A Leaf’s Tale
December 16, 2018
When a leaf falls
As I was walking on one autumnal day, an old oak tree shed a leaf. The leaf caught my attention as it fell, just then, a gust of wind blew across the courtyard, catching the leaf in its path. It turned and twirled as it drifted in the wind before it finally came to rest before my feet. I smiled, because my thoughts raced to the time when an apple fell in an old English country garden, and Sir Isaac Newton happened to see it, he only went on to derive the laws of motion. Okay, it’s not an apple, nonetheless, what message did this oak leaf have to give to me? What lessons does this leaf have to teach me?
7 Lessons from the leaf
The humble leaf turns out had 7 lessons to teach me that morning. They are no means exhaustive but quite poignant.
1. Allah’s knowledge and pre-ordainment
As I caught the leaf falling, my immediate thought was the well-known verse of the Qur’an:
“Not a leaf falls, but He knows it.” [Al-An’am: 6:59]
If Allah knew about the leaf falling, then he also knew my movement for that morning. And if he knew both our movements, then He must have willed and destined for our paths to cross at that precise juncture. Our fate was intertwined a long time ago. Allah knew and He destined this ‘chance encounter’ a long before the tree was an acorn, before I was even born in a remote village of the Indian sub-continent, before Britain ruled India, before the ice age gripped Europe, before the first man walked upon the earth, before the time the dinosaurs ruled the world, before the seas formed and the earth cooled enough to harbour life, before the solar system was born, before the big bang, in a time before time, in the pre-eternal knowledge of Allah, The Pen wrote in Al-Lauh Al-Mahfuz (The Preserved Tablet) that I and this leaf were destined to meet. The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said:
“The first thing Allah created was the Pen. He said to it: ‘Write!’ It asked: ‘What should I write, my Lord?’ He said: ‘Write what was decreed about everything till the Last Hour comes.’” [Abu Dawud]
2. The vastness of Allah’s knowledge
The second lesson the leaf imparted was the vastness and comprehensiveness of Allah’s knowledge. That Allah had absolute knowledge of the leaf and everything about it. The perfection of His knowledge is sublime. This seemingly insignificant encounter in the grand scheme of preserving the heavens and earth did not escape His attention. He knew the precise moment when the leaf will fall before it fell, He knew how it would fall, how it would interact with the wind, the air, the nearby branches and leaves. He knew how many cells the leaf has, how much sunlight it absorbed in its lifetime, how much Carbon Dioxide it converted to Oxygen, how long it lived for, how many raindrops fell upon it. He knew who would pass by and who would pay attention to see it. He knew what will happen to it after it fell, how it will decompose and the number of microbes that will grow feasting upon it. He knew how it will return back in to the cycle of life and what new life will emerge from it.
He knew of my observation as it fell. He knew about me ‘trying’ to write about it and you reading it. He knew, He always knew. He knew before it was, as it is and after it was. There is no detail that was hidden from His knowledge, nor did anything obstruct His Sight, His knowledge was from every direction and every perspective. He didn’t have partial knowledge which later became complete as that would attribute deficiency in His knowledge. Allah is the All-Knowing and His knowledge is absolute, and absolute knowledge is absolutely perfect irrespective of time and space. His knowledge did not stop at the leaf, Divine Speech enlightens us in the rest of the verse:
“With Him are the keys of the Unseen; none knows them but He. He knows what is in the land and sea; not a leaf falls, but He knows it. Not a grain in the darkness (or depths) of the earth, not a thing, fresh or withered, but it is in a clear book.” [Al-An’am: 6:59]
His knowledge encompasses not just this one leaf but every leaf, every living and non-living entity on land and sea, whether it is in the darkness of the night or in the light of the day, everything is known and everything has been written. This shows the profundity and perfection of the knowledge of Allah. Subhan Allah, Glorified and Exalted is He, unlimited in His perfection.
