Human cultivation of land to yield crops. This article surveys Qurʾānic references to human agriculture proper; for vegetation more generally, see Plants and Vegetation.
Usage and Etymology
Numberous Qurʾānic passages refer to the growth of plants and trees, the regeneration of earth after its being barren, the descent of rain to nourish plants and to rejuvenate the earth, and the sudden destruction of standing fields and orchards. All of these are linked to fundamental themes of the Qurʾān such as the Oneness of Allah (see Tawḥīd), His Justice, His Omnipotence (see Power), Divine Generosity, the accountability of human beings for their actions, human stewardship of the earth, and Resurrection. In addition, references to vegetation occur in the context of the history of past nations, alluding to the transitory nature of the life of this world (al-ḥayāt al-dunyā) compared to the eternity of the Hereafter (al-ākhira), and comparing the symbolic harvests of this and the next worlds (Q 42:20).
The Qurʾān uses words derived from five roots in literal (ḥaqīqī) as well as figurative (majāzī) senses to encapsulate themes related to vegetation, plants, and cultivation of land: (I) ḥ-r-th; (II) z-r-ʿ; (III) th-w-r; (IV) n-b-t; and (V) ḥ-ṣ-d. Semantic fields covered by these roots provide insights into Qurʾānic usage.
ḥ-r-th: Of this root, two forms occur fourteen times: the noun ḥarth (planted land, field) appears thirteen times (Q 2:71, 205, 223 twice; 3:14, 117; 6:136, 138; 21:78; 42:20 twice; 68:22 twice); and the imperfect verb taḥruthūn (you till/cultivate/sow/plant) occurs once (Q 56:63). Ibn Fāris (d. 395/1005) says that the root has two basic meanings: “to earn” and “to make an animal gaunt” (Maqāyīs). Its other meanings include “to till land for crops” and “to plant trees,” and it is considered a synonym of zaraʿa (Farāhīdī, ʿAyn; Ibn Fāris, Maqāyīs; Fayrūzābādī, Qāmūs; Zabīdī, Tāj; Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān). Al-Rāghib al-Aṣfahānī (d. ca.502/1108) lists additional meanings and examples of its usage in the Qurʾān:
To sow seeds; to make land ready for seeding; the tilth or plantation (al-maḥrūth) itself (as in Q 68:22, go to your field early in the morning if you want to harvest the fruit); the world, for it is a tilth that humans cultivate (as in the hadith, “sow in this world of yours for [what you shall reap in] your Hereafter” (uḥruth fī dunyāka li-ākhiratika); to exert oneself (as it is said uḥruth al-Qurʾān, that is, “exert [yourself] frequently and regularly in Qurʾānic recitation”); to work an animal lean (as in the response of the Anṣār to Muʿāwiya when he asked them what happened to their water-drawing camels: “we made them lean (ḥarathnāhā) [through battle] on the Day of Badr”); and, its usage by way of simile (tashbīh) in Q 2:223, your women are your tilth; go, then, unto your tilth as you desire, for women are the tilth in which lies the survival of humankind as in the plantation of earth lies the survival of people.
z-r-ʿ: Four forms of this root occur fourteen times: the collective noun zarʿ along with its plural zurūʿ (plants, herbage) occurs ten times (zarʿ: Q 6:141; 13:4; 14:37; 16:11; 18:32; 32:27; 39:21; 48:29; zurūʿ: Q 26:148; 44:26); the verbal form zaraʿa (to plant, to sow, to till, to cause to grow) three times (Q 12:47; 56:64 twice); and zurrāʿ, the plural of zāriʿ (planters, sowers, tillers of the land), occurs once (Q 48:29). It is considered a synonym of inbāt, meaning “to cause to grow” (Azharī, Tahdhīb; Farāhīdī, ʿAyn; Ibn Fāris, Maqāyīs; Rāghib, Mufradāt). Al-Rāghib explains that zarʿ is properly used only for the action of Allah Most High, for the growth of plants
is among those matters which are in the hands of Allah and not under human control. That is why Allah has ascribed sowing (ḥarth) to human beings and denied [the use of] zarʿ for them; [He] reserved it for Himself exclusively, which is why He said: [Have you ever considered that which you sow?] Is it you who cause it to grow, or are We the Growers? (Q 56:63-64). Hence, if growth is ever ascribed to man it is only because he becomes the agent for the means of vegetal growth, as when you say, “I grew this” whereas you were only a cause of its growth.
th-w-r: Of this root, the verbal form athāra occurs five times in the Qurʾān (Q 2:71; 30:9, 48; 35:9; 100:4), the first of which is the sole agriculture-related usage and refers to the Israelites (see Children of Isrāʾīl) who asked Prophet Mūsā, upon him peace, to pray to his Lord to make clear to them the qualities of the cow they were enjoined to sacrifice—“for [all] cows are alike to us” (Q 2:70). Mūsā, upon him peace, replied: “He says: she is a cow unyoked, [trained] neither to plough (tuthīru) the earth nor to water the crops, free of fault, without markings of any other color” (Q 2:71) (see Animals).
