The Quran emphasizes the confrontation the Prophet (PBUH) faced all his Prophetic life from his enemies; but the intensity of his enemies’ opposition increased especially in the last seven-eight years of his life.
When the destruction of a people comes, the Quran presents this destruction in the form of catastrophic natural event or in terms of internal chaos within the nation. This is termed عَذَاب normally translated as punishment. Since we have been accustomed to religion as opposed to Deen, whenever we hear the word عَذَابٌ we immediately think that these misfortunates descend from heaven and engulf the people. If we translate عَذَابٌ as destruction, then the matter becomes much more clear that it is the consequence of the wrong system of life.
The Holy Quran frequently describes the history of past nations and their life stories. The Quran is not a book of history but it does make this claim: A system of life based on wrong lines is bound to be destroyed ultimately. One form of this is that people within a nation become involved in internal strife and engage in self-destructive behavior and, as a consequence, the nation suffers destruction.
In support of this claim the Quran first presents evidence purely at the intellectual level using laws of nature. Then it presents historical evidence from the destruction of past nations which practiced wrong systems of life. In this context, the Quran chooses to present the history of those past nations with which the Arabs of the Prophet’s time – the original addressees of its message – were familiar with and knew the history of those nations. They frequently roamed around those ruined towns in their travels and those past nations’ destructions often used to be a topic of their conversation. They used to think that some external calamity came down from the heavens and destroyed them.
The root cause of nations’ destructions
In contrast to their thinking, the Quran tells them that you only see the visible signs of destruction but you do not pay attention to the intrinsic reasons for that destruction: their wrong system of life and their rampant crimes against humanity. The Quran then says that if your system of life is also standing on a false foundation and if you do not heed the warning signs of your destruction then you would meet the same fate which those past nations met. This is the reason the Quran narrates the stories of past nations. Although the past nations that were destroyed had many bad things in their system, the Quran focuses on the worst thing that was primarily instrumental in their downfall and was the cause of their destruction.
The Quran lists as primary reasons for destruction of past nations as: class discrimination; racial discrimination; social, political, and economic inequalities; exploitation; Kleptocracy; dictatorship, or slavery, etc.
This is the way the Quran describes the stories of past nations and it starts this process with the story of Prophet Noah (PBUH) whose people were practicing an extreme form of class discrimination; and this was the main crime for their destruction. Landlords, feudal lords, tribal lords; all were exploiting the working class. They considered the working class as despicable and mean, and treated them with contempt. These were the crimes that led to their destruction. This is not the case just with them. We know from our present history that many nations have also been destroyed when these crimes became rampant in their societies.
Now, Koresh, the addressee of the Quran, were also practicing an extreme form of discrimination – that of Brahmanism and Shudraism, i.e., high caste and low caste. They were being warned that they will also meet the same fate as those of past nations.
The crime of the people of Aad
After the people of Noah, the Quran takes up the story of the people of Aad whose system was based on tyranny and oppression. Pure tyranny and the Law of jungle prevailed in their society. But there is one point in the story presented by the Quran which needs special attention. And that point is: Although there was this rampant tyranny and exploitation of the people by those in authority, the people’s crime was tolerating all this silently.
The crime of the people of Thamud
Next come the people of Thamud. Their economy was based on agriculture and livestock. Big tribal leaders had taken into their possession all the water fountains and pasturelands. They had taken into their ownership these Allah-created resources and did not let poor people’s cattle come forward; only the leftover, if at all, was what they could use. This way of grabbing the resources of Allah and exploiting the poor was the main crime of the people of Thamud for which they were destroyed.
The crime of the people of Midian
Then the Quran describes the people of Midian to whom the Prophet Shuyab (PBUH) was sent. Their economy was based on trade. The Quran says that they used to cheat and engage in fraud and unfair trade practices. Well, the same thing happened today. The only difference now is that the terminologies and the methodologies have become more sophisticated and nuanced compared to the days of the people of Midian. Anyway, the people of Midian never used to deal fairly in their trade. The Quran points this as their main crime that led to their destruction.
The crime of Pharaoh – and other crimes
After this comes Pharaoh. What was his crime? He claimed Godhood:
أَنَا رَبُّكُمُ الْأَعْلَى – I am your Lord All-Highest! (79:24). [Asad]
He had kept all the sources of sustenance under his control: Whomever he wanted he rewarded; whomever he wanted he punished. This was the main crime of Pharaoh. These are some of the broad categories of crimes of past nations for which they were destroyed.
The Quran describes these crimes again and again. It describes that during the period of Prophet Jesus (PBUH) the theocracy of Jewish religious leaders was instrumental in the destruction of that people. In a theocratic system, the ultimate authority rests with religious leaders. These religious leaders arrogate to themselves the interpretation and implementation of Sharia; and whatever they say becomes the law. Nobody can say anything against it. Everybody becomes helpless when theocracy rules in the name of God. This was the crime that led to the destruction of Jewish nation.
These are the various reasons for destruction of past nations—and the reasons for their destruction the Quran conveyed to the Koresh. It tells Koresh to find out which of the crimes described above fits their system and are rampant in their society and then let them conclude: In the light of the above evidence from past nations, would we be saved?
