May 20, 2014 By James Jacob

Camel and the Eye of the Needle


One of the stock metaphors that the three Semitic religions-Judaism, Christianity and Islam- share is a huge animal passing through the eye of needle. In the Quran, the metaphor appears in the 40th verse in the chapter 7, where the Quran describes the arrogant ones as having such a huge size that makes it impossible for them achieve the Divine Grace, for whose attainment one needs to pass through a small virtual space which is comparable to the eye of needle.

Quran says: ‘Those who deny our signs and wax proud against them-the gates of heaven shall not be opened to them, nor shall they enter paradise until the camel pass through the eye of the needle.’ (Slightly modified on Arberry)
Is there an example of someone ‘who denies the signs and waxes proud against them.’ There comes this anecdote in Surat al Khaf:
“Strike for them a similitude. Two men. We assigned one of them two gardens of vines and surrounded them with palm-trees and between them we set a sown field. Each of the two gardens yielded its produce and failed nothing in any wise; and we caused to gush amidst them a river. So he had fruit. So he said to his fellow: ‘I have more abundance of wealth than you and I am mightier in respect of me. He entered the garden, wronging himself; he said: ‘I don’t think this will ever perish: I don’t think that the Hour is coming; and If I am indeed returned to my Lord, I shall surely find a better resort than this.’
(18: 31-35)

The arrogant one did not lend ear to the advice of other one who asked him to reflect on his wealth and power as nothing but chance providence and God is all powerful and can convert his wealth into rubble.

The anecdote climaxed in the eventual destruction of the gardens of the arrogant one.

The way he waxed proud against the signs of the Lord is through the denial of the fact that the Hour is coming. Bliss and benevolence is a test, by which the All Powerful knows if we can transcend the ephemeral (wealth and possessions) in our objective of the eternal.

If we can’t transcend, we add superfluities to our ego-wronging ourselves in the process. This is because we have placed our ego above the Ego and above the consciousness of Hour, when the ephemera is destroyed (fana) and we are shepherded to the eternal (eternal bliss in Eden or Eternal rout in Gehenna)

For that to happen, one has to make one’s ego smaller, belittling it and developing a sense of detachment from the ephemeral possessions.
In Mathew 19 we read the following interaction between Jesus and his disciples
24. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. 25. When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved? 26. But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible. 27 Then answered Peter and said unto him, Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore? 28 And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

29 And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.
Forsaking what is dear to someone is one way of attaining nearness to God. In John, Jesus is said to have replied to the question of his disciples-who can be saved-in the following words:
“Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
Again in John: Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.”
In Sufi register of metaphors, water is awaiting to fall in the cup of the inebriated lover. Water is something whose absence makes tayammum (ablution with earth) necessary. We are all in the earthly stage of existence and our offerings are tentative in character. It is when we forsake ‘earth’; we will grow in water and spirit which make us easy to pass through the eye of the needle. Quran says : ‘If your fathers, your sons, your brothers, your wives, your clan, your possessions that you have gained, commerce you fear may slacken, dwellings you love — if these are dearer to you than God and His Messenger, and to struggle in His way, then wait till God brings His command; God guides not the people of the ungodly.’ (9:24)

In the Babylonian Thelmude, we read the following verses: ‘If one rises early and a Scriptural verse comes to his mouth,35 this is a kind of minor prophecy. R. Johanan also said: Three kinds of dream are fulfilled: an early morning dream, a dream which a friend has about one, and a dream which is interpreted in the midst of a dream. Some add also, a dream which is repeated, as it says, and for that the dream was doubled unto Pharoah twice, etc.36

R. Samuel b. Nahmani said in the name of R. Jonathan: A man is shown in a dream only what is suggested by his own thoughts, as it says, As for thee, Oh King, thy thoughts came into thy mind upon thy bed.37 Or if you like, I can derive it from here: That thou mayest know the thoughts of the heart.38 Raba said: This is proved by the fact that a man is never shown in a dream a date palm of gold, or an elephant going through the eye of a needle.’

Here the reference is to unthinkable thoughts that the mind of a man conjures up. In the dream of ordinary mortals, only ordinary, commonplace things appear. Interpretation of their dreams is possible by correlating the images in the dream with the images in their life. Images like date palm of god or elephant going through the eye of a needle (salvation) occur in the dreams of Prophets. (If one rises early and a Scriptural verse comes to his mouth, this is a kind of minor prophecy).


Posted in: Blogging verses