The general meanings of the root include: to stir, to raise, to excite, to rebel, to break up, to plough, and to search after (as in the saying of ʿAbd Allāh b. Masʿūd, may Allah be pleased with him, “whoever desires knowledge should search (fal-yuthawwir) in the Qurʾān”; and as it is said, “search (athīrū) the Qurʾān, for in it are reports of the earlier and the later generations” (Azharī, Tahdhīb; Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān; Zabīdī, Tāj)). Other derivations include the name of a mountain near Makka, the name of a tribe (Banū Thawr), the constellation Taurus, the red hue above the horizon after sunset, and a bull (pl. thīrān) (Farāhīdī, ʿAyn; Ibn Durayd, Jamhara; Ibn Fāris, Maqāyīs; Rāghib, Mufradāt);
n-b-t: Anything that grows from the earth (Farāhīdī, ʿAyn; Ibn Durayd, Jamhara; Ibn Fāris, Maqāyīs; Zabīdī, Tāj). Three forms from this root occur 26 times in twelve suras: the intransitive verb nabata (to germinate, to take root, to grow) occurs once (Q 23:20) in its present indicative form (tanbutu); the transitive verbal forms anbata/yunbitu, tunbitu (to make cultivable, to bring to life, to enable to grow) appear sixteen times (Q 2:61, 261; 3:37; 15:19; 16:11; 22:5; 26:7; 27:60 twice; 31:10; 36:36; 37:146; 50:7, 9; 71:17; 80:27); and the collective noun nabāt (plants, vegetation) occurs nine times (Q 3:37; 6:99; 7:58; 10:24; 18:45; 20:53; 57:20; 71:17; 78:15). According to al-Rāghib,
al-nabt and al-nabāt are used for anything that grows from the earth, whether it has a trunk—like a tree—or not—like herbs; but its well-known usage is for what does not have a trunk, and the common folk use it only for what animals eat; an example of this is His saying, so that We may thereby bring forth grain and vegetation (Q 78:15). In its real meaning it is used for anything that grows—whether plants, animals, or people… Allah the Almighty said [as much] in the following verses (al-Rāghib gives the following sequence: Q 80:27-31; 27:60; 16:11) [where it is used for plants and vegetation], and in His Words and Allah has caused you to grow out of the earth (Q 71:17) [where it is used of human beings]. Grammarians say that here nabātan is an infinitive noun (maṣdar) used in place of inbāt, whereas others consider it a circumstantial [removed]in the form of the accusative, ḥāl) and not an infinitive noun. This indicates that man is, in a way, a form of nabāt, for his initial beginning and appearance is from dust and he thereafter grows like plants; but of course, he has additional characteristics which exceed those of plants, and this is indicated in His saying, He is the One who created you from dust, then from a [clinging] drop (Q 40:67), and in His saying, [Allah] vouchsafed her a goodly growth (Q 3:37).
ḥ-ṣ-d: To cut, to harvest, to cut crops with a sickle, to kill, to twist a rope tightly (Farāhīdī, ʿAyn; Ibn Durayd, Jamhara; Ibn Fāris, Maqāyīs; Zabīdī, Tāj). Three forms of this root occur six times in six suras: the transitive verb ḥaṣada (to reap/harvest) occurs once (Q 12:47); the verbal noun ḥaṣād (the act of reaping/harvesting) once (Q 6:141); and the noun ḥaṣīd (harvest) four times (Q 10:24; 11:100; 21:15; 50:9). Al-Rāghib understands ḥaṣīd in Q 11:100 (These are the accounts we related to you [O Muḥammad] of towns some of which are still standing, others have been mowed down) as referring to destroyed towns, as is indicated in Q 6:45 (the last remnant of those wrongdoers was cut off); and he understands ḥabb al-ḥaṣīd in Q 50:9 as referring to grain. He also explains the metaphorical usage of ḥaṣad by reference to a Prophetic hadith: “Does anything other than what people harvest by their tongues (ḥaṣāʾidu alsinatihim) throw them into the Fire on their faces?” (Mufradāt).
Several verses describing agriculture-related phenomena are used to affirm (i) the existence of Allah Most High; (ii) His Oneness (tawḥīd); (iii) Resurrection; and (iv) to refute false beliefs. Sometimes these fundamental Qurʾānic themes are present in the same verse or cluster of verses (e.g., Q 22:5-6); at others, they are presented separately (e.g., Q 20:49).
The Existence of Allah Most High
When Pharaoh (see Firʿawn) asked the Prophets Mūsā and Hārūn, upon them peace, “Who, now, is the Sustainer of you two?” (Q 20:49), the former responded by saying (among other arguments) “the One who made the earth a cradle for you and made in it paths for you and sent down water from the sky.” The verse continues: And by this means We bring forth various kinds of plants; so eat, and pasture your cattle. In all this, behold, there are signs for those endowed with reason (Q 20:53-54). Al-Qurṭubī (d. 671/1273) explains that these all comprise arguments for the existence of the Maker (al-Ṣāniʿ), because in this world argument for His existence can only be made on the basis of His actions (Tafsīr).
In Q 13:4, the existence and Oneness of Allah are thematically linked: On earth, there are many tracts of land close to each other and vineyards and fields of grain and date-palms growing in clusters from one root or standing alone—all watered with the same water, and yet some of them have We favored above others in fruit; verily, in all this there are signs for people who use their reason. Al-Zamakhsharī (467-538/ca.1074-1143) comments that despite their proximity, certain tracts of land are fertile while others are barren, and in this difference lies a proof (dalīl) of the One endowed with Intention and Power, the One who undertakes His actions in a specific manner (Kashshāf). Commenting on the verse and especially on close to each other, al-Qurṭubī adds:
There are tracts of land on earth which are close to each other, have similar soil, and receive the same kind of water; one can find there different plantations and gardens, but despite this similarity in resources there is a great difference in what they produce: some produce sweet and others sour fruit; in fact, the same tree, even the same branch, produces fruits that differ in color, taste, and size, even though they are under the same impact from the sun and the moon. This is the greatest evidence (adallu dalīl) for His Oneness and His Self-Sufficiency (ṣamadiyya), and guidance for one not cognizant of Him…and a clear refutation of those who consider nature to be the cause of everything. For were it merely the water and the soil upon which nature was the active agent, then there would be no difference in their produce.
