The People’s Reactions to the Messengers
1. Their views of religion, unbelief, anger, and expectation of miracles
When Allah is mentioned on His own, the hearts of those who do not believe in the Hereafter shrink back shuddering. But when others apart from Him are mentioned, they jump for joy. (Surat az-Zumar: 45)
The reactions of prominent unbelievers to the righteous religion communicated to them usually consist of violence, over-reaction, anger, arrogance, and so on. Believers should be aware of their attributes and what kind of reactions they may receive from unbelievers while communicating their message. Believers can learn these from the verses in the Qur’an. Being prepared against them is a sound step towards success.
Unbelievers generally want to see a miracle in order to believe. In the Qur’an this wish is described as follows:
The unbelievers ask: “Why has a Sign not been sent down to him from his Lord?” Say: “Allah misguides whoever He wills and guides to Himself all who turn to Him.” (Surat ar-Ra‘d: 27)
Unbelievers want to see miracles. In order to believe, they absolutely want to see such miracles. However, for those who can use their intelligence miracles abound everywhere.
For example, if someone says that “there is a stone suspended in the air,” that would be a great miracle. But what they fail to realize is that the billions of tons that make up our planet have been hanging in the vacuum of space ever since it was created. However, it was not simply left there to hang without purpose; it revolves in a perfect orbit around the Sun.
The wondrous power of attraction among atoms is also a miracle, as is the fact that the far-distant Sun can warm Earth and be a means of life for all creatures. The fact that there is a reason for these things does not diminish their miraculous character, because that reason is also a miracle. But such things do not affect those who fail to see the proofs of Allah’s power.
In the Qur’an, Allah tells us how the unbelievers look for miracles:
They say: “We will not believe you until you make a spring gush out from the ground for us; or have a garden of dates and grapes through which you make rivers come pouring; or make the sky, as you claim, fall down on us in lumps; or bring Allah and the angels here as a guarantee; or possess a house built out of gleaming gold; or ascend up into heaven – and even then we will not believe in your ascent unless you bring us down a book to read! ...” (Surat al-Isra’: 90-93)
But their desire to see miracles is not sincere; if they experience a miracle, their hearts will not be satisfied and they will not come to faith. They only want to see a miracle to support their idea that the Prophet (saas) cannot perform miracles and, therefore, they are not obliged to believe.
Even if We opened up to them a door into heaven and they spent the day ascending through it, they would only exclaim: “Our eyesight is befuddled! Or rather we have been put under a spell!” (Surat al-Hijr: 14-15)
Even if We were to send down a book to you on parchment pages and they were actually to touch it with their own hands, the unbelievers would still say: “This is nothing but downright magic.” (Surat al-An‘am: 7)
Another reaction of unbelievers is to reject what they have been told and accuse the Prophet (saas) and the believers of being liars. We will deal with these accusations in chapter three.
Unbelievers who have grave doubts (Surah Hud) about Islam have a materialist viewpoint and reject the reality of the Hereafter. About them, Allah says: (They said”) “What is there but our life in this world? We die and we live, and we will not be raised again” (Surat al-Muminun: 37).
Instead of thinking about the believers’ words, they try to find inconsistencies in them and to dismiss the message through word games. They also try to humiliate the believers, such as when they asked Nuh (as): “Why should we believe you, when [only] the vilest people follow you?” (Surat ash-Shu‘ara’: 111).
Allah tells us about these people in another verse:
When they are told: “Believe in the way that the people believe,” they exclaim: “What! Are we to believe in the way that fools believe?” No indeed! They are the fools, but they do not know it. (Surat al-Baqara: 13)
Their emotional and excessive reaction, which they openly display by insulting the intelligence of those believers who invite them to practice religious morality, shows how really base they are. Nuh (as) tells about the reaction of such people:
(Nuh said: “My Lord,) indeed, every time I called them to Your forgiveness, they put their fingers in their ears, wrapped themselves up in their clothes, and were overweeningly arrogant.” (Surah Nuh: 7)
We can see that unbelievers have various reactions to what they are told; however, none of their reactions are respectful or mature. As we shall now see, these reactions are sometimes beyond the pale of acceptable behavior.
