Bounties are Allah's Grace
Why do I prefer the interpretation which says that the change mentioned in our verse is a change from good to evil? I say so mainly because according to the Qur'an, bounties are not bestowed on men as a result of any good they do. They are given to them as a grace from God. God is Rahman, which means that He initiates good and gives it gratuitously, and does not wait until people take the initiative of doing something good and only then reward them for it. Bounties, whether they be spiritual or material, are given to men by their Lord out of pure rahma and fadl or grace. If they are grateful the bounties shall be maintained and even increased. But if they commit acts which express ungratefulness, then He punishes them by withholding from them some, if not all, of His bounties. But if they repent and return, the bounties also return.
This is very well exemplified by the case of Adam. At his creation God put him in the best of conditions. He granted comfort. But when he ate of the forbidden tree (which was not a tree of knowledge) he lost some of this.
The same principle applies to other communities and nations who are often referred to in the Qur'an as qura or ahl al-qura. Let us start with the sunan that govern the decline or destruction of ungrateful nations, and then turn to those that govern the survival and ascendancy of grateful ones. Here are some examples of what happens to ungrateful nations.
The people of Saba who lived between two gardens were told to eat of the provision of their Lord and to be grateful to Him. But they turned away and so the flood of Iram was sent to them and in exchange for their two gardens they were given two other gardens bearing bitter fruit, the tamarisk, and here and there a lote tree. Commenting on what happened to them God says," We awarded them because of their ungratefulness. Punish We never save the ingrates" (Qu'ran xxxiv, 17)
We are also told about "a township that dwelt secure and well content, its provision coming to it in abundance from every side, but it disbelieved in God's favors, so God made it taste the garment of death and fear because of what they used to do." (Qu'ran:xvi,112)
Decline or destruction is therefore the ultimate and inevitable destiny of any ungrateful nation, any nation which rebels against God and follows the path of immorality.
But this ultimate destruction is brought about in accordance with principles. Here are some of them.
a. Destruction or chastisement does not befall a nation until it is sufficiently warned. This warning can come to them through the medium of a Messenger from God:
"And never did Thy Lord destroy the townships, till He had raised up in their mother-town a messenger reciting unto them our revelations. And never did we destroy the townships unless the folk thereof were evil doers." (Qu'ran:xxvii,59)
"Never did We destroy a population, but had its warners------by way of reminder; and We never are unjust." (Qur'an xxvi,208-209)
Or they may be caused to know in some other way that they are guilty and should therefore expect to be punished.
"Many a town have we destroyed, our punishment visiting them by night or while they are resting at midday. When our punishment thus visited them they had nothing to say but 'We were indeed unjust.' '' (Qur'an vii,4-5)
The meaning of this verse is made clearer by a hadith of the Prophet which affirms that no nation is destroyed until it admits that it has no one but itself to blame for such destruction. This is confirmed by the verse;
"That is because thy Lord would never destroy the cities unjustly, while their inhabitants were heedless." (Qu'ran vi,131)
We may deduce from this Divine principle or Sunna that given two societies which are equally corrupt and ungrateful, the one which has been sufficiently warned will be destroyed before the one which has not been warned. Hence we see in the stories by bygone nations related in the Qur'an that their destruction and downfall followed their rejection of God's Prophets.
b. Destruction is not immediate, i.e. not every nation is destroyed or caused to fall immediately after it shows signs of ungratefulness. Again this is a result of God's rahma. He gives gratuitously and in plenty but does not take away immediately.
"How many a city I have respited in its evil-doing; then I seized it and to me was the homecoming." (Qur'an xxii,48)
"But thy Lord is the all-forgiving, full of mercy. If He should take them to task for that they have earned, He would hasten for them the chastisement; but they will have a tryst from which they will find no escape. And those cities, we destroyed them when they did evil and appointed for their destruction a tryst." (Qur'an xviii, 58-59)
c. The fall of every nation as we read in the verse above has a definite time which can neither be deferred nor hastened.
