When some of them said: ‘Why do ye preach to a people whom Allah will destroy or visit with a terrible punishment?’ Said the preachers: ‘To discharge our duty to your Lord and perchance they may fear Him’
The reformists should not give in to hopelessness
In this concise holy verse, a dialogue is being conducted between two types of people on the question of how to deal with some people, who overindulge, both in word and deed, in going astray. They have gone so far off the mark that some activists believe that it is useless to try to bring them back to the right path, the way of God.
Nevertheless, other workers in the way of God take a different position on this type of phenomenon, in that they do not give up easily on people, feeling a sense of divine duty and responsibility to let the ingredients of good play their part amidst the piles of evil that have accumulated over the years, forming barriers to reformist work. Thus, those activists do their best to win those lost people over and bring them back to the fold of belief and guidance, using the carrot and the stick, in the hope that their inner inhibitions give way and, instead, be receptive to the call of good, after the right conditions have been created in the external environment.
According to those activists, there should always be hope in life, so that it stays vibrant and does not wither away on the way of death. In darkness, the hope for a glimmer of light should remain alive by the presence of the glittering stars and the moon. In some other ways, also remains the hope of light at the end of the tunnel by the impending dawn of a new day. In the darkness of doubt, which may find room in the minds of some people to cling to, there is always the hope that the firm steps of certitude and light are nigh to dispel the darkness and bring in peace of mind and tranquility.
In the absence of misguidance, guidance is always at hand to provide most needed comfort and light, in the same way water gushes forth from the spring to form waterfalls. All that makes the hope in good guidance and light a reality among life’s other realities, manifesting itself in more than one aspect.
Guided by the steps of hope and realism the activists and reformists move around to fulfill the major tasks, lifting their heads high with their sight focused on the summits, regardless of the barriers and hitches the climbers to the peak of the mountain might encounter.
However, should the case for the lost ones be that of the spiritual and psychological gulf they have created, or the bridges they have blown up, there seems to be no link left to cross over, from the bank of this world, where they wander about blindly, to the other bank, i.e. that of the hereafter, where God would shower His servants with favors, forgiveness, and pleasure.
Yet, if the issue is that of their relationship with God, the matter is quite straightforward because He has built bridges for those of His servants who have gone astray, but want to rejoin the right path in genuine penitence at any time. God has made this abundantly clear in many Quranic verses, especially when He calls upon the sinners to come back to Him, regardless of the distance they may have covered on the crooked way. He is very close to them, listening to their prayers and supplications at all times:
When My servants ask thee concerning Me, I am indeed close (to them): I listen to the prayer of every suppliant when he calls on Me: Let them also, with a will, listen to My call, and believe in Me: that they may walk in the right way. (2: 186)
Say: “O my Servants who have transgressed against their souls! Despair not of the Mercy of God: for God forgives all sins: for He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.”
For the workers in the cause of God, this is the springboard of hope in the procession of life. They keep working hard to persuade the sinners and those who have gone astray to rejoin the way to God. The philosophy of hope reflects the nature of things in life on the one hand. On the other hand, it connects with the generous mercy of God. It is incumbent on the activists to understand that the aims of their work should not be confined only to seeing tangible results. Rather, the work is characterized by a comprehensive approach, whose very important ingredients include discharging one’s duty to their Lord and warning transgressors to be mindful of God’s punishment, perchance they may fear Him.
The difference between two outlooks
In this swift and dense dialogue, the Quranic verse has aimed to suggest to us that we should keep working because it is the way to God and to living a meaningful life. There is no room for the fainthearted, the hopeless, and the capitulator. This breed of people usually run after the pitch of darkness within the light of the truth to try to lend support to their calls of surrender. They should, instead, look for the silver lining in the dark clouds, so that they may instill optimism in the hearts of the pessimists and give hope to, and infuse peace in, the lives of the panicky and the desperate.
Thus, the dissimilarity between the characters, i.e. the optimist and the pessimist, is self-evident. The first one maps its steps in life by mustering all its capabilities and drawing on all its energy reserves to put all at the service of planting new areas with real hope. And once the sowing of seeds takes root and the nurturing of plantation comes to fruition, the proof shall be manifested in the harvest. In the process of work, every effort should be made to avoid any superficial experiment, which should, by nature, not cost man more than paying lip service to the status quo that may hide more than what is on the surface.
The second personality seems to be in a hurry, preferring to deal with the issues speedily, giving way to considering outward manifestations that may not give real grounds for hope. This is bound to make such people give up hope easily and give in to hopelessness as a rationalization for running away from real life situations.
It is the difference between those who become captivated by outward appearances, living on the peripheries of life, and those who look deeper behind the façade, gaining in confidence and strength as they go, and filling life with fertility and vibrancy.
In this verse, as is the case with others, we experience the Quranic climate that is pulsating with life. It is the picture of life, where, although the canvas of the portrait does not seem to have room for more shades of color, the underling current makes it rich with pure and vivid connotations that overflow with love, life, intensity and peace.
