(Note: Google translation not 100% accurate)

What is 'the covenant' according to The Quran?



In my experience, this is a subject that is not often discussed amongst students of Al Quran (the reading/recitation), despite it occupying a prominent role in the Quranic narrative. Those acquainted with The Bible will likely be familiar with this term as it seems to play an important role therein also. The root of the Arabic word ميثق "mithaq" (covenant) is Waw-Tha-Qaf which has the meanings: to place trust in anyone, rely upon, to secure/bind, to give one's solemn agreement, treaty/pledge/oath/promise/covenant/bond/contract, strong/firm.

English definition: covenant
In law: a promise to engage in or refrain from a specified action
In religion: a formal alliance or agreement made by God with a religious community or with humanity in general


Verses from The Quran with the word "mithaq"
In the following translations the coloured words are there to aid your own study/comparison.

# prophets
3:81 And God took a covenant from the prophets: "For what I have given you of the book/decree and wisdom, then a messenger will come to you authenticating what is with you. You will believe in him and support him." He said: "Do you testify, and agree to this burden?" They said: "We testify." He said: "Then bear witness, and I am with you bearing witness.

33:7 And when We took from the prophets their covenant, and from you, and from Noah, and Abraham, and Moses, and Jesus, son of Mary; We took from them a strong covenant.
33:8 That He may ask the truthful about their truth, and He has prepared for the rejecters a painful retribution.
See 7:6 where it is said the recipients of the message as well as the messengers will be asked about it. Also see 7:43 for an example of a response.

 
# people of the book/decree, children of israel, nazarenes
2:63 And when We took your covenant, and raised the mount above you: "Take what We have given you with strength, and remember what is in it that you may be conscientious/pious."

2:83 And when We took the covenant of the Children of Israel: "You shall not serve except God, and do good to your parents, and regard the relatives, and the orphans, and the needy, and say kind things to the people, and uphold the salat, and bring forth the betterment." But then you turned away, except for a few of you; you were objecting.
2:84 And We have taken your covenant: "You shall not spill the blood of each other, nor expel each other from your homes." And you agreed to this while bearing witness.

2:93 And when We took your covenant, and raised the mount above you: "Take what We have given you with strength, and listen." They said: "We hear and disobey!"...

3:187 And when God took the covenant of those who were given the decree/book: "You will make it clear to the people and not conceal it." But they placed it behind their backs and purchased with it a cheap price. Miserable indeed is what they have purchased.

4:154 And We raised the mount above them by their covenant, and We said to them: "Enter the gate acknowledging/submitting." And We said to them: "Do not transgress the Sabbath;" and We took from them a strong covenant.
4:155 Then because of their breaking of their covenant, and their rejection in the signs of God, and their killing of the prophets without right, and their saying: "Our hearts are shielded." Indeed, God has stamped upon their hearts because of their rejection; they do not believe, except for a few.


5:12 And certainly God has taken a covenant of the Children of Israel and raised from them twelve representatives, and God said: "I am with you if you uphold the salat and bring forth betterment and believe in My messengers, and support them, and lend God a loan of righteousness; then I will cancel your sins and admit you into estates with rivers flowing beneath them." Whoever rejects after this from you, then he has strayed from the path.
5:13 But because of them breaking their covenant, We have cursed them, and made their hearts become hardened; they take the words out of context; and they forgot much of what they were reminded of. And you will still discover betrayal in them except for a few; so pardon them and overlook; God loves the good doers.
5:14 And from those who have said: "We are Nazarenes," We took their covenant then they forgot a part of what they were reminded of it; so We planted between them animosity and hatred until the Day of Resurrection; and God will inform them of what they had done.
5:15 O people of the Book, Our messenger has come to you to clarify for you much of what you were hiding from the decree/book, and to pardon over much. A light has come to you from God and a clarifying decree/book.
5:16 God guides with it whoever follows His acceptance, to the ways of peace; and it brings them out of the darkness and into the light with His permission; and it guides them to a straight path.

5:70 We have taken the covenant of the Children of Israel and We sent to them Our messengers. Every time a messenger came to them with what their souls did not desire, a group of them they would reject, and a group of them they would kill.

