Volume 15-08 No:176
Many patterns have passed away before you. Go about the earth and see what was the fate of those who described (the truth) as lies. This is a plain exposition for mankind, as well as a guidance and an admonition for the God-fearing. (The House of Imran, "Aal Imran": 3:137-138)
Commentary by Sayyid Qutb
Translation: A. A. Salahi and S. A. Shamsi
These verses begin with a long passage which comments on the events of the battle of Uhud which the Muslims in Madinah fought against a much superior army of polytheists. Quraish, the leading tribe in Arabia, had raised that army in order to avenge the defeat it suffered a year earlier in the battle of Badr, when a small, ill-equipped army of Muslims scored a most spectacular victory against a much superior army. The battle of Uhud, which took place a short distance from Madinah, had a different result. The Muslims were able to give a severe blow to the polytheists at the beginning, but then they slackened and a group of them disobeyed the express instructions of the Prophet. That gave a chance to a battalion of the enemy to make a swift move and attack the Muslims from behind. Thus, the polytheists were able to score a victory in this battle. As the Qur’an comments on these events, it seeks to establish certain rules and principles. The events themselves are only a means used by the Qur’an to drive the truth home to the Muslims. These Qur’anic comments begin with a reference to an ever-recurring pattern which engulfs those who reject Allah’s message and describe it as lies. The Muslims are here told that the victory achieved by the polytheists in this particular battle is a one-off incident which gives a particular lesson. They are called upon to show steadfastness and to feel their superiority through faith. If they have suffered, the polytheists have also suffered in the same battle. What has happened to the Muslims is useful in certain ways as it helps distinguish those who are firm in their faith and select martyrs who are ready to sacrifice their lives for their faith. Moveover, the Muslims are brought face to face with death.
Laws of Nature Never Fail
In this battle of Uhud, the Muslims have suffered a misfortune: many of them were killed and they suffered a defeat. Physically and mentally, they endured affliction. Seventy companions of the Prophet were killed. The Prophet himself was wounded in his face, and his front teeth were broken, and he was the target of a determined attack. Those defending him were badly wounded. All this shook the believers, since they did not expect such a blow after their spectacular victory in Badr. They wondered: “How can this turn of events come about when we are the Muslims?
The Qur’an reminds them here that there are patterns which will eventually come to pass. The laws of nature which apply to human life will continue to operate. Nothing comes about out-of-the-blue. If they examine the laws of nature and understand what rules affect them, they will be able to learn the lessons of all events. They will realize that Allah’s law never fails. Nothing happens in vain. They will also be able to carve out their future in the light of what has happened in the past.
The patterns to which the surah refers here and to which it draws the attention of the believers concern the fate of those who, throughout history, denied Allah’s message and described it as lies, the fact that days of fortune and misfortune alternate between people and communities. Another pattern of importance here is the fact that victory is always granted to those who are steadfast while the disbelievers are blotted out. As these patterns are outlined, much encouragement is given to the believers to persevere and remain steadfast.
“Many patterns have passed away before you. Go about the earth and see what was the fate of those who described (the truth) as lies. This is a plain exposition for mankind, as well as a guidance and an admonition for the God-fearing.” The Qur’an relates the present to the past in human life in order to point to the future. The Arabs who were the first to be addressed by the Qur’an had nothing in their lives, experience or knowledge, prior to Islam, to enable them to have such a wide view of life and its events. Islam has indeed given them a new life and made out of them a nation to lead mankind.
The tribal system in their community could have never enabled them to appreciate the relationship between the people of Arabia and what takes place in their lives, let alone a relationship between mankind and what happens on earth, or a relationship between world events and the laws of nature which govern everything in life. The new concept represents a great departure which could not have developed out of their society or their life conditions. It has been given to them by their new faith. They are elevated to this standard within a quarter of a century, while their contemporaries could not manage to reach this superior standard for many centuries to come. They could not for many generations recognize that the laws of nature never fail. When they did, however, they overlooked the fact that Allah’s will is free, absolute and that to Him all matters are refered. They conducted their lives on the basis of working within the laws of nature, reassured that Allah can accomplish what He wills at any time He chooses. “Many patterns have passed away before you.” These have taken place according to rules and systems which are established by Allah’s free will to govern life. What happened at other times will also happen in your own time, according to Allah’s will.
Guidance and Admonition
“Go about the earth,” because the earth is a single unit and a stage on which human life is played. Life is an open book for people of intellect to contemplate. “And see what was the fate of those who described the truth as lies.” Their fate is evidenced by what they have left behind and by what we know of their history. The Qur’an mentions some of these in different places. In some cases, the Qur’an identifies people, places and times. In other instances, it makes general references which establish a general rule: what happened to those who rejected the truth today and tomorrow.
Having established the fact that these rules will continue to operate, the surah emphasizes the need to follow divine guidance and to learn the lessons of the past: “This is a plain exposition for mankind, as well as a guidance and an admonition for the God-fearing.” The Qur’an makes an exposition of the truth to all mankind. It elevates people to a height which they could never attain without its guidance. But the God-fearing are the only ones who appreciate its guidance and admonition.
A word of plain admonition can only benefit a heart which fears Allah. Distinction between truth and falsehood, is rarely lacking among people. By nature, truth is self apparent. What people lack is the desire to follow the truth and the ability to prefer its implementation, because these are initiated only by faith and cannot be preserved except with the fear of Allah. That explains the need for the repeated emphasis in the Qur’an of the fact that the truth it tells and the guidance, light and admonition it provides are meant only for the believers and the God-fearing.
There are many people who know the truth and, nevertheless, remain immersed in falsehood either because they yield to temptation and desire or because they fear to share in the hardship which the followers of the truth may have to endure.