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Chapter 2: Surah Al-Baqarah (The Cow): Verses 65-71


And surely you know those who violated the Sabbath, so God said to them, “Be as apes, despised and hated.” We made them an example for those who witnessed it and for those who came after it in later generations and a reminder for those who aspire to be God-conscious and responsible. And when Moses said to his people, “God commands you to sacrifice a cow,” they replied, “Are you making fun of us?” He (Moses) replied, “I seek God’s protection from acting like an ignorant person.” They said, “Ask your Lord for our sake to make it clear to us what she (the cow) is like.” He (Moses) said, “She is of middle age, neither old nor too young. Therefore, do what you are asked (without delay, since you know now).” Instead, they said, “Call on your Lord for our sake of what color she is.” He (Moses) answered, “Her color is intensely yellow, delightful to the eye.” They (persisted to) inquire further: “Ask your Lord on our behalf for her condition, since all cows look alike to us, and if God wants, we shall be rightly guided this time.” Moses replied, “She is a cow without blemish, of good health, and was never made to plough or carry water.” They said, “Now you have given us the truth.” Then they slaughtered the cow, though reluctantly.


During Sabbath, Jews were forbidden to do anything except worship God. Sabbath violations along with many other transgressions, disbelief, and mischief led to God’s serious displeasure, resulting in changes to the ways of life for those who desired only physical and material comforts and lacked moral behavior, honesty, and commitment. In the Qur’an, God also refers to this downgrading of mankind to a sub-human level: “We have created man in the best of forms and character and then rendered some of them to the lowest form of creation, except those who believe and do righteous works” (95:4–6). The incidence with the cow is very informative and provides serious moral and legal insights for all people to follow. Jewish law required that a cow be sacrificed for an unresolved murder (Deut. 21:1–9). Initially, as instructed by Moses, the law was very simple, and any cow would have been sufficient. Instead, some of the leaders insisted on further defining the cow with questions to avoid the responsibility and ended up having to sacrifice their most prized cow. Simplicity is a key aspect of all great moral and legal injunctions, and unnecessary complexity only leads to corruption and disregard.


These verses draw attention to critical aspects of disobedience to God: (1) God’s punishment can sometimes take the form of transforming our mental condition to that of an animal (lower than man), and (2) People have the tenacity to ask irrelevant questions only to refuse or delay obeying what they are being asked to do. This never fools God or people of faith and goodwill.


Qur’anic injunctions on many matters are kept deliberately simple and easy to implement, but many Muslim scholars and later generations have introduced complexities, only to confound average believers. In addition, they have made less important issues such as the veil, sectarian thinking, and moon sighting into mainstream issues that further confound and divide Muslims and distract from the key relevant points of having faith in God, being truthful and honest, keeping one’s commitment and promises, serving others, lending a helping hand to the less fortunate, creating a just and peaceful society, establishing rule of law, educating all members of society to become productive members, and creating and supporting infrastructures to allow every citizen to reach his full potential.

Key Term

1. As-Sabth

*Definitions can be found in the Glossary*