Bounties are Allah’s Grace
Why do I prefer the interpretation which says that the change mentioned in our verse is a change from good to evil? I say so mainly because according to the Qur’an, bounties are not bestowed on men as a result of any good they do. They are given to them as a grace from God. God is Rahman, which means that He initiates good and gives it gratuitously, and does not wait until people take the initiative of doing something good and only then reward them for it. Bounties, whether they be spiritual or material, are given to men by their Lord out of pure rahma (mercy) and fadl (virtue) or grace. If they are grateful the bounties shall be maintained and even increased. But if they commit acts which express ungratefulness, then He punishes them by withholding from them some, if not all, of His bounties. But if they repent and return, the bounties also return.
This is very well exemplified by the case of Adam. At his creation God put him in the best of conditions. He granted comfort. But when he ate of the forbidden tree (which was not a tree of knowledge) he lost some of this.
The same principle applies to other communities and nations who are often referred to in the Qur’an as qura (reciters) or ahl al-qura (people of recitation). Let us start with the sunan that govern the decline or destruction of ungrateful nations, and then turn to those that govern the survival and ascendancy of grateful ones. Here are some examples of what happens to ungrateful nations.
The people of Saba who lived between two gardens were told to eat of the provision of their Lord and to be grateful to Him. But they turned away and so the flood of Iram was sent to them and in exchange for their two gardens they were given two other gardens bearing bitter fruit, the tamarisk, and here and there a lote tree. Commenting on what happened to them God says,
Thus, did We recompense them for their ungratefulness. Do We recompense any but the ungrateful?” (Q, 34:17)
We are also told about
“A town that was secure and at ease, with its provisions coming to it abundantly from every place. However, it was ungrateful for Allah’s blessings, so Allah afflicted it with the garb of hunger and fear, because of what its people had done.” (Q, 16:112)
Decline or destruction is therefore the ultimate and inevitable destiny of any ungrateful nation, any nation which rebels against God and follows the path of immorality.
But this ultimate destruction is brought about in accordance with principles. Here are some of them.
- Destruction or chastisement does not befall a nation until it is sufficiently warned. This warning can come to them through the medium of a Messenger from God,
“However, your Lord never destroys the towns until He sends to their mother town a Messenger reciting to them Our verses. Never would We destroy the towns unless its people are wrongdoers.” (Q, 28:59)
“We have never destroyed a settlement, except it had its warners as a reminder. We have never been unjust.” (Q, 26:208-9)
Or they may be caused to know in some other way that they are guilty and should therefore expect to be punished.
“How many towns have We destroyed [for their sins]. Our punishment came to them by night or while they slept in the afternoon. No cry did they utter when Our punishment came to them, except, ‘We were the wrongdoers.’” (Q, 7:4-5)
The meaning of this verse is made clearer by a hadith of the Prophet which affirms that no nation is destroyed until it admits that it has no one but itself to blame for such destruction. This is confirmed by the verse,
“This is because your Lord would not destroy towns for their wrongdoing while they were unaware.” (Q, 6:131)
We may deduce from this Divine principle or Sunna that given two societies which are equally corrupt and ungrateful, the one which has been sufficiently warned will be destroyed before the one which has not been warned. Hence, we see in the stories by bygone nations related in the Qur’an that their destruction and downfall followed their rejection of God’s Prophets.
- Destruction is not immediate, i.e., not every nation is destroyed or caused to fall immediately after it shows signs of ungratefulness. Again, this is a result of God’s mercy. He gives gratuitously and in plenty but does not take away immediately.
“How many towns did I give respite to when it did wrong. Then I seized it. To Me is the return.” (Q, 22:48)
“Your Lord is Most Forgiving, Possessor of Mercy. Were He to call them to account for what they have earned, then He would have surely hastened their punishment; however, they have their appointed time from which they will find no escape. Those towns, We destroyed them when they transgressed, and We appointed a fixed time for their destruction.” (Q, 18:58-9)
- The fall of every nation as we read in the verse above has a definite time which can neither be deferred nor hastened.
