“No, I’m just a normal person like everyone else! Granted, I live in a 17-floor mansion, but you know, it’s very simple. The walls are gold-plated and the fireplaces and crystal lights are all voice-activated. I got my bedroom suite for only 250,000 pounds! Pretty good deal, huh? Anyway, enough about me! Now tell me something about you.”
You’ve probably met one of those people before; the kind who don’t necessarily brag out loud, but instead work it into the conversation to let everyone know how ‘well’ they’re doing.
They feign that shocked look when they hear that not every person in the world owns a private jet or spends summers in Cannes with all the celebrities. Then they’ll pout as they try to make you feel better about your miserable life, all the while adding more insult to injury, with details about how they spend lonely nights on their 20-feet yachts and light their cancerous cigars with $100 bills, rubbing their riches in your face till your teeth hurt.
Well, on second thought, I really hope you’ve never met anyone like that. I must say, it’s not a very pleasant experience.
The Story of the Man with Two Gardens
And even though these people might brag about modern-day luxuries, their three-step technique is as old as time itself, and is mentioned in the Holy Qur’an more than 1400 years ago in a chapter Muslims are encouraged to read every single Friday. It’s the story of the man with two gardens in Surat Al-Kahf (Verses 32-46), and yes, we read it weekly for a reason!
So let’s quickly recap the events of the story. Two men have a conversation in which the richer one boasts about his wealth, denies Judgment Day and lets arrogance overcome him. The less fortunate man reminds him it can all perish in an instant, and soon enough, the wealthy man’s estate falls to pieces before his eyes. The End!
Are there any productivity lessons we can take away from this short story? Let’s see:
Step One: Pretentiousness Turns Into Conceit
Perhaps they were neighbors, but companionship was all those two men had in common. One’s resources were scarce to the point of negligible, while the other man had it all! Endless palm trees surrounded his vast acres of lush grapevines and huge field of crops. A river gushed between his two heaven-like gardens to eliminate the problem of irrigation. His estate didn’t manage itself obviously, which is how we know he probably had hundreds of employees working for him. This man’s empire produced crops and fruits at full capacity, with 0% probability of lost or damaged goods. The money rolled in endlessly, and well, this man was evidently one of those ‘if you got it flaunt it’ kind of guy!
Yet the wealthy man did not go up to his poor companion and boast out of nowhere!
It wasn’t like:
“Richer than you are! Bye.”
No, Allah specifically explains that he let it slip in a conversation both men were already engaged in. And what was the poor man’s response? Nothing! I mean, what would you say when someone adamantly tries to make you feel less of a person because you’re not rich enough?
“And he had fruit, so he said to his companion while he was conversing with him, “I am greater than you in wealth and mightier in [numbers of] men.” [Qur’an: Chapter 18, Verse 34]
Lesson 1: Planting a seed of inadequacy in other people’s hearts is the first step downhill. You can’t drag someone down unless you’re lower than they are, and that’s what showing off turns us into: conceited, mean and low human beings.
Step Two: Conceit Turns Into Abuse
For some reason, some arrogant people with high statuses hear stories of disasters around the world and brush it off completely as if they’re not susceptible to any of that. Their wealth blinds them into thinking they’re superior in this world, and consequently the first runner-ups for bigger treasures in the Hereafter. That’s arrogance on top of arrogance! At this point, they become unfair not only to people, but to themselves, for they forget everything they own was ‘given’ to them by Allah’s will. The poor man reminds his rich neighbor that his arrogant attitude is a form of ‘disbelief’ in the Lord, and explains that all his wealth can disappear in the blink of an eye.
“His companion said to him while he was conversing with him, “Have you disbelieved in He who created you from dust and then from a sperm-drop and then proportioned you [as] a man? But as for me, He is Allah, my Lord, and I do not associate with my Lord anyone. And why did you, when you entered your garden, not say, ‘What Allah willed [has occurred]; there is no power except in Allah ‘? Although you see me less than you in wealth and children, It may be that my Lord will give me [something] better than your garden and will send upon it a calamity from the sky, and it will become a smooth, dusty ground, Or its water will become sunken [into the earth], so you would never be able to seek it.” [Qur’an: Chapter 18, Verses 37 – 41]
(Confession: I have to say every time I read this part of Surat Al-Kahf, I thought the poor man was asking Allah to take the rich man’s wealth away, and it really confused me why a believer would do that. I would read that part quickly and block out my disappointment in the poor man. For years, I never thought of digging deeper and finding out the real meaning of this verse. I guess that was lack of humility on my part, thinking my interpretation was all there is to know! Now that I did my homework, I realize I was so wrong it’s ridiculous. Sorry Allah.)
