Nawwas Bin Samaan narrates that the prophet PBUH said:
يُؤْتَى بِالْقُرْآنِ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ وَأَهْلِهِ الَّذِينَ كَانُوا يَعْمَلُونَ بِهِ تَقْدُمُهُ سُورَةُ الْبَقَرَةِ وَآلُ عِمْرَانَ . وَضَرَبَ لَهُمَا رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم ثَلاَثَةَ أَمْثَالٍ مَا نَسِيتُهُنَّ بَعْدُ قَالَ ” كَأَنَّهُمَا غَمَامَتَانِ أَوْ ظُلَّتَانِ سَوْدَاوَانِ بَيْنَهُمَا شَرْقٌ أَوْ كَأَنَّهُمَا حِزْقَانِ مِنْ طَيْرٍ صَوَافَّ تُحَاجَّانِ عَنْ صَاحِبِهِمَا – رواه مسلم
On the Day of Resurrection the Qur’an and those who acted according to it will be brought with Surah al-Baqara and AI ‘Imran preceding them. The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) likened them to three things, which I did not forget afterwards. He (the Holy Prophet) likened them to two clouds, or two black canopies with light between them, or like two flocks of birds in ranks pleading for one who recited them. [Narrated by Muslim]
Main Theme of the Surah: The Purpose of Our Creation
This Surah is the longest one in the Quran, with 286 Ayahs. It is full of stories from the previous nations (mainly, the children of Israel), commentary on events from the life of prophet Muhammad PBUH (Sirah), the story of prophet Ibrahim, in addition to many rulings related to marriage, fighting, and Riba (usury or interest). It is the only chapter that mentions all five pillars of Islam (the testimony of faith, prayer, zakat, hajj, and fasting). According to some scholars, these topics are linked together under one theme: the purpose of our creation, and the mission statement of Muslims on earth. We were created for the sole purpose of worshipping God by being stewards of His earth.
The first section gives an overview of the three types of people in their position to faith: believers [2:1-5], disbelievers [2:6-7], and hypocrites [2:8-20]. The hypocrites (who show an outer image of faith but have a corrupt heart) were given more attention and more Ayahs because of the hidden threat of hypocrisy on one’s faith and on the community.
Section (2): Ayahs 21-39: Man’s First Experiment With Worship: Story of Prophet Adam
Ayahs 21-39 calls on all humans to worship God and accept him as their Lord, and challenges people to reflect on his miraculous signs, from the Quran itself [2:23-24] to creations that are as little as a mosquito [2:26]. Later on, it mentions the story of Adam and discusses the mission statement of human beings even before Adam was created:
وَإِذْ قَالَ رَبُّكَ لِلْمَلائِكَةِ إِنِّي جَاعِلٌ فِي الأَرْضِ خَلِيفَةً قَالُواْ أَتَجْعَلُ فِيهَا مَن يُفْسِدُ فِيهَا وَيَسْفِكُ الدِّمَاء وَنَحْنُ نُسَبِّحُ بِحَمْدِكَ وَنُقَدِّسُ لَكَ قَالَ إِنِّي أَعْلَمُ مَا لاَ تَعْلَمُونَ
“When your Lord told the angels, ‘I am putting a Caliph – i.e. caretaker or steward – on earth,’ they said, ‘How can You put someone there who will cause damage and bloodshed, when we celebrate Your praise and proclaim Your holiness?’ but He said, ‘I know things you do not.’ [2:30]
Prophet Adam was tested and commanded not to eat from the tree, but the Satan seduced him and his wife and both ended up slipping and disobeying Allah SWT. Allah accepted Adam’s repentance, but then commanded him to go to earth and commanded us – his offspring – to learn from their example.
Section (3): Ayahs 40- 123: Bani Israel: A nation that was not up to the challenge
The Quran uses a lot of stories to help its readers connect to the message and relate to it. After the story of the father of humanity and how he slipped and ate from the tree, we are being told about a whole nation that was entrusted by Allah to worship Him and take care of earth. Allah has given them many blessings and sent to them multiple prophets:
يَا بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ اذْكُرُواْ نِعْمَتِيَ الَّتِي أَنْعَمْتُ عَلَيْكُمْ وَأَنِّي فَضَّلْتُكُمْ عَلَى الْعَالَمِينَ
“Children of Israel, remember how I blessed you and favored you over other people” [2:47]
Allah reminds them of the multiple blessings they were given: being saved from the pharaoh [2:49], the Torah as a gift of guidance [2:53], food from paradise [2:57], etc … However they were materialistic in their attitude towards the faith (e.g. when they requested to see Allah face-to-face [2:55]) while the true pious people are expected to believe in the unseen (as in [2:3]). Moreover, Allah teaches them what to say in order to seek forgiveness from Allah:
وَادْخُلُواْ الْبَابَ سُجَّدًا وَقُولُواْ حِطَّةٌ نَّغْفِرْ لَكُمْ خَطَايَاكُمْ
… Enter its gate humbly and say, “Relieve us!” Then We shall forgive you your sins and increase the rewards of those who do good. [2:58]
However, they changed the wording, and instead of حطة (which is a phrase that means: oh Allah relieve us from our sins) they said حنطة (which means bread)! In contrast, note how Allah taught Adam words of repentance after his sin, and the big difference between Adam’s attitude after eating from the tree and that of Bani Israel:
فَتَلَقَّى آدَمُ مِن رَّبِّهِ كَلِمَاتٍ فَتَابَ عَلَيْهِ إِنَّهُ هُوَ التَّوَّابُ الرَّحِيمُ
Then Adam received some words from his Lord and He accepted his repentance: He is the Ever Relenting, the Most Merciful.[2:37]
Bani Israel used to ask many questions without any serious intention to follow the commands of God, as in the story of the cow:
وَإِذْ قَالَ مُوسَى لِقَوْمِهِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يَأْمُرُكُمْ أَنْ تَذْبَحُواْ بَقَرَةً قَالُواْ أَتَتَّخِذُنَا هُزُوًا قَالَ أَعُوذُ بِاللَّهِ أَنْ أَكُونَ مِنَ الْجَاهِلِينَ
Remember when Moses said to his people, ‘God commands you to sacrifice a cow.’ They said, ‘Are you making fun of us?’ He answered, ‘God forbid that I should be so ignorant. [2:67]
Note that the whole Surah was named the Surah of the cow, so the Muslims are expected to pay extra attention to the message behind this story: Don’t take Allah’s commands lightly, and when you ask or learn about something, show a serious attitude to follow, and understand that this is an FYI (For Your Info) but FYA (For Your Action).
Allah addresses the believers for the first time in the Quran in [2:104],
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ لاَ تَقُولُواْ رَاعِنَا وَقُولُواْ انظُرْنَا وَاسْمَعُوا وَلِلْكَافِرِينَ عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ
Believers, do not say to the Prophet ‘Ra’ina,’ but say, ‘ Unzurna’ , and listen to him; an agonizing torment awaits those who ignore God’s words [2:104]
The Jews used to address prophet Muhammad PBUH when he came to Madinah in a demeaning way, and they would say راعنا “listen to us” but that word is impolite, so Allah instructed the believers to use a different language and not copy and follow the footsteps of the Israelites. So the word to be used is “انظرنا” which has a similar meaning but has more respect to the prophet PBUH.