The Qur’an says:
Allah sets forth a parable: (consider) a slave, the property of another, (who) has no power over anything, and one whom We have granted from Ourselves a goodly sustenance so he spends from it secretly and openly; are the two alike? (All) praise is due to Allah! Nay, most of them do not know. (Al-Nahl 16: 75)
Dear brother can you please explain to me what the above verse means? The reason I ask is because a Non-Muslim is using this verse to prove that Islam does not regard poor people as equal to the rich. He says that if Allah is just he would not declare rich righteous people to be better than the poor righteous because one has been given more opportunity to do good (i.e. through spending money in the way of Allah) than the other (because he does not have those resources at his disposal). How can one answer this criticism?
The referred parable of the Qur’an is not to show that the ‘poor’ and the ‘rich’ are not equal. On the contrary, it is to show that a free person and one possessed by another are not equal in the authority that they have over things that they apparently possess. A free person may spend of his possessions as, when and however he wishes, while a person, who himself is possessed does not have the authority to spend things, which may apparently seem to be in his possession.
The referred parable is to show the stupidity in ascribing partners to God and then to consider these partners to have the power to bestow good things upon humans. The Qur’an has stressed that everything besides the one God is, in fact, a creation and a possession of the One God. It is absolutely subservient to the commands and directives of God. Nothing has any power to bestow anything upon humans. Thus, those who ascribe partners to the One God and then call upon them to help them and to bestow upon them the good things of life, are like those whose hopes are attached with slaves and souls, which themselves are possessed by others.
It is in this context that the Qur’an has given the referred example. The Qur’an says:
And they worship besides the One God things, which have absolutely no authority to bestow anything upon them, neither in the heavens nor the earth, and are absolutely powerless. Do not give examples about God. Indeed God knows, while you do not. [To clarify the stupidity involved in worshiping others besides God,] God gives an example of a possessed slave, who has no power over anything and a [free] person, whom We have bestowed with blessings. Thus, he spends of these blessings [with his free will] secretly and openly. Are the two equal [in authority and power]? [Definitely not.] Indeed all gratitude is due only to the One God. Yet most of them know not. (Al-Nahl 16: 73 – 75)
It should be clear from the above translation that the referred parable has nothing to do with any [proposed] disparity between the ‘rich’ and the ‘poor’ and, therefore, the cited criticism does not apply to it.
November 30, 2000