It is natural, though, of man to seek and find pleasure in things that have been made unlawful by religion or culture. The things which man should not or cannot have are the things which he desires most. Things that are forbidden (haram), most often, appear every time to be the most attractive and most exciting to man. Something that is desired all the more because it is not allowed is a forbidden fruit. Any source of pleasure that involves breaking a rule or doing something that is prohibited is an illustration of forbidden fruit.
Greed is one of the intangibles of forbidden fruits. It brought Prophet Adam (AS) and Hauwa (Eve) out of the eternal bliss in the heaven down to this phenomenal planet where injustice, envy, immorality and criminality rather seem to be the norm. Adam and Eve were not only forbidden from eating of the tree of evil but were equally warned against approaching it. Unfortunately, they both failed to suppress their instincts which pushed and prompted them to eat from the forbidden fruits. The same greed has actually remained the source of nearly all the problems that later came to confront man in life; marking the beginning of many of today’s travails that man is going through.
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Allah (SWT) states in Quran 2: 35-36 “We said, O Adam! Dwell thou and thy wife in the garden; and eat of the bountiful things therein as (where and when) ye will; but approach not this tree, or ye run into harm and transgression. Then did Satan make them slip from the (Garden), and get them out of the state (of felicity) in which they had been. We said, ‘Get ye down, all (ye people); with enmity between yourselves. On earth will be your dwelling place and your means of livelihood for a time”. Were it not for man’s animalistic tendency, he should have patiently persevered not to eat of the forbidden fruits. After all, there were other fruits that were not only lawful but equally meant and preserved for his virtuous spiritual growth. Man is described to be animalistic in this context because it is only animals that would, out of unrestrained greed, eat of a poisoned food item or substance set on a snare.
This reminds me of a literary narrative of greed, which has refused to escape my memory. My passion for literary materials jostled me in the late 1970s into reading fictions. This was how I came across the symbolic description of greed by James Hadley Chase in one of his detective novels, “The paw in the bottle”. Chase wrote: “Have you heard of how they catch monkeys in Brazil? … They put a nut in a bottle, and tie the bottle to a tree. The monkey grasps the nut, but the neck of the bottle is too narrow to withdraw its paw and the nut. You will think the monkey will let go of the nut and escape. But it is so greedy it never releases the nut and it is always captured.” The way the monkey is always captured says much of how the greedy ends up in life. In any case, it should not matter to readers the source from which this figurative expression was taken. What matters most, I think, is its import and relevance to our present discourse.
Greed is a vice, dangerous in nature. Once you give way to greed, it shall sooner or later consume you. Surprisingly, man finds the evil in greed, a forbidden fruit, sweeter than the good in contentment. The end of greed, or more accurately, the beginning of its end is nothing short of disgrace, battered image and disrepute. One wonders how much a man needs to survive in this world that would warrant the kind of stealing that goes on today in government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) in Nigeria. Contentment, which should be valued, is rather detested and replaced in the heart of most men with greed.
Although arrogance is unlawful in Islam, many people find it ‘gratifying’ than humility just as they consider betrayal ‘juicier’ than the virtue in honesty. The wages of arrogance or pride, as happened to one of the Pharaohs of Egypt, is self-destruction. Pharaoh Ramzes II, along with his Israeli followers were destroyed for his arrogant transgression against Allah’s commandments. Arrogance leads man to forget that wealth, power, authority, children, knowledge, talents, and opportunities are all trust which Allah (SWT) places, as He wills, in the hands of those He wills.
Occasions for respecting the trust and confidence of our fellow men and women occur every day in our life. But only few of us attempt to preserve it. While the goodness in upholding and preserving any matter or item of trust is immeasurable, most men today prefer the unpalatable taste of the forbidden fruits of betrayals to the sweet harvests of trust and confidence.
Although usury (ribah) is a forbidden fruit, people yet prefer to create wealth out of it than from interest-free investments. Prophetic tradition (Sunnah) encourages us to be kind, honest and trustworthy but many people today find great pleasure and comfort in wickedness, dishonesty, and corruption. While it is virtuous to be one’s brother’s keeper, some of today’s men in Nigeria are happier as kidnappers, gunmen, killers, suicide bombers, terrorists, vandals, rapists, hard drug and substance addicts, thieves, armed robbers, cultists, cheats, scammers, or fraudsters. Subhana-llah!
Greed eats up the greedy in the same way the greedy eats and drinks with greed. The greedy is misguided by greed to become selfish, envious, materialistic and exploitative in his dealings with others. It denies the greedy the joy and peace of mind that come with contentment. Like the white ant, which sucks more than it should and dies of overfeeding from every sugary substance, the life of a greedy man naturally ends in regrets, shame, and distress. May Allah save us from the evil called greed, amin.