The Quran presents history of past nations as evidence of the truth of its message and tells humankind to learn lesson from their ruins (7:84, 7:103, 27:51, 27:69, 30:42, 37:73). It says that any nation which establishes and follows a wrong way of life will suffer similar consequences (30:10, 47:10). The Quran mentions the history of past nations as evidence of its truth because problems of life are understood more clearly and have greater impact on mind, through practical and perceptible examples (65:8). It says that haven’t these people traveled in those areas so that they could take some warning lessons from their ruins (32:26)? It says that have their hearts not become wiser to ponder on these matters rationally? And it says that have their minds’ ears, and eyes not prepared to listen and to see what those ruins have to say and display? In fact, when a people close their mind’s eyes and ears to historical perceptible evidences of past nations’ ruins, their faculties of thinking and understanding turn blind (22:46).
The Quran particularly describes the history of those nations through whose ruins Arabs used to pass-through in their daily travels (30:42). They often talked about these ruins in their conversations. So, the Quran reminds them that you talk about their ruins but you do not learn lesson from their ruins – that if you follow similar life style as they did, then you will also suffer similar consequences (12:109, 40:82).
This is the real purpose of describing their history according to the Quran (3:137, 6:11, 16:36). Their destruction did not happen by chance (27:14, 35:44, 40:21, 43:25). They were destroyed according to Allah’s Law of Requital – the law governing human actions and their consequences (30:9, 65:9). This law applies to every nation regardless of time, place, and circumstance (30:10).
For example, the Quran highlights the story of Moses:
وَفِي مُوسَىٰ إِذْ أَرْسَلْنَاهُ إِلَىٰ فِرْعَوْنَ بِسُلْطَانٍ مُّبِينٍ
(51:38) – AND IN [the story of Pharaoh and] Moses, too, [We left the same message: for] when We sent him unto Pharaoh with [Our] manifest authority. [Asad]
Therefore, for those who ponder and reflect, there are manifest signs in the story of Moses because Allah sent him to Pharaoh with clear laws and rationale (27:13).
This is what the Quran says when Moses was asked to go to Pharaoh and confront him with logic and proof that Allah is the real Owner and Sustainer of everything because He created them (2:284, 7:128, 19:40). So, how you, O Pharaoh, can be owner of anything? This reasoning is based on logic and proof. Allah says in the Quran that He chose Moses since childhood and raised and prepared him for a huge mission (20:41). But Pharaoh accused Moses of being a madman and a sorcerer (51:39). The Quran declares that magicians can never be successful because magic is based on fraud and deception (10:77, 20:69). Moses confronted Pharaoh with clear and powerful reason and evidence and tried to show him the light of the Truth of Divine guidance, but Pharaoh arrogantly refused and declared himself as the highest lord, whereupon the Law of Requital took him to task and made him an eternal warning sign for the entire world (79:17-26).
Today, we feel proud that this is the age of knowledge and reason. But the Quran, even in the days of ignorance (known as the period of Jahiliyyah) presented its message with reason, logic, knowledge, and proof (16:89). The Quran itself is light and clear Book (5:15) in which there is no doubt whatsoever (2:2). So, it is not dependent on another source of light.
From the very beginning, messengers always presented the divine message with reason, clear logic, and evidence but their people always opposed it based on illogic, ultimatums, and threats. If we believe, as it is traditionally presented, that previous nations were punished directly by Allah for their misdeeds through miracles – the people of Noah by flood; the people of Thamud by hurricane; the people of Aad by earthquake; the people of Lot by lava etc. – but, then, no miracle like that occurred with our Prophet (PBUH). In fact, our Prophet (PBUH) – the last Prophet – endured so many battles and wars that he was even injured during the battle of Uhud.
The Prophet’s (PBUH) life in Medina was mostly spent in wars. The Prophet (PBUH) faced nearly eighty-two (big and small) battles in which he had victories as well as defeat that happened at Uhud where the Prophet (PBUH) was seriously injured. The companions surrounded the Prophet (PBUH) to protect him from arrows launched by the enemies. The Quran mentions that this defeat at Uhud occurred because of strategic error. The Prophet (PBUH) had asked a group of Mujahedeen to stand guard on a hill and not leave the place. But when these Mujahedeen saw that the enemy was on the run they concluded that the battle had been won and they left their place on the hill. When the enemy soldiers saw that, they quickly climbed up the hill from behind and started shooting arrows at the (Commander-in-Chief of the Muslim army) Prophet (PBUH), turning the Muslim victory into defeat. This was all because of a tactical error on the part of the Mujahedeen who didn’t fully comply with the order of their Commander-in-Chief.
