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On 'Planting a Seedling'

"Even if the end of time is upon you and you have a seedling in your hand, plant it!" I first encountered this Prophetic Tradition years ago in a Friday sermon “on the occasion of Forest Week.” In the following years, I came to understand that these words are constantly cited via this unfitting correlation. Those who vociferously repeat these words in order to encourage the planting of trees have clearly not asked themselves these questions: "If the world is coming to an end, why should I plant a seedling? Why should I go to so much trouble for a tree that will not bear fruit? When it is more than obvious that it will not bear fruit, and even if it did, when it is clear that no one will be able to eat from it, and what’s more, when the world is coming to an end, why should my first priority be tree replanting?"

The treatment that this Prophetic Tradition, and indeed many others, receives is a sign of unawareness of the blessed Prophet’s elevated foresight and vision. Binding these words to just the ‘seedling’ is an unfortunate example of indifference to the profundity of the Prophetic warning. Even if ‘tree replanting’ was implied in the tradition, the intention is certainly not tree replanting in and of itself. These words are not so pragmatic and cheap as to be thrown and depleted in the basket of the "Forest Week" magazine.

The key of viewing the world from the vantage point of the Hereafter is hidden within these words. Because the believer does not suffice with believing in the Hereafter; they experience their world realizing the Hereafter as their present reality. The believer is not awaiting the coming of eternity; with the consciousness that their end is eternity do they partake in ‘now.’ With the consciousness of eternity do they lend color to ‘today.’ They make the Hereafter the delight of ‘the here and now.’ Deep is their breath. They spread the wings of the moment to infinity.

It is precisely for this reason that a believer does not evaluate the worth of their actions according to their results in the world. They do not attempt to pick their fruit in this world. They do not see action without results as futile; they see the delicacy of treading the path towards the ends, as the ends itself. They do not set their preoccupation with causes according to attaining, or not attaining, the end result. They do not yield to an opportunist mentality which says, "Look, if you are to accept my supplication my Lord, then I will pray; if not, then I won’t even bother!" They consider not just the result of their action in this world but its projection in the Hereafter as the ‘fruit.’ They do not assess the quality of their endeavor according to success but, knowing that they knock on the door of God’s mercy with their striving, consider the endeavor itself as success. They do not measure their supplication according to whether or not is accepted, but see the act of making the supplication itself as ‘the best acceptance.’

The believer, who remains hopeful even if the Last Hour comes, is certain of eternity even at their very end, treats those doomed to destruction as though they were permanent. They discern all that will turn to dust, die away, wither and wane with a discernment that will eternalize each one of them.

Beware of the statement in this tradition, "Even if the end of time is upon you:" Is there any moment in which the world is not ending? The world ends very moment. Are the mountains not moving with time? Are breaths not decreasing with every moment? Are the roofs not falling day by day? Is time not contracting? There is no need, then, to associate "planting a seedling" to the specific moment of the world’s "coming to an end". Uniting the seedling in one’s hand to the soil it deserves is the task of every moment.

While saying, "plant the seedling in your hand," the Prophetic outlook lays the world as the arable field of the Hereafter before our very eyes. It brings to mind our responsibility in terms of this world. It implies that a believer’s "share in this world" is the "abode of the Hereafter." (See Al-Qasas, 28:77) To extract infinity from the finite is why the believer is here. They expect endless life from the transitory world. They present themselves as "a beautiful example for one who hopes for God and the Last Day." The narration demands us to treat both the seedling in our hand and the earth beneath our feet with the same delicacy as a farmer who has great hope for his field. A farmer who expects harvest from his land generates a conduct high in aesthetic value. Hasana (beauty and goodness) is not the vocation of those who do not have hope in God and the Last Day; they cannot be its subject. They cannot exist as "a beautiful example" (uswa al-hasana). Whereas the believer, who remains hopeful even if the Last Hour comes, is certain of eternity even at their very end, treats those doomed to destruction as though they were permanent. They discern all that will turn to dust, die away, wither and wane with a discernment that will eternalize each one of them; in such a manner do they attend to their “field.” A believer in expectation of eternity from their field of the world exists with graciousness in that field and carries out good works therein.

It is perhaps for this reason that the statement following the verse with the reminder, "do not forget your share in this world," is one which calls to goodness: "Do good to others as God has done good to you (out of His pure grace)." (Al-Qasas, 28:77) Just as God has pledged the beauty of infinity in the finite, you too, through seeing that pledge of eternity, should treat the transitory with kindness and exist with grace in that finite realm.

Because the effort to place the seedling one holds into the earth in itself yields eternity; it is an act of goodness that will exist perpetually; it is ihsan (Perfect Goodness).

The rough treatment of the things at their disposal by one who considers them to be passing is to a degree understandable. Mistreating those things that are doomed to destruction can perhaps be excused. But the believer does not treat the things they have in their hand with the crude, "It's all over anyway!" attitude, even though they may be in the final stages of the Last Hour. Because the effort to place the seedling one holds into the earth in itself yields eternity; it is an act of goodness that will exist perpetually; it is ihsan (Perfect Goodness). The one and only fruit of the act of planting a seedling is not the fruit yielded when the seedling branches out and blossoms. The effort to place every stone in its rightful place is in itself a fruit, an end result. Reaching the destination is not the actual aim, but to walk on the path toward the destination with a grace which that destination deserves. The outcome is not the objective, but to tread the steps leading to the objective with delicacy and care. How can those who cannot walk steadily toward the destination ever deserve to remain steady when they get there!

In short: "Unite the seedling in your hand with its soil, even if you see the world to be coming to an end." That is, do not take the Last Hour seriously; stand on this fleeting earth with a ‘qiyam[1] that cannot be toppled even at the end of time. Do not calibrate your courtesy according to the world’s being finite. Do not construct your morality upon momentariness. Do not spurn and reject those things at your disposal with the opportunism of, "We’ve come here once, we’re not coming back anyway…" Every touch of the transitory holds within it the seed of a touch that is everlasting. Every gaze upon a finite countenance conceals the harvest of an eternal gaze in its eye.

Here and now, you are planting in the soil of the world, the seedling of an existence everlasting and beautiful. Can’t you see; the world is ending.



[1] Literally meaning "to stand" in Arabic, the term is also the name given to a position of prayer when one remains in the upright position.

 

Comments

 
Susan hamideh
Susan hamideh01.01.2016

The end for all of us is near our deaths ,that's why until our last breath on this planet we should all plant trees .In our progeny for starters .

01.01.2016

 

Husna Maryam
Husna Maryam05.03.2015

This is the most striking alluring analysis I've heard of this quote. I teach young girls at Masjid in Islamic Studies and I am most definitely using this article to formulate our next session. Jazakallahu Khairun for that enlightening piece.

05.03.2015

 

Sami
Sami11.06.2013

breathtaking analysis! thank you for this

11.06.2013