“We have never destroyed a town without it having a decreed timed; no community can bring forward its term nor delay it.” (Q, 15:4-5)
- Before a nation is destroyed it might be put to serve hardships that might cause it to repent and return to the right path,
“Corruption has appeared on the land and the sea because of what the hands of people have earned; that He may make them taste a part of that which they have done, so that they may return.” (Q, 30:41)
- Punishment is not meted out for all sins in this world otherwise all people would have been destroyed:
“If Allah were to take people to task for their wrongdoing, He would not leave on [the earth] a single living creature.” (Q, 16:61)
Those were the causes of hardship, unhappiness and fall of nations. What then are the causes for the rise of nations and their material and spiritual prosperity?
Primarily there are the normal human conditions in which all of us should be and in which God loves to see us. God creates every one of us at the hour of birth with a good nature, the essence of which is the acknowledgment that he or she is the servant of only one Creator. This acknowledgment constitutes the essence of our humility, and is both the spring and the lifeblood of everything that is good in us: sound reasoning, moral sense, aesthetic taste, brotherly feeling, etc. Moreover, God created everything around us for the purpose of serving us. Our normal state is therefore one of internal happiness and peace of mind which come as a result of a natural acknowledgment of our servitude to God, an acknowledgment which finds justification in the Divine message which is conveyed to us through God’s messengers. It is also one of external bliss which is the result of everything being subservient to us and meant for the satisfaction of our needs. Every one of us is born with that internal state of happiness, but alas none of us finds himself in that material comfort. Many of those who went before us have changed that internal state internal state of happiness, but alas none of us finds himself in that material comfort. Many of those who went before us have changed that internal state in which God created them and have thus caused Him to withhold many of his bounties from the world. But God is too merciful to make the situation a hopeless one. Still the door is open for every group of people who returns to the path of God to enjoy that material bliss. Here are some of the kinds of happiness that such a people are promised in the Qur’an.
- Material comfort:
“If the people of the towns had believed and feared Allah, We would certainly have opened for them blessings from the heavens and the earth; but they rejected, and so We seized them for what they had earned.” (Q, 7:96)
“If only they had acted according to the Torah, the Gospel, and what was sent down to them from their Lord, they would have surely been given provision from above and from below. Some of them are on the right course, but many of them do evil deeds.” (Q, 5:66)
- Spiritual Happiness:
“Whosoever does right, man or woman, and is a believer, we shall cause to live a good life.” (Qur’an 16:97)
- Victory Over Their Enemies:
To the extent that a people have faith in God and trust in Him, and to the extent that they obey Him, to that extent will He be with them.
“Allah is the Protector of the believers.” (Q, 3:68)
And when God is with them, He will defend them.
“Allah will indeed defend the believers.” (Q, 22:38)
He will come to their help.
“If you aid Allah, He will help you.” (Q, 47:7)
“We will help Our Messengers and those who believe in the worldly life and on the Day when the witnesses will come forth.” (Q, 40:51)
And if God defends them and helps them, then nothing can conquer them.
“Our Word has already gone forth to Our servants, the Messengers, that they will be helped.” (Q, 37:171-3)
“‘How often has a small force overcome a mighty force by Allah’s permission.’ Allah is with those who are patient.” (Q, 2:249)
And so long as they keep their covenant with God, they shall always be their own masters and never shall they be subjugated by unbelievers.
“Never will Allah grant the disbelievers a way [to triumph] over the believers.” (Q, 4:141)
“But honor belongs to Allah, His Messenger, and to the believers.” (Q, 63:8)
The core of our philosophy of social change has now become clear. Nations do not rise and fall haphazardly and without any laws that govern their coming into being and passing away. History is not a single track which every nation has to tread whether it likes it or not. Our social world is governed by its Creator who causes nations to rise or fall, to prosper or suffer, to be victorious or subjugated, in accordance with the moral law of gratitude.