Translated by: Manal Samhat
By His Eminence, the late Religious Authority, Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlullah (ra)
Allah says in His Glorious Book: “Then Allah sent a crow digging up the earth” hollowing the earth out as if searching for something, “so that he might show him how he should cover his brother’s dead body,” (05: 31), signifying the ugly state of his brother after his death, who would become a fetid corpse or food to predators, which he would hate for him.
Apparently, this Ayah clarifies that Cain (Qabil) was naïve and inexperienced as he had no on-the-ground experience that introduces him to things and there were no other educational means that teach man how to react to his private issues. Some interpreters suggest that Abel (Habil) was the first to die among the people, and this small community was not acquainted with such an incident, which deprived Qabil of the ability to know how to deal with his brother’s death, until Allah sent down a crow to make a hole in the ground, bury the dead crow in it and then re-fill the hole with the excavated dirt… all this took place while Qabil was watching. Other interpreters, whether as their own opinion, interpreting a text or depending on previous narrations (Hadith), said that Allah sent down two crows; one was dead and the other was alive, or they were both alive but they fought until one of them killed the other, so the alive one dug a hole in the ground and buried the dead one in it.
It is narrated that Imam Ja’afar As-Sadiq (a.s.) said that after Qabil had killed his brother, he did not know what to do with the body to prevent the wild beasts from devouring it, so he carried him in a bag on his back until Allah sent the two crows who fought until one of them killed the other and the killer dug a hole in the ground and buried the dead one in it, and then covered the hole with dirt. If this tradition turned to be authentic, then it signifies that this issue is a matter of Divine intervention, for Allah inspired the crow to do what birds are not used to, and perhaps this is backed by Allah’s saying: “He said: Woe me! Do I lack the strength that I should be like this crow and cover my brother’s dead body?” (05: 31), just as the crow had done. However, it is mentioned in some interpretation books that the crow is distinguished from other birds in that it has a habit of burying what it hunts for itself whether seeds or birds, so perhaps it was simply digging up the earth in search of the grains and worms, and not to bury its fellow bird or hide some food it had found, and Allah knows best.
Whatever the scenario was, Qabil figured out from the crow’s experience how to dig up the earth and fill up the hole back with dirt, which exposed him to the idea of burial through which he can keep his brother’s corpse away from predators or prevent it from turning into a fetid cadaver, so: “He said: Woe me!” expressing his deepest shame or distress: “Do I lack the strength that I should be like this crow,” that tiny crow who is familiar with what I am not familiar with and who knows how to act and run its affairs with full knowledge and expertise, while I stand there watching it unable to do this simple act that needs not any deep knowledge or complicated thinking, “and cover my brother’s dead body?” bury him in the ground to protect him from predators or prevent his fetid smell from spreading. “So he became of those who regret;” (05: 31), he regretted committing such a crime after detaching himself from the impulsive ambience emanating from the complex of envy he had, which intrigued him to kill his own brother unjustly, aggressively and without having committed any fault against him. Actually, this made him realize the size of what he had done through all the negative outcomes at the levels of this world and the Hereafter. Perhaps, the reason of his feeling of remorse was fearing that his parents might know what he had committed or the like.
Thus, Qabil learned how to bury a body from the crow’s practical experience, which embodies a methodology through which one can acquire knowledge using his senses, such as watching what other creatures would do, or through hearing, touching, smelling or tasting, which constitutes a way to acquire knowledge for the movement of awareness. Thus, man would use such acquired knowledge to acquire what he wants and fulfill his vital needs in life. In conclusion, the senses play an important role in the process of scientific search, considering that the senses provide the intellect with the raw material which it processes in the thinking process.
Actually, this is confirmed by the Quranic methodology of [acquiring] knowledge, which is not restricted to the mental process that relies on meditation and deduction; rather, it also includes the experimental scientific process that is driven by the senses through which man acquires what he sees, hears, touches, smells and tastes, which he would employ, through the mind, to come up with a general idea.
The human reality has two ways of thinking: the first is the purely theoretical and abstract way that produces ideas that have nothing to do with the senses, and the second is the experimental way of producing ideas that the senses process through the mind. Therefore, those who deny the role of the mind are mistaken and so are those who deny the role of experience in acquiring knowledge.
This short story that the Quran relates to us in the form of a short dialogue exemplifies the vital image of man’s evil and good characters, to attach us to the idea of the good and keep us away from that of evil, in a situation that reveals to both the beholder and listener the atrocious stand of one person in comparison with the sublime stand of the other. We notice that the crime had no just justifications and grounds; nay, it was the outcome of an unhealthy psychological state plagued with envy, as the victim did not commit any fault. Actually, the first parts of the story related in the previous Ayahs: “And relate to them the story of the two sons of Adam (Cain and Abel) with truth when they both offered an offering, but it was accepted from one of them and was not accepted from the other. He (Cain) said: ‘I will most certainly slay you.’ The other (Abel) said: ‘Allah only accepts from those who guard (against evil).If you will stretch forth your hand towards me to slay me, I am not one to stretch forth my hand towards you to slay you surely I fear Allah, the Lord of the worlds:Surely I wish that you should bear the sin committed against me and your own sin, and so you would be of the inmates of the fire, and this is the recompense of the unjust.’Then his mind facilitated to him the slaying of his brother so he slew him; then he became one of the losers” (05: 27-30) reveal that the victim did not turn the fact that his offering was accepted while his brother’s was not into an opportunity to boast and show off in a way that offends his brother’s dignity, as any winner would do before any loser, for the victim’s morals was way far from such attitude.
Perhaps the value of this story or the narration of this story by the Quran lies in the psychological detest it infuses in the reader’s or listener’s soul against the crime and the murderer and in the spiritual compassion with the victim, which leaves an impact on the general human behavior in the deeds one wants to do or the deeds of others he would judge.
As for us, we can benefit from this story in two aspects:
1- The educational aspect which regards the story as a vibrant means for exemplification when it is turned into a play or the like and a method of instruction and education. Perhaps, it is useful for us to turn it into an educational religious story we teach to our children and the youth, each in the method that goes with their mental abilities, in a live figurative process, whether in words, pictures or acting.
2- Using this story, as well as others that touch upon various subjects yet still in the same ambiences, to address the issue of crime and its perpetrator, no matter what type of crime it was, whether murder, theft, adultery, oppressing, and offending people in general, for the role of the Quranic method sets the foundations for the educational methodology that the others should adopt in the course of following what already exists or making inspirations or innovations to guarantee that the Islamic educational work continues to live the ambiences of the Quran, in both the idea and method (nominally and practically), by inspiring from the Quran its ideas and methods and project them on its own ideas and methods.
[Extracted from the Book “(Interpretations) inspired from the Quran”]