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Misconceptions about Verse 62 of Al-Baqarah


Many people being unfamiliar with the style of the Holy Qur-aan are confused when they read the literal translation of the verse 62 of Al-Baqarah (2:62) out of its context. Taken in isolation, the verse appears to suggest that one does not have to be a Muslim to attain Salvation. Regardless of the religion, any person who believes in God and the Day of Judgement and performs good deeds will have no problem attaining the Salvation. But that is not the correct message of the said verse. Before embarking on the detailed discussion on this verse, it will be useful to refresh and review a few points about the style and some guidelines about understanding the message of the Holy Qur-aan.

Three features of the literary style of the Holy Qur-aan must be kept in view in order to understand the proper meaning of this verse and the Holy Qur-aan in general:

  • The Qur-aan uses as few words as possible to make a statement, give an order or narrate an incident. A lot is left unsaid that can be determined by the context and by other means within the Qur-aan. At the time of revelation of the Qur-aan, the most valued skill among the literary circles was the ability to clearly express the most profound message in the fewest words possible. Qur-aan took this art to its limit and amazed people with its miraculous brevity. That is why its takes us many paragraphs and pages to properly describe what the Qur-aan expresses in a few words.
  • The Qur-aan puts significant reliance on the context of the words, phrases and sentences to determine their specific meaning. To understand the Qur-aan properly, its phrases and sentences should never be taken in isolation or out of context.
  • If something is not the main point of discussion at the moment, it is just referred to briefly, usually through the mention of its representative elements. If something is alluded to briefly or partially in one place because the context did not require the rest of the details, it is always described fully and completely at some other place (or places) in the Qur-aan. Hence, the meaning of any Qur-aanic term, phrase or verse must be determined in conjunction with all its occurrences in the Qur-aan and the contexts where they appear.

As already explained through earlier articles in detail, if these fundamental features of the text of the Holy Qur-aan are not kept in view, a person may have difficulty in understanding the meaning of the most of the verses of the Holy Qur-aan, not only this verse 2:62.

So what is the context of the verse 2:62?

The Jews of Arabia were renowned for their scholarship, knowledge and religious leadership. Their animosity to Islam and their anti-Islamic activities were keeping some people who were much impressed with the Jewish scholarship away from Islam. The real community character of the Jews needed to be brought to light so that they could be seen as they were. Also, there are always some good elements in all people. To bring sensible, good-natured Jews towards Islam, it was necessary to make them realize the crimes of the Jewish people and show them directly the proper behaviour that should be adopted. Moreover, the Jews were, in fact, the Muslims of the past. It was also necessary to warn the Muslims of the Jewish follies, so that the Muslims do not fall into the same trap. For all these reasons and more, in Soorat-ul-Baqarah (Chapter 2) starting from verse 40, the Qur-aan addresses the Jews, invites them to adopt proper Islamic behaviour and presents a synopsis of their history.

In this regard, a lot of Jewish crimes were exposed and their misconceptions dispelled. One of their greatest misconceptions was that they, being the descendants of the prophets, were the chosen people, blessed by God forever, not to end up in the Fire except maybe for a short while. To them, regardless of what they did, salvation was theirs. No one else could get it. Because of their misconception and their pride in their heritage, they had becaome extremely racist and behaved condescendingly towards the Muslims as well as towards Gentiles (non-Jews) in general.

While listing Allaah’s favour on them and their criminal thanklessness in response to Allaah’s favours, in verse 61 the Qur-aan dispelled their notion that they were the ‘chosen’ people loved dearly by Allaah SWT and declared the consequence of their crimes: humiliation, misery and wrath of Allaah. Here they were bluntly reminded that rather than being Allaah’s favourites, they have in fact earned Allaah’s curse due to their repeated transgressions:
And they were inflicted with humiliation and misery and they drew on themselves the Wrath of Allaah. That was because they used to disbelieve the revelations of Allaah, killed the prophets wrongfully. They did so because they had become disobedient and habitual transgressors. Al-Baqarah 2:61

The negation of Israelites’ wishful thinking raises a contextual opportunity for a very important point for all to remember – that Allaah’s favours and blessings are performance-based, not granted on the basis of race, genealogy, ethnicity, or any other consideration. Allaah deals with people on the basis of their performance, nothing else. To make this very important point, Allaah SWT has interrupted the flow of the subject matter and clarified this point through the next verse.