Learning lesson from past nations’ destructions
Any nation that practices a system which has any of the criminal elements listed above – and there are many nations today in whose systems many of these crimes are present today – then, is there any way that these nations can be saved? These are not historical narratives but are principles and laws of life and death of nations; and these laws are always alive, and will remain alive and applicable for all times to come. In every period, whatever system of life a nation may choose to practice, but if there is any of the above crimes present in that nation then it is destined to die and disappear. Nations which heed the warning and reform themselves in time – before their period of respite ends – will get a second chance at life. This is the conclusion as derived from the Quranic teaching. The Quran tells us to look at our system and test it using this Quranic touchstone—the law of life and death of nations—and then see whether or not any of the criminal elements listed above are present in it. If they are, then, if reform is not instituted in time, then that nation will be wiped out from the face of the Earth. Allah’s law of requital is eternal and unchangeable. Its results are bound to come. This is the reason for describing the stories of these past nations.
Koresh were reminded again and again that their system will not last because it had simultaneously many of the criminal elements— racial discrimination, class discrimination, usury, extreme religious priesthood—from which past nations were destroyed even if one of these crimes was rampant in their society.
The Quran repeats these stories of past nations at many different places. The Quran is not a book written like any other book: First, think what to write in chapter one; then, think what to write in chapter two, and so on and so forth. We know that the Prophet’s (PBUH) life was spread over 23 years and at different stages of his life he gave different discourses. So, the message that was delivered over a period of 23 years at different places and at different times is bound to have some repetitions. But these are not exact repetitions. Every time whichever nations’ past history is repeated there are always some new elements and some new points worth pondering!
The Quran says:
إِنَّا أَرْسَلْنَا نُوحًا إِلَى قَوْمِهِ أَنْ أَنذِرْ قَوْمَكَ مِن قَبْلِ أَن يَأْتِيَهُمْ عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ
BEHOLD. We sent Noah unto his people. [saying:] Warn thy people before grievous suffering befall them! (71:1). [Asad]
The Quran has clearly told that whenever a crime (mentioned before) became rampant in a nation then first a warner was sent to that nation to warn that the result of their wrong system will be destruction; and that if you could reform your system even now then you will be saved. This, the Quran has called as the law of respite within the law of requital. It is during this period of the respite that the warner comes. By the way, after Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), no other prophet or messenger is going to come; but the Book of Allah is preserved until the Day of Judgment (15:9). So, if anyone gives the message of the Quran to the people, then he has fulfilled the obligation of conveying the teachings of the Quran as the Prophet's (PBUH) Ummah.
قَالَ يَا قَوْمِ إِنِّي لَكُمْ نَذِيرٌ مُّبِينٌ –
[And Noah] said: "O my people! I am but a plain warner to you, [sent to tell you] (71:2). [Asad]
This was being told to them not in any confusing language that they could not understand. Noah (PBUH) came to warn them in very clear words of the bad consequences that will follow because of their wrong system.
عِبَادَتِ means Allah’s obedience
Therefore, the warning was given:
أَنِ اعْبُدُوا اللَّهَ وَاتَّقُوهُ وَأَطِيعُونِ
that adopt the obedience of Allah (71:3).
In the Quran all the Prophets said the same thing– أَنِ اعْبُدُوا اللَّهَ –to obey Allah (11:50; 23:23, 23:32, 61:84). Our traditional translation of this is: Worship God. But all nations worship God. If we know the correct meaning of عِبَادَتِ then everything becomes clear, which is: Obey the laws of Allah, not the laws made by human beings; that right of obedience only belongs to Allah. That is why every Prophet used to say the same thing: Adopt the obedience of Allah, i.e., obey the laws of Allah. If we translate this as the meaning of عِبَادَتِ then the matter becomes clear. According to the Quran, to obey the laws designed by humans is not allowed; that obedience is due only to the laws of Allah (5:44; 5:45; 5:47).
The meaning of مُتَّقِي
The Quran in the same verse says: وَاتَّقُوهُ – normally translated as God-conscious or God-fearing. But that does not clarify the real meaning of this term, which is: To be fully cognizant of Allah’s laws and to be fearful of the consequences of violating His laws. The Quran says: internalize this feeling in your heart that if you keep standing on a wrong foundation then you will get ruined. Therefore, observe these laws faithfully and be fearful of the bad consequences of transgressing these laws. Then the Quran says: وَأَطِيعُونِ – and obey Me.
The Quran has defined its system in just two words! – أَنِ اعْبُدُوا اللَّهَ – obey Allah. But Allah is an abstract entity. He not only cannot be felt but He is beyond human thought and comprehension (6:103). So, the question: How do we fulfill His obedience then? As we have seen, His obedience means obedience to His laws. But there should be a live authority that will enforce these laws. The practical way of obeying Allah then becomes: obeying the authority established in the name of Allah. This means obeying Allah because this authority is nothing but an agency to enforce Allah’s laws just as the Prophet (PBUH) and rightly-guided Khalifas (R) did.
