The believer is like a tree, always at war with the wind. To survive the wind, the tree must possess certain qualities. For example, its seed must be planted in fertile soil that allows it to grow strong. This is described in the Qur’an:
“Muhammad is the Messenger of God, and those with him… their description in the Gospel is like a seed which sends forth its shoot,then makes it strong, and it becomes thick and stands straight on its stem,delighting the sowers, so that He may enrage the disbelievers through them.” (al-Fath, v. 29)
And here is that description in the Gospel referenced in the above verse:
“The sower went out to sow his seed, and as he sowed,some fell beside the road, and it was trampled under foot, and the birds of the air ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky soil, and as soon as it grew up, it withered away because it had no moisture. Other seed fell among the thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it out. Other seed fell into the good soil and grew up, and produced a crop a hundred times as great.” (Luke 8:5-15)
Now the parable is this; the seed is the Word of God. Those beside the road are those who have heard, the Devil then comes and takes the Word from their heart so that they will not believe and be saved. Those on the rocky soil are those who when they hear, receive the Word with joy and these have no firm root; they believe for a while and in times of temptation, fall away. The seed which fell among the thorns, are those who have heard and as they go on their way, they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity. Finally, the seed in the good soil, are those who have heard the Word in an honest and good heart, hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance.”
So, the heart is likened to fertile soil in which a seed is planted. Ibn al-Qayyim likewise said, in ‘al-Fawa`id’ (p.70): “The soil of one’s natural state is fertile,accommodating whatever is planted in it. If the tree of faith and God-conciousness is planted, it will bring forth an eternally sweet fruit. If the tree of ignorance and desires is planted, all its fruits will be bitter.”
So when you make your heart fertile for the seed of faith, that tree will grow strong and bear sweet fruit. The particular methods of making your heart fertile will be discussed later.
Direction of the wind
At this point, an angry wind will blow in your direction,because as the aforementioned verse notes, the strong tree will “enrage the disbelievers.” Nothing infuriates this wind more than a strong Muslim.This has been a reality since ancient times. When Pharaoh was hunting Prophet Moses and his followers through the deserts of Egypt, he specifically complained:
“They are a small gang, and they have enraged us!” (ash-Su’ara’, v. 54 -55)
This wind will try to uproot you and knock you down. You will look around at the other trees, and you may find that some of them easily snapped and fell over, uprooted from the force of the wind. These are the hypocrites,whose weak roots are finally exposed:
“A filthy word is like a filthy tree, uprooted from the Earth’s surface, having no stability.” (Ibrahim, v.26)
And the Prophet Muhammad [saw] specifically likened the hypocrite to a plant that is easily pushed around and knocked down by the wind(see ‘al-Lu`lu’ wal-Marjan,’ hadith #1791). So, don’t be affected by them, no matter how many are paraded before you by the wind. Pity them, thank God for saving you from their fate and move on. For them, Islam was merely a hobby, a flavour of the week.
Now, when the wind sees that you won’t fall over outright,it will shift to a more subtle strategy: to pressure you to shed your leaves.But it won’t ask you to shed them all at once. That would be too obvious.Rather, the wind will blow softly, trying to get you to shed one leaf, then another, then another, until you’re stripped bare. Sayyid Qutb explained this well:
“… the attempt of the authorities with those who stand for a cause, always, is to trick them so that they deviate just slightly from the firmness and strength of the cause. It is to get them to accept a compromising solution that they can trick them in exchange for a lot of reward.There are some people who stand for the cause who are tricked by this away from the cause because they don’t consider it to be a big deal to make these compromises. So, the authorities don’t ask him to completely abandon his cause.Rather, they request slight adjustments here and there so that both sides can meet in the middle. Satan will come upon the one standing for the cause from this angle, causing him to imagine that he can benefit his cause by gaining favour with the authorities through compromising on a part of it! But slight deviation at the beginning of the road will lead to total deviation at its end,and the upholder of the cause who agrees to compromise on even a small part of it won’t be able to stop there, because his willingness to compromise increases every time he takes a step backwards. The authorities thus deal with the upholder of the cause in a sneaky, gradual manner …”
