By Dr. Mubaashir Uqdah
The Generous Quran, Surah 5:27-32 and the King James Bible, Genesis Chapter 4:1-16, both describe the story of the two sons of Adam: Cain and Abel. In this article, I will share some of the insights and lessons from the story , always based upon the language and logic of Imam W. Deen Mohammed.
The first thing to be clear about is that this story is a parable; the personages of Cain and Abel are not literally two individuals. Rather, they are personifications of something real and serious that happens amongst humanity.
This article is not the place for me to prove this. Perhaps it is enough for me to ask you: Do you believe the conversation between G-d and Cain was a literal conversation?
If it were not literal, then we are discussing a metaphor with a message, which contains insights and guidance. Students of Imam Mohammed should always seek to understand the meaning of scripture within the context of the real, natural world we are living in.
The heart of this story revolves around the point that two brothers made a sacrifice to G-d, and one sacrifice was accepted and the other was rejected. What we need to know is why one was accepted and the other rejected.
Why did Allah approve of Abels sacrifice and reject Cains? On the way to answering this important question, we will share additional insights we have extracted from this story.
Now there are some people who would say that the Quran already answers this question. In the first verse of the Qurans version of this story (5:27), it is said that Allah accepts the sacrifice of the righteous. This implies that He did not accept Cains sacrifice, because Cain was unrighteous.
Think about this. How was Cain unrighteous? What was wrong with Cains offer? Was his offering really worse than Abels? Cain was a tiller of the soil, a farmer, and he offered G-d the products of his land.
Abel was a shepherd and he offered G-d the first born of his finest sheep. Why would G-d accept lamb and reject vegetables? Is there really something wrong with working the soil? Is there something offensive to Allah about the products that come out of the material earth?
Clearly, Allah does not have a problem with the products of the soil, because it is He that created them and said that He made them for our sustenance out of His Mercy. So the problem is with how Cain made the offering.
Its not the product, but the intention behind giving the product or the quality of the preparation and delivery of the product. Something was wrong about it.
An example would be a storeowner who knowingly sells you a bottle of milk two weeks past the expiration date. There is nothing wrong with milk, but this particular individual is trying to unload his faulty milk product onto you to keep from losing money.
What he is giving to you is done with hidden, bad motives. This is unrighteousness, and Allah does not accept this kind of offering.
All Cain had to do for Allah to accept his offering was be righteous, to give his best. Apparently, he did not do his best. Offerings that are shabby, of poor quality, given with bad intentions, that exploit, etc., will spoil the charity and not be accepted.
While this is a reasonable conclusion to draw and is a lesson we can extract from this story, the Quran does not specify or give us any information about what made Cains offering unacceptable.
This is why Imam Mohammed tells us that we often need to consult the scriptures before the Quran to understand better what the Quran is addressing. In other words, the Quran is commenting on the previous scriptures. We need to know about the previous scriptures to see better what the Quran is commenting on.
Thus, lets turn to the Bible; it contains more details about this story than the Quran. Lets first address the most basic and obvious lesson of this story: Do not become envious of your brother or sister because they receive more blessings or admiration than you do.
The Bible tells us that Abel is the second son of Adam and Eve. Cain, the first son, was a tiller of the soil and Abel was a shepherd of sheep. It says that Abel made an offering to G-d by giving Him the first born of his flock of sheep, and G-d accepted the offering.
Cain also made an offering of some crops that he had grown, but G-d did not accept his offering. Cain was distraught about this.
G-d asked him why he was upset and reminded him that if he does good, his offering would be accepted also. But G-d also warns him to be careful (of envy and jealousy), because if he does not do right, sin is at his door and all around him.
But Cain already had envy and jealousy of his brother in his heart and did not take heed of G-ds Warning. His envy drove him to kill his brother, and this led to his punishment.
So this is the obvious lesson do not become envious or jealous of each other, because if you do it will lead you to bad behavior that harms others and ultimately harms yourself as well.
Isnt this how envy and jealousy works? A person becomes envious or jealous because they want to protect some self-interest they have. A person wants to be admired for something, so he envies others who might receive admiration for the thing they want recognition for.
