English Translation and Commentary of the Holy Quran (2010)

by Maulana Muhammad Ali

Chapter 2: Al-Baqarah — The Cow (Revealed at Madinah: 40 sections, 286 verses)

Section 35 (Verses 2:258–2:260): How Dead Nations are Raised to Life



اَلَمۡ تَرَ اِلَی الَّذِیۡ حَآجَّ اِبۡرٰہٖمَ فِیۡ رَبِّہٖۤ اَنۡ اٰتٰىہُ اللّٰہُ الۡمُلۡکَ ۘ اِذۡ قَالَ اِبۡرٰہٖمُ رَبِّیَ الَّذِیۡ یُحۡیٖ وَ یُمِیۡتُ ۙ قَالَ اَنَا اُحۡیٖ وَ اُمِیۡتُ ؕ قَالَ اِبۡرٰہٖمُ فَاِنَّ اللّٰہَ یَاۡتِیۡ بِالشَّمۡسِ مِنَ الۡمَشۡرِقِ فَاۡتِ بِہَا مِنَ الۡمَغۡرِبِ فَبُہِتَ الَّذِیۡ کَفَرَ ؕ وَ اللّٰہُ لَا یَہۡدِی الۡقَوۡمَ الظّٰلِمِیۡنَ ﴿۲۵۸﴾ۚ

2:258 Have you not thought of him who disputed with Abraham about his Lord, because Allah had given him kingdom?1 When Abraham said, My Lord is He Who gives life and causes to die, he said: I give life and cause death.2 Abraham said: Surely Allah causes the sun to rise from the East, so you make it rise from the West.3 Thus he who disbelieved was baffled. And Allah does not guide the unjust people.

اَوۡ کَالَّذِیۡ مَرَّ عَلٰی قَرۡیَۃٍ وَّ ہِیَ خَاوِیَۃٌ عَلٰی عُرُوۡشِہَا ۚ قَالَ اَنّٰی یُحۡیٖ ہٰذِہِ اللّٰہُ بَعۡدَ مَوۡتِہَا ۚ فَاَمَاتَہُ اللّٰہُ مِائَۃَ عَامٍ ثُمَّ بَعَثَہٗ ؕ قَالَ کَمۡ لَبِثۡتَ ؕ قَالَ لَبِثۡتُ یَوۡمًا اَوۡ بَعۡضَ یَوۡمٍ ؕ قَالَ بَلۡ لَّبِثۡتَ مِائَۃَ عَامٍ فَانۡظُرۡ اِلٰی طَعَامِکَ وَ شَرَابِکَ لَمۡ یَتَسَنَّہۡ ۚ وَ انۡظُرۡ اِلٰی حِمَارِکَ وَ لِنَجۡعَلَکَ اٰیَۃً لِّلنَّاسِ وَ انۡظُرۡ اِلَی الۡعِظَامِ کَیۡفَ نُنۡشِزُہَا ثُمَّ نَکۡسُوۡہَا لَحۡمًا ؕ فَلَمَّا تَبَیَّنَ لَہٗ ۙ قَالَ اَعۡلَمُ اَنَّ اللّٰہَ عَلٰی کُلِّ شَیۡءٍ قَدِیۡرٌ ﴿۲۵۹﴾

2:259 Or like him who passed by a town, and it had fallen in upon its roofs. He said: When will Allah give it life after its death? So Allah caused him to die for a hundred years, then raised him. He said: How long have you remained? He said: I have remained a day, or part of a day. He said: No, you have remained a hundred years; but look at your food and drink — years have not passed over it! And look at your donkey! That We may make you a sign to people. And look at the bones, how We set them together then clothe them with flesh. So when it became clear to him, he said: I know that Allah is Powerful over all things.4

وَ اِذۡ قَالَ اِبۡرٰہٖمُ رَبِّ اَرِنِیۡ کَیۡفَ تُحۡیِ الۡمَوۡتٰی ؕ قَالَ اَوَ لَمۡ تُؤۡمِنۡ ؕ قَالَ بَلٰی وَ لٰکِنۡ لِّیَطۡمَئِنَّ قَلۡبِیۡ ؕ قَالَ فَخُذۡ اَرۡبَعَۃً مِّنَ الطَّیۡرِ فَصُرۡہُنَّ اِلَیۡکَ ثُمَّ اجۡعَلۡ عَلٰی کُلِّ جَبَلٍ مِّنۡہُنَّ جُزۡءًا ثُمَّ ادۡعُہُنَّ یَاۡتِیۡنَکَ سَعۡیًا ؕ وَ اعۡلَمۡ اَنَّ اللّٰہَ عَزِیۡزٌ حَکِیۡمٌ ﴿۲۶۰﴾٪

2:260 And when Abraham said, My Lord, show me how You give life to the dead, He said: Do you not believe? He said: Yes, but that my heart may be at ease. He said: Then take four birds, then tame them to incline to you, then place on every mountain a part of them, then call them, they will come to you flying; and know that Allah is Mighty, Wise.5



  1. The words “because Allah had given him kingdom” refer to Abraham. This is corroborated by 4:54. The Muslims are here told that just as a promise is given to them that they will be raised to great eminence, which is equi­valent to raising the dead to life, a similar promise was given to Abraham, that promise being in fact the basis of the present promise to the Prophet.
  2. As the discussion arose out of the promise given to Abraham that his descendants would be made a great nation, it is clear that the reference here is to the life and death of nations.
  3. The disputant belonged to a race of sun-worshippers, and there­fore if he could give life and cause death, he could control even his deity, the sun, and should be able to make it rise from the opposite direction.
  4. This refers to Ezekiel’s vision as related in Ezekiel, ch. 37. The town is Jerusalem. The prophet dying for a hundred years is also an incident of the vision, standing symbolically for the death of the Jewish nation or the desolation of Jerusalem for almost a hundred years after Jerusalem was taken by Nebuchad­nezzar in 599 B.C. The bones were a symbol of the fallen condition of the house of Israel. The food and drink of the prophet not showing any influence of years, and his donkey still standing by, proves that the hundred years’ death was only a vision. The vision made him a symbol of the whole Jewish nation, and his symbo­lic death for a hundred years represented the sorrows and afflictions of Israel for a similar period, after which they were once more to be restored to life.
  5. This is a sequel to v. 258, which speaks of the manifestation of Allah’s power in the life and death of nations. In Genesis 15:8 Abraham is made to say, after receiving a promise of the land of Canaan: “Lord God, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?” The Quranic parallel to this is: “My Lord, show me how You give life to the dead.” He believed in the Divine promise, but how would it be fulfilled? The answer to Abraham’s how as given in the Quran is a perfectly intelligible parable. If he should take four birds and tame them, they would obey his call and fly to him even from distant mountains. The words “place a part (juz‘) of them” can only mean one each of the four birds. The story of cutting the birds into pieces, in connection with this verse, is not traceable to any reliable authority, nor do these words occur here. (Editor’s Note: To revive a dead people with spiritual truth, from which they are running away like birds, they have to be tamed as one tames birds so that instead of being repelled away from the truth they are attracted towards it even from a great distance.)