2. Threats and violence
The most negative reactions come from those referred to in the Qur’an as the “ruling circle of society lapsed into unbelief.” These prominent people, who exercise economic and political power, realize that the religion being preached threatens their vested interests and continued dominance.
The Qur’an tells us that one of their main characteristics is that they are “the affluent…” (Surat az-Zukhruf: 23). And yet they want even more wealth and possessions, and so feverishly put forth every effort to pile up more: “He thinks his wealth will make him live for ever” (Surat al-Humaza: 3). No doubt, satan plants this idea in their minds by showing the way to the Tree of Everlasting Life and to a kingdom that will never fade away (Surah Ta Ha: 120). Given that such people have fallen under satan’s influence and have become his “squadron,” one can easily understand why they are so hostile to the believers.
The Qur’an also tells us about those who seek to divert believers from the true path:
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. (Surat al-An‘am: 123)
Allah tells us about the traps and assaults organized by satan’s “prominent friends.” For example, those who plotted Musa’s (as) death were prominent men of the city (Surat al-Qasas: 20) who also undertook to provoke the people’s rejection of him by calling him a “skilled magician” (Surat al-A‘raf 109). In the next verse, they sought to provoke a public reaction by proclaiming his preaching to be a threat and a matter of state by saying: “(He) desires to expel you from your land.” With the people already under their influence, they imposed the death penalty on him for stirring up strife by asking them: “So, what do you recommend?”
As Allah tells us in Surat al-A‘raf 123, Pharaoh asked the people if they believed in Allah before he authorized them to do so. He wanted to transform an ordinary event into a case of incitement and plotting against the city in order to convince the people that the death penalty was justified. Seeing that the magicians disagreed, he tried to impose the death penalty on them too.
Are you going to leave Musa and his people to cause corruption in the land and abandon you and your deities? (Surat al-A‘raf: 127)
As these prominent citizens had taken satan as their protector and followed in his footsteps, they regarded it as their duty to oppose the believers. The Qur’an speaks of these friends of satan as the party of Iblis or satan’s brothers:
... The satans inspire their friends to dispute with you... (Surat al-An‘am: 121)
Actually, satan has taken the unbelievers under his control and incites them to oppose the believers. He creates groundless misgivings within them to hinder and even prevent Islam’s spread and gradual ascendancy. To achieve his goal, he forms a squad composed of those who accept him as their guide and directs it according to his will.
Do you not see that We send the satans against those who do not believe to goad them on? (Surah Maryam: 83)
Thus, those who have lapsed into unbelief, following satan and their own prominent citizens, work against the believers.
Naturally, a religious morality that accords with human nature will gain mass appeal and acceptance by being communicated to people. But those members of the “ruling circle who have lapsed into unbelief” try to hinder the believers and messengers because they do not want religious morality to gain ground. The Qur’an mentions how they try to influence public opinion and block the communication of this morality. For example, the ruling circle warns the people about Shu‘ayb (as): “... If you follow Shu‘ayb, you will definitely be lost” (Surat al-A‘raf: 90). In another verse, Allah speaks of their anti-religion propaganda:
The ruling circle of his people–those who did not believe and who denied the encounter of the Hereafter and whom We had given opulence in this world–said: “This is nothing but a human being like yourselves who eats what you eat and drinks what you drink.” (Surat al-Muminun: 33)
As we can see, these prominent individuals try to influence people’s thinking by warning them that they will be losers and that Allah’s messengers and prophets are just human beings, not supernatural beings. In another verse, Allah describes their attempts:
The ruling circle of those of his people who did not believe 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-Muminun: 24)
It is interesting that the ruling circle accuses His prophets and messengers of being opportunists. They accuse these worthy individuals of wanting money, possessions, power, and other transient worldly things. They made the same accusation against Musa (as) and Aaron (as):
“Have you come to us to turn us from what we found our fathers doing, and to gain greatness in the land?...” (Surah Yunus: 78)
Indeed, those engaged in this attempt are the very ones who accused the Prophet (saas), although many verses state that he wanted no return for his attempt to spread Islam (e.g., Surah Yunus: 72, Surat ash-Shu‘ara’: 179-180, and Surat al-An‘am: 90).
