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Within the Palace of Qārūn

Time and time again, life gives us examples of families producing individuals with completely different objectives in life; or rather, polar opposite personalities. The family of Mūsā was one such example, for it too produced some of the greatest prophets, Mūsā and Hārūn, and also produced some of the worst tyrants; Qārūn being one of them, or “Korah”, as referred to in biblical scripture.

What do we know about Qārūn? What was his issue with Allāh? And why was he taken away in such a staggering manner? Finally, how does such a story reflect on every Muslim?

Sūrah Al-Qasas captures the events related to Qārūn in detail.

Allāh said, إِنَّ قَارُونَ كَانَ مِنْ قَوْمِ مُوسَى / “Surely, Qārūn was from the people of Moses”

Thus the first thing we learn is that Qārūn was from Bani Israel, as was Mūsā.

فَبَغَى عَلَيْهِمْ / “..but he oppressed them..”

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This is the tendency of man. During his weakness and poverty, his heart is broken and searches for Allāh, but the moment Allāh strengthens him with health, wealth, marriage or their likes, he is quick to forget, change and cross limits, as Allāh said:

كَلَّا إِنَّ الْإِنْسَانَ لَيَطْغَى (6) أَنْ رَآهُ اسْتَغْنَى

“No, man does transgress all bounds. Because he sees himself as self-sufficient”[1]

And said, وَإِذَا مَسَّ الْإِنْسَانَ ضُرٌّ دَعَا رَبَّهُ مُنِيبًا إِلَيْهِ ثُمَّ إِذَا خَوَّلَهُ نِعْمَةً مِنْهُ نَسِيَ مَا كَانَ يَدْعُو إِلَيْهِ مِنْ قَبْلُ

“And when some hurt touches man, he cries to his Lord, turning to Him in repentance, but when He bestows a favour upon him, he forgets that for which he cried for before..”[2]

You may have a struggle in your life, whether relating to your financial status, marital status, health status or internal status, that has caused you on-going and what feels like interminable grief, all the while not knowing that it could be due to one element that needs your attention; somebody you have wronged. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said,

بابان معجلان عقوبتهما في الدنيا البغي والعقوق

“There are two sins which Allāh hurries the punishment for in this world before the next; Oppression and disobedience to one’s parents.”[3]

Go to those you know require a visit from you or give them a phone call, and ask: “Have I wronged you? Have I oppressed you? Was I unjust? I fear the fate of Qārūn, as I have read in the Qur’ān that his downfall began with oppression.”

What do we know about the wealth of Qārūn? His wealth is not described, rather, the Qur’ān describes the keys to the vaults of his treasures, leaving it to the reader to imagine just how much he actually had. Allāh continued in Sūrat Al-Qasas:

وَآتَيْنَاهُ مِنَ الْكُنُوزِ مَا إِنَّ مَفَاتِحَهُ لَتَنُوءُ بِالْعُصْبَةِ أُولِي الْقُوَّةِ إِذْ قَالَ لَهُ قَوْمُهُ لَا تَفْرَحْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يُحِبُّ الْفَرِحِينَ (76)

“..And We gave him of treasures whose keys would burden a band of strong men; when his people said to him, “Do not become proud, for surely, Allāh does not like those who are proud.” They continued,

وَابْتَغِ فِيمَا آتَاكَ اللَّهُ الدَّارَ الْآخِرَةَ وَلَا تَنْسَ نَصِيبَكَ مِنَ الدُّنْيَا وَأَحْسِنْ كَمَا أَحْسَنَ اللَّهُ إِلَيْكَ وَلَا تَبْغِ الْفَسَادَ فِي الْأَرْضِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يُحِبُّ الْمُفْسِدِينَ (77)

“But seek, through that which Allāh has given you, the home of the Hereafter; and yet, do not forget your share of the world. And do good as Allāh has done good to you. And desire not corruption in the land. Surely, Allāh does not like corrupters.”

