cried foul, and accused others of killing his uncle.
The Israelites kept guessing as to who might be the killer. In a short time, the guessing became rumors, rumors became accusations, and those accusations led to serious dispute and hostility. See verse 2:72:
وَإِذْ قَتَلْتُمْ نَفْسًا فَادَّارَأْتُمْ فِيهَا ۖ وَاللَّـهُ مُخْرِجٌ مَّا كُنتُمْ تَكْتُمُونَ ﴿٧٢﴾
2:72 And when you killed a soul, and accused one another about it—and Allah was to expose what you were concealing—
The elders came to Prophet Musa (AS) and asked for his help in resolving the murder case. Prophet Musa (AS) then prayed to God and implored His help. Allah (SWT) instructed Prophet Musa (AS) to ask the Children of Israel to slaughter a cow, and strike part of its body (the tongue) with the corpse of the murdered man. In this way, Allah (SWT) would reveal the murderer’s identity. See verse 2:67 & 2:73:
وَإِذْ قَالَ مُوسَىٰ لِقَوْمِهِ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ يَأْمُرُكُمْ أَن تَذْبَحُوا بَقَرَةً ۖ……﴿٦٧﴾
2:67 And when Moses said to his people, ‘Allah commands you to slaughter a cow,
فَقُلْنَا اضْرِبُوهُ بِبَعْضِهَا ۚ كَذَٰلِكَ يُحْيِي اللَّـهُ الْمَوْتَىٰ وَيُرِيكُمْ آيَاتِهِ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَعْقِلُونَ ﴿٧٣﴾
2:73: We said, ‘Strike him with a piece of it:’ thus does Allah revive the dead, and He shows you His signs so that you may exercise your reason.
Upon hearing Prophet Musa’s instructions, the Children of Israel accused him of making a mockery of them. He promptly vindicated himself from this charge and said, “I take refuge with God (from taking you in mockery), in that case I would be one of the ignorant.” See verse 2:67:
قَالُوا أَتَتَّخِذُنَا هُزُوًا ۖ قَالَ أَعُوذُ بِاللَّـهِ أَنْ أَكُونَ مِنَ الْجَاهِلِينَ ﴿٦٧﴾
2:67 they said, ‘Are you mocking us?’ He said, ‘I seek Allah’s protection lest I should be one of the ignorant!’
Subsequently, a series of questions and answers were exchanged between Prophet Musa (AS) and the Israelites. The sequence of questions and answers are as follows:
First, the children of Israel asked what type of cow should be slaughtered. Allah (SWT) replied, “A cow neither too old, nor too young, but in between.” Then, God commanded them without hesitation to slaughter the cow.
قَالُوا ادْعُ لَنَا رَبَّكَ يُبَيِّن لَّنَا مَا هِيَ ۚ قَالَ إِنَّهُ يَقُولُ إِنَّهَا بَقَرَةٌ لَّا فَارِضٌ وَلَا بِكْرٌ عَوَانٌ بَيْنَ ذَٰلِكَ ۖ فَافْعَلُوا مَا تُؤْمَرُونَ ﴿٦٨﴾
2:68 They said, ‘Invoke your Lord for us that He may clarify for us what she may be.’ He said, ‘He says, she is a cow, neither old nor young, of a middle age. Now do what you are commanded.’
However, they asked a follow up question. What color should it be? Allah (SWT) replied, “A bright yellow color, pleasing to the eyes of the beholders.”
قَالُوا ادْعُ لَنَا رَبَّكَ يُبَيِّن لَّنَا مَا لَوْنُهَا ۚ قَالَ إِنَّهُ يَقُولُ إِنَّهَا بَقَرَةٌ صَفْرَاءُ فَاقِعٌ لَّوْنُهَا تَسُرُّ النَّاظِرِينَ ﴿٦٩﴾
2:69 They said, ‘Invoke your Lord for us that He may clarify for us what her color may be.’ He said, ‘He says, she is a cow that is yellow, of a bright hue, pleasing to the onlookers.’
The Israelites claimed that they still were not sure what type of cow they should slaughter, since all cows look alike to them. Allah (SWT) said, “A cow neither yoked to plow the earth, nor to irrigate the field; free from any blemish.”
