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Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim

islam from inside ☰

Prosperity and Humility

Sura 7: verses 94 to 96

Added Jan 27, 2006

The Golden Calf image
“Whenever We sent a prophet to a society, We took up its people in suffering and adversity, in order that they might learn humility.”
“When We changed their suffering into prosperity, until they grew and multiplied, and began to say: "Our fathers (too) were touched by suffering and affluence"... Behold! We called them to account of a sudden, while they realised not (their peril).”
“If the people of those societies had but believed and been conscious of Allah, We should indeed have opened out to them (All kinds of) blessings from heaven and earth; but they rejected (the truth), and We brought them to book for their misdeeds.” (Qur'an 7:94-96)

Some of the themes in these verses are:

– the arrival of a prophet is accompanied with adversity and difficulty

– the adversity teaches humility

– people saw the eventual change of adversity into blessing as the normal course of events and drew no lesson from it. When adversity faded so did their humility. They did not see the blessing as a sign and this was a type of ignorance that caused a turning away from humility and over time resulted in a precipitous change in their fortune.

– people in prosperous or powerful circumstances often feel secure against being taken to account and facing the consequences and ultimate result of their own actions - they lose the resolve or the desire to take stock of themeselves and so they lose the ability to turn from a harmful course. Arrogance deadens their faith and diminishes their insight and is a precursor to their decline.

– humility in thought, intention, and action and an awareness and consciousness of God and of the moral principles that flow from revelation is the key to true baraka (Divine blessings)

The verse “Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim” acts as a protective covering over the verses of the Qur'an. The two types of blessing contained in it (Rahman and Rahim), together extend over creation. The all encompassing Rahman, and the special beneficence of the Rahim. They are like a protective shade which Allah spreads over creation. The Rahman extends to everyone and everything - a generalized mercy that encompasses all creation. It is sometimes likened to a systemic, regulating power that acts as a perpetually renewed algorithim of balance and mercy which infuses and gives order and beneficial structure to creation (even if immediate benefits are sometimes veiled and concealed within the complexity and depth of the structure). And the Rahman, when recognized and responded to with humility, leads to the Rahim, the more focused mercy containing special blessings for God's willing and aware servants.

When the Rahman of Allah is not recognized as a blessing, it is as if it is rejected as an ayat, a sign. “Whatever you love in existence has received a gold plating from God's attributes.”(Rumi) Its beauty and goodness is an indicator pointing to the source of all beauty and goodness. A sign is a marker that points in the direction of Allah or which allows a view behind one of the veils which conceals Allah. There is a verse which says: “There came not unto them any signs from the signs of their Lord but they turned away from it.” When this faculty of discernment and the resultant connection to the signs is lost, (when the humility involved in recognizing and acknowledging signs, blessings, and mercy fades and recedes), a society begins to move out from the protective shadow of the Rahman and the Rahim. They collectively begin to turn away from it, to remove themselves from its shelter.

Any turning away from something also involves a turning towards something else. This is the nature of the world. In the hadith describing the creation of aql (Divinely connected intellect) and ignorance, God commands the aql and it responds by turning towards Him, He then commands ignorance and it turns away from Him. So any turning away from His Mercy, or any arrogance towards His guidance indicates the beginnings of ignorance - it means that ignorance (in myriad manifestations) may begin to grow within, and achieve a hold on those who turn away. Ignorance means to turn away from what is real and true, away from that which would correctly stabilize, anchor, expand, and deepen one's knowledge of the true nature of things. When one can no longer recognize the true state of affairs, they begin to dwell in an illusory world of speculation, guesswork, half-truths and falsehoods, From their they sow the seeds of their own downfall since their ignorance and their clinging to illusion leads to false and damaging conclusions. Deepening of knowledge involves humility and sacrifice, it involves acting for something more profound than one's own imagined interests, ambitions, desires, and satisfaction.

“The key to ignorance is being satisfied with the knowledge one possesses, and placing all one's trust in it. The key to knowledge is the desire to continually exchange one level of knowledge for a higher level, together with Divine grace and guidance." (Imam Jafar sadiq (a.s.)”

When signs are ignored, it is as if more and more veils are pulled down over the eyes. Perception is dimmed, intellect is weakened, and the extravagance and intensity of desires increase. A person or a society may have a vast, even unparalleled, instrumental knowledge and still choose a path of ignorance and arrogance as far as means, ends, ethics, and conscience are concerned.

When ignorance has a hold on someone, perhaps their ignorance may be breached by a shock. God, along with His guidance (the Prophets), sends a shock designed to awaken and teach and train. So the people are brought into a state of humility, designed to awaken their hearts, to soften them from arrogance and worldly expectation, and to make them aware of the distinctions between what is real, true, lasting and what is false and vanishing.

It is said that affliction and adversity to a believer is like a clarification, correction, and reminder of what had been forgotten but which is truly important - the consolidation of the diverse and often scattered facets of the self around a stable (steadfast), knowledgeable, and humble center.