A passage in Sūrat al-Ḥajj presents visible changes to trees, crops, and vegetation as proof for the existence of Allah, His Oneness, and Resurrection. It combines the theme of the revival of the earth (when We send down waters upon it, it stirs and swells and puts forth every kind of lovely plant) with the entire sequence of the creation of human beings—from dust to drop of sperm to embryonic lump and to germ-cell (see ʿAlaqa)—and then leads to the statement that all of this [happens] because Allah alone is the Truth (al-Ḥaqq), and because He alone brings the dead to life, and because He has the power to will everything (Q 22:5-6). Al-Ṭabarī (d. 310/923) notes that all the changes described in the prior verse (from human creation to dotage, and the revival of the earth) are mentioned in order that human beings believe and testify that Allah alone is the One cause of it all, Who is the Truth in which there is no doubint Whatever else one might worship is false, and has no power to compare (Tafsīr, sub Q 22:6). Al-Rāzī (543-606/1148-1209) says that the existence of all these varied kinds of bodies proves the existence of the Maker (Tafsīr, sub Q 22:5-6).
Frequent connections between water falling from the sky, the revival of the earth, and vegetal growth point to the Might, Munificence, and Mercy of Allah Most High toward humanity, and highlight His sovereignty (Q 2:22, 164; 6:99; 13:17; 14:32; 16:10, 65; 20:53; 22:63; 27:60; 35:27; 39:21). In Q 27:60, the connection between rain and vegetation is explicitly emphasized: Who is it that has created the heavens and the earth, and sent down for you water from the skies? For it is by this that We cause orchards full of beauty to grow—trees you could never grow. Could there be any Divine power besides Allah? Nay, they are deviant people. Al-Rāzī comments that this underscores the exclusive creative power of Allah: “O ignorant ones! Is it your gods who send down water from the sky and grow these trees?” (Tafsīr).
Oneness of Allah Most High
Similar to the arguments surveyed above for the existence of a Creator are agriculture-related arguments for the existence of a single Creator. For instance, al-Ṭabarī states in his commentary on Q 6:95 (Indeed Allah is the one who cleaves grain and fruit-kernel asunder, bringing forth the living out of that which is dead, and He is the one who brings forth the dead out of that which is alive. That, then, is Allah: so whither are you tending in error?) that the verse constitutes a warning to polytheists, through demonstrative proof (ḥujja), that their beliefs are wholly erroneous, because the only one who deserves to be worshipped is Allah as He alone cleaves the seeds and rends asunder the fruit-kernel to produce trees (Tafsīr). Human beings here are understood as merely participating in the processes of seeding and nurturing plants, while their actual growth remains entirely in Allah’s hands. Commenting on the previously cited Q 27:60, al-Zamakhsharī says that iltifāt (sudden grammatical transition, in this case, from the third to the first person) indicates “the specific attribution (ikhtiṣāṣ) of vegetal growth to Allah alone; no one except Allah has the power to bring forth beautiful gardens of different kinds, colors, tastes, fragrances, and shapes from one and the same water” (Kashshāf). Abū Muḥammad al-Makkī (d. 437/1045) explains in a similar manner that the verse demonstrates to polytheists the utter powerlessness of their idols to facilitate any vegetal growth (Hidāya, sub Q 27:60-61). Al-Samʿānī (d. 489/1095) comments that the penultimate section of the verse (Is there any Divine power beside Allah?) poses a rhetorical question whose answer underscores the oneness of Allah (Tafsīr, sub Q 27:60).
Other passages bearing on the subject and elucidated by exegetes in like manner include Q 56:63-65 and Q 36:33-36: And a sign for them is the dead earth which We make alive and out of which We bring forth grain, whereof they eat; and We make gardens of date-palms and vines [grow] thereon, and cause springs to gush [forth] within it, so that they may eat of the fruit thereof, though it was not their hands that grew them; so will they not be grateful? Limitless in His glory is He who has created pairs of whatever the earth produces and in mankind themselves and in that of which they have no knowledge (Q 36:33-36). Abū al-Layth al-Samarqandī (d. 373/983) states that the dead earth is a sign of His oneness (ʿalāmatu waḥdāniyyatih); and that although so will they not be grateful? is grammatically interrogative, it effectively comprises a command, that is: “Be thankful to the Lord for this blessing and acknowledge His Oneness (wa-waḥḥidūh)!” (Baḥr, sub Q 36:33). Al-Ṭabarī, al-Qurṭubī, Ibn ʿAṭiyya (d. ca.542/1147), and al-Rāzī add the theme of Resurrection in their commentaries on Q 36:33-36.
