The message in verse 262 about the way that charity should be given (I think that’s what it means to spend one’s possessions for the sake of God) is very similar to the Jewish ‘levels’ of tzedakah (charity) that the 12th century Jewish philosopher (and doctor to the Sultan Saladin) expounded. The greatest kind of charity one could do is to give charity when neither the donor nor the recipient knew of the other. In that way, the donor has nothing to feel special about – he merely did his duty – and the recipient never has to have his feelings hurt or feel lower than or indebted to anyone.
Funny enough, the parable reminds me of a very “karmic” understanding of giving. The good you put out into the universe (in the right way, of course) comes back ten-fold. I used to wait tables when I was 19, and whenever I went out after work with my waiter friends to another restaurant they would tip so generously you’d think they’d been served gold. “Tipping Karma,” they used to say. It’ll all come back when people tip us later – but leave a crummy tip or begrudge another server his tip and you’d be like that lightening-struck rock with a run of bad tips that could last for weeks.
Now, that could seem superstitious, and far be it for me to reduce the words of the Quran to karma, but I think what it actually shows is the universality of this important ideal – generosity and the spreading of wealth beget more generosity and wealth for everyone. In the Quran, it’s just made clear that this principle originates with God. Only in this way does a Reaganomics Trickle Down Theory work because by the Quran a spiritual element and understanding have been infused into the importance of spreading the wealth, forcing us to remembers that all we have we have by God’s grace and mercy.
After these verses I read verse 266 and fail to understand the idea therein. Is the person in this verse a person who failed to share the wonderful bounty he’d been given with this marvelous land? Is it saying that he should not have let the fruit remain solely within his garden and should have spread it around so that none of it ever went bad? Verse 267 didn’t help me grasp the meaning, but if anyone could shed some light on this verse I would be grateful. I feel as though it brings these other verses in an interesting direction that I’m failing to get.
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The Cow 261-266
261. THE PARABLE of those who spend their possessions for the sake of God is that of a grain out of which grow seven ears, in every ear a hundred grains: for God grants manifold increase unto whom He wills; and God is infinite, all-knowing. 262. They who spend their possessions for the sake of God and do not thereafter mar* their spending by stressing their own benevolence and hurting [the feelings of the needy] shall have their reward with ‘their Sustainer, and no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve. 263. A kind word and the veiling of another’s want is better than a charitable deed followed by hurt; and God is self-sufficient, forbearing. 264. O you who have attained to faith! Do not deprive your charitable deeds of all worth by stressing your own benevolence and hurting [the feelings of the needy], as does he who spends his wealth only to be seen and praised by men, and believes not in God and the Last Day: for his parable is that of a smooth rock with [a little] earth upon it – and then a rainstorm smites it and leaves it hard and bare. Such as these shall have no gain whatever from all their [good] works: for God does not guide people who refuse to acknowledge the truth. 265. And the parable of those who spend their possessions out of a longing to please God, and out of their own inner certainty, is that of a garden on high, fertile ground: a rainstorm smites it, and thereupon it brings forth its fruit twofold; and if no rainstorm smites it, soft rain [falls upon it]. And God sees all that you do. 266. Would any of you like to have a garden of date-palms and vines, through which running waters flow, and have all manner of fruit therein – and then be overtaken by old age, with only weak children to [look after] him-and then [see] it smitten by a fiery whirlwind and utterly scorched? In this way God makes clear His messages unto you, so that you might take thought.