Al-Ijl/ the Calf of Bani-Israeel

بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ

Ijl ( عِجْل) in Arabic translates to ‘calf’. The root of this word is ( ع ج ل ) which in its core means ‘to be hasty’ or ‘hastiness’. There is a hadith in Al-Kitab relating people of Prophet Moosa A.S, to a ‘calf’, which they clung to for worship after Prophet Moosa went away from them for a certain period of time. The narration informs that the people of prophet Moosa A.S went through an ordeal in the form of the Pharaoh being very oppressive to them. When Allah emancipated them from the ordeal of Pharaoh and they crossed the sea, they went pass a people who were serving their beloved Idols ( أَصْنَامٍ). Bani Israeel were impressed by them and they asked Moosa A.S to assign similar idols for them. Moosa told them not to act like Jahil/Ignorant nation. After some time Moosa A.S went away from them for a certain period of time. During this time, a character which Quran calls ‘Samiri’, misguided the people to serve/worship a ‘calf’. Prophet Haroon A.S, was unable to dissuade the nation from the worship of the calf, due to overwhelming emotional attachment of the people with ‘the calf’.

We will analyze some of the terms used in this narration as below.

‘Samiri’ is from root word ( س م ر ) which in its core means idle or vain talk. Samiree is the name given to a character who leads others astray by making vain stories. Also he colored these stories from the ‘effect’ of the ‘Messenger’ as per what the ‘Nafs’ of Samiri suggested to him. So, these idol talks about the messenger that Samiri invented were from the suggestions of his own ‘nafs’ instead of the facts about the messenger. Moosa A.S, on this return, confronted Samiri and told him that what he had invented will be destroyed and thrown away and he will be saying to people not to touch him. That is what the people of Samiri’s character do; they tell people that they are ‘untouchables’. With the effect of the messenger in their vain talks, they make their vain talks appear as ‘unquestionable’ and themselves as ‘untouchables’.

The root of the word ( ع ج ل ) conveys meanings of ‘hastiness’. The term Al-Ijl/the calf represents some thing which people of Moosa clung to, in his absence. Quran states that these people’s hearts were made to drink ‘the calf’. It is not possible to drink a calf. Therefore ‘the calf’ in Quran is representative of something, towards which Quran wants our attention drawn. Quran further states that ‘the calf’ was a ‘Jasad/body with sounds’. Jasad refers to a mere body, i.e a body without ‘spirit’. So Al-Ijl is a body without spirit and when this body emits sounds, these sounds are lacking ‘spirit’ also and unable to guide people to the right path. Therefore ‘Al-Ijl’ can be deemed as representing a body of a system, which is based on vain talks and lacking the spirit of Book of Allah. When this system speaks, it makes strange sounds which are not able to guide the people to the right path. The people making this body of system induce effects of the Messenger in order to appeal to people emotions to make them cling to this body without spirit. The people making this body, make sure that they are considered ‘untouchable’ and their system unquestionable.

7:138 وَجَاوَزْنَا بِبَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ الْبَحْرَ فَأَتَوْا عَلَىٰ قَوْمٍ يَعْكُفُونَ عَلَىٰ أَصْنَامٍ لَّهُمْ ۚ قَالُوا يَا مُوسَى اجْعَل لَّنَا إِلَٰهًا كَمَا لَهُمْ آلِهَةٌ ۚ قَالَ إِنَّكُمْ قَوْمٌ تَجْهَلُونَ

We took the Children of Israeel across the sea. They came upon a people devoted to some idols they had. They said. “O Moses! make for us a god like unto the gods they have.” He said. “Surely ye are a people without knowledge.”

2:92  وَلَقَدْ جَاءَكُم مُّوسَىٰ بِالْبَيِّنَاتِ ثُمَّ اتَّخَذْتُمُ الْعِجْلَ مِن بَعْدِهِ وَأَنتُمْ ظَالِمُونَ

There came to you Moosa with clear (Signs); yet you took the Ijl/calf after that, and you were the wrong-doers.

