The Fig at Teen
In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
By the fig and the olive, and the Mount of Sinai, and this secure city, We indeed have created man in the finest form When We brought him down to the lowest of the low except for those who believe and do righteous deeds for theirs shall be an unfailing recompense Who, then, can give you the lie as to the Last Judgement Is not Allah the most Just of judges?
The basic fact outlined in this surah is that of the upright nature which Allah has given man. This upright nature is essentially in perfect harmony with the nature Of faith. With faith it attains its ultimate perfection. But when man deviates from this upright nature and from the straight path of faith he sinks into the lowest of ranks.
Allah swears to the validity of this by the fig "teen", the olive "zaitoon", the Mount of Sinai "Toor Sineen" and the secure city of Makka "al-balad al-ameen". As we have already seen in many surahs of this thirtieth part of the Qur'an, this oath is the framework which perfectly fits the essential fact presented within it.
The Toor of Sinai is the Mount on which Moses received the Divine summons. The secure city is Makka, Allah's Holy House. The relationship between the two on the one hand and religion and faith on the other is obvious. But a similar relationship is not readily clear with regard to the figs and olives. Suggestions as to the significance of the figs and olives are numerous. It is said that the fig refers to the fig tree in heaven with the leaves of which Adam and his wife, Eve, tried to cover their private parts. Another suggestion is that the reference here is to the place where the fig tree appeared on the mountain where Noah's ship embarked.
As for the olive, it is suggested that it is a reference to the Mount of Toor Zaita in Jerusalem. It is also said that it refers to Jerusalem itself. Another suggestion is that it refers to the olive branch brought back by the pigeon which Noah released from the ship to examine the state of the floods. When the pigeon brought back the olive branch, he knew that the land had reappeared and that vegetation was growing.
A different opinion posits that the fig and olive mentioned in the surah are simply those two kinds of food with which we are familiar. Alternatively, it is claimed, they are symbols of growth out of land.
There is another reference in the Qur'an to the olive tree in association with the Mount. The verse there reads as follows: "And a tree issuing from Mount Sinai which bears oil and seasoning for all to eat." [Al-Qur'an 23:20] The olive tree is mentioned here for the only time in the Qur'an.
Hence, we cannot say anything definite on this matter. However, on the basis of parallel frameworks in other surahs of the Qur'an, the most likely explanation of the fig and olive mentioned here is that they refer to certain places or events which have some relevance to religion and faith or to man as the creature fairest in shape and form. (This may have been established in Heaven where man's life began.) The harmony between this detail and the main fact outlined in the surah is yet another example of the unique method of the Qur'an whereby the framework and the fact within it fits perfectly .
The essential fact of the surah is embodied in the verses: "We indeed have created man in the fairest form. Then We brought him down to the lowest of the low, except for those who believe and do righteous deeds, for their shall be an unfailing recompense."
Allah has perfected all His creation; and the special emphasis laid here and elsewhere in the Qur'an on man's being endowed with perfect form shows clearly that this creature, man, has enjoyed extra care. Moreover, Allah's care for this creature despite his distortion of his upright nature and the corruption he indulges in suggests that Allah has given him a special rank and a special weight in the universe. Allah's care is most clearly apparent in the moulding of his highly complicated physical structure and his unique spiritual and mental make up.
The emphasis here is on man's spiritual qualities since these are the ones which drag man down to the most ignoble state when he deviates from the upright nature and turns away from belief in Allah which is perfectly harmonious with this nature. It is needless to say that man's physical structure does not sink down into such a low level. Moreover, the superiority of man's creation is most clearly apparent in the spiritual qualities. He is made in a way which enables him to attain a sublime standard, superior to that of the highest ranking angels. This is illustrated in the story of the Prophet's ascension to Heaven. Then, Jibril stopped at a certain level and Muhammad, the human being, was elevated much higher.
At the same time, man is given the dubious ability to sink down to levels unreached by any other creature: "Then We brought him down to the lowest of the low. " In this latter case, the animals become superior to him and more upright since they do not violate their nature. They praise the Lord and fulfil their function on earth as they arc guided to do. But man who has been given the fairest form and abilities denies his Lord and sinks right down.
"We have created man in the fairest shape and form ". This is a reference to his nature and abilities. "Then We brought him down to the lowest of the low. " That is, when he forces this nature away from the line Allah has defined for him. Having laid down the way. Allah left man to choose whether to follow it or not.
"Except for those who believe and do righteous deeds." For these are men who stick to the upright nature, consolidate it with faith and righteous deeds, elevate it towards its destined level of perfection until they finally attain a life of perfection in the world of perfection: "for theirs shall be an unfailing recompense " But those who cause their nature to sink to the lowest of the low go down with it along their slippery road until they reach the lowest level, that is, in Hell where their humanity is shed and they are completely debased. Both ends are natural results of two widely different starts and lines of action.
Thus, the importance of faith in human life becomes clear. Faith is the elevating path through which upright human nature ascends to its ultimate perfection. It is the rope stretched between man and his Maker. It is the light showing him where to put his feet along the elevating path. When the rope is cut and the light put out, the inevitable result is the fall down the steep path into the lowest of the low. The clay element in man's make-up separates from the spiritual element and man, along with stones, becomes fuel for the hell-fire.
In the light of this fact, the Prophet is addressed in this manner " Who, then, can give you the lie as to the Last Judgement? Is not Allah the most Just of judges?" What makes you, man, belief this religion after you have known this fact, after having realised the importance of faith in the life of humanity, and after becoming aware of the destiny awaiting those who disbelieve, turn away from this light and refuse to follow the straight path laid down by Allah?
"Is not Allah the most just of judges?" Is not He the most Just when He gives this ruling concerning the destiny of creation? Is not Allah's wisdom clearest and most reassuring as He rules between the believers and the disbelievers? Justice is certainly clear and wisdom is manifest. Hence, we are taught in the tradition (Hadith) related by Abu Hurairah that when one reads this surah one should answer the rhetorical question "Is not Allah the most Just of judges?" by saying: "Indeed and I am a witness to that."