Among the various ways in which the Qurʾān refers to Resurrection and the Afterlife (see Hereafter) is by mentioning the rejuvenation of the earth and the emergence of lush and green vegetation from dead and barren earth. This relation is sometimes framed allusively: certain verses proclaim the power and ability of Allah to revive the earth without directly drawing the analogy to the resurrection of human beings. Given that Allah’s power over the earth must obtain also for human beings, however, exegetes understand such verses as invitations to reflection. Examples of such verses include Have they, then, never considered the earth—how much of every noble kind We have caused to grow therein? (Q 26:7) and Is it you who cause it to grow or are We the cause of its growth? (Q 56:64). According to al-Māwardī (364-450/974-1058), the latter verse both encourages gratitude to Allah and comprises a compelling proof (al-burhān al-mūjib) of Resurrection, in as much as it is far easier for the One who causes crops to grow into lush fields after their seeds have disintegrated simply to return the dead to life (Nukat). Al-Qurṭubī, endorsing this argument, adds that it is sufficient and satisfying for anyone with sound faculties (Tafsīr).
The manner in which vegetation, plants, trees, and the fecundity of the once-barren earth are cited as proofs for Resurrection takes the manifest (al-shāhid) as evidence for the hidden (al-ghayb) (see Manifest and Hidden), as al-Māwardī says in his commentary on Q 41:39: And among His signs is that you see the earth lying desolate, and lo! when We send down water upon it, it stirs and swells. Verily, He who brings it to life can surely give life to the dead, for He has the power to will anything. These verses explicitly compare the revival of desolate land with the resurrection of the dead. Other such verses include Q 7:57; 22:6; 35:9; 43:11; and 50:11, the last being part of a cluster of evocative verses: And We send down from the skies water rich in blessings, and cause thereby gardens to grow, and fields of grain, and tall palm-trees with their thickly-clustered dates, as sustenance apportioned to men; and by this We bring dead land to life. Even so shall be [man’s] coming-forth [from death] (Q 50:9-11). Commenting on these verses, al-Māwardī adds that bringing the human dead to life is of greater significance than the (commonly-observed) revival of dead earth, since human beings must be recompensed for their actions in the world while no such moral imperative exists for vegetation (Nukat, sub Q 50:11).
In reading these verses in this way, exegetes presumed that the polytheists and more generally those denying the message of the Qurʾān accepted both the existence of Allah and that He is responsible for sending water from the sky. In reference to Q 7:57 (And He is the One Who sends forth winds as tidings heralding His mercy, so that, when they have carried heavy-laden clouds, We drive them toward dead land and cause thereby water to descend; and by this means do We cause all manner of fruit to come forth. Even thus shall We cause the dead to come forth; this so you may take heed), al-Samarqandī comments that the analogy operates by returning a matter the disbelievers disputed to one on which they agreed: they accepted that it is Allah who sends down rain and causes fruits and vegetation to grow, so it is argued that the One who brings the earth back to life after it has been dead can just as well bring the dead back to life (Baḥr). Ibn ʿAṭiyya adds that this verse has two typological aspects: (i) it is a similitude (mithāl), in that the Supreme Power who sends down water from the skies and brings out fruits from arid land indeed has the power to bring back the dead from their graves; and (ii) it is a description of what is to come, being not a similitude but a foretelling of a real event (Muḥarrar). Al-Qurṭubī adds references to two Prophetic traditions elucidating the two aspects (Tafsīr). The first indicates that Resurrection will literally parallel vegetative growth: “Then Allah will send down water from the sky and the dead bodies will grow as does vegetation” (Bukhārī, Tafsīr, yawm yunfakhu fī-l-ṣūri fa-taʾtūna afwāja; Muslim, Fitan, mā bayna al-nafkhatayn). The second mentions cycles of deadness and fertility in response to a question by Laqīṭ b. ʿĀmir, better known as Abū Razīn al-ʿUqaylī, a Companion whose questions were well-liked by the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace (al-Mizzī, Tahdhīb, bāb al-lām):
[Al-Bayhaqī and others recorded this from] Abū Razīn al-ʿUqaylī, may Allah be pleased with him, [who] asked the Prophet: “O Messenger of Allah, how will Allah resurrect people? And what is the sign of this among His creatures?” He said: “Have you not passed by the valley of your people while it was arid and barren; then you passed it by and it was lush green; then you go [there again] and it is arid and barren? This is Allah’s sign among His creatures.”
Haythamī, Majmaʿ, Īmān, bāb
Refutation of False Beliefs and Practices
Several beliefs of the polytheists and associated practices concerning vegetal growth and harvest are the subject of a passage in Sūrat al-Anʿām (“The Cattle”) about which Ibn ʿAbbās, may Allah be pleased with him, said: “If you want to know the ignorance of the Arabs, recite what comes after verse 130 of Sūrat al-Anʿām” (Bukhārī, Manāqib, qiṣṣa Zamzam wa jahl al-ʿArab and Ibn Ḥajar, Fatḥ al-bārī). Two verses there mention pre-Islamic (see Jāhiliyya) beliefs and practices related to agriculture:
They assign unto Allah, of the crops (ḥarth) and cattle which He created, a portion, and they say: “This is for Allah”—in their make-believe—“and this is for our partners (i.e., those they considered partners with Him).” Then that which [they assign] to their partners does not reach Allah, and that which [they assign] unto Allah goes to the [false] partners. Evil is what they decree! (Q 6:136);
And they say: such cattle and crops (ḥarth) are forbidden; none may eat thereof save those whom we allow… (Q 6:138).
