Moses came to you (followers of Moses, People of Israel) with all the evidence of truth, but in his absence you took the calf (as an object of worship), and you acted wickedly. (Remember) when God obtained a solemn pledge from you with Mount Sinai rising above you: “Take hold of what We (God and His Prophet) gave you with all your strength, and be committed.” Instead, you (followers of Moses) said, “We listen, but we will not follow.” In their (followers of Moses) hearts there still was (the love of ) the calf because of their disbelief. Say (Prophet to the Jews of his time), “If you were believers, how can your faith command you to do (such) evil?” Ask them (Prophet to ask Jews of his time): “If you claim that you will be God’s special guest in the Afterlife and other people will have no such privilege, then ask for death if you are truthful.” But they will never invoke (death) because they are afraid of what they have done before, and God has full knowledge of those who do evil (in spite of their claims to the contrary).
You will find them to cling to the life of this world more eagerly than of all other people, even more so than those who ascribe partnership to God.41 Some of them love to be granted a life of a thousand years, but even if he is granted such a long life it will in no way remove him further from accountability. And God is an observer of what they do.
Faith itself is a claim, but what you do with that faith is more important and will testify to the truth of your being faithful. This is a fundamental lesson for Muslims as well; some Muslims are content in knowing solely that they are Muslims, even though their actions do not support their contention.
It is interesting to note that in the Qur’an God ascribes the love of this world primarily to the Jews and the polytheists, a statement that is amply corroborated by what we see today, as it was also true in the past. These people are willing to sacrifice all norms of their religions and human values to subjugate other people, whether through military or economic means. Colonization, Palestinian dislocation, the Vietnam War, ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, the East European domination by Russia, and the Cultural Revolution in China all pertain to the quests for glory in this life and its resulting sacrifice of human dignity now and of success in the Afterlife. Many Muslims today have also become fond of this world and are more willing to accumulate wealth and influence at the expense of the morals and values of Islam and fail in serving people and upholding truth and justice, which are the true intents of the Islamic way of life. Islam asks for a healthy balance between physical and spiritual living, yet too many Muslims are focused on either extreme.
These verses draw our attention to the persistent refusal of the Jews to follow the guidance of God and deny their claims of having a special attachment to God. Some Muslims today also make similar claims.
It is important for us to begin to focus on what we need to do as opposed to claiming who we are. God recognizes our true nature through our actions and not through our claims. As God observes all we do and does not neglect even an atom-sized bad deed or an atom-sized good deed, we all need to focus a part of our lives on worldly pursuits but at the same time dedicate a part of our time and resources to upholding social justice and human well-being. This balancing act is critical for success and is a true measure of how good a Muslim each of us is today and will be in the future, including in the Afterlife.
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*Definitions can be found in the Glossary*