When I first started reading the translation of the Quran as a teenager, I remember wondering who the Banu Israel were, simply because of the high frequency at which Allah addressed them directly in His Book.
Many a time in the Quran, Allah calls them “O Bani Israel…” and goes on to admonish them. It makes one wonder, what did the Bani Israel do that made Allah so angry at them?
In actuality, several mistakes made by “Bani Israel” viz. the descendants of Prophet Yaqoub (peace be upon him), have been addressed in the Quran, as a lesson for us, the ummah of Prophet Muhammad, to take heed from, so that we can endeavor to not repeat them ourselves.
One such incident was when Prophet Moses asked the Bani Israel to slaughter a cow, in submission to Allah’s command. The largest surah in the Quran, which comes immediately after the first chapter, Surah Al-Fatihah, is named after this incident, as “Al-Baqarah”, or the cow.
When the Prophet of Allah asks his followers to do something, they should obey him and not question his commands, nor pass any comments about the latter that defy or undermine his authority.
The whole essence of ‘submission’ is to hear and obey the command of the messenger of Allah, taking it as the command of Allah, even if it goes against one’s nafs (self), logic, intellect, or desires.
However, Banu Israel did not do as they were told, and when Prophet Moses asked them to slaughter a cow, they instead started asking him questions about the cow itself, in order to delay their obedience to his command.
The truth was, they didn’t want to slaughter the cow as he was ordering them to.
Tafsir Ibn Kathir states the following about their behavior:
“This means that even after all the questions and answers about the cow’s description, the Jews were still reluctant to slaughter the cow. This part of the Quran criticized the Jews for their behavior, because their only goal was to be stubborn, and this is why they nearly did not slaughter the cow.”
In Contrast: Prophet Muhammad’s Companions
Asking many questions in order to delay one’s obedience to the command of a Prophet, to undermine his authority, or just because of stubbornness, is an action that earns a nation the wrath of Allah, unless and until they repent and seek His forgiveness.
If that were not the case, Allah would not have mentioned the detailed incident regarding the stubborn and defiant attitude of the Banu Israel towards Prophet Moses (peace be upon him) regarding the slaughtering of a cow, so early on in the Quran.
“Leave me alone so long as I have left you alone. Those who came before you were destroyed because they asked too many questions and differed with their prophets. If I command you to do something, then follow it as much as you can, and if I forbid you to do something then avoid it.” (Al-Nisa’i)
Clearly, the Prophet is referring to the companions/nation of Prophet Moses in the above hadith.
During another incident in his life, Prophet Muhammad was informed about something negative that was said by someone regarding the way he had distributed something amongst the people.
On hearing it, his face became red with anger, and he commented about how Prophet Moses had been caused more hurt by his people than this, yet he had remained patient.
Conclusion: Don’t Ask Questions to Procrastinate Obedience
Surely, the stories that Allah has narrated in the Quran that describe the ingratitude, stubbornness, defiance, and rejection shown by the Bani Israel towards their Prophet, serve as effective reminders for anyone from the Muslim ummah who studies and ponders upon the Quran, to not repeat the same behavior towards their own Prophet, especially regarding obeying his commands, and showing the respect, humility and reverence towards him that he deserves.
When the Prophet was alive and working for the cause of Islam, these stories regarding what Prophet Moses endured at the hands of Bani Israel that were intermittently revealed to him, also served to grant him further patience, reassurance and steadfastness in the face of the rejection and defiance that he received from the non-believers of his own nation, particularly in the early years of his da’wah, when Islam was in its fledgling phase.
Lastly, because we belong to that part of the Muslim ummah that will never be able to see or meet Prophet Muhammad in person, we should extend the lessons learnt about asking questions towards our contemporary scholars and preachers of Islam.
We should refrain from asking them any questions that are based on insincere or vile intentions. Just like Bani Israel stalled and delayed obedience to their Prophet when he commanded them to slaughter a cow, in the end submitting to his command only grudgingly, we should also analyze if we, too, ask our scholars, authority figures, parents, or other leaders any irrelevant and preposterous questions when we do not want to obey a command of theirs that is ma’roof (in accordance with the pleasure of Allah)?
Do we also act defiantly and stubbornly just to get out of doing what we do not want to do?
The Quran indeed holds a mirror to those who recite and ponder upon it with a humble, repentant, and receptive heart!
(This article is from Reading Islam’s archive and was originally published at an earlier date.)