Regarding the first verse, Ibn ʿAṭiyya says:
The Arabs used to assign a portion of their harvests as well as some of their animals to Allah, and another portion to their idols. They were more diligent and particular about the idols’ portion than about that assigned to Allah, because they believed that their idols were poor and in need, whereas Allah is beyond any need. Hence if, during harvesting, the wind blew some of what was assigned to Allah to the piles set aside for the idols, they would leave it—but if it took from the idols’ share to the portion assigned to Allah, they would take it back (…) and if they had no harvest for the idols, they would take the portion assigned to Allah and say, “The idols cannot survive without this”. This is what Ibn ʿAbbās, Mujāhid, al-Suddī, and others have reported…. Likewise, in a year of famine, they would eat from the portion of Allah but would not touch the portion assigned to their idols. This is how the majority of exegetes have understood these verses.
Regarding the second, al-Samarqandī identifies Mālik b. ʿAwf, a leader of the idolatrous tribes, as one figure who had arrogated this authority. The polytheists thus appropriated the Divine prerogative of declaring things lawful and unlawful(Baḥr).
The exegetes mention that Q 2:223 (Your women are your tilth; go, then, unto your tilth as you desire), was revealed concerning a false belief of certain Jews of Madina who held that “if one has [vaginal] intercourse with his wife from the rear, she will deliver a cross-eyed child” (cf. Ṭabarī, Tafsir; Samarqandī, Baḥr; Zamakhsharī, Kashshāf; also Muslim, Nikāḥ, jawāz jimāʿihi-marʾatah fī qubulihā; Bukhārī, Tafsīr, nisāʾukum ḥarthun lakum). Al-Samarqandī says that in the expression nisāʾukum ḥarthun lakum, women are metonymically called ḥarth for they are to offspring as the earth is to what is sown (Baḥr) (see Women; Children; Gender Relations).
Historical References in Prophets’ Lives
References to agriculture in relation to events in the lives of certain Prophets include:
Prophet Ibrāhīm, upon him peace , when he supplicated (Q 14:37): “O our Sustainer, I have settled some of my offspring in an uncultivable valley, near Your Sacred House, so that, O our Sustainer, they may establish Prayer; so make the hearts of people affectionately inclined to them, and provide them with fruits (thamarāt) for their sustenance, that they may give thanks”;
Prophet Yūsuf, upon him peace, when he interpreted the dream of the Egyptian king (Q 12:47-49): “You will sow (tazraʿūna) for seven years as usual. Leave in its ear what you harvest, save the little of which you eat. Then shall follow seven difficult [years] in which you will consume all you had put forward for them, except that little you have set aside. Then shall follow a year in which the people will be helped by plenty of rain and they will press [grapes as before]”;
Prophet Yūnus, upon him peace, when he was cast out of the belly of the ḥūt (sea-creature) onto the barren tract, sick as he was; and We caused a tree to grow (anbatnā) over him (Q 37:145-146); and
Prophet Mūsā, upon him peace, when he specified to the Israelites (Q 2:71) that the cow they were to slaughter should be one that “neither plows (tuthīru) the soil nor waters the tilth (al-ḥarth).”
Parables and Similes
A number of parables and similes mention agriculture-related processes to draw attention to major themes of the Qurʾān. In Q 18:45, for instance, the life of this world is likened to the quick shriveling of plants: And explain to them the parable of the life of this world: [it is] like water which We send down from the sky, and which is absorbed by the plants of the earth; but [in time] they turn into dry stubble which the winds blow about. Allah alone has power over all things. “This refers to the polytheists,” al-Samʿānī says, “who are beguiled by the world and its adornments…and such will be the rapid destruction of this world and all its adornments when the Hereafter comes” (Tafsīr) (see Beguilement).
The ‘harvests’ of this and the next world are compared in Q 42:20 to underscore the importance of right intention and to underscore consequent Divine succor: To him who desires a harvest in the life to come We shall grant an increase in his harvest; whereas to him who desires a harvest in this world We give something thereof—but he will have no share in the life to come. Al-Samʿānī explained the increase in harvest as having three aspects: (i) good deeds are increased manifold; (ii) Allah Most High grants the bounties of this world to one who is working for the Hereafter, but one who is working only for this world will not receive anything in the Hereafter; and (iii) He helps the one who does good deeds for the Hereafter by granting him the ability to do more (Tafsīr). The increase in reward is mentioned in other verses as well (Q 2:245; 4:40; 6:160; 28:84; 57:11; 64:17) (see Buying and Selling).
The Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, said: “Whoever intends the Hereafter, Allah instills a sense of sufficiency (ghinā) in his heart and brings together his affairs, and the world is forced to come to him despite its reluctance; as for the one who worries for this world, Allah puts his poverty before his eyes, scatters his affairs, and nothing of the world will come his way except that which has been decreed for him” (Tirmidhī, Ṣifat al-qiyāma wal-raqāʾiq wal-waraʿ; Aḥmad, Anṣār, ḥadīth Zayd b. Thābit).
