Poetic Prose

Be of the Few

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In the tableau of the Torah and Qur`ān is a story symbolic of dunya. A king. An army. A river. King Ṭālut led his army, feeble and weak, to battle, and they stumbled upon a river along the way. “Allah is testing you with a river,” he said, “so whoever drinks from it is not from me, and whoever doesn’t taste it is from me, except the one who takes [water] with the hollow of his hand.”

فمن شرب منه فليس مني ومن لم يطعمه فإنه مني إلا من اغترف غرفة بيده

Parched throats and crackled hands, they perched upon the edge of the riverbank and watched the water glisten. Hints of hardship dissevered these men; the trials of travel starved them. “Just a handful?” they asked. They needed water, but they knew that a sample-—just enough to soothe their throats-—would tamper them into temptation. One sip would break their patience, and they would fall greedy for more.

“…except the one who takes [water] with the hollow of his hand.”

That river is a metaphor for dunya and that handful of water is our provision: we take just enough to keep our backs straight and our bodies marching on. But like Ṭālut’s men, most of us will take more than our share. We will sway to the sensations of consumerism, raping our earth of her resources, chasing after brand clothes that we don’t need, but want, chasing after five-dollar Starbucks drinks that promise to recruit us into the ring of “cool,” the latest iPhone, car model, technological trend-—we consume excessively in the same way that Ṭalut’s soldiers consumed water beyond their bodies’ capacity. And we are invariably left hungry for more.

Except for the few. “And a few of My servants are grateful.”

The few who, Qur`ān tells us, resisted. While their peers retreated home, these “few” dared not dip their hands for another sip and so they passed through to face Jālut’s armies. And they were victorious, Qur`ān tells us. Because when you recognize this dunya for the delusion that it is, its betrayal of all perfection, what is to stop you from trading your life for the breadth of the afterlife?

So I carry this duʿā with me, the duʿā of a nameless man from ʿUmar Ibn al-Khaṭṭāb’s reign that caused ʿUmar to weep. The man hummed the words, اللهم اجعلني من عبادك القليل “Oh Allah, make me from the few.” Because only a few of His servants are grateful.

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