Article by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
This talk was transcribed by an internal student and based on the lecture by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani which you can watch here: Rooted Beings – Faraz Rabbani.
May God’s peace, blessings, and mercy be upon you all. In the Name of Allah, Most Merciful and Compassionate. All praise is due to Allah, Lord of all Worlds. May peace and blessings be sent upon the Prophet Muhammad, his family, and his companions.
The Good Word is Like the Good Tree
Allah Most High, in the Noble Quran, gives us much that is meant to make us reflect. He strikes metaphors and gives us examples so that the guidance can be memorable to us as believers. One of these metaphors is mentioned in the Quran, in Sura al-Ibrahim, the 14th Sura of the Quran. About the good word being like the good tree.
Allah Most High tells us, “Do you not see how Allah compares a good word to a good tree? Its root is firm, and its branches reach the sky.” [Quran, 14:24]
Allah then says, “always yielding its fruit in every season by the Will of its Lord. This is how Allah sets forth parables for the people, so perhaps they will be mindful.” [Quran, 14:25]
The Metaphor of the Tree
Before we engage with the actual exegesis (tafsir) of the verse and some of its lessons, one of the questions that are not part of the real message of the Sura is, what tree is this? Although most say it is the date palm tree, the concern is not which type of tree. Instead, the symbolic message that Allah Most High has conveyed within His created order.
Allah Most High tells us, “Do you not see how Allah strikes the metaphor?”
This is not the seeing of the eye but the seeing of reflection. According to most exegetes of the Quran, the most immediate address here is to the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) himself in the second person. As well as by implication, to those the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) conveys this to; all of us.
“Do you not see how Allah compares a good word to a good tree?” [Quran, 14:25]
The onus on the believer is to witness this metaphor and what it reflects. It is a duty placed on us to develop the means to cultivate and embrace our faith. Not to be people that negate the eternal reality of the Divine’s analogy.
Concerned With What is Necessary
Our beloved Messenger Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) was described, upon leaving his home, to lower his gaze, except to that which was of concern to him. His gaze was never fixated on the unnecessary, yet still engaged and focused on greeting those in proximity, even children. If he turned to someone, he would turn fully with his chest, not a mere glance of the head. Why fixate one’s gaze on billboards? In needing something, make an informed choice towards the necessary, removing the self from the ephemeral consumerism that abounds.
Do you not see how Allah Most High strikes the metaphor, the metaphor of the good word? This is the statement of faith: There is no God but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God (Allah bless him and give him peace). It is the reality of belief itself. Nevertheless, religion emerges from faith. The testification of faith has the qualities of the eternal good (tayyib) and is essentially wholesome and firm, like the roots of the good tree.
A Seed Rooted in Faith
According to scholars, faith is like a seed that is planted, allowing a firm root to take place. The form of any tree can be judged by its fruits. What is the value of an apple tree without the nourishment and “taste” that comes with the acquisition of its fruit? Every tree’s parable is the fruit’s attainment, starting from its roots. In moving the tree, many roots may break off, yet there is still hope in the subtle reality of the present seed.
The metaphor is concerned with an upright tree. “Whose branches are in the sky, and it gives fruit in every season.” [Quran, 14:25].
The Bounty of Fruit
According to the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace), “There is a tree of the trees of the desert that most resembles the believer.” The Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) was asked by the companions (may Allah be pleased with them), “which tree is it?” They named every tree they could think of, except the tree that was probably in all four directions around them, which was the date palm tree. [Bukhari]
“Whose branches are in the sky, and it gives fruit in every season.” [Quran, 14:25]
Some scholars said that this verse’s word (hin) refers to every year. Some of the jurists derived from this and said that if someone swears an oath using this term, it has a one-year implication. Others said that the word means every season. The interpretation preferred by many of the imams of exegesis, early and late, has mentioned that (hin) refers to at all times, in all circumstances.
“It gives fruit at all times by the Leave of its Lord.” [Quran, 14:25]
If it is, in fact, the date palm tree, does it necessarily give fruit at all times? In reality, no, yet the bounty of this tree is in the natural preservation of the date fruit and the benefit that comes with it later.