"Never a nation have we destroyed, but it had an assigned term and no nation outstrips its term or puts it back." (Qur'an xv, 4-5)
d. Before a nation is destroyed it might be put to serve hardships that might cause it to repent and return to the right path:
"Corruption has appeared in land and sea, for that men's own hands have earned, that He may let them taste (the consequences of) some part of that which they have done, that haply so they may return (to the right path)." Qur'an xxx, 41
e. Punishment is not meted out for all sins in this world otherwise all people would have been destroyed:
"If God should take men to task for (all) their evil-doing, He would not leave on the earth one creature that crawls." Qur'an xvi, 61
Those were the causes of hardship, unhappiness and fall of nations. What then are the causes for the rise of nations and their material and spiritual prosperity?
Primarily there are the normal human conditions in which all of us should be and in which God loves to see us. God creates everyone of us at the hour of birth with a good nature, the essence of which is the acknowledgment that he or she is the servant of only one Creator. This acknowledgment constitutes the essence of our humility, and is both the spring and the lifeblood of everything that is good in us: sound reasoning, moral sense, aesthetic taste, brotherly feeling, etc. Moreover God created everything around us for the purpose of serving us. Our normal state is therefore one of internal happiness and peace of mind which come as a result of a natural acknowledgment of our servitude to God, an acknowledgment which finds justification in the Divine message which is conveyed to us through God's messengers. It is also one of external bliss which is the result of everything being subservient to us and meant for the satisfaction of our needs. Every one of us is born with that internal state of happiness, but alas none of us finds himself in that material comfort. Many of those who went before us have changed that internal state internal state of happiness, but alas none of us finds himself in that material comfort. Many of those who went before us have changed that internal state in which God created them and have thus caused Him to withhold many of his bounties from the world. But God is too merciful to make the situation a hopeless one. Still the door is open for every group of people who returns to the path of God to enjoy that material bliss. Here are some of the kinds of happiness that such a people are promised in the Qur'an.
A. Material comfort:
"If the people of the towns had but believed and kept from evil surely we should have opened out to them blessings from the sky and from the earth. But they rejected the truth and so we caused them to suffer for their misdeeds." (Qur'an 7:96)
"If they had observed the Torah and the Gospel and that which was revealed to them for their Lord, they would surely have been nourished from above them and from beneath their feet. Among them are people who are moderate, but many of them are of evil conduct." (Qur'an 5:66)
B. Spiritual Happiness:
"Whosoever does right, man or woman, and is a believer, we shall cause to live a good life." (Qur'an 16:97)
C. Victory Over Their Enemies:
To the extent that a people have faith in God and trust in Him, and to the extent that they obey Him, to that extent will He be with them.
"God is with those who believe." (Qur'an 3:68)
And when God is with them, He will defend them.
"God defends those who believe." (Qur'an 22:38)
He will come to their help.
"If you help God He will help you." (Qur'an 47:7)
"We do help our Messenger, and those those who believe in this world and on the day when the witnesses arise." (Qur'an 40:51)
And if God defends them and helps them, then nothing can conquer them.
"Already has Our word been passed to our servants who are sent (by us) that they shall be assisted and that our forces shall be victorious." (Qur'an 37: 171-173)
"How often by God's will has a small force vanquished a big one? God is with those who steadfastly persevere." (Qur'an 2:249)
And so long as they keep their covenant with God, they shall always be their own masters and never shall they be subjugated by unbelievers.
"And never will God grant to the unbelievers a way (to triumph) over the believers." (Qur'an 4:141)
"Might belongs to God, to His Messenger, and to the faithful." (Qur'an 63:8)
The core of our philosophy of social change has now become clear. Nations do not rise and fall haphazardly and without any laws that govern their coming into being and passing away. History is not a single track which every nation has to tread whether it likes it or not. Our social world is governed by its Creator who causes nations to rise or fall, to prosper or suffer, to be victorious or subjugated, in accordance with the moral law of gratitude.