Norms of History Mentioned in the Quran 1

As we have said the Qur'anic concept of the norms of history has been mentioned in a large number of its verses and the fact of their existence has been emphasized in many ways.

In some verses the concept of the norms has been given in general terms and in some other verses their examples have also been given. Similarly some verses call upon us to make a thorough investigation of historical events in order to find out historical trends and norms. We see that a very large number of verses have dealt with this subject in different ways.

In this connection we propose to quote a good number of verses. Some of the verses which we produce here as evidence, quite clearly indicate the existence of the norms of history. Some other verses, though not so specific, are in perfect harmony with the spirit of the teachings of the Qur'an regarding this issue, and may be looked upon as a supporting evidence.

Some Examples of Norms of History in the Qur'an

The following two verses are an example of those verses of the Qur'an which describe the idea of the laws and the norms of history in general terms:

For every nation there is an appointed time. When their time comes, then they cannot put it back an hour, nor can they put it forward. (1)

As may be noticed, in these two verses it has been said that for every nation, that is for every society there is an appointed time. It is evident that this "appointed time" is different from that which exists in the case of every individual. The Qur'an calls ummah or nation that society the members of which are linked together on the basis of some common ideas and principles which furnish them with certain common powers and capabilities. Such a society has an appointed time. In other words like an individual, it lives, moves and dies.

So long as an individual moves, we say that he is alive. When he ceases to move, he dies. The same is the case with a society. As the death of an individual has an appointed time and is governed by a law and a system, similarly societies also have their appointed time and are governed by certain laws of their own. These two verses give us a clear idea that history has some norms which are different from the laws and norms which exclusively apply to the individuals. Allah says in the Qur'an:

And We destroyed no township, but there was a known decree for it. No nation can outstrip its appointed time, nor can they lag behind. (2) Exactly the same thing is mentioned in the following verses: No nation can outstrip its appointed time, nor can they lag behind. (3)

Have they not seen the dominion of the heavens and the earth, and what things Allah has created, and that it may be that their own term was nigh? In what report after that will they believe? (4) The wording of the verses indicate that the appointed time which is nigh or about the nearness of which warning is being given, refers to the collective death of a society, not the individual death of its members, for all members of a nation do not normally die together. When the collective death of a people is mentioned, it means their social death, not their individual death.

As we know individually people die at different times. But when we look at them as one group bound together in matters of justice and injustice, prosperity and misery, then they have one appointed time of death. This social death is the death of a nation. In this sense the following verse is closely linked with the verse preceding it: Your Lord is Forgiver, full o f Mercy. If He were to take them to task, for what they earn, He would hasten on the doom for them; but they have an appointed term from which they will find no escape. And those townships! We destroyed them when they did wrong, and We appointed a fixed time for their destruction. (5)

If Allah were to take mankind to task for their wrongdoing, He would not leave a single living creature on the face of earth, but He reprieves them to an appointed time, and when their appointed time comes, they cannot put it off an hour nor can they advance it. (6)

If Allah were to take mankind to task for what they earned, He would not leave a living creature on the face of the earth; but He reprieves them to an appointed time, and when their term comes, then surely (they will know that) Allah is ever aware of His slaves. (7) In the last two verses the Qur'an says that if Allah wanted to take people to task during their lifetime, He would not leave a living creature and would destroy all people.

Difference Between Punishment in This Life and the Next

Now there is a difficulty about this Qur'anic concept. As we know, all people are never unjust. There may be Prophets, Imams and their executors living among them. Will this general destruction include the Prophets, the Imams and the righteous believers? This doubt has been so magnified that some people have produced these two verses as a proof of the invalidity of the idea of the infallibility of the Prophets and the Imams. The fact is that these two verses neither speak of this worldly punishment nor that of the next world. They speak of the natural consequence of the unjust deeds of a nation. The natural consequences of its deeds do not remain confined to the wicked of society but encompasses all its members irrespective of their personalities and conduct.

When as a result of their misconduct Israelites were doomed to roaming about in the desert, this punishment did not remain confined to the wicked. It equally affected Prophet Musa, who was the most pure and active person of his time and who most courageously had faced the tyrant and his tyranny. Prophet Musa being a member of the community had to share the chastisement inflicted on the community as a whole for its wickedness. Consequently he also had to wander about in the desert for 40 years along with other Israelites.

Where as a result of their deviation from the right path the Muslims were afflicted with a calamity and Yazid ibn Mu'awiyah was imposed on them to ride roughshod over their lives, property, honour and creed, it were not the wrongdoers among the Muslims society alone who suffered. Even the infallible Imam Husayn, the grandson of the Holy Prophet, who was the most virtuous and the most upright person on the face of the earth, was killed along with his companions and the members of his family.

All this was in consonance with the logic of the norms of history. When a punishment in this world comes to a society in accordance with the norms of history, it does not remain confined to the unjust of that society. That is why the Qur'an says: Guard yourselves against a chastisement which cannot fall exclusively on those of you who are wrongdoers, and know that Allah is severe in punishment. (8) At the same time the Qur'an at another place says: No burdened soul can bear another's burden. (9)

Continue in the next article: ( Norms of history mentioned in the Quran 2 )



1. Surah Yunus, 10:49, Surah al-A'raf, 7:34

2. Surah al-Hijr, 15:4-5

3. Surah al-Mu'minun, 23:43

4. Surah al-A'raf, 7:185

5. Surah al-Kahf, 18:58-59

6. Surah an-Nahl, 16:61

7. Surah Fatir, 35:45

8. Surah al-Anfal, 8:25

9. Surah Fatir, 35:18