Tafsir Zone - Surah 3: Ale-Imran (The Family Of Imran )

Tafsir Zone

Surah Ale-Imran 3:137

Overview  (Verses 137 -138)

Unfailing Life Patterns

Many patterns have passed away before you. Go about the earth and see what was the fate of those who described the truth as lies. This is a plain exposition for mankind, as well as a guidance and an admonition for the God-fearing. (Verses 137-138)

The patterns to which the sūrah refers here, and to which it draws the attention of the believers, concern the fate of those who, throughout history, denied God’s message and described it as a lie, and the fact that days of fortune and misfortune alternate between people and communities. The patterns identified also test people in order to know whether they are truly believers, and patient in adversity. Another pattern of importance is the fact that victory is always granted to those who are steadfast, while the unbelievers are blotted out. As these corresponding parts are outlined, much encouragement is given to the believers to persevere and remain steadfast. They are consoled for their misfortune, which has not befallen them alone. A similar one has befallen their enemies. They should remember that they have a superior faith and aim to those of their enemies and that they enjoy Divine guidance and have a perfect constitution.

Moreover, ultimate victory will be theirs, while their opponents will be vanquished: “Many patterns have passed away before you. Go about the earth and see what was the fate of those who described the truth as lies.” (Verse 137) The Qur’ān relates the present to the past in order to point to the future. The Arabs who were the first to be addressed  by  the  Qur’ān  had  nothing  in  their  lives,  neither  experience  nor knowledge, prior to Islam, to enable them to have such a wide view of life and its events. Islam indeed gave them a new life and made out of them a nation to lead mankind.

The tribal system in their community could never have enabled them to appreciate the relationship between the life of the people of Arabia, or indeed human life in general, and the laws of nature which govern everything in life. The new concept, Islam, represented a great departure which could not have developed out of their tribal society or their life conditions. It was given to them by their new faith. They were elevated to this standard within a quarter of a century, while their contemporaries could not manage to reach this level for many centuries to come. They could not for many generations recognise that the laws of nature never fail. When  they  did,  however,  they  overlooked  the  fact  that  God’s  will  is  free  and absolute, and that to Him all matters are referred. This nation of Islam was able to recognise all this and to understand it. That enabled it to appreciate the balance between God’s free will and the constant laws of nature. Thus, they conducted their lives on the basis of working within the laws of nature, reassured that God can accomplish what He wills at any time He chooses.

“Many patterns have passed away before you.” These have taken place according to rules and systems which are established by God’s free will to govern life. What happened at other times will also happen in your own time, according to God’s will. What was applicable to other people is applicable to you as well. “Go about the earth”, because the earth is a single unity and a stage on which human life is played out. Life is an open book for people of intellect to contemplate. “Go about the earth and see what was the fate of those who described the truth as lies.” Their fate is evidenced by what they have left behind and by what we know of their history. The Qur’ān mentions some of these in different places. In some cases, it identifies people, places and times. In other instances, it makes general references which establish a general rule: what happened to those who rejected the truth and described it as a lie in past generations will happen to those who reject the truth today and tomorrow. This reassures the Muslim community in respect to what will ultimately happen, and, on the other hand, it serves as a warning against being too complacent with such people. There were important reasons for providing such reassurance and warning, as we will see in this long passage.

Having established the fact that these rules will continue to operate, the sūrah emphasises the need to follow Divine guidance and to learn the lessons of the past: “This is a plain exposition for mankind, as well as a guidance and an admonition for the God- fearing.” (Verse 138) The Qur’ān makes an exposition of the truth to all mankind. It elevates people to a height which they could never attain without its guidance. But the God-fearing are the only ones who appreciate its guidance and admonition. A word of truth is not appreciated except by a believing heart which is particularly receptive to guidance. A word of plain admonition can only benefit a heart which fears God. The ability to distinguish between truth and falsehood, or between following guidance and going astray is rarely lacking among people. By nature, the truth is self-evident. What people lack is the desire to follow the truth and the ability to prefer its implementation, because these are initiated only by faith and cannot be preserved except with the fear of God. This explains the need for the repeated emphasis in the Qur’ān on the fact that the truth it tells and the guidance, light and admonition it provides are meant only for the believers and the God-fearing. It is these qualities which enable man to make use of this guidance and benefit by its light, regardless of the difficulties one may face. This is indeed the heart of the matter. There are many people who know the truth but who, nevertheless, remain immersed in falsehood either because they yield to temptation and desire or because they fear to share in the hardship which the followers of the truth may have to endure.