The Example of the Sequoia Tree
Sequoias are of the largest trees in existence. Living up to 2,200 years, they include the tallest tree on earth and have been known to reach 379.1 feet in height and 26 feet in diameter.
Walking amongst them is a reality check, much like taking a flight and looking down from the window. It’s easy to realize how small and feeble we are as human beings. It’s only by the majesty of Allah `azza wa jal (honored be his Glory) and His mercy that we have the ability to build, create, destroy and advance. It’s His blessing of our intellectual capacity that even allows us to move beyond our immediate physical limitations.
In their grandeur, these evergreens seem indifferent to the world around them – the whistling of the wind, the blazing heat and the bitter cold do not have any visible effects on them. Yet, it is these trees that are known to fall at random, without notice.
In the Qur’an, Allah says:
Have you not considered how Allah presents an example [making] a good word like a good tree, whose root is firmly fixed and its branches [high] in the sky? (14:24)
It produces its fruit all the time, by permission of its Lord. And Allah presents examples for the people that perhaps they will be reminded. (14:25)
And the example of a bad word is like a bad tree, uprooted from the surface of the earth, not having any stability. (14:26)
Allah keeps firm those who believe, with the firm word, in worldly life and in the Hereafter. And Allah sends astray the wrongdoers. And Allah does what He wills. (14:27)
Reevaluating Our Roots
Allahu akbar (God is greater)! Although the sequoia can grow to be colossal, it can fall at random because of its shallow roots. Smaller trees, only a fraction of the size, are not known to fall sporadically, because of the strength of their roots compared to their size: the bigger the tree the stronger and deeper the roots need to be.
In his tafsir, Ibn Kathir says: “`Ali bin Abi Talhah reported that `Abdullah bin `Abbas commented on Allah’s statement, saying: ‘…a goodly word refers to testifying to La ilaha illallah – none has the right to be worshipped but Allah; while a goodly tree refers to the believer; and whose root is firmly fixed indicates that La ilaha illallah is firm in the believers’ heart…’”
As Muslim youth, we often look back to the examples of the heroes that treaded the earth before us – the Prophets, the companions, and all the other righteous individuals. What kept them going? They were incessantly tested. Many of us are going through very difficult economic times; parents are losing jobs, the government is cutting scholarships, tuition and food prices are increasing, and gas is not getting cheaper. But sometimes we forget that those before us went through even harder times. Before the Prophet salla Allahu `alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings be upon him) left Makkah for Madinah, the Muslims were boycotted for three years! They were not allowed to trade or interact with the society, or even to stay at home: they were forced into one location. There was no backup plan, no secret stash of food they could rely on, no 7-Eleven, no internet to help or loan they could take; they had to simply have patience and make do with what was provided by Allah `azza wa jal in the desert.
In the first thirteen years of the message, Islam was relatively devoid of rules and regulations. The initial years were used to build the iman (faith) of the sahabah (companions). The strength of their iman was absolutely essential; with this iman Allah `azza wa jal guided them and allowed them to completely revolutionize the world.
That conviction in la ilaha illa Allah is the core of it all: that Allah’s way is the absolute best way to do anything, whether you’re trying to succeed in this life or the next. Just look around and see the effects of a capitalistic society founded in interest and debt.
So why not learn from the sequoia tree? How deep are our roots? Our roots require sustenance, how many of us provide such? Do we read the Qur’an daily, pray consistently, or make du`a’ regularly? Do we use the wealth and status that Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (the Exalted and Glorified) has provided us in this country to the benefit or detriment of everything around us? Without roots to ground us in our relationship with Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala, we will be prone to falling because of the abuse of our environment. With shallow roots, when a job is lost charity decreases, when a test is failed honesty wanes, when peer pressure increases immorality dominates and anger is retaliated with anger.
Many people will pass through this world with wealth, popularity, influence and status; seemingly large, magnificent and well-aged. Like the sequoia tree, these people will fall, either in this life or in the next, and the bigger they are, the harder they will fall. As these giants grow, shaytan (satan) will be patiently waiting to use the fallen trees as firewood to speed the fall of others. The only One that can give you the thabat [steadfastness] necessary to pass through this world successfully is Allah `azza wa jal.
Establishing Our Roots: the example of the Sheep Herder
Simply put, the way of Allah `azza wa jal is perfect, and everything He decrees is best. We must recognize that no matter what the perceived benefit or loss is in this world, that Allah `azza wa jal is always watching. Take this simple example:
Ibn ‘Umar went on a trip once with some companions, and they saw a sheep-herder who they invited to eat with them. He said: “I am fasting,” and Ibn ‘Umar said: “You are fasting in heat like this, while you are between all these plants and sheep?” The herder replied: “I’m taking advantage of my remaining days.” Ibn ‘Umar was impressed by this reply and said: “Can you sell one of your sheep to us? We’ll feed you from its meat when you break your fast, and we’ll also pay you for it.” The herder said: “It doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to my master.” Ibn ‘Umar said: “What would your master say if you told him that it was eaten by a wolf?” The herder raised his finger to the sky and said: “What about Allah?” Ibn ‘Umar kept repeating this phrase that the herder was saying, and when he got to the city, he went to the herder’s owner and bought him and his sheep from him. He then freed the herder and gave him his sheep as a gift. [Ibn Rajab commenting on the virtues of fasting in the heat in 'Lata'if al-Ma'arif' (p. 272-273)]
It is clear that stealing a car is a big deal, but how many of us feel the same about using pirated software or music, cheating on a test, using MSA or masjid resources for ourselves or lying to our mom?
It may be that our outcome is like that of Yusuf `alayhi assalam, that after years upon years of relentless tribulation, we may be granted high positions, wealth and status for the purpose of benefiting the society around us. Or it may be that we pass through this world unnoticed like the countless before us, our reward only with Allah `azza wa jal. Regardless of the outcome, the process is most important – how did we bear our trails in this life? Did we stand grounded on the Qur’an and the Sunnah, or did we waiver and fall?