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The Qur'anic View of History

Martyr Murtuda Mutahhari

The verses of the Holy Quran confirm the third view. As I have stated earlier, the Quran does not discuss human problems in our philo­sophical and scientific terminology. Its language and approach is dif­ferent. Nevertheless, the Quran views the problems concerning society in such a way that it supports the third view. The Quran puts forward the idea of a common history, a common destiny, a common record of deeds, a common consciousness, understanding, sensibility and a com­mon conduct for the ummahs (societies) [1]. It is obvious that if the entity referred to as `ummah' did not have an objective existence, it would be meaningless to talk of fate, understanding, conscience, obedience, and disobedience with reference to it. It may be inferred that the Quran believes in a certain kind of life which is the collective and social existence. Collective life is not just a metaphor or an alle­gory, it is a reality; likewise collective death is also a reality.
In verse 34 of Surat al‑'A`raf, the Quran asserts:
And every ummah (society) hath its term, and when its term cometh, they cannot put it off an hour nor yet advance (it). (7:34)
This verse refers to life and existence that is given a limited period of time, the duration of which cannot be changed. The end can neither be advanced nor delayed; and this life is associated with the nation (ummah), not with the individuals; or else it is evident that individuals of a nation are deprived of their existence individually and separately and not collectively and simultaneously.
In Surat al‑Jathiyah, the verse 28 states:
Every ummah (society) shall be summoned to its record. (45:28)
Thereupon we come to know that not only individuals have a particular record of deeds of their own, but societies are also judged by their own records of deeds, because they, too, are like living beings who are conscious, responsible, and accountable for their acts, as they have freedom of will and act accordingly.
In Surat al‑'An`am, verse 108 states:
....unto every nation have We made their deeds seem fair ....(6:108)
This verse affirms that every nation evolves its own particular consciousness, its own particular standards and its own particular way of thinking. The consciousness, understanding, and perception of every nation has a specific and distinguishable character.
Every nation judges things according to its own standards (at least in the matters involving practical values and notions Every nation has its own special way of perception and comprehension. There are many acts which are `good' in the eyes of one nation and `evil' in the eyes of another. It is the social atmosphere that moulds the taste and percep­tion of the individuals of a nation according to its value‑system.
In Surat al‑Mu'min, verse 5 says:
....And every nation purposed to seize their messenger and argued falsely, [thinking] thereby to refute the Truth. Then I seized, and how [awful] was My punishment. (40:5)
This verse is about an unrighteous resolution and decision of a nation. It refers to a collective decision of immoral opposition to truth, and asserts that collective disobedience deserves collective retribution and punishment.
In the Quran, there are frequent instances how the actions of an individual are attributed to the whole group, or sins of a generation are associated with later generations. [2] In such cases, the people had the same (collective) thinking and the same (collective) will, or, in other words, they had the same social spirit. For example, in the story of the Thamud, the act of hamstringing Salih's camel, which was the deed of an individual alone, is attributed to the whole nation (they ham­strung the she‑camel). The whole nation was considered to be respon­sible for the crime. Consequently all of them were considered to deserve the punishment for committing that crime: (so Allah doomed them for that sin).
'Ali (A), in one of the sermons of the Nahj al‑balaghah, elucidates this subject in the following manner:
O people, actually that which brings together a community [and imparts unity and a common fate to it], is the common feeling of approval and disapproval.
Whenever any proper or improper action having collective appro­val has been performed, even though by a single individual, the whole society is held responsible for it.
Indeed only one man had hamstrung the she‑camel of Thamud, but God included them all in His punishment, because they all condoned his act. So, God has said (in the Quran): "They hamstrung her and woke up repentant.”
God sent down His punishment collectively on the people of Thamud, because the whole nation maintained the same position and approved the act of one individual, and when his decision was enacted, it was actually the decision of the whole nation. God, in His Book, has attributed the act of hamstringing of the camel to the whole nation, although the act was performed by one person. It says: "That nation hamstrung the camel," and does not say that one person from among them committed the sin.
It is essential to remind here that mere approval of a sin, as long as it remains a verbal approval alone and practical involvement has not occurred, is not to be considered as a sin. For example, a person commits a sin and another comes to know about it before or after its committal and approves it, even though the approval leads to the stage of resolution but is not translated into action, it is not a sin; as the resolution of an individual to commit a sin, which is not translated into action may not be considered a sin.
An approval is considered as participation in sin when it plays an active role in its planning and execution. The collective sins belong to this category. The social atmosphere and the social spirit favour the occurrence of the sin and support it. If one of the members of a society whose approval is a part of the collective will and whose decision is a part of the collective decision commits the sin, it is here that the sin of an individual becomes the collective sin. The above quoted passage of the Nahj al‑balaghah which refers to the contents of the Quranic verse, explains the same fact. It is not merely the approval or disapproval which is regarded as participation in the intention or committal of a sin.
The Quran occasionally associates the acts of an earlier generation with the latter generations. For example, the action of an earlier nation, namely the people of Israel, has been associated with the Israelites of the Prophet's age, and the Quran says that these people deserve igno­miny and wretchedness because they slew prophets unjustly. It is not so because in the view of the Quran they were the offsprings of the same race, but because they represented the same evil social spirit. It has been said that "human society has more dead than living. [3] It means that those who are dead participate in the formation of every age more than the living. Therefore, it is also said that "the dead rule the living more than before." [4]
In the Quranic exegesis, al‑Mizan, it is argued that if a society has a single soul and the same social thinking, it is as if a single indivi­dual. In this case, members of society are like the bodily organs and faculties of one organism, intrinsically and physically united, and are amalgamated in the form of a single human personality in thought and action. Their pleasures and pains are like the pleasures and pains of one person and their bliss and adversities are like the bliss and adversities of one person. This discussion is further continued on the following lines:
In its judgement on nations and societies having religious or national pre­judices or having a unique social thinking, the Quran regards the latter genera­tions punishable for the actions of the earlier generations. A present genera­tion is regarded accountable and punishable for the actions of those who have passed away. In the cases in which people had the same social thinking and the same social spirit, the Divine Judgement could not be otherwise. [5]
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[1]. `Allamah Tabataba'i, al‑Mizan, vol. II, p. 102.
[2]. Following Quranic verses are referred to:
Woe, then, to those who write the Book with their hands and then say: This is from God, so that they may take for it a small price. Therefore, woe to them for what their hands have written, and woe to them for what they earn. (2: 79)
Abasement shall be pitched on them, wherever they are come upon, except they be in a bond of God, and a bond of the people; they will be laden with the burden of God's anger, and poverty shall be pitched on them; that, because they disbelieved in God's signs and slew the Prophets without right, that, for that they acted rebelliously and were transgressors. (3:112)
[3]. Auguste Comte, as quoted in Raymond Aron's Main Currents in Sociologi­cal Thought, vol. I, p. 91.
[4]. Ibid.
[5]. Al‑Mizan, vol. IV, 112.

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