Doctrines > Quranic Storytelling in Dialogue(II)   (2)


Korah’s story

This is another example of the Quranic stories told in a dialogue manner. It is that of Korah, of the people of Moses (a.s.), who engaged his people in dialogue. For their part, they conducted a dialogue among themselves about him. Korah was the epitome of arrogance induced by wealth, so much so that his affluence led him to believe that he was invincible, and in the process, he forgot about his Lord and did injustice to himself. To Korah, wealth making was paramount, to the extent that it overwhelmed him, leaving no room for him to either think straight or do good. His vision was so narrow that he could not think of anything else other than how to get richer.

His is an example of the human materialistic mentality at both an individual level and at the level of society, a society that was head over heels in love with wealth, considering it a great human virtue.

Through Korah’s dialogue with his people, the Holy Qur’an has depicted the true character of the man and the whole philosophy in life that he stood for . On the other side of the scale is another picture that of a small group among his people who do not see anything through the same eyes. A group of people who did not show the same zeal for wealth making as Korah. They did not feel weak before the overwhelming fortune of Korah. They went further in warning him against overindulgence in his ways and that he was better advised to put his wealth to a better use, in that the role of wealth in life was a means of using it for good, as well as living a decent life. Thus, he should have been instrumental, with all the huge wealth he had, in steering life on the right path, precisely as God has ordained, not in the service of evil aims. He should not have deemed wealth to be an idol to be worshipped.

Parallel to this standoff between Korah and the believers among his people, the Holy Qur’an portrays another situation, that of Korah and the morally bankrupt and self-defeating groups among his people. Those people had become slaves to the façade of wealth, so much so that they succumbed to the antics of the rich and powerful. The latter used to crush the needy and make them yearn for their high standard of living and show weakness before the attraction of wealth. The believers among Korah’s people had had another honorable stand-off with the morally weak among their people by making them see sense and not fall to the temptation of wealth.

The dialogue drew to an end and the curtain was drawn on the last scene of Korah being swallowed by the earth alongside his wealth, where his lesson remains to be learned by all the Korahs and the deceived among people of this world at all time.

Finally, this is how the Holy Quran tells the story of Korah:

Korah was doubtless, of the people of Moses; but he acted insolently towards them: such were the treasures We had bestowed on him that their very keys would have been a burden to a body of strong men, behold, his people said to him: “Exult not, for God loves not those who exult (in riches). But seek, with the (wealth) which God has bestowed on thee, the Home of the Hereafter, nor forget thy portion in this world: but do thou good, as God has been good to thee, and seek not (occasions for) mischief in the land: for God loves not those who do mischief.” (28: 76–77)

Killer conceit

Thus, Korah was living in a world that did not go beyond his narcissism. He had lost all touch with reality and common sense, unleashing his evil instincts to rule supreme with aggression and corruption. With his excessive wealth and treasures, the keys of which were proving very heavy to carry for a band of strong men, he was under the impression that he could manipulate people for his own ends without anyone objecting to his exploitative practices.

There, the believing elite among his people stood up to prevent his excesses. They gave him good counsel, not least to call to mind that it was God who gave him all that wealth and made it grow. Thus, he should not be carried away and fall victim to his own illusions of self-importance. They further advised him to be sensible and go back to the right path by adhering to the noble aims of private ownership. By always linking all his deeds to the notion of the hereafter, which should always prod him to do good, he would have been able to shun the glamour of this life that always urges man to be self-centered in his outlook. This does not mean, however, that one should ignore one’s desires and needs. People have every right to satisfy them to some measure and not embark on the laissez-faire. They should seek to do what is good, as God has done them good, desisting from making mischief in the land. God does not like the reckless, nor does He like those who have been corrupted by wealth.

Meanwhile, Korah did not seem to have time for carrying on with the debate because, to his mind, his greatness was self-made, thus:

He said: “This has been given to me because of a certain knowledge which I have.” Did he not know that God had destroyed, before him, (whole) generations, which were superior to him in strength and greater in the amount (of riches) they had collected? But the wicked are not called (immediately) to account for their sins. (28: 78)

Thus, he appeared to reject the notion that there might have been another party who had contributed to his massive wealth. His words appeared to give his real feelings away, in that he did not want to entertain the idea that God might have had a hand in facilitating his amassing of wealth. He conceitedly concluded that he had made his fortune by his own efforts and experience. He maintained that no authority had the right to restrict his activity by any of its laws and regulations. He was of the opinion that it was within his prerogative to do whatever he liked.