قَالُوا ادْعُ لَنَا رَبَّكَ يُبَيِّن لَّنَا مَا هِيَ إِنَّ الْبَقَرَ تَشَابَهَ عَلَيْنَا وَإِنَّا إِن شَاءَ اللَّـهُ لَمُهْتَدُونَ ﴿٧٠﴾ قَالَ إِنَّهُ يَقُولُ إِنَّهَا بَقَرَةٌ لَّا ذَلُولٌ تُثِيرُ الْأَرْضَ وَلَا تَسْقِي الْحَرْثَ مُسَلَّمَةٌ لَّا شِيَةَ فِيهَا ۚ قَالُوا الْآنَ جِئْتَ بِالْحَقِّ ۚ فَذَبَحُوهَا وَمَا كَادُوا يَفْعَلُونَ ﴿٧١﴾
2:70 They said, ‘Invoke your Lord for us that He may clarify for us what she may be. Indeed all cows are much alike to us, and if Allah wishes we will surely be guided.’
2:71 He said, ‘He says, She is a cow not broken to till the earth or water the tillage, sound and without blemish.’ They said, ‘Now have you come up with the truth!’ And they slaughtered it, though they were about not to do it.
After much wavering on God’s command, at last the Children of Israel slew the cow, though they were about to not do it. Afterwards, they struck the tongue of the slaughtered cow with the corpse. The corpse became alive and identified its killer. In this way, Allah (SWT) revealed the identity of the slayer.
Lesson Learned: Prophet Musa (AS) asked the Children of Israel plainly for a sacrifice. First, they treated as a jest. Then, they asked him many question and put him off under various pretexts. Were they genuinely seeking guidance with posing many questions?
The story reveals that perverse, unyielding minds and hearts towards Allah (SWT) are always looking for excuses not to obey divine commands. One way to do that is either pose false questions or pretend not to understand what the divine commands mean.
Analogy of such a mindset is like a hard or even harder stone that hesitates to yield to God and His command. In this particular incident, the Qur’an states:
ثُمَّ قَسَتْ قُلُوبُكُم مِّن بَعْدِ ذَٰلِكَ فَهِيَ كَالْحِجَارَةِ أَوْ أَشَدُّ قَسْوَةً ۚ
After God commanded the Israelites to slaughter a cow, their hearts hardened like stones, or even harder – it did not want to yield to the divine command
وَإِنَّ مِنَ الْحِجَارَةِ لَمَا يَتَفَجَّرُ مِنْهُ الْأَنْهَارُ ۚ وَإِنَّ مِنْهَا لَمَا يَشَّقَّقُ فَيَخْرُجُ مِنْهُ الْمَاءُ ۚ وَإِنَّ مِنْهَا لَمَا يَهْبِطُ مِنْ خَشْيَةِ اللَّـهِ ۗ وَمَا اللَّـهُ بِغَافِلٍ عَمَّا تَعْمَلُونَ ﴿٧٤﴾
For there are some stones from which streams gush forth, and there are some of them that split, and water comes out from them, and there are some that fall for the fear of Allah. And Allah is not oblivious of what you do.
The other end of spectrum is a submissive mind that yields unequivocally to the divine command. For instance, when Prophet Ibrahim (AS) told his son, Ismael, “I see in dreams that I am sacrificing you. See what you think.’ Ismael responded, without questioning God:
قَالَ يَا أَبَتِ افْعَلْ مَا تُؤْمَرُ ۖ سَتَجِدُنِي إِن شَاءَ اللَّـهُ مِنَ الصَّابِرِينَ ﴿١٠٢﴾
37: 102 “Father! Do whatever you have been commanded. If Allah wishes, you will find me to be patient.”[As-Saffat 37:102]
This instance epitomizes complete faith and unwavering certainty in Allah (SWT). In contrast, a perverse and unyielding mind always questions God’s commands and wisdom, out of refusal to obey and submit.

1 COMMENT

  1. Salaamualikium. And, so did Imam Husain A.S. by sacrificing himself, his near and dear ones and his companions, leaving the women and others at the mercy and subject to atrocities of the Yazid’s army. Imam Husain did not raise an eyebrow at his fate, nor said a word of complaint. He was fully satisfied and happy with his Creator. No wonder, Allah SWT prophesized this as “Dhibhe Azeem” “The Momentous Sacrifice” in the Qur’an.
    Thank you for sharing the Qur’an story.
    Jazakallah
    Syed Akhtar

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