Greed was and continues to be a major cause for social disparity, class discrimination, and disenfranchisement. The story of the owners of the garden that was narrated in Surah Al-Qalam is a good model in tracing, facing, and erasing greed. We are not told who were these owners, their names, or when and where they lived. It is in essence the story and the drama of the human being in the past, now, and in the future.
A group of siblings inherited a garden or an orchard after the death of their father. They ignored the legacy of their righteous father who always saw a right for the poor and the needy in his harvest. The children, the new owners, resolved to neglect the poor and the needy for no reason except greed. “Verily we have tried them as we tried the people of the garden, when they resolved to gather the fruits of the garden in the morning, but made no reservation or consideration for the poor.” [68:17-18]
Quran described and traced their action to their inner psyche, intention, and the direction of their action. “So, they departed, conversing in secret low tones: Let not a single indigent person break into your garden this day.” [68:23-24]
Why do it in secret? This means that they did not lose insight of the fact that their decision and actions were wrong, and they do not want anybody to see that. Between their decision and actions something happened to their orchard while they were asleep. Sleep here is literal, and at the same time a metaphor for their heedlessness, inattentiveness, and negligence. “Then there came on the garden a visitation from your Lord, which swept away all around while they were asleep. So, the garden became by the morning like a dark and desolate spot.” [68:19-20]
Now, they have to face the reality, and uncover the real face of their greed: ugly, warty, and wrinkled. They needed a tangible experience in order to believe it. It had to be gross and grotesque in order to realize what they have done. Their selfish dream has been actualized in destruction, deprivation, and depravity. “As the morning broke, they called out one to another: Go to your orchard in the morning if you would gather the fruits.” [68:21-22]
What did they see? “And they opened the morning, strong in unjust resolve. But when they saw the garden, they said: We have surely lost our way. Indeed, we are shut out.” [68:25-27]
What is the solution? How did they deal with their greed? “The more just among them said: Didn’t I say to you why not glorify Allah?” [68:28]
Greed, like other social ills, disturbs the balance and equilibrium of society, and only the people who are deeply conscious of balance and equilibrium are capable of restoring them. The just among them warned them before, but they were heedless of this warning. His warning came in the form of “tasbeeh.” “Tasbeeh” is the ability to acknowledge the transcendence of Allah above error and deficit. When we say “Subhanallah”, we are remembering and connecting with Allah to help us transcend our own errors and wrongdoing. These kids were imprisoned in their garden and its fruits. “Subhanallah” became the key of the prison gate for liberation and freedom. “They said: Glory to our Lord! Verily we have been doing wrong! Then they turned, one against another, in reproach. They said: Alas for us! We have indeed transgressed.” [68:29-31]
They acknowledge the injustice they inflicted on themselves and on their fellow human beings. They analyzed their ordeal and got into the root cause of what went wrong: transgression i.e., going beyond the bounds was responsible for the outcome. Outcomes change behavior and the driving ideas behind the behavior. “Verily, never will Allah change the condition of a people until they change it themselves.” [13:11]
They wanted their garden back. Therefore, they had to change their behavior and reclaim the legacy of their righteous father- the legacy of charity, purity, generosity, and sensitivity to the problems of hunger and poverty. Look how they expressed their repentance and transcendence.
“It may be that our Lord will give us in exchange a better garden. For we do turn to Him.” [68:32]
“Raghiboon” is from “raghbah”, which means desire. At the beginning, their desire was unidirectional and limited to the garden and its fruits. The real solution was to choose a higher and greater goal that liberates them from lower goals and desires. Allah became their eternal goal that cannot be realized in this life, and hence they keep moving continuously towards Him. “And to your Lord turn all your desire and attention.” [94:8]
Lastly, I want to elaborate on the long human journey towards Allah, and share with you the commentary of Jalaluddin Rumi on the saying of Mohammad: “Allah! I glorify you. We do not know your worth.” He said: “Mohammad spoke the way he did because each day he progressed through many stages. Each time he reached a level of new understanding, he begged God’s forgiveness for his previous lack of knowledge and errors. The Prophet has the endurance to contemplate God in abstraction, without remaining at one stage of judgment.”
By Dr. Walid Khayr