The Chiefs of the Nations
From the stories Allah relates in the Qur' an, we understand that those who reject the messengers, harbour profound hostility towards them, and carry on the bitterest struggle against them, are a people who are, according to the language of the Qur' an, called the "the chiefs of the nation." Their most characteristic feature is their arrogance. A number of verses revealing this fact are as follows:
The chiefs of his people who were arrogant said to those who were oppressed-those among them who believed-"Do you know that Salih has been sent from his Lord?" They said, "We believe in what he has been sent with."
Those who were arrogant said, "We reject Him in whom you believe." (Surat al-A' raf, 75-76)
The chiefs of his people who were arrogant said, "We will drive you out of our city, Shu' ayb, you and those who believe along with you, unless you return to our religion." He (Shu' ayb) said, "What, even though we detest it?" (Surat al-A' raf, 88)
Some of these people grew so arrogant that they said they would not believe unless they received divine revelations as the prophets did:
And likewise in every city We set up its greatest wrongdoers to plot in it. They plot against themselves alone, but they are not aware of it. When a Sign comes to them, they say, "We will not believe until we have been given the same as the Messengers of Allah were given." Allah knows best where to place His Message. Debasement in the sight of Allah and a severe punishment will strike those who did wrong for the plots that they concocted.(Surat al-An' am, 123-124)
One of the major reasons behind this mindset is their intolerance for the messengers because they were people chosen by Allah. They found it degrading to their status, reputation, wealth and honour to obey the messengers. This is why, throughout ages, ruling circles of disbelievers had always perceived the messengers as a threat to their established order, status and their image in the eyes of public. The divine message brought by the messengers caused them to reveal their pride and hatred towards them.
In all ages, "the chiefs of the nations" have been referred to as the "elites" of societies. As is known, the "elite" is that group of people that enjoys superior social or economic status. As said earlier, such attributes cause pride and arrogance in disbelieving people who fail to employ their wisdom. Deriving power from this prosperity and social status, they exercise authority over the rest of the society. They have such a high opinion of themselves that they revolt against Allah and His messengers. Never do they accept the fact that superiority rests on one' s nearness to Allah rather than his power or prosperity. That is because, the acceptance of this truth would nullify their status. They are haughty, a quality which makes them deny the existence of Allah. Never do they consider that, all people, whether poor or wealthy, will ultimately be wrapped in a few metres of shroud, and that they will be reduced to a skeleton. Their possessions will bring no good to them in the hereafter.
In the Qur' an, Allah informs the believers about the main character traits of these chiefs of the nation that result from pride and arrogance-and thus, from disbelief. In this way, believers of all ages can come to know these people, who are apt to hinder them from their noble cause, and thus, they may take the necessary measures to protect themselves from them. Believers are also expected to draw lessons from their stories and to pay meticulous attention not to adopt a disposition similar to theirs. No one can absolve himself from the promises of the Qur' an, seeing himself as self-sufficient; believers must also reflect on the verses about disbelievers, and put forth effort to be purified of the errors peculiar to disbelievers.
In the following section, we will consider the major character traits of the "elites" as told in the Qur' an.
They Expend Effort to Lead People Astray
The chiefs of the nations do not tolerate their people to have faith in Allah; this being the case, they put forth a continuous effort to lead them astray. The people' s embracing of the faith means to them losing the grounds upon which they exercise their authority. Before all else, faith renders the worldly criteria maintained to presume superiority and false value judgments ineffective. Furthermore, in this manner the society can come to know the weaknesses of those to whom they had attached so much importance. Ultimately, no one will be left to exalt them, nor to submit to them.
