“Daddy!” I said.
“Yes, son?” my father replied.
“Why do people only work five days a week and not seven?” I asked.
“Well, because most people need a break from all the hard work that they…”
“But why?” I asked again.
“If you’ll just let me finish, I’ll tell you wh..”
“But why?” I pressed.
“Abid!” my father exclaimed.
“But why daddy? Why? Why? WHY?!”
*SLAP* “That’s why son. Feel free to ask any more questions and I’ll be happy to explain why again.”
Somewhere in my metamorphosis from child to awkward teenager and eventually incredibly handsome young man, I stopped asking why. Like the vast majority of us, I had resigned myself to make do with the relatively more mundane words of who, what, where and when. There are a few that I have seen that do continue to ask why, but soon you realize they are merely questioning for the sake of questioning. On the other hand, questioning for the sake of learning and understanding is something that the Qur’an highlights as being an essential prerequisite for deriving benefit from it. [Qur’an 4:82] Therefore, it is with great pleasure that in this article, I decided to choose a verse from the Qur’an and see where the journey of asking why takes me.
“And ‘O Adam, dwell, you and your wife, in Paradise and eat from wherever you will but do not approach this tree, lest you be among the wrongdoers.’” [Qur’an 7:19]
Interesting, why did Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala (exalted is He) say “this tree” and not “that tree” in the verse above? Also, why is there no mention of any unique qualities concerning this tree in the verse or in the Qur’an for that matter?
Whenever I think of the location of the tree, I imagine it being far away from Adam and Eve, peace be upon them—maybe in the middle of nowhere or some obscure part of Paradise that they rarely, if ever, visited. I definitely did not imagine it to be in their immediate presence. That is exactly what the verse implies by using “this” instead of “that. In fact, it goes so far as to give the impression that tree is literally right next to Adam and Eve.
The same goes for the description of the tree. Personally, the image that comes to my mind is one of a howling banshee tree, guarded by the Naazgul from the Lord of the Rings, wreathed in flames, its branches twisting uncontrollably and its roots devouring all those that lie in its path. After all, this was the tree right? The tree with which Allah (swt) tested Adam and Eve, that resulted in their removal from Paradise and subsequent placement here on earth. Of all the trees, this tree should have been the most fear-inducing, awe-inspiring, blood-curdling tree that had ever been created. Yet, there is no description of the tree in the Qur’an, other than the fact that, well, it’s just a tree.
Then it hit me, in just one verse, Allah (swt) is teaching us two important lessons about the nature of the tests we will face in this world. Firstly, the majority of trials and tribulations Allah (swt) will test us with will be using the trees that are right next to us and to which we have easy access. These trees can take any form: items, people, or even situations – be they YouTube videos, pornography, the guy in your class, the girl next door, the way in which many of us behave with our friends or even the manner in which we take care of our parents at home. Secondly, these trees will not appear like fire-breathing dragons in the night sky—they will look entirely normal and perfectly harmless.
Why are these two facts important? It is a result of this combination, that we get lured into a false sense of security. As a consequence of their disarming appearance and their proximity, most of us become oblivious to the fact that these trees are tests sent by Him, for us, taking place in real time. Like the tree mentioned in the verse above, they don’t look or feel like tests, at least the kind of tests that we have in mind. And even if they did look like tests initially, because we’re exposed to them on a daily basis, eventually we become desensitized.
Incidentally, it is this same mentality that is behind the alarming statistic that we are much more likely to have a road traffic accident within a five mile radius of our home, then driving in a narrow country lane in the darkness of the night. And yet for most of us, it is these very trees that will be our undoing.
For those of us desiring the Garden, let us therefore strive to look for the trees in our lives, to stay away from anything that brings us close to them, and if in our weakness or ignorance we do go near them, let us immediately turn back to Allah (swt) as our parents did. “They said, ‘Our Lord, we have wronged ourselves, and if You do not forgive us and have mercy upon us, we will surely be among the losers,’” [Qur’an 7:23]. Or else we find ourselves asking why for all the wrong reasons on the Day of Judgment.