Do not fall for this trick, and never even take a step in the direction of shedding a single leaf for the wind. In fact, just like the Prophet likened the hypocrite to a plant easily pushed around by the wind, he likened the Muslim to the palm tree – because the palm tree never sheds its leaves (see ‘al-Lu’lu’ wal-Marjan’, hadith #1792). No matter how harsh the wind, the Muslim not only remains standing but doesn’t give the wind even a single leaf. Rather, the harder the wind blows, the harder you cling to your leaves and this is why the wind is angry with you in the first place:
“And they weren’t angry with them except because they had belief in God, the Mighty and Wise.” (al-Buruj v.8)
The wind typically tries to hide this reality by distracting the cause of its anger – it will claim that this is about violence, terrorism,or whatever; but the truth is that it hates to see a Muslim it cannot knock down. And when the tree refuses to shed even a leaf, the wind only becomes angrier. And when the wind gets angrier, you are rewarded by God:
“Nor do they take any step to anger the disbelievers… except that it’s written to their credit as a good deed …” (at-Tawbah,v.120)
When the wind blows, don’t be intimidated by it. Rather,look right up at it and:
“Say: ‘Die in your anger!’ “ (Al ‘Imran, v. 119)
Love of God
Those leaves are a trust from God that He has left in your care, as is the health of the tree as a whole. If you betray that trust, you will simply be replaced by those who won’t:
“O you who have believed! Whoever of you turns back on his religion, God will bring people He loves and who love Him, humble with the believers, strong with the disbelievers, striving in God’s cause, and not fearing anyone’s condemnation. That is the grace of God that He bestows on Whom He wills … “ (al-Ma`idah, v.54)
This verse concisely describes the tree, the seed, and the leaves of greatest importance. Let us analyse it, piece by piece:
- The “religion” is the tree, as a whole.
- The relationship of “love” between God and you is the seed from which the tree will sprout. Ibn Taymiyyah has a lovely treatise called ‘at-Tuhfah al-‘Iraqiyyah’ (which can be found at the beginning of the tenth volume of ‘Majmu’ al-Fatawa’) where he comments on the mention of love in this verse, saying (p.18, 28)
- “Love of God and His Messenger is one of the greatest obligations of faith, and its greatest principle. In fact, it is the basis of every action in the religion … The two nations before us (i.e.Jews and Christians), based on the narrated statements of Moses and Jesus,agree that the greatest advice left by them is to love God with all your heart,mind, and intent. This is the reality of the pure Abrahamic creed, which is the essence of the law of the Torah, the Gospel, and the Qur’an.”
So, love for God is the seed from which every action and belief – every leaf and fruit – grows, and this is why love is mentioned first in the verse.
Al Wala wal Bara
We then have the first fruit of that seed, the leaf of ‘wala and bara’: “humble with the believers, strong with the disbelievers.”Ibn Taymiyyah commented on this (p.22), saying:
“The one who loves his beloved will love what he loves, hate what he hates, be loyal to his allies, disavow his enemies … so they are one and the same in this regard.”
Put simply, the wind focuses on getting you to shed this leaf so that the lines are blurred in your mind as to who your true enemies are. Once you consider the enemy to be a friend, the enemy’s work is complete.Never let go of this leaf. Ever.
The next leaf is that of Jihad: “Striving (yujahiduna)in God’s Cause …” Obviously, this is the leaf that the wind hates more than the others. In order to understand why, think of the AIDS virus. What does it do to kill the body? It doesn’t actually hurt the body directly. Rather,what is does is attack the immune system – the body’s defence mechanism – so that other infections can invade and attack without facing any resistance. The body is like the Muslim Ummah, Jihad is it’s immune system through which it defends itself against attackers, and the wind/ government is like the AIDS virus, trying to wipe out the spirit of resistance from this Ummah in order to make it easier to invade, attack, and overtake it completely. This is why people like Sayyid Qutb are demonized, ‘Abdullah `Azzam, az-Zarqawi, Shaykh Usamah,etc. – because they symbolize this spirit of resistance. And this is why the wind blows harsher than ever when it wants you to shed this leaf. Don’t fall for the trick. Remember: the AIDS virus.
Indeed, the strong tree is one that is “not fearing anyone’s condemnation,” and in fact is affected by condemnation in a manner opposite to what is expected. When the wind blows and tries to shake off your leaves – when it attacks you and condemns you for refusing to betray the concepts of wala’ & bara’ and Jihad – Ibn Taymiyyah says (p.23) that”the one with complete love of god isn’t affected by anyone’s condemnation or criticism. On the contrary, this pushes him to adhere even more.”
