A Different Format
This story is also referred to as the People of the Ditch or the People of the Trench. The presentation of this story is unique because the conclusion is set out in the Qu’ran (Surah Al Burooj), but the main narrative of the incidents that unfolded is contained in a Hadith.
Not much detail was given on the location and timeline, nor do we know the name of the key people involved. Allah did not give us the detail, but what is important is the message that can be extracted from these incidents.
The People of the Trench are so elevated in the Qur’an that Surah Al Burooj begins with a promise from Allah by the location of the stars. Stars are powerful and fixed, and any change in the position of the stars or their precise orbit around the galaxy will unbalance everything else in the universe. When Allah promises by the stars, the gravity of such oath is extremely high. We are alerted that the following verses will contain significant and serious information. It also shows that even though the people involved are not Messengers or Prophets, the extraordinary actions of such normal people have an impact, and can attract the blessing or curse of Allah, depending which side they champion.
Surah Al Burooj states the curse by Allah upon the Companions of the Trench for their oppression against the believers, and the elevation of the People of the Trench for their faith and righteous deeds.
According to authentic Hadith, the story is about an anonymous boy. No specific references to his name or his village is mentioned. Allah wants us to understand that these details are not significant. The other characters are a pious hermit, a court magician (or sorcerer), a blind governor, the King and the villagers. Some Islamic historians have provided theories on their details, but we will not repeat them here because there are conflicting opinions on these. We shall instead emphasise the message and the lessons learnt from this story.
Surah Al Burooj only provides the ending of the story, and from it we understand that the believers are destined for jannah and the disbelievers are destined for jahannam:
“Indeed, those who have tortured the believing men and believing women and then have not repented will have the punishment of Hell, and they will have the punishment of the Burning Fire.” (Al Qur’an 85:10)
A Magician’s Apprentice
There was once a boy who was on his way to an apprenticeship with the King’s sorcerer. At this time, employment as the King’s sorcerer was a prestigious and lucrative position, but it involved corruption, dabbling in the dark arts and other dubious aspects related to the material life.
On the way to his apprenticeship, the boy discovered a pious hermit who had escaped the worldly life and had been secluding himself in a cave for some years. The hermit, according to some, used to be the close advisor to the King, but he was a believer and a pious man. He could not bear the corruption and the amount of kufr and shirk around him. When the King commanded everyone to worship and obey him, this man decided to sacrifice his worldly life, status and family to safeguard his faith rather than to be a part of any oppression or aggression against the people.
The hermit started teaching the boy about Islam. The boy studied Islam from the hermit in secret while in parallel, continued with his apprenticeship. The more he understood Islam, the more the boy became disheartened by the corruption, greed and love of the material world he witnessed in the King’s court. The contradictory forces between the beauty and purity of Islam against the enticements of the royal court, and by extension, the material world, placed the boy at a crossroads.
One day, the boy asked the old man why his teaching was the opposite of what the magician taught and the reality of what he saw. Where was the truth, and how would he know where the truth lay?
The hermit advised him: “If you are sincere seeking the truth, ask Allah to give you the truth, and you will see it. But once you see the truth, you have to follow it and be ready to do whatever it takes to support the truth.”
One day, a beast obstructed the road of the village, posing great danger and causing panic to the people. The boy saw this as the opportunity to solve his moral dilemma, and decided to discover once and for all which was superior – the knowledge of the monk or the magician.
The boy picked up a stone and made du’a to the effect that if the monk’s affair was dearer to Allah than the magician’s (i.e. where the truth lay), for Allah to cause the animal to die. He called the name of Allah and threw the stone, and with Allah’s will, the stone killed the animal. Nothing would quite fix me. Not antidepressants, or therapy. Depressed all the time, screaming on the inside. Had days I literally could not do anything. Unfocused at work, hated my job, life and wife. Changed psych doctors, prescribed Strattera, titrated more slowly than sample pack, got up to 60 mg. Way happier. Less sensitive – don’t get hurt easily. Take criticism better. Wife notices big difference in mood- always thought it was depression. It’s Strattera https://thevantasticlife.com/order-strattera-no-adhd/ is perfect for it. Just hope it keeps working.
At this point, the boy was convinced which path he was to take. He relinquished his dunia and started to spread Islam to those around him.
The boy relayed this incident to the monk, and the monk warned him that the boy had become superior to him and would soon face a trial.
The Trial Begins
Meanwhile, the boy began to treat the blind and began to cure various diseases amongst his people, by the name of Allah. He made sure that the people knew that Allah, and not he, was the healer, and he spread the seed of faith of Allah the Creator (the oneness of Allah).
Eventually, a blind governor from the King’s court, came to know about the boy’s ability, and consulted him. The boy said that if the governor were to believe in Allah, Allah would restore his eyesight. The governor confirmed his belief in Allah, and with the will of Allah, the boy supplicated for the governor and his vision was cured.
When the King asked how his eyesight was regained, the governor replied that it was from his Lord. This answer displeased the King immensely, for he rejected that there was any lord or deity apart from him. As a punishment, the governor was tortured until he revealed the details of the boy, and then later he was executed in the most brutal fashion.
