One of the most prominent people of Bani Israel is Qarun. He is famed for his riches, and although descended from Bani Israel, he was one of the people closest to Pharaoh.
Allah describes the amount of his wealth – just the keys to his treasures could not be carried by one man. According to one report, Qarun needed 60 mules, each one carrying just the keys to each of his treasures.
Those who are empty and materialistic, Muslims included, envy Qarun and wish to be like him, whereas, the possessors of iman hate him. Why is this the case?
Who was Qarun?
Qarun was one of the people in Bani Israel, and according to some reports, was related to Musa AS. He originally followed the faith of Musa AS and had the knowledge of the Torah.
As already described, Qarun's wealth was stupefying. However, he was arrogant and stingy, and tyrannical to his own people. Like the majority of the super rich, he was haughty and selfish, walking in a boastful manner on Allah's earth, with his grand clothes dragging on the ground. As his treasures multiplied, so did his hypocrisy, and he transgressed many boundaries with Allah.
Even though his riches exceeded what anyone could spend over several generations, he was tight fisted. He was unwilling to spend any of it for the greater good of society, to alleviate the suffering of the needy or even to save his own soul. He lived without any sense of accountability or responsibility to society and was arrogant to Allah.
The learned and pious of his people in Bani Israel constantly reminded him not to be arrogant with his wealth or be ungrateful to Allah. They also advised him to "… seek, through that which Allah has given you, the home of the Hereafter…" (Al Qur'an 28:77), meaning that he should direct his efforts to purchase a home in the hereafter (by distributing majority of his wealth in the path of Allah), "and [yet], do not forget your share of the world" (Al Qur'an 28:77) meaning to take amounts necessary, without transgressing any bounds, for his lawful share in this world.
Nowadays, many contemporary scholars interpret the above verse as an endorsement to spend excessively on oneself for the pleasure of dunia, which is not the case if one were to read the entire verses in context. The early scholars held the view that this meant to prioritize the hereafter, for Qarun, already had more than his share of dunia. The verses immediately before and after the above verse support the interpretation of the early scholars.
The Israelites also reminded him:
"And do good as Allah has done good to you. And desire not corruption in the land. Indeed, Allah does not like corrupters." (Al Qur'an 28:77)
Qarun lost sight of the fact that but for the will of Allah, he would not have been in possession of such an immense fortune. He responded:
"I was only given it because of knowledge I have." (Al Qur'an 28:78)
Like so many of us today, who claim that any success is due to the fruits of our labour, our hard work, education and skills, with no acknowledgment or gratitude to Allah for granting us the ability to do so, Qarun was inherently ungrateful to his Lord. He took credit for his own success, and thought himself superior to the rest, both financially and morally. To this, Allah says:
Did he not know that Allah had destroyed before him of generations those who were greater than him in power and greater in accumulation [of wealth]? But the criminals, about their sins, will not be asked. (Al Qur'an 28:78) The last line means that the crimes are so great that no reckoning was necessary to sentence such people to eternal hellfire.
The society was divided into those who envied Qarun: when they saw him parading about in his finery, they were jealous and wished for what he had. Another sector of society despised his attitude and constantly tried to counsel him, but without avail.
One day, Qarun set out with his caravan. Those who saw him and desired the worldly life said:
"Oh, would that we had like what was given to Qarun. Indeed, he is one of great fortune." (Al Qur'an 28:79)
But those who had been given knowledge (i.e. the pious and the properly guided ones) expressed their disapproval at this sentiment and said, "Woe to you! The reward of Allah is better for he who believes and does righteousness. And none are granted it except the patient." (Al Qur'an 28:80) The believers warned those envious of Qarun to keep their eye on the rewards of Allah, which is earned by righteous deeds, rather than to yearn the temporary riches of this world.
There is a difference between the genuine happiness of a believer, which originates from his ability to do good deeds for Allah, and the empty happiness of a materialistic person. The happiness of the latter is short lived, and is centred around arrogance and haughtiness due to material accumulation and admiration from others.
The Destruction of Qarun
Inevitably, destruction fell upon Qarun. He, together with his caravan, was suddenly swallowed by the earth.
And We caused the earth to swallow him and his home. And there was for him no company to aid him other than Allah, nor was he of those who [could] defend themselves. (Al Qur'an 28:81)