It is remarkable how the Qur’ān captures the very details of their advice to him, for these two verses summarise the position of a true Muslim towards wealth;

(1) To use your wealth as a vehicle for Jannah

Give from it the Zakāh, for this sum is not a gesture of kindness from your part but a right that belongs to the recipients of Zakāh. Use your wealth to alleviate the trials of people and to establish projects that will continue bringing good deeds to your scrolls when you are in your grave. Consider just how many people have reserved for themselves places in Jannah by the way they used their wealth, including Abud Dahdā, ‘Uthmān b. ‘Affān, and Abū Bakr.

(2) To enjoy the permissible matters of Dunyā

They did not instruct him to give up his wealth and property, for if one owns pure wealth, then nothing stops him from enjoying it, thus Abul Ahwas narrates that his father said:

كُنْتُ جَالِسًا عِنْدَ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم فَرَآنِي رَثَّ الثِّيَابِ فَقَالَ ‏”‏ أَلَكَ مَالٌ ‏”‏ ‏.‏ قُلْتُ نَعَمْ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ مِنْ كُلِّ الْمَالِ ‏.‏ قَالَ ‏”‏ فَإِذَا آتَاكَ اللَّهُ مَالاً فَلْيُرَ أَثَرُهُ عَلَيْكَ ‏”‏

“I was sitting with the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam). He saw that I was dressed in scruffy clothes. He said: ‘Do you have any wealth?’ I said: ‘Yes, O Messenger of Allāh, all kinds of wealth.’ He said: ‘If Allāh gives you wealth then let its effect be seen on you.’” [4]

And the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said, نعم المال الصالح للمرء الصالح

“How good is pure wealth when it belongs to the pure person.” [5]

The order of their advice is noteworthy. They started with the advice to “seek, through that which Allāh has given you, the home of the Hereafter” as the Hereafter must be your primary concern and cause of anxiety in life. Only after that did they say, “and do not forget your share of the world.” It is not our primary concern. Do our lifestyles, thoughts and priorities reflect this arrangement?

The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said:

مَنْ كَانَتْ الْآخِرَةُ هَمَّهُ جَعَلَ اللَّهُ غِنَاهُ فِي قَلْبِهِ وَجَمَعَ لَهُ شَمْلَهُ وَأَتَتْهُ الدُّنْيَا وَهِيَ رَاغِمَةٌ وَمَنْ كَانَتْ الدُّنْيَا هَمَّهُ جَعَلَ اللَّهُ فَقْرَهُ بَيْنَ عَيْنَيْهِ وَفَرَّقَ عَلَيْهِ شَمْلَهُ وَلَمْ يَأْتِهِ مِنْ الدُّنْيَا إِلَّا مَا قُدِّرَ لَهُ

“Whoever’s main concern in life is the Hereafter, Allāh will fill his heart with richness, and his worldly affairs will fall into place, and dunyā will come to him in spite of it. But whoever’s main concern in life is this world, Allāh will place poverty between his eyes and Allāh will make his affairs scattered, and he will get nothing of this world except what is decreed for him.”[6]

(3) To do good just as Allāh had done good to you

Did Allāh fall short towards you, O Qārūn? Has He – God forbid – fallen short towards anyone of us to deserve our sins and neglect? Consider the words of Ibrahīm who, contrary to Qārūn, felt overwhelmed by Allāh’s favours, never forgetting them for a moment as he would publicly proclaim:

الَّذِي خَلَقَنِي فَهُوَ يَهْدِينِ (78) وَالَّذِي هُوَ يُطْعِمُنِي وَيَسْقِينِ (79) وَإِذَا مَرِضْتُ فَهُوَ يَشْفِينِ (80) وَالَّذِي يُمِيتُنِي ثُمَّ يُحْيِينِ (81) وَالَّذِي أَطْمَعُ أَنْ يَغْفِرَ لِي خَطِيئَتِي يَوْمَ الدِّينِ (82)

“It is He who has created me, and it is He Who guides me. And it is He who feeds me and gives me drink. And when I am ill, it is He who cures me. And who will cause me to die and then bring me to life. And who I aspire that He will forgive me my sin on the Day of Recompense.”[7]

Is the giver, O Qārūn, of all of this and what you cannot even begin to enumerate not worthy of your submission, love, fear, sacrifice, tears and repentance?