And the Battle of the Trench was thus named because trenches were dug around Medina at the suggestion of Salman Farsi – as this strategy was not known to Arabs – and the Prophet (PBUH) agreed with this strategy. So, why was the Prophet (PBUH) employing all these tactical strategies for winning wars if Allah could easily have wiped out all his enemies by miracles? The Quran has asked the Momineen to keep their borders fortified and secure, so that no enemy could dare to attack them (8:60). Therefore, the victory or defeat of Momineen had nothing to do with miracle.
So, the past nations’ ruins happened by laws of nature and not by miracles. It is straightforward to conclude that if their destruction was to be done by miracle then there was no need to inform the believers of various Prophets to get out from there before the destruction. The believers could have stayed in town and the natural disaster would have destroyed only the enemies of the prophets but not have touched the believers. For example, it seems at the time of Noah (PBUH) people did not even know how to build boat. The Quran mentions that Noah was asked to build a boat and divine revelation guided him how to do it (23:27). When the elites among his people saw him building a boat then they made fun of him and called him crazy as they were intoxicated with arrogance of power and wealth (11:38). If they had also built boats instead of making fun of Noah, they could have been saved too. Whoever could have had boat would have been saved. In fact, Noah asked his son to come in the boat, but he arrogantly refused and was drowned (11:42).
Coming back to Pharaoh’s story, the Quran says:
فَتَوَلَّىٰ بِرُكْنِهِ وَقَالَ سَاحِرٌ أَوْ مَجْنُونٌ
(51:39) – But the Pharaoh, feeling proud of his power, turned away from these Laws and said about Moses, “He is either very clever and a liar; or he has gone mad.”
In Arabic language سحر does not just mean magic but it also means falsehood. So, Pharaoh was consumed by arrogance of power and did not listen to Moses. Instead of listening to Moses, he accused him. How can a member of a slave nation tell his master what to do?
فَأَخَذْنَاهُ وَجُنُودَهُ فَنَبَذْنَاهُمْ فِي الْيَمِّ وَهُوَ مُلِيمٌ
People of Aad and Thamud were also intoxicated with arrogance of power and did not listen to reason. So they were destroyed. The Quran says about Aad:
وَفِي عَادٍ إِذْ أَرْسَلْنَا عَلَيْهِمُ الرِّيحَ الْعَقِيمَ ﴿﴾ مَا تَذَرُ مِن شَيْءٍ أَتَتْ عَلَيْهِ إِلَّا جَعَلَتْهُ كَالرَّمِيمِ
(51:41-42) – Like this (as signs of Our Law of Requital) in the story of people of Aad, We sent against them the chastisement of blasting winds. Such was the intensity of that punishment that whatever it touched was reduced to dust and ashes. Nothing was left intact.
And about Thamud the Quran says:
وَفِي ثَمُودَ إِذْ قِيلَ لَهُمْ تَمَتَّعُوا حَتَّىٰ حِينٍ ﴿﴾ فَعَتَوْا عَنْ أَمْرِ رَبِّهِمْ فَأَخَذَتْهُمُ الصَّاعِقَةُ وَهُمْ يَنظُرُونَ
(51:43-44) – And in the story of the tribe of Thamud (there are signs of Our Law of Requital). We gave them respite and told them to enjoy the sustenance provided to them during this period. But they did not take advantage of this respite and insolently defied the Divine Laws. Hence, when the time for judgment came, a devastating earthquake overtook them. Those who are intoxicated with power, never listen to reason. They think how they can be destroyed when they have all that power?
Arrogance and hubris take over those who are drunk with power and wealth. Pharaoh went so far as to claim highest lordship:
أَنَا رَبُّكُمُ الْأَعْلَىٰ
(79:24) – I am your Lord All-Highest! I give you nourishment. Thus, I am your supreme Sustainer.
The Quran points an extremely important point in the story of the destruction Thamud:
فَمَا اسْتَطَاعُوا مِن قِيَامٍ وَمَا كَانُوا مُنتَصِرِينَ
(79:45) – Hence a devastating earthquake overtook them. All their haughty claims perished, and they were neither left with enough strength to stand up after falling, nor could they call anyone for help. Who can render help against the Divine Law of Requital?
These are not ancient tales (29:19-20). In fact, it is happening to us right now. What the Quran is saying here – that they didn’t have strength to rise on their own nor anyone came to help them – is a fact that is always true. Those who promise help always calculate which is in their best strategic interest – and then they decide whether to help or not to help; whether to make us their slave or sacrificial lamb. That is what happens to a nation that cannot stand on its own feet.
That is why the Quran emphasizes:
فَمَا اسْتَطَاعُوا مِن قِيَامٍ
(79:45) – They did not develop ability to stand on their own.
استطاعت means to develop one’s ability and strength in order to stand on one’s own and not be dependent on anyone else for support. This is true in every age and every place.