The ruling circle hurled insults, false accusations, threats, and extortion attempts at those who were trying to relay the religion. For example, the unbelievers roused the people against Lut (as) and his followers: “…Expel them from your city! They are people who keep themselves pure!” (Surat al-A‘raf: 82).
Similar threats were made against Shu‘ayb (as):
The ruling circle of those 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.” (Surat al-A‘raf: 88)
They said: “O Shu‘ayb, we do not understand much of what you say and we see you are weak among us. Were it not for your clan, we would have stoned you. We do not hold you in high esteem.” (Surah Hud: 91)
We can see from this verse that those who seek to spread Islam have to be very strong against the unbelievers. When the latter hear Allah’s name or religion mentioned, they are overcome by fits of anger. Ibrahim’s (as) father responded to his son’s call by stating: “Do you forsake my deities, Ibrahim? If you do not stop, I will stone you. Keep away from me for a good long time” (Surah Maryam: 46).
Pharaoh warned Musa (as) that if he accepted the existence of another deity besides him, he would be thrown into prison (Surat ash-Shu‘ara’: 29) and killed (Surah Ghafir: 26). He also threatened his magicians, saying that he would saw off their hands and feet and hang them on palm trees if they believed without his permission (Surah Ta Ha: 71). Due to their fierce anger, the unbelievers even tried to throw Ibrahim (as) into the fire (Surat al-‘Ankabut: 24). Nuh’s (as) unbelieving people threatened to stone him and drive him away (Surat ash-Shu‘ara’: 116).
By the will of Allah, this violent anger is a test for the believers, for:
When Our Signs are recited to them–Clear Signs–you can detect denial in the believers’ faces. They all but assault those who recite Our Signs to them! Say: “Shall I inform you of something worse than that? The Fire, which Allah has promised those who do not believe. What an evil destination.” (Surat al-Hajj: 72)
Those who do not believe all but strike you down with their evil looks when they hear the Reminder and say: “He is quite crazy.” (Surat al-Qalam: 51)
The unbelievers also form themselves into a kind of movement. Perhaps they probably do this because they are not strong or courageous enough to confront believers on their own and therefore seek to increase their resolve. For example, when the magicians joined together against Musa (as), they said to one another: “… so decide on your scheme and then arrive together in force ...” (Surah Ta Ha: 64). Prominent individuals also met together to plan how to kill Musa (as).
3. Accusations against prophets and messengers
One strategy used by a society’s ruling circle is to reduce the communication’s effectiveness by leveling various accusations against these special men in an attempt to shake the people’s faith and confidence in them. One such accusation is that of being crazy, which is mentioned in many verses of the Qur’an:
Those who do not believe all but strike you down with their evil looks when they hear the Reminder and say: “He is quite crazy.” (Surat al-Qalam: 51)
They say: “You, to whom the Reminder has been sent down, are clearly crazy.” (Surat al-Hijr: 6)
He is nothing but a man possessed. So wait a while and see what happens to him. (Surat al-Muminun: 25)
The ruling circle of those of his people who did not believe said: “We consider you a fool and think you are a liar.” (Surat al-A‘raf: 66)
The purpose here is to damage the messenger’s reputation among the people and to justify punishing him. In their view, they must be only crazy, since they continue to embrace religious morality so tenaciously despite all pressures and difficulties. However, Allah says that His prophets and messengers are extremely intelligent and trustworthy:
… obeyed there, trustworthy. Your companion is not crazy. (Surat at-Takwir: 21-22)
Have they not reflected? Their companion is not crazy. He is only a clear warner. (Surat al-A‘raf: 184)
They also accuse the Prophet (saas) of inventing the religion he proclaims:
Those who do not believe say: “This is nothing but a lie he has invented, and other people have helped him to do it. They have brought injustice and falsehood.” (Surat al-Furqan: 4)
(The ruling circle of his people said:) “What is he but a man who has invented a lie against Allah? We do not believe in him.” (Surat al-Muminun: 38)
But when Musa brought them Our Clear Signs, they said: “This is nothing but trumped-up magic. We never heard anything like this among our forefathers of old.” (Surat al-Qasas: 36)
In response to this accusation, a prophet or messenger says:
Or do they say: “He has invented it”? Tell (them): “If I have invented it, the crime will be laid at my door. But I am innocent of the crimes that you commit.” (Surah Hud: 35)
This specific accusation is based on another accusation:
You are nothing but a human being like ourselves. We think you are a liar. (Surat ash-Shu‘ara’: 186)
