Quranic Reflection No. 382 Āyat 2:207 – Transacting the soul for Allah’s pleasure
وَمِنَ النَّاسِ مَنْ يَشْرِي نَفْسَهُ ابْتِغَاءَ مَرْضَاتِ اللَّهِ ۗ وَاللَّهُ رَءُوفٌ بِالْعِبَادِ
Wa-minan-nāsi man yashrī nafsahub-tighā’a mardhātil-llāhi; wallāhu ra’ūfun bil-‘ibād
And among the people is he who sells his soul seeking the pleasure of Allah, and Allah is most kind to [His] servants.
(Sūrat al-Baqarah, No.2, Āyat 207)
In this verse Almighty God talks about a people who trade with Him. They are ready to sell all they have – even their life – in return for the pleasure of Allah ‘azaa wa-jall. To them that is the most precious commodity worth all they have to give in exchange.
All Shi’ī Mufassirūn and some Sunni exegetes (e.g. Tha‘labī in al-Kash wal-bayān) narrate the cause of revelation of this verse as the night of Hijrah. When the Holy prophet sallal-lāhū ‘alayhi wa-ālihi wa-sallam decided to leave for Makkah he asked Imam Ali ‘alayhis salām to sleep on his bed and use the cloak of the Holy Prophet (s) to cover himself. Thus the enemies who were waiting outside would not notice anything amiss. The night is called Laylah al-Mabīt (night of the sleeping). According to Bihārul Anwār of ‘Allāmah Majlisī, Imam Ali (a) said: will you be safe by my sleeping there? The Prophet (s) said: yes. Imam Ali (a) smiled and bowed down to perform sajda of shukr (gratitude) out of happiness, then said: Go as you are ordered, may my ears, eyes, and my very heart be sacrificed for you, order me as you wish, I am like your assistant, I will do it as you want, and my success is only by Allah.
The verse also refers generally to those who trade with Allah subhānahu wa-ta‘ālā. Note that in this trade the seller is man and the buyer is God. The goods being sold is the life of the human being which actually belongs to God Himself. Yet He buys it from the human being granting him His pleasure in return.
In a similar verse Allah says: Indeed Allah has bought from the believers their souls and their possessions for paradise to be theirs (Q 9:111). This verse is general for the believers and the purchase is Heaven. In the verse 2:207 above, ‘minan-nāsi’ shows that only some people are able to trade thus with Allah. And the purchase is the pleasure of Allah, a loftier prize. The pleasure of Allah is the ultimate joy of those in Heaven.
The last part of the verse says: Allah is most kind to His servants. This refers to the fact that often what the sellers offer is a poor price for His pleasure. It may be flawed and inadequate. But he overlooks and pardons that, accepting it from His servants although He deserves much more. It could also refer to the fact that it is Allah who grants them the ability and tawfīq to trade with Him. This shows the love of Allah for His servants and His desire for them to succeed through attaining His pleasure.
Let this verse remind you of the great status of Imam Ali (a) and his close relationship with the Holy Prophet (s). Let it also inspire you to follow in the Imam’s footsteps, giving all you have to secure the pleasure of Allah in return. It is a successful and rewarding trade.
Sources: Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (Ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūneh