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Interpretation of Sura Cow - Verse 158

158. " Behold, Safa and Marwah are among the Symbols (appointed by) Allah; so whoever makes the pilgrimage (Hajj) to the House, or performs 'Umrah, therefore it is no blame on him to go round them both. And for whoever (obeys Him and) initiates good, then verily Allah is Grateful, All-Knowing."

Occasion of Revelation:

Running between Safa and Marwah, is obligatory with the Shi'ah, the followers of Ahlul-Bayt (a.s.) , and it is one of the main actions in both greater pilgrimage (Hajj) and lesser pilgrimage ('Umrah) . But, at the beginning of Islam, those Muslims were not willing to perform it because they had imagined that there had been something wrong in it, for, at the Age of ignorance, there had been an idol in Safa called: 'Usaf, and another in Marwah named: Na'ilah, which pagans used to touch both while running therein. So, this very verse was revealed to make the Muslims free from that false imagination. This very meaning is cited in At-Tibyan fi Tafsir-il-Qur'an, narrated from Imam Muhammad Baqir (a.s.) and Imam Ja'far Sadiq (a.s.). 12 The idea is also cited with more details in Majma'-ul-Bayan, narrated from Imam Sadiq (a.s.) . It begins thus:

" Muslims had usually seen some signs of innovation from the pagans of pre Islamic era of Ignorance, (so they disliked to circumambulate them) . Then, Allah sent this verse down (to remove that aversion) ." 13

The expansion of this description is thus that before the advent of Islam and also at the time of revelation some pagans and idol-worshippers used to go to Mecca to make Hajj pilgrimage with a particular form which was common at that time. Their fulfilment of Hajj pilgrimage was principally originated from Prophet Ebrahim (Abraham) (a.s.) but with a mixture of superstitions and polytheism. Some of their ritual actions were: halt at 'Arafat, sacrifice, circumambulation, and run between Safa and Marwah, which were done in a special state. Islam, clearing out that noble performance from superstitions, accepted Hajj pilgrimage as a great worship and approved all of its correct and pure ceremonies.

One of the deeds which was to be done then was /Sa'y/, i.e., running between two hillocks called Safa and Marwah, over which the aforementioned idols were kept and pagans touched them when climbing those two hillocks. Hence, Muslims were averse to going to these hillocks and thought that in that circumstance it was not right for them to perform running between Safa and Marwah.

Then, it was at the time of 'Umrat-ul-Ghad¤a (in seventh A.H.) that the above verse was revealed and announced that Safa and Marwah are among the Symbols of Allah and, although some ignorant people have polluted them with idols, it is not right that Muslims abandon the obligatory running between them.

Commentary: Acts Done Ignorantly

This verse, regarding the particular psychological conditions that was mentioned in the occasion of revelation, preliminarily informs Muslims that Safa and Marwah are among the symbols of Allah: " Behold, Safa and Marwah are among the Symbols (appointed by) Allah;..." After this introductory sentence, it subsequently comes to the meaning that:

"...so, whoever makes the pilgrimage (Hajj) to the House, or performs 'Umrah, therefore it is no blame on him to go round them both. ..." The wrong behaviour of pagans, that had polluted the symbols of Allah with those idols, should never decrease anything of the importance of those two sacred sites.

At the end of the verse, it says:

"... And for whoever (obeys Him and) initiates good, then verily Allah is Grateful, All-Knowing." Therefore, the Lord, by giving good rewards bountifully, thanks the servants for their obedience and doing right actions; while He is completely aware of their intentions and knows who is interested in the idols and who is averse to them.


It may be worthy to say that the terms Safa and Marwah are referred to in the Qur'an only once. These two hillocks stand nearly 420 meters opposite each other. This distance is now set up as a covered hall under whose ceiling the pilgrims perform the running, /sa'y/. The height of Safa Mount is 15 meters, and that of Marwah is 8 meters.

These two terms, used now as proper names for those two hillocks, are philologically meaningful, too. The term /safa/ means a hard smooth stone, while /marwah/ means a hard rough stone.

The Qur'anic term /sha'a'ir/ is the plural form of /sha'irah/ which means ' ritual sign'. Therefore, the phrase /sha'a'irillah/ means anything which reminds a person of Allah, and revives a sacred remembrance in one's mind which, itself, would be an act of virtue or devotion to Allah.

The term /'i'tamara/, derived from /'umrah/, originally means the additional parts that are added to a building in order to complete it. This word, used in religious terminology, is applied for special deeds added to the performances of Hajj Pilgrimage. (When 'Umrah is done separate from Hajj pilgrimage, it is called / 'umrah mufradah/, a single 'Umrah) . This minor pilgrimage to Mecca is very much similar to Hajj pilgrimage in many aspects, but its difference is not so minute, of course.


12. At-Tibyan fi-Tafsir-il-Qur'an, vol. 2, p.44

13. Majma'-ul-Bayan, vol. 1, p. 240 31

Adapted from the book: "The Light of The Quran - Interpretation of Sura Al-Baqarah (The Cow)" by: "Sayyid Kamal Faghih Imani and A Group of Muslim Scholars"

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