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Lesson - 32

Al-Baqara

"It is not righteousness that you turn your faces towards the East and the West, but righteous is the one who believes in Allah, and the Last Day, and the angels and the Book and the prophets, and gives away wealth out of love for Him to the near of kin and the orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and to those who ask and to set slaves free and keeps up prayer and pays the poor-rate; and the performers of their promise when they make a promise, and the patient in distress and affliction and in the time of conflict. These are they who are truthful; and these are they who keep their duty." Ch. 2:177

I have discussed about half of this blessed verse in my previous two lessons. I request those who have not read these two lessons to please do so, for I am unable to repeat their extensive subject matter at this point. A summary of the discussion so far, is as follows: The grandeur and glitter of material civilization, whether in the east (as it was in the early ages), or in the West (where every body is turning today) is superficial, and hollow from inside. The truly genuine culture and civilization is based upon higher moral values. These are acquired through belief in Allah, the angels (who motivate man towards righteousness from within), the Day of Judgment (so that man is conscious of the responsibility and accountability of his actions), the Book of Allah (which presents right and wrong in black and white), and the prophets who are the living models of righteousness for mankind.

Quranic philosophy of wealth (continued from previous lesson)

Life in this world requires sustained effort to earn wealth, and the Holy Quran provides for spiritual development in the earning and spending of wealth. In order to control greed and avarice while earning wealth, the Holy Quran provides the following remedy. Wealth should not be spent solely for the essential needs of oneís wife and children, which is the basic animal instinct, but one should rise above this level, and spend it on oneís relatives, the orphans, and the needy. This develops the noble traits of compassion, and mercy within man for his fellow beings. The various categories included in this type of expenditure do not end here, and we will now cover the rest of them.

Spending on the wayfarer

The Holy Quran enjoins us to assist the wayfarer with our wealth. Some people question the practicality of this in the modern context. However, in my opinion, the need for this injunction is more now than ever before. The reason for this is that there is more domestic and international travel today. In addition to this hotel rates have gone up astronomically. Only millionaires, or those who travel on their employersí expense account can afford such luxury. For the ordinary person, staying in hotels has become very expensive. To put up a guest in oneís house is, therefore an even greater act of compassion today, than it was at any time in the past. Travelers, at times also face difficulty in obtaining foreign exchange, and may at times run short of cash, or their funds may get stolen. Helping such a person does involve the risk that he may not repay when he returns to his country. Despite this Allah enjoins us to help them. If it is not returned, it would be considered as charity (sadqa) on the donorís behalf. At times a person has to travel out of necessity, but does not have the means to do so. To help such a person is an act of great righteousness.

Helping the beggar

The Holy Quran also tells us to help the beggar. Beggars often annoy us, especially when we cannot observe any overt signs of the personís inability to earn. When the need of such a person is doubtful, it is helpful to remember that Allah keeps giving us sustenance even though we may not be in need of it. In order to follow the Holy Prophetís (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) advise of creating the moral characteristics of Allah within us, and to act upon the Quranic teaching of imbuing ourselves with the coloring of Allah, we should help the beggar despite having doubts about his true need. The Hadith even goes so far as to say, that one should help the beggar even though he may have come mounted on a horse. Begging without a genuine need has, however been prohibited, but this is something between Allah and the person who begs.

Helping the captive

In the end it is enjoined to render assistance to another class of persons. The description of this class, if the Arabic is translated literally is, Ďthose whose necks are held in captivity.í People have interpreted this as the freeing of slaves. However, slavery does not exist in the modern society, and a contemporary interpretation can be the ransoming of prisonerís of war, and obtaining their freedom, which is a great act of righteousness. There is, however a more common situation which is akin to being in captivity, and that is the bondage of debt. To pay off the debt of the indebted, and to free them from its captivity is an act of great righteousness. Demanding reimbursement for such payment diminishes the noble act of discharging the debt.