(4) To not spread corruption on earth

This is precisely what Qārūn was doing. Not only was he ruining his own hereafter using his possessions, but he strove to ruin the hereafters of others as well. Eating, drinking or inhaling an intoxicant of any sort is one thing, but making it accessible to others is another thing altogether. Being unable to fulfil an aspect of Islām, whether it pertains to dress, conduct, relationships of their likes, is one thing, but actively promoting it is another thing, for this was the way of Qārūn, who was told “do not spread corruption on the land.”

Another dimension to Qārūn’s endeavours to spread corruption was the defamation and slander of the good doers, and in doing so, Qārūn employed an old yet effective technique. Ibnu ‘Abbās and As-Sudi narrated that Qārūn paid a woman to publicly claim that Mūsā had relations with her, which she then did. Mūsā’s heart dropped and so he prayed two units of prayer. He then approached her and asked her in Allāh’s name, “What made you did this?” She said, “It was Qārūn” and then repented to Allāh.[8]

Qārūn, however, did not view his actions and behaviour as corruption:

قال إِنَّمَا أُوتِيتُهُ عَلَى عِلْمٍ عِنْدِي

“He said, ‘I was only given it because of knowledge I have.’”[9]

In the eyes of Qārūn, it was not “corruption”, it was business, it was being street-wise, it was intelligent marketing. So detestable was his response that the Qur’ān does not relate his people’s response, instead we hear of Allāh’s response:

أَوَلَمْ يَعْلَمْ أَنَّ اللَّهَ قَدْ أَهْلَكَ مِنْ قَبْلِهِ مِنَ الْقُرُونِ مَنْ هُوَ أَشَدُّ مِنْهُ قُوَّةً وَأَكْثَرُ جَمْعًا وَلَا يُسْأَلُ عَنْ ذُنُوبِهِمُ الْمُجْرِمُونَ

“..Did he not know that Allāh had destroyed before him generations who were greater than him in power and greater in accumulation of wealth? And the guilty are not questioned of their sins.”

Allāh will not need to ask the sinners on the Day of Judgement whether or not they engaged in one behaviour or another, for every one of their steps has been documented.

Despite knowledge of this, Qārūn remained unmoved, and for him it was business as usual.

Allāh said, فَخَرَجَ عَلَى قَوْمِهِ فِي زِينَتِهِ / “So he came out before his people in his splendour..”

Imagine the scene at Qārūn’s parade. He had put all his wealth on display: horses and carts; gold and silver; treasures and silk, all to serve a single motive of his to bring attention to himself. The reactions to this arrogant exhibition divided the community, as it always does, into two groups.

قَالَ الَّذِينَ يُرِيدُونَ الْحَيَاةَ الدُّنْيَا يَا لَيْتَ لَنَا مِثْلَ مَا أُوتِيَ قَارُونُ إِنَّهُ لَذُو حَظٍّ عَظِيمٍ (79)

“Those who desired the worldly life said, ‘Oh, if only we had like what Qārūn was given. Surely, he is one of great fortune.’”

As if to say, “We wish we too had property like him”, “We wish we too had that type of fame and popularity”, “We wish we could pull in the men/woman like s/he can” whilst being completely oblivious to his imminent fate.

As you scroll through your news feed and observe the updates of people, which of these two scenes moves your heart the most? Is it (1) the sight of a person who uses his time, money and looks to disobey Allāh, wishing that you could be like him/her? Or is it (2) the sight of a person who has – for example – built a new Masjid or orphanage, or a student of knowledge whose relationship with Allāh is growing, or a sister whose hijāb is improving despite the challenges? Which of the two scenes moves you more and whose set of resources do you wish that you had a copy of the most?