His envy drives him to try and discredit another, so that it will be proven that he is really the one who deserves the admiration. But in his zeal to discredit the other person, others see him for what he really is. Thus, he destroys his own reputation, his own self.
All societies face this problem, including our community, where one member or group of members become envious or jealous of another member or group of members who might get the recognition for something for which they want to be exalted.
They will hold back support or encouragement or the help that could lead to success, so they can have time to try and bring about the success. The result is that the whole group loses because the success is not achieved due to a lack of unity and cooperation.
It is like the basketball team where one star player wants to be the high scorer of the game. So he tries not to pass the ball to the other star player, reducing his shooting opportunities in hopes that he can be the one with the highest points.
The result is that they score less points as a team and they lose the game. In trying to take away from his team mate, he really took away from himself and everyone else. Everybody loses.
Cain and Abel are family. For one to kill the other is the same as killing his own self.
While this might be the most obvious message we learn from the story of Cain and Abel, Imam Warithud-Deen Mohammed peered deeply into this story and extracted additional understanding and broader insights.
Imam Mohammed explained that the names Cain and Abel are a play on the words Cane and Able. The Imam said, The righteous are able and they have the ability to give life to the world. However, Cains name suggests death. This play on words gives us two additional insights from this potent story.
The Imam explained that the righteous, those people who are right-minded according to the way of G-d, have the ability (they are able) and the desire to give life and help to the world.
While those who walk with a Cane have a weakness, a deformity; they are injured, they are not in their natural healthy state. They have a weakness and their weakness allows corruption and wickedness to enter their hearts and thinking.
The weakness leads to the death and destruction of their own abilities and possibly to the abilities of others, preventing them from bringing about life and life giving circumstances.
It was Cains weakness of character that allowed him to develop and harbor the emotions that led him to kill Abel.
A person can have a great ability to serve G-d and the world, but if weakness creeps into their heart and mind, it can lead them to take actions which destroy their own ability, their ability to help others, and maybe even cause the destruction of the ability of others.
Havent we seen in a masjid, in the behavior of our government official, the Democrats and Republicans, where for personal gain and ambitions or other reasons, people undermine each other and hold back support to good people in order to keep them from accomplishing things?
Our own weaknesses will cause us to mess up. A weak spirit will cause us to give up. A misguided spirit will cause us to go astray. An evil spirit will cause us to be destructive.
By spirit, we mean emotions. Weak emotions, misguided emotions, evil emotions cause us to be in a state of weakness and deformity, which is rejected by G-d. We may offer our nonsense to others and they may applaud us for it or excuse our behavior, but Allah will reject it. Our foolishness and low-down behavior won't be accepted.
The Imam tells us that the word Cane is also used to define a type of grass called a Reed. A reed grows straight up vertically and it is typically hollow in the center. The Imam says that the message he gets is that Cains offering was related to material logic.
He says, Material logic follows a straight course, it must be consistent. You establish a premise; the second premise must support the first premise; it must follow consistently.
What the Imam is saying here is that material logic (the rational logic of material science), enables you to produce many great things from the earth, but its logic can be hollow, it can have an emptiness or hole in the center of it, because the logic of materialism alone is not designed to satisfy the core or the inner essence of the human being.
It produces great material items, but those things alone dont satisfy the human's spiritual needs and may even harm the social and spiritual needs of people.
The abstract picture that the Cane (as in sugar cane) is growing straight up out of the ground, but it has a hollow center. This means that it is elevating, it is uplifting, but it is missing something in its core.
It is missing an essential inner substance. We may say that the hollowness of logic only or materialism only can produce great things, but is not designed to contain what is essential for human peace and salvation.
That missing ingredient will cause material logic or materialism by itself to eventually kill its brother. What is the brother of material logic? It is spiritual logic.
So, this is yet another lesson. Don't let your material or rational logic destroy your spiritual logic. Rational logic might say let the poor (the least productive members of society) starve, because they are a drain on the economy and wellbeing of the more productive.
But spiritual logic will say that is not an acceptable solution because we are family, we are brothers, so we have to figure out another solution.
These comments bring us right up to the crux of the matter that was posed at the beginning of this article: Why did Allah accept one brothers sacrifice and reject the other? What was wrong with Cains sacrifice?
To be continued .