Quranic Storytelling in Dialogue – The owner of the two orchards

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SHAFAQNA - The Holy Quran never entertains the notion that affluence is a sublime quality of life, especially if it is denuded of belief and responsibility. It reiterates this theme in the story of two men, one of whom was wealthy, famous, and had many children, and the other was lacking in almost every department. Yet, the latter had an unshakable belief in God, His Omnipotence and the graces He had bestowed on man in everything. He was so aware of God’s presence in his life that he felt His graces in every corner of his existence. He realized the importance and value of life, so much so that he did not get carried away in good times and did not give up on it when the going got tough. This is because he was contented that whether in goodness or in badness all is in the Hands of God, perpetuating the former or obliterating the latter. All that should remain is man’s deeds in this life, be they good or bad.

Thus, the difference between the two men’s viewpoints on life is self-evident from the Quranic dialogue between them. Comparing the two contrasting positions, we should be able to deduce the sublime principles and ideals Islam stands for. God Almighty says:

Set forth to them the parable of two men: for one of them We provided two gardens of grape-vines and surrounded them with date palms; in between the two We placed corn-fields. Each of those gardens brought forth its produce, and failed not in the least therein: in the midst of them We caused a river to flow. (Abundant) was the produce this man had: he said to his companion, in the course of a mutual argument: “more wealth have I than you, and more honor and power in (my following of) men.” He went into his garden in a state (of mind) unjust to his soul: He said, “I deem not that this will ever perish, nor do I deem that the Hour (of Judgment) will (ever) come: Even if I am brought back to my Lord, I shall surely find (there) something better in exchange.”

His companion said to him, in the course of the argument with him: “Dost thou deny Him Who created thee out of dust, then out of a sperm-drop, then fashioned thee into a man? But (I think) for my part that He is God, My Lord, and none shall I associate with my Lord. Why didst thou not, as thou went into thy garden, say: ‘God’s will (be done)! There is no power but with God!’ If thou dost see me less than thee in wealth and sons, it may be that my Lord will give me something better than thy garden, and that He will send on thy garden thunderbolts (by way of reckoning) from heaven, making it (but) slippery sand! Or the water of the garden will run off underground so that thou wilt never be able to find it.” So his fruits (and enjoyment) were encompassed (with ruin), and he remained twisting and turning his hands over what he had spent on his property, which had (now) tumbled to pieces to its very foundations, and he could only say, “Woe is me! Would I have never ascribed partners to my Lord and Cherisher!” Nor had he numbers to help him against God, nor was he able to deliver himself. There, the (only) protection comes from God, the True One. He is the Best to reward, and the Best to give success. (18: 32–44)

As is evident from the dialogue between the two men, the one with the two orchards started the argument from a point of strength, or so it appeared to him. He wanted the other man to yield to him, not least mentally, because he was richer and more powerful than his friend.

The richer of the two thought that he was secure in the resources he owned and that his affluence and dominion would last forever. He was also under the illusion that he was pretty confident of his bright future in this life and the hereafter because he thought highly of himself and his standing in the social ladder due to his financial muscle and the power he could wield because of it.

As for his friend, who was a true believer but poor, his position has come across strongly, with a hint of sarcasm about the allegation of his friend. This is because he did not rank wealth as a sublime merit worthy of making its owner weightier in the scales of values, nor did he think of it as a watertight surety for the future. It is so, for the mere reason that everything in this life is liable to turn into dust at any moment. Conversely, trust in God and drawing on His strength is the ultimate power in this life and the basis for confidence in the future, as it had been in the past.

On this solid ground, the poor believer started the debate with his friend, taunting him of surrendering to the allure of his wealth, so much so that it made him forget his Lord and become skeptical about the Last Day. So, he thought it his duty to remind him of the bounties God had bestowed on him and his need for Him in everything. He went on to give him more good counsel, saying that he should always feel the need to be with God, through thick and thin, in that He is the source of power; He will give it to whomever He chooses and strip it off whoever He wishes.

As for his friend’s stronger financial position and the larger number of offspring he had, compared to his position, it was nothing to go by, as long as they all were God-given and the fact that the poor believer had a strong sense of belonging to Him. Thus, he did not think it far-fetched that God might grant him a better grove than his friend’s. The rich man’s false sense of security in his wealth was no guarantee that God might not wipe it out leaving him with only a memory.

