This is another of the stories of prophets, which is not different from the other ones. These stories have a common thread that runs through all of them. They seem to share similar circumstances undergone by the prophets, the issues they raised and their style of dialogue with the unbelievers, especially their attempt to loosen the stranglehold of the rich and powerful on the disenfranchised and weaker sections of society.
However, the difference in Saleh’s story is that he was sent to his people with a sign from God, a she-camel that provided them with milk so abundant that it never ran out, no matter how big their number was. The drinking water was equally divided between the people and the she-camel, in that the day when she came to drink was hers alone and the day when they wanted to get water was theirs alone. Saleh’s people did not like the allocation of water, in that they saw in the animal defiance of their dignity and arrogance. They therefore killed it, heralding the punishment, which would descend on them fast.
Without going into the details of the story, we would like to dwell on two fundamental points that have characterized the dialogue in this story:
[The first point is] the attempt by the despotic forces to raise doubt in the minds of those who were deemed weak about the validity of Prophet Saleh’s Message. They managed this through posing a naive question, which ostensibly looked innocent as though they were pursuing the truth, but in reality their aim was to mislead the camp of belief into reconsidering their position, suggesting to them that the case was debatable. That is, it was not watertight. Nevertheless, the forces of belief were steadfast in adhering to their belief, so much so that the opposing forces had no alternative but to reveal their true face, a face of unbelief, arrogance, and violent reaction:
The leaders of the arrogant party among his people said to those who were reckoned powerless – those among them who believed: “know ye indeed that Saleh is a messenger from his Lord?” They said: “We do indeed believe in the revelation which hath been sent through him. The Arrogant party said: “For our part, we reject what ye believe in.” (7:75–76)
Guile and evil
We would like to dwell a while on this point to ponder this method, which we may encounter from the forces of unbelief and misguidance. We may be approached in a seemingly nice way as to whether we are serious in what we believe in or in the issues we raise. They may be patronizing by claiming that we are wise, educated, and knowledgeable enough to reject such recipes for belief.
They are the same age-old devious methods used to play down the question of belief and doctrine, portraying it as though it detracts from man’s intellectual powers. Many, who see through the eyes of others or are receptive to such smooth talk, may unwittingly fall victim to these ways.
There is no objection to resorting to these methods with the dishonest among our doctrinal adversaries because of the irrational foundation on which they seem to be anchoring their unbelief, polytheism, and misguidance. The Holy Quranic has made many references to this state of affairs in its dialogue with the unbelievers and the polytheists, asking them to leave the judgment to their intellects, which would tell them that the objectionable beliefs they hold are irrational.
[The second point is] the attempt by the unbelievers to raise the question of Saleh’s social standing and how it was undermined by his “claim” of prophecy, in that they no longer had confidence in him. This was a tactic to persuade Saleh to give up on them and abandon his mission. “They said: ‘O Saleh! Thou hast been of us a center of our hopes hitherto! Dost thou (now) forbid us the worship of what our fathers worshipped? But we are really in suspicious (disquieting) doubt as to that to which thou invite us.” (11:62)
Yet he responded to them with the logic of the Message. This is because the situation was crystal clear to him, on the one hand, and entrusting him with delivering the Message was a Divine grace, on the other hand. He looked at it this way: whatever he was presumably going to lose in social status, was going to be offset by the reward he was expecting from God. He was absolutely sure that there was nothing they could do to rescue him from the punishment of God for flouting His commands and taking up his people’s proposition, had he decided to do so: “He said: ‘O my people! Do ye see? If I have a Clear (Sign) from my Lord and He hath sent Mercy unto me from Himself, who then can help me against God if I were to disobey Him? What then would ye add to my (portion) but perdition?” (11:63)
Taking advantage of weaknesses
As we have done in the previous point, we would like to pause a little while here, to explore the method Saleh’s people used with him. In this method lurks a great danger that might threaten the Muslim activists, especially those who are vulnerable to matters of personal dignity, which are determined by social values and norms.
The activists might be tempted into believing that remaining faithful to the task of calling people to God’s way might cause them to lose their social positions. The scaremongers try to give the impression that the two, i.e. the task and social rank, are incompatible. That is, society has devised certain mechanisms and criteria to value and judge its members. Naturally, what society has come to recognize as a quality should not necessarily mean that it is harmonious with that called for by religious dictates. However, what seems to be the believers’ lot nowadays are words like reactionary, backward and traitor, whereas descriptions such as progressive, outward looking, patriotic and faithful have come to characterize those in the opposite camp.
Some people may come to terms with this tendency, especially when they are cocooned, keeping a distance from the principles of the Message, as this situation has a bearing on the relationship between man and Message. That is, when the personal and social position take precedence over matters of belief. Such people can easily fall prey to sweet words as quickly as salt dilutes in water.
As the Quranic verses seem to suggest, the activists should keep abreast of their belief and message in life. This can provide them with the requisite strength to judge matters critically, in which case they will soon find out that it is wrong to subject “self-assurance” to the standards and norms of falsehood, instead of the criteria and ideals of the truth. The Muslim activists should be firm in the knowledge that the trust of the believers in them is the real worth of one’s confidence. The ones on the opposite side should rest assured that they are worthless in the eye of the true believers, for the devious methods they practice to bring pressure to bear on the believers to shake their confidence in themselves, is a foregone conclusion.