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Select Translation What is This? Selections include: The Koran Interpreted, a translation by A.J. Arberry, first published 1955; The Qur'an, translated by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem, published 2004; or side-by-side comparison view
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The Koran Interpreted Translation by A.J. Arberry

2 THE COW (1 – 22)

The Qurʾan Translation by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem

2. The Cow (1 – 20)

In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate

Alif Lam Mim

That is the Book, wherein is no doubt, a guidance to the godfearing who believe in the Unseen, and perform the prayer, and expend of that We have provided them; who believe in what has been sent down to thee and what has been sent down before thee, and have faith in the Hereafter; those are upon guidance from their Lord, those are the ones who prosper.

5As for the unbelievers, alike it is to them whether thou hast warned them or hast not warned them, they do not believe. God has set a seal on their hearts and on their hearing, and on their eyes is a covering, and there awaits them a mighty chastisement.

And some men there are who say, ‘We believe in God and the Last Day’; but they are not believers. They would trick God and the believers, and only themselves they deceive, and they are not aware. In their hearts is a sickness, and God has increased their sickness, and there awaits them a painful chastisement for that they have cried lies. 10When it is said to them, ‘Do not corruption in the land’, they say, ‘We are only ones that put things right.’ Truly, they are the workers of corruption but they are not aware. When it is said to them, ‘Believe as the people believe’, they say, ‘Shall we believe, as fools believe?’ Truly, they are the foolish ones, but they do not know. When they meet those who believe, they say, ‘We believe’; but when they go privily to their Satans, they say, ‘We are with you; we were only mocking.’ God shall mock them, and shall lead them on blindly wandering in their insolence. 15Those are they that have bought error at the price of guidance, and their commerce has not profited them, and they are not right-guided. The likeness of them is as the likeness of a man who kindled a fire, and when it lit all about him God took away their light, and left them in darkness unseeing, deaf, dumb, blind— so they shall not return; or as a cloudburst out of heaven in which is darkness, and thunder, and lightning— they put their fingers in their ears against the thunderclaps, fearful of death; and God encompasses the unbelievers; the lightning wellnigh snatches away their sight; whensoever it gives them light, they walk in it, and when the darkness is over them, they halt; had God willed, He would have taken away their hearing and their sight. Truly, God is powerful over everything.

O you men, serve your Lord Who created you, and those that were before you; haply so you will be godfearing; 20who assigned to you the earth for a couch, and heaven for an edifice, and sent down out of heaven water, wherewith He brought forth fruits for your provision; so set not up compeers to God wittingly. And if you are in doubt concerning that We have sent down on Our servant, then bring a sura like it, and call your witnesses, apart from God, if you are truthful. And if you do not—and you will not—then fear the Fire, whose fuel is men and stones, prepared for unbelievers.

This is a Medinan sura and the longest in the Qurʾan, containing material revealed over several years, and named after the story of the cow which the Israelites were ordered to slaughter (verses 67ff.). The sura opens with a response to the plea for guidance in Sura i, ‘The Opening’, dividing mankind into three groups in their response to this guidance—the believers, the disbelievers, and the hypocrites—and closes confirming the tenets of faith given in the opening verses (3–5). The addressee shifts as the sura progresses: at various times the text addresses mankind in general (verses 21ff.), where they are urged to serve God who has been so gracious to them (they are reminded that God created Adam and favoured him over the angels), the Children of Israel (verses 40ff.), who are reminded of God's special favours to them and urged to believe in scriptures that do indeed confirm their own, and the believers (verses 136ff.), who are given instruction in many areas—prayer, fasting, pilgrimage, defence, marital law, and financial matters.

In the name of God, the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy

1Alif Lam Mima These are the names of the three Arabic letters a, l, and m. Twenty-nine suras of the Qurʾan begin with separate alphabetical letters like these, from one individual letter up to five. Various interpretations have been offered. It is sufficient to mention two here: (1) these letters indicated to the Arabs who first heard the Qurʾan that the Qurʾan consists of letters and words of their own language, although it was superior to any speech of their own, being of divine origin; (2) they are an exclamatory device intended to arrest the listeners’ attention, similar to the custom of starting poems with an emphatic ‘No!’ or ‘Indeed!’ Exegetes normally added, after expounding their theories, ‘God knows best.’