The whole picture becomes sharper in the final scene with the man standing over the ruins of what used to be his orchard, wringing his hands and saying, “Woe is me! Would I have never ascribed partners to my Lord and Cherisher!” (18: 42).

And there, in the end, the moral becomes self-evident. The arrogant man, who thought that his wealth had made him impregnable, was standing flabbergasted and penniless. There was no one and nothing to turn to, just God who grants the graces and dispossesses of them as He wills. His is the true trusteeship over everything. Accordingly, believing in Him, seeking refuge with Him, and upholding His commands and desisting from what He ordained forbidden is the way to the right path, which leads to better destinations and rewards.

The educational dimension of the story

This useful story could be turned into a moralistic one for children and adults alike. It could be turned into an artistic lively play, a portrait, and an axiom to guide people to the universal immortal truth, which points to the everlasting existence of God.

This educational tool might be taken a step further into writing about new situations of affluence and poverty, comparing them to belief and unbelief, although using the same theme but addressing different aspects. The creative works should serve as examples for marrying belief with life, in the progress towards an ever-towering pinnacle in the realm of God.

The disenfranchised and the arrogant

Among the objectives of Islam is the emancipation of the human will from the yoke of the rich and powerful, with a view to liberating man from falling victim to their thoughts, desires and plans. The latter is seldom directed towards serving good aims for, in the main, they are put at the service of evil. Islam has sought to do this so that man could remain exercising his free will and be the master of his own destiny. This is bound to make man go about playing his part in society with his own convictions. This would steer him away from surrendering to the notion that others should determine the way he should think and go about his life, in other words, that others should pull the strings in conducting and controlling his behavior.

Everyone is the master of his own destiny

The Holy Quran has stressed this fact in many a verse, expressing the general guidelines for this question and facing man with the universal truth in that, whatever happens, man would in the end be responsible for his own actions. That is, no one would come to his rescue, because each would be busy answering for his or her own works.

As for those verses that talk in general terms about man’s being accountable for his own actions, they make very clear the results he would reap of what he has done. They also do not hold him responsible for the guilt that had been earned by others.

Nay, is he not acquainted with what is in the Books of Moses – And of Abraham who fulfilled his engagements? – Namely, that no bearer of burdens can bear the burden of another; that man can have nothing but what he strives for; that (the fruit of) his striving will soon come in sight: Then will he be rewarded with a reward complete. (53: 36–41)

Every soul draws the meed [what it deserves] of its acts on none. No bearer of burdens can bear the burden of another. (6: 164)

Then shall anyone who has done an atom’s weight of good, see it! And anyone who has done an atom’s weight of evil, shall see it. (99: 7–8).

And the unbelievers say to those who believe: “Follow our path, and we will bear (the consequences) of your faults.” Never in the least will they bear their faults: in fact they are liars! (29: 12)

Another aspect is captured in a dialogue on the Day of Judgment between the arrogant and the weak, when everyone will be called to answer for their actions. The dialogue takes twists and turns according to the degrees of relationship between the two groups of people, thus:

They will all be marshaled before God together: then will the weak say to those who were arrogant, “For us, we but followed you; can ye then avail us to all against the wrath of God?” They will reply, “If we had received the Guidance of God, we should have given it to you: to us it makes no difference (now) whether we rage, or bear (these torments) with patience: for ourselves there is no way of escape.” (14: 21)

The verse restates how all will be held responsible before God’s punishment, albeit the extent of the punishment will be commensurate to the crime committed. The verse also talks about the position of those who made their will subservient to others while they had the power to free themselves from that bondage. Yet, they were misled by the allure of power and wealth of the rich and followed them without pondering.

At that juncture, they are portrayed as though they have been wakened by an unsavory situation, attempting to get rid of some of its gloom. Thus, they turn to their masters, asking them to reciprocate, i.e. to carry their burden at the Day of Judgement as they had done so for them in this life. That is, the master should offer protection to his followers in return for their following and submission. They plead with their masters, but to no avail: “Can ye then avail us to all against the wrath of God?” (14: 21).

Nevertheless, the response of the arrogant folk shall come loud and clear, as the situation will be hopeless for both the parties. The arrogant ones admit that they cannot fend for themselves. How could they then defend the weak? There seems to be no way out apart from a complete capitulation: “To us it makes no difference (now) whether we rage, or bear (these torments) with patience: for ourselves there is no way of escape” (14: 21).

