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The Qurʾan What is This? A current English-language version of the Qur'an, published in 2004
Translation by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem

2. The Cow (53 – 74)

53Remember when We gave Moses the Scripture, and the means to distinguish [right and wrong], so that you might be guided. 54Moses said to his people, ‘My people, you have wronged yourselves by worshipping the calf, so repent to your Maker and kill [the guilty among] you. That is the best you can do in the eyes of your Maker.’ He accepted your repentance: He is the Ever Relenting and the Most Merciful. 55Remember when you said, ‘Moses, we will not believe you until we see God face to face.’ At that, thunderbolts struck you as you looked on. 56Then We revived you after your death, so that you might be thankful. 57We made the clouds cover you with shade, and sent manna and quails down to you, saying, ‘Eat the good things We have provided for you.’ It was not Us they wronged; they wronged themselves.

58Remember when We said, ‘Enter this town and eat freely there as you will, but enter its gate humbly and say, “Relieve us!” Then We shall forgive you your sins and increase the rewards of those who do good.’ 59But the wrongdoers substituted a different word from the one they had been given. So, because they persistently disobeyed, We sent a plague down from the heavens upon the wrongdoers.

60Remember when Moses prayed for water for his people and We said to him, ‘Strike the rock with your staff.’ Twelve springs gushed out, and each group knew its drinking place. ‘Eat and drink the sustenance God has provided and do not cause corruption in the land.’ 61Remember when you said, ‘Moses, we cannot bear to eat only one kind of food, so pray to your Lord to bring out for us some of the earth's produce, its herbs and cucumbers, its garlic, lentils, and onions.’ He said, ‘Would you exchange better for worse? Go to Egypt and there you will find what you have asked for.’ They were struck with humiliation and wretchedness, and they incurred the wrath of God because they persistently rejected His messages and killed prophets contrary to all that is right. All this was because they disobeyed and were lawbreakers.

62The [Muslim] believers, the Jews, the Christians, and the Sabiansa The Sabians were a monotheistic religious community. See M. Asad, The Message of the Qurʾan (Gibraltar: Dar al-Andalus, 1997), 40 n. 49.—all those who believe in God and the Last Day and do good—will have their rewards with their Lord. No fear for them, nor will they grieve. 63Remember when We took your pledge, and made the mountain tower high above you, and said, ‘Hold fast to what We have given you and bear its contents in mind, so that you may be conscious of God.’ 64Even after that you turned away. Had it not been for God's favour and mercy on you, you would certainly have been lost. 65You know about those of you who broke the Sabbath, and so We said to them, ‘Be like apes!b This is understood by some as ‘physically turn into apes’ but in fact it is a figure of speech—the structure ‘be apes’ is like ‘be stones/iron’ in 17: 50. Just as the Qurʾan describes the disbelievers as blind, deaf, and dumb, here the transgressors are apes. Be outcasts!’ 66We made this an example to those people who were there at the time and to those who came after them, and a lesson to all who are mindful of God.

67Remember 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.’ 68They said, ‘Call on your Lord for us, to show us what sort of cow it should be.’ He answered, ‘God says it should be neither too old nor too young, but in between, so do as you are commanded.’ 69They said, ‘Call on your Lord for us, to show us what colour it should be.’ He answered, ‘God says it should be a bright yellow cow, pleasing to the eye.’ 70They said, ‘Call on your Lord for us, to show us [exactly] what it is: all cows are more or less alike to us. With God's will, we shall be guided.’ 71He replied, ‘It is a perfect and unblemished cow, not trained to till the earth or water the fields.’ They said, ‘Now you have brought the truth,’ and so they slaughtered it, though they almost failed to do so. 72Then, when you [Israelites] killed someone and started to blame one another—although God was to bring what you had concealed to light—73We said, ‘Strike the [body] with a part of [the cow]’: thus God brings the dead to life and shows His signs so that you may understand. 74Even after that, your hearts became as hard as rocks, or even harder, for there are rocks from which streams spring out, and some from which water comes when they split open, and others which fall down in awe of God: He is not unaware of what you do.

Notes:

a The Sabians were a monotheistic religious community. See M. Asad, The Message of the Qurʾan (Gibraltar: Dar al-Andalus, 1997), 40 n. 49.

b This is understood by some as ‘physically turn into apes’ but in fact it is a figure of speech—the structure ‘be apes’ is like ‘be stones/iron’ in 17: 50. Just as the Qurʾan describes the disbelievers as blind, deaf, and dumb, here the transgressors are apes.

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