Allah is lamenting, why after having clear Signs, you people grabbed the Ijl/calf? Why is it they don’t consider the clear Ayas enough for them and have to seek the Ijl/calf?

2:54  وَإِذْ قَالَ مُوسَىٰ لِقَوْمِهِ يَا قَوْمِ إِنَّكُمْ ظَلَمْتُمْ أَنفُسَكُم بِاتِّخَاذِكُمُ الْعِجْلَ فَتُوبُوا إِلَىٰ بَارِئِكُمْ فَاقْتُلُوا أَنفُسَكُمْ ذَٰلِكُمْ خَيْرٌ لَّكُمْ عِندَ بَارِئِكُمْ فَتَابَ عَلَيْكُمْ ۚ إِنَّهُ هُوَ التَّوَّابُ الرَّحِيمُ

And remember Moosa said to his people. “O my people! You have indeed wronged your nafs/souls by your taking the Ijl/calf. So turn (in repentance) towards your Maker, and slay your nafs (soul); that will be better for you in the sight of your Maker.” Then He turned towards you (in forgiveness), for He is Oft-Returning, Most Merciful.

2:93  وَإِذْ أَخَذْنَا مِيثَاقَكُمْ وَرَفَعْنَا فَوْقَكُمُ الطُّورَ خُذُوا مَا آتَيْنَاكُم بِقُوَّةٍ وَاسْمَعُوا ۖ قَالُوا سَمِعْنَا وَعَصَيْنَا وَأُشْرِبُوا فِي قُلُوبِهِمُ الْعِجْلَ بِكُفْرِهِمْ ۚ قُلْ بِئْسَمَا يَأْمُرُكُم بِهِ إِيمَانُكُمْ إِن كُنتُم مُّؤْمِنِينَ

And remember We took your covenant and We raised above you, At-Toor.  “Hold firmly to what We have given you, and listen”. They said.” We hear, and we disobey.” And they were made to drink into their hearts the Ijl/calf because of their rejection. Say, “Vile indeed are the orders of your faith if you are the believers!”

The Ijl represent something which they drank in their hearts with so much emotional attachment because of the vain talks with effects of the messenger, that when they were ordered to hold with power what Allah has given them, they said that they will disobey. Allah says it is bad what their faith orders them to do.

7:148  وَاتَّخَذَ قَوْمُ مُوسَىٰ مِن بَعْدِهِ مِنْ حُلِيِّهِمْ عِجْلًا جَسَدًا لَّهُ خُوَارٌ ۚ أَلَمْ يَرَوْا أَنَّهُ لَا يُكَلِّمُهُمْ وَلَا يَهْدِيهِمْ سَبِيلًا ۘ اتَّخَذُوهُ وَكَانُوا ظَالِمِينَ

The people of Moosa grabbed a calf, after him, from their ornamentations. A body with sound. Don’t they see that it did not speak to them, nor guided them to a path? They took it and they were oppressors.

Ornamentations are things which are made to appear good in the eyes of people. In 16:63 it is stated that Satan makes the works of the people appear attractive to them(تَاللَّهِ لَقَدْ أَرْسَلْنَا إِلَىٰ أُمَمٍ مِّن قَبْلِكَ فَزَيَّنَ لَهُمُ الشَّيْطَانُ أَعْمَالَهُمْ فَهُوَ وَلِيُّهُمُ الْيَوْمَ وَلَهُمْ عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ )

7:150  وَلَمَّا رَجَعَ مُوسَىٰ إِلَىٰ قَوْمِهِ غَضْبَانَ أَسِفًا قَالَ بِئْسَمَا خَلَفْتُمُونِي مِن بَعْدِي ۖ أَعَجِلْتُمْ أَمْرَ رَبِّكُمْ ۖ وَأَلْقَى الْأَلْوَاحَ وَأَخَذَ بِرَأْسِ أَخِيهِ يَجُرُّهُ إِلَيْهِ ۚ قَالَ ابْنَ أُمَّ إِنَّ الْقَوْمَ اسْتَضْعَفُونِي وَكَادُوا يَقْتُلُونَنِي فَلَا تُشْمِتْ بِيَ الْأَعْدَاءَ وَلَا تَجْعَلْنِي مَعَ الْقَوْمِ الظَّالِمِينَ

When Moses came back to his people, angry and grieved, he said. “Evil it is that ye have done in my place in my absence. did ye make haste to bring on the judgment of your Lord?” He put down the tablets, seized his brother by (the hair of) his head, and dragged him to him. Aaron said. “Son of my mother! the people did indeed weakened me, and they were near to kill me! Make not the enemies gloat over me, nor count me amongst the wrong doers.”

When Prophet Moosa A.S returned to his nation, he was furious by the action of his people, and he asked them did they make haste in the orders of the Lord? So the calf’ is also associated with the ‘hastiness’ in orders of the Lord. The Spirit of the orders of the Lord does not come with the wishes of people, it only comes with the Will of Allah. Anyone wishing to get understanding of the Allah’s orders quickly, cannot attain by studying books from a huge body of religious system made by people. ‘The Spirit’ only comes to a pure heart, with the Will of Allah and it does not come in haste (75:16 لَا تُحَرِّكْ بِهِ لِسَانَكَ لِتَعْجَلَ بِهِ ) .

7:152  إِنَّ الَّذِينَ اتَّخَذُوا الْعِجْلَ سَيَنَالُهُمْ غَضَبٌ مِّن رَّبِّهِمْ وَذِلَّةٌ فِي الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا ۚ وَكَذَٰلِكَ نَجْزِي الْمُفْتَرِينَ

Those who took the Ijl/calf will indeed be overwhelmed with wrath from their Lord, and with shame in this life. thus do We recompense those who invent (falsehoods).

The people who take Al-Ijl/the calf are Muftareen/makers of false hood they will experience the wrath of Allah in this world as well.

20:85  قَالَ فَإِنَّا قَدْ فَتَنَّا قَوْمَكَ مِن بَعْدِكَ وَأَضَلَّهُمُ السَّامِرِيُّ

(Allah) said. “We have tested your people after you. the Samiri has led them astray.”

Samiri is the vain talker/story teller who leads the people astray.

20:87  قَالُوا مَا أَخْلَفْنَا مَوْعِدَكَ بِمَلْكِنَا وَلَٰكِنَّا حُمِّلْنَا أَوْزَارًا مِّن زِينَةِ الْقَوْمِ فَقَذَفْنَاهَا فَكَذَٰلِكَ أَلْقَى السَّامِرِيُّ

They said. “We broke not the promise to thee, as far as lay in our power, but we were made to carry the weight of the ornamentation of the nation, and we dropped it, and that was what the Samiri suggested.

The nation was carrying a huge weight of things which were made alluring in their eyes (16:63). The used it in the making of the calf as suggested by Samiri.

20:88  فَأَخْرَجَ لَهُمْ عِجْلًا جَسَدًا لَّهُ خُوَارٌ فَقَالُوا هَٰذَا إِلَٰهُكُمْ وَإِلَٰهُ مُوسَىٰ فَنَسِيَ أَفَلَا يَرَوْنَ أَلَّا يَرْجِعُ إِلَيْهِمْ قَوْلًا وَلَا يَمْلِكُ لَهُمْ ضَرًّا وَلَا نَفْعًا

Then he brought out Ijl/calf before the (people) a body with sounds. So they said, This is your god, and the god of Moses, but (Moses) has forgotten! Could they not see that it could not return them a word (for answer), and that it had no power either to harm them or to do them good?

Calf was a mere body (without Spirit) emitting sounds (deprived of guidance). He made the people believe that this body is the lord for the people and also the lord of Moosa, however Moosa forgot (so Samiri preserved it for the people). That’s what Samiri made people to believe.

