In the name of Allah the Beneficent, the Merciful
A kind word with forgiveness is better than charity followed by injury. Allah is free of all wants, clement. Believers, do not render your charitable deeds worthless by boasting about your benevolence and causing injury to others, as does he who spends his wealth only to show off and be praised, while he believes neither in Allah nor in the Last Day. Such a person is like a smooth rock covered with earth. Then heavy rain falls on it and leaves it hard and bare. Such as these shall gain nothing from their works. Allah does not guide the unbelievers. But those who give away their wealth out of a genuine desire to please Allah, and out of their own inner certainty are like a garden on a hillside. Heavy rain falls on it, and it yields up twice its normal produce. If no heavy rain falls on it, a slight drizzle (is sufficient). Allah sees all you do.
Would any of you wish to have a garden of palms and vines, through which rivers flow, then to be well advanced in age, while his children are weak; and then a fiery whirlwind smites it and leaves it all burned down? In this way Allah makes plain to you His revelations, so that you may reflect.
(The Cow, “Al-Baqarah”: 2;263-266)
Commentary by Sayyid Qutb, Translated by A.A.Salahi & S.A.Shamsi.
The purpose of charity is the purification of hearts and souls, and the establishment of a tie between the giver and the recipient based on mutual love. Our present passage starts with an assertion that charity is worthless if followed by injury inflicted by the giver on the recipient. It is far better to replace it by a kind word and a friendly feeling. A kind word helps fill people’s hearts with pleasure and content. Forgiveness washes away grudges and replaces them with a feeling of friendship and brotherhood. Together they achieve the primary purpose of charity, namely, the purification of hearts and the strengthening of friendly feelings.
Charity is not a favour done by the giver to the recipient; it is alone given to Allah. Hence, the statement is concluded with this comment; Allah is free of all wants, clement. He is in no need of charity followed by injury. A manifestation of His clemency is given by the fact that He provides everything for His servant, but does not punish them for their ingratitude. Yet they are indebted to Him for their very existence, even before He gives them anything. People, then, should learn and try to treat each other with clemency. They must not be furious with, or inflict injury on, those to whom they have been charitable should they be ungrateful to them or should they do something wrong.
The Qur’an continues to remind people of the attributes of Allah which provide the perfect ideal for a Muslim with regard to his manners and moral values. He should work hard toward that ideal in order to achieve of it whatever his nature is capable of achieving.
The last three verses have given us an example of those who spend their wealth for the cause of Allah, without stressing their own benevolence or causing injury to others portrayed allegorically in a scene of vigorous life yielding its fruits with abundance, followed by a statement that Allah is in no need of charity followed by injury. When the impressions left by these verses are at their most vivid and their impact at its highest, the believers are instructed not to render their charitable acres invalid by boastfulness and injury. We are given here two remarkable scenes which fit perfectly with the earlier one drawn from the world of agriculture. They describe the nature of spending purely for Allah’s sake and the other type of charity followed by injury and boastfulness. This is in keeping with the Qur’anic method of putting the intended meaning in a scene, and showing the effect in a movement, and the whole idea in a vivid portrait which is full of life.
The first scene is made up of two contrasting images, with each containing details which fit perfectly with one another as far as the art of drawing is concerned. They are also perfectly fitting to the message the whole scene has been drawn to give and the feelings and impressions it is intended to impart.
In the first image, we see the very hard heart: As does he who spends his wealth only to show off and be praised by others, while he believes neither in Allah nor in the Last Day. The gentle, pleasant and happy feelings faith imparts to man are unknown to that person who tries to cover his hard nature with a thin cover of hypocrisy. His masked hard heart is like a smooth rock covered with earth. It is a piece of stone which can never be fertile, covered with a thin layer of dust so that its hard nature is not immediately recognizable in the same way as hypocrisy covers the hard nature of a heart devoid of faith. Then heavy rain falls on it and leaves it hard and bare. When the dust is washed away by the rain, everyone recognizes the reality of the stone; bare, unfruitful, hard, barren. The same qualities apply to the person who spends his wealth only to show off and to gain praise. Nothing good results from his action and he can expect no reward.
The contrasting image of this scene is that of a heart full of faith, gentle and happy. It is the heart of a man who spends his wealth out of a genuine desire to please Allah. He is also motivated by his certainty, imparted to him by his faith; that good actions yield the best fruit. The heart of the believer is represented here by a fertile garden with deep soil, in contrast with the thin layer of dust on the smooth rock which was the image given earlier for the hard heart of the unbeliever. Two similes provide perfect harmony. When heavy rain falls it does not wash away the fertile soil as it did with the dust on that stone, it enhances its fertility and doubles its produce: Heavy rain falls on it, and it yields up twice its normal produce.
The heavy rain gives life to the soil in the same way as charity gives life to the heart of the believer to enable him to grow and strengthen his relationship with Allah. His wealth also increases and Allah gives him in abundance. moreover, the life of the Muslim community is purified with such kind of spending and it grows: If no rain falls on it, a slight drizzle (is sufficient). Indeed, fertile soil needs only a little water to give its abundance.
It is complete scene with perfect contrast, and great harmony of details. It is shown with inimitable skill. It portrays every feeling and every thought with tangible indicators, and imparts its message to man effortlessly.
Since a scene is something which we see with our eyes, and since the whole matter in discussion depends on how Allah sees the real motives behind actions, it is concluded with this comment: Allah sees all you do.
The second scene shows the end brought about by boastfulness and injury. They totally destroy the good effects of charity at the time when the person concerned is powerless and helpless, unable to avert that destruction. This depressing result is depicted in a vivid image which leaves strong impressions. Everything here is stormy, after a period of security and fertility. In essence and effect, an act of charity is likened in the physical world to
a garden of palms and vines, through which rivers flow, bringing forth all kinds of fruits. It is a beautiful garden with fine trees and abundant fruits. So should a charity be in the life of the giver, the recipient and the community. It should be pleasant, beautiful, and blessed. It should help truth and it should promote life.
Who would wish to have such a garden, or such a good act, and then inflict on it uncalled for boastfulness and injury to destroy it completely as a fiery whirlwind destroys a garden? Who would do that at the moment when he is totally helpless to save it, and when his need for its fruits is at its most pressing? Then to be well advanced in age, while his children are weak; and then a fiery whirlwind smites it and leaves it all burnt down. Who would wish to have that? Who would not try to evert such an end, having contemplated it? In this way, Allah makes plain to you His revelations, so that you may reflect.
The scene portrays first a case of happiness and enjoyment, beauty and splendour, before the fiery whirlwind utterly destroys it. The awesome impressions left by this remarkable scene leaves no room for any hesitation before the choice is made while it can be made, before the beautiful, fruitful garden is destroyed by the fire of the whirlwind.
The perfect harmony which we inevitably notice in the drawing of every individual scene and the way it is presented, is not limited to individual scenes. It applies to all the scenes drawn in this passage, which are all derived from the field of agriculture; a grain out of which grow seven ears; a smooth rock covered with earth before it is washed away by heavy rain; a garden on a hillside producing double its normal harvest; a garden of palms and vines, etc. It is a complete artistic exhibition which also includes heavy rain, drizzle and a whirlwind.
Beyond all this lies an essential fact of an important relationship between man and the soil of the earth. It is the fact of the common origin, the common nature and the life common to both man and the soil. This life of both man and soil can also be utterly destroyed. All this we learn from the Qur’an, the perfect word of truth, revealed by the one who is wise and who knows all.