Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 261-266 Speaks of Charity Given From the Heart

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.

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5 Responses

  1. Karma–the Chineese say that a stagnant Chi energy brings bad luck while a flowing energy brings good luck. Money follows similar principle–when money flows in society–it prospers–when people excessively horde money–ecomomy stagnates–and society/economy suffers. But rather than building a society that buys useless products–which it then throws away to buy more products—it is wiser to spend in charity–better for society and better for the soul. But for this economic model to work–there are some more things that need to be in place. One of them is the idea that transactions should be “win-win” (not win-lose) In the case of charity–this is explained by advocating the avoidance of harm or injury to others. Thus excess money is used to benefit others (in need) which benefits society and as a member of that society—comes back to benefit us.
    verse 266—Charity benefits our soul–creating compassion for others—Like a garden with abundance—our good intentions and actions—give our soul “abundance”—but all this work/abundance can be wiped out if we are careless, selfish /egoic.
    refer also to verse 268—“Satan threatens you with poverty…” Fear of poverty can keep us from being charitable.

  2. Salam and hello!

    I discovered the Qur’an read along a few weeks ago and have to say I am so pleased to have found it – alhamdulillah!

    I have learnt so much from your insights as well of those of the commentators- JDsg and Kay and just wanted to thank you.

    I’m currently on my gap year before university and I’m in Malta (am a Londoner by birth and heart) doing an internship.

    At the residence where I live there all sorts of people from all over the world and our conversations often turn to religion- I have recommended this blog to so many and I hope they learn as much from it as I have.

    Thanks again! I look forward to being more enlightened in the future inshallah!

    Peace and best wishes,

    Zahra

    p.s. a quick note- I’m sure you’ve got many recommendations already but I highly recommend Abdel Haleem’s interpretation- very clear and very readable –

    http://www.amazon.com/Quran-Oxford-Worlds-Classics/dp/0192831933

  3. Thank you for your wonderful note, Zahra. It’s great to know that other people are enjoying Quran Read-A-Long. I’ve certainly learned and benefited far more from this more than any other element of my blog, that’s for sure. I owe that to JDsg and Kay, with whom I also love learning. Thank you for the translation recommendation and I look forward to hearing your own thoughts and insights on the verses as we continue to grapple with this amazing book.

  4. There are several interesting points in this section, courtesy of Ibn Kathir:

    With respect to verse 2:261, a hadith ties in the rewarding of charity given in the way of Allah (swt) to fasting, which is done for Allah (swt):

    Ahmad recorded that Abu Hurayrah said that the Messenger of Allah said, (Every good deed that the son of Adam performs will be multiplied ten folds, to seven hundred folds, to many other folds, to as much as Allah wills. Allah said, “Except the fast, for it is for Me and I will reward for it. One abandons his food and desire in My sake.” The fasting person has two times of happiness: when he breaks his fast and when he meets his Lord. Verily, the odor that comes from the mouth of whoever fasts is more pure to Allah than the scent of musk. Fasting is a shield (against sinning), fasting is a shield.) Muslim recorded this Hadith.

    Verses 2:264-66, of course, are a single parable illustrating how the rewards of charity can be either gained or lost. 2:264 deals with the charity of an unbeliever, of course, while 2:265 is with respect to a believer. Per Ibn Kathir:

    The Ayah indicates that the garden on the Rabwah [“a height above the ground”] is always fertile, for if heavy rain does not fall on it, light rain will suffice for it. Such is the case regarding the believer’s good deeds, for they never become barren. Rather, Allah accepts the believer’s righteous deeds and increases them, each according to his deeds.

    2:266, on the other hand, is an example, according to Ibn Abbas. Per Ibn Kathir, Umar had asked some of the other companions of the Prophet (pbuh), “”According to your opinion, about whom was this Ayah revealed?”

    They said, “Allah knows best.” `Umar became angry and said, “Say we know or we do not know.” Ibn `Abbas said, “O Leader of the Faithful! I have an opinion about it.” `Umar said, “O my nephew! Say your opinion and do not belittle yourself.” Ibn `Abbas said, “This is an example set for a deed.” `Umar said, “What type of deed” Ibn `Abbas said, “For a wealthy man who works in Allah’s pleasure and then Allah sends Shaytan to him, and he works in disobedience, until he annuls his good works.”

    Ibn Kathir continues:

    This Hadith suffices as an explanation for the Ayah, for it explains the example it sets by a person who does good first and then follows it with evil, may Allah save us from this end. So, this man annulled his previous good works with his latter evil works. When he desperately needed the deeds of the former type, there were none.

    (Would any of you wish to have a garden with date palms and vines, with rivers flowing underneath, and all kinds of fruits for him therein.)

    But he lost all this in his old age,

    (while he is stricken with old age) while his offspring and children are weak just before the end of his life. Then a lightning storm came and destroyed his garden. Then he did not have the strength to grow another garden, nor did his offspring offer enough help. This is the condition of the disbeliever on the Day of Resurrection when he returns to Allah, for he will not have any good deeds to provide an excuse – or refuge – for him, just as the man in the parable had no strength to replant the garden. The disbeliever will not find anything to resort to for help, just as the offspring of the man in the parable did not provide him with help. So he will be deprived of his reward when he most needs it, just as the man in the parable was deprived of Allah’s garden when he most needed it, when he became old and his offspring weak.”

    As a result, Muhammad (pbuh) used to say in his supplication: O Allah! Make Your biggest provision for me when I am old in age and at the time my life ends.

  5. wow. i have to say that when i read the title and the word “quaran” the first thing that came to my head was this dude is gonna bash the quaran. Its become so typical of the internet to dismiss islam as a whole because of the unfortunate events of late. its good to read this.peace

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