By Sadaf Azhar
The Holy Quran is rich in imagery and uses metaphors and similes frequently to explain ideas and draw parallels. Nature is a recurring theme in the Quran, from references to the universe and skies to topography and natural catastrophes. For December 18th, Farmer’s Day, we will focus on how the Quran uses the metaphor of gardens, fields, crops and land to encourage gratitude, concentrated efforts and mindfulness of Allah.
The Imagery of Blessings
In verse 22 of Surah Baqarah, we are invited to observe how Allah has spread the earth out and brought forth fruits from it as a provision for us. The same earth produces a mind boggling, colourful array of grains, vegetables, herbs, fruits and flowers that help sustain us and our animals through nourishment, medicine, and shade. It is from these very plants that we are able to build our dwellings, clothe ourselves, arm ourselves with tools and furniture and even communicate though paper. If we take heed, our hearts are like the earth and each of us is given a unique combination of intellect, emotional intelligence, skills and talents that enable us to act in myriad ways to benefit ourselves and others in order to earn Allah’s Pleasure.
Similarly, in verse 141 of surah Al Ana’am, Allah points out the variety of plants- trellised and un-trellised, palm trees, crops, olives and pomegranates. What He warns us against is excess or waste because when we overindulge or over spend out the bounties Allah has given us, we deprive either others or ourselves. Gratitude for the blessings of Allah in the form of food and fodder He has given us and moderation in consumption and charity is emphasised.
The imagery of crops is also used to explain gratitude. In Surah Al Baqarah (verse 155), Allah has promised to test us with the loss of wealth and crops, to see which one of us remains steadfast and grateful even in adversity. Why are crops mentioned particularly? One reason is probably because of the effort, time and resources invested by the farmer in tilling, sowing and harvesting. The loss of an individual farmer is in terms of lost effort and sustenance, but it also affects others in the society because the farmer’s efforts help nourish and sustain others as well. Food, clothing and shelter are basic needs and if these remain unfulfilled then we cannot aspire to higher ideals or commit ourselves to bigger causes like Dawah and Jihad. The loss of crops, therefore, hits us at a basic survival level. Likewise, in a barter economy, wealth was counted in terms of trade-able goods and these included livestock. A farmer tends to both crops and livestock and these two blessings of Allah are the primary source of our sustenance.
Surah Al Kahf also uses the parable of the two gardens to denote how we should always be grateful to Allah for our sustenance. Allah can completely destroy our flourishing gardens and ready to be harvested crops overnight, so be mindful of Him.
Strikingly, The Quran uses the image of fields to denote another blessing- our wives. In verse 223 of Surah Al Baqarah, Allah has referred to wives as ‘place of cultivation’ which can be enjoyed. If properly cared for, the fields can benefit us immensely by providing sustenance and shade for us , our animals and the society around us. Similarly, if Allah chooses to bless us with righteous wives, they provide contentment, emotional and moral support and through them Allah swt increases our progeny and provivsions.
Parables of Rewards and Charity
Allah has explained in verse 261 of Surah Al Baqarah how our rewards can be multiplied if we perform deeds with the intention to please Allah swt alone and in accordance with the Shariah. A single seed can bear 700 grains alone. Likewise, Allah can ensure the outcomes of our deeds have far-reaching positive effects across time, generations and space. Consider the example of planting a tree- it will continue to provide shade and food for animals and humans, to purify the air, root the topsoil and propagate far and wide till it lives! No wonder Allah has deemed plantation an act of continuous charity, for even when a tree dies, its wood provides timber for our continued use and decaying leaves provide compost for more vegetation. We hope to continue to benefit others and reap rewards for out Aakhirah even after death.
Another perspective linking charity and fruit gardens is found in verse 264-265 of Surah Al Baqarah. Here, the charity of a believer is likened to ‘a garden on high ground which is hit by a downpour, so it yields its fruits in double. And (even) if it is not hit by a downpour, then a drizzle (is sufficient)…’. Whereas the charity of a disbeliever is ‘like that of a large smooth stone upon which is dust and is hit by a downpour which leaves it bare. They are unable (to keep) anything of what they have earned.’ The downpour or drizzle is a metaphor for Sadaqah, while the land denotes the heart and rewards of the giver. When we give with the correct intention, to the people and causes whom Allah has recommended, the Sadaqah bears ‘fruit’ in the form of manifold rewards for us and in benefitting the recipient and those around us in ways we cannot foresee. However, if our intention is faulty or we mix our acts of charity with a hurtful attitude or pretension, we lose or nullify our reward like the rock that losses its thin cover of topsoil.
Finally, note that the Arabic word for Paradise translates literally as ‘gardens’. This image is associated with a cool sense of calmness and relaxation, a place where our senses revel. But a garden must be tended and it can be further improved by our good deeds. Helping children ‘add’ to their worldly garden by telling them how worship and good deeds add to the height and density of the garden is very effective in motivating them towards ‘earning’ their place in the Aakhirah.
The Quran mentions a number of other plants, fruits and vegetables. Note that Paradise is signified by shady trees and the Lote tree, whereas the trees of Hell are thorny with bitter fruit. The lesson for us is to take heed from the farmer and be careful of how we ‘till, nourish and sow’ in this world so as to reap the fruits of our labour in the Hereafter.