“There is the type of man whose speech about this world’s life may dazzle thee”
Types of hypocrites
This is another example of man representing political hypocrisy that is found at all times and places. These types of politicians never tire of playing on people’s sentiments, fears and weaknesses in order to win their support. They seem to be appealing to people by announcing programs for reforms ostensibly to better people’s lives, making endless promises, and giving fiery and emotive speeches. Also, they do not seem to shy away from trying to instill confidence in the hearts of people by giving pledges and calling on God to be their witness, which are, in fact, smokescreens. They do all this in order to win the masses over to their side against their opponents on the way to assuming power. They appeal to the masses to give them the chance to put their promised comprehensive reformist program to the test. For their part, the masses oblige in the hope that the promise-makers may deliver them from the yoke of oppression, the misery of life, the darkness of ignorance and the bitterness of poverty.
The misleading plans of this type of people may attain success, so much so that they ascend to power where they become the captains of the nation’s fortunes. Yet, no sooner have those people seen themselves catapulted to power, they reveal their true identity and plans. Thus, they do not seem to waste any time in sowing corruption in the land and destroying the civilization of mankind, contrary to God’s ordinances. God loves good and doing good and loathes mischief and spreading it.
Some of those who supported the newcomer to power, see it as their duty to remind him of his promises and warn him against God’s wrath and punishment, advising him to fear God for what he is practicing against His servants and land, and plead with him to see sense. They engage him in debate, with a view to persuading him to desist from his malpractices. But, he rejects their pleas and good counsel, criticizing those well-intentioned people for daring to give him counsel because he does not recognize that he could be accident-prone, believing that he is infallible, that his rule is just, and that his conduct is in the right track. Thus, he carries on with his self-righteousness, staying subservient to his intrinsic inclinations, disobeying his Lord’s injunctions, and happy with the sins he is committing in word and deed.
This is the true picture of this type of people, who never tire of putting on different guises to serve their own ends. On one occasion you see them wearing the mantle of religion. On another occasion, you see them assuming the appearance of politicians. At other times, you see them clothed in the gear of sociologists and economists. These are nothing but veneers of deceit, fraud, and treachery. In a nutshell: hypocrites. And this is how the Holy Quran portrays this group:
There is the type of man whose speech about this world’s life may dazzle thee, and he calls God to witness about what is in his heart; yet is he the most contentious of enemies. When he turns his back, his aim everywhere is to spread mischief through the earth and destroy crops and cattle. But God loveth not mischief. When it is said to him, “Fear God”, he is led by arrogance to (more) crime. Enough for him is Hell; An evil bed indeed (to lie on)! The moral behind the portrayal of this type of people lies in uncovering their true faces, and making the masses guard against falling prey to their long-winded promises. Instead, they should rely on considering the history and practices of the person, the party, or the group as the criteria for judging their truthfulness, or otherwise. This can make society impervious to the influences of the tactics that might manipulate people’s emotions. This would make society sail its ship on an even keel and eventually dock it on safe shores.
Appearances versus inner meanings
In the Holy Quran, it is commonplace to encounter human examples whose appearances belie their inner realities. This is intended to provide us with the necessary insight into decisive positions when those people are put to the test in real life situations. In other words, Muslims should seek to harmonize their convictions with their practical positions, away from any naive treatment of complex issues, since real judgment in matters can be arrived at after delving deep into those complex issues where the deepest and most well-defined features can be found.
This is how the Holy Quran portrays this type of people: “There are among men some who serve God, as it were, on the verge: if good befalls them, they are, therewith, well content; but if a trial comes to them, they turn on their faces: they lose both this world and the Hereafter: that is loss for all to see!”.
This is the picture of a person who is lulled into a sense of spiritual security so long as it does not cost them anything in comfort, wealth, or privileges, and as long as they are sitting on the fence, living a spiritual life without any challenges. However, once they are afflicted with any type of mishap, be it in their prosperity, offspring, or desires, they lose their equilibrium, so much so that they tumble over and get confused and bewildered. They soon find themselves at a loss at not being able to separate the wheat from the chaff. They do not seem to have a strong base of belief and good work to fall back on, so that they might be able to achieve God’s pleasure and His reward in the hereafter. Thus, they lose both this world and the hereafter, and that is a manifest loss!
Some dissimilarity between the two pictures might also be detected in other respects. In the first one, deception can be read in the slogan that is being hoisted, which is aimed at cheating others, in that although it has the semblance of good, yet the bitter reality soon appears in practice. In the second picture, the deception emerges in the process of carrying out the work, which is devoid of any experience. Then, the picture becomes clearer after facing the bitter experience, when man comes face to face with the real challenges. However, both the pictures are similar in nature, in that they lead man not to give in to appearances. Rather, he should examine them with a critical mind and look at them with a watchful vision, aspiring to delve into the depth of the picture in order to discern its true features and what lies behind the façade.