There is so much to gain through correct intention-setting, just as there is so much to lose out on due to misplaced intentions. Speaking about this, the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said:

إنَّمَا الدُّنْيَا لأرْبَعَةِ نَفَرٍ : عَبْدٍ رَزَقَهُ اللهُ مَالاً وَعِلماً ، فَهُوَ يَتَّقِي فِيهِ رَبَّهُ ، وَيَصِلُ فِيهِ رَحِمَهُ، وَيَعْلَمُ للهِ فِيهِ حَقَّاً ، فَهذا بأفضَلِ المَنَازِلِ

“There are four types of people in this world:

The first type: A person whom Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) gives both wealth and knowledge, so he fears his Lord with regard to how he spends his wealth, and uses it to uphold family ties whilst realising that Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) has rights over it. This person occupies the highest status.

وَعَبْدٍ رَزَقهُ اللهُ عِلْماً، وَلَمْ يَرْزُقْهُ مَالاً ، فَهُوَ صَادِقُ النِّيَّةِ ، يَقُولُ : لَوْ أنَّ لِي مَالاً لَعَمِلتُ بِعَمَلِ فُلانٍ ، فَهُوَ بنيَّتِهِ ، فأجْرُهُمَا سَوَاءٌ

The second type: A person whom Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) has given knowledge but did not give him wealth, so he says, ‘If I had wealth I would have done the same as so and so is doing’ (i.e. actions of goodness). So he will be rewarded according to his intention and the reward of both of them is the same.

(Notice how this person did not give anything out in charity but his reward is identical to the one who may have spent thousands in charity, simply because his intention was true and he would have given it out if he possessed wealth).

وَعَبْدٍ رَزَقَهُ الله مَالاً ، وَلَمَ يَرْزُقْهُ عِلْماً ، فَهُوَ يَخبطُ في مَالِهِ بغَيرِ عِلْمٍ ، لاَ يَتَّقِي فِيهِ رَبَّهُ ، وَلاَ يَصِلُ فِيهِ رَحِمَهُ ، وَلاَ يَعْلَمُ للهِ فِيهِ حَقّاً ، فَهذَا بأَخْبَثِ المَنَازِلِ

The third type: And a person whom Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) has given wealth but not knowledge and so he spends his money recklessly without knowledge, without fearing Allāh, without upholding family ties with it and does not realise that Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) has rights over it. Such an individual occupies the worst status.

وَعَبْدٍ لَمْ يَرْزُقْهُ اللهُ مَالاً وَلاَ عِلْماً ، فَهُوَ يَقُولُ : لَوْ أنَّ لِي مَالاً لَعَمِلْتُ فِيهِ بعَمَلِ فُلاَنٍ ، فَهُوَ بنِيَّتِهِ ، فَوِزْرُهُمَا سَوَاءٌ

The fourth type: And a person whom Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā)  has given neither wealth nor knowledge, and thus he says, ‘If I had money I would have done what so and so is doing’ (i.e. sins and crimes). So he will be judged according to his intention and thus his burden of sin will be the same as the one who committed the crime.”[10]

This first category of Qārūn’s spectators lost out on a great deal simply because of their misplaced intentions. However, this was not the only reaction that Qārūn got, for there was yet another group who were able to see right through Qārūn’s possessions. They are the people of knowledge.

وَقَالَ الَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْعِلْمَ وَيْلَكُمْ ثَوَابُ اللَّهِ خَيْرٌ لِمَنْ آمَنَ وَعَمِلَ صَالِحًا

“But those who had been given knowledge said, “Woe to you! The reward of Allāh is better for he who believes and does righteousness…”

As if to say, “Have you forgotten the Hereafter? Have you forgotten the treasures of the Paradise? Have you forgotten the never-ending kingdoms of Jannah?” The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said, describing part of the clothing of the women of Jannah,

وَلَنَصِيفُهَا عَلَى رَأْسِهَا خَيْرٌ مِنْ الدُّنْيَا وَمَا فِيهَا

“..And the garment on her head is greater than this world and everything in it.”[11]

O Qārūn, who are you and what is your wealth, when the single garment that sits on the head of Jannah’s inhabitants is superior to the world as we know it today? But such a prize is not easily attained, thus those advisers moved on to say:

وَلَا يُلَقَّاهَا إِلَّا الصَّابِرُونَ  “..And none are granted it except the patient.”

