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Illusory Grandeur and Ungratefulness

The story of Qaaroon is one that maybe well-known among Muslims. It contains great wisdom and great lessons to learn from. Nowadays the similitude of this story is widely spread. There are three elements in the story: Qaaroon, his wannabes, and the wise men among the people. Allaah (subhaanahu wa ta'aalaa) first informs us about Qaaroon and his possessions:

إِنَّ قَارُونَ كَانَ مِن قَوْمِ مُوسَى فَبَغَى عَلَيْهِمْ وَآتَيْنَاهُ مِنَ الْكُنُوزِ مَا إِنَّ مَفَاتِحَهُ لَتَنُوءُ بِالْعُصْبَةِ أُولِي الْقُوَّةِ إِذْ قَالَ لَهُ قَوْمُهُ لَا تَفْرَحْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يُحِبُّ الْفَرِحِينَ
Verily, Qaaroon was of 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 Allaah's Favours). Verily! Allaah likes not those who are glad (with ungratefulness).1

He had been given this tremendous wealth but he showed ingratitude. It was once said that faith and remembrance of Allaah in times of calamity can even be exhibited by a disbeliever. It is at the time of ease and abundance that faith (by gratitude) is really tested. The wise men among the people told him to be careful of being ungrateful and "taking it for granted." They advised him, as Allaah informs us in the verse that follows, to utilize his blessings for the Hereafter, be good to the people since Allaah gave him much good, and that he doesn't have to totally forget about this world. Qaaroon's reply was:

قَالَ إِنَّمَا أُوتِيتُهُ عَلَى عِلْمٍ عِندِي أَوَلَمْ يَعْلَمْ أَنَّ اللَّهَ قَدْ أَهْلَكَ مِن قَبْلِهِ مِنَ القُرُونِ مَنْ هُوَ أَشَدُّ مِنْهُ قُوَّةً وَأَكْثَرُ جَمْعاً وَلَا يُسْأَلُ عَن ذُنُوبِهِمُ الْمُجْرِمُونَ
He said: "This has been given to me only because of knowledge I possess (i.e. I deserve it)." Did he not know that Allaah 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 disbelievers will not be questioned of their sins (because Allaah knows them well, so they will be punished without account).2

The ungrateful statement of Qaaroon was: "It was my own efforts. I deserve it." The fact is that we deserve nothing. Even the inhabitants of paradise, may Allaah make us among them, do not enter it solely because of their deeds; it is due to the mercy of Allaah in that He had multiplied their good deeds and forgave their bad deeds. We need to reflect upon this statement of Qaaroon and see if we are saying it without knowing it. We need to see if we are using this mentality in our lives and repent to Allaah and ask Him to forgive and guide us. Next come the wannabes:

فَخَرَجَ عَلَى قَوْمِهِ فِي زِينَتِهِ قَالَ الَّذِينَ يُرِيدُونَ الْحَيَاةَ الدُّنيَا يَا لَيْتَ لَنَا مِثْلَ مَا أُوتِيَ قَارُونُ إِنَّهُ لَذُو حَظٍّ عَظِيمٍ
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 Qaaroon has been given! Verily! He is the owner of a great fortune."3

In today's times, on a general basis, these are the devoted hardcore fans of movie stars, actors, singers, bands, sports players, and popular show hosts. They almost worship them and dream that they would become like them. The Muslim is never a wannabe of losers. The Muslim takes the Prophet Muhammad (salla Allaahu 'alayhy wa sallam) as the role model and follows the example of the scholars and righteous people. The Muslim looks at such people like the wise men among the people then did:

وَقَالَ الَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْعِلْمَ وَيْلَكُمْ ثَوَابُ اللَّهِ خَيْرٌ لِّمَنْ آمَنَ وَعَمِلَ صَالِحاً وَلَا يُلَقَّاهَا إِلَّا الصَّابِرُونَ
But those who had been given (religious) knowledge said: "Woe to you! The reward of Allaah (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)."4

We must not be mesmerized by the lives and possessions of these people. After all, what happened to Qaaroon? Allaah caused the earth to swallow him and his dwelling place. Who could help him then? Who can help such people when they die? Nobody. No matter what we collect, we will have to leave it behind. We cannot take it to the grave. It is as Allaah (subhaanahu wa ta'aalaa) said:

الْمَالُ وَالْبَنُونَ زِينَةُ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا وَالْبَاقِيَاتُ الصَّالِحَاتُ خَيْرٌ عِندَ رَبِّكَ ثَوَاباً وَخَيْرٌ أَمَلاً
Wealth and children are the adornment of the life of this world. But the good righteous deeds, that last, are better with your Lord for rewards and better in respect of hope.5

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1 Surah al-Qasas, verse 76
2 Surah al-Qasas, verse 78
3 Surah al-Qasas, verse 79
4 Surah al-Qasas, verse 80
5 Surah al-Kahf, verse 46
Picture by Jeff Belmonte