There was someone that gathered from the Quran many things that relate to India and Indians. In Sura al-Kahf, for example, concerning the terms fine silk (sundus) and threaded fabric (istabrak). Some scholars said that (sundus) refers to cloth from Sindh. Imam Alusi quotes this and mentions how no one would believe this position except someone from Sindh or Hind. In reading the argument, it makes much sense. Nevertheless, the great imams of exegesis did not accept it.
“Always yielding its fruit in every season by the Will of its Lord. This is how Allah sets forth parables for the people, so perhaps they will be mindful.” [Quran, 14:25]
Cultivating the Qualities of Faith
Very often, when we look at religion, we focus on the branches of our religious practice. Our prayer, fasting, charity, observation of the allowed (halal) and forbidden (haram), and dress. These are critical elements of faith, but these are all branches. Branches that bear good fruit arise only from the seed of faith being rooted in the soil of your heart.
If the testification of faith, “There is no God but God”, is that seed, then what are the roots of faith? The roots of faith are what some of the earlier scholars refer to as the qualities of faith (awsaf al-iman). What are the qualities of faith? The qualities of faith are that in being a believer, you would have hope and awe of Allah Most High. Hope in Allah and awe of the Divine. You would have gratitude to Allah Most High.
The qualities of faith consist of instilling in oneself steadfastness, patience (sabr), as well as reliance and trust in Allah Most High. You would have certitude (yaqin). You would have contentment. You would have immense love for Allah Most High. If that seed takes root and grows in the heart, it gets rooted. This is the strength of the tree, not just the branches. You may see branches, but if you are not taking care of the roots, what is going to happen? The tree may die without having the delight of its fruit realized.
That is one of the first things that need attention. It is one of the tests of many people when they become religious initially, and this is from the Mercy of Allah that we start praying and fasting and committing to religious duties. Although a tree without its branches is deficient, a tree without its roots will soon die, wherein it could survive without some branches.
Are you cultivating these qualities of faith in the heart? One must take care of the soil in which the tree grows. You have to be a gardener to the Tree of Faith. You have to realize that you cannot make a tree grow immediately; even if you give it all types of fertilizer, it will take time and years to change. Years to grow. Any change that can happen immediately is just fleeting. This is something to very take seriously. Cultivate the qualities of faith in your heart.
Hope in Allah Most High
How are you with regard to hope in Allah Most High? How much hope should you have in Allah? Unconditional. We do not hope in our actions, and we do not hope when things are good. Our hope is not in ourselves, and our hope is not in the way things are. Our hope is in Allah Most High. Our awe, our fear is not of our sins on their own. Our fear is not of people and events. Our awe is of Allah Most High. Each of these qualities is necessary to cultivate. A gardener who is neglectful of the state of the tree cannot assure that the tree will survive, mainly if the tree is growing in a challenging environment.
A critical feature one looks for when gazing upon a tree is its uprightness, an appropriate measure. This uprightness (istiqama) is what we ask for in Sura al-Fatiha. Guide us to the upright path. What is the test of uprightness? If the roots are doing well, they are healthy, allowing the branches of faith to manifest as the actions of Islam. This manifestation allows for the bearing of fruit.
Allah tells us at the beginning of these verses in Sura al-Ibrahim, “Do you not see how Allah compares a good word to a good tree?” [Quran, 14:24] He closes these two verses by telling us, “This is how Allah sets forth parables for the people, so perhaps they will be mindful.” [Quran, 14:25].
It is a call to reflect. In the chance that one was a tree, where would you want to grow? Although Heaven (janna) is the ideal place, another is in fertile land, but would you want to grow alone? No. No one seeks a vacuous, barren landscape for growth. Trees grow best in orchards. Even if the land is fertile, a tree on its own may be easily swayed by swathes of wind and rain. One tree on its own is weak, even on the best of land.
Being with the Community
One of the most critical elements of one’s tree of faith is to be in an orchard. What is an orchard? It is a community. A community exists in the coming together of a people for a higher and common purpose. You are much safer from harm, just like the tree in an orchard is much safer from harm than a tree on its own. Orchards are often walled or fenced to protect them from damage, as well as tended by farmers and individuals, making sure that proper irrigation occurs.