The fact is that whether it be Muslims, Jews, Christians or Sabians, whoever believes in Allaah and the Last Day and does good deeds, they shall have their reward from their Lord, and there shall be no fear for them, nor shall they grieve. Al-Baqarah 2:62

After clarifying this principle, verse 63 continues with reminding the Jews of their crimes and transgressions.

Thus the subject matter of this verse in this context is to negate the misconceptions and wishful thinking of the Jews by saying: No! Allaah SWT is not racist. Allaah SWT does not and will not reject anyone’s faith and actions just because the person did not belong to a certain race or ethnic group. Neither does He or will He overlook obdurate disobedience of some people because they are a certain race. The real determinant of finding favour with Allaah and salvation in the Hereafter is one’s personal faith and good deeds. Nothing else! This was not a place to give a complete list of the articles of faith and the good deeds that are necessary to earn Allaah’s favour and salvation. Those details had been well-explained throughout the earlier revelations. It is against the style of the Qur-aan to repeat the full list of things that are not the topic of the discussion and have already been appropriately dealt with in the past. The subject matter is NOT who is a real believer and who is not, and what are good actions and what are not. The subject matter is that Allaah SWT does not have any favourites. Allaah SWT judges people on the basis of their actions, not their ‘roots’, race or claims.

The two elements of faith mentioned here happened to be those in which Israelites were weak. Although they claimed to believe in these two articles, their behaviour negated their claim: Despite seeing all the miracles, they still wanted to see Allaah before they believed. Then the concept of the Last Day remained very vague and insignificant in their religious literature and traditions. It is not even mentioned in the Old Testament. However, from the Islamic perspective, these two elements of faith are so significant that they are used in the Qur-aan as representatives of the complete true faith, which has been fully detailed at other places of the Qur-aan. All other articles of faith are automatically covered by these two basic beliefs. A person who believes in Allaah SWT as his Lord and believes in the accountability on the Day of Judgment has to automatically believe in the messengers and books as they explain what Allaah wants us to do and what He will hold us accountable for. And the belief in the messengers and books is not acceptable without the belief in the last of them. So the faith in Allaah and the Last Day fully represents the Islamic Faith as we know it.

The use of two articles of faith to represent all articles of faith is exactly the way the Qur-aan uses Salaah and Zakaah to represent ‘good actions’ at many places. The detailed list of good actions is not given everywhere because the context does not need those details at that spot; hence, the Qur-aan just alludes to all good actions by mentioning two most significant ones. But then at appropriate places, pertinent details of good actions are provided. The mention of two good actions does not mean that they are enough for the salvation of a believer, as the two articles of faith here do not mean that they are sufficient for the salvation.

In verse 137 of the same Soorah, Allaah SWT says:
Then, if they believe as you have believed, they found the guidance. If they turn away, they are given to dissension and conflict. Allaah will suffice you against them; and He is Listening, Knowing. Al-Baqarah 2:137

Then, in Soorah Aali ‘Imran, it is said:
But if they argue with you, say: “I have submitted myself entirely to Allaah as a Muslim and so has every one who follows me;” and say to those who have been given the Book and to the unlearned (Gentiles): “Do you submit yourselves as Muslims?” So if they do, then indeed they found the guidance; but if they turn back, then your duty is only to convey the message. And Allaah does watch the slaves. Aali ‘Imran 3:20

Hence this verse cannot be taken to mean that salvation can be had without believing in Muhammad as the last prophet and the Qur-aan as the current Book of Allaah’s guidance and commands. This kind of conclusion will be out of context as well as contradicted by the Qur-aan itself. In fact, at the beginning of the discourse in verse 40, Allaah SWT had invited the Jews to fulfill their covenant of believing in and supporting the Prophet and to believe in the Qur-aan. If a few verses later He was going to tell them, “You will certainly be successful if you remain a good believing Jew”, why would Allaah SWT remind them about the covenant of believing in the Prophet, command them to believe in the Qur-aan, and warn them against rejecting it?

