Punishments in the Qur’an?

Humanity’s knowledge of God increased gradually and over a period of thousands of years. And in these periods the ones with the highest understanding and relationships with God but still their understanding was not complete. Some could keep it only for themselves as they could not put the meaning they had found into words and some could share it. But because it was not complete and the people also hadn’t grown fully, they were often misunderstood and did not reach a lot of people. As times went on, the understanding of the prophets and people started growing, the understanding that there is a God became more widely known. But there were still great differences between the level of understanding of the prophets and the rest of the people.

This difference between the prophets and the people they were trying to communicate was not taken very well by people who could not tolerate a world view other than their own. They did not want a disruption in their culture and so they often oppressed the prophets and got them out of their way.

“And when a messenger came to them from Allah confirming that which was with them, a party of those who had been given the Scripture threw the Scripture of Allah behind their backs as if they did not know [what it contained]. And they followed [instead] what the devils had recited during the reign of Solomon.” (Qur’an 2:101)

Or

“They said, ‘If you do not desist, O Noah, you will surely be of those who are stoned.” (Quran 26:116)

Even:

“Those who disbelieve in the signs of Allah and kill the prophets without right and kill those who order justice from among the people.” (Quran 3:21)

Prophets on the other hand had to be patient and keep doing their work to help people. But at points after having spent years trying to help, in some cases decades, and still people not showing any willingness to change their ways and stop hurting others, some prophets would run out of patience and wish for their people to face the consequences of their actions. These are stories mentioned in the Qur’an of punishments.

“Consequences of actions” is the key word. If I hurt myself in some way, for example, have a lemon cake, it is not God’s fault. I have chosen to use the power God gifted me to cause harm to myself. My action has consequence and unfortunately, not a very good one. (I think it is clear I am not a fan of lemon cakes). This level of consequences of action we can all understand. Let’s take it one level higher.

If a parent stops paying attention to their children, gets very busy with work, slowly the children will grow cold, they may stop talking to him. That parent will miss out on a beautiful relationship with their children. If the parent now also starts to ignore the house, the problems will grow. Spider webs in the corners of the house that have not been cleaned, water bills which are overdue, moulds growing in the bathroom, the carpet will be filled with hair and this can keep getting worse. And all of it are the consequences of a parent who is so lost in their work has forgotten about their children and the house.

Now, imagine if instead of just ignoring and not paying attention, a person actively tries to hurt others. And instead of one person, it’s a whole group or community, can you even imagine the consequences of that scale of actions! In the islamic corpus of teachings we come accross hadiths that disrespecting a parent and breaking their heart can manifest in our life and lead to many problems in other aspects of life.

ignoring children —-> they grow cold, feel lost, may go astray,  …

ignoring house —> spider webs, unpaid bills, electricity cut, …

breaking parents’ hearts –> losing barakah in life, …

All of these combined times a million is what people do at all times. The amount of cheating, heart breaks, ignoring, corruption, harming, abuse, etc that people do in any community is enough to bring consequences that destroys everything.

If God were to show to people the consequences of the wrong they have done, there would not be a single creature left on the surface of the earth. (Qur’an 35:45)

Therefore, the consequences of people’s wrong actions —> destruction

A question that may rise is, ‘if it’s people’s own action leading to destruction then how come, destruction would only come after a prophet would say so?

Let me answer using an example. Imagine you are a dentist and you have a brother who does not brush his teeth at all. He comes to your clinic. You check his teeth and it’s a mess. You spend a few hours doing a hygeine procedure cleaning his teeth. He doesn’t pay but promises to brush. He comes after a year, again you see things are looking very bad. He may end up losing his teeth. But you clean it for him again. He doesn’t pay and leaves again.

While his lack of brushing is damaging his teeth, you are trying to reduce the consequences of it by cleaning it for him. It’s not going to undo what he does but at least you are trying to stand between his actions and their consequences. You are trying to delay the point in which the decay would grow so much he would end up losing his teeth. But at some point, you may get so tired of his wreckless behaviour, and the fact that he ignores your advice, and you tell him, well ok, no more free procedures. If you want go pay outside. He can’t afford it and he ends up losing his teeth.

Another example could be a mother who is disrepected and hurt by her mother, but she keeps praying for the child because she knows the consequences of breaking the heart of your mother is very awful. But the mother keeps mending her own broken heart and praying for her child till at some point, the disrespect gets too strong, she just breaks. She was trying to stand between the child and the consequences of their anger. She would use her prayer to protect and shield the child from the impacts of anger but when the mother breaks down, her prayers stop, and the child faces his consequence.

In a similar way, prophets always stood between people’s action and the consequences of their actions. Through their prayer and presence they would act like a dam that would hold behind them to make sure people don’t meet the full consequences of their action so they get a second chance to learn and fix their shortcomings. But then a point when would come when people’s mistakes and abuse and oppression would get to a stage where some prophets couldn’t hold it any more and they would tell God, I can no longer hold this like a dam that can no longer stand the pressure of the water that is built up behind it. Then the consequences would come and impact that people. So it wasn’t God’s punishment in the sense that God wanted this to happen. It’s just the way the world works that actions have consequences and if no one is helping us block it, then it will come to our life.

How do we know this is not what God wanted to happen? The Qur’an tells us so. In the Qur’an we see that there were some prophets who were stronger and could carry the weight of people’s mistakes without breaking down. A clear example of this is Prophet Ibrahim. When the angels give him the news that the people of Lut are going to see the consequences of their actions, he argues against it. 

He began to argue with Us concerning the people of Lot. (Qur’an 11:75)

Then God doesn’t condemn him. Actually, God praises Ibrahim for this:

Indeed, Abraham was forbearing, grieving, and frequently returning [to Allah]. (Qur’an 11:75)

God says Ibrahim is very forbreaing and also he returns to God a lot. Which if you think about it contains an important message. Those who go return to God a lot become like Him. Whoever you spend a lot of time with will impact you. God says if Ibrahim is very forbearing it is because he returns to me a lot. God is even more forebearing.?

Another example of Qur’an showing us that God’s stance is patience with people is the story of Prophet Jonas

So be patient for the decision of your Lord, and do not be like the companion of the fish [Prophet Yunus] when he called out while he was distressed. (Qur’an 68:48)


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