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Luxury: Cause of Nations’ Ruin (Part 2)

By A. S. Halawani, PhD

Academician and Writer


Allah Almighty says what may mean,

{Yet if only there had been, among the generations before you, people of lasting virtue and righteous works- forbidding corruption in the earth- other than the few among them who did so, and whom We, then, delivered from punishment! As for those who did wrong by worshipping false gods, they ungratefully followed what endued them with luxury and pleasure in life. For they were defiant unbelievers}. (Hud 11: 116)

This means that these people became blind followers of the luxuries they have been given. Consequently, they neither forbade corruption, nor occupied themselves with reform, nor struggled against injustice and only then they deserved destruction. The above ayah states that torment will befall not only those who do wrong, but also those who keep silent and never try to prevent them from doing wrong deeds as a sign of approving what they were doing.

Excessive luxury: a way towards destructive debauchery

Luxury stands for something inessential but conducive to pleasure and comfort. According to Durkheim, French social theorist, in his Suicide: A Study in Sociology, luxury is “too great comfort which turns a man against himself.”[1] Similarly, Thoreau, American writer and philosopher, states that, “most of the luxuries and many of the so-called comforts of life are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.”[2]

Allah Almighty says what may mean,

{Thus when We intend to destroy a town for evildoing, We first command its affluent to become righteous. Yet should they continue to commit flagrant deeds of ungodliness therein, then the divine word of doom comes to pass against it. Then do We demolish it- and demolish it utterly}. (Al-`Israa’ 17: 16)

Commenting on this ayah, `Abdullah Yusuf Ali states the following:

Allah’s Mercy gives every chance to the wicked to repent. When wickedness gets so rampant that punishment becomes inevitable, even then Allah’s Mercy and Justice act together. Those who are highly gifted from Allah are expected to understand and obey. They are given a definite order and warning. If they still transgress there is no further room for argument. They cannot plead that they were ignorant. The command of the Lord is proved against them, and its application is called for beyond doubt. Then it is that their punishment is completed.[3]

According to Ibn Kathir, commentators on the Qur’an differed over the meaning of the Arabic verb amarna which is translated here as “We first command its affluent to become righteous,” as follows:[4]

Follow the Shari`ah Zone
  1. Amarna cannot mean “Our command” because Allah does not command or enjoin immorality; or,
  2. It means that Allah subjugated them to commit immoral deeds, so they deserved the punishment; or,
  3. It means: “We commanded them to obey Us, but they committed immoral sins, so they deserved punishment”; or,
  4. It means: “We increase their numbers (i.e., those who live luxuriously).”

In another qira’ah (i.e., Mode of Recitation), the /m/ letter in the verb amarna is geminated thus becoming ammarna; thereupon, it means “We gave power to the evil people, so they committed sin therein (in the town), and because they did that, Allah destroyed them with the punishment,” as explained by Ibn `Abbas. This is similar to the ayah that reads, {And so it is, as well, that We have placed in every town its chief trespassers and defiant unbelievers, so that they may plot in it}. (Al-An`am 6: 123)

This is because luxury is mostly accompanied by injustice and that the unjust always stand by falsehood and its followers. The unjust are always keen on the diffusion of evil, fight against the truth and its adherents, and the resentment of values. Consequently, the Ummah inevitably loses elements of its strength as well as reasons of its survival and thus becomes history.

That is why Prophet Moses (peace be upon him) complained to His Lord about the richness and luxury which He granted Pharaoh and his people which they, in return, used in their fight against the truth. Allah Almighty says what may mean,

{And, Moses said in prayer: Our Lord! You have given Pharaoh and his assembly of nobles adornment and wealth in the life of this world, our Lord! Thus they lead people astray from Your way. Our Lord! Blot out their wealth and harden their hearts, so that they will not believe until they see the painful torment that awaits them. He said: [O Moses and Aaron: ] Your prayer has been answered…}. (Yunus 10: 88-89)

The Ever-Glorious Qur’an reaffirms this as it says in another location what may mean,

{Indeed, those who disbelieve spend their wealth to turn others away from the path of God. They will continue to spend it in this way. But then it will become a great regret for them. Then they will be defeated. Moreover, all those who die disbelieving shall be assembled in Hell}.(Al-Anfal 8: 36)

In fact, the mere existence of those who live luxuriously the way mentioned earlier is clear evidence that the structure of the society has been shaken and that it is on the way of inevitable decadence.

This fully conforms to Connolly’s statement on the decadence of cultures and civilizations which runs as follows,

“The goal of every culture is to decay through over-civilization; the factors of decadence,—luxury, scepticism, weariness and superstition,—are constant. The civilization of one epoch becomes the manure of the next.”[5]


Futile late correction

When the luxurious, self-indulgent people witness the painful torment befalling them they hasten to declare their faith. However, Allah the Almighty turns down their faith as it becomes too late for them to repent when the torment is already there. Allah says what may mean,

{For, how many a city whose inhabitants were doing wrong in unbelief did We utterly shatter before you and raise up after them another people in their place? Thus when they sensed Our impending affliction, they sought, then, to flee from it.

[But it was said to them:] Do not flee, but return to the luxuries in which you once indulged and to your lofty dwellings, so that you may be questioned now about the destiny of wrongdoing.

They but said: Oh, woe to us! Indeed, we have been godless wrongdoers!

And never did this confessional cry of theirs cease upon their lips, until We had turned them into mere stubble; and they had been utterly extinguished}. (Al-Anbiya’ 21: 11-15)

Indeed, the order that they should return to the luxuries in which they once indulged can be understood as a way of ridicule and sarcasm as when the affliction befalls the criminal, his apologies become futile. Those who are going to perish will have nothing but regret and grief. Allah says what may mean,

{But their sudden faith- when at last they saw Our deadly affliction- did not benefit them. That is the way of God- the way that has ever been decreed for His servants}. (Ghafir 40: 85)

They continue to commit sinful deeds and disregard Allah’s warnings until Allah’s affliction befalls them and only then they start to pray humbly to Him. However, He does not answer their prayers. The Qur’an perfectly portrays this as follows:

{But as for the unbelieving factions, their hearts are steeped in overwhelming ignorance about this Quran. And they have evil deeds besides this which they are doing.

At last, when, suddenly, We seize those among them indulged in opulent ease with the torment of Our judgment, then instantly they will be groaning.

Do not groan this Day Hereafter, it shall be said to them. For never will you be helped by Us. Truly, My revealed verses were recited to you. Yet you used to fall back from faith upon your heels. You grew arrogant therein, chattering at night in blasphemy}. (Al-Mu’minun 23: 63-67) 

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