|In the name of
GOD, Most Gracious, Most Merciful
There is no other god beside GOD
Property as an Idol
Lessons from human-caused disasters
The 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico*1 is the largest spill in US history, surpassing the Exxon Valdez human-caused disaster. Oil is of great interest to the public. Today’s economies are driven by the plentiful availability of energy. The country will also be affected by its large social and environmental impact. The current BP spill and the earlier Exxon spill are both human-caused disasters. It appears that greed for profits played a significant role in both cases. Safety measures were overlooked in the interests of saving money (by already large and wealthy corporations). Some of these factors related to greed are recurring themes in recent memory. The financial industry crisis of 2007-2010, and the automotive industry problems during roughly the same period in the USA ring a bell. If we dig deeper, we can find in recent history a variety of other “human-fueled crises”. Many problems faced by mankind today are created in some part by failings such as greed, dishonesty, and trying to take advantage of the weak. One could put these human failings in simple terms: setting up material wealth as a god besides God (Quran 18:32-46).
Property as an Idol
[18:32-33] Cite for them the example of two men: we gave one of them two gardens of grapes, surrounded by date palms, and placed other crops between them. • Both gardens produced their crops on time, and generously, for we caused a river to run through them. … [18:35] When he entered his garden, he wronged his soul by saying, "I do not think that this will ever end. … [18:42] Indeed, his crops were wiped out, and he ended up sorrowful, lamenting what he had spent on it in vain, as his property lay barren. He finally said, "I wish I never set up my property as a god beside my Lord." … [18:45-46] Cite for them the example of this life as water that we send down from the sky to produce plants of the earth, then they turn into hay that is blown away by the wind. GOD is able to do all things. • Money and children are the joys of this life, but the righteous works provide an eternal recompense from your Lord, and a far better hope.
Similarly, the bible has some well-known passages (1 Tim 6:10; Col 3:5; Luke 12:29-31).
[1 Timothy 6:10] For the love of money is a root
of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith
and pierced themselves with many griefs.
[Colossians 3:5] Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.
Going back to oil, Quran 34:12-13 mentions the first oil field. And fittingly, we are told about appreciation in the same context (34:13). Appreciation grows our souls rather than our wallets. A submitter puts the body in the service of the soul, rather than the other way around. This is also the message in Luke 12:29-31.
The First Oil Field
[34:12-13] To Solomon we committed the wind at his disposal, traveling one month coming and one month going. And we caused a spring of oil to gush out for him. … • They made for him anything he wanted?niches, statues, deep pools, and heavy cooking pots. O family of David, work (righteousness) to show your appreciation. Only a few of My servants are appreciative.
[Luke 12:29-31] As for you, do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not worry anymore. • All the nations of the world seek for these things, and your Father knows that you need them. • Instead, seek his kingdom, and these other things will be given you besides.
We know that it’s not the money in itself that’s bad. It’s the idolization, the greed, and the consequent violation of God’s laws that gets people into trouble. In the example in 18:32-46, the money caused the individual to grow arrogant. To think he was somehow “special and immune to trouble”. To forget about God and growing one’s soul. To fail to see that the money was just like anything else fleeting from this world. This pattern of human failing is shown elsewhere in the Quran (74:15; 28:76-83).
[74:11-15] Let Me deal with one I created as an individual. • I provided him with lots of money. • And children to behold. • I made everything easy for him. • Yet, he is greedy for more.
We can contrast the example of Qaroon (28:76-82) with Solomon. God was first in Solomon’s mind, and not money. This is illustrated in his dealing with the queen of Sheba (27:36). Similarly, Diffferent font?the “rich believer” in 16:75 does not idolize the money, and instead uses it in God’s way.
As the Quran tells us, the problem is not restricted to greed alone. Once money becomes the idol, people do everything they can to appease their god and grow closer to their ‘god’ by hoarding. They may backbite and slander others to get ahead.
[104:1-2] Woe to every backbiter, slanderer. • He hoards money and counts it.
Other consequences of this idolization of property include: lying, passing the blame, taking advantage of weaker groups, and not giving a fair share. For example, I previously thought the Exxon spill was simply caused by a drunken boat captain. Wikipedia now displays articles showing the crew was overworked and fatigued. The ship’s anti-collision radar system was broken and deliberately left unrepaired for a year to save money*2. While only God knows the full truth, clearly not everyone’s accounts of the event agree. So there are lies involved. People prefer to pass the blame in these situations. Humans want to save their own skin and look good. God’s system is complete honesty (4:135; 5:8; 6:152). Submitters do not seek exaltation of themselves on earth (28:83).
You Shall Not Bear False Witness
[4:135] O you who believe, you shall be absolutely equitable, and observe GOD, when you serve as witnesses, even against yourselves, or your parents, or your relatives. Whether the accused is rich or poor, GOD takes care of both. Therefore, do not be biased by your personal wishes. If you deviate or disregard (this commandment), then GOD is fully Cognizant of everything you do.
