And covet not that which the Almighty hath made some of you excel others… (Envy not one another) but ask the Almighty of His bounties… He is the knower of all things. (Quran 4: 32)
The above question was said to have been posed by a woman to her husband. Where? The story did not say. When? Answer: unknown. But where and when did the incident occur does not actually matter. What mattered to me when the story came my was the eternal lesson embedded in it. The narrator, who happened to be the husband, continued the narration- “…our neighbour bought a car. My wife therefore began to wake me up from sleep every night pestering me to do whatever it would take for to buy a car too. She kept asking me rhetorically: “Is he not a man like you? Or is he from another planet? You have to do as he has done. You must also buy a car”. After much pressure. I eventually found the means to buy a car”.
Then the narrator went further saying: “After three months, my wife got to know that our neighbour has bought a parcel of land. Then she began to pester me to also look for means to buy a parcel of land. She would conclude by asking me, again rhetorically.: “Is he not a man like you”? As it was at the beginning, I succeeded in buying a parcel of land too. Each time she heard that my neighbour did something, she would come back home to begin to put pressure on me to do same. Until the day my neighbour brought in his second wife. Suddenly, there was no pressure on me to ‘be a man’ anymore.
The first thing that came to my mind after reading this story is the ayat of the Quran that reads- “Indeed in their stories there is a lesson for people of discernment” (Quran 12: 111) . Whereas the referential framework of this ayat does not belong, strictly, to the present but to the primordial period when the brothers of Prophet Yusuf (a.s) thought they could take him on a path other than that destined for him by his Creator, and whereas the story of Prophet Yusuf told to us in this chapter equally admits into its geography the uncanny politics between the male and female gender, this ayat, like other signs of the Almighty in creation, continues to be useful partly because the stories we read of and about in the Quran actually are not meant to be past perfect. Rather, they are meant to mirror the past in the present and the mediate the latter into the future.
In other words, when the Quran says “Indeed in their stories there is a lesson for people of discernment”, the semiotics of the category ‘stories’ referenced in the Ayat should not be delimited to that undated for undatable period in history when Prophet Yusuf had to go through the furnace of life in order to be on top of life. The ‘stories’ that the Quran hinted at, in my opinion, should include those being told today by human beings through their actions and inaction. These are stories of honesty and dishonesty, of treachery and trust, of faith and failure. They are stories of the unknowable ways and wiles of women in contradistinction to the predictably weak masculine chemistry of the male gender each time it comes face to face with the unfathomable depths of the female credo and sexuality.
Thus. when the wife of the narrator kept asking her to be a man, to follow the path trodden by her neighbour even in the knowledge that he neither had the means nor the capacity, her posture brings to fore some of the eternal lessons that Islam has always striven to teach into believers particularly in relation to the ideal or virtue known as contentment. Contentment is a virtue that is closely connected to having trust in the Almighty. When one shows contentment with what he has got and does not foster envy or hatred towards others, he is certain that the Almighty will not let him down and there is a great reward awaiting him. The Prophet (a.s) said: “Do not incline to the worldly life and the Almighty will love you. Have no desire for what people possess, and people will love you.”
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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.