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Friday Sermon: The Race to Acquire

By Babatunde Jose

The mutual rivalry for piling up (the good things of this world) diverts you (from the more serious things), (Quran 102:1)

We should tell them so they can hear. Our people will never listen. The mass media is daily inundated with stories of inordinate acquisitive tendencies of our people: A race which is carried out on the periphery of criminality. Husbands, wives, concubines, sons, daughters, friends and foes alike are all in the race to outdo each other in acquiring wealth; be it legitimate or ill-gotten. Acquisitiveness, that is, the passion for seeking an increase in wealth, position, the number of adherents or followers or supporters, mass production and mass organization, may affect an individual as such, or it may affect whole societies or nations. Other people’s example or rivalry in such things may aggravate the situation. There is nothing bad or immoral in acquisitiveness.  But when it becomes inordinate and monopolizes attention, it leaves no time for higher things in life, and a clear warning is here sounded from a moral point of view. Man may be engrossed in these things till death approaches, and he looks back on a wasted life, as far as the higher things are concerned. ‘Until ye visit the graves.’ Q 102:2: That is until the time comes when he is lying down in the grave and realize the circumstance of an empty life. But then, it will be too late. The true reality will then appear before you. Why not try to strive for a little understanding of that reality in this very life?  But nay, ye soon shall know (the reality). Again, ye soon shall know!  Nay, were ye to know with certainty of mind, (ye would beware!) (Quran 102:3-5).

It will be a matter of regret if we do not face the reality while we can. It is absolutely certain as Sura 19:71-72 tells us. Sura 102 says:  Again, ye shall see it with certainty of sight! Then, shall ye be questioned that Day about joy (ye indulged in!) (Quran 102:7-8)   We shall be questioned, i.e., we shall be held responsible for every kind of joy we indulge in-whether it was false pride or delight in things of no value, or things evil, or the enjoyment of things legitimate and to see whether we kept this within reasonable bounds.

This brings to mind the story of Salman al-Rashid of Egypt as related by Shaykh Muhammad Mitwalli AI-Sha’rawi. Al-Rashid was a very prosperous and wealthy man. He had a harem of 100 and numerous concubines. He had over 200 children and a large farm where produce of every description were grown. He had thousands of camels, Oxen, sheep and a vast treasure of precious stones; and of course he had uncountable slaves. Towards the end of his life, he became afflicted with an illness which doctors could not diagnose. They sent for experts from Syria and the Lebanon but to no avail. All his wealth could not avail him and he lay there on the bed praying for death.

One fine morning, after the Muezzin had sounded the call for prayer, while his children and household were busy making ablution, Al-Rashid breathed his last and died. Because of the erroneous perception that immense wealth was a sure passport to Jannatul Firdous, his children had no doubt in their mind that their father would go straight to Heaven. They therefore asked from the multitude any volunteer to accompany their father in the grave. They promised a reward of one million Dinars for the volunteer. They asked all the children and relations, none volunteered. They asked the towns people, no one stepped forward, including all who were known to have benefited from his largesse. When all hopes were lost a grave digger who had sat complacently watching the whole scene stood up and volunteered to accompany Al-Rashid to the grave. There was a tumultuous cheer from the crowd. Mutwar, the grave digger was prepared for burial with Al-Rashid. He asked that he be buried with his tools of trade; his digger and coil of rope, which they did. He was placed in the coffin with Al-Rashid and buried in a shallow grave as was the custom.

Barely was the coffin covered when two Angels appeared to Mutwar in the grave and there began a series of serious and rigorous interrogation: Where did you buy the digger? How much did you pay for it? Did you cheat the owner? What of the rope? How much? And the questions went on and on. His whole life came under intense scrutiny. His faith was questioned, including his many transgressions and iniquities. Did he do justice to his kit and kin? Did he embezzle the inheritance of his brother’s children? Did he answer the call of the widow next door when she was in want? Alas! When Mutwar could not take the heat anymore he started banging on the cover of the coffin. ‘Let me out’. The coffin was opened and he scurried out. He told the children they can have their million Dinars. He was not prepared to face the rigorous interrogation in the grave. And then the Bombshell! He told them that their father was on his way to Hell. They could not believe. He told them that all the questions he was asked, he failed. That all his life he had been a cheat, liar, fornicator, embezzler, fraud and hypocrite. And that there was no way he could make heaven.

The lesson here is that frightful occurrence will confront each individual separately at the time of death as if it were constantly knocking at the door of each person. Unfortunately, the mad scramble for wealth and honor in this life and the desire to supersede all rivals, have cast a pall of heedlessness over people. But wise is the one who keeps this event always fresh in his mind and prepares himself for it. The Holy Quran 102 states: Abundance (Takathur) diverts you, until you come to the graves. Takathur really means vying to outdo one another in the competition for power and pelf (money, especially when gained in a dishonest or dishonorable way).

Thus it is folly to gloat over an abundance of blessings or wealth for; in fact, these favors only increase the degree of our responsibility. “To whom much is given much is required” is a well-known principle in life. For example, a blind man will not have to account for the gift of eyesight, as a person with two good eyes will. Similarly, an indigent person will not be held responsible for wealth as a rich man will; and so, too, one who has no authority will not be called upon to answer as one who wields power.

But we must bear in mind here that this lesson serves only to illustrate the philosophy of poverty and wealth as it pertains to this life and that a person’s paucity of God-given gifts is no bar to his spiritual advancement. All it means is that the person who is less endowed has fewer questions to answer. This cannot mean that man is precluded from striving and making effort in this life or from working for money or from attempting to acquire authority. On the other hand, it is his duty to work for wealth and try to obtain power, otherwise what can this du‘a mean: “Our Lord! Grant us good in this world and good in the Hereafter” except that man should make progress in this world and partake of its blessing here and in the Hereafter, too?  It is also true that when a man owns wealth and is in a position of authority he has the opportunity to do much greater acts of goodness and spread many more blessings than he would have been able to do if he were in a lesser position.

It is for this reason that wealth has been designated in the Holy Quran as the bounty of Allah.  But remember, it is that wealth which is spent in order to seek the pleasure of Allah that is meant here. What is forbidden is the mad competition to increase one’s wealth which brings in its train a state of negligence thus causing man to forget the true purpose of his creation, which is the doing of good deeds and the pursuing of high moral excellence.

Barka Juma’at and a happy weekend

Last line: If Gold can rust, what will iron do? Food for thought!

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