This is Part III, and will be the second to last portion of the chapter Al Qalam, covering verses 17 to 33. The previous field notes, FN#7 Part II, covers Surah Al-Qalam, verses 8-16. To recap from the beginning check out FN#2 Part I.
By the time these verses of Al-Qalam are revealed the message of the Quran was being openly propagated by the Prophet. This open propagation was returned with stiff opposition by the Quraysh.
First Impressions: Fables of Ancient Times
These verses represent to me, by far, the most complete narration of a “parable” or Quranic story with a message related to it. The story is related about the “Garden Cultivators” and partly out of that reason I have chosen the featured image above which I took at Red Rock Canyon, a California State Park I visited and camped out at last year, read more about it here and here. The scenery there reminds me of a place where there once was abundant water- and there are large quantities of fossils to be found here!- but now lies barren and dry.
- Basically a righteous man amongst this group of Garden Cultivators reminds the rest of his group that everything that they grow is from God and that they should give to those less fortunate then them out of fear of God’s wrath. They all refuse and instead plot to get to the fields earlier in the morning so that they can pick off more of the crop, leaving less, or nothing, for the poor. With this idea in mind they retreat back to their homes.
- I love how greed is funneled here. It connects with the earlier verse from this chapter, verse 13 discussed in FN#7, that discusses greed as a symptom of someone cruel.
- When these gardeners get out to their fields, they found that over night nothing is left for them to pick. This particular parable thought does not end with them standing desolate, but rather on a redemptive note where that singular righteous man tells the others in V32 “But it may be that our Sustainer will grant us something better instead: for verily, unto our Sustainer do we turn with hope.” Hope lies with God.
- V33- goes into “suffering in the Hereafter” and makes me wonder if V.32-33 are a form of a “redemptive ultimatum” – is that even a thing?- where God says like here is your choice, the easier path though is redemption, now choose.
- In his notes, Maududi offers that this “Parable of the Owners of the Two Gardens” is actually found extensively in Chapter Kahf, verses 32-42. I honestly don’t remember this from there, and I actually read and pursue through that chapter frequently, so I feel a bit perturbed.
- These Owners of the Two Gardens were so confident in their power and authority of the Earth and the produce it brings in their garden that they didn’t bother to recognize Allah’s will over their matters.
- When they spoke about the future harvest they spoke as though they had full control over it, that it was all their hard work solely that produced it. So they struck out a deal amongst themselves to harvest the fruit of the garden in a way that made it “hard” for others to get any of it- the poor, especially, as well as other animals. The word “hard” in Arabic is used for “hindering and withholding, for the purpose and resolution, and for making haste” according to Maududi’s translation.
- So when these gardeners were arrogantly talking bout picking the fruits, someone from them reminded them to REMEMBER GOD, but they shrugged this person off like a fool and decided that they were going to set out to not give any of their harvest away. They were once more reminded by the fool “remember Allah and to desist from evil intentions,” but they persisted and were wholeheartedly resolved to go through with their plan.
- According to Maududi these particular verses were a reminder to the Meccan chiefs (leaders), that their guarantee of bounties in this life were not guarantees of a a successful Afterlife, as they had erroneously argued when presented with Islam. The blessings they were enjoying.
Asad has three specific lessons to convey from this parable. They are as follows:
- The first lesson is complete reliance and conviction in God. If God Wills, is not just a phrase but a way of thinking, and he emphasizes this point in particular with the mention of how “hope lies in God.”
- He states that this parable is an example of the continuation of the Biblical theme that continues here as the understanding that “the poor have a right to a share in the harvest of the fields and gardens owned by the more fortunate.” This extends to th present day as being an awareness that what we have is from God, and that there is a clear claim by the poor on a portion of it. Asad goes further to state that cruelty based on greed can be equated as a “societal sin” which I interpret as being a sin that extends beyond the individual. Which presents a really interesting point of reflection, can sin be shared even if one is not partaking in the sin but rather living in a society where the sin is socially rearing its head? Asad, however, does no
- Finally the third lesson is drawn from the Arabic grammar, where Asad delves into the term banun, which is “often used in the Quran metonymically, denoting ‘popular support’ or ‘many adherents’ in conjunction with the term mal (worldly goods).” The usage illustrates “a certain mentality which attributes a pseudo-religious significance to wealth and influence, and regards these visible signs of world successes post-factum evidence of ‘righteousness’ of the person concerned, and, hence, of his not being in need of further guidance.” This is an important point because an argument of the Meccan Arabs was that “We are rich, obviously God favors us. Therefore, if there is a hereafter, God will grant us paradise there as well.” I find it interesting that Asad points this out, but doesn’t go that one step further to drive home the point that greed rises out of cruelty, therefore, it is not always the case that one given wealth can have paradise.