The parable in Q 2:261 uses the image of multiplying grain to convey manifold increase in rewards for good deeds: The likeness of those who spend their possessions for the sake of Allah is that of a grain (ḥabba) which grows seven ears, in every ear a hundred grains; for Allah grants manifold increase unto whom He wills; and Allah is infinite, all-knowing. Al-Ṭabarī comments that this verse reprises the argument of Q 2:245: Who is it that will offer up unto Allah a goodly loan, which He will amply repay with manifold increase? For Allah takes away and gives abundantly; and it is unto Him that you shall be brought back. Based on this parable, commentators compute the increase to be from ten to seven-hundred fold, with the overarching proviso that it is the prerogative of Allah Most High to increase rewards as He desires (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr, sub Q 2:245; Samarqandī, Baḥr, sub Q 2:261; Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīr, sub Q 2:261; Makkī, Hidāya, sub Q 2:261). Al-Samarqandī explains that Allah Most High here employs an agricultural metaphor: if a farmer is expert in his work, the seed good, and the land fertile, the result will be abundance; likewise, if the one giving charity (ṣadaqa) is righteous, his possessions pure (i.e., obtained through permissible means), and the cause good, the heavenly reward will be great (Baḥr, sub Q 2:261). All of this is opposed to the likeness of what [the disbelievers] spend on the life of this world: that of an ice-bearing wind that smites the tilth (ḥarth) of a people who have wronged themselves, and devastates it. It is not Allah who does them wrong, but they wrong themselves (Q 3:117). Al-Rāzī explains that disbelievers’ denial negates any reward their charity might have merited (Tafsīr, sub Q 3:114).
Qatāda (d. 117/735) says that the good and bad lands mentioned in Q 7:57-58 represent a believer and disbeliever (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr). Both receive rain, but only good land produces well: And He sends forth the winds as a glad tiding in advance of His mercy, so that when they have carried heavy clouds We may drive them towards dead land and cause thereby water to descend; and by this means do We cause all manner of fruit to come forth. Even thus shall We cause the dead to come forth; [and this] you ought to keep in mind. As for good land, vegetation comes forth in abundance by the command of its Lord, whereas from bad land only poor vegetation comes forth. Thus do We explain Our signs for a people who are grateful. Al-Rāzī notes:
The best-known opinion about this verse is that in it Allah Most High has related a parable likening the believer to good land, the disbeliever to barren land, and the descent of the Qurʾān to the coming down of the rain. He has likened the believer to good land upon which rain falls, producing flowers and fruits of various kinds; whereas saline land produces but little foliage, despite the rain. Likewise, when a pure spirit—which is free from the contamination of ignorance and blameworthy moral characteristics—comes in contact with the radiance of the Qurʾān, there appear in it various kinds of pious deeds, insights, and praiseworthy characteristics; whereas when an evil and unclean spirit comes into contact with the radiance of the Qurʾān, there appears but little of insight and praiseworthy characteristics in it.
Al-Samarqandī, an earlier supporter of this interpretation, observes also that a believer heeds advice : it goes to his heart, he benefits from it, and he benefits from the Qurʾān as good earth benefits from rain. On the other hand, the disbeliever neither listens to nor benefits from advice, neither accepts faith nor performs deeds, except unwillingly and not for the pleasure of Allah (Baḥr). Ibn Kathīr, who supports this interpretation, further cites a hadith describing three kinds of lands and likening them to three kinds of people: “The similitude (mathal) of the guidance and knowledge with which Allah Exalted and Glorious has sent me is that of rain falling upon the earth. A part [of the earth] is fair (ṭayyiba), receptive to rainfall, and thereby produces abundant herbage and shrubbery; another hard and barren which merely retains water by which Allah benefits others, who drink it and give it to their animals and irrigate by it. Then there is another part of land which is barren, which neither holds water nor produces vegetation. The first [type of land] is like one who strives to gain understanding of the religion (dīn) of Allah and benefits from that which Allah has sent; he learns and teaches it. [The other types of land] are similitudes for those who do not care for and do not accept the guidance Allah has sent through me” (Bukhārī, ʿIlm, faḍl man ʿalima wa ʿallama; Muslim, Faḍāʾil, bayān mathal mā buʿitha bih al-Nabī ṣallā Allāh ʿalayh wa-sallam). Al-Nawawī explains that the first type are those who accept, protect, and spread knowledge and guidance, and thereby benefit themselves and others; the second type are those who receive and hold knowledge for others but themselves neither strive to understand it nor conform their deeds to it; the third type neither benefit from it themselves nor provide it to others (Sharḥ Muslim 4:1787).
The life of this world is compared to the growth and sudden devastation of crops in two similar verses (Q 10:24; 18:45): The parable of the life of this world is but that of water that We send down from the sky; the earth’s plants mingle with it from which partake people and cattle—until when the earth has taken on its golden raiment and become well-adorned, and its owners believe they have full control over it, Our command falls upon it by night or by day, and We make it into stubble as though it had not blossomed yesterday. Thus do We expound the signs for people who reflect (Q 10:24).
Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya (691-751/1292-1350) writes, expansively:
The Most Glorified has given the parable of the life of this world in that it appears beautiful to the onlooker and, tricked by its beauty, he admires and loves it, is fascinated by it, and believes that he is its owner and has full control over it and can do whatever he desires—but then, without warning, it is torn from him precisely when he needs it most, and a barrier is erected between him and his life. In all these aspects, He has likened the life of this world to earth upon which rain falls, making it verdant and pleasing to the beholder: [he] falsely starts to believe “I own it, I have full power over it,” but then suddenly it receives the command of Allah and all its verdure is destroyed as if it had never been. This destroys his hopes and presumptions, and the man is left empty-handed. Such is the nature of this world and those who rely on it; this is an eloquent similitude and an excellent argument. Since this world is the abode of such calamities and Paradise is safe from them, the Most High said, Allah calls you to the abode of safety.
al-Amthāl p. 12-13
Ibn Kathīr (701-774/1301-1373) adds that the nature of the world is such that it flees from those who desire it and offers itself to those who flee from it (Tafsīr, sub Q 10:24). Other verses making similar mention of crops include Q 3:14, 26:148, 39:21, 44:26, 57:20, and 68:22.