This authority is there only to make people obey the laws of Allah. However, this obedience cannot be done individually but collectively under a system. In this system the sovereignty belongs to Allah’s laws. Thus the Quran in few words has presented the entire Islamic system:
أَنِ اعْبُدُوا اللَّهَ وَاتَّقُوهُ وَأَطِيعُونِ
Obey Allah’s Laws sincerely and faithfully. And be fearful of the consequences of violating Allah’s Laws. (71:3).
Obedience of Allah means obedience of Allah’s laws
The Quran is a unique Book; it lifts humans and transports them into a rapturous state! It says that, in a system, if the obedience is not to the laws of Allah (as laid out in the Quran) then it is not an Islamic system (5:44, 5:45, 5:47). If, in a system, one thinks that people can do this obedience on their own, in their own way, then they are mistaken. That system is not Islamic. If an authority or any other entity forces people to obey its laws then that would be شرک (Shirk). The obedience to the laws of Allah will happen only through a central authority based on the Quran. The Quran requires a live central authority to establish its Islamic system. That is why it says: سَمِعْنَا وَأَطَعْنَا – we have listened and we will obey. Now, it is clear that listening will only happen when there is someone to listen to. If it was just a matter of obeying a book, then there was no need for a system and there was no need of sending Prophets. The book could have been directly inscribed on a stone or an already completely written book sent down from the heavens; but this would not have been enough. The Prophet received the revelation for Allah. Then, the next step was his duty to create an Ummah based on that revelation and then establish the Deen of Allah practically in real life.
The Prophet (PBUH) demonstrated this to the whole world by practically establishing the Deen of Allah where the Quran was the official constitution of the Islamic state.
This requires that we first create an امّہ (Ummah) of people reformed and transformed by that message who are worthy of establishing that system; and through that system then the obedience of the laws of Allah is to be carried out. Only then, this would be called the Islamic system. If this live authority is not there then it is not دین (Deen), it is مذہب (religion). If this authority is demanding obedience to its laws then it is شرک (Shirk). The obedience to the laws of Allah is through a live authority that does not enforce its own laws but enforces only Allah’s laws – then only this is obedience of Allah.
The messenger as an authority
The Quran said that this is the Messenger (PBUH) from Allah. He (PBUH) has established the system of Deen based on the revelation from Allah. So, obey him. Do not think that this system is finished after him and then you are free to return to the period of جاھلیہ (Jahiliyah). This is not the case. This system has to continue after the Prophet (PBUH). When that system continued after the Prophet (PBUH) – even though it was for a short period during the rightly-guided Khalifas (R) – it was Islamic. But after this when the Malukyiah (مُلُوكيَةً) came – that is, rule of human beings, whatever its form – then it was no longer the obedience of Allah that people were doing. But, instead, they were doing the obedience of those in power and authority. When this happened the Islamic system was finished. And then Allah’s obedience was turned into Allah’s worship; and the real obedience was done to kings, caliphs, and sultans. Those days the obedience was done to one individual. Today, the obedience is done to multiple entities under the cover of Western style democracy. But the reality is that it is a rule of humans over humans, its form notwithstanding. Allah told: – أَنِ اعْبُدُوا اللَّهَ – that obey Allah; وَأَطِيعُونِ – and the practical way to obey Him is through the system that is established on the basis of His revelation. If you do this: يَغْفِرْ لَكُم مِّن ذُنُوبِكُمْ – then the Almighty will protect you from the damaging consequences of your previous minor slips and failings because this is built into the law of Allah. This is His mercy: وَيُؤَخِّرْكُمْ إِلَى أَجَلٍ مُّسَمًّى – He grants you respite and does not hold you accountable right away when you commit a wrong (71:4).
The period of respite is Allah’s blessing
The opportunity given by Allah for reform is called “period of respite”. Allah wants people to reform themselves (and their system) by warning them repeatedly. This is what is meant by postponing the final outcome. The period of respite is a great mercy. But when the final event does arrive it cannot be changed even a second:
إِنَّ أَجَلَ اللَّهِ إِذَا جَاء لَا يُؤَخَّرُ لَوْ كُنتُمْ تَعْلَمُونَ
but, behold, when the term appointed by God does come, it can never be put back - if you but knew it! (71:4). [Asad]
Allah says that when death is in front of you then repentance (Tauba) is not accepted; because the respite is meant for reform and when there is no time for reform then repentance is meaningless.
إِنَّ اللَّهَ وَمَلَائِكَتَهُ يُصَلُّونَ عَلَى النَّبِيِّ يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا صَلُّوا عَلَيْهِ وَسَلِّمُوا تَسْلِيمًا
Verily, God and His angels bless the Prophet: [hence,] O you who have attained to faith, bless him and give yourselves up [to his guidance] in utter self-surrender! (33:56) [Asad]
Topics: Divine Law, Economic System Of Islam, History, Human Dignity, Humanity, Islam And Science, Materialism, Poverty And Welfare, Prophethood, Quran, Social System Of Islam, Time, Universe, Wealth Values: Charity, Guidance, Justice, Spirituality, Wisdom