It is against the interests of the chiefs of the nation to lose the loyalty of their subordinates, those people they tend despise and consider as their inferiors. They want people to follow them, no matter what the consequences may be. Hence, they employ any method, threats, if necessary, to divert them from the morality and the way of living enjoined by the Qur' an. Some of the examples relating to such efforts of the chiefs of the nation are provided by the Qur' an:
The chiefs of his people who were disbelievers said, "If you follow Shu' ayb, you will definitely be lost." (Surat al-A' raf, 90)
Pharaoh said "Have you believed in him before I authorised you to do so? This is just some plot you have concocted in the city to drive its people from it. But you are going to know." (Surat al-A' raf, 123)
In Spite of Their Knowing the Truth, They Deny It
What underlies the denial of the chiefs of the nations is their obstinate arrogance, as in the case of Pharaoh, and certainly not their incapability to comprehend. Even if they can grasp the existence of Allah and the hereafter, they strongly resist the idea, being overcome by their pride. Allah makes clear their situation in the Qur' an: "They repudiated them wrongly and haughtily, in spite of their own certainty about them..." (Surat an-Naml: 14) As said earlier, wealth and power is the reason for their haughtiness:
We never sent a warner into any city without the affluent people in it saying, "We reject what you have been sent with." They also said, "We have more wealth and children. We are not going to be punished." (Surah Saba', 34-35)
However, wealth, children or possessions bring no benefits to a person unless one seeks the pleasure of Allah. Only if a person puts these blessings into use for the cause of Allah' s religion can he expect rewards in the hereafter:
It is not your wealth or your children that will bring you near to Us-only in the case of people who believe and act rightly; such people will have a double recompense for what they did. They will be safe from all harm in the High Halls of Paradise.(Surah Saba' , 37)
They Follow In the Footsteps of Their Forefathers
Those who exult in their ostentation make an unjust claim by maintaining that the messengers' mission is to divert them from their forefathers' religion:
When Our Clear Signs are recited to them, they say, "This is nothing but a man who wants to debar you from what your fathers used to worship."... (Surah Saba' , 43)
Another refrain common to the arrogant is "the religion of fathers." They feel very certain of the righteousness of their fathers and forefathers. This is undoubtedly merely a perversion resulting from arrogance. Considering their ancestry, traditions and cultural heritage superior, they reject submitting to a messenger though he is in all ways wiser. This is a consistent error common to such people:
Similarly We never sent any warner before you to any city without the affluent among them saying, "We found our fathers following a religion and we are simply following in their footsteps." Say: "What if I have come with better guidance than what you found your fathers following?" They say, "We reject what you have been sent with." (Surat az-Zukhruf, 23-24)
They Do Not Comply With Allah' s Book
The arrogant are unwilling to comply with Allah' s book. Their unrelenting desire to be superior accounts for this tendency. They are so certain of themselves that they never assume that they may be on the wrong path. They falsely maintain that, if there is a right path, it is the one to which they adhere:
Those who are disbelievers say of those who believe, "If there was any good in it, they would not have beaten us to it." And since they have not been guided by it, they are bound to say, "This is an antiquated falsehood." (Surat al-Ahqaf, 11)
They Do Not Obey Messengers
The messengers Allah sends to the nations of the world are endowed with moral excellence, intelligence, and insight. They are chosen by Allah and are specially endowed with wisdom. One verse reads: "He gives wisdom to whoever He wills and he who has been given wisdom has been given great good. But no one pays heed but people of intelligence" (Surat al-Baqara: 269)
Since these men are superior in faith, knowledge and wisdom, believers hold them in high esteem. Corrupt chiefs of the nations, on the other hand, arrogantly oppose the messengers, though they are the most trustworthy and noteworthy of people. Moreover, they insult them, cast aspersions against their honesty and other praiseworthy qualities, and even lay traps against them and plot to assassinate them. This they perform under the influence of the wicked arrogance festering in their hearts. This pride they harbour hinders them from being submissive to Allah' s messengers and causes them to deny the truth:
Has news not reached you of those who came before you, the peoples of Nuh and ' Ad and Thamud, and those who came after them who are known to no one but Allah? Their Messengers came to them with Clear Signs, but they put their hands to their mouths, saying, "We reject what you have been sent with. We have grave doubts about what you are calling us to." (Surah Ibrahim, 9)
