The flash of the firefly and the breadth of buffalo – Prof. Afis Oladosu
The people of al-Hijr denied the Messengers. We brought them Our Signs but they turned away from them. They carved out houses from the mountains, feeling safe, but the Great Blast seized hold of them in the morning, so all that they earned was of no use to them. (Q15: 80-84)
It is a mansion. Everything about it gives a sense of a splendor; of the presence of everything money could buy.
From a distance, the passer-by could count chalets of different architectural designs. The roofing sheets, though now jaded and worn out, were definitely the ones only the millionaire of yesterday could buy. Brethren, this is a mansion built by one of the powerful men of yesterday in this region. But alas! It is now desolate and prostrate. It is now deserted and rejected. On your way from that other city and back, you could see its new “landlords” and “occupiers”: termites, rodents, maggots and other crawlers. The big mansion of yesterday is now a hut of today; it is loathed even by the sons and daughters of the big man of yesterday.
Brethren, look around our cities today, you would discover there are new millionaires in town. Yes! Millionaires and billionaires: men and women who are competing, on a daily basis, for the world. They are competing to build new mansions, new estates. They are stealing from the public wealth to build houses their children would put on sale after their demise. They are busy building mansions that would be ‘inherited’ by termites and caterpillar ants tomorrow!
Now when compared to the ones built by those who came before us, men and women of discernment would agree with me that our dwellings and mansions today, no matter the engineering wizardry that may be ‘inflicted’ on them, are actually like anthills in comparison to those built by, for example, the Thamud. Remember, the people of Thamud. Those were really ‘great’ men. Brethren, of peoples and nations mentioned in the Qur’an, the Thamud are the ones about whom we probably have the most extensive knowledge today. Historical resources reveal that a people called Thamud indeed existed. They are the ones referred to as the people of Hijr in the Qur’an. (Q15). The Greeks also refer to this people as Tamudaei, i.e. Thamud, in the writings of Aristo, Ptolemy, and Pliny. They lived before Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s), by approximately between 400-600 AD. Eventually, they ceased to exist. They lived in luxurious dwellings. They lived in houses made not of bricks and blocks like yours and mine. They lived in mountains carved out by themselves with their own bare hands. Brethren, imagine how mighty a race the Thamud was! The Almighty alludes to this when He says: The people of al-Hijr denied the Messengers… They carved out houses from the mountains, feeling safe, but the Great Blast seized hold of them in the morning, so all that they earned was of no use to them. (Q15:80-84)
Brethren, whenever providence takes you on a trip to Jordan, enquire about the location of the Thamud. There you would see marvelous stonework and the expertise of those people. You would see their landmarks in the Rum Valley in Jordan, better known as Petra. Prophet Salih (a.s) was sent to them: “Remember when the Almighty appointed you successors to ‘Ad and settled you in the land. You built palaces on its plains and carved out houses from the mountains. Remember the Almighty’s blessings and do not go about the earth, corrupting it.” (Qur’an, 7:74)
In other words, having found themselves in luxury, the Thamud and ‘Ad began to see themselves as the center of the universe. They neglected the lessons, which were inherent in their own nature and existence: that the power which created them as powerful subjects is that whose power is inimitable.
Brethren, we need more contemplation of their history. The latter should inform us that while the Thamud built their own mansions from elements in nature, majority of the mansions being built by ‘big men’ of today equally have iniquitous foundations. Like the Thamud, these are men who do not know what life really is: that it is like the flash of a firefly in the night, the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. Brethren, human life is like the little shadow, which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.
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Afis Ayinde Oladosu is a professor of Middle Eastern, North African and Cultural Studies.Dean, Faculty of Arts,
University of Ibadan, Nigeria