Story of the Cow

We all know that Surah Baqarah is the longest surah of the Qur’an. However, the majority of people are most likely unaware of the actual incident for which the surah is named. This will be a brief recount of what events unfolded.

There was a wealthy man among the Bani Israel who had substantial wealth. He didn’t have anyone to inherit his wealth, except one nephew. Therefore, his nephew killed him out of greed and selfishness so that he could immediately inherit the wealth. The other members of Bani Israel then found out the wealthy man had been murdered and wanted to know who committed the murder. So they decided to go to Musa (as) and ask him since they decided he should be the arbitrator.

When they came to Musa (as) and told him everything that happened, Musa (as) asked Allah (swt) what the people should do. Allah (swt) then instructed Musa (as) to tell them to slaughter a cow and take a place of its flesh and put it on the dead man’s body. Musa (as) said this would be the way for them to find out who the murderer was, At once, the people ridiculed and accused Musa (as) for joking. They made fun of him and said you want us to kill a cow to find out who the murderer is?

“Surely Allah commands you that you should sacrifice a cow”; they said: “Do you ridicule us?” 

Surah al-Baqarah, Ayah 67

So they decided, to mock Allah (swt) and Musa (as) and asked Musa (as), what kind of cow it should be? Musa (as) was so disappointed in his people and said it can be any kind of cow, yet the Bani Israel were rebellious and arrogant and wanted to make things more difficult. So, they said:

“Call on your Lord for our sake to make it plain to us what she is”. Musa said: “He says, Surely she is a cow neither advanced in age nor too young, of middle age between that (and this); do there­fore what you are commanded 

Surah al-Baqarah, Ayah 68

Once again, instead of listening to Musa (as), they asked more questions! “What color must it be?” Musa (as) all fed up with his people, once again asked Allah (swt) and He replied,

…her colour is intensely yellow, giving delight to the beholders”

Surah al-Baqarah, Ayah 69

Bani Israel were still not satisfied and asked for more details. Their ungratefulness and arrogance led them to ask more questions. So, Musa (as) asked Allah (swt) once AGAIN, and He replied,

Surely she is a cow not made submissive that she should plough the land, nor does she irrigate the tilth, sound, without a blemish in her.” 

Surah al-Baqarah, Ayah 71

Finally, they were satisfied with the requirements. And so they went out in search of such a cow. The only cow that matched those requirements was owned by an orphan who inherited the cow from his father. This orphan’s father was a very pious man. On his deathbed, the father said, “O Allah, I place my wife, my little son, and my only possession, a calf, in Your care.” Oddly, he asked his wife to lead the cow into the nearby forest and leave it there. He did this because he didn’t trust the other Bani Israel members, as they were selfish and greedy.

When the Bani Israel found the orphan, they asked him how much he would sell his cow for. He told them he would have to ask his mother before he could sell it. A while later, they came to his house and offered 3 gold coins for the cow. The mother refused and said the cow was worth much more than 3 gold coins. They kept increasing their offer and the mother kept on turning their offers away. And so the orphan finally interjected and said, “I will not sell the cow without my mother’s approval, even if you offered me its skin filled with gold!” Upon hearing this, his mother smiled and said, “Let that be the price: Its skin filled with gold.” The people were disappointed but had no choice but to pay up since no other cow could fulfill the requirements. They agreed and bought the cow with its skin filled with gold.

With the cow slaughtered, they took a piece of its flesh and put it on the dead man. The dead man at once arose and revealed his nephew as the murderer and then died once again.

Therefore, the main lesson and integral message from this story is that to believe in Allah (swt), we have to adhere to ALL His commandments and orders irrespective of whether they make sense to us or not. The human mind is so limited and we do not have the capabilities to comprehend certain things Allah (swt) orders us to do. Why do we do tawaf 7 times? Why do we fast for 30 days (or 29) in Ramadan? Why do we pray 5 times a day and not 10 times? So many things in our deen may not make sense to the human mind but whatever Allah (swt) wills, we do. Submitting to Allah (swt) is the basic essence of Islam and defines being a true servant of the Almighty. Rejecting or neglecting his commandments easily puts one on the path to earning the anger and wrath of Allah (swt). The Bani Israel questioned Allah’s (swt) commandments repeatedly and he proceeded to make things difficult for them. This is the central message and belief that the story of the cow details.


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