Lessons only life could teach

Muslim pilgrims / AFP PHOTO / AHMAD GHARABLI

Brethren, once again, he got to the gated house of the multi-millionaire in the city. Once again he was denied entry. Each time he got to the gate, the security guards would tell him he was not welcome; that his name was not on the list of guests and visitors that “Babangida” had given appointment for the day. But why did he now become an unwanted guest in the hitherto familiar mansion? How did the former “Excellency” become a pauper, a reptile, an unwanted guest to be refused access and entry into the inner luxuries of the rich with whom he used to exchange pleasantries and banters?

Brethren, the former “Excellency” had been out of power since close to a decade when the incident happened. Nobody now recognized him as a former governor of that state anymore. His circumstance reminded me of Ibn Batuta’s experience. When the latter got to Cairo during the medieval period, all the luxurious encampments of Pharaoh had been laid to ruin.

Now on that particularly day, “Your (former) Excellency” caught a pitiable sight. Physically, his body had become jaded; his speech had become slurred, his gait had been lost to the vicissitude of time and life. As is common with men of yesterday who still live today, as is common with men who thought tomorrow would never come, the former “Excellency” had descended into life on the margins of existence. His house had become deserted immediately his opponent was declared winner of the election. The only constant guests in his reality thereafter were those popular ailments of the rich; the ailment of those who live in the city, in the centre of existence. Having found riches and power by accident, he plunged headlong into a life of revelry and comfort. His body became a machine. He drank the forbidden; he copulated with the prohibited. He threw away caution and circumspection. He forgot that whatever we do in life is like an investment. We shall be given “dividends” of our acts of omission and commission sooner or later. Thus not long after he stepped out of power or rather long after power slipped out of his hands, his body began to pay for his interdictions. He then began to use the ill-gotten wealth to procure his health at a time wealth had become useless as ransom for health.

Thus years after leaving power, years after he ceased to be fed for free, years after he was clothed and chauffeur-driven for free, he lost all the ill-gotten wealth he acquired while in office. He could no longer buy the necessary drugs to keep his body and soul together. He wished that he was never referred to as “Your Excellency”. He wished he had remained unpopular, a face in the crowd and a dot in the diagram of this extremely bucolic landscape. He found himself in dire situations; dire situations, the wise would say, require extremely engaging interventions.

It was during the course of searching for that all important intervention that he remembered his old friend: the rich man in the city; the rich who never craved to be in power; the rich who never spent a moment in government house as the custodian of people’s mandate and commonwealth. Each time he visited that friend of his, the latter would quickly offer the necessary hands of fellowship. But one mistake we often make each time we go to our fellow human beings in search of solutions to our problems is that we usually think that they are small gods. We always fail to keep in view that nobody born of the womb can act like the Almighty. The more requests we put forward to the rich the quicker he tires of giving out of his riches. Thus having rendered countless assistance to the former “Excellency”, the rich guy soon suffered what we sometimes refer to as ‘donation fatigue’. He, therefore, gave instructions that each time the former came a-visiting, he should not be allowed into his courtyard…

In line with the Sunnah of the Almighty, both the rich man and the former “Excellency” are now dead. The former died and left behind his estate; the latter died unsung; he died un-mourned by the oppressed masses, by those whose wealth he unjustly appropriated while he was in power. For them we ask for divine redemption; for their souls, we seek divine extrication.

I recall the above story today as premise for yet another story of a former “His Excellency” which was sent to me by a brother through the social media. This former “His Excellency” was a scientist. He was a former this and that. He had occupied almost all political posts and portfolios in his state. What remained was for him to become the Chief Executive officer (the CEO) of his home state. Eventually he realized his ambition. He became “Your Excellency”. But hardly did he become the State Governor than he began to question the Almighty; hardly did he become “His Excellency” than he began to posture like Qarun in front of Prophet Musa (a.s) (Quran 28: 76-83). He challenged the Almighty to a fight.

The story of Qarun is instructive of the fact that the Almighty would not ordinarily bestow his mercy on those who are arrogant; those who consider themselves to be wiser or more knowledgeable than others. To illustrate this further, the Almighty gives us examples from other peoples of the past. Many civilizations of the past had attained great success and material wealth. But Qarun, known as Korah in the Bible, would not learn. He had become purblind by his wealth and riches. He wanted to disgrace Prophet Musa. He craved to impugn the message of the Almighty by impugning the messenger. Ibn `Abbas says Qarun therefore gave a prostitute a sum of money to say to Musa (a.s) while he is accompanied with other people that he (Musa) committed with her (adultery). It is said that she did it and consequently, Prophet Musa trembled with fear and he performed two Rak`ahs (bowing in prayer) and then said to her: By the Almighty! Tell me, who hired you to do this? She said: It was Qarun who hired me to do that. Then, she sought Almighty’s forgiveness and repented to Him.

Prophet Musa then prostrated himself and invoked the anger of the Almighty against Qarun. The Almighty then revealed to him that He had subjugated the earth to obey him. Prophet Musa therefore commanded the earth to swallow Qarun and his dwelling place. The Almighty narrates the story as follows:

Indeed, Qarun was from the people of Moses, but he tyrannized them. And We gave him of treasures whose keys would burden a band of strong men; thereupon his people said to him, “Do not exult. Indeed, Allah does not like the exultant;But seek, through that which Allah has given you, the home of the Hereafter; and [yet], do not forget your share of the world. And do good as Allah has done good to you. And desire not corruption in the land. Indeed, Allah does not like corrupters; He said, “I was only given it because of knowledge I have.” Did he not know that Allah had destroyed before him of generations those who were greater than him in power and greater in accumulation [of wealth]? But the criminals, about their sins, will not be asked; So he came out before his people in his adornment. Those who desired the worldly life said, “Oh, would that we had like what was given to Qarun. Indeed, he is one of great fortune.”; But those who had been given knowledge said, “Woe to you! The reward of Allah is better for he who believes and does righteousness. And none are granted it except the patient.”; And We caused the earth to swallow him and his home. And there was for him no company to aid him other than Allah , nor was he of those who [could] defend themselves. (Quran 28: 76-88).

Thus those imbued with discernment would shudder with fear each time they remember how the Almighty dealt with Fir’awn; how he humiliated Qarun and how He chastened the treachery of people of ‘Ad and Thamud. The lesson in the story circulating in the social media of this former “His Excellency” is to the effect that no human being could actually be in power; that the real power is known and belongs to Him to the Almighty. Or how else do you explain the ease with which the powerful become powerless; how might we explain this situation when the man has not only ceased being in power but the ‘man’ in him has equally been taken away completely from him. Looking at his image today forced tears down my cheeks; that he was once a Chairman of a local government is now a dream he once had; that he was once a “Your Excellency” is an experience he would wonder whether he ever had.

While praying that the Almighty intervene in his affair and heal him of his ailment, today’s sermon is all about stories. These are stories I have told in “storeys”; and in line with the Quranic standard, in them are lessons for men and women (of) understanding.
(08122465111 for texts only)

Oladosu A. Afis
Professor of Middle Eastern, North African and Cultural Studies
Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies,
University of Ibadan,
Ibadan, Nigeria.

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