Of success and farmers

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This past weekend I had the opportunity to visit my grandparents back home. Oddly enough the reason I had to go back hometown was to attend the prayers of a relative’s funeral on one day and the wedding of a friend the next. Those reasons aside going back home is always a time of family and this time was no different.

On inquiring upon the health of my grandfather, my grandmother replied that his knees are weak but his exercise still keeps him going. What she said made me think about my own laziness to start exercising. It has been six months since I moved to Bangalore but I keep finding excuses for myself to avoid starting at all. Yet my grandfather who has had a heart attack, moved 3 houses and still manages his shop at 75 has not seen it necessary to stop.

On thing I know about my grandfather is his steadfastness in his actions. Be they worship or every day activities, I have known him to be very strict about his routines and daily activities. His dedication to his exercise and the time he spends in worship of God Almighty made me reflect on the concept of success as mentioned in the Quran. In the chapter of the Believers (23), the first few verses speak about the characteristics of the successful believers. Nouman Ali Khan, a student of the Quran and the Arabic Language, has a beautiful explanation of these verses here. He talks about the same concept in this sermon about adopting value systems, as well.

From the video though, I wanted to concentrate on a particular word Muflihoon, which means success. While a mere translation of the word indicates successful people, the root of the word comes from Falah, which means a farmer in the Arabic language. One of the things that amazes me about the Arabic language is that, when you become aware of the roots of word used in the Quran, the understanding of the verses becomes that much richer.

In this case the use of the word Muflihoon whose root is farmer, indicates a success of the farmer. Back then and even today, in many parts of the world where farming doesn’t take place on an industrial scale, the life of a farmer is tough. For someone with an annual crop, he needs to expend a year’s worth of effort, to get his reward at the end. So he begins preparing the land in the dry season, plants his seed before the rain, tends to the crop during and after the rain and finally harvests the crop for sale and consumption. After all the effort though, he is still not guaranteed the crop because of so many natural factors yet that never stops him making the effort in the hope of the payoff at the end.

The parallel to the believer in this world is similar. Many people in my experience, both Muslims and non Muslims, tend to see Islam as a rigid set of do’s and don’ts. While I don’t make any bones about the existence of obligations and prohibitions, the way of looking at them has to be according to the legislator. By fulfilling obligations and avoiding prohibitions, we are putting in the effort in this world to reap its reward in the next. (I will hopefully elaborate on of the beliefs of Muslims in subsequent articles but as of now it is suffice to say that this life is only a test and the life after death is everlasting and eternal. The destination of each and every individual depends on his actions in this life)

Yet unlike the farmer who spends himself without being assured of a return, the believer is assured by God Almighty that his deeds will never be lost. In fact the believers are encouraged by the Prophet (Peace be upon Him) to strive as far as they are able to do so[1] and expect a reward from their Lord in the hereafter[2]. As the commands of the religion envelop many aspects of life, the underlying wisdom is that the believer is constantly directing his heart towards God Almighty, formally or informally.

Ibn Al Qayyim, a noted Islamic scholar, jurist and commentator on the Quran had to say about this – 

There can be no doubt that assuming the best about Allah only comes as a result of righteous conduct. It is the righteous person who assumes the best about his Lord, since he knows that Allah will reward him for his good deeds and will never break His promise. 

On the other hand, the sinner who persists in wrongdoing, injustice, and disobedience is prevented by his evil deeds from assuming the best about his Lord. We can see a similar situation in how people relate to each other. A runaway slave, for instance, is not going to assume the best of his master. Good assumptions never go hand in hand with the disturbed state of disobedience. A sinner is estranged from his Lord to the extent of his sinfulness. The person who has the best outlook on his Lord is invariably the one who is the most obedient to his Lord.

Which brings me back to my grandfather and generally the people of his generation who have spent a lifetime of worship to God Almighty – I pray that God Almighty forgives them their sins, accepts their deeds and enters them into His Paradise. Ameen.

 _____
[1] Bukhari #7288 
[2] Muslim #6875
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