After the great flood that destroyed the nation of Nuh, many other nations rose to power, and prophets were usually appointed from amongst those nations for their guidance. The reason we analyze together the stories of four prophets – Hud, Salih, Lut (Lot), and Shuayb – is that they all present a common theme. In each of these cases, the nation gained power, wealth, and influence that caused it to become arrogant and disregard the monotheistic message of serving only one God. The people started worshipping deities alongside Allah as well as indulged in social and moral evils. Allah appointed a prophet for the reformation of the people but, despite all efforts to convince his people of the truth, the prophet was rejected by the majority, ridiculed, and violently opposed. As a result, Allah destroyed the nation through some natural phenomenon, while allowing the believers to escape the disaster and start a new civilization.
Hud belonged to the nation of Aad, while Salih was from Thamud. Lut, a nephew of Ibrahim (Abraham), had emigrated from Ur, and settled in a city called Sodom where he preached. Shuayb was a resident of Madyan (Midian). Let’s examine what lessons we can learn from their narratives.
- Do not blindly follow your forefathers
When Hud admonished his people against worshipping false deities, most of them retorted, “Have you come to us that we should worship Allah alone and leave what our fathers have worshipped?” (7:70) The residents of Thamud similarly questioned Salih, “Do you forbid us to worship what our fathers worshipped?” (11:62) People tend to become emotionally attached to their long-held customs and traditions without reflecting on their desirability or plausibility. Today, we must beware of our own customs and societal norms that are falsely attributed to Islam, and renounce all unfair cultural practices that are being passed down generations.
- Do not belittle the signs of Allah
The perfect design of this universe, and whatever it contains, reflects the dominion and supremacy of Allah. However, many people make the mistake of looking past His signs or denying them altogether. Allah appointed a she-camel as a specific sign for Thamud, but the people ridiculed this sign, and hamstrung her, thus inviting His punishment: “And We gave Thamud the she-camel as a visible sign, but they wronged her.” (17:59) We must remember that signs of Allah’s presence and dominion are evident in the tiniest particle of His creation, and not just in the miracles granted to the prophets.
“Indeed, Allah is not timid to present an example — that of a mosquito or what is smaller than it. And those who have believed know that it is the truth from their Lord. But as for those who disbelieve, they say, ‘What did Allah intend by this as an example?’ He misleads many thereby and guides many thereby. And He misleads not except the defiantly disobedient.” (2:26)
- Be mindful of Allah’s favors
In times of affluence and comfort, we tend to forget adversity, and start taking Allah’s favors for granted. We believe that our success is due only to our own efforts and expertise; as a result, we act arrogantly, deprive others of their rights, and become indifferent to the will of Allah. Such was the case with the perished nations; Salih, for example, reminded the residents of Thamud that their prosperity could not have been possible without Allah’s help and favour: “And remember when He made you successors after the Aad and settled you in the land, [and] you take for yourselves palaces from its plains and carve homes from the mountains. Then remember the favors of Allah and do not commit abuse on the earth, spreading corruption.” (7:74) We must express sincere gratitude to Allah for His innumerable blessings in our life.
- Do not be afraid of people’s disappointment
We may perform certain desirable acts that fail to win the approval of those around us. This is because the norms of society are not necessarily based on the commandments of Allah, and may reflect people’s own criteria for right and wrong. For this reason, it may sometimes be necessary to go against people’s wishes, and end up disappointing those who previously held a high opinion of us. When Salih rejected the worship of false deities, his people thus addressed him, “O Salih, you were a man of promise among us before this…” (11:62) We must be confident about the path we choose, and not let others’ uninformed opinions bring us down.
- Social ills can bring about a society’s downfall
These nations were ultimately punished not just for associating partners with Allah but also for their social and moral ills. The residents of Madyan were dishonest and exploited others through deceptive trade practices. Shuayb warned them, “Give full measure and do not be of those who cause loss. And weigh with an even balance. And do not deprive people of their due and do not commit abuse on earth, spreading corruption.” (26:181-183) This makes it clear that dishonesty, especially in earning one’s livelihood, is a major sin, and worthy of the harshest punishment.
The men among the nation of Lut practiced sodomy: “And [We had sent] Lut when he said to his people, ‘Do you commit such immorality as no one has preceded you with from among the worlds? Indeed, you approach men with desire, instead of women.” (7:81) The people of Aad were admonished for their military aggression and tyranny, as Hud pointed out to them, “And when you strike, you strike as tyrants!” (26:130)
- No nation is infallible
These nations possessed great engineering skills as well as military might. Aad, for example, constructed “lofty pillars, the likes of which had never been created in the land” (89:7-8) – in addition to their palaces, fortresses, and other landmarks. However, these nations could not withstand the natural disasters through which Allah brought their thriving civilizations to an end. Aad was destroyed by a raging wind that lasted for seven nights and eight days; Thamud and Madyan were both devastated by terrible earthquakes; and the people of Lut suffered from what has been described as a severe storm of clay stones. Today, we see entire communities and centuries-old landmarks wiped out by earthquakes, tsunamis, and hurricanes, reminding us to be always grateful to Allah and not to consider ourselves infallible.
“As for Aad, they were arrogant upon the earth without right and said, ‘Who is greater than us in strength?’ Did they not consider that Allah who created them was greater than them in strength? But they continued to reject Our signs.” (41:15)