Chapter 2, Verses 285 & 286: Basic Beliefs and Relationship with God (part 1 of 2)
"The Messenger believes in what has been sent down to him from his Lord, as do the faithful. They all believe in God, His angels, His scriptures and His messengers. ‘We make no distinction between any of His messengers,’ they say, ‘We hear and obey. Grant us Your forgiveness, our Lord. To You we all return!’ ─ God does not burden any soul with more than it can bear: each gains whatever good it has done, and suffers its bad ─ ‘Lord, do not take us to task if we forget or make mistakes. Lord, do not burden us as You burdened those before us. Lord, do not burden us with more than we have strength to bear. Pardon us, forgive us, and have mercy on us. You are our Protector, so help us against the disbelievers.’" (Quran 2: 285 & 286)
These are the last two verses of the second chapter of the Quran, Al-Baqarah or in English, The Cow. This chapter was revealed in Medina and is the longest chapter in the Quran. It was revealed over several years and the subject matter covers a range of issues, predominantly rules but also doctrines of faith and fundamental Islamic concepts. The last two verses give a summary of the major themes of the chapter and they define the basic beliefs of a Muslim outlining the believer’s relationship with God.
According to the traditions of Prophet Muhammad the recitation of these two verses contains many virtues. For example, Prophet Muhammad said to his companions, "Whoever recites the last two verses of The Cow at night it will suffice him (against any evil)". They are among the most memorized and recited verses of the Quran.
We begin with the confirmation that the Messenger, Prophet Muhammad believes in what has been sent down to him. So do those who follow him, those known and described as the believers. Prophet Muhammad’s faith springs directly from the revelations that he has received. It is here where four articles of faith are outlined. Muslims believe in God, His angels, His scriptures (books) and His messengers.
God is the supreme authority; all temporal authority is derived from Him. He has no partners and He is the sole provider of life and sustenance. Belief in the angels constitutes belief in the unseen, something that lies beyond human observation; what humankind can see and feel is only a small part of reality. Belief in God’s scriptures and messengers flows naturally on from belief in God Himself. Belief in God is to believe in all that is revealed by Him. We have a series of books, such as the Torah, the Gospel, and the Psalms, and a series of messengers. These are a legacy outlining God’s interaction on earth. The followers of Prophet Muhammad are the heirs to this guidance.
The believers themselves say that they do not discriminate between any of the messengers. They do not believe in some and reject others. This is a confirmation that all messengers came with the same message; to worship one God. The laws brought by messengers before Prophet Muhammad are abrogated but the essence of worship, the message itself, remains the same; there is no true deity worthy of worship except God.
The believers say, we hear the message and we obey the commandments of God. After the acceptance of the basic beliefs, the Muslim submits obediently to the will of God. The submission is an outward expression of their faith. With submission and obedience comes recognition of one’s shortfalls, thus the believer appeals to God for forgiveness, an appeal for Him to overlook their failures and shortcomings. "Grant us forgiveness", asks the believer. This is both a plea and a supplication.
The believer also acknowledges the reality of the Hereafter. We will return to You (God) they say. This implies belief in the Hereafter and is another article of faith; belief in the Day of Judgment and humankind’s accountability. Belief in the Hereafter plays a central role in shaping a person’s conscience and behavior, and his perception of consequences for his actions.
As we move on, God addresses a problem that was bothering many of the companions of Prophet Muhammad. As fledgling Muslims, new believers, they were worried that they would be held to account for their thoughts and punished accordingly, even if no sinful actions were taken. God alleviates their fears by saying that He does not burden a soul with more than it can bear. The believer understands that God is completely aware of the limitations and abilities of humankind, both as a whole and specifically. The individual will not be overburdened or put under duress. This eases the minds of all believers.
God does not ask a person for what is beyond his or her ability. This demonstrates God’s kindness, compassion and generosity towards His creation. It highlights why God is known as the Most Merciful. The next phrase, takes us a step further by emphasizing individual responsibility. Each person gains from whatever good he or she has done and suffers from or is punished for the bad. No human being bears more than he or she is able and the reward or punishment is metered out for individuals. There is no collective punishment and no generational punishment. Sins of the fathers are not visited upon the sons, and families or communities are not punished collectively for the sins of one of their members.
 Saheeh Al-Bukhari, Saheeh Muslim