The Holy Quran does not leave this sort of attitude unanswered. God had, in bygone days, annihilated many who were more powerful and richer than Korah. Thus, his power amounted to nothing before God’s Might. Would his power and riches be capable of protecting him, as they had failed those before him?

This was scene one. As for scene two, this is how the Quran unfolds it:

So, he went forth among his people in the (pride of his worldly) glitter. Said those whose aim is the Life of this World: “Oh! That we had the like of what Korah has got! For he is truly a lord of mighty good fortune!” But those who had been granted (true) knowledge said: “Alas for you! The reward of God (in the Hereafter) is best for those who believe and work righteousness: but this none shall attain, save those who steadfastly persevere (in good).” (28: 79–80)

Transient manifestations

He wanted to impress people with his worldly glitter, so that they should acquiesce to the feeling of inferiority. Making a daily show of his glamorous appearance, Korah had sought to make them yield to the allure of wealth, and yet forgetting, in the process, that all that glitters is not gold.

This is the sight of those who are deceived by the exterior of things, as opposed to those who look beyond the façade. The first group experiences moments of basking in the glory, thus falling prey to life’s momentary attraction, whereas the second group of people delve deep into matters, aware of the longer term, and seeing it in its true shape as it lays bare before their eyes, away from any aggrandizement. They know full well that the end of any power would be up to God. Accordingly, His reward is the one that is constant, not least because all appearances will fade away sooner or later.

The finale

The Holy Qur’an does not suffice itself with presenting that scene in a dialogue setting. Rather, it puts the final touches to seal the fate of that arrogant man, thus:

Then We caused the earth to swallow up him and his house; and he had not (the least little) party to help him against God, nor could he defend himself. And those who had envied his position the day before began to say on the morrow: “Ah! It is indeed God Who enlarges the provision or restricts it, to any of His servants He pleases! Had it not been that God was gracious to us, He could have caused the earth to swallow us up! Ah! Those who reject God will assuredly never prosper.” (28: 81–82)

Thus, the smokescreens had been removed from the eyes of the people who fell victim to the appeal of worldly gains, by witnessing the awful end of the man who was the epitome of oppression and tyranny.

In Korah’s fate there is a lesson to be learned by those whose wealth blurs their vision so much that they no longer see sense after they have indulged in vanity, oppression, transgression and unbelief.

This has been the historical narrative about Korah. What is in it for us here and now?

Our position on contemporary Korahs

There are several issues to be pondered:

1. Exposing the Korahs

The workers in the way of God should spare no effort in identifying contemporary Korahs and exposing them, just to prevent them from becoming tools of subjugation and misguidance in society. This could be done by judging them against the yardstick of Korah, whose story has been told by the Holy Quran. This is so as to lend the sanctity of the Quran to the action of exposing them, in a genuine effort to keep the whole process free from all personal or political influences and considerations. In so doing, one should guarantee that the effort remains purely objective, i.e. in the cause of Islam, dispelling any doubts as to its motives.

This should help present the true picture of Islam, the religion that rejects and fights all transgressors and tyrants with the same enthusiasm with which it rejects and fights the forces of atheism and unbelief. This is attributed to the fact that, according to Islam, unbelief is of two types, (a) ideological, i.e. rejection and atheism, and (b) practical, i.e. transgression, aggression and oppression. Man could be an atheist in thought and a believer in practice, viz. by intellectually upholding the doctrine of the unbelievers and practicing the creed of the believers. The opposite is true. That is, you might find people who believed in God, His messengers, and Messages, and yet they digressed from the right path and went astray, following in the footsteps of Satan.

Such lost people could leave an unpleasant legacy for Islam to contend with, let alone the adverse effect they have on society. This is by virtue of the confusion they sow in people’s social and economic lives, for they seek to follow a policy of starving people and rendering them poor by exploiting and oppressing them. This situation would provide the exponents of unbelief with the opportunity to deceive people and turn them into unbelievers in the name of justice and make them dishonest in the name of freedom and dignity.

