The House and People’s Spiritual Failings

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Spahic Omer
Kulliyyah of Architecture and Environmental Design
International Islamic University Malaysia

The Qur’an furnishes us with a number of lessons on housing. One of those lessons is related to the relationship between the house phenomenon and people’s spiritual failings.

The Qur’an warns that the blessing and sanctity of the house must not be abused. The house must notbe turned into a field, or a catalyst, for defying Allah’s authority and the authority of His divine commandments. Doing that would imply a clear sign of one’s disobedience and ungratefulness. In case someone rebels against Allah, using his house as a place and protective shield for his misbehavior, then only he will be the one to be blamed for whatever might come next as a consequence. Often, however, it is not only the people that are affected by the unavoidable outcomes resulting from their mischief, but also their houses, the very symbols of their being and their identities.

{jcomments on}          While revealing the causes of the spiritual ruin of certain people in this worldly life, Allah singles out the trap of excessive love for houses in which many people fall, as one of such causes. People tend to adore unduly their houses making use of them either as the end of their flawed spiritual cravings, or as the means for achieving some other forms of their waywardness. This is perhaps for the reason that people misconstrue the house phenomenon: as both a concept and sensory reality, as well as the roles of its form and function, and thus invest a lot of time, wealth and energy in those aspects of the house which are of less significance for the realization of man’s purpose on earth. Allah says: “Say: If your fathers and your sons and your brethren and your mates and your kinsfolk and property which you have acquired, and the slackness of trade which you fear and dwellings which you like, are dearer to you than Allah and His Messenger and striving in His way, then wait till Allah brings about His command: and Allah does not guide the transgressing people.” (al-Tawbah, 24)

          When exposing the addiction to materialism and the selfish fancies and aims of the polytheists of Makkah, who persistently defied Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and his message, Allah says: “And they say: We will by no means believe in you until you cause a fountain to gush forth from the earth for us. Or you should have a garden of palms and grapes in the midst of which you should cause rivers to flow forth, gushing out. Or you should cause the heaven to come down upon us in pieces as you think, or bring Allah and the angels face to face (with us). Or you should have a house of gold, or you should ascend into heaven, and we will not believe in your ascending until you bring down to us a book which we may read. Say: Glory be to my Lord; am I aught but a mortal messenger?” (al-Isra’, 90-93)

Insisting on having “a house of gold”, among other things, so that they could believe in the Prophet (pbuh) and his message, bears witness to the gross misjudgments, self-centeredness, going astray and the intellectual as well as spiritual flaws of every unbeliever and skeptic, which the polytheists of Makkah typified. As expected, the material aspect is the only lens through which things and events, including the issue of the house and housing, those people observe and judge.

Furthermore, Allah looks down on excessive and meaningless house beautification and ornamentation rooted in unbelief and wrongdoing. By extension, the same applies to attaching excessive and inappropriate attention to the overall form of houses, especially if that becomes at the expense of their proper function. So little value is it attached to such matters in the spiritual world. The same more often hinders than helps. It is more essential, and so timely required, that houses are bolstered and embellished with the strong faith of their occupants and the sincere good deeds of theirs towards Allah, people and the elements in nature. The beautification of houses and their general physical appearances are to be viewed and appreciated only against the backdrop of this spiritual paradigm. Allah thus says: “And were it not that all people had been a single nation, We would certainly have assigned to those who disbelieve in the Beneficent Allah (to make) of silver the roofs of their houses and the stairs by which they ascend. And the doors of their houses and the couches on which they recline, and (other) embellishments of gold; and all this is naught but provision of this world's life, and the hereafter is with your Lord only for those who guard (against evil).” (al-Zukhruf, 33-35)

Qarun, who was of the people of Prophet Musa (Moses) and who was one of the most affluent people that ever lived, was and remained the symbol of disobedience, arrogance, extravagance and selfishness. In order to punish him appropriately and thus bequeath a comprehensive and lasting lesson to others, from his contemporaries and from all the subsequent generations, Allah caused the earth, upon which he used to walk ungratefully and haughtily, to swallow up him and his house. This way, the punishment and the lessons intended were most apt.

