"Righteousness is not that you turn your faces to the East and the West; but righteousness is that one believes in Allah and the Last Day and the angels and the Book and the Prophets, and gives wealth, despite its love* , to relatives, and to orphans, the helpless, the wayfarer, and to those who ask, and (spends) in (freeing) slaves and observes the prayers and pays the Zakah; and those who fulfil their promise when they promise and, of course, the patient** in hardships and sufferings and when in battle! Those are the ones who are true and those are the God-fearing."
[*Or, 'out of His love'. ]
[**Reflects the emphasis the Holy Qur'an has given to al-sabireen by changing the case from nominative to objective.]
From the beginning to this point, the Surah al-Baqarah is reaching its half-way mark. Until now, the message was addressed mostly to its deniers since the truth of the Holy Qur'an was the first thing to be established. In that context, mention was made of those who accepted it and those who rejected it, which was followed by providing proof of Allah's Oneness and the Prophethood. Then, recounted were Allah's blessings and favours on the progeny of Ibrahim (A.S) right through the verse
(2:124). Thenceforth started the issue of the Qiblah which continued until it was resolved when the status of Safa and Marwah was identified as a sign from Allah (Verse 158).
Then, the affirmation of Allah's Oneness was rightfully followed by a refutation of the principles and subsidiaries of Shirk, the act of associating others with Allah. The approach this far is full of warning mostly given to the deniers of the message of the Qur'an; any reference to Muslims was only as a corollary.
The verses that follow contain nearly the other half of Surah al-Baqarah where the primary purpose is to educate Muslims in the principles and the subsidiaries of their religion and any address to non-Muslims is by implication only. This subject which continues through the end of the Surah has been unfolded by presenting and explaining the cardinal concept of birr, an umbrella word in Arabic used for what is good in the absolute sense and which combines in itself all acts of righteousness and obedience, inward or outward. So, when the verse begins, basic principles such as belief in the Book, spending of wealth in charity, fulfillment of promises and patience in distress have been stressed upon which, incidentally, include the basic principles behind all injunctions of the Holy Qur'an. The fact is that the articles of belief, the deeds in accordance with them and the morals are the essence of all religious injunctions while all details fall under these basics. Thus, the verse actually houses all these three major departments.
When Baytullah, the House of Allah at Makkah was made the Qiblah of the Muslims in place of Baytul-Maqdis, the Jews and Christians and the Mushrikin, who were much too eager to find fault with Islam and Muslims, were stirred and they started coming up with all sorts of objections against Islam and the Holy Prophet Sallallahu 'Alayhi Wasallam: Peace be upon him, detailed answers to which have been given in verses that have appeared earlier.
In the present verse, this debated issue has been closed in a unique manner when it was said that Faith cannot be restricted to the single aspect of turning to the West or the East when praying. These are directions in an absolute sense and thus cannot be turned into the very object of Faith to the total exclusion of other injunctions of the Shari'ah.
It is also possible that this is addressed to Jews, Christians and Muslims at the same time, the sense being that real birr (righteousness) and thawab (merit) lies in obedience to Allah Almighty. The direction in which He wants us to turn automatically becomes merit-worthy and correct. In itself, the East or the West, or any other direction or orientation, has no importance or merit. Instead, the real merit comes out of one's obedience to the injunctions of Allah, no matter what the direction be. Upto the time the command was to turn towards the Baytul-Maqdis, the obedience to that command was an act deserving of merit, and now, when the command to turn towards the House of Allah at Makkah has come, obeying this command has become deserving of merit.
As stated earlier during the discussion of linkage of verses, a new sequence begins from this verse where the main body of the text comprises of teachings and instructions for Muslims with answers to antagonists appearing there by implication. This is why this particular verse has been identified as very comprehensive in presenting Islamic injunctions. What follows through the end of Surah al-Baqarah is an explanation or elaboration of this verse. Given below is a detailed account of what the verse presents as a gist of the articles of faith, the modes of Allah's worship, dealings with people, and the moral principles.
Foremost are the articles of faith. These were covered under man aamana billah: "That one believes in Allah."
Then comes the act of following the articles of faith in one's deeds, that is, in Allah's worship and in dealings with people. Allah's worship is mentioned upto the end of: "And pays the Zakah"
, then, dealings with people were covered under: "And those who fulfil their promise"
, concluding with the mention of morals under was sabireen: "The patient."
The final statement is that those who follow all these injunctions are true Muslims and they are the ones who can be called God-fearing.
While mentioning these injunctions, the verse has given a number of subtle but eloquent indications, for instance, the spending of wealth has been tied up with : 'ala hubbihi which has three possible meanings. Firstly, the pronoun in 'hubbihi' may refer to Allah Almighty, in which case, it would mean that in spending wealth one should not be guided by material motives or the desire to show off. Such spending should rather be done out of love for Allah Almighty, whose exalted majesty requires that this be done with perfectly un-alloyed sincerity (in the sense of the genuine ikhlas of Arabic and not in the sense of some modern casual nicety).
The second possibility is that this pronoun refers to wealth, in which case, it would mean that, while spending in the way of Allah, only that part of one's wealth and possessions which one loves will be deserving of merit. Giving out throw-aways in the name of charity is no charity, barring the option of giving it to somebody who can use it, which is better than simply throwing things away.
The third possibility is that the pronoun refers to the infinitive: ata which emerges from the word ita' of the text, in which case, the meaning could be that one should be fully satisfied in the heart with what one spends, not that hands spend and the heart aches.
Imam Al-Jassas (A.R.) has suggested the likelihood that all three meanings may be inclusive in the statement. It may be noted that, at this place, two forms of spending have been stated earlier which are other than Zakah. Zakah has been taken up after these two. Perhaps, the reason for this earlier mention could be the general negligence practiced in the liquidation of these rights on the assumption that the payment of Zakah is sufficient.
This proves that financial obligations do not end at the simple payment of Zakah. There are occasions, other than those of paying Zakah, where spending out of one's wealth becomes obligatory and necessary (Jassas and Qurtubi). For instance, spending on your kin, when they have a valid excuse of not being able to earn their own living, is necessary; or there may be some needy person dying in poverty while you have already paid your Zakah, then, it becomes obligatory for you to save his life by spending your wealth on the spot.
Similarly, building mosques and schools for religious education are all included in financial obligations. The difference is that Zakah has a special law of its own and it is obligatory to take full care in paying the Zakah in accordance with that law, under all conditions. While these other obligations depend on necessity and need; where needed, spending would become obligatory and where not needed, it will not be obligatory. (Ma'aariful Qur'aan, Volume 1)