English - Ma'ariful Qur'an - Mufti Shafi Usmani RA - Vol - 1
Surah Al-Baqarah - 2 : Verses 21 - 22
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In starting the address, verse 21 uses the Arabic word An-nas, which signifies man in general, or man as such - so, the word covers all the three groups we have just mentioned. And the message delivered by the verse is: : "Worship your Lord." The Arabic word `Ibadah (worship) connotes expending all energies one has in total obedience to
somebody, and shunning all disobedience out of one's awe and
reverence. (Ruh-al-Bayan) We have earlier explained the meaning of the
word Rabb (one who gives nurture). Let us add that the choice of this
particular name from among the Beautiful names of Allah is very
meaningful in the present context, for the affirmation has thus been
combined with the argument in a very short sentence. The word Rabb indicates that only He is, or can be, worthy of being worshipped, He is
the final and absolute Cause of nurturing man - Who changes man
through gradual stages of development from a drop of water into
healthy, sentient and rational being, and Who provides the means for
his sustenance and growth. This truth is so obvious that even an
ignorant or intellectually dull man would, on a little reflection, not fail
to see and admit that such a power of nurturing can belong only to
Allah, and not to a created being. What can a creature do for man,
when it owes its very existence- to the Creator? Can a needy one come
to the help of another? And if it appears to be doing so, the act of
nurturing must in reality and ultimately belong to the One Being on
whom both have to depend in order to exist at all. So, who else but the
Rabb can be worthy of adoration and worship?
The sentence is addressed to all the three groups of men,. and for each it has a different meaning. "Worship your Lord": the phrase calls upon the disbelievers to give up worshipping created beings and to turn to the Creator; it asks the hypocrites to be sincere and true in their faith; it commands the sinning Muslims to change their ways and try to be perfect in their obedience to Allah; and it encourages the God-fearing Muslims to be steadfast in their worship and obedience, and to make a greater effort in the way of Allah (Ruh-al-Bayan).
The two verses proceed to enlarge upon the theme by specifying
certain special qualities of the Rabb: : "Who created
you and those before you." This is a quality which one cannot even imagine to belong to a created being, for it can pertain only to the Creator - that is, the quality of giving existence to what did not exist before, and of producing from the darkness and filth of the mother's womb a creature as lovely and noble as man.
In adding to the phrase: : "who created you" the words, "and those before you," the verse shows that Allah alone is
the Creator of all mankind. It is also significant that the verse
mentions only "those before you" and not "those who will come after
you", and through this omission suggests that there will not be any
Ummah (a traditional community formed by all the followers of a
prophet) to succeed the Ummah of the Holy Prophet , for no prophet
will be sent down after the Last Prophet , and hence no new 'Ummah' will arise.
The final phrase of verse 21 has been translated here as "so that you may become God-fearing". It may also be translated to
mean "So that you may save yourselves from hell", or "So that you may
guard yourselves against evil." But the point is that one can hope to attain salvation and paradise only when one worships Allah alone, and does not associate anyone else with Him.
Before we proceed, we must clarify a very important doctrinal point. The phrase () which has been translated here as "so that you may become God-fearing" employs the Arabic particle l`alla which
indicates an expectation or hope, and is used on an occasion when it is not definite that a certain action or event would necessarily be actualized. Now, if one does really possess 'Iman (faith) and does really believe in Tauhid, one would, in consequence definitely attain salvation and go to Heaven, as Allah Himself has promised. But here the certainty has been expressed in terms of an expectation or hope in
order to make man realize that no human action by itself and in itself
can bring salvation as a necessary reward. One can attain salvation
and go to Heaven only by the grace of Allah alone. The ablility to
perform good deeds, and 'Iman itself is only a sign of divine grace, not
The next verse recounts some other qualities of Allah with regard to the act of nurturing, with the difference that while verse 21 spoke of the bounties of Allah pertaining to the human self, verse 22 speaks of those pertaining to man's physical environment. Since man's being basically has two dimensions, one internal (Anfus) and the other external (Afaq), the two verses, in a summary way, encompass all the kinds of blessings that descend on man from Allah.
