By Mohamedarif Suleman
(Dar es Salaam, Tanzania)
Not because we created it, but simply due to the fact that the world has today been reduced to terms of dollars and cents, few will argue today that money, and not education, or nobility or character, or other virtuous traits, will earn one a place high and lofty in society. Of course, the people who work for large multinationals and command much respect are themselves very eager to live normal lives, but society accords them with a higher status because of their six digit earnings in US dollars. Any wealthy person will tell you the adoration that he masquerades when outside, is immense, at times even pressuring him to untold limits.
Most children in our community today are open in the fact that they are awed by wealth and what wealth can buy. Those parents who are not amongst the richer fabrics of society are today forced to lose their children’s self respect, because they never became rich. When children and teenagers talk about the latest mobile phones, flashy cars, lordly houses, and fashionable clothes, they are merely expressing their wish of owning such flamboyant materials, also because they seem to buy so much more than just the value they are paid for. None of the above groups mentioned are really the only ones who suffer such value conflicts, because society at large today is filled with talk about money, money and money alone.
Even during the times of Imam Ali (AS), the situation was similar. Like today’s third world scenario, it is vital that people get into politics as this then becomes a tool towards the acquisition of more wealth. It is reported in Nahjul Balagha that when Imam (AS) came to know about the purchase of a costly and expensive house by one of his Chief Judges, namely Shurayh bin Haarith, he immediately summoned him and questioned him about the alleged rumour. Shurayh responded in such a manner: “O Ameerul Momineen, this is a fact.” Upon hearing this, Imam (AS) became wholly annoyed, and what followed was a classical moral sermon that left the kaadhi dumbfounded:
“Shurayh, be warned that a thing (death) will come to you; it will not take any notice of this sales deed nor will it accept the testimony of the witnesses but it will take you out of this house alone and unattended and will drag you to your grave. And before such a thing happens, you must think well over the fact whether you have purchased this house with the money which does not belong to you but to somebody else and whether the purchase price was acquired with foul means, or it was an ill gotten wealth, which met its cost. If it was so, then remember that you will part (through death) with this house and in the bargain you will lose your place in paradise. If you had come to me prior this transaction, I would have drafted such a sales deed for you that you would not have cared to purchase this property even for a dirham (dirham was a coin much lower than a dinar). You know what the transfer deed would have been like?..” He then spelt out to him what he would have written in the following words:
“A humble and powerless creature has purchased this house from another mortal being; its boundaries are as follows: On one side, it is bounded by calamities and disasters, on the other side with disappointments and sorrows. On the third side, its borders are covered with inordinate and excessive desires ending in failures, and on the fourth side, it adjoins the misleading and captivating allurements of Satan, and the door of this house opens towards this fourth side. A man leading his life under the merciless grip of intemperate and disorderly desires has purchased this house from another person who is being relentlessly pursued by death. And for the purchase price, he has bargained the glory of an honourably content and respectable way of living against the detestable life of submitting to every form of humiliation for profits and pleasures. The buyer had not realized what sorrows and degradation he was purchasing and what he was paying in by way of the cost.”
Here are the words of the master whom we so very much admire and revere. There is no addition or multiplication to these historic sentences. It is not the purpose to glorify his excellent words, but it is definitely befitting to ask ourselves that if this is what he thinks of wealth, why we, the Shias of Ali, take such bombastic pride in pomp houses and cars, in luxuries and riches. Why do we prefer to make our goals to make so and so much money by such and such an age? Are we heedless of and immune to death? Are we apart from Shuray’s pompousness and loftiness? This is, of course, a subject that few will subscribe to. Shias have instant answers to many problems and issues posed upon them. In this case, the example of our eighth Imam (AS) will be quoted to show that it is perfectly alright to be leading a full life. Of course, but this does not negate what Imam Ali (AS) has mentioned. Nor does it change the precise comparison of our time with that of Imam’s time, when poverty and deprivation, when hunger and oppression was the order of the day, had we been living in better times, when our own Shia’s were bit bereft of the necessities of life, the second example would have come to play. Today, it is perhaps probable that Imam Ali (AS) may be writing for us a similar sales deed that he so horrified Shurayh with.