Lesson 2: Conceit leads to abusing others, but before that happens, it violates our own souls: the pure loving hearts we once possessed become tarnished with self-importance. A true believer understands that poverty is a test from Allah , but so is wealth! It’s your humble attitude that counts, not your bank account.
Step Three: Abuse Turns Into Destruction
This poor man did not ask Allah to terminate the wealthy man’s kingdom, but let’s face it, most people would feel violated and abused by the insinuations that they’re not ‘good enough’, and those negative feelings will definitely yield negative vibes.
Take for a example a poor woman, who can barely pay school tuition, listening to her rich cousin go into excruciating detail about how tiring it was to throw such a lavish party for her daughter’s sixteenth birthday. She complains how the tulips flown all the way from Holland were not the right color, and the giveaways were not engraved with each guest’s name, like oh my God, how embarrassing! Let’s pause here for a second, how do you think that poor woman listening to this would feel? She would probably start harboring anger and hatred towards all rich people, wouldn’t she?
The wealthy man’s empire tumbled to the ground, and in my humble opinion, that is also a symbol of destruction in general, whether in material things or in society as a whole. This poor woman will probably feel pressured to throw her own daughter a party too, with money she doesn’t have!
Lesson 3: Violating people’s meager lives by ridiculing them poisons their thoughts with the need to compete, to live up to shallow expectations, and that only creates hatred and jealousy.
How to Stay Humble
One of my beloved Islamic scholars became so popular that when he visited one country the people were very excited to meet him. They gathered around his car when he arrived and lifted the whole car up, chanting his name! When he came back home, he was found on his knees cleaning the floors of a public bathroom. When his followers gasped he cried and said, “Leave me be! I’m terrified of becoming arrogant. I’m here to remind myself that I’m just a mere slave of Allah .”
What about us? How do we remain humble in a society that shoves competition and immodesty down our throats?
Well, our beautiful Islam left no questions unanswered, and our beloved Prophet’s teachings are overwhelmingly and beautifully profound.
Among the ways to remain humble are to:
But two of the characteristics I have personally found most effective and truly humbling are showing respect and mercy.
Abdullah ibn Amr ibn al-‘As narrated that the Prophet said:
“Those who do not show mercy to our young ones and do not realise the right of our elders are not from us.” [Sunan Abi Dawud]
Seek Refuge from the Dajjal
The Anti-Christ (Dajjal) will come with four ultimate and extremely difficult challenges, which is why we are taught to seek refuge in Allah from him, according to the following hadith:
“When anyone of you has done his Tashahhud during Salat (prayer), he should seek refuge in Allah against four things and say: “Allahumma inni a’udhu bika min ‘adhabi jahannam, wa min ‘adhabil-qabr, wa min fitnatil-mahya wal-mamat, wa min sharri fitnatil-masihid-dajjal (O Allah! I seek refuge in You from the torment of Hell, from the torment of the grave, from the trials of life and death, and from the mischief of Al-Masih Ad-Dajjal (Antichrist).” [Muslim]
We are up for some huge trials, people. The first challenge is the test of faith and the second one is in the test of wealth.
The treasures will follow the Dajjal like ‘swarms of bees’, so if wealth impresses or blinds us now, imagine how much trouble we will be in at that time. But Allah is The Most Kind, He gave us all the aid we need in Surat Al-Kahf, and gave us the key to the trial of wealth in the verses after the story of the garden: remembering that all of this is temporary, for we will all stand before Him soon and testify to our deeds.
“And present to them the example of the life of this world, [its being] like rain which We send down from the sky, and the vegetation of the earth mingles with it and [then] it becomes dry remnants, scattered by the winds. And Allah is ever, over all things, Perfect in Ability.” [Qur’an: Chapter 18, Verse 45]
Remember that 70 or 80 years on Earth are nothing compared to eternity in Jannah In sha Allah.
If you want to be productive instead of destructive, whenever you hear that voice in your head of money talking, do yourself a favor and shut it up! Money comes and goes, but the best is still ahead of us, and will last forever.
What are your thoughts and experiences related to the story of the man with the two gardens in Surat Al Kahf? Share it with us in a comment below.