Prayer and obligatory charity

It is then stated that offering the obligatory prayers, and paying the obligatory charity (zakat) are acts of great righteousness. Both of these have been discussed at length in my commentary on the first section of Al Baqarah, therefore I will not discus these in detail here. Keeping up prayer, provided it is not a mere ritual, creates a living faith in God, and purifies the inner self of man and his actions. This is supported by the verse:

"Surely prayer keeps one away from evil and indecency" (29:45).
Prayer nurtures the belief in the omnipresence of God. Who observes him all the time, and is Aware of his inner thoughts. It is, therefore enjoined to cleanse oneís inner self, and oneís actions through prayer, and obligatory charity (zakat). Excessive love of wealth is the greatest detriment for the soul. Zakat, which is obligatory, and is usually a large sum, sacrifices the love of wealth, and extirpates the idol of wealth from manís heart.

Keeping up of promises

The next great act of righteousness mentioned, is the keeping up of promises. Promise can be a commitment of any kind. It could be an agreement between a husband and a wife, between a master and a servant, between businesses, an industrial contract, or a treaty between two governments. Many husbands do not keep their promises. Frequently we find servants and laborers not honoring their commitments. They promise to come to work the next day, and do not show up. As far as governments are concerned, they seldom honor their commitments unless it is under some compulsion. They break promises whenever it is inconvenient to keep the promise. This discussion would get lengthy, otherwise I could quote many instances where the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) kept his promise despite suffering loss, and extreme hardship. I would encourage the reader to read his life history for this purpose.

Patience the greatest virtue

In the end of this list of acts of righteousness is mentioned:

"and the patient oneís (wus-saa-bireen),"
i.e., those who show patience in the circumstances that are mentioned immediately after. Following the mode of expression used in the preceding portion of this verse, the form of this Arabic word should have been wus-saa-biroon. The grammatical form used, however used here is, wus-saa-bireen. This is to stress the praise of the forthcoming acts of righteousness i.e., to say that the virtues mentioned earlier were great, but those to be discussed now are even greater. The "patient in distress and affliction," i.e., those who exhibit patience under difficult, or straitened circumstances in which they are even without food to satisfy their hunger. This does not mean that one should not make an effort to change oneís condition, or dispel hunger. What it implies is that, if despite such an effort, one remains poverty stricken then he should remain patient, and not resort to pilfering, bribery and dishonesty. The majority of people in the world today, are facing such circumstances. Thirty percent of the people, even in a country like America, fall in this category and the cost of living keeps going up everyday. Under these circumstances, it is an act of great righteousness if a person does not get involved in bribery, corruption and dishonest behavior, and patiently remains upright. This is indeed a difficult task. Indigence, saves one from the accountability of the Hereafter that the wealthy will have to face, and which according to the Hadith, and the Holy Quran would be a very stringent one. The fear of God, and honesty in poverty and hunger is undeniably a great moral quality. Patience, which is a magnificent attribute of Allah, is thus acquired by such a person.

"And the patient ... in affliction," is the next category mentioned. These are those who show patience in illness and suffering. This subject has also been discussed previously. Illness, and suffering occur in accordance with the Divine law of Measure (taqdeer). If despite treatment and supplication, there is no relief, showing patience, and forbearance in face of such adversity indicates a very high standard of morality.

"And the patient ... in the time of conflict," is the last characteristic mentioned. People have generally understood this to mean, during conflict with the enemy. Man, however, has to face many hostile elements. The Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) has said:

"strive against your low desires like you strive against your enemy."
Similarly one has to struggle against falsehood every moment to stay with the truth. Conflict with the devil is also an ongoing struggle, for he is persistent in trying to tempt mankind. Man may have to face various other forms of tribulations, and must remain steadfast through them.

Such people have been called the truthful (sadiq) for their external actions become a reflection of their inner self, and they manifest the truth of their beliefs by their actions and practical example. This is the highest level of truthfulness. These are they who keep their duty i.e., they guard against all evil, and instigationís of the devil. Their soul and their actions become purified, and this is the highest moral virtue.


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