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Today, I want to share a couple of points with you about this ayah of Surat Al-Baqarah. In this verse, Allah Almighty is talking to the Israelites; He gives them a bunch of advice that is actually, you can consider it, positive reinforcement. The following is a paraphrase of it:
Do you command people to do good things while you forget yourselves though you are the ones reading the Book?
Don’t you think? Don’t you apply your intellect?
Obviously the base meaning of the ayah is that you are telling people to do something good and you forget about yourself; you don’t do it yourself. How can this be?
Let’s dig a little bit deeper for a few minutes.
First and foremost, Allah mentions as an irony that these people are the ones reading the Book. The idea here is when anyone reads the Book of Allah, whether it is the Torah in the past or the Quran now, when you read the book of Allah then the one that you should be thinking of is first and foremost yourself.
I should be thinking of myself. My concern when looking in the Book of Allah should not be to search for ammunition against someone or to make a good speech. My concern when reading an ayah should not be that I might be able to use it to give advice to somebody else. The first recipient of advice from the Book of Allah is myself.
Sometimes people recite the verses of Quran, study knowledge, listen to lectures and talks only to write down a list of points that they can use when they give a speech. That is OK so long as when you write all of those things down, the first reason you write them down is the benefit you get from them. After the verses benefit you and have an impact on you, you say to yourself, ‘You know what? It is probably good that I share this with someone else.’
And if you don’t; if you don’t have that process, then this just becomes an empty theatrical performance. In other words, you may be learning this religion to just teach to somebody else; maybe to impress them or even out of concern for them but even though, this concern is empty if it doesn’t begin with concern for yourself.
So, Allah Almighty says, ‘Don’t you think?’ This part of the ayah speaks very loud to me; every time that I study Quran, the question, ‘Don’t you think,’ should ring in my head like, ‘I’m reading this, I’m studying this but first and foremost it’s supposed to be for myself.’
You know, sometimes we learn a lot but we don’t really think about why we are learning it. We have to remind ourselves and refresh in ourselves that we are learning the Quran, every single word of it, every single ayah of it, every single hadith of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), for one purpose and one purpose alone, first and foremost to benefit our own selves and then anybody else.
My last reflection on the Ayah is that it does not apply only to individuals; it also relate to us as a people and as an Ummah – the entire Muslim community. It is easy to rush to judge other nations, other people, other countries, you know, entire cultures, to throw them under the bus and say “All those people are like this. All those people are like that.” It’s very interesting that we do that and we don’t take the same level of scrutiny as regards our own selves.
Interestingly enough I have even seen Muslims who, when talking about themselves, say, “Well, we have been influenced by the non-believers. That’s why we’re so bad. Their negative influence has hit us.”
You cannot blame others for your corruption. You and I, we are responsible for how we carry ourselves before Allah and we are not going to be able to turn to anybody else, point at anybody else before Allah and say, “You know what, it’s not our fault. It’s their fault. They corrupted us.” That’s not going to fly before Allah Almighty.
So, I pray that as individuals we learn to be introspective when we study the Quran and even as a people, as a culture, we learn to be introspective when we engage the Book of Allah.