Optimists versus pessimism
When some of them said: ‘Why do ye preach to a people whom Allah will
destroy or visit with a terrible punishment?’ Said the preachers: ‘To
discharge our duty to your Lord and perchance they may fear Him’
The reformists should not give in to hopelessness
In this concise holy verse, a dialogue is being conducted between two
types of people on the question of how to deal with some people, who
overindulge, both in word and deed, in going astray. They have gone so
far off the mark that some activists believe that it is useless to try to
bring them back to the right path, the way of God.
Nevertheless, other workers in the way of God take a different
position on this type of phenomenon, in that they do not give up easily
on people, feeling a sense of divine duty and responsibility to let the
ingredients of good play their part amidst the piles of evil that have
accumulated over the years, forming barriers to reformist work. Thus,
those activists do their best to win those lost people over and bring
them back to the fold of belief and guidance, using the carrot and the
stick, in the hope that their inner inhibitions give way and, instead, be
receptive to the call of good, after the right conditions have been
created in the external environment.
According to those activists, there should always be hope in life, so
that it stays vibrant and does not wither away on the way of death. In
darkness, the hope for a glimmer of light should remain alive by the
presence of the glittering stars and the moon. In some other ways, also
remains the hope of light at the end of the tunnel by the impending dawn
of a new day. In the darkness of doubt, which may find room in the minds
of some people to cling to, there is always the hope that the firm steps
of certitude and light are nigh to dispel the darkness and bring in peace
of mind and tranquility.
In the absence of misguidance, guidance is always at hand to provide
most needed comfort and light, in the same way water gushes forth from
the spring to form waterfalls. All that makes the hope in good guidance
and light a reality among life’s other realities, manifesting itself in
more than one aspect.
Guided by the steps of hope and realism the activists and reformists
move around to fulfill the major tasks, lifting their heads high with
their sight focused on the summits, regardless of the barriers and
hitches the climbers to the peak of the mountain might encounter.
However, should the case for the lost ones be that of the spiritual
and psychological gulf they have created, or the bridges they have blown
up, there seems to be no link left to cross over, from the bank of this
world, where they wander about blindly, to the other bank, i.e. that of
the hereafter, where God would shower His servants with favors,
forgiveness, and pleasure.
Yet, if the issue is that of their relationship with God, the matter
is quite straightforward because He has built bridges for those of His
servants who have gone astray, but want to rejoin the right path in
genuine penitence at any time. God has made this abundantly clear in many
Quranic verses, especially when He calls upon the sinners to come back to
Him, regardless of the distance they may have covered on the crooked way.
He is very close to them, listening to their prayers and supplications at
When My servants ask thee concerning Me, I am indeed close (to
them): I listen to the prayer of every suppliant when he calls on Me:
Let them also, with a will, listen to My call, and believe in Me:
that they may walk in the right way. (2: 186)
Say: “O my Servants who have transgressed against their souls!
Despair not of the Mercy of God: for God forgives all sins: for He is
Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.”
For the workers in the cause of God, this is the springboard of hope
in the procession of life. They keep working hard to persuade the sinners
and those who have gone astray to rejoin the way to God. The philosophy
of hope reflects the nature of things in life on the one hand. On the
other hand, it connects with the generous mercy of God. It is incumbent
on the activists to understand that the aims of their work should not be
confined only to seeing tangible results. Rather, the work is
characterized by a comprehensive approach, whose very important
ingredients include discharging one’s duty to their Lord and warning
transgressors to be mindful of God’s punishment, perchance they may fear
The difference between two outlooks
In this swift and dense dialogue, the Quranic verse has aimed to
suggest to us that we should keep working because it is the way to God
and to living a meaningful life. There is no room for the fainthearted,
the hopeless, and the capitulator. This breed of people usually run after
the pitch of darkness within the light of the truth to try to lend
support to their calls of surrender. They should, instead, look for the
silver lining in the dark clouds, so that they may instill optimism in
the hearts of the pessimists and give hope to, and infuse peace in, the
lives of the panicky and the desperate.
Thus, the dissimilarity between the characters, i.e. the optimist and
the pessimist, is self-evident. The first one maps its steps in life by
mustering all its capabilities and drawing on all its energy reserves to
put all at the service of planting new areas with real hope. And once the
sowing of seeds takes root and the nurturing of plantation comes to
fruition, the proof shall be manifested in the harvest. In the process of
work, every effort should be made to avoid any superficial experiment,
which should, by nature, not cost man more than paying lip service to the
status quo that may hide more than what is on the surface.
The second personality seems to be in a hurry, preferring to deal with
the issues speedily, giving way to considering outward manifestations
that may not give real grounds for hope. This is bound to make such
people give up hope easily and give in to hopelessness as a
rationalization for running away from real life situations.
It is the difference between those who become captivated by outward
appearances, living on the peripheries of life, and those who look deeper
behind the façade, gaining in confidence and strength as they go, and
filling life with fertility and vibrancy.
In this verse, as is the case with others, we experience the Quranic
climate that is pulsating with life. It is the picture of life, where,
although the canvas of the portrait does not seem to have room for more
shades of color, the underling current makes it rich with pure and vivid
connotations that overflow with love, life, intensity and peace.