The Qur'an reminds us: “And the servants of the Merciful are those who walk on the earth in humility....” (Qur'an 25:63)

Even the fruits of the Gardens of Paradise are said to hang low in humility. It is an attribute of creation that, when it recognizes Allah's signs, when it has an awareness of His Presence, it grows humble in relation to Him, to His servants, and is not overbearing towards His creation. The opposite is described in Qur'an 14:43 as those “running forward with necks oustretched, their heads uplifted (in arrogance) ...their hearts a gaping void.”

The Qur'an says of those who turn away, “We have put yokes around their necks, right up to their chins, so that their heads are forced up...” (Qur'an 36:8) Their lack of humility blinds them to their own faults and to received blessings so that they neither correct their own hearts nor are they aware or thankful of Allah's mercy.

The root of humility comes from an awareness of the Majesty of God and the Purity of His attributes, awe towards His Presence, and thankfulness for His Mercy. Anything undertaken without humility is potentially tainted - humility is necessary for there to exist a real purity of intention. Without humility all actions are potentially colored and deflected from a true course by the touch of ego, arrogance, capricious desire, personal ambition, or pride.

People are placed on the earth and are tested in all their various situations - some with difficulty and calamity - others with wealth, luxury, and power. They are tested with adversity and hardship and they are tested with benefits and blessings. Every form of test is also a form of teaching, to bring out the gold in an aware and sincere person and to see if they are true to their covenant with God. The testing in affluence is a serious trial since the person or society that is free of hardships and blessed with means and ability may not have access to the excuses and legitimate limitations of those who face calamity, adversity, poverty, oppression, injustice, and lack of means.

Our existence is like a single trial preceded by thousands of blessings and followed by the promise of endless comfort. According to Jafar Sadiq (a.s.) that is our state in this life. We come into this world after the blessing of being in the presence of Allah, we suffer a bit of trouble and trial in this life, and then return again to the endless comfort of paradise.

Being thankful during the period of trial in our brief sojurn in this world, whether under adversity or blessing is difficult. “Very few of my servants are grateful.” (34:13). So, in verse 7:95, when touched by baraka, the people say this is just how the world is, sometimes you have adversity, sometimes you have blessings. It is just chance. Or they may imagine that they are independent, able to create for themselves their own version of >reality over which they exercise control. There is no thankfulness, no recognition of mercy, of Rahman and Rahim. Their fortunate circumstances made them lose the humility and acknowledgement of blessings that previous generations had held. They are caught up in the enjoyment of what they have, they feel secure in their own selves, confident of their power, ability, and wealth. “And when We sent a Warner to a society, those who led (powerful and) pampered lives of ease in it said: We are surely disbelievers in what you are sent with.” (Qur'an 34:34)

People cannot harm God, but by putting things in the wrong place, in the wrong balance, by forgetting what is essential and raising up the level of what is trivial and unimportant, they harm themselves and those around them. And the harm can come all of a sudden. It is like an earthquake - the pressure on the plates within the earth builds up slowly over time until suddenly the plates slip and an earthquake occurs - the outward sign of hidden fractures and pressures. So human wrongdoing and neglect build up invisible fractures and pressures slowly over time until social, political, economic, military, or other types of institutional and societal disasters begin to manifest as the visible consquences of fractured and erroneous knowledge and arrogant or corrupt actions - the society, as a collective, approaches a state of decline and decay.

But for those who maintain and guard carefully the relationship that Allah asks them to guard (for their own benefit), then God says He would pour out blessings from the earth and from the heavens for such a people. “If the people of the society had but believed (and acted accordingly) and maintained a consciousness of Allah, We should indeed have opened out to them (All kinds of) blessings from heaven and earth....” (Qur'an 7:96).

The correct path is one of cultivating and maintaining a steadfast consciousness of Allah, one which directs towards humility, and a careful guarding of that humility - a humility that manifests in outlook, attitude, philosophy, actions, and relations - one that manifests in individual behaviour and in the organs and institutions and principles which regulate and shape society. Through humility and thankfulness we come under the shadow of His Rahman and Rahim and as long as a society retains these qualities and this awareness they will be under this shield both in this world and the next.[1]



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  • 1 – “Seeking Protection”

    “"O our Lord! grant me protection and my parents and the believers on the day when (the reality of all things will be exposed) and the reckoning shall come to pass!

    And do not think God to be heedless of what the unjust do; He only respites them to a day on which the eyes shall be fixedly open,

    Hastening forward, their heads upraised, their eyes not reverting and their hearts vacant.

    And warn people of the day when the chastisement shall come to them, then those who were unjust will say: O our Lord! respite us to a near term, (so) we shall respond to Thy call and follow the apostles. What! did you not swear before (that) there will be no decline (and no judgement) for you!

    And you dwell in the places (and in the manner) of those who were unjust to themselves (to their souls), and it is clear to you how We dealt with them and We have made (them) examples to you.

    And they have indeed planned their plan, but their plan is utterly encompassed by Allah, even if their plan is of such (complexity, duration, and power) that the mountains should pass away thereby." (Qur'an 14: 42 - 46)

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