That is how communities work. This is to establish worship and religious routines with the aim of discipline. Even social activities. They are facilitated for you in the context of the community. This is one of the key elements that the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) urged us towards, “Be with the community/group”. The word community (jama‘) can mean a group of people that come together with a common purpose. “Be with the community/group and beware of remaining alone, for the devil is close to one alone and is more distant even from two; whoever seeks the vast expanses of Paradise, let them hold fast to the community.”
Many people that slip in faith and religious practice, slip as a result of loneliness. Lack of emotional well-being disrupts the flow of religious commitment, doubling down on the need to be alone; due to the initial state of not being connected to a community.
The emphasis on community is such in our Prophetic teaching. The Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and grant him peace) told us, “If people knew the harm of traveling alone at night, no man would travel at night on their own.” Note the emphasis on men. In the Hadith commentaries, some scholars mention that this does not pertain to the legal traveling distance. Meaning no one would initiate a trip when they can avoid it. Instead, this pertains to the idea of seeking companionship for spiritual growth rather than dwelling and opening the door to worldly desire.
One of the many realities of the human experience is to have a sociological connection to those who raise us, in essence allowing us to grow and thrive in their company. It is necessary to understand that humans need socialization with one another. The Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) cautioned about eating on one’s own. If only people knew the harm of eating on one’s own and the narrations on sleeping on one’s own. Some of the jurists said it is disliked (makruh) to sleep alone in a room if it were possible to have someone staying with you. One, because of the narrations but secondly, because of the obvious harm of desire becoming a staple as a result of being alone.
There is a lot written about the harms of being alone. Social media and other things are not substitutes for a community or company. The message is to reflect on the metaphor of the upright tree that is rooted, enjoining in the good that comes from not serving the self. If you want to cultivate the tree of faith, pay attention to the state of your heart. The seed of faith that yearns to sprout in order to realize its ultimate purpose.
Cultivating Qualities of Faith through Knowledge
What does taking care of these qualities require? The water and the tilling come from knowledge. It comes from having routines of remembrance and devotion. Paying attention to the state of your heart with Allah Most High and towards the community. The Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) put it earnestly; he said, “The community is mercy, and separation is torment.”
There may be an Islamic community that you deem to be apathetic towards communal growth; remember that you are there for a higher purpose: cultivating the tree of your faith. Do not neglect that, even if you are busy. It is easy to become disillusioned with the cultivation of faith at the expense of outward issues.
The bond of a relationship is necessary to acquire the skills that may allow you to be a gardener to your tree of faith. Witness the fruits that have stemmed from the process of watering the seed with knowledge, thereafter experiencing the taste that you may reap with the application of Divinely-ordained instruction.
In witnessing the potential for cultivation in religious practice, one must question what is causing the soil of your seed of faith to be polluted.
The soil is that which surrounds the root in the first place. It is the bedrock that carries the seed, awaiting its growth. It is the soil that is manifest as the community, binding every individual and allowing the roots and water to extend and flow.
We are all gardening together. You are helping take care of your tree while assisting others. Because if the orchard is taken care of properly. It is not just one tree that benefits; the whole orchard thrives.
So we ask Allah Most High that we take the health of our faith seriously. The onus is upon us as believers to nurture our hearts through knowledge. Knowledge is not solely about curiosity. It is about having the means to take care of the health of the tree of faith. To have the ability to assist others in this garden that is community. That is the Ummah. May Allah Most High make us the best gardeners and grant us wisdom and insight, and protect us from harm. And peace and blessings be upon the Prophet Muhammad, his family, and his companions. All praise is due to Allah, Lord of all the worlds.
Shaykh Faraz Rabbani spent ten years studying with some of the leading scholars of recent times, first in Damascus, and then in Amman, Jordan. His teachers include the foremost theologian of recent times in Damascus, the late Shaykh Adib al-Kallas (may Allah have mercy on him), as well as his student Shaykh Hassan al-Hindi, one of the leading Hanafi fuqaha of the present age. He returned to Canada in 2007, where he founded SeekersGuidance in order to meet the urgent need to spread Islamic knowledge–both online and on the ground–in a reliable, relevant, inspiring, and accessible manner. He is the author of: Absolute Essentials of Islam: Faith, Prayer, and the Path of Salvation According to the Hanafi School (White Thread Press, 2004.) Since 2011, Shaykh Faraz has been named one of the 500 most influential Muslims by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center.