Termites, Thamud and our multi-billionaires’ mansions
“The parable of those who take protectors other than the Almighty is like that of a spider who builds for itself a dwelling, and surely the weakest of all dwellings is the dwelling of a spider, if they but knew it”.[Q29:41]
It is a mansion. Everything about it gives a sense of a splendor; of the presence of everything money could buy. From a distance, the passer-by could count chalets of different architectural designs. The roofing sheets, though now jaded and worn out, were definitely the ones only the millionaire of yesterday could buy. Brethren, this is a mansion built by one of the powerful men of yesterday in this region. But alas! It is now desolate and prostrate. It is now deserted and rejected. On your way from that other city and back, you could see its new “landlords” and “occupiers”: termites, rodents, maggots and other crawlers. The big mansion of yesterday is now a hut of today; it is loathed even by the sons and daughters of the big man of yesterday.
Brethren, look around our cities today, you would discover there are new millionaires in town. Yes! Millionaires and billionaires: men and women who are competing, on a daily basis, for the world. They are competing to build new mansions, new estates. They are stealing from the public wealth to build houses their children would put on sale after their demise. They are busy building mansions that would be ‘inherited’ by termites and caterpillar ants tomorrow!
Now when compared to the ones built by those who came before us, men and women of discernment would agree with me that our dwellings and mansions today, no matter the engineering wizardry that may be ‘inflicted’ on them, are actually like anthills in comparison to the ones built by, for example the Thamud. Remember, the people of Thamud. Those were really ‘great’ men. Brethren, of peoples and nations mentioned in the Qur’an, the Thamud are the ones about whom we probably have the most extensive knowledge today. Historical resources reveal that a people called Thamud indeed existed. They are the ones referred to as the people of Hijr in the Qur’an. (Q.15). The Greeks also refer to this people as Tamudaei, i.e. Thamud, in the writings of Aristo, Ptolemy, and Pliny. They lived before Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s), by approximately between 400-600 AD. Eventually, they ceased to exist. They lived in luxurious dwellings. They lived in houses made not of bricks and blocks like yours and mine. They lived in mountains carved out by themselves with their own bare hands. Brethren, imagine how mighty a race the Thamud was! The Almighty alludes to this when He says: The people of al-Hijr denied the Messengers… They carved out houses from the mountains, feeling safe, but the Great Blast seized hold of them in the morning, so all that they earned was of no use to them.
Brethren, whenever providence takes you on a trip to Jordan, enquire about the location of the Thamud. There you would see marvelous stonework and the expertise of those peole. You would see their landmarks in the Rum Valley in Jordan, better known as Petra. Prophet Salih (a.s) to them: “Remember when the Almighty appointed you successors to ‘Ad and settled you in the land. You built palaces on its plains and carved out houses from the mountains. Remember the Almighty’s blessings and do not go about the earth, corrupting it.” (Qur’an, 7:74)
In other words, having found themselves in luxury, the Thamud began to see themselves as the center of the universe. They neglected the lessons which were inherent in their own nature and existence: that the power which created them as powerful subjects is that whose power is inimitable.
Brethren, we need more contemplation of their history. The latter should inform us that while the Thamud built their own mansions from elements in nature, the mansions being built by ‘big men’ of today are surrounded by darkness and fakery. Like the Thamud, these are men who do not know what life it is: that it is the flash of a firefly in the night, the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. Brethren, human life is like the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.
Brethren, the Almighty has also likened earthly possessions, particularly that of those who disbelieve in His message, to a spider’s web. He says: “The parable of those who take protectors other than the Almighty is like that of a spider who builds for itself a dwelling, and surely the weakest of all dwellings is the dwelling of a spider, if they but knew it”.[Q29:41]
Brethren, while visiting the people of Thamud with one of the harshest retributions for their iniquities, the Almighty probably desired to teach us some eternal lessons: that indulgence in wanton disobedience of the injunctions of the Almighty does not pay, neither in the short or long run; that nations which perpetrate evils which their predecessors never imagined, would also be visited by retributions the like of which is unknown to human history.
In the life of the people of Thamud there is yet another history: that when carefully pondered the Almighty, in relation to His creatures, is like a gardener and his garden. The gardener’s sole desire is to have a beautiful garden; a garden that would be well kept and healthy. This usually entails clearing of the weeds that are harmful for the good plants. The gardener has to trim branches and leaves to maintain their good health. He has to water the garden when needed, or withhold it when that becomes useful. It is because of such good care that his garden remains beautiful and healthy. The removal of iniquitous nations from the earth therefore may actually be for the protection of this ‘garden’, this earth, from implosion and self destruction.
Brethren, while the gardener does his job, it is possible that that the weeds or plants that the ‘garderner’ removes or the leaves and branches that he trims may suffer much pain. In such situations, their instincts are bound to react to their own physical needs since they have little or no understanding of their surroundings, let alone the rest of the garden. They may complain about their immediate needs and sufferings and do not know what is ultimately good for even themselves, much less the entire garden. While dealing with the iniquitous, humanity may raise their voices in empathy; each time retribution comes to the sinner, the righteous is often the first to pay a visit in sympathy.
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