To summarize the discourse in the longest chapter of the Quran, here’s a quick overview:
Section (4): Ayahs 124- 141: The Story of Prophet Ibrahim & His Multiple tests
وَإِذِ ابْتَلَى إِبْرَاهِيمَ رَبُّهُ بِكَلِمَاتٍ فَأَتَمَّهُنَّ قَالَ إِنِّي جَاعِلُكَ لِلنَّاسِ إِمَامًا قَالَ وَمِن ذُرِّيَّتِي قَالَ لاَ يَنَالُ عَهْدِي الظَّالِمِينَ
When Ibrahim’s Lord tested him with certain commandments, which he fulfilled, He said, ‘I will make you a leader of people.’ Ibrahim asked, ‘And will You make leaders from my descendants too?’ God answered, ‘My pledge does not hold for those who do evil.’ [2:124]
Prophet Ibrahim was mentioned many times in the Quran, but in Surat Al-Baqara two important angles of his life were highlighted: (1) building the sacred house, The Kaaba [2:125-127], and (2) his supplication to Allah to send the seal of all prophets, Muhammad Peace Be Upon Him [2:129]
Section (5): Ayahs 142- 152: A Central Event in the Surah and in the Life of the Muslim Umma: Changing the Qibla Direction
We have to understand the context and the environment when Surah Al-Baqara was revealed: After 13 years in Mecca, the prophet PBUH and the companions migrated to Madinah; this Surah was one of the early chapters that was revealed in Madinah, and it has some verses that were among the initial ones to be revealed in Madinah. Later on, its verses kept coming down and guiding the Muslims till the final days of the life of the prophet PBUH.
The first test to the New Muslim Umma was that of changing their prayer direction (Qibla). Earlier, they used to pray towards Jerusalem, which was the same one adopted by the Jews in Madinah. Prophet Muhammad PBUH wished to face Mecca in his prayer and would look up to the sky waiting for any revelation that commands him to change the Qibla, and Allah granted him what he wishes:
Many a time We have seen you, oh Prophet, turn your face towards Heaven, so We are turning you towards a prayer direction that pleases you. Turn your face in the direction of the Sacred Mosque: and wherever you, believers, may be, turn your faces to it. [2:144]
So when Allah commanded the believers to change their Qibla direction, many people confused, and some hypocrites and Jews in Madinah criticized that heavily. Allah SWT in this section praises the believers who passed the test of obedience to Allah regardless of the command.
In relation to the mission statement of humans on earth, Ayah 143 (which is exactly in the middle of Surat Al-Baqara) mentions the mission statement of the Muslim Umma:
وكَذَلِكَ جَعَلْنَاكُمْ أُمَّةً وَسَطًا لِّتَكُونُواْ شُهَدَاء عَلَى النَّاسِ وَيَكُونَ الرَّسُولُ عَلَيْكُمْ شَهِيدًا
“We have made you, believers, into a justly-balanced community, so that you may bear witness to the truth before others and so that the Messenger may bear witness to it before you.” [2:143]
Section (6): Ayahs 153-177: The Tests for the New Muslim Umma
The Surah narrates many tests that were given to different people, and those tests are related to the initial complain voiced by the angels:
قَالُواْ أَتَجْعَلُ فِيهَا مَن يُفْسِدُ فِيهَا وَيَسْفِكُ الدِّمَاء وَنَحْنُ نُسَبِّحُ بِحَمْدِكَ وَنُقَدِّسُ لَكَ قَالَ إِنِّي أَعْلَمُ مَا لاَ تَعْلَمُونَ
“… 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]
When you study the history of Bani Israel, who were supposed to be the chosen nation, they consistently failed the trust given to them by Allah… They did exactly what the angels were afraid of! And while prophet Adam failed the test temporarily but immediately turned to Allah, Bani Israel continued to fail every single test afterwards, despite being given a chance after a chance!
Then comes the story of prophet Ibrahim: he was tested with huge calamities and massive requests, and he completed ALL of them.
Who’s next? It is us, the nation of Muhammad PBUH. And Allah is telling us that he will test us with all kinds of things:
وَلَنَبْلُوَنَّكُمْ بِشَيْءٍ مِّنَ الْخَوْفْ وَالْجُوعِ وَنَقْصٍ مِّنَ الأَمْوَالِ وَالأنفُسِ وَالثَّمَرَاتِ وَبَشِّرِ الصَّابِرِينَ
We shall certainly test you with fear and hunger, and loss of property, lives, and crops… [2:155]
So the Surah started with a question in the minds of the angels; this question was not answered by the Israelites, because they are a disappointment to the legacy of their father Ibrahim. But his legacy has to be upheld, and it can be done only through the nation of Muhammad PBUH. We are the final Umma on earth, we are supposed to be the answer of Allah for the angels when He told htem “I know what you don’t know”. We are supposed to make our God and our prophet proud of us, by saying “I know the nation of Muhammad PBUH, they will show you what a caliph would do. They will show what kind of people who rise to the occasion when they are given the choice. How a human can rise to the levels of the angels instead of degrading himself to the lowest of all animals”
The message from Surah Al-Baqara is very simple: we have a huge responsibility as an Umma, which was placed on our shoulders from the very first time Adam was given the role of a caliph,