Surat al-Baqarah is the longest and most comprehensive surah in the Qur’an. This two-year course represents a serious commitment to go through it in detail so that we understand the breadth and depth of the message of the Qur’an. The aim of tafsir is to connect inwardly and outwardly with the guidance of our Lord, so that we experience a direct relation with Him, and become fully aware of His grace and His mercy to us. A proper appreciation of His grace and mercy generates a strong resolve in our hearts and minds to worship Him and to live in this world in willing obedience to Him. This is the help and guidance that we ourselves asked our Lord to grant us in al-Fatihah, the surah of the Opening. Surat al-Baqarah is the response to that supplication. It inspires, informs, and urges us to worship God and obey Him according to the teaching and example of His Messenger.
The foundation of the guidance of Surat al-Baqarah is iman/conviction, full trust in the Book and the Messenger to whom it was sent down. When this trust is securely established worship and obedience become natural, comfortable and comforting.
The Messenger has brought to us what is of benefit to us in all aspects of our lives. He has come to enlighten and purify us through the rulings and the manners of wisdom contained in his message. This message is not some strange novelty. Rather, this Messenger and all that he brought from His Lord are the answer to the supplication of our father Ibrahim, and its completed fulfilment.
This surah connects believers to Ibrahim and his family, whose iman was based on hanifiyyah, which means turning away from everything to God. The hanifiyyah of Ibrahim was gained through the most profound, determined enquiry, through reasoning and understanding, realisation and acceptance. When hanifiyyah is attained, true islam (submission) is attained. Without that effort, our islam cannot rise much above the level of a belonging and an identity. The islam of Ibrahim was not an islam of identity. God did not promise salvation to his creatures on the basis of a belonging or identity. We learn this through the accounts of those who reject the guidance or who accept it half-heartedly: the unbelievers, the hypocrites, and some of the People of the Book. This surah enables us to aspire to salvation whole-heartedly, and it teaches us how to connect iman and din, conviction and the religious life, so that we are worthy of its guidance and fully responsive to it.
Shaykh Mohammad Akram Nadwi
Dean Cambridge Islamic College