He said: “He says: A heifer not trained to till the soil or water the fields; sound and without blemish.” They said: “Now hast thou brought the truth.” Then they offered her in sacrifice, but not with good-will.
Muhammad Asad comments:
i.e., their obstinate desire to obtain closer and closer definitions of the simple commandment
revealed to them through Moses had made it almost impossible for them to fulfil it. In his
commentary on this passage; Tabari quotes the following remark of Ibn ‘Abbas: “If [in the
first instance] they had sacrificed any cow chosen by themselves, they would have fulfilled
their duty; but they made it complicated for themselves, and so God made it complicated
for them.” A similar view has been expressed, in the same context, by Zamakhshari. It
would appear that the moral of this story points to an important problem of all (and,
therefore, also of Islamic) religious jurisprudence: namely, the inadvisability of trying
to elicit additional details in respect of any religious law that had originally been given
in general terms – for, the more numerous and multiform such details become, the more
complicated and rigid becomes the law. This point has been acutely grasped by Rashid Rida,
who says in his commentary on the above Qur’anic passage (see Manar I, 345 f.): “Its
lesson is that one should not pursue one’s [legal] inquiries in such a way as to make laws
more complicated … This was how the early generations [of Muslims] visualized the problem.
They did not make things complicated for themselves – and so, for them, the religious law
(din) was natural, simple and liberal in its straightforwardness. But those who came later
added to it [certain other] injunctions which they had deduced by means of their own reasoning (ijtihad); and they multiplied those [additional] injunctions to such an extent that the religious law became a heavy burden on the community.” For the sociological reason why the genuine ordinances of Islamic Law – that is, those which have been prima facie laid down as such in the Qur’an and the teachings of the Prophet – are almost always devoid
of details, I would refer the reader to my book State and Government in Islam (pp. 11 ff.
and passim). The importance of this problem, illustrated in the above story of the cow – and
correctly grasped by the Prophet’s Companions – explains why this surah has been entitled
“The Cow” (pg. 29-30)
According to the Study Quran:
In Ibn ʿAjībah’s esoteric commentary on this verse, the egotistical soul must
be killed in order for the spiritual soul to live. The best time for a soul to inflict
the knife of asceticism and poverty upon itself is when it is neither too old, when
its habits are ingrained and change becomes more difficult, nor too young (v.
68), when it feels immortal and sees no need to change. It is a soul that does not
desire the world (not broken to plow the earth) and is pure of the blemishes that
bind it to the world (v. 71). The soul is beautiful if it is good (v. 69). It is only
when the soul has been purified and made beautiful and severed its inner
attachment to the world that it is worthy to be sacrificed to God.
Asad, Muhammad (1980). The Message of the Quran. http://www.islamicweblibrary.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/55877864-54484011-Message-of-Quran-Muhammad-Asad-Islam-Translation.pdf
Nasr, Hossein (2015). Study Quran. http://www.islamicweblibrary.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/TheStudyQuran.pdf