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7:175-177 The story of Bal’am bin Ba’ura

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Relate to them the story of the man to whom We sent Our signs, but he passed them by: so Satan followed him up, and he went astray. (verse 175)

If it had been Our will, We should have elevated him with Our signs; but he inclined to the earth, and followed his own vain desires. His similitude is that of a dog: if you attack him, he lolls out his tongue, or if you leave him alone, he (still) lolls out his tongue. That is the similitude of those who reject Our signs; So relate the story; perchance they may reflect. (verse 176)

Evil as an example are people who reject Our signs and wrong their own souls.


The above verses have described the story of a religious leader of
the Israelites who had a great following for his piety and knowledge
but suddenly went astray and became among the rejected. This event
contains a number of lessons and points of exhortation, and has a link
with the preceding verses. The foregoing verses spoke of the covenant
made by Allah with the children of Adam in general, and with certain
people in varied circumstances. The above verses also made a mention
of those people who did not fulfil their pledge with Allah. For example,
the Israelites who were waiting the arrival of a prophet and used to
describe his attributes to others, but after the Holy Prophet (S) made
his appearance, they rejected him just for worldly considerations.

The story of Bal’am bin Ba’ura
The present verses have related the story of a saintly person
among the Israelites. The Holy Prophet (S) has been asked to
relate this story to his people to show how a devoted scholar and great
spiritual leader was deprived of all the knowledge, wisdom, popularity
and fame only by following the mundane desires.

We do not find any personal identification or name of this person
mentioned in the Holy Qur’an. There are, however, many Traditions
reported by the exegetes of the Holy Qur’an and the Companions and
their disciples, giving a variety of information about him. The most
authentic and trusted by the majority of scholars is the Tradition
reported by Ibn Marduwaih on the authority of the Companion
‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas which is as follows:

The name of this man was Bal’am bin Ba’ura. He belonged to Syria
living in Cana’an near Jerusalem. According to a report he was an
Israelite by birth. He had knowledge of certain books revealed by Allah. The Qur’anic phrase “The one whom We gave Our verses” refers to the same knowledge.

This event belongs to the period after the death of pharaoh and his
people and the victory of the Israelites over Egypt. Allah commanded
The Prophet Musa (pbuh) and his people to fight war against a people
called Jabbarin. The Jabbarin who had seen the fate of Pharaoh and
his people were greatly frightened when they saw the army of the
Prophet Musa (pbuh) approaching them. They came to Bal’am and
said that the Prophet Musa (pbuh) was a strong man and that he had come with great army in order to expel them from their land. He should therefore pray Allah that He may turn them back without — – fighting war against them. Bal’am bin Ba’ura was known to be having the knowledge of (the most gracious name of Allah). He used to
pray with the help of this name and his prayers were generally
granted.

Bal’am said to them that Muss, being the prophet of Allah, had the
support of Allah’s angels and he could not pray against him. He said
that he knew the rank that Musa (pbuh) held with Allah, and that by
praying against him he will ruin himself both in this world and in the
world to come. Being insisted by the people Bal’am promised that he
will first seek the consent of Allah for such a prayer, and in case Allah
permitted him to pray against Musa he shall do so accordingly.

He performed some act to seek Allah’s consent and in a dream was
prohibited by Allah from making such prayer. He came to the people
and informed them of this prohibition. The Jabbarin presented him a
gift of considerable value which he accepted. Subsequent to this gift
their insistence increased. Some reports said that his wife advised him
to accept the gift, and pray for them. Being blinded by the love of
wealth and wife, he started praying against the Prophet Musa (pbuh)
and his people. An unusual thing happened at this occasion. By the
will of Allah the words he wanted to utter against the Prophet Musa
(pbuh) in his invocation, were uttered against the people of Jabbarin
themselves. They cried out and admonished him that he was invoking
against themselves. Bal’am said that he was unable to utter a word
against Musa (pbuh), and that he had no control over his utterances.

Consequently the Jabbarin met the fate of disaster from the
heavenly punishment, and the punishment of Bal’am was that his
tongue protruded from under his mouth so much so that it dangled on
his chest. Bal’am having ruined his life both in this world and in the
world to come and being deprived of all spiritual powers he had, made
a suggestion to the people of Jabbarin saying, “There is only one way
you can overcome the Israelites. Decorate your beautiful girls and
send them to the Israelites giving them instructions that they should
not put on any resistance against whatever is done by the Israelites.
Being away from their homes they are likely to involve themselves in adultery. Being the most detestable act to Allah, adultery has to incur the wrath of Allah. An adulterous people can never win over their
enemy.” This satanic suggestion was accepted by the people and they
acted accordingly. A prominent person of the Israelites fell prey to this
trap. The Prophet Misa (pbuh), made all his effort to stop him from
this act but he involved himself in this wicked act.