Their answer suggests that they are running away from facing the consequences, as they do not consider themselves responsible for misleading the weak. To their mind, guidance to the right path is the exclusive domain of God, and since He did not guide them, they were not in a position to guide others, thus: “If we had received the Guidance of God, we should have given it to you” (14: 21).

This is the ultimate demoralized position.

Consequently, God projects, for the weak in this world, what the situation will look like on the Day of Judgment, so that they are prepared to shoulder the responsibility by themselves for what they have done in this life.

Satan, powerless

The irony is that Satan begs to enter into the fray to disavow both the parties, in that he was not responsible for their going astray. He corroborates the religious fact in life that man has a free will and that there is no power on earth that can take it away from him without his permission.

This has been brilliantly captured in the following Quranic verse:

And Satan will say when the matter is decided: “It was God Who gave you a promise of Truth: I too promised, but I failed in my promise to you. I had no authority over you except to call you but ye listened to me: then reproach not me, but reproach your own souls. I cannot listen to your cries, nor can ye listen to mine. I reject your former act in associating me with God. For wrong-doers there must be a grievous penalty.” (14: 22)

Thus, there is no power, even for Satan, to lead people astray. All that he can do is to suggest to man and entice him away from the right path. No coercion is involved. Man has all the time to ponder the two calls of God and Satan. Whichever direction he decides to follow will be his own choice. Why should man then blame Satan for allegedly tempting him away from the straight path to misguidance? Men have only themselves to blame because they are free.

The final word would be Satan’s, who reiterates that man alone is responsible for his own actions because he exercised his free will. By the same token, Satan admits his responsibility for appealing to man to forsake the right path. So, neither would avail the other. In conclusion, not only will Satan have the final say, but he also has one more trick up his sleeve. He claims that he does not condone some people’s setting up partners to God. That is, the rebellious people would be left with neither help nor support.

Disappointment

Other Quranic verses relate to us a different dialogue that would take place on the Day of Judgment between the oppressors and those who were deemed weak. The scene shows the oppressors, who have already shrugged off any responsibility for diverting the weak away from the right path, arguing that the weak had followed them out of instinctive inclinations. They argue that following the wrong path, and committing vile deeds, is something in their genes. In other words, they have the propensity for evil deeds inside them and time and circumstances permitting they tend to take to such nasty deeds:

The arrogant ones will say to those who had been despised: “Was it we who kept you back from Guidance after it reached you? Nay, rather, it was ye who transgressed.” Those who had been despised will say to the arrogant ones: “Nay! It was a plot (of yours) by day and by night: Behold! Ye (constantly) ordered us to be ungrateful to God and to attribute equals to Him!” They will declare (their) repentance when they see the penalty: We shall put yokes on the necks of the unbelievers: It would only be requital for their (ill) deeds. (34: 32–33)

And they will turn to one another, and question one another. They will say: “It was ye who used to come to us from the right hand (of power and authority)!” They will reply: “Nay, ye yourselves had no Faith! Nor had we any authority over you. Nay, it was ye who were a people in obstinate rebellion! So now has been proved true, against us, the word of our Lord that we shall indeed (have to) taste (the punishment of our sins). We led you astray: for truly we were ourselves astray.” Truly, that Day, they will (all) share in the Penalty. (37: 27–33)

They seem to have washed their hands of any responsibility for leading them astray because they maintain that they have intrinsic leanings for committing evil. They further argue that they turned down the invitation to join the camp of belief and guidance, again because they are inherently averse to it, not because they were under the influence of the oppressors. Thus, they are not justified in their claim. As for those who were deemed weak, they do not seem to have the strength of conviction to respond to them. They only have disappointment and remorse for themselves.

However, they have a few parting shots: It is your covert scheming and approach, in that you have exploited our base desire for acquiring wealth and position in life to impose your hegemony over us, which we seemed to acquiesce to unconsciously.

The Quranic verses conclude the dialogue with the disappointment expressed by the losers prior to the meting out of the punishment and being shackled. This is to reinforce the principle of punishment or reward for man’s actions, which is based on free will and responsibility: “So now has been proved true, against us, the word of our Lord that we shall indeed (have to) taste (the punishment of our sins)” (37: 32).

 

Sources – Bayynat

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