top of page

Quran Chapter 2 [part 3] - The Cow - Covenants with the Children of Israel, Broken Covenants

53 Remember when We gave Moses the Scripture, and the means to distinguish [right and wrong], so that you might be guided. 54 Moses said to his people, ‘My people, you have wronged yourselves by worshipping the calf, so repent to your Maker and slay yourselves [the wrong-doers]. That is the best you can do in the eyes of your Maker.’ He accepted your repentance and turned toward you [in forgiveness]: He is the Ever Relenting and the Most Merciful. 55 Remember 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. 56 Then We revived you after your death, so that you might be thankful. 57 We 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.

58 Remember 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.’ 59 But 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.

60 Remember 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.’ 61 Remember 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.

62 The [Muslim] believers, the Jews, the Christians, and the Sabians [a] – 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.

Broken Covenants Including the Sacrifice of the cow

63 Remember 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.’ 64 Even after that you turned away. Had it not been for God’s favor and mercy on you, you would certainly have been lost. 65 You know about those of you who broke the Sabbath, and so We said to them, ‘Be like apes! [b] Be outcasts!’ 66 We 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.

67 Remember 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.’ 68 They 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.’ 69 They said, ‘Call on your Lord for us, to show us what color it should be.’ He answered, ‘God says it should be a bright yellow cow, pleasing to the eye.’ 70 They 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.’ 71 He 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. 72 Then, when you [Israelites] killed someone and started to blame one another– although God was to bring what you had concealed to light– 73 We 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. 74 Even 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.


a. The Sabians were a monotheistic religious community. See M. Asad, The Message of the Quran (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 Quran describes the disbelievers as blind, deaf, and dumb, here the transgressors are apes.

The Qur'an (Oxford World's Classics)

The Qur'an / a new translation by M. A. S. Abdel Haleem, copyright © 2004 Oxford World's Classics (Oxford University Press). Used by permission. All rights reserved.



bottom of page