Sura 13 Aya 31
As for those who are in denial, disasters will not cease to afflict
them because of what they do, or will land close to their homes,
until God’s promise is fulfilled: verily, God never fails to fulfill His
Sura 13 Aya 40
Do they not see how We are reducing their land from its outlying
A people such as a community or a nation which experiences continuous setbacks are in denial of the truth. They are advised in these ayas to reexamine their beliefs.
Although it is convenient to blame others, the reality is that what happens to us is a consequence of what we do, which flows from our beliefs.
In the country you live in, there are people with different opinions, but there are also beliefs common to the majority of the population. There is a set of agreed-upon principles that appear to be self-evident to the majority. If you spend a few months in another country, you can discover the commonly held beliefs of their culture. Similarly, within a country there are different ethnic and religious communities, each with its own subculture of belief systems, values, and ideals. The level of success and power of each community emanates from their commonly held beliefs.
The results we get are produced by our actions. The actions are consequences of the thoughts we think. But the thoughts spring from our deeply held beliefs. For example, in a country where a common belief is that women are less intelligent than men, women think thoughts of their own limitations and men think thoughts about their superiority over women. This leads to social and political structures that reflect these thoughts. By contrast, in a nation where the common view is that all people arecapable of making their own decisions irrespective of gender, the thought patterns are different and so are the social and political arrangements.
What people think about different aspects of life, such as family, ethics, education, government, warfare, etc., is derived from their spiritual beliefs, that is, from what people believe aboutGod and how God’s teachings are interpreted and applied. Insocieties where belief in God is not mentioned in the common doctrine, there are agreed-upon principles about life and its purpose from which laws are derived. For example, in communist countries where the official doctrine rejected the notion of God, everyone was supposed to be loyal to the Communist Manifesto which was believed to contain the complete guidelines for building the perfect society.
It often happens that a community proclaims and teaches its principles and makes efforts to live by them, but the results fall short of the promise. There is failure instead of success; there are disasters instead of triumph. Other communities seem to be faring better than us. What do we do in such a situation? The logical answer to this question is presented in these ayas. If we are getting bad results continuously, it is because we are not acting on the right principles. We should reexamine what we believe. However, this logic has escaped many communities and nations in history.
Many centuries ago in the midst of poverty and chaos of Arabia, Prophet Muhammad received divine revelations. His companions who spent many years in close contact with him imbibed the wisdom and became transformed by it. The passion and the energy in these people was such that Islam quickly spread and became a religion of people in many parts of the world.
However, wisdom cannot be inherited. You can teach the words of wisdom to a new generation, but these are just words. Everyone is born with an ego and grows up with a personality shaped by his or her culture. The work of integrating wisdom into life is an internal process for each person. Many people learn the words, but the words remain outside of them.
In this way, the original positive force of religion dissipates after a few generations. The wisdom taught by Prophet Muhammad is still here in the words he spoke, but we cannot obtain it by reading the words or memorizing them. You have to understand yourself first. We have to learn to be detached from our egos and let go of the many assumptions we have grown upwith.
The scenario is very similar with what happened with the teachings of Buddha, Moses, Jesus, and every other religion.
It is easy to learn the letters but the spirit escapes us. Parochialism and nationalism develop around religious beliefs. This prevents people from recognizing that wisdom is universal, that it does not belong to any particular nation or to a particular language. Instead, the community’s ego becomes trapped in their rituals and ceremonies. These are often referred to as “our traditions,” and there is great pride shown in preserving and defending them. Wars between people of different religions are based on this misunderstanding.
If a community is centered on correct principles, it is flexible in its interpretations of them. There is recognition that although principles of wisdom are permanent, their interpretations change with conditions as time passes. Indeed, flexibility itself is a principle of wisdom. Religious doctrines, philosophies, social, and political theories aim to create a better life. If this purpose is not fulfilled by our interpretation, then it must be revised or discarded. This is an important part of Prophet Muhammad’s teaching. He said he did not bring a new religion but simply a reform of what had been taught by the teachers and prophets who came before him. During his own life, he displayed great flexibility. As he and the community of his followers grew andfaced changing circumstances, the Prophet’s views also changed. New rules of social behavior were introduced on the role of women, economic transactions, war and peace, prayer, fasting, etc., as his community changed over the years. Some ayas from the Quran were abrogated and replaced by others as a part of this evolution.
Fanaticism is the opposite of flexibility. It is the refusal to recognize that if we live with correct principles, we will get good results, and if we experience failure, it is because we either do not know correct principles or we don’t understand them. Fanatics are people who think their failure is because of others and not fromtheir own choices. They stick to their beliefs in a blind fashion, unwilling to admit the possibility that change in their own thinking can help them. They are stuck and release their
frustrations by hating others.
Persistence is different from fanaticism. Persistence and patience are universally recognized principles of wisdom. In any significant endeavor there is a time lag between effort and fruition; we need to persist in action if we are going to produce the expected result. But a persistent person is also flexible in his approach. He focuses on his own effort and on figuring out how it can be made more effective.
Societies that permit free discussions about their belief systems are much more likely to benefit from the wisdom taught in these ayas. On the other hand, communities that forbid critical discussions become stagnant and are overcome by other more dynamic people.
If we wish to move ahead, it is not wise to focus our energy on being hateful toward those who are oppressing us. It does not help us to speak, again and again, that the enemy is unjust and brutal, usurping our rights without justification. It is not a question of who is oppressing us, but what is making us so weak that others can oppress us. We need to reform our thinking; we need to change ourselves.
We can learn from those who are stronger than us. We should pay attention to how they conduct their affairs. They are stronger because they are manifesting some essential principlesbetter than us.
… until God’s promise is fulfilled: verily, God never fails to fulfill
The universal rules of wisdom are well known. They include sincerity, faith, honesty, compassion, courage, generosity, prayer, proactivity, search for knowledge, etc. It is God’s promise thatthose who will live righteously, that is, live by the right principles, will flourish, and those who do not live by these rules will perish. God does not favor any race or ethnic group. His rules of success and failure apply to all, at all times.