Qarun’s arrogance and pomp was duly met with utter humiliation. His portrayal of his self as someone existing on a higher plane than the rest of his “lowly” contemporaries, especially the believers who followed Prophet Musa, was met with him being swollen by the earth to its deepest point, thus implying that not only was he “brought down to earth”, but also that in disgrace and humiliation he was sent, literally, as much low as he fancied to go high. He wanted the pinnacle of worldly power, prosperity and contentment, but got the nadir of failure, shame, regret and chastisement in both worlds.

With Qarun his house was swollen as well, for the reason that as he and his acts were epitomizing all the wrong hedonistic tendencies, his house, likewise, was epitomizing the same thing, but in the sense that the house operated as the container, or the chief physical locus, of his wickedness where it was, more than anywhere else, strategized, cultivated, advanced and practiced. Qarun’s house served as the launching pad for his spreading of evil to the outside world. Destroying both Qarun and his house meant the total obliteration of a sophisticated evil scheme. While Qarun was the main protagonist in such a scheme, his house played the most vital role in sustaining it.

Allah says about Qarun’s story: “Surely Qarun was of the people of Musa, but he rebelled against them, and We had given him of the treasures, so much so that his hoards of wealth would certainly weigh down a company of men possessed of great strength. When his people said to him: Do not exult, surely Allah does not love the exultant; and seek by means of what Allah has given you the future abode, and do not neglect your portion of this world, and do good (to others) as Allah has done good to you, and do not seek to make mischief in the land, surely Allah does not love the mischief-makers. He said: I have been given this only on account of the knowledge I have. Did he not know that Allah had destroyed before him of the generations those who were mightier in strength than he and greater in assemblage? And the guilty shall not be asked about their faults. So he went forth to his people in his finery. Those who desire this world's life said: O would that we had the like of what Qarun is given; most surely he is possessed of mighty good fortune. And those who were given the knowledge said: Woe to you! Allah's reward is better for him who believes and does good, and none is made to receive this except the patient. Thus We made the earth to swallow up him and his house; so he had no body of helpers to assist him against Allah nor was he of those who can defend themselves. And those who yearned for his place only the day before began to say: Ah! (know) that Allah amplifies and straitens the means of subsistence for whom He pleases of His servants; had not Allah been gracious to us, He would most surely have abased us; ah! (know) that the ungrateful are never successful. (As for) that future abode, We assign it to those who have no desire to exalt themselves in the earth nor to make mischief and the good end is for those who guard (against evil)” (al-Qasas, 76-83)

The similar reasons given as regards the relationship between the malevolence of Qarun, his house and his ultimate doom, could also be given as regards the relationship between the malevolence of some other past communities, which Allah had destroyed, and between their houses and their ultimate doom. In some instances concerning those communities, people’s houses were used as both the means and arena for the execution of the divine pronounced sentences. Their houses, at the end, became their own necropolis. For example, about the cruel fate of Thamud, the wicked people of Prophet Salih, Allah says: “So when Our decree came to pass, We delivered Salih and those who believed with him by mercy from Us, and (We saved them) from the disgrace of that day; surely your Lord is the Strong, the Mighty. And the rumbling overtook those who were unjust, so they became motionless bodies in their homes, as though they had never dwelt in them; now surely did Thamud disbelieve in their Lord; now surely, away with Thamud.” (Hud, 66-68)

About the disastrous end of Madyan, the evil people of Prophet Shu’ayb, Allah says: “And when Our decree came to pass We delivered Shu'ayb, and those who believed with him by mercy from Us, and the rumbling overtook those who were unjust so they became motionless bodies in their homes, as though they had never dwelt in them; now surely perdition overtook Madyan as had perished Thamud.” (Hud, 94-95)

The wording in the last two verses is very similar to the wording in the verses quoted earlier on Thamud, the people of Prophet Salih. This is, perhaps, because of the similarities in the nature and extent of the wickedness of both communities. Those probable similarities are indicated at the end of the last couple of verses, in Allah’s words: “now surely perdition overtook Madyan as had perished Thamud”.

A companion of the Prophet (pbuh), Abdullah b. Umar, if he wanted to stir up his heart, he would go to the site of a ruined building and from its entrance he would call out in a sad voice: “Where are your (the building’s) occupants now?” He would then come to his senses and recite the following Allah’s words: “Every thing is perishable but He; His is the judgment, and to Him you shall be brought back.” (al-Qasas, 88)


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