2This is the Scripture in which there is no doubt,b The Arabic construction la rayba fihi carries more than one meaning, including ‘there is nothing dubious about/in it’ and ‘it is not to be doubted’ as regards its origin or contents. containing guidance for those who are mindfulc The root w-q-y in this morphological form has the meaning of being mindful or being wary of something. The opposite of being mindful of God is to ignore Him or have no reference to Him in your thought, feeling, or action. This is a fundamental concept about God and the believers’ relation to Him. Many translators render the term as ‘those who fear God’, but this is an over-expression of the term and does not correctly convey the meaning of the concept, which is a very common one in the Qurʾan. of God, 3who believe in the unseen,d What is beyond their perception, literally ‘absent’—this applies to the nature of God, the Hereafter, historical information not witnessed, etc. keep up the prayer,a This means regular and proper performance of the formal prayer (salah), as taught by the Prophet Muhammad. and giveb Yunfiquna in the Arabic of the Qurʾan literally means ‘spend’, on others, in good causes, in the way of God. out of what We have provided for them; 4those who believe in the revelation sent down to you [Muhammad], and in what was sent before you, those who have firm faith in the Hereafter. 5Such people are following their Lord's guidance and it is they who will prosper. 6As for those who disbelieve, it makes no difference whether you warn them or not: they will not believe. 7God has sealed their hearts and their ears, and their eyes are covered. They will have great torment.c The basic meaning of ‘adhab is ‘to restrain (from doing wrong)’, extended to mean anything difficult or painful, punishment, famine (see 23: 78). See Majaz al-Qurʾan, by ‘Izz al-Din Ibn ‘Abdul-Salam (London: Al-Furqan Foundation, 1999), 194, and E. W. Lane, Arabic-English Lexicon (Beirut: Librairie du Liban, 1968).

8Some people say, ‘We believe in God and the Last Day,’ when really they do not believe. 9They seek to deceive God and the believers but they only deceive themselves, though they do not realize it. 10There is a disease in their hearts, to which God has added more: agonizing torment awaits them for their persistent lying. 11When it is said to them, ‘Do not cause corruption in the land,’ they say, ‘We are only putting things right,’ 12but really they are causing corruption, though they do not realize it. 13When it is said to them, ‘Believe, as the others believe,’ they say, ‘Should we believe as the fools do?’ but they are the fools, though they do not know it. 14When they meet the believers, they say, ‘We believe,’ but when they are alone with their evil ones, they say, ‘We’re really with you; we were only mocking.’ 15God is mocking them, and allowing them more slack to wander blindly in their insolence. 16They have bought error in exchange for guidance, so their trade reaps no profit, and they are not rightly guided. 17They are like people who [labour to] kindle a fire: when it lights up everything around them, God takes away all their light, leaving them in utter darkness, unable to see—18deaf, dumb, and blind: they will never return. 19Or [like people who, under] a cloudburst from the sky, with its darkness, thunder, and lightning, put their fingers into their ears to keep out the thunderclaps for fear of death—God surrounds the disbelievers. 20The lightning almost snatches away their sight: whenever it flashes on them they walk on and when darkness falls around them they stand still. If God so willed, He could take away their hearing and sight: God has power over everything.

Notes:

a These are the names of the three Arabic letters a, l, and m. Twenty-nine suras of the Qurʾan begin with separate alphabetical letters like these, from one individual letter up to five. Various interpretations have been offered. It is sufficient to mention two here: (1) these letters indicated to the Arabs who first heard the Qurʾan that the Qurʾan consists of letters and words of their own language, although it was superior to any speech of their own, being of divine origin; (2) they are an exclamatory device intended to arrest the listeners’ attention, similar to the custom of starting poems with an emphatic ‘No!’ or ‘Indeed!’ Exegetes normally added, after expounding their theories, ‘God knows best.’

b The Arabic construction la rayba fihi carries more than one meaning, including ‘there is nothing dubious about/in it’ and ‘it is not to be doubted’ as regards its origin or contents.

c The root w-q-y in this morphological form has the meaning of being mindful or being wary of something. The opposite of being mindful of God is to ignore Him or have no reference to Him in your thought, feeling, or action. This is a fundamental concept about God and the believers’ relation to Him. Many translators render the term as ‘those who fear God’, but this is an over-expression of the term and does not correctly convey the meaning of the concept, which is a very common one in the Qurʾan.

d What is beyond their perception, literally ‘absent’—this applies to the nature of God, the Hereafter, historical information not witnessed, etc.

a This means regular and proper performance of the formal prayer (salah), as taught by the Prophet Muhammad.

b Yunfiquna in the Arabic of the Qurʾan literally means ‘spend’, on others, in good causes, in the way of God.

c The basic meaning of ‘adhab is ‘to restrain (from doing wrong)’, extended to mean anything difficult or painful, punishment, famine (see 23: 78). See Majaz al-Qurʾan, by ‘Izz al-Din Ibn ‘Abdul-Salam (London: Al-Furqan Foundation, 1999), 194, and E. W. Lane, Arabic-English Lexicon (Beirut: Librairie du Liban, 1968).

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