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Chapter 102: Al-Takathur (The Abundance of Wealth)
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Chapter 102:

The Abundance of Wealth

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.

  1. Abundance diverts you,
  2. Until you come to the graves.
  3. Nay, you will soon know,
  4. Nay, again, you will soon know.
  5. Nay, would that you knew with a certain knowledge!
  6. You will certainly see hell;
  7. Then you will see it with certainty of sight;
  8. Then on that day you shall certainly be questioned about the boons.

This chapter was revealed at Makkah. By consensus of opinion, the calamity mentioned in the last chapter (Al Qari‘ah) refers to the Day of Judgement, but in a small measure an example of it was displayed in the lifetime of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sas). However, the intention in this chapter under discussion is to point out that 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 honour 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 states:

1-2. 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.

And who can deny the fact that, today, whether in the East or the West, this rivalry for wealth has enveloped the whole world in such a thick veil of heedlessness that the thought of death never even crosses the mind of people? And having to stand before Allah and account for their actions on earth is far from their minds, neither do their hearts entertain the slightest concern for the next life. So whoever wasted his life in disregard for religion will have as the recompense for his deeds the fire of Hell which he was preparing with his own hands as he became enslaved by the insane passion for more and more wealth in this life. That is why Allah, Most High, warns in the next two verses:

3-4. Nay, you will soon know, nay, again, you will soon know.

Here, one will observe that the words You will soon know are repeated. There is no doubt that in the Holy Prophet’s time those people who were engrossed in the desire and competition for abundance of wealth and honour paid no heed whatever to the Prophet’s message on account of their unmindfulness, so that in this very world they saw the result of their carelessness in the form of disgrace and destruction, and defeat and humiliation. This served as a foretaste of what was to happen after they died and thus the warning hinted at in the words You will soon know was fulfilled for them right here in this life. In other words, the repetition of the warning You will soon come to know was literally fulfilled in their case.

But these words have a general application, for the repercussion of this heedlessness is not fully visible in this life and so people are enmeshed in this mad race for wealth even up to the end of their lives. Therefore, the real purpose behind the repetition of the warning is to emphasize and to underline the importance of this warning.

In the Holy Quran, Allah, Most High, is continually enlightening us on the nature of the life after death and informing us of the consequences of our deeds. And by means of incontrovertible proofs and arguments, He presents the picture to us in such a reasonable and logical manner that the whole affair has reached the point of certainty. But, lamentably, man remains sunk in the torpor of negligence as he gives rein to his lust for wealth and honour in this life. So he hears not and cares not. Nevertheless, the time will certainly come when he will be so clearly informed of all these things that he will see the result plainly with his own eyes, but to his regret, his realization and insight at that time will be useless.

The next three verses deal with the stages in attaining certainty.

5-7. Nay, would that you knew with a certain knowledge! You will certainly see hell; then you will see it with certainty of sight.

The Holy Quran has given us three stages in acquiring certainty. Firstly, we can obtain certainty through proof that comes by way of knowledge or by inference and this is called ‘ilm-ul-yaqin (literally, the knowledge of certainty).

The second stage is that of witnessing something with our own eyes and is referred to as ‘ain-ul-yaqin (literally, the eye of certainty).

The third stage comes about when we enter into something or when we experience it ourselves and this stage is called haqq-ul-yaqin (literally, the truth of certainty) as the Holy Quran mentions in another verse: Innahu la haqq-ul-yaqin (And certainly it is the certain Truth - 69:51).

To gain a better appreciation of the above three stages, the analogy of a fire is eminently suitable. For example, if we see smoke rising in the distance, then there is evidence that indeed there must be a fire in that place. This is an example of ‘ilm-ul-yaqin. But if we go to the location and actually see the fire with our own eyes, then that is called ‘ain-ul-yaqin. Further to this, if we enter the fire, so perfect will be our experience that we will be able to confirm that this indeed is a fire, and this state is referred to as haqq-ul-yaqin.

Here Allah is telling us that by means of the Holy Quran we have been given so much proof by way of knowledge concerning the reward or punishment for our actions that through these we have reached the limit of certainty through knowledge. In other words, Allah is telling us that the smoke from the fire has been disclosed to us in this world so that we may save ourselves from the fire itself.

If man were to benefit from the certainty of knowledge given to him by way of the Holy Quran, he would not be ignorant of the reward and punishment for his actions and hence of the punishment associated with the continuous restless yearning and desire in him, day and night, for this world’s wealth, status, honour and fame. Otherwise deep down in his innermost being he would see that burning fire which turns into black ashes all his most excellent morals and his loftiest capabilities.

