Friday Focus | Difference of Orientation

Verses 4 to 10 of surah al-Layl of the Quran state the divine law governing man’s guidance and his going astray which appears in diverse formulations in various contexts of the Quran.

Verily your efforts are differently oriented. Whoever gives in charity and does his duty to God in fear and reverence and believes in al-Husna, We shall facilitate the path of ease (Yusra) for him. And whoever is greedy and miserly and superciliously careless and belies al-Husna, We shall facilitate for him the path of misery (’Usra).

The question of right guidance and its opposite is related here to the difference of human efforts and the purposes and aims to which they are oriented. Two different characters are vividly pictured, each with three distinctive features for anyone to identify.

The three features that define the first character are i) giving voluntarily away, going out of one’s self and offering sacrifice for others, ii) taqwa i.e. taking life seriously and considering at every step whether one’s word or deed is going to please or displease God and iii) confirmation of the Supreme Truth which is at once Beauty (al-Husna) i.e. God as the centre of existence as well as that of human effort.

The Quran promises that Allah (SWT) will facilitate the path of ease (Yusra) for such a person. This path of ease is described at another place in the Quran as hayat al-Tayyibah.

As against this, the three attributes of the opposite character are i) miserliness and greed, ii) carelessness and a devil-may-care attitude to higher things of life and iii) falsification and rejection of al-Husna.

The basic inclination of this character is to worship the transitory life of this world. In blind pursuit of the world he is like the famous character in Tolstoy’s story, How Much Land Does a Man Need? This character is promised as much land as he can encircle by running around during a day. He runs from morning till evening, denying himself food, drink and rest. In the evening when he reaches back the point wherefrom he had started, he is totally broken, consumed and exhausted so that he falls down and dies. He is then buried at the same spot in the bosom of two and a half yards of land.  For such a character the Quran holds out the facilitation of the path of misery which the Quran also describes as hayat al-Dayyiqah.

The question is where do we belong in this Quranic categorisation.