It is impossible to pass the tests of this world and enter the gardens of Jannah without first crossing over the bridge of patience.

During this parade of Qārūn however, on a day when his preparation for death was the least it had ever been, the command of Allāh finally arrived as it always does towards those who imitate Qārūn and ignore the many chances that Allāh gives them. What happened next shocked the entire community.

Allāh gave His command to the earth and, unlike us, it obeyed at once. Without any prior warning, the earth began to convulse and, in front of the enormous crowds, the land ripped open, and Qārūn, along with his entire property and his subjects, fell into the belly of the earth, never to be seen again.

فَخَسَفْنَا بِهِ وَبِدَارِهِ الْأَرْضَ “And so We caused the earth to swallow him and his home..”

Notice how Allāh said “and his home”. Thus when Allāh’s command arrived, it didn’t merely affect Qārūn, but all those who’d stood by his side and failed to advise him; those who instead spurred him on. Similarly, some may be on the verge of changing their sources of income for the better, but their friends dissuade them, saying “Are you crazy? You’ve worked so hard to earn this!” Qārūn had a circle of friends who did not advise him but encouraged him using all sorts of different slogans and catchy phrases. As Allāh said:

وَقَيَّضْنَا لَهُمْ قُرَنَاءَ فَزَيَّنُوا لَهُمْ مَا بَيْنَ أَيْدِيهِمْ وَمَا خَلْفَهُمْ

“And We assigned for them companions (devils) who made attractive to them what was before them and what was behind them of sin…”[12]

So what happened to those friends of his who convinced him with words such as “we’re here for you”, “we’ve got your back”, “you’re one of us” and “your pain is ours”?

Allāh said, فَمَا كَانَ لَهُ مِنْ فِئَةٍ يَنْصُرُونَهُ مِنْ دُونِ اللَّهِ وَمَا كَانَ مِنَ الْمُنْتَصِرِينَ

“…and there was for him no company to aid him other than Allāh, nor was he of those who could defend themselves.”

It was also Allāh’s wisdom that it was not only Qārūn who was taken away but all his possessions as well, closing every potential door that could cause future reattachment to Qārūn and his legacy. Similarly, one who repents from a previous sinful way should endeavor to remove every trace of the past, whether objects or people, who may remind him of those ways. Thus when Mūsā confronted his people regarding the golden calf that they started worshipping in his absence, he said:

لَنُحَرِّقَنَّهُ ثُمَّ لَنَنْسِفَنَّهُ فِي الْيَمِّ نَسْفًا

“..we will certainly burn it, then we will melt it then scatter it broadly into the sea.” [13]

What now about those who had craved to be like Qārūn? Allāh said:

وَأَصْبَحَ الَّذِينَ تَمَنَّوْا مَكَانَهُ بِالْأَمْسِ يَقُولُونَ وَيْكَأَنَّ اللَّهَ يَبْسُطُ الرِّزْقَ لِمَنْ يَشَاءُ مِنْ عِبَادِهِ وَيَقْدِرُ لَوْلَا أَنْ مَنَّ اللَّهُ عَلَيْنَا لَخَسَفَ بِنَا وَيْكَأَنَّهُ لَا يُفْلِحُ الْكَافِرُونَ (82)

“And those who had wished for his position the previous day began to say, “Ah, how Allāh extends provision to whom He wills of His servants and restricts it! Had Allāh not shown graciousness to us, He would have caused it to swallow us. Ah, how those who reject Allāh do not succeed!”

They realised that their previous desire to be like Qārūn was in fact a death wish, one that Allāh had mercifully spared them from in the nick of time. Time and time again, man tries to shoot himself in the foot, wishing for what is not good for him and challenging Allāh’s knowledge and wisdom for not providing it.

