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In Surah Qasas, Allah (swt) relates the story of Korah (Qarun), “Verily, Qarun (Korah) was of Musa’s (Moses) people, but he behaved arrogantly towards them. And We gave him of the treasures, that of which the keys would have been a burden to a body of strong men. When his people said to him: “Do not be glad (with ungratefulness to Allah’s Favours). Verily! Allah likes not those who are glad (with ungratefulness to Allah’s Favours).” (Qasas 28:76)
The Surah begins with the story of Musa (as) and Pharaoh, followed by Haman, who is Pharaoh’s Army Chief and ends with Qarun’s tale of worldly riches. As in other stories, we do not know the time and place of where the events took place specifically, and so those details are not important. This story is narrated exactly as my grandmother told me many years ago.
Nani Jan (grandmother) talked to me because I had been given a warning from school about skipping class: Beta (child), you will always be known by the company you keep.
Me: What do you mean? Am I not accountable only for what I do?
Nani Jan: Yes, you are – but what you do is always influenced by who your friends are. Let me tell you a story of a tyrant king, his army chief and a rich man from his court.
Me: Oh, this sounds very interesting. I would love to be rich and buy whatever I want. No need to collect pocket money to buy treats.
Smiling a gentle, wise smile my grandmother started: Once upon a time there was a great nation, but it had its roots in evil, slavery and oppression. The king was called Firawn, and he forced his subjects to call him God. He enslaved an entire nation of people called the Israelites, and forced them to do whatever he commanded. His power was absolute in his kingdom, and no one dared challenge it. Firawn had helpers to maintain his power and evil. His biggest ally was his Army Chief – Haman. Haman used his physical strength, to oppress people and carry out his king’s orders of murder and injustice.
They also had a third partner, his name was Qarun. He was not of the people of Firawn, but he was from the slave race. Yet, due to his servitude to Firawn, he was rich and helped to subjugate his own people.
Most of the slaves were struggling for one meal a day and Firawn would kill the male babies and keep only the female babies alive. He would order Haman to abuse the slaves. The Israelites were believers in Allah (swt) and they told each other that Allah (swt) will surely send someone to help them against the evil Firawn.
As true believers, their heart never accepted doing the wrong thing – calling Firawn God, or oppressing others. They also never gave up hope of Allah (swt) saving them. These are signs of true Muslims. Even though, they could do nothing; they knew in their hearts that what Qarun was doing was a sin. Their test was long and hard, but they knew that help was on the way.
Since, the rest of Qarun’s people were true believers, they warned him not to be arrogant. They told him to invest in the Akhirah (hereafter) and seek only Allah’s (swt) pleasure. But Qarun’s friends were Firawn and Haman, he wanted to be like them; hence, he did not listen to his well-wishers. He thought they were jealous.
“But seek, with that (wealth) which Allah has bestowed on you, the home of the Hereafter, and forget not your portion of legal enjoyment in this world, and do good as Allah has been good to you, and seek not mischief in the land. Verily, Allah likes not the Mufsidun (those who commit great crimes and sins, oppressors, tyrants, mischief-makers, corrupts).” (Qasas 28:77)
So, Qarun was blind to his faults and told the people, “He said: “This has been given to me only because of knowledge I possess.” Did he not know that Allah had destroyed before him generations, men who were stronger than him in might and greater in the amount (of riches) they had collected. But the Mujrimun (criminals, disbelievers, polytheists, sinners, etc.) will not be questioned of their sins (because Allah knows them well, so they will be punished without account).” (Qasas 28:78)
Me: But Nani Jan, can I not spend my money on myself? Must I always give everything away? That is just not fair. I work hard to earn my pocket money.
Nani Jan: Beta, Islam teaches us the best way, the moderate way. We can definitely use our portion of the wealth we have, but we must also remember to share with others. Be good to others as Allah (swt) has been good to you. So, when you see someone who might have more wealth and better things, thank Allah (swt) and know that it is a test.
Me: So, what happened next? Qarun was wealthy and he enjoyed his wealth. He was happy. What is so bad about that?
Nani Jan: Qarun, did not do anything to help others. In fact, he started to show his wealth off so others would feel sad and hopeless about what they did not have.
“So he went forth before his people in his pomp. Those who were desirous of the life of the world, said: Ah, would that we had the like of what Qarun (Korah) has been given? Verily! He is the owner of a great fortune.” (Qasas 28:79)
“But those who had been given (religious) knowledge said: “Woe to you! The Reward of Allah (in the Hereafter) is better for those who believe and do righteous good deeds, and this none shall attain except those who are patient (in following the truth).” (Qasas 28:80)
Qarun was Dunya-centric. He did not care about what Allah (swt) had commanded. His friends did not advise him to help others. He was occupied in pleasing his desires only. He thought, “I am smart and know how to create wealth, others are stupid. Allah (swt) has not given me all this. I have earned it by using my intelligence.” Qarun spread mischief by parading his wealth; his intention was to show others that he was better than them all. The significance of the heavy keys mentioned in the verse are not that he locked the wealth to keep it safe, but that wealth is a heavy burden- a difficult test from Allah (swt) for the true believer.
Qarun was Dunya-centric. He did not care about what Allah (swt) had commanded. His friends did not advise him to help others.
Now some people, who did not know better, wished they had what Qarun had. But Allah (swt) tests each of us in His own way. We must go beyond the appearance, and be patient in whatever our test is. It could be knowledge, wealth, fame, fortune, poverty etc.
“So We caused the earth to swallow him and his dwelling place. Then he had no group or party to help him against Allah, nor was he one of those who could save themselves.” (Qasas 28:81)
“And those who had desired (for a position like) his position the day before, began to say: “Know you not that it is Allah Who enlarges the provision or restricts it to whomsoever He pleases of His slaves. Had it not been that Allah was Gracious to us, He could have caused the earth to swallow us up (also)! Know you not that the disbelievers will never be successful.” (Qasas 28:82)
Now, those who desired his wealth and position knew that it is only Allah (swt) Who gives and takes. Allah (swt) is the only One Who can decide what is right for you. People thanked Allah (swt) for not being as wealthy as Qarun, or as arrogant. They were convinced that only the Hereafter is the ultimate goal, and only the pious will have a good end.
“That home of the Hereafter (i.e. Paradise), We shall assign to those who rebel not against the truth with pride and oppression in the land nor do mischief by committing crimes. And the good end is for the Muttaqun.” (Qasas 28:83)
“Whosoever brings good (Islamic Monotheism along with righteous deeds), he shall have the better thereof, and whosoever brings evil (polytheism along with evil deeds) then, those who do evil deeds will only be requited for what they used to do.”. (Qasas 28:84)
Oh Allah (swt), shield us from the wealth trap. We are not Qarun, we do not envy him. In fact, we do not want to be mentioned along with him. His is not the company we want to keep.
Adapted for Hiba by Tasneem Vali