Friday Sermon: Of Wealth and Perdition…

By Babatunde Jose

For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Mark 8:36

‘Those who crave riches seek them only to drive the fear of poverty out of their spirits; others seek for glory to free themselves from the fear of being scorned; some seek sensual delights to escape the pain of privations; some seek knowledge to cast out the uncertainty of ignorance; others delight in hearing news and conversation because they seek by these means to dispel the sorrow of solitude and isolation.’ Salah al-Din

Allah in Sura Takathur, Quran Chapter 102, aptly translated as Rivalry for Wealth says:

The mutual rivalry for piling up (the good things of this world) diverts you (from the more serious things) Until ye visit the graves . . . . . .Then, shall ye be questioned that Day about joy (ye indulged in!) Quran 102:1-8

There is no doubt that the lust for worldly possessions leads to greed, avariciousness, and an inordinate propensity to acquire more and more worldly wealth, material benefits, pleasure, position, and power, which are seen as a sure avenue to increase their wealth. In the process we forget death and the day of Judgement when we shall all meet our maker to answer for all our actions.  This one pursuit has so occupied man that he is left with no time or opportunity for pursuing the higher things in life. They mortgage their soul on the altar of acquisitiveness. The Quran goes further to say that these blessings which they are amassing and enjoying thoughtlessly, are not mere blessings but are also a means of man’s trial. For each one of these blessings and comforts one will surely be called to account in the Hereafter.

Sayyid Qutb, the ‘Martyr’ elucidates this Sura in a much stronger manner when he said: You drunken and confused lot! You who take delight and indulge in rivalry for wealth, children, and the pleasures of this life, from which you are sure to depart! You who are absorbed with what you have, unaware of what comes afterwards! You who will leave the object of this rivalry, and what you seek pride in, and go to a narrow hole where there is no rivalry or pride!

The passion for piling up more and more has made the people heedless of God, of the Hereafter, of the moral bounds and moral responsibilities, of the rights of others and of their own obligations to render those rights. They desire to have more and more means of comfort and physical enjoyment and, overwhelmed by this greed, they have become wholly insensitive to the ultimate end of this way of living.

In July 1990, the Lagos State government, under Raji Rasaki, evicted the residents of Maroko and environ and demolished the community. About 300,000 people lost their houses. It was one of the largest forced evictions in Nigerian history. The beneficiaries of that land grab are known, and it is a story for another day. However, immediately after the demolition my father decided we should go to Olukotun, a settlement by the Atlantic Ocean to exhume his mother’s corps for reburial at Atan in Yaba. So off we went in a derelict Land Rover, accompanied by a health officer from the local government. After digging for a while, we were only able to extract some black specks as the body and bones have been eaten by the sea salt. All the cows she inherited had been stolen by the Fulani caretaker. It is instructive to know that only the black specs were the remains of the daughter of Agbo Malu Court, Cow Lane which used to be a ranch for cows with a rail line that  passed the back of the compound going towards Oke Suna via Lewis Street, passing the ‘Salu oni Rakunmi’ compound where her grandfather used to carry out his trade in camels. More than a hundred years after, Oni Rakunmi court is still there but only remembered by the memorial mosque in his name. No one in the compound remembers Hajara Gborigi, my grandmother who died at Olukotun in 1930.

How man forgets so soon to learn from observing his environment. We do not learn from what became of those who amassed wealth yesterday. Where are they today? What became of that wealth? Their Queens Drive Lodges, their Castles of Mercy, their Casa de Ibitayo in Ondo, Owodunni Mansion in Ilisan, that of Okunowo in Ijebu Ode and Adebisi’s 90-room edifice at Idikan? What will become of their 50-bedroom Hilltop mansions, and their Presidential Libraries, all glaring epitomes of corruption? What enduring legacies did they leave? The answer to these questions calls for sober reflections and contemplation.

We know of men who had lost their lives because they were heedless of the plight of their servants. Sometimes they are unkind and wicked to their servants and yet they want God to be merciful on them. They forget that mercy begets mercy and forgiveness begets forgiveness. They read their Lord’s Prayer upside down!

Yet, we know of men of wealth who have not changed their furniture in 25 years, nor their bed; build houses for their domestic servants and drivers and sponsor their children to school up to university and ensure they never go hungry and empathize with them in their moments of grieve. They are not only large employers of labor but are compassionate and kind and engage in philanthropy. These are men who never forget their roots and go back to do wonderous things for the communities they hail from including their alma Mata. They donate libraries, lecture halls and hostels to universities and offer scholarships to needy students. They are the ones who make huge donations to the building of churches and masjids in their communities. And establish foundations for uplifting others from poverty. Unlike some, they do not carry their money about in bullion vans nor bury them under their bed like Silas Marner.

The Jerusalem Bible tells us: ‘every man that walks, only a shadow, and the wealth he amasses is only a puff of wind – he does not know who will take it next.’  Psalm 39:6

The Messenger of Allah said: “Three things will follow the deceased person to the grave, two of them will return while only one remains behind with him: The things which follow him are: his family, his wealth and his actions; his family and his wealth will return while his actions remain.” Yes, ‘‘Talk is cheap. No matter how much you claim to be a good person, the only public measuring stick is your actions.

O Allah we thank thee for all You have blessed us with. We recognize that it is not by our power but by Your Grace. May the wealth You have bestowed on us not be the source of our perdition; especially that wealth which we stole.

Lest we forget: “A well-dressed soul in this world, may be naked in the hereafter.”

Barka Juma’at and a happy weekend.


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