7:169 Then successors came after them who inherited the book/decree, but they opted for the materialism of that which is lower; and they say: "It will be forgiven for us." And they continue to opt for the materialism if it comes to them; was not the covenant of the book/decree taken on them that they would only say the truth about God while they studied what is in it? And the abode of the Hereafter is better for those who are aware. Do you not comprehend?
7:170 And as for those who hold fast to the book/decree, and uphold the salat; We will not waste the reward of the righteous.

 

# those in receipt of the current revelation, believers
2:27 The ones (fasiqeena/evildoers) who break the promise of God from after its covenant, and they sever what God had ordered to be joined and they make corruption on the earth; these are the losers.

5:7 And remember the favour of God upon you and His covenant that He has bound you with, for which you have said: "We hear and obey*" and be aware of God; for God knows what is in the chests.
5:8 O you who believe, stand for God and be witnesses for justice, and let not the hatred towards a people make you avoid being just. Be just, for it is closer to conscientious/piety, and be aware of God. God is expert over what you do.
5:9 God has promised those who believe and do good works that they will have forgiveness and a great recompense.
5:10 And those who reject and deny Our revelations, they are the dwellers of Hell.
*see 2:285, 24:51

13:19 Is he who knows that the truth has been sent down to you from your Lord like he who is blind? Only those who possess intelligence will remember.
13:20 Those who fulfill with the promise of God, and they do not break the covenant.
13:21 Those who join what God has ordered be joined, and revere their Lord and they fear the terrible reckoning.
13:22 And those who are patient seeking the consideration of their Lord; and they uphold the salat, and they spend from what We have bestowed upon them secretly and openly, and they counter evil with good; these will have an excellent abode.
13:23 The gardens of delight; which they will enter with those who are good doers from their fathers and their mates and their progeny. And the angels will enter upon them from every gate.
13:24 "Peace be upon you for what you have been patient for. Excellent indeed is the final abode."
13:25 As for those who break the promise of God from after its covenant, and they sever what God has ordered to be joined, and they cause corruption on the earth; upon those is a curse and they will have a miserable abode.

57:7 Believe in God and His messenger, and spend from what He has made you trustees/successors therein. Those among you who believe and spend have deserved a great recompense.
57:8 Why should you not believe in God while the messenger is inviting you to believe in your Lord? And He has already taken your covenant, if you are believers.
57:9 He is the One who sends down to His servant clear signs to bring you out of the darkness and into the light. God is Compassionate towards you, Merciful.



Summary of 'the covenant'

It is clear that the covenant with regard to the people of the kitab/book/decree, children of israel and nazarenes is to do with being given revelation/guidance from God and fulfilling what this bond entails. This naturally suggests that those in receipt of and belief in The Quran are also bound by a similar relationship.

U
pholding 'the covenant'
saying the truth about God while studying what is in the book/decree, to remember it, and make it clear to the people
to join what God has commanded to be joined
uphold the salat and bring forth betterment, believe in and support His messengers, and lend God a loan of righteousness
being patient in seeking God's consideration, spending in the way of God, countering sin with good
to not serve except God, do good to parents/relatives/orphans/needy, say kind things to the people
not spill the blood of each other, nor expel people from their homes

Breaking 'the covenant'
distorting the words from their places/context, forgetting what we have been reminded of
to sever what God has commanded to be joined, making corruption in the land

By reversing what constitutes breaking we can perhaps simplify what constitutes upholding:
to remember God's message, conveying it truthfully
to join what God has commanded to be joined, making good in the land


The relationship between God and believers is conceived in terms of a covenant, which establishes certain rights and obligations. The core of this agreement is that God binds us to serve God to the exclusion of any other being [1:5, 24:55, 51:56], and in return, gives us the promise of material and spiritual success. Whether the covenant is fulfilled or not depends on whether we fulfill our part, that is to say, the initiative has to come from mankind for it is our fate that is at stake.


What about mankind?

The covenant summarised above refers to those upholding a revelation, but there is also an original/primordial promise between God and all of mankind. Whilst the word "mithaq" (covenant) is not used, a related word "ahdun" (promise) is used in the story of how we came to be, encapsulated by the story of adam:

20:115 And surely We made a promise to Adam from before but he forgot, and We did not find in him determination.