20:95-96  قَالَ فَمَا خَطْبُكَ يَا سَامِرِيُّ  قَالَ بَصُرْتُ بِمَا لَمْ يَبْصُرُوا بِهِ فَقَبَضْتُ قَبْضَةً مِّنْ أَثَرِ الرَّسُولِ فَنَبَذْتُهَا وَكَذَٰلِكَ سَوَّلَتْ لِي نَفْسِي

(Moses) said. “What then is your case, O Samiri?” He replied. “I saw what they did not see. so I took a handful of from the effects of the Messenger, and threw it in,  thus did my nafs/psyche suggested to me.”

Samiri told that he saw an opportunity. So, he took a only a handful from the effects/teachings of the Messenger and threw it in the mix of Ijl (The body of hasty and false teachings)

20:97  قَالَ فَاذْهَبْ فَإِنَّ لَكَ فِي الْحَيَاةِ أَن تَقُولَ لَا مِسَاسَ ۖ وَإِنَّ لَكَ مَوْعِدًا لَّن تُخْلَفَهُ ۖ وَانظُرْ إِلَىٰ إِلَٰهِكَ الَّذِي ظَلْتَ عَلَيْهِ عَاكِفًا ۖ لَّنُحَرِّقَنَّهُ ثُمَّ لَنَنسِفَنَّهُ فِي الْيَمِّ نَسْفًا

(Moses) said. “Go (from here)! For you in this life will be that, you will say, ‘touch me not’; and moreover you has a promise that will not fail. Now look at your god, of whom you had become a devout . We will certainly put it in a blazing fire and scatter it in the sea!”

Samiri the story teller, will say to the people ‘Don’t touch me’ probably in the sense that,  he is ‘un-touchable’.

21:37  خُلِقَ الْإِنسَانُ مِنْ عَجَلٍ ۚ سَأُرِيكُمْ آيَاتِي فَلَا تَسْتَعْجِلُونِ

Man is a creature of haste. soon (enough) will I show you My Signs; thus ye should not hasten/rush!

Allah will show His signs to man at the right time. People cannot make haste in their eagerness to get the essence of Allah’s Ayas by studying books written by people.

20:14  فَتَعَالَى اللَّهُ الْمَلِكُ الْحَقُّ ۗ وَلَا تَعْجَلْ بِالْقُرْآنِ مِن قَبْلِ أَن يُقْضَىٰ إِلَيْكَ وَحْيُهُ ۖ وَقُل رَّبِّ زِدْنِي عِلْمًا

High above all is Allah, the King of the Truth! Be not in haste with the Qur’an before its inspiration to thee is completed, but say, “O my Lord! advance me in knowledge.”

We have to pray to Allah supplicating to increase us in knowledge.

48:20  وَعَدَكُمُ اللَّهُ مَغَانِمَ كَثِيرَةً تَأْخُذُونَهَا فَعَجَّلَ لَكُمْ هَٰذِهِ وَكَفَّ أَيْدِيَ النَّاسِ عَنكُمْ وَلِتَكُونَ آيَةً لِّلْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَيَهْدِيَكُمْ صِرَاطًا مُّسْتَقِيمًا

Allah has promised you many gains that ye shall acquire, and He has given you this (some of it) beforehand; and He has restrained the hands of people from you; that it may be a Sign for the believers, and that He may guide you to a straight path.

The gains for the believers are also the secrets which Allah opens up for them. Some of the gains they get quickly and some come with time. Allah make these gains a sign for the believers, He protects them and leads them to a straight path.

Notes:

The word ‘samiran’  is also used in 23:67 in the meaning of vain stories teller. All translator have translated it in similar way.

23:67  مُسْتَكْبِرِينَ بِهِ سَامِرًا تَهْجُرُونَ

Being arrogant with it like vain fables, you abandoned.