The Qur' an also reveals how these arrogant and belligerent chiefs of the nations respond to prophets and how perverted are the opinions they form when they are called to the truth:
The chiefs of those of his people who were disbelievers said, "This is nothing but a human being like yourselves who simply wants to gain ascendancy over you. If Allah had wanted He would have sent angels down. We never heard of anything like this among our ancestors, the earlier peoples." (Surat al-Mu' minun, 24)
The chiefs of his people-those who were disbelievers and denied the encounter of the hereafter and whom We had given opulence in the world-said, "This is nothing but a human being like yourselves who eats what you eat and drinks what you drink." (Surat al-Mu' minun, 33)
The chiefs of the nations demanded of the messengers that they perform miracles. The fact that the messengers' represented the chosen of Allah, and their superiority in wisdom, knowledge, morals, virtue, and spirituality, hurt their pride. Since they were not disposed to accept this reality, they accused the messengers of being merely ordinary men and required them to perform miracles to prove otherwise. The Prophets' possessing human traits, that is, eating, drinking and so on, was surprising to them. In addition, they made it a pretext for their disbelief. As a matter of fact, even the performance of miracles would not have helped these obstinate people to believe:
They said, "No matter what kind of Sign you bring us to bewitch us, we will not believe in you." (Surat al-A' raf, 132)
What really disturbed the chiefs of the people is the fact that, despite their power, esteem and authority, a person, who was not one of them, and more, who denounced their system, had been accepted by the rest of society, by spreading the message of the religion. They took this entirely as a personal attack and could never, therefore, accept the prophets' superiority. This they adopted as a personal cause and persisted in their hostility towards the Prophet (saas), and wished instead for a member of theirs to have been the prophet. They said: "Why was this Qur' an not sent down to one of the great men of the two cities?" (Surat az-Zukhruf: 31) In reply to this wish of the chiefs of the nation, Allah stated the following: Is it, then, they who allocate the mercy of your Lord?... (Surat az-Zukhruf: 32)
Through Various Methods, They Strive to Cause Harm to Messengers
The chiefs of Pharaoh' s people said, "This is certainly a skilled magician." (Surat al-A' raf, 109)
The chiefs of Pharaoh' s people said, "Are you going to leave Musa and his people to cause corruption in the earth and abandon you and your gods?" He (Pharaoh) said, "We will kill their sons and let their women live. We have absolute power over them!" (Surat al-A' raf, 127)
As the verses clearly imply, as was Pharaoh, the chiefs of his people was also insolent. In fact, they were the ones who incited Pharaoh to violence. By forging accusations, such as of sorcery and corruption, they tried to make Pharaoh become even more insolent towards Musa (as) and his followers, and inflict still more cruel policies against them.
The chiefs of the disbelievers are known for their insolence towards the messengers, who shattered their false regimes to their very foundations. The attitude they assumed towards the messengers was certainly abusive. A few examples are as follows:
The chiefs of his people said, "We see you in flagrant error." (Surat al-A' raf, 60)
The chiefs of those of his people who were disbelievers said, "We consider you a fool and think you are a liar." (Surat al-A' raf, 66)
Wisdom is the most notable quality of the messengers Allah sends to mankind. Indeed, measuring Allah with a true measure, grasping the essence of religion, and living by it, requires wisdom. Therefore, the accusation of "foolishness" the disbelievers brought against the messengers was merely out of the jealousy they felt towards them, and of the desire to assuage their superiority complex. Another purpose would have been to adversely influence the people who followed them. By acting in this way, however, they have demonstrated that it is they who were the true fools.
Their Evil Plots Ensnare But Themselves
As discussed, the impudence, audacity and insolence of the evil chiefs of disbelievers has been consistent throughout the ages. However, their end corresponded with their evil; the plots hatched by these insolent chiefs of the people always turned ultimately against them. The immutable law which Allah ordained for humanity is described as follows:
...But then when a warner did come to them, it only increased their aversion, shown by their arrogance in the land and evil plotting. But evil plotting envelops only those who do it. Do they expect anything but the pattern of previous peoples? You will not find any changing in the pattern of Allah. You will not find any alteration in the pattern of Allah. (Surah Fatir, 42-43)