Submitters are told to fear God, not the people or their perceptions of us. Making a mistake is bad enough, but lying about it or accusing someone else—is a bigger mistake (4:112). Two wrongs don’t cancel each other out. Instead, it encourages passing blame and lack of personal responsibility. Something Satan started (15:39) back before Creation and which continues in this life (4:78-79; 68:28-32), and through the Day of Judgment (14:22; 64:9). The correct response would be to seek God’s forgiveness and own up to one’s mistakes (4:78-79, 110-112).
Nothing Bad Comes From God
[4:79] Anything good that happens to you is from GOD, and anything bad that happens to you is from you. We have sent you as a messenger to the people, and GOD suffices as witness.
[4:110-112] Anyone who commits evil, or wrongs his soul, then implores GOD for forgiveness, will find GOD Forgiving, Most Merciful. • Anyone who earns a sin, earns it to the detriment of his own soul. GOD is Omniscient, Most Wise. • Anyone who earns a sin, then accuses an innocent person thereof, has committed a blasphemy and a gross offense.
Taking advantage of weaker groups is another problem related to idolizing money. The “little guy” is often the one who suffers. Small investors were more likely to lose their homes and not be able to afford retirement due to the financial crisis. In the oil industry disasters, rig workers and the small-time fisher folk were among those who paid with their lives and incomes, while the executives continue to make money. And it’s not just these in these companies. Human greed often takes advantage of the weak. And the Quran deliberately enjoins us against this temptation (2:275; 4:2; 6:152; 16:92; 89:15-24). This is also partly why the debtor dictates the terms to the scribe when writing down financial transactions (2:282). Another problem related to setting money as a god besides God is cheating. God strongly condemns cheating and corruption (4:29; 11:85; 83:1-6) and tells us to be aware of what we send ahead for our souls (59:18).
[6:152] You shall not touch the orphans' money except in the most righteous manner, until they reach maturity. You shall give full weight and a full measure when you trade, equitably. We do not burden any soul beyond its means. You shall be absolutely just when you bear witness, even against your relatives. You shall fulfill your covenant with GOD. These are His commandments to you, that you may take heed.
[89:17-20] Wrong! It is you who brought it on yourselves by not regarding the orphan. • And not advocating charity towards the poor. [89:19] And consuming the inheritance of helpless orphans. • And loving the money too much.
The human response to the oil crisis will probably result in lengthy laws and a mountain of documentation. All of it is for one specific area of legislation in one tiny aspect of life. A life that is fleeting and miniscule. Compare this to the one book God tells us to read for the eternal life, the Quran (12:111). Which, if followed would lead to life being easier, simpler and more meaningful.
Quran 30:40-46 tells us about the disasters that have spread through the land and sea because of the mistakes we humans made. 30:40 reminds us not to fall into idolatry (e.g., idolizing wealth or property). God is the only one worthy of worship. The commercial gains we harvest should be put in service of God, and be a source of continuous appreciation. Business should not distract us from God (24:36-38). We should force ourselves to observe the commandments, even if it means giving up on trade or the vanities of this world (62:9; 18:28).
Who Is Worthy of Worship?
[30:40-41] GOD is the One who created you. He is the One who provides for you. He is the One who puts you to death. He is the One who resurrects you. Can any of your idols do any of these things? Be He glorified. He is much too exalted to have any partners. • Disasters have spread throughout the land and sea, because of what the people have committed. He thus lets them taste the consequences of some of their works, that they may return (to the right works).
[24:36] (God's guidance is found) in houses exalted by GOD, for His name is commemorated therein. Glorifying Him therein, day and night?
Those Who Frequent the Masjid
[24:37] People who are not distracted by business or trade from commemorating GOD; they observe the Contact Prayers (Salat), and give the obligatory charity (Zakat), and they are conscious of the day when the minds and the eyes will be horrified.
We conclude with David and Solomon’s example of devotion to God and not this world (27:15-19).
[27:15-19] We endowed David and Solomon with knowledge, and they said, "Praise GOD for blessing us more than many of His believing servants." • Solomon was David's heir. He said, "O people, we have been endowed with understanding the language of the birds, and all kinds of things have been bestowed upon us. This is indeed a real blessing." • Mobilized in the service of Solomon were his obedient soldiers of jinns and humans, as well as the birds; all at his disposal. • When they approached the valley of the ants, one ant said, "O you ants, go into your homes, lest you get crushed by Solomon and his soldiers, without perceiving." • He smiled and laughed at her statement, and said, "My Lord, direct me to be appreciative of the blessings You have bestowed upon me and my parents, and to do the righteous works that please You. Admit me by Your mercy into the company of Your righteous servants."
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