The Qur-aan repeats the same message in chapter 5, Soorah Al-Maaidah:
Certainly, whoever from the Muslims, the Jews, the Sabians and the Christians believes in Allaah and the Last Day and performs good deeds will find his reward with Allaah and will not suffer fear or grief (in the Hereafter). Al-Maaidah 5:69

Notably, the verse immediately preceding the verse 5:69 of Al-Maaidah has the following to say:
Say: O People of the Book! You have no base unless you practice the Torah, the Gospel and what has been revealed for you (the Qur-aan) from your Lord. Unfortunately, most of them increase in the rebellion and disbelief in response to the revelations (Qur-aan) sent down to you (O Muhammad) from your Lord. So, do not worry about these Kuffaar (the Unbelievers). Al-Maaidah 5:68

Also, in Soorah A’raaf, the Israelites have been clearly told that their salvation depends on following the Messenger of Allaah and supporting him:
Those who follow the Messenger-Prophet, the Ummi{footnote}This word is used as a distinctive title of Prophet Muhammad. It signifies two points: Non-Israelite (gentile) and unlettered.

{/footnote}, whom they find mentioned in their Towraat and the Injeel, who enjoins them good and forbids them evil, and makes lawful to them the good things and makes unlawful to them impure things, and removes from them their burden and the shackles which were upon them; so (as for) those who believe in him and honour him and help him, and follow the light which has been sent down with him, they are the successful.

Al-A’raaf 7:157

In fact, the whole mankind has been advised:
Say: O people, surely I am the Messenger of Allaah to you all, of Him Whose is the kingdom of the heavens and the earth there is no God but He; He brings to life and causes to die; therefore believe in Allaah and His messenger, the Ummi Prophet who believes in Allaah and His words, and follow him so that you may be saved. Al-A’raaf 7:158

Hence, it is clear that the purpose of the subject verses is not to give a license to the people to disbelieve in the last Messenger of Allaah and His last Book and still attain salvation. Anyone who wishes to attain salvation must believe in Islam, including sincere belief in Muhammad SAAWS and the Qur-aan. Without sincere Islamic belief and a full practice of the Islamic lifestyle, no one will be able to attain success in the Hereafter.

Indirectly, these verses were encouraging the good-hearted people from the Jews, Christians and others that they should step forward and adopt the proper faith and practice in order to attain salvation. At the same time, they are warning the Muslims that if they do not have true faith and do not perform enough good actions, even they would not attain salvation.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the real message of both of the verses from chapters 2 and 5 is that:

  • The Israelites, as a race, do not have any special status with Allaah SWT; hence, they have been cursed for the flagrant violation of their covenant with Allaah SWT; and,
  • The people who believe in Islam and practice accordingly will succeed in the Hereafter and attain salvation, regardless of what race they belong to or what kind of society they were born in.

Moreover, these verses also serve the following other purposes for the future Muslims (like us) through the example of the Jews (the Muslims of the past):

  • To frankly explain to the Muslims that Allaah’s favours and blessings are endowed to people on the basis of their personal faith, commitment, dedication, actions and righteousness, not on the basis of being born in a certain group of people. Having a Muslim name or being born to a Muslim family has absolutely no value in the eyes of Allaah SWT, unless it is backed by sincere, passionate faith as well as devoted, total obedience to Allaah SWT.
  • To warn the Muslims that they will be cursed and humiliated like the Jews if they adopt the same kind of attitude towards Islam.
  • To remove the misconceived notion of superiority that ‘born’ Muslims may sometimes feel over ‘converted’ Muslims. Some ignorant Muslims have been observed to have this kind of feeling towards converts, just as the Jews had this kind of feeling towards the Muslims.
  • To encourage the people contemplating conversion to Islam that they should not feel held back by their roots and origins. Islam values individual faith, conviction and actions of a person, regardless of one’s past. Islam is for the whole humanity. It does not reject anyone coming forward to believe, unlike a situation reported in the Gospels and attributed (perhaps wrongfully) to Jesus that he refused to help a Canaanite woman on the premise, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”{footnote}Mt. 15:26{/footnote}

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