2. The hereafter is the prime objective of this life

In the short dialogue between Korah and the believers among his people, we can illustrate the Islamic standpoint on this life and the hereafter. We should further seek to understand the position of man on wealth, i.e. how should he go about using or investing it. This is with the aim of arriving at the balanced plan of Islam for man in life. It is to show man what is permissible and what is not, without any deviation or extremism.

The hereafter is not a strange world that is far removed from this world. By the same token, this life is not a strange one compared to the hereafter. According to Islam, the hereafter represents the aim of this world in all its activities. It is, therefore, incumbent on the believers to take account of those realities in all that they do.

However, what is the right way to get to the hereafter? Is it by shunning this life and all its allure, desires, and happy moments, so much so that man would die before the actual time of death and run away before the time of running away?

The hereafter is not like this. On the contrary, it calls upon man to do his part in this life, without neglecting it. This is because it is a prerequisite for him to continue living and do his share in it as long as he lives inside a body that needs to be fed. Man should also recognize that he is a spiritual being who is in need of life that could breathe its fresh air through him. If we neglect human needs and desires and stifle them, closing off the wide windows of life to them, so much so that there is no way the spirit can breathe, man would be paralyzed. Thus, the spirit would no longer roam in the wider universe, even though it might still be breathing.

The body should feel free to satisfy its needs and desires. Likewise, the spirit has every right to roam around with its aspirations and dreams, provided that it should not stray far from the hereafter.

The success in the hereafter is in the espousal of life’s values, which God has desired that man should recognize readily in his conscience, conduct, and relations with others, so that this life would provide a good opportunity for peace, doing good, love, justice and belief.

This is the way the believer should conduct himself in life, while remaining faithful to the great goal that keeps his spirit aspiring to meeting with God in His mercy, compassion, wisdom, and system. According to this, man’s relationship with his own wealth should be determined. He has every right to make use of his wealth to satisfy his needs, but in a sensible way. This is so because this is his share of this world. He has no right to spend it unwisely, nor is he allowed to spend it in evil ways and in perpetrating crime. Everything should be spent measuredly, without losing sight of what God has ordained. If the latter happens, that is not the right way to the final abode.

The hallmark of going about using one’s wealth is that the use should be a realistic one, seeking the middle way. One should do good to others with one’s wealth, as God has done them good. This should be seen from the perspective of responsibility, which imply that the two are interchangeable. It should, however, not be viewed as doing someone a favour. One should also be aware of not using wealth to corrupt life’s functions, such as the religious, social, political, and economic, as the capitalists, feudal lords, and the dishonest, whose hearts are filled with greed, would wish to do. That is because God does not like the corrupt ones.

3. How should the believers deal with the naive who have been spellbound by wealth?

Remembrance of God’s reward should be readily infused in the hearts and minds of naive and weak people who are enchanted with Korah’s type of wealth, power and arrogance. Keeping the hope of reaping that impending reward alive in the mind is far better than all things in life for the believers who do good deeds. That is because this is the type of work that would remain in this life and the hereafter. From another perspective, we should always remember the destiny of the likes of Korah, i.e. what would earn them divine punishment. This approach may prove worthwhile to rekindle deep-rooted belief, which may have gone into slumber due to forgetfulness, astonishment, and falling prey to deceptive manifestations. This approach should administer a much needed shock that may leave man pondering the truth, in the same way that those who were mislead by Korah’s wealth, came to their senses after the shock of what had happened to Korah. He fell foul of the Law of God and, therefore, deserved His punishment. Thus, he was left defenseless and bereft of any support. Most importantly, his wealth, which he boasted about for long, was worthless. The ultimate lesson they learned from Korah’s fate was that they returned to the right path, i.e. that of God, who bestows sustenance on whomever he willed on the basis of wisdom and justice. Their wishful thinking into becoming like him, when he was rich and powerful, came back to haunt them. That is, had they become like him, they would have faced the same destiny. And this is how they put it: “Had it not been that God was gracious to us, He could have caused the earth to swallow us up! Ah! Those who reject God will assuredly never prosper” (28: 82).