“There is the type of man whose
speech about this world’s life may dazzle thee”
Types of hypocrites
This is another example of man representing political hypocrisy that
is found at all times and places. These types of politicians never tire
of playing on people’s sentiments, fears and weaknesses in order to win
their support. They seem to be appealing to people by announcing programs
for reforms ostensibly to better people’s lives, making endless promises,
and giving fiery and emotive speeches. Also, they do not seem to shy away
from trying to instill confidence in the hearts of people by giving
pledges and calling on God to be their witness, which are, in fact,
smokescreens. They do all this in order to win the masses over to their
side against their opponents on the way to assuming power. They appeal to
the masses to give them the chance to put their promised comprehensive
reformist program to the test. For their part, the masses oblige in the
hope that the promise-makers may deliver them from the yoke of
oppression, the misery of life, the darkness of ignorance and the
bitterness of poverty.
The misleading plans of this type of people may attain success, so
much so that they ascend to power where they become the captains of the
nation’s fortunes. Yet, no sooner have those people seen themselves
catapulted to power, they reveal their true identity and plans. Thus,
they do not seem to waste any time in sowing corruption in the land and
destroying the civilization of mankind, contrary to God’s ordinances. God
loves good and doing good and loathes mischief and spreading it.
Some of those who supported the newcomer to power, see it as their
duty to remind him of his promises and warn him against God’s wrath and
punishment, advising him to fear God for what he is practicing against
His servants and land, and plead with him to see sense. They engage him
in debate, with a view to persuading him to desist from his malpractices.
But, he rejects their pleas and good counsel, criticizing those
well-intentioned people for daring to give him counsel because he does
not recognize that he could be accident-prone, believing that he is
infallible, that his rule is just, and that his conduct is in the right
track. Thus, he carries on with his self-righteousness, staying
subservient to his intrinsic inclinations, disobeying his Lord’s
injunctions, and happy with the sins he is committing in word and deed.
This is the true picture of this type of people, who never tire of
putting on different guises to serve their own ends. On one occasion you
see them wearing the mantle of religion. On another occasion, you see
them assuming the appearance of politicians. At other times, you see them
clothed in the gear of sociologists and economists. These are nothing but
veneers of deceit, fraud, and treachery. In a nutshell: hypocrites. And
this is how the Holy Quran portrays this group:
There is the type of man whose speech about this world’s life may
dazzle thee, and he calls God to witness about what is in his heart;
yet is he the most contentious of enemies. When he turns his back,
his aim everywhere is to spread mischief through the earth and
destroy crops and cattle. But God loveth not mischief. When it is
said to him, “Fear God”, he is led by arrogance to (more) crime.
Enough for him is Hell; An evil bed indeed (to lie on)!
The moral behind the portrayal of this type of people lies in
uncovering their true faces, and making the masses guard against falling
prey to their long-winded promises. Instead, they should rely on
considering the history and practices of the person, the party, or the
group as the criteria for judging their truthfulness, or otherwise. This
can make society impervious to the influences of the tactics that might
manipulate people’s emotions. This would make society sail its ship on an
even keel and eventually dock it on safe shores.
Appearances versus inner meanings
In the Holy Quran, it is commonplace to encounter human examples whose
appearances belie their inner realities. This is intended to provide us
with the necessary insight into decisive positions when those people are
put to the test in real life situations. In other words, Muslims should
seek to harmonize their convictions with their practical positions, away
from any naive treatment of complex issues, since real judgment in
matters can be arrived at after delving deep into those complex issues
where the deepest and most well-defined features can be found.
This is how the Holy Quran portrays this type of people: “There
are among men some who serve God, as it were, on the verge: if good
befalls them, they are, therewith, well content; but if a trial comes to
them, they turn on their faces: they lose both this world and the
Hereafter: that is loss for all to see!”.
This is the picture of a person who is lulled into a sense of
spiritual security so long as it does not cost them anything in comfort,
wealth, or privileges, and as long as they are sitting on the fence,
living a spiritual life without any challenges. However, once they are
afflicted with any type of mishap, be it in their prosperity, offspring,
or desires, they lose their equilibrium, so much so that they tumble over
and get confused and bewildered. They soon find themselves at a loss at
not being able to separate the wheat from the chaff. They do not seem to
have a strong base of belief and good work to fall back on, so that they
might be able to achieve God’s pleasure and His reward in the hereafter.
Thus, they lose both this world and the hereafter, and that is a manifest
Some dissimilarity between the two pictures might also be detected in
other respects. In the first one, deception can be read in the slogan
that is being hoisted, which is aimed at cheating others, in that
although it has the semblance of good, yet the bitter reality soon
appears in practice. In the second picture, the deception emerges in the
process of carrying out the work, which is devoid of any experience.
Then, the picture becomes clearer after facing the bitter experience,
when man comes face to face with the real challenges. However, both the
pictures are similar in nature, in that they lead man not to give in to
appearances. Rather, he should examine them with a critical mind and look
at them with a watchful vision, aspiring to delve into the depth of the
picture in order to discern its true features and what lies behind the