Parable of the Hamlet in Ruins
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The Qur'an, in its second chapter, Al-Baqara, Quran 2:259, mentions a parable, concerning a man who passed by a hamlet in ruins, and asked himself how God will be able to resurrect the dead on the Day of Judgement. This parable has been one of the most popular in tradition and although Muslims do indeed believe this story to have been a real historical event, the identity of the man involved is unknown and is unimportant in the narrative.
The incident is identified by Abdullah Yusuf Ali with a number of Biblical events. One identification is Ezekiel's vision of dry bones. Another is Nehemiah's visit to Jerusalem in ruins after the Captivity and to Ezra, the scribe, priest and reformer, about whom many similar tales have come down in Jewish tradition over time. However, all scholars of Islam agree that the identity of the man is least important as the tale is given in the Qur'an as a parable.
The Qur'an narrates in Quran 2:259 that a man passed by a hamlet in ruins, where the people who lived there had died generations earlier, and then asked himself how God will be able to resurrect the dead on the Day of Judgement. The Qur'an goes on to say that God subsequently caused the man to die for a hundred years, and then raised him to life again. God then asked the man how long he felt he had "tarried thus", to which the man replied perhaps one day or part of day, at which point he was told the truth.
On the other hand, the food and the drink the man had with him were intact, and both were as fresh as it when he had left them, showing that God has power over all things and controls time for all things. The man's donkey, however, was not only dead but was reduced to pure skeletal form. And then, by God's power, the bones joined right in front of his eyes, and the body clothed itself in muscles, flesh and blood, resulting in the donkey coming back to life.
The Qur'anic verse reads:
Or (take) the similitude of one who passed by a hamlet, all in ruins to its roofs. He said: "Oh! How shall God bring it (ever) to life, after (this) its death?" But God caused him to die for a hundred years, then raised him up (again). He said: "How long didst thou tarry (thus)?" He said: (Perhaps) a day or part of a day." He said: "Nay, thou hast tarried thus a hundred years; but look at thy food and thy drink; they show no signs of age; and look at thy donkey: And that We may make of thee a sign unto the people, look further at the bones, how We bring them together and clothe them with flesh." When this was shown clearly to him, he said: "I know that God hath power over all things."
This parable is used to teach various lessons. Firstly, it represents that time is nothing to God, who has power over time. Secondly, it teaches that the keys of life, death and resurrection are in God's control only, and that man has no power over the three. Finally, like most Qur'anic parables, it illustrates that man's power is nothing, and that his utmost faith should rest in God and God only.
- The Holy Qur'an: Text, Translation and Commentary, Abdullah Yusuf Ali, Note. 304: This incident is referred variously;
- to Ezekiel's vision of dry bones (Ezekiel 37:1-10).
- to Nehemiah's visit to Jerusalem in ruins after the Captivity, and to its re-building (Nehemiah 1:12-20): and
- to Uzair, or Ezra, or Esdras, the scribe, priest, and reformer, who was sent by the Persian King after the Captivity to Jerusalem, and about whom there are many Jewish legends.
- The Holy Qur'an: Text, Translation and Commentary, Abdullah Yusuf Ali, Note. 305: "A man is in despair when he sees the destruction of a whole people, city, or civilization. But Allah can cause resurrection, as He has done many times in history, and as He will do at the final Resurrection. Time is nothing before Allah. The doubter thinks that he has been dead or "tarried thus" a day or less when the period has been a century. On the other hand, the food and drink which he left behind is intact, and as fresh as it was when he left it. But the donkey is not only dead, but nothing but bones is left of it. And before the man's eyes, the bones are reunited, clothed with flesh and blood, and restored to life. Moral: Time is nothing to Allah; it affects different things in different ways; The keys of life and death are in Allah's hands; Man's power is nothing; his faith should be in Allah."