3. The reality of Allah’s knowledge
As for the third lesson, it made me think of the reality of life. The verse “not a leaf falls, but He knows it” had within it a secret. We read it before as ‘not a single leaf falls but He has knowledge of it’ but a more nuanced and subtle reading of it is, ‘not a single leaf falls but by His knowledge.’ Meaning His knowledge is what lies as the fabric of reality. He is Al-Nur (The Light) and Al-Alim (All-Knowing), His knowledge and light brought this leaf and everything else for that matter from the darkness of non-being into the light of being. In other words, the nature of reality is hanging by the thread of Allah’s light and knowledge. He is with everything, in every moment, in every place and by Him they are made to manifest. His observance of everything in every moment from the macroscopic world of galaxies, planets, to a leaf falling down, to the world of atoms to the quantum realm is what keeps existence from disappearing into non-existence. The universal truth stamped upon every creation is that we are all completely and utterly in need of Allah in every moment as our very existence is dependent upon Him.
“Allah! There is no God except Him. The Ever-living, the Self-subsisting, Eternal. No slumber can seize Him nor sleep. To Him belongs all that is in the heavens and the earth. Who is it that can intercede with Him except by His permission? He knows what is [presently] before them and what will be after them, and they encompass not a thing of His knowledge except for what He wills. His Throne extends over the heavens and the earth, and He is never weary of preserving them. He is the Most High, the Majestic.” [Al-Bakarah: 2: 255]
Allah never sleeps or cast a momentary glance away from His creation as that would bring an absolute end to everything. Allah is the centre of our world, the very ground of our existence… yet we have the audaciousness to question if He exists or He is a figment of our imagination!
“They esteem not Allah with true esteem that is due to Him. On the Day of Judgement the whole of the earth will be but His handful, and the heavens will be rolled up in His right hand: Glory to Him! Exalted is He and high above what they associate with Him.” [Az-Sumar: 39: 67]
4. Unique and beautiful wonders
I want to focus the remaining four lessons reflecting on the qualities of the leaf as there is a great deal it has to teach us.
As for the fourth lesson, each leaf, like each snowflake is unique and beautiful. It is aesthetically pleasing to the eye, formed in due proportion and adapted perfectly for their climate. Like the leaf, we too are unique and beautiful. Allah created and fashioned each and every one of us with the best form. He also fashioned our environment and shaped our lives to bring the best out of us. The humble leaf is a wonder of God’s work but we are His greatest masterpiece. He has subjugated everything in the heavens and earth for our use and honoured us with the best of form and endowed us with potential for greatness.
“Verily we have honoured the Children of Adam.” [Al-Isra: 17:70]
“Do you not see that Allah has made what is in the heavens and what is in the earth subservient to you, and amply bestowed upon you His favours, [both] apparent and unapparent?” [Luqman: 31:20]
5. Humble but not insignificant
As for the fifth lesson, the leaf is an embodiment of humility and silent service. You see, we don’t give leaves much consideration. Trees are a plenty and they shed a tonne of leaves every year. They are common but they are not insignificant, not in the slightest! How can it be otherwise when Allah (Exalted be He) makes mention of them? And the believers will recite about leaves until the end of time, so they are something here we need to ponder about.
Leaves are a sign of life, they forge communities of species around them. They play a crucial role in the world, bringing beauty and restoring balance in the atmosphere. A leaf alone is but one, alone it cannot amount to much, but collectively they change the world. These silent powerhouses of nature oxygenate the very air all leaving things breathe. Each leaf knows its designated place, they co-operate and work tirelessly together to fulfil their purpose. The leaves are unsung heroes who do great service but receives little or no recognition. Their service may go unnoticed, nevertheless, they keep doing it until they die.