The Quran continues the history of nations’ destructions with the people of Noah:
وَقَوْمَ نُوحٍ مِّن قَبْلُ ۖ إِنَّهُمْ كَانُوا قَوْمًا فَاسِقِينَ
(51:46) – And before them was the nation of Noah, which too had adopted an erroneous way of life and as a result of which they were destroyed. What was their crime? They created economic inequality in society based on a system of oligarchy and plutocracy.
How strange it is to note that this system continues till today in a more sophisticated form: Creating classes based on wealth by a system of oligarchy and plutocracy which the Quran has mentioned here. The workers at the time of Noah were overtly despised and considered by the rich as low and worthless people. Now, workers are treated similarly in a more sophisticated form of plutocracy but, nevertheless, they are at the mercy of capitalists who exploit them. The working class was the first one to accept Noah’s message and the rich people claimed that they cannot sit with the wretched of the society. To them those who did manual labor were the wretched of the society. The rich demanded Noah to drive the workers away and only then they will listen to him (11:27-38). Then their destruction came in the form of flood which does not care who is low and who is high on the economic ladder – it levels everyone and everything. The workers whom the rich despised were saved because they boarded the boat and the rich in their arrogance and hubris refused because they thought that nothing will happen to them as they were too powerful, and they were destroyed (10:73).
And there was nothing miraculous in their destruction. Those who were saved, it was because they boarded the boat. Those who were making fun and refused, perished. If they could have built boat they could have been saved too. There was no distinction between Momin and Kafir as far as the boat was concerned. Anyone who rides a boat is saved from flood. The flood does not care if one is Momin or Kafir. It destroys everything and everyone in its path. The flood does not ask where the door of the tavern is. It simply levels everything in its path.
The Quran’s Golden Principle for Protection: Build the Dam of Universal Social Values
The Quran emphasizes here that if a nation builds boats before the onset of flood then it is saved. And it has to think what kind of boat is required for what kind of flood. The Quran says that if a nation’s leaders become oblivious of this goal and are intoxicated with power and wealth then that nation is ruined. It is not the question of entire nation being bad. The Quran points out an important strategy how to improve a nation’s future when a tiny minority creates national malevolence.
When Allah sent His messenger Saleh (PBUH) to his people, he expressed to Allah: O Allah! The entire nation is bad. How can I improve it? Allah replied that there are only nine ring leaders in the capital who are the source of trouble and corruption for the entire nation (27:48). So, just handle them and the whole nation will improve. When people don’t handle their malevolent leaders then the people become equally guilty of crime and they also suffer hell as their leaders do (34:32). The Quran says that these people will complain to Allah that our leaders were bad and caused corruption – so punish them hard (33:67-68). We didn’t do anything bad, so why are we getting punished? Allah will ask them: Where did these leaders derive their power from? It is you who were the source of their power. So, you are equally guilty in their crime. Saying that you were weak, and they were strong is just an excuse. If you could have united and organized, then you would have stopped them from doing bad things to you. But you didn’t, so your destination is Jahannam as well (37:27-33).
The Quran repeats the history of past nations for a purpose. A nation that takes appropriate steps and builds protective measures is saved from natural disasters. Otherwise, it is destroyed. This is what happens when the leaders of a nation are only interested in consolidating their own power and wealth, and are busy enjoying pleasures of life. They don’t pay attention to create infrastructure and build safety measures – as a result, they are also destroyed along with the rest of the people whom they exploit.
The Destruction of Saba
This was a thriving nation in the southern Arabian Peninsula whose economy was based on agriculture. They had built dams for storing water and using it to irrigate their farms. This created bumper harvest from their crops leading to their prosperity. Then they became avaricious and started expanding their market and trading with nearby nations. They became so absorbed in their greed that they neglected to keep an eye on their dams. Then suddenly the dams busted, and this nation was destroyed.
These were the crimes which led to the destruction of past nations. There was nothing miraculous about it. It all happened by a symbiotic relationship between the law of nature and the law of requital. Both are divine laws and unchangeable; and independent of place and time. Any nation which ignores these laws and continues its wrong way of life will be destroyed sooner or later. A nation whose rulers keep a watch on its infrastructure and use the laws of nature to secure the safety of its people and its infrastructure, can withstand natural disasters. A modern nation (Holland) has even reclaimed part of the ocean and has built a modern city on it. Another nation (Japan) has built its infrastructures which can withstand powerful earthquakes. We, on the other hand, do not pay attention to secure our infrastructures. As a result, we suffer when there is rain or flood or even minor earthquake. How can Allah help such a nation which does not even care about His laws let alone follow them? There is nothing miraculous about these destructions.
Everything in the Universe happens according to laws of nature.