Ayaat 17-33 ― the Parable of the Companions of Gardens
This is a parable that Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala made of the behavior of the Quraysh unbelievers with the great mercy, and tremendous favors He granted them. The mercy and favor of sending of Muhammad salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam to them. but they met him with denial, rejection and opposition.
“We have tried them as We tried the companions of the garden,” (68: 17) meaning they were tested as the people of a garden containing different types of fruits and vegetation. They vowed between themselves during the night that they would pluck the fruit of the garden in the morning so that the poor and the beggars would not know what they were doing. In this way, they would be able to keep its fruits for themselves and not give any of it in charity. “Without making exception,” (68: 18) meaning without saying “If Allah wills” therefore Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala broke their vow. They were so sure and confident of their power and authority that they swore they would surely pluck the fruit of their garden next morning, without feeling any need to say, “We shall do so if Allah so willed.”
And so while they were asleep their garden was afflicted with a heavenly destruction from their Lord and it appeared as if it has been harvested, withered and dry. As the morning approached, they called each other to go together to pick the harvest or cut it. “So they set out, while lowering their voices,” (68: 23) meaning they spoke privately about what they were doing so that no one could hear what they said. Then Allah, the All-Knower of secrets and private discussions explained what they were saying in private. They were telling each other to not allow any poor person to enter upon them in the garden today. They proceeded to their garden with strength and power thinking they had the power to do what they claimed and desired. But when they saw their garden withered and dry, they said, “Indeed, we are lost,” (68: 27). They thought they had lost their way and reached somewhere else because they remembered their garden being full of luster, brilliance and abundance of fruit. It was not black, gloomy and void of any benefit as what they saw before their eyes now. Then they changed their minds and realized with certainty that it was actually the correct path. Therefore, they said, “Rather, we have been deprived,” (68: 27) meaning nay, this is it, but we have no portion and no share of harvest.
“The awsat among them said, ‘Did I not say to you: Why do you not exalt [Allah]?’” (68: 28), Ibn ‘Abbas, Mujahid, Sa’eed ibn Jubair, ‘Ikrimah, Muhammad ibn Ka’ab and others said that the awsat [أَوْسَطُهُمْ] among them means ‘the most just of them and the best of them.’ Exalting Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala here means saying, “If Allah wills.” As-Suddi said, “Their making exception due to the will of Allah in that time was by glorifying Allah (tasbeeh). It has also been said that this ayah means that the best of them said to the others, “Did I not tell you, why don’t you glorify Allah and thank Him for what He has given you and favored you with?”
They said, “Exalted is our Lord! Indeed, we were wrongdoers,” (68: 29) meaning they became obedient when it was of no benefit to them, and they were remorseful and confessed when it was not of any use. Then they turned against one another blaming each other for what they had resolved to do, preventing the poor people from receiving their right of the harvest and fruit. Thus, their response to each other was only to confess their error and sin. This is the attitude of a person who is at fault, he blames other people for his mistakes. Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala has blessed each one of us with intellect. We are not making use of our brain and insight then we cannot blame others for our loss and failures.
They said, “O woe to us; indeed we were transgressors,” (68: 30) meaning we have transgressed, trespassed, violated and exceeded the bounds until this happened to us. The repented to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala and hoped for something better in exchange to their garden either in this life or in the abode of the Hereafter.
Some of the Salaf mentioned that these people were from Yemen. Sa’eed ibn Jubair said, “They were from a village that was called Darawan which was six miles from San’a’ (in Yemen).” It has also been said, “They were from the people of Ethiopia whose father had left them this garden, and they were from the People of the Book. Their father used to handle the garden in a good way. Whatever he reaped from it he would put it back into the garden as it needed, and he would save some of it as food for his dependants for the year, and he would give away the excess in charity. Then, when he died, and his children inherited the garden they said, ‘Verily, our father was foolish for giving some of this garden’s harvest to the poor. If we prevent them from it, then we will have more.’ So when they made up their minds to do this they were punished with what was contrary to their plan. Allah took away all of what they possessed of wealth, gain and charity. Nothing remained for them.”
Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala ends the address by saying, “Such is the punishment,” (68: 33) of whoever opposes the command of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala, is stingy with what Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala has given him and favored him with, withholds the right of the poor and needy, and responds to Allah’s blessings upon him with ungratefulness (or disbelief). “And the punishment of the Hereafter is greater, if they only knew,” (68:33) meaning the withering of their fruitful garden was the punishment of this life. There is another punishment in the Hereafter which will be harder.
We seek refuge with Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala from arrogance, stinginess and greediness, and from the punishment of this world and the next, aameen.