Our Forbidden Tree
Updated: May 29, 2020
At the beginning of creation, God created Adam and Eve and settled them in Paradise. One of the instructions He gave them has come in Surah al-Araf: “To Adam He said, ‘You and your wife, dwell in the Garden and eat and drink there from wherever you wish, but do not approach this tree, lest you become wrongdoers.’” (7:19)
“Our Lord, we have wronged our souls: if You do not forgive us and have mercy on us, we shall be among the lost.” (7:23)
This is not an event that occurred at the time of creation but in reality, it holds a profound lesson for humanity. The lesson is that there is a Forbidden Tree in this world for every individual and we must stay away from. Whoever approaches the Forbidden Tree would risk his entry to Paradise. This is the example that God set in the beginning of the creation.
We often complain about people, about the way things are, about society, even the weather. But this is a very lethal habit. If we take a moment and think, we may realize that today itself we may have expressed complaint about some or the other matter. This is really our “Forbidden Tree” of the present day. We need to understand this.
We get a clue from the life of the Prophet Abraham. Four thousand years ago, the Prophet Ibrahim settled his wife Hajra and his son Ismail in the desert of Arabia and returned to Syria. Later, when Ismail grew up he married a woman of the Jurhum tribe. After some years, Ibrahim visited them and met Ismail’s wife. The woman complained of living in very difficult conditions and all the hardship she was facing there. Ibrahim asked her to deliver the following message to Ismail, ‘Replace your doorstep/doorway.’ Ismail later separated from his wife and married another woman. After some time, Hazarat Ibrahim came back to meet his family. Ismail was away and his new wife, rather than have any complaints or grudges was thankful for everything. On hearing this, Hazarat Ibrahim said to her, “When Ismail comes home convey my message to him, ‘Retain your doorway.’” (Sahih al-Bukhari) This incident concerning Hazarat Ibrahim shows that the individuals required by God must possess a positive psychology, and have no tendency to complain. Complaining is in God’s eyes, approaching our forbidden tree and eating its fruit.
Why this is so essential is because, in this world, we have to strive to become an-nafsul mutmainna (a soul at peace, a contended soul), who will be given entry to Paradise. This cannot be achieved through bitterness, complaint, registering grievances and raging in protest against things or situations. We derive an essential lesson for ourselves. We cannot afford to complain even if we apparently have cause for complaint. The human brain is such that when we begin to perform an action, the brain forms neural networks for it. If we engage in that action more, the brain becomes hardwired into it. Then we start doing that action without consciously realizing that we are doing it. So if we take to complaining often, we might develop a habit and the worst is we may begin to complain without there being a reason to complain.
The Prophet Muhammad has set an example. In the year 622 AD he migrated from Makkah and reached Madinah. Books on Prophet’s biography tell us that when he reached Madinah, he delivered his first sermon there. What did he say? He informed people about the reality of life and death: “O people, save yourself from the Fire even if it be by giving a piece of date in charity.” We must understand the situation at the time. The Prophet had been expelled from his country. He had been only preaching an idea. But he was persecuted at length for it. The opponents had tried everything to ruin him financially, cut off all ties with him and reduce him to a state of helplessness. When he reached Madinah, he did not utter a single word about the past atrocities and hostilities he had suffered for so long. He did not give a speech detailing his oppression and that his fundamental right to life in his own country was snatched away. Rather, he turned people’s attention to the far greater issue facing him and them: the issue of the Hereafter and accountability to God on the Day of Judgment.
The habit of being negative, have grievances can ruin one’s personality. When you are negative about something, it is not an isolated event. It is not like stone in a glass of water which stays in one corner, rather it is like a dye which fills the entire water in the glass. The water and the dye become indistinguishable. A single instance of negativity is thus sufficient to corrode your inner personality.
Q1. How can we come out of the habit of complaining?
A1. The Prophet of Islam has said: “The best persons are those whose lips are moist with the remembrance of God.” What does this mean. You must focus on the 99% that you have. Not on the 1% you do not have. Our eyes are set on the 1%, and that makes us full of discontentment. You do not have to wait for fame, honour, money, etc. to thank God. Consider this. The very fact I am sitting here and breathing is a big blessing. I was reading about those covid patients who had to be given oxygen through ventilators, a breathing tube goes inside the throat to deliver oxygen to their lungs from a machine. The process is artificial and the body repels it. We normally take deep breaths, but the ventilator involves giving short bursts of oxygen. People’s arms and legs have to be tied to prevent them from throwing it away. This shocks them and some become stressed due to the experience even after being cured. It is traumatic for them. This called post-intensive care stress disorder.
So, focusing on the 99% you already have. This is remembrance of God. This alone is overwhelming. It would reduce everything you apparently do not have to something trivial and insignificant. Living in God and not living in man. Rather, learn to expand the 1% you have so that it overshadows the 99% -- a remarkable way of being positive in spite of having reason for complaints.