Finally, the verse carries the crucial fact that this ability to stay true to these Qur’anic teachings “is the grace of God that He bestows on whom He wills.” The ability to stand up to the wind is purely a gift from God. God is the ultimate power capable of keeping a tree standing strong or letting it crumble into dust;
“Then tell me about the seed that you sow in the ground. Is it you who make it grow, or are We the Grower? If We willed, we could crumble it to dry pieces, and you’d be left in regret.” (al-Waqi’ah,v. 63 – 65)
End of time
This is very important, because the Prophet warned us of how easy it would be at the end of time for people to change, and how quickly they will abandon the truth due to the prevailing pressures, as well as their own weakness. He said [saw]
“Prior to the Day of Resurrection, there will be tests and trials like pieces of dark night, in which a person will wake up as a believer and go to sleep as a disbeliever, and go to sleep as a believer and wake up as a disbeliever.”
These types of transformations are the result of hidden divine causes which we humans cannot fully comprehend. However, there are practical means provided to us in the Qur’an and the Sunnah through which we can stay on the right side of history. Here, we will explore just two methods,and both will focus on the very first quality of the strong tree that I mentioned: being planted in fertile soil – a good heart.
In Makkah, when the Prophet was facing his harshest trials,he received constant revelation focusing on the stories of Prophets who had lived before his time. The purpose of this was to show him that he was not the first person to experience harsh trials for the sake of Islam, as well as to show him how those previous Prophets conducted themselves during those trials.Hearing the stories and learning this history played a huge role in strengthening the hearts of the Prophet and his Companions during their darkest hours in the belly of the beast that was Makkah. This is reflected in the following verse:
“And all that We relate to you of the stories of the messengers is meant to keep your heart firm …” (Hud, v.120)
Likewise, as we relive those harsh trials and dark hours experienced by the earlier Muslims, it’s a good idea to study history,particularly the biographies of Muslims who took some kind of bold stand in history. Sometimes we may spend hours looking through books of Fiqh to find out what to do in a certain situation, when often times, simply studying the lives of the right people will cause their attitude to rub off on you and allow you to absorb their personalities into your own, thus giving you a general template as to how to deal with every challenge you may face in life. The author of the excellent book ‘Safahat min Sabr al-`Ulama’ (‘Pages of Patience of the Scholars,’p. 17 -18) said:
“Reading the stories of the scholars who acted on their knowledge and the righteous is one of the best ways to implant virtue in the soul and push yourself to endure harshness for the sake of noble goals. And it pushes you to imitate those who sacrifice for these goals with persistence, so that you rise to the highest status. It was said that such stories are the soldiers of God through which He keeps the hearts of His allies firm. Abu Hanifah said: “The stories of the scholars and their good qualities are more beloved to me than much knowledge, because they describe the character of these people.” ”
So, reading about the lives of the right people, studying them, absorbing their attitudes and character, is a good way to liven and strengthen the heart, and make it fertile soil for the seeds of faith and knowledge. So,where should you start? In ‘Sayd al-Khatir’ (p. 69), Ibn al-Jawzi said quite simply:
“The most useful knowledge is that gained by looking in the biography of the Messenger and his Companions…”
The second method of strengthening the heart is even more simple: just ask your Lord! Umm Salamah was once asked which supplication the Prophet made more than any other, and she replied:
“His most frequent supplication was: ‘O Controller of the hearts, keep my heart firm on Your religion’ (ya Muqallib al-qulub, thabbitqalbi `ala Dinik).”
This is a method which can, and should, be taken advantage of constantly throughout your day. As you drive to work, as you walk down a hallway at school, as you have any opportunity to repeat this simple phrase to yourself, appreciate this supplication for the treasure that it is, and keep your heart fastened to Islam by making it a constant on your tongue. It is so easy to do, yet so easily neglected by many who need it more than anything these days.
So, by tending to your heart, tending to that soil, you keep your roots firmly fixed. And the tree with firm roots ends up with branches that reach the sky:
“A good word is like a good tree: its roots are firmly fixed, and its branches reach the sky …” (Ibrahim, v. 24)
And when your branches reach the sky, nobody can reach your leaves. They can imprison you, they can even assassinate you, but they can never say that they got you to shed your leaves.
Source: Tariq Mehanna [External/non-QP]