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by Saif Manzoor:

Prophet Muhammad
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Religious tolerance

Millat-e-Ibrahim
Parable No. 06 in a series of Parables from Quran
For more info contact: [email protected]

Parable[i]: Blighted Garden

Commentary By:  Saif Manzoor
June 2006

17. Lo! we have tried them as We tried the OWNERS OF THE GARDEN when they
vowed they would pluck its
FRUIT next morning.
18. And made no exception (for the will of Allah);
19. Then a
VISITATION came upon it while they slept
20. And in the morning it was as if plucked.
21. And they cried out one unto another in the morning,
22. Saying: Run unto your field if ye would pluck (the fruit).
23. So they went off, saying one unto another in low tones:
24. No
NEEDY MAN shall enter it today against you.
25. They went betimes, strong in (this) purpose.
26. But when they saw it, they said: Lo! we are in error!
27. Nay, but we are desolate!
28. The best among them said: Said I not unto you: Why glorify ye not (Allah)?
29. They said: Glorified be our Lord! Lo! we have been wrong doers.
30. Then some of them drew near unto others, self reproaching.
31. They said: Alas for us! In truth we were outrageous.
32. It may be that our Lord will give us better than this in place thereof. Lo! we
beseech our Lord.
33. Such was the punishment. And verily the punishment of the Hereafter is
greater if they did but know.

[Quran 68:17-33 – Translation by M. Pickthall]

Commentary:

This parable is in the Surah 68 - Al-Qalam, which means the Pen. There are
differences of opinion on the chronological order of this surah. Some authorities
incline to the view that it was revealed immediately after the first five verses of
surah 96 ("The Germ-Cell"). While others place this surah later in the revelation
order [ii]. However, its subject matter shows that this surah was revealed after
the opposition to Prophet Muhammad (s.w) had started.

This parable of Quran is about people who are guided by their narrow and selfish
interests; who collude, to exclude others from sharing the resources of the land;
and, who do not want to share the bounties of God, with the needy.

In the introduction of this surah, Abdullah Yusuf Ali writes:

"So, in every age, it is the habit of world to call Truth Falsehood and Wisdom
Madness, and , on the other hand, to exalt Selfishness as Planning, and
Arrogance as Power. The contrast is shown up between the two kinds of men and
their real inner worth."

Muhammad Asad, in his commentary to this surah writes:

"Ever since Biblical times it has been understood that the poor have a right to a
share in the harvest of the fields and gardens owned by their more fortunate
fellow-men. The determination of the "owners of the garden" to deprive the poor
of this right is the second type of sin (the first being their resolve without
reservation of God)"

If we relate the message of this parable to the economic situation in Pakistan, we
can see a relevance. Such groups are common in Pakistan, who exclude common
people from sharing the resources of the land. As a result, the benefits of
development are not distributed equitably and are highly concentrated in a small
segment of the population. According to Dr. Ishrat Hussain, the former governor of
the State Bank of Pakistan, such an economic situation or model is called "elitist,"
where both economic and political power are held by a small coterie of elites, the
market is rigged and the state is hijacked in order to deliver most of the benefits
of economic growth to this small group. [iii]

An elitist model also leads to creation of cartels and syndicates to gain monopoly,
which excludes smaller rivals and common people from the benefits of free-trade.
They are harmful for free market economies. They eliminate competition, inflate
prices, restrict supply, create inefficiency and reduce innovation. Majority of
economists agree that Cartel mentality is bad for consumers and economy.

Quran is severely critical of such practices, because they harm  social welfare,
solidarity and community spirit [iv]. Such an attitude fosters individualism, by
making financial and material interest basis of partnerships.

Let us analyze each of the symbols and terms used in this parable:

OWNERS OF THE GARDEN: This term is used for the members of a syndicate who
share a business or economic activity i.e. The garden.

THE GARDEN: It is the business activity from which the members of the syndicate
gain their profits. Garden is an allegory. In reality this can be any economic activity
or any resource of the land.

THE NEEDY MAN: It could be a lesser rival or a common consumer or simply
people in need of the benefits from the garden.

Moral of this parable : This parable provides a religious explanation for the
selfish and individualistic behaviour which leads to creation of an elitist model,
syndicates and cartels. It tells us that such a behaviour stems from the denial of  
the God and gratitude towards God's bounties.

Recall in the
primary message of Quran, we discussed the concept of
'stewardship of wealth', which means we are not the owners but stewards of
wealth and must share it with less fortunate. The attitude of not sharing wealth
with others is a denial of this concept and in turn the denial of God.


Notes & References
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[i] A parable is a narrative of imagined events used to illustrate or convey a moral
or spiritual lesson. Quran uses parables to convey its message. Quran says “And
these similitudes we put forward for humankind, but none will understand them
except those who have knowledge” (
29:43)
[ii] The Message of Quran by Muhammad Asad. Introduction to Surah 68.
[iii] Pakistan: the economy of an Elitist State by Dr. Ishrat Hussain, OUP 1999
[iv]
Surah 104. Al-Humaza
1. Woe unto every slandering traducer,
2. Who hath gathered wealth (of this world) and arranged it.
3. He thinketh that his wealth will render him immortal.
4. Nay, but verily he will be flung to the Consuming One. [
1-4/104]

Surah 102. At-Takathur
1. Rivalry in worldly increase distracteth you
2. Until ye come to the graves.
3. Nay, but ye will come to know!
4. Nay, but ye will come to know! [1-4/102

Surah 93. Adh-Dhuha
9. Therefore the orphan oppress not,
10. Therefore the beggar drive not away,
11. Therefore of the bounty of thy Lord be thy discourse.]

Surah 92. Al-Lail
17. Far removed from it (hell) will be the righteous
18. Who giveth his wealth that he may grow (in goodness),
19. And none hath with him any favour for reward,
20. Except as seeking (to fulfil) the purpose of his Lord Most High.
21. He verily will be content.

Surah 90. Al-Balad
4. We verily have created man in an atmosphere:
5. Thinketh he that none hath power over him?
6. And he saith: I have destroyed vast wealth:
7. Thinketh he that none beholdeth him?
8. Did We not assign unto him two eyes
9. And a tongue and two lips,
10. And guide him to the parting of the mountain ways?
11. But he hath not attempted the Ascent
12. Ah, what will convey unto thee what the Ascent is!
13. (It is) to free a slave,
14. And to feed in the day of hunger
15. An orphan near of kin,
16. Or some poor wretch in misery,
17. And to be of those who believe and exhort one another to perseverance and
export one another to pity.
18. Their place will be on the right hand.
19. But those who disbelieve Our revelations,
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