The parable of the two men (Q 18:32-44) is understood by exegetes in relation to the early Companions of the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, who were poor in a worldly sense, but who were people who call upon their Lord, morning and evening, seeking His countenance (Q 18:28); and the disbeliever in the parable personifies the haughty Quraysh, who, like him, disbelieved in the Message (cf. Tafsīrs of Ṭabarī and Rāzī; Ibn ʿAṭiyya, Muḥarrar; and Abū Ḥayyān, Baḥr). The parable itself is striking:
Relate to them the parable of two men. We had given to one of them two vineyards, each surrounded with date-palms and We had placed a field of grain in between. Each of the two gardens yielded its produce and never failed therein in any way. We had caused a stream to gush forth in the midst of each of them. And so [the owner] had fruit in abundance. And [one day] he said to his neighbor while conversing with him: “I have greater wealth than you and I am superior to you in numbers.” Then he entered his garden and said, wronging himself: “Surely, I do not believe that all this will ever perish. Nor do I believe that the Hour will ever come.
But even if I am returned to my Lord, I shall find a better place than this.” While conversing with him his neighbor said: “Do you deny Him Who created you out of dust, then out of a drop of sperm, and then fashioned you into a complete man? As for myself, Allah alone is my Lord, and I associate none with my Lord in His Divinity. Why, when you entered your garden, did you not say: ‘Whatever Allah wills shall come to pass, for there is no power save with Allah’? If you find me less than yourself in wealth and children, it may be that my Lord will give me something better than your garden and send a calamity upon your garden from the heavens and it will be reduced to a heap of barren waste; or that its water sinks deep into the ground, so that you will never be able to find it again.”
And [thus it happened:] his fruitful gardens were ruined and there he was, wringing his hands over all that he had spent on that which now lay waste, with its trellises caved in; and he could but say, “Oh would that I had not attributed Divine powers to any but my Lord!” And there was no host beside Allah to help him, nor could he be of any help to himself. For thus it is: all power of protection rests with Allah, the True One. He is the best to reward, the best to determine the end of things.
“Ponder over the scene described here by the Almighty; one can hardly imagine a more picturesque one for acquiring livelihood,” Ibn ʿAṭiyya writes. “Two vineyards, encircled by date-palms, separated by an expanse of land where all types of grains are cultivated. Free-flowing water of a stream irrigates all of these, enhancing the beauty of the scene, increasing the benefits [of the land], easing labor and removing the need for [mechanical] irrigation, [use of] animals, and equipment” (Muḥarrar; for similar comments, see Māwardī, Nukat). Ibn ʿAṭiyya quotes the historian Ibrāhīm b. al-Qāsim al-Kātib’s (fl. 350/961) Fī ʿajāʾib al-bilād, wherein he states that these gardens were located at Buḥayra Tinnīs (in Egypt) and that the two men were brothers from among the Children of Isrāʾīl (Muḥarrar).
Al-Qurṭubī (d. 671/1273) cites additional reports: Ibn al-Kalbī (d. 146/763) said that the verse is about two brothers of the Banū Makhzūm of Makka; another also stated that the verse refers to two Israelite brothers; a third held that the two men are not historical persons at all but are archetypes representing believers and disbelievers (Tafsīr). Abū Ḥayyān (d. 745/1344) says that Allah kept the narration anonymous because there was no benefit in identification (Baḥr). Ibn ʿAṭiyya says that Relate to them refers to the arrogant group which asked the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, to disregard those poor believers who call upon their Lord morning and evening, seeking His countenance (cf. Q 18:28); the disbelieving owner of the two gardens is thus similar to the haughty members of the Quraysh or Banū Tamīm, and the believer in the parable is like the poor Muslims oppressed by them such as Bilāl, ʿAmmār, Ṣuhayb, and their companions (Muḥarrar). Al-Rāzī understands the parable as indicating the frailty of the disbelievers’ claims, who were proud of their worldly possessions and their numbers and who looked down upon the poor Muslims. The parable thus shows how easily Allah can make the poor rich or the rich poor; what is worth taking pride in is obedience to Allah and worship of Him, which is something even poor believers have (Tafsīr).
In one of its most expressive verses about the Companions of the Prophet , Allah be well-pleased with them all, the Qurʾān uses the simile of a germinating seed: Muḥammad is the Messenger of Allah and those with him are firm of heart against the unbelievers, compassionate among themselves; you see them bowing down, prostrating, seeking grace from Allah and [His] pleasure. The mark of them is on their faces from the traces of prostration. That is their likeness (mathal) in the Torah; and their likeness (mathal) in the Injīl (Gospel) is that of a seed that brings forth its shoot, and which He then strengthens so it grows stout and stands firmly upon its stem, delighting the sowers—that He may enrage the unbelievers through them. Allah has promised those among them who believe and do righteous deeds forgiveness and immense reward (Q 48:29). Exegetical authorities differ as regards the origin of the seed simile, depending on how the phrase that is their likeness is understood: some scholars held it to be found in both the Torah and the Injīl, others only in the Qurʾān, and others yet only in the Injīl (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr; Ibn ʿAṭiyya, Muḥarrar; Qurṭubī, Tafsīr). Al-Ṭabarī cites a report from al-Ḍaḥḥāk (d. 102/ca.721) in which he said that the part of the verse which describes them as firm of heart refers to their characterization in the Torah, independent from the parable of the seed found in the Injīl (Tafsīr). Al-Makkī states that the majority of exegetes understand the verse in this way, but that according to Mujāhid (d. ca.104/722) both descriptions were in each of the earlier scriptures (Hidāya). Ibn ʿAṭiyya comments that wherever this parable is to be found, it refers to the Prophet and his Companions: “As for the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, he was appointed as a Prophet [alone], and this is like a single seed [being planted]; then Muslims increased, so they are like the sprouts (shaṭʾa) that grow around the original stalk” (Muḥarrar). Al-Qurṭubī likewise states that when the Prophet started to call people to the religion of Allah, he was weak (kāna... ḍaʿīf); as people accepted Islam one after another, his situation strengthened—like a weak seedling whose stalk thickens and whose branches also become strong. He then cites a saying of Qatāda b. Diʿāma (d. 117/735), the eminent Successor exegete, that in the Injīl the Companions are likened to growing plants in that they encourage what is good and forbid evil (Tafsīr).