2:35    And We said: "O Adam, reside you and your mate in the paradise, and eat from it bountifully as you both wish, and do not come near this tree* else you will be of those who have wronged."
2:36    So, the devil caused them to slip from it, and he brought them out from what they were in, and We said: "Descend; for you are enemies to one another; and on the earth you will have residence and provisions until the appointed time."
2:37    Adam then received words from His Lord, so He forgave him; He is the Forgiver, the Merciful.
2:38    We said: "Descend from it all of you, so when the guidance comes from Me, then whoever follows My guidance, they will have nothing to fear, nor will they grieve."
2:39    And those who disbelieve and deny Our signs, they are the dwellers of Hell, in it they will abide.
*it is generally assumed that the forbidden tree is simply an allegory of the limits which the Creator has set to man's desires and actions: limits beyond which he may not go without offending against his own, God-willed nature.
 
7:172 When your Lord took from the children of Adam from their loins, their descendants; and He made them witness over themselves: "Am I not your Lord?" They said, "Yes, we bear witness." Thus you cannot say on the day of resurrection that you were unaware of this.

30:30 So set your face/consideration for the obligation of uprightness/monotheism* the nature that God created mankind on, there is no changing in the creation of God. That is the correct obligation but most of the people do not know.
*basic meaning of this word is to incline away from falsehood toward that which is true

The function of God's signs, scripture and prophecy is to reawaken the awareness of this innate imprint and remind mankind to return to observance of the covenant of God. The signs are not restricted to revelation alone:

41:53 We will show them Our signs in the horizons, and within themselves, until it becomes clear to them that this is the truth. Is it not enough that your Lord is witness over all things?

To accept this reality and submit to (or make peace with) one‘s fundamental nature is thus understood as the substance of true "ibadah"(servitude).

51:55 And remind, for surely the reminder benefits the believers.
51:56 And I did not create the hidden/jinn and manifest/mankind except to serve Me.

A recurrent theme in the relationship between God and mankind is that the human being is oft forgetful, thus periodic reminders (e.g. tawrat, injeel, zaboor, quran) are sent to reaffirm the covenant. This gives us a pluralistic/inclusive perspective in which to view all revelations from God - every covenant made with mankind on earth is ultimately a recognition, renewal, and continuation of the original promise to adam. For example, this would explain the numerous references in Al Quran of it being a reminder [e.g. 15:9, 16:44, 21:50, 38:8, 41:41].


End Note


"... fulfill My promise and I will fulfill your promise...." [2:40]

God will surely fulfill His part
[3:9, 3:194, 13:31, 14:47, 30:6] - will we fulfill ours?




Background reading:

Example of the Quranic concept of servitude/ibadah


faithforum.wordpress.com/zionism-palistine/the-covenant-chosen-race-jerusalem/the-covenant-bible-quran/

"Covenant and covenants in Quran" by Joseph Lumbard

"Logic, Rhetoric and Legal Reasoning in the Qur'an: God's Arguments" by Rosalind Ward Gwynne
p1-25

"Ethico-religious Concepts in the Qur'an" by Toshihiko Izutsu
p87-95

"The Quran as Scripture" by Arthur Jeffery
p31-33

www.free-minds.org/trust
by Ayman

"Dictionary of Quranic Terms and Concepts" by Mustansir Mir
p42-44


Tools/Resources/Books used:
www.StudyQuran.org
Project Root List - Quran concordance, grammar and dictionary 
Quranic Arabic Corpus
Quran/Islam books

Study Method
 


This work would not have been possible without the many people who have contributed to this topic, and without the resources now available to anyone wishing to study The Quran in detail. For these stepping stones, I am indebted and truly thankful.

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER:

This work reflects my personal understanding, as of July 16th 2015. Seeking knowledge is a continual process and I will try to improve my understanding of the signs within 'the reading' (al quran) and out with it, unless The God wills otherwise. All information is correct to the best of my knowledge only and thus should not be taken as a fact. One should always seek knowledge and verify for themselves when possible: 17:36, 20:114, 35:28, 49:6, 58:11.

And do not follow what you have no knowledge of; surely the hearing, the sight and the heart, all of these, shall be questioned about that. [17:36]



More articles: http://mypercept.co.uk/articles/