Similarly we human beings have a crucial role to play, we are the custodian of earth, we like our forefathers need to cultivate the mother earth and preserve her for the future generation. Like the leaf, we should try to add beauty, bring balance and order, and give her life but not to suffocate or deplete her resources dry. Like the leaf, each race of people have different features to suit their environment so they may thrive and flourish. We should respect diversity and see it as something that enriches the landscape. Like the leaves, we are a sea of people. As an individual we are but one, but when we work collectively, cooperate and collaborate together, we can reverse the wrongs and give the rest of creation a breath of fresh air. Like the leaf, we should be in a people of silent service, completely unassuming, not seeking recognition or acknowledgement but going about doing good and bringing benefit. If Allah is aware of the leaf, He is aware of our actions, He sees and He knows what we do and He will reward accordingly.
“As for those who believe and do good deeds, they will have a reward unending.” [Al-Fussilat: 41:8]
6. A leaf’s journey
As for the sixth lesson, the autumnal leaf was on the final leg of its journey; fragile and withered. The leaf as it fell, it severed from the tree it called home and journeyed towards the ground. We too are on a journey. The autumnal leaf remind us of death as something not far in the distance but near, perhaps, we are on different legs of our life, nonetheless, one day we too will die and we too will be returned to the ground.
In its relatively short life, the humble leaf weathered through some difficult times; storms, torrential rain, violent winds and scorching summer. It also has seen brighter days, glorious sunshine, blue skies and gentle breezes. No two days were the same. Even though it experience hard times, the weathering made the leaves and the tree more resilient. Like the leaf, we go through different seasons in our lives. Time to time, things do get difficult and it is inevitable. No doubt, we will have to weather many storms, we will face test of fears and insecurities, drought and hunger which at the times may feel like it would never end, but they always subside and good days follows. Just like the knowledge of the leaf did not escape His knowledge, Allah also knows about our plights and the challenges we face on a daily basis, moment by moment. He sends us these trials and tribulation to make us stronger, to increase our ranks and rewards us in the process. Just like how Allah took care of the leaf until the very end, He too will take care of us.
“We shall surely test your steadfastness with fear and famine, with loss of property, life and produce. Give good news to those who endure with patience; who, when afflicted with calamity, say: ‘We belong to Allah and to Him we shall return.’ They are those on whom are blessings and Mercy from Allah; and they are the ones that are rightly guided.” [Al-Baqarah: 2:155- 157]
“Indeed, those who patiently persevere will truly receive a reward without measure!” [Az-Zumar: 39:10]
7. Ongoing legacy
As for the seventh and final lesson it’s about legacy. During its life it made the world a better place for everything, and in death, it will continue to be a source of benefit. It will either enrich the earth or become nutrient for other plants and trees or it will be used as fuel or fossil fuel in years to come.
Like the leaf, we can either be simple source of benefit for the earth or we can leave a greater legacy behind where people and animals still derive benefits from the work we have done for years to come. The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said:
“When a man dies, his deeds come to an end, except for three: An ongoing charity, knowledge by which people derive benefit, pious child who prays for him.” [Muslim]
The ongoing charity (Sadaqatul Ja’riyah) are that which people still derive benefit after we die. Included in this type of charity are beneficial knowledge, books, leaving copies of the Qur’an, planting of a tree, digging of a well, establishment of a trust fund, building a mosque, school and hospital, teaching people religious knowledge, and raising orphans and righteous children we leave behind who pray for our forgiveness.
It is often said:
“The righteous people are not dead even after they die, their good works and legacy keeps their noble name alive.”
What legacy are you going to leave behind?
Sometimes, what seems like the most ‘insignificant’ of moment has tremendous significance. An apple fell in an Old English country garden, and Sir Isaac Newton saw gravity at play. A leaf fell in a courtyard, and we see Allah’s artistry at work. Allah is always painting a picture but where are the onlookers? He reveals to people whatever interpretation He wills of His work but where are the observers gone?
So the next time you pass a leaf, take a moment.., pause.., and listen. The humble leaf is waiting for an audience… shh… listen attentively and she will tell you her tale.
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