Among the cosmic bounties, the first to be mentioned is the earth
which has been made a bed for man. It is neither soft and fluid like
water on which one cannot settle, nor hard like stone or steel that
should make it difficult to be harnessed for man's purposes, but has
been given a middle state between the soft and the hard for man to
utilize it conveniently in his daily life. The Arabic word, Firash (bed),
which literally means 'somethings spread out', does not necessarily
imply that the earth is not round, for the great globe of the earth, in
spite of being round, appears to be flat to the onlooker, and the usual
way of the Holy Qur'an is to describe things in an aspect which should
be familiar to an average man, literate or illiterate, city dweller or
The other bounty is that the sky has been made like an ornamented and beautiful ceiling. The third is that Allah sent down water from the sky. This, again, does not necessarily mean that water comes down directly from the sky without the medium of clouds - even in everyday idiom, a thing coming down from above is said to be coming from the sky. The Holy Qur'an itself, on several occasions, refers to Allah sending down water from the clouds:
"Did you send it down from the clouds, or did We send it?" (56:69)
"And have sent down from the rain-clouds abundant water." (78:14)
The fourth bounty is to bring forth fruits with this water, and to provide nourishment to man from them.
The first three of these bounties are of an order in which man's effort or action, his very being even, does not enter at all. There was no sign of man when the earth and the sky already existed, and clouds and rain too were performing their functions. As for these things, not even an ignorant fool could ever fancy that all this could be the work of a man or an idol, or of a created being. In the case of producing fruits and making them serve as nourishment for man, however, a simpleton may, on a superficial view, attribute this to human effort and ingenuity, for one can see man digging the earth, sowing the seed and protecting the plants. But the Holy Qur'an has, in certain verses, made it quite clear that human effort has nothing to do with the act of
growing trees and bringing out fruits, for human activity accomplishes nothing more than removing the hindrances to the birth and growth of a plant, or protecting it from being destroyed. Even the water which feeds the plant is not the creation of the farmer - all he does is to make the water reach the plant at the proper time in a proper quantity. The actual birth and growth of the tree, and the putting forth of leaves, branches and fruits is the work of Divine Power, and of no one else. Says the Holy Qur'an:
Have you considered the soil you till? Is it you that give them growth or We?" (56:63)
The only answer which man can find to this question posed by the Holy Qur'an is that undoubtedly it is Allah alone who makes the plants grow.
In short, this verse mentions four qualities of Allah which cannot possibly be found in a created being. Having learnt from these two verses that it is Allah, and no one else, who brings man into existence out of nothingness, and provides the means of his sustenance through the earth, the sky, the rains and the fruits, one cannot, if one possesses a little common sense, help acknowledging that Allah, and no one else, is worthy of all worship and obedience, and that the ultimate iniquity is to turn away from Him who made man exist and gave him the means of survival and growth, and to prostrate oneself before others who are as helpless as man. Allah has put man at the
head of all His creatures so that the universe should serve him, while he should totally devote himself to the worship and remembrance of Allah and obedience to Him without distraction. But there are men so
given to their indolence and ignorance that they forget the One God, and in consequence, have to serve a billion gods.
In order to rescue men from this slavery to others, the Holy Qur'an says at the end of this verse:
"So, do not set up parallels to Allah when you know."
That is to say, once one has understood that, in reality, Allah alone is the Creator and the Provider, one will have also understood that no one else can be worthy of worship and of being associated with Allah as an equal or rival god.
To sum up, these two verses call men to what is the essential purpose of sending down all the Divine Books and all the prophets Tauhid, or the affirmation and the worship of the one God.
Tauhid is a doctrine which has an all-pervading and radically
transforming impact on every sphere of human life, internal as well as
external, individual as well as collective. For, once a man comes to
believe that there is only One Being who alone is the Creator, the Lord
and Master of the universe, who alone is all-powerful and ordains the
slightest movement of the smallest atom, and without whose will no
one can harm or do good to another - such a man, rich or poor, in joy or
sorrow, would always look only towards that One Being, and gain the
insight to discover behind the veil of apparent causes the workings of
the same Omnipotence.
If our modern worshippers of 'energy' only had some understanding of the doctrine of Tauhid, they would easily see that power resides neither in steam nor in electricity, but that the source of all powers is the One Being who has created steam and electricity. To know this, however, one must have insight. The greatest philosopher in the world, if he fails to see this truth, is no better than the rustic fool who saw a railway-train move at the waving of a green flag and stop at the waving of a red flag, and concluding that it was the power of the green and red flags that controlled the movement of the huge train, made an obeisance to them. People would laugh at the rustic, for he did not know that the two flags are merely signs, while the train is actually run by the driver, or, better still, by the engine. A more perceptive observer would ascribe the function to the steam inside the engine. But he who believes in the One God would laugh at all these wise men, for he can see through the steam, the fire and the water even, and discover behind the appearances the might of The One and Only being who has created fire and water, and whose will makes them perform their allotted functions.
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