One Community

Al-Baqara (The Cow) Sura 2: Verse 213

"Mankind was one single community. Then God sent forth prophets as heralds of glad tidings and as warners; and with them sent down the Book with the Truth, to judge among humankind in matters in which they disputed. But none other than the selfsame people who had been granted this [revelation] began, out of mutual jealousy, to disagree about its meaning after clear signs were sent to them. Then God guided the believers to the Truth, regarding which they differed. For God guides whomsoever He will to a path that is straight.'

The Quran is not saying that this original condition of being one community is somehow before the fact of revelation, nor that revelation is the reason we are no longer a single community. Rather, once again we are brought back to an obvious conclusion. It was humanity's predilection for defining differences, for disputing over identity and belief, which sundered the single community. A succession of prophets, 'heralds of glad tidings' and warners brought the means to judge, to reason and resolve the disputes that divide and separate peoples and societies from each other. Yet, once again, people who received revelation out of 'mutual jealousy' fell into disagreements about its meaning. Of course, we should remember that while in this and earlier passages the Children of Israel are cited, Christians are also included, and both stand as examples of the timeless temptation and errors that face all followers of organised religion. The verse ends with the clear statement that, despite the disputes and contention, God guided the believers to the Truth. Within all religions, indeed all societies, among all people there are those who hold to the straight path. The clear implication is that on the straight path we can and perhaps should strive to be one community: the community of common humanity in all our diversity and differences working together to make a better world.

All human beings began with the same potential and possibilities, the same sense of values. It was human diversity which 'sundered what God had joined'. Revelation exists to enhance and clarify the scales of human judgement—to refine the ability to choose and discern between different courses of action. And still, people disagree about the meaning, implications and application of these messages from God. This verse speaks to the simultaneous contexts of past, present and future. It has considerable relevance in today's world where we can, on the one hand, imagine a global community but, on the other, cannot eradicate racial prejudice and hatred or rabid nationalism and all the other ills that divide people. The moral challenge remains the same, and it is a challenge to everyone, no matter what their faith or no faith.

Compiled From:
"Reading the Qur'an: The Contemporary Relevance of the Sacred Text of Islam" - Ziauddin Sardar, pp. 155, 156

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Founded January 1969