The mention made here of people’s inventions in respect of permissible and forbidden food and earnings is most fitting,
because adding these in the context of God’s oneness is parallel to the mention of the rules concerning the direction of prayer in relation to Abraham’s faith.
Each of these two is an important branch of a major issue.
In fact, its discussion here ends in the same way as the discussion of the other topic earlier. Both endings warn those hardened disbelievers disbelievers “who conceal what God has sent down.”
Indeed, Islam makes the questions of the direction of prayer and the slaughtering of animals two rituals that give a Muslim his distinctive character,
just like he is distinguished by declaring his belief in God’s oneness and by his prayer. The Prophet says: “Whoever offers our prayer, turning towards our qiblah, and eats our slaughtered animals is a Muslim who qualifies to be party to the covenant with God and His Messenger.”
The innovation of prohibition without basis in respect of food and earnings is not limited to those who turn away from the faith.
Indeed, some Muslims at the time of the Prophet were close to falling prey to this disease that affected earlier communities.
They declared their intention either to refrain from marriage or to prohibit themselves certain types of wholesome food or other things.
They did not wish to declare these as forbidden to all people, but rather they looked upon them with contempt.
They wanted to force themselves to endure the hardship of abstaining from them, either through a vow or a declaration of will power.
The Qur’an stamps out such an innovation and firmly closes the door leading to it so that it does not become a way to forbidding other things.
It alerts them to the fact that part of their belief in God’s oneness is to adhere to what He has permitted them as an expression of their gratitude to Him...
in the same way as they adhere to what He has forbidden them as an expression of their patience:
“Believers, eat of the good things which We have provided for you, and give thanks to God, if it is truly Him that you worship.”(2: 171.)
Consider now how the address to mankind concerning this very basic principle...
and what it entails serves as a prelude to addressing the believers specially and outlining the rules applicable to them.
This is parallel to the address given first to all mankind at the beginning of the surah outlining the main principles of the Islamic faith and then to the Israelites in particular...
calling on them to accept the new faith without hesitation. Could there be any more harmony and symmetry in this address?
Now, that the listener is fully prepared to receive the commandments detailing God’s orders and prohibitions, let us consider how the surah makes the third and final step.
The third step provides a general index of legislation.
Here again we see remarkable aspects of structure and the following of a clear, progressive line.
Consider first the refined link between the previous purpose and the new one. The two are linked verbally, but are separate with regard to their respective positions.
When it relates the two verbally, the surah puts us with one foot at the end of the previous purpose and the other at the beginning of the ensuing one.
However, it separates them with two particles:
one denoting a negative and the other a statement. Thus, it plants both our feet together so that we may move forward.
“Righteousness is not that you turn your faces to the east or the west; but truly righteous is he….”(2: 177.)
This verse tells us that the definition of places and directions in rituals of worship, which was a preoccupation of proponents and opponents alike, is not all that righteousness is concerned with.
It is merely a single branch of just one of its many aspects.
Righteousness is, indeed, a word that combines all aspects of goodness, theoretical and practical, relating to the treatment of people, to worship of the Creator and to a lofty morality.
It is with all these that true believers should be preoccupied.
Consider also how when the surah begins to detail these aspects, it does not relate them all, in full, at the same time.
Rather, it moves towards them progressively, beginning with a statement that gives more than a general idea, but which remains short of giving them in full detail.
Thus, it serves as an index to the principles of faith and to the codes of Islam:
“But truly righteous is he who believes in God and the Last Day, and the angels and the Book and the Prophets; and gives his money, much as it is dear to him, to his kinsfolk,
to the orphans, to the needy, to the traveller in need, and the beggars and for the freeing of slaves; who attends to his prayers and pays zakat;
[and righteous are they] who remain true to their promises whenever they promise, and are patient in misfortune and adversity and in the time of peril. Such are those who have proved themselves to be true, and such are those who fear God.”(2: 177.)
Consider also how, when the rules of faith are outlined here, they are not given in their normal order which is followed on more than one occasion earlier in the surah.
Here, the two ends are put together first, ‘belief in God and the Last Day,’ while the middle ones, ‘belief in the angels, revelation and prophets’ , come later.
This is because these are the medium through which the laws and rules are made known.
Hence, they are kept to the last so that when they come together nothing intervenes to separate them.
Moreover, the constituents of this medium are given in the right order, starting with the angels who bring down the revelations...
followed by the Book which embodies the revelations, and finally the prophets who receive revelations.
Now the surah goes on to outline the legislation that we have received through the prophets.
The Third Purpose of the Surah (Verses 178-283)
Having laid the foundation, the surah now begins the job of raising the structure.
When the outer structure is firmly established, attention is paid to completing its internal parts.
The surah has attended fully to purifying the faith, which is the essence of religion. Now it provides the details of the law, which give the religion its appearance.
All doubts raised by critics have been dispelled and their arguments refuted.
The task now is to illuminate the way for those who wish to follow it, and to make clear to them the purpose of the law.
Attention so far has been given to clarifying the principles of faith; but now it turns to explaining the laws of Islam.
We have seen how the surah has prepared the way for this transition. It included a linking passage to relate the different parts of the discourse.
If we were to cast a quick side glance, we will find that the final verse in this passage is the one quoted earlier, verse 177, which outlines the theoretical and practical aspects of righteousness.
We also find that the aspect nearer to us is the practical one given in this verse in the form of a list of headings. It is now time to explain it in detail.
Righteousness and Patience in Adversity
In 106 verses we see a new type of meaning outlining the practical system to be followed by believers.GO TO Page VII