But if a person does not make use of this certain guidance and knowledge, then it is inevitable that after he dies he will see that fire of Hell with his very eyes (which is the state of ‘ain-ul-yaqin). But witnessing the fire of Hell at that point will be of no use to him, for that will be the time of accountability for actions, and repentance will be of no avail then.

The certainty by means of knowledge which the Holy Quran has given to us in this world is for us to reform ourselves so that we should make use of this knowledge and certainty to become conscious and alert and take remedial action.

So whoever did not benefit from it and left this world in a state of negligence on account of his hankering after more and more wealth will see that Hell which the Holy Quran had been showing him so clearly in this life and to which he paid no heed. He will see it with his own eyes with the utmost clarity and certainty in the life after death. However, it will be of no use then to see it with certainty of vision for that will not be the occasion for self-reformation but for giving account.

The last verse of the chapter reads:

8. Then on that day you shall certainly be questioned about the boons.

Man is told that before approaching Hell with full certainty, that is, before actually entering it, he should reflect on all the gifts and capabilities which were bestowed on him in this life with the express purpose of allowing him to prepare a heaven for himself in the next life by the correct use of these God-given resources, like all his talents and aptitudes, morals, knowledge, intellect and insight, kindness, emotions, wealth and authority, conscience and divinely revealed books. All these have been bestowed on him in this world solely for his guidance, advancement and perfection. All these are Divine gifts which, if man should use in accordance with the pleasure of Allah, will become for him the doors through which he will enter his own heaven.

In other words, these very gifts which by misuse build a hell for him will by proper application fashion a heaven for him. The abundance of this very wealth and power which enshroud man in heedlessness can lead with proper  use to man’s becoming the inheritor of material and spiritual progress and perfection.  But there is one indispensable condition that must be fulfilled – man must seek this abundance and spend it only for the pleasure of Allah. This same wonderful God-given intelligence and insight which man, because of his base selfish passions misuses and so directs himself to bringing pain and disgrace to mankind, can become the keys to the door of Heaven, but again, only if he walks along the right path, that is, if he uses these gifts in order to bring benefit to his fellow human beings.

In short, Allah, Most High, has conferred all conceivable kinds of resources on His servant in order for him to use them wisely and so build a Paradise for himself. So great is this Divine love that Allah has given man a revealed book, that is, the most wonderful of all gifts, the Holy Quran, which has disclosed to man in the most vivid manner the consequences of his actions in the next life. But, unfortunately, man has not benefited from this mercy and so has prepared his fire with his own hands by disregarding the Holy Book.

Thus it is folly to gloat over an abundance of blessings or wealth for, in fact, these favours 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.

Someone, after twelve years, saw Umar Farooq (ra) in a dream. He was approaching drenched in perspiration. On inquiring of him what the matter was, he received this reply from Umar: “Now I am free from reckoning.”

Once the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sas) asked Uthman (ra) to stand before him on a rock on which the sun was beating and tell him what he (Uthman) had eaten for dinner on the previous night. Now, Uthman was a wealthy person and had partaken of several dishes that night. So, standing on the rock, he started to recollect and speak at the same time for at the back of his mind was the thought that he must not give a false report to the Holy Prophet. So he thought deeply while answering. In the meantime, however, his feet started to burn on the hot stone.

After him, the same question was put to Ali (ra). He stepped on the rock and gave this brief reply: “Last night I went to bed hungry,” and then promptly stepped down.

The point the Holy Prophet wanted to make was that the greater the amount of blessings a person has, the more he has to answer for, and thus it becomes increasingly difficult for him to give account for all his endowments.

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.

If man, therefore, begins to use his God-given talents merely for the acquisition of worldly wealth and possessions and honour and renown, and the passion to gain increase in these things becomes the goal of his life causing him thereby to neglect the growth and perfection of spiritual values for which purpose he was created, then it becomes abundantly clear that he has misused those capabilities which the Almighty has so lavishly bestowed on him. Therefore, the inevitable result is that he will experience the torment of Hell and it is an indisputable fact that in such a condition so raging an inferno blazes within the heart of man that even if he should possess all the wealth in the world, that agony will not abate nor become cool. And that is the fire which the Holy Quran has forbidden man from igniting.

 Next: Chapter 103: Al-‘Asr (The Time)