Ibn Kathīr explains the verse in the following manner:
Allah Most High has praised the Companions of the Messenger, Allah be pleased with them all; they had sincere intentions and righteous deeds, and all those who looked at them admired their appearance and conduct. Imam Mālik said, “I have been told that when the Christians saw the Companions who conquered Syro-Palestine (al-Shām), they observed, ‘By God, they are surely better than the Disciples of ʿĪsā (al-ḥawāriyyīn) (q.v.) [as described] in what has been conveyed to us!’”
They indeed spoke truth in that, for this umma (community of Islam) was acclaimed (muʿaẓẓama) in previously revealed scriptures, its most acclaimed and foremost members (aʿẓamuhā wa afḍaluhā) being the Companions of the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him. He lauded them in previous revealed Books and circulated reports (al-akhbār al-mutadāwala). This is why He said here, That is their likeness in the Torah (Q 48:29). (…) Such were the Companions of Muḥammad, peace and blessings upon him: they supported him, and strengthened him, and aided him, so they were with him as the sprout with the plant, that He may enrage the disbelievers with them. (…) Many hadiths mention the virtues of the Companions and prohibit criticism of their mistakes. It is sufficient that Allah the Exalted has praised them and declared that He is pleased with them. (…)
The Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, said: “Revile not my Companions! Revile not my Companions! By Him in Whose Hand is my life, were any of you to spend as much gold as [the size of Mount] Uḥud, it would not amount to as much as would a single mudd (see Weights and Measures) spent by one of them, or even half of that” (Muslim, Faḍāʾil al-ṣaḥāba raḍiya Allāh taʿālā ʿanhum, taḥrīm sabb al-ṣaḥāba raḍiya Allāh ʿanhum).
Levy on Harvest (ʿUshr)
Q 6:141 mentions a levy on harvests: He is the One Who has brought into being gardens [both] trellised and untrellised, and the date-palm, and crops of diverse produce, the olive and the pomegranate, similar and dissimilar. Eat of their fruits when they come to fruition and pay the due thereof on the day of harvest, and do not waste; verily, He does not love the wasteful. Al-Māwardī cites three interpretations of and pay the due thereof on the day of harvest: (i) the due referred to is an obligatory charity (al-ṣadaqat al-mafrūḍa), this being the majority opinion: if one cultivates without mechanical watering, then one-tenth of the produce is due; if one employs a mechanical watering system, one-twentieth of the produce is due; (ii) the due referred to is one given in charity (ṣadaqa; see Almsgiving), rather than the obligatory tax on harvest to be given those who come at that time and which does not include fruit or crops which have already fallen; this is the opinion of ʿAṭāʾ and Mujāhid; and (iii) the due referred to was obligatory before zakāt was instituted, but was abrogated by it (see Abrogation); this is the opinion of Ibn ʿAbbās, Saʿīd b. Jubayr, and Ibrāhīm (Nukat).
Ibn ʿAṭiyya prefers the second interpretation, citing Abū Muḥammad al-Bāqillānī (d. 403/1012) who argues that the verse, located in a Makkan sura, was revealed before zakāt was instituted (the majority, contra al-Zajjāj (241-311/ca.855-923), also holds it to be a Makkan verse). Furthermore, he says, there is no zakāt on pomegranates and other fruits mentioned in the verse. This due should be distributed at the time of harvesting, while separating the chaff and collecting the crops, whereas zakāt proper should be paid once the harvest has been cleaned. He adds that there is no reason to consider this an abrogating verse because there is no conflict between it and zakāt: the practice here enjoined is recommended, while zakāt is obligatory (Muḥarrar). Al-Samʿānī also prefers this view (Tafsīr).
Frequent references are made to the celestial gardens, fruits of Paradise, and fruit-laden trees which await the faithful in Paradise. Gardens under which rivers flow is a recurrent phrase (occurring no less than 39 times) describing the everlasting abode of those who believed and did righteous deeds (see, e.g., Q 22:14). For instance: But unto those who believe and do righteous deeds give the glad tidings that theirs shall be gardens beneath which rivers flow. Whenever they are granted fruits therefrom as their sustenance, they will say: “It is this that in days of yore was granted to us as our sustenance,” for they shall be given something resembling [those of the earth]; and there shall they have spouses pure and there shall they abide forever (Q 2:25). Such descriptions are treated elsewhere (see Fruits; Hereafter; Parables of the Qurʾān; Plants and Vegetation).
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