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Remembering the wool spinner in Makkah


Pilgrims observing Jumat prayer at Haram in Makkah.

Such is the Quran- it is a book which makes every reading the beginning of other readings. Such is the style of the last testament- each time it is read, the reader comes away with stories of life which are told in storeys. Such is the essence of the Quran; each timdr.e the believer holds the book, he is thrown between the past and the present and between the present and the future.

Yes. It is only a couple of days ago. I was trying to complete my second ‘tawaf’ in and around the book. You remember every letter read in the book carries with it a reward only the Almighty can offer; every word in the Tanzil carries with it a world of miracle, every sign (ayat) in al-Kitab bears different signifiers the significations of which is the panoramic world.

Yes. A couple of days I “entered” into the world of the honey bees. Rather, I reached that point in the Quran where the honey bees enjoy such divine patronage that a chapter is named after them. It is chapter 16- Surah al-Nahl. I began my recitation. As I continued my ‘journey’ in and through the text, I made sure that I paused to ponder the messages the Almighty desire that every reader take away from his or her interface with the Quran. Eventually I got to Ayat ninety-two in the chapter which reads ‘And do not become like the woman who, after having painstakingly spun her yarn, caused it to disintegrate into pieces. You resort to oaths as instruments of mutual deceit so that one people might take greater advantage than another although the Almighty puts you to the test through this. Surely on the day of resurrection He will make clear the Truth concerning the matters over which you differed”.

Pondering the group of signs (aayat) in the above passage, in the text, meant an active pursuit of the story behind the text- the pursuit of the context. I then asked myself: “who could the unfortunate woman be? Is she one other metaphor that we constantly read about in the Quran or she was a real subject whose story the Quran wants believers to take lessons from? What lessons do we then learn from this passage”?

A quick review of sources at my disposal returns the following: the woman who used to spin the wool actually once lived in Makkah. According to some exegetes, she was known as Kharqah Makkah. Other sources refer to her as Rabtah bint Umar bn kaab. Other sources refer to her as Jaranah. It has equally been suggested that she was probably of unstable mind. But despite her mental status, she had under her control some slaves. She was a popular wool spinner. Every morning she would put her slaves to work spinning large quantities of wool. However by evening time, she would give instruction to her maids to unspin the wool she had toiled to put together since dawn thereby rendering all her efforts and that of her maids a nullity.

A number of lessons immediately become available for our contemplation. The first relates to the Quranic style of focusing not on personalities but on issues to be learnt from the travails in life. In other words, apart from the Prophets of the Almighty, hardly do we read of the mention, by name, of characters from whose life the Quran wants us to take lessons. We are thus enjoined to avoid discussing people but rather focus on issues.

But perhaps more importantly is the very circumstance of the said woman and the way she engage in willful destruction of her good works. It is at this juncture that I found the argument of presenting this story to you today. In other words, if we look at the story of this woman, the story of her profession, the efforts she constantly put into spinning her wool from dawn only to begin to destroy them by herself at dusk, it begins to make sense to me that the story is meant to throw a number of questions up for our contemplation: who would be happy to play the role of the woman? Who would want to toil and labour all day long only to willfully destroy the fruits of his labour at dusk?

Thus the above story is actually a metaphor for our acts of worship. The persona of the woman is a metaphor for all believers who constantly make efforts to please the Almighty through noble acts of worship. The wool in the story of the woman probably references the fast, the salat, the alms given to the poor by the believer and the rites of hajj the Muslim sister carefully carried out when they were due. The unbelievable but willful destruction of the already spun wool by the woman is a metaphor for the ways by which we also engage in iniquitous acts and deeds which usually render nugatory all acts of worship we have toiled and labored to put forward to our Creator. The Almighty says: “And do not become like the woman who, after having painstakingly spun her yarn, caused it to disintegrate into pieces…”

Brethren, we all know the means by which we render nugatory our acts of worship. To cite an example- a brother offered a helping hand during this month to another brother in need. He fed a Muslim who was fasting a couple of days ago. Days later he met the brother in the mosque and upbraided the latter for neglecting to thank him for his compassion. Brethren, this is a classic example of ‘a man who spins wool in the morning only to destroy it at dusk’. Ponder your acts of worship and righteousness. Ask yourself in what ways are you spinning the wool and in what ways are you rendering the wool asunder?
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