Ibn Mas’ūd said:

إن العبد ليهم بالأمر من التجارة والإمارة حتى ييسر له فينظر الله إليه فيقول للملائكة اصرفوه عنه فإني إن يَسَّرْتُهُ  له أدخلته النار فيصرفه الله عنه، فيظل يتطير يقول: سبقني فلان دهاني فلان وما هو إلا فضل الله

“A person may hope for some matter of trade or position of authority, until he comes close to attaining it, then Allāh looks at him and says to His angels: ‘Divert it from him, for if he attains it I will send him to Hell.’[14]

After mentioning the story of Qārūn, the Qur’ān offers a conclusion that summarises what needs to be taken away from this incident, saying:

تِلْكَ الدَّارُ الْآخِرَةُ نَجْعَلُهَا لِلَّذِينَ لَا يُرِيدُونَ عُلُوًّا فِي الْأَرْضِ وَلَا فَسَادًا وَالْعَاقِبَةُ لِلْمُتَّقِينَ (83)

“That home of the Hereafter We assign to those who do not desire pride upon the earth or corruption. And the best outcome is for the righteous.” [15]

Keep a low profile wherever you can and let Allāh see from your heart true humility whereby you no longer see any virtue of yours over others. This was a key satanic gate that Qārūn kept open, and as a result, the earth beneath him would open up as well. Whenever you feel your soul promoting self-admiration, do something to silence it. This requires patience and self-discipline.

What has famously been reported in the books of Tafsīr that Qārūn was a paternal cousin of Mūsā, and so, yes, it is possible for two polar opposite personalities to appear in one family, and in almost all families, there will be a Mūsā and a Qārūn. Using the story above as a mirror, look into it and honestly ask: Which of the two reflections do I see? If you struggle to arrive at a conclusion, then consider the following indicator: how you feel after sinning.

This was one of the prime downfalls of Qārūn, a downfall which his people identified in him and warned him of by saying: “Do not become proud”. This is the translation of the Arabic “Lā tafrah” which the Qur’ān uses, literally meaning “do not be happy” They are not prohibiting him from smiling and rejoicing, for this wasn’t the way of the Prophet Muhammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam), but they are saying to him “do not become happily proud. Distance yourself from that happiness that comes as a product of pride and disobedience to Allāh.”

If we have reached a level where our sins to not grieve us, then we are standing on very thin ice, for this is where it all started with Qārūn. ‘Uqbah Ibnu ‘Āmir once asked the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam), يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ مَا النَّجَاةُ

“O messenger of Allāh, how is safety attained?” He said to him:

أَمْسِكْ عَلَيْكَ لِسَانَكَ وَلْيَسَعْكَ بَيْتُكَ وَابْكِ عَلَى خَطِيئَتِكَ

“Restrain your tongue, let your home be sufficient for you and cry over your sins.”[16]

Source: www.islam21c.com

Notes:

[1] Al-Qur’ān, 96:6-7

[2] Al-Qur’ān, 39:8

[3] At-Tabarāni, on the authority of Anas

[4] Musnad Ahmad

[5] Musnad Ahmad, on the authority of Ibnul ‘Aas

[6] At-Tirmidhī, on the authority of Anas

[7] Al-Qur’ān, 26:78-82

[8] Al-Bidāya wan Nihāya

[9] According to one of the two understandings of this Āyah

[10] Narrated by At-Tirmidhī in his ‘Sunan’, on the authority of Abi Kabshah Al-Anmari

[11] Narrated by Al-Bukhārī, on the authority of Anas

[12] Al-Qur’ān, Sūrah 41, Āyah 25

[13] Al-Qur’ān, Sūrah 20, Āyah 97

[14] I.e., That aspect which s/he is so earnestly striving to attain will become a means of his/her sin and eventual doom in both worlds.

[15] Al-Qur’ān, Sūrah 28, Āyāt 76-83

[16] At-Tirmidhī

About Ustādh Ali Hammuda

Ustadh Ali Ihsan Hammuda is an educator and writer on Islam. He is of Palestinian origin but was brought up in the UK and although an architect/planner by profession, he currently works with Al-Manar (Cardiff) as the English Islamic programmes officer. Ali is known as the author of various books including 'Origins of the Mosque of Cordoba' and 'The End of Times', and continues to deliver sermons, lectures and regular classes across the country. He is a regular writer on Islamic issues to a wide audience.

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