Consequently plague overtook them as a punishment, with a
death toll of seventy thousand people in one day. The person who had
committed the sin was murdered along with the girl and was hung by
the Israelites at a public place. Then they turned to Allah in repentance and asked His forgiveness, which relieved them of this disgraceful punishment.

The Holy Qur’an used the expression of ‘wriggling out’ for Bal’am’s
disregard to the knowledge and wisdom Allah had given to him
through His verses. The Arabic expression “He wriggled out
from the verses of Allah” signifies coming out of an animal from it’s
skin like a snake which leaves it’s old skin behind having no concern
with it. This indicates that Bal’am had totally disregarded the knowledge and wisdom he was granted by Allah. The text phrase: “So, Satan overtook him” implies that as long as he possessed the
knowledge of the verses of Allah, Satan was unable to possess him. As
soon as Bal’am was deprived of this great gift of Allah, he overtook
him and led him astray. Consequently he became one of the misguided
people “And he became one of the misled.

The next verse (176) has said:

“And if We so willed, we would have elevated him thereby, but
he clung to the earth, and followed his desire.”

The word (Akhlada) is a derivative of () which means to incline
or to cling to something. The word (ard) meaning the earth includes
the globe itself and all the things present. Furniture, machines,
clothes and food are in fact, the gift of this earth. By implication all the
worldly possessions have been taken to include in a single word – the
earth. The quintessence of this verse is that the knowledge of the
verses of Allah are the real source of gaining prominence and advancement. For those who show disregard to them and give preference to worldly desires and possessions, this very knowledge becomes a source of disgrace and disaster for them.

The verse under discussion has expressed this fact by way of a
similitude. It said “So his example is like the example of a dog; if you attack him,
he pants, and if you leave him alone he pants.”

The word (Lahath) signifies to breath hard by ejecting one’s
tongue out.

The process of inhaling fresh air and exhaling unclean air is vital
for every living being. Allah has made this process as automatic and
easy as requires no effort on the part of living creatures – dog excepted.
It is only dog that has to labour hard for the process of breathing,
while other animals have to make such effort only when they are
attacked or undergo some strenuous task. Bal’am b. Baura has been
mentioned in this verse as being similar to dog. He had his tongue
protruded and panted like a dog who pants when attacked and pants
when let alone

The next sentence of the verse said: “That is
the example of those who belied our signs.” According to the
Companion ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas (RA) “this has a reference to the
Israelites of Makkah who were always longing for some one sent to
them as their leader inviting them to Allah and teaching them the
ways of following the right path. When this long-waited prophet came
to them with as transparent signs of Truth as left no room – for the
resistence in his way, they too, ‘wriggled out’ from the commandments of Torah exactly as Bal’am Ba’ura had done.

The last sentence of this series said: “So relate the chronicles (to them) so that they may ponder.” The Holy Prophet
(S) has been asked to relate the story of Bal’am Ba’ura to them in order that they may take lesson from it and use their understanding.

The last verse in this series 176 said, “So evil is example of those who belied our signs and they have been doing harm to themselves.”

The General Message of the Verses
The above verses contain a number of useful points for the benefit
of those who are heedful and make use of their understanding. Firstly,
no one should be boastful of his knowledge and be proud for his piety.
Things can change without notice just as happened with Bal’am
Ba’ura. One has to be grateful to his Lord for all the knowledge and
wisdom he has, and should keep praying Allah for being firm in his
faith.

Secondly, one should avoid situations which seem to threat his
faith and knowledge. Specially so, when money, wife and children are
involved because the love, of these things is the most powerful agent of
misguidance.

Thirdly, one should avoid the company of the misguided people and
be careful in accepting gift or invitation from them. Bal’am met the
evil fate through accepting the gift of the Jabbarin.

Fourthly, the acts of immodesty like adultery and fornication are
the source of ruin and disaster for all the people living in a society.
Those who want to save themselves from distress must prevent their
people from committing such crimes, otherwise it will invite Allah’s
wrath and punishment upon them.

Fifthly, deviation from the commandments of Allah is, in itself a
punishment and it opens the door to satanic influences, which work
upon them quite unknowingly and lead them astray. Therefore, any
one with knowledge must be conscious of this valuable treasure and
seek Allah’s help in protecting it from evil influences. He must carefully keep correcting himself against error.

References:

Shafi, Muhammad (2008). Maariful Quran. (Vol .4 surah 7 verses 175-177)English-MaarifulQuran-MuftiShafiUsmaniRA-Vol-4.pdf (islamicweblibrary.com)

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