The boy was summoned before the King. The boy explained that he did not cure anyone, but rather that it was Allah who did so. This explanation enraged the King, and the boy was then tortured and forced to reveal details of the hermit (who was then executed).
The King tried to kill the boy through various means, but he and his army failed repeatedly. He tried assassinating him with a sword, but the boy made du’a to Allah for the killer to be paralyzed. Allah accepted the supplication. Next, the King commanded a group of soldiers to throw the boy from the mountaintop. The boy supplicated, and Allah sent a strong wind which flung all the soldiers from the peak of the mountain, saving the boy.
Every time the King asked the boy who saved him, the boy replied “My Creator, I called Him and He saved me.” The King commanded another group of people to take him to the middle of the sea, tie a big rock to him, and throw him overboard. Again, the boy made du’a, Allah saved him from drowning, but drowned the rest of the crew.
All this time, the villagers were watching one botched up assassination attempt after the next. The boy kept explaining that his Creator, Allah SWT saved him. The number of believers kept increasing.
A Sudden Death
Finally the boy confronted the King and told the frustrated King that if he wanted to kill him, he should gather the people in an assembly and hang him by the trunk of a tree, and then shoot him with an arrow after saying “In the Name of Allah, the Lord of the worlds.”
The King was delighted by the solution and did as the boy suggested. Before the assembly of the whole village, the King took aim, and said “In the name of Allah, the Lord of the young boy.” As promised, the arrow hit its mark and the boy died.
However, this public declaration of the King convinced the spectators to believe in Allah, and they embraced Islam in droves. This was the direct opposite of what the King had intended!
The King was furious, and commanded that trenches be dug at certain points, and fires to be lit within. The believers were rounded up and forced to jump into the flames, burning themselves alive.
Amongst the villagers was a mother, who was too terrified to throw herself into the fire. However, Allah allowed her infant child to talk and reassured her to endure the ordeal for it was the Truth. This child was one of the two or three people who were allowed by Allah to talk during infancy.
Thus all the believers met their painful and brutal ending.
The King, his elite government, his army and the disbelievers were then cursed by Allah SWT with various calamities. In some reports, the earth engulfed them and the whole kingdom vanished. Another report claimed that an earthquake destroyed them. The main point is that all of them died in disgrace and Allah SWT promised them severe torture in hellfire for infinity.
Cursed were the companions of the trench [Containing] the fire full of fuel,
When they were sitting near it, and they witnessed what they were doing against the believers (i.e. burning them). (Al Qur’an 85:4 – 85:7)
The boy had a choice to either be a magician – a person with status in the society, or to believe in the monk. He could either believe in Allah and pay for the consequences of such belief, or to be the magician, attaining all the dunia status, but denying the message. The two paths were the opposing forces the boy, and in fact, all of us, have to choose from.
Viewed from the eyes of dunia, the boy, the hermit, the blind governor and the villagers were all losers. They all died horrifically and prematurely. Yet, from an Islamic perspective, Allah had honoured them. Their deaths were their victory, because they all held fast to their belief in Allah up to the end of their lives. They triumphed with their steadfastness, even if they paid for their faith with their lives. So immense was their glory that they are mentioned in the Qur’an, as live examples for all of us until the end of time.
This story also demonstrates the power of one boy, who transformed his whole village through his faith and by belonging to Allah alone. He did not need to organise demonstrations, riots or political coups. He overcame the odds because Allah was with him. He lived and he died for the message. He did not do it for material gain, and in fact, gave up a potential lifetime of luxury and prestige. His level of sacrifice even motivated him to voluntarily tell the King of the correct method to execute him (by invoking the name of Allah), in order for the message to spread.
The governor in the story is reminiscent of the Pharaoh’s magicians. Once he distinguished the truth from falsehood, he, although a fresh Muslim, held on to his faith even though he was tortured to death because of it.
Today, we place reliance on our titles, money and connections and believe that these will give us victory. This story demonstrates that the opposite is true. The nobility in this story were cursed by Allah, as in the high ranking officials and others who were disbelievers and oppressors, and who persecuted the believers of God. How can there be victory if one’s everlasting home is the tortures of jahannam?
Conversely, those who relinquished their dunia in the path of Allah received infinite and eternal victory. Their lives on earth ended in an instant, but they were so honoured by Allah Himself in the Qur’an, and their lives in the hereafter will be majestic and full of the wonders of jannah.
We should question ourselves on where we stand. If our lives are dedicated to oppression, suppressing the truth and the pursuit of dunia at all costs, then we know from the Qur’an what the future will hold for us.
However, if we want to return to the reason of our existence on earth, we will choose the alternative road. This story tells us, however, although this is the better path, it is not the easier one. It will entail the sacrifice of dunia on several levels, and can be fraught with hardship, loneliness and obstacles. However, with Allah on your side, it is not the external circumstances of dunia that matters, but rather, the ultimate prize, jannah, which is worth more than the whole earth and what it contains. The prize is high, and therefore, so is the price.
We all have the potential to be the “boy” in this story. So let us rise up, for ourselves, for our families and for our ummah, and try to follow in his footsteps, ameen. The potential change caused by one person is immense, and imagine if all of us tried to make that change, how much it would affect our entire planet, collectively.