Then these accusations increase:
(They said:) “Has the Reminder been given to him of all of us? No indeed! He is an impudent liar.” (Surat al-Qamar: 25)
This is one of the unbelievers’ major questions: “Why him and no one else?” But even if it was someone else, they would still ask the same question, because they cannot endure the existence of a messenger or a prophet who relays Allah’s religion. There is no such person in their “ancestral religion.” And even if there were, he would be only a person of whom they could approve. They ask: “Why was this Qur’an not sent down to one of the great men of the two cities?” (Surat az-Zukhruf: 31). The ruling circles would disparage any prophet or messenger who did not meet their expectations and who introduced a religion that did not agree with their ancestral religion:
The ruling circle of his people said: “We see [that] you [are] in flagrant error.” (Surat al-A‘raf: 60)
They also accused Salih of being ill-starred: “...We see you, and those with you, as an evil omen...” (Surat an-Naml: 47) and Musa (as) of being weak: (Pharaoh asked:) “Am I not better than this man, who is contemptible and can scarcely make anything clear?” (Surat az-Zukhruf: 52).
There have certainly been many examples of such accusations but these are among the main ones. There will always be unbelievers who will raise these questions and react with absolute hatred and violence to anyone communicating Islam to others. As we saw earlier, Allah reveals how we are to respond to them.
4. The vigorous defense of ancestral religion and the attempt to bring the believers back to it
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.” Ask: “What if I have come with better guidance than what you found your fathers following?” They reply: “We reject what you have been sent with.” (Surat az-Zukhruf: 23-24)
There are principles at the “cellular level” within human beings that prevent them from adopting new ideas and changing how they think. Present from birth in a person’s environment, family, and circle of friends, they form a “personal” viewpoint and an “individual” attitude toward life. We can call this a “worldview.”
So, one of the greatest challenges in communicating religion is to replace a non-Islamic worldview with one that is directed toward the Hereafter and founded upon fearing, respecting, and pleasing Allah. A person’s worldview may be completely materialist or give rise to religious ideas that have no relation to true religion. We see in the Qur’an that people’s reactions to prophets communicating religion and believers are of two kinds: either they deny Allah’s existence or they defend the traditional religion.
The unbelievers vigorously defend their ancestral religion and, as a result, reject His message and try to draw believers back to the old ways. Many people are strongly attached to their ancestral religion and judge what they hear according to whether or not it accords with their worldview.
When they are told: “Follow what Allah has sent down to you,” they reply: “We are following what we found our fathers doing.” What, even though their fathers did not understand a thing and were not guided! (Surat al-Baqara: 170)
When they are told: “Come to what Allah has sent down and to the Messenger,” they say: “What we found our fathers doing is enough for us.” What. even if their fathers did not know anything and were not guided! (Surat al-Ma’ida: 104)
It is usual for some individuals to reject the true religion on the grounds that it does not accord with their ancestral religion, which is often very deeply rooted. Even though it contains an idea of Allah, it is very far from the truth revealed in the Qur’an. This is the work of satan, for the Qur’an warns: “... Do not let the Deluder (satan) delude you concerning Allah” (Surah Luqman: 33). This tactic tries to fool people into thinking that their actions, which are actually done under the influence of satan, are being done in the name of Allah and religion. Allah says in this regard:
If someone shuts his eyes to the remembrance of the All-Merciful, We assign him a satan who becomes his bosom friend-they debar them from the path, yet they still think they are guided... (Surat az-Zukhruf: 36-37)
This is the situation with those who espouse their ancestral religion, and is no different from the situation of the members of the ruling circle. They use the idea of religion for their own advantage. In the Qur’an, Allah describes such hypocrites who use His word for their own benefit:
The ruling circle of those of his people who did not believe 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.” (Al-Muminun: 24)
There are several things to notice in this verse:
1. Some prominent members of society try to prevent people from believing in Islam by misusing Allah’s name. For example, they say: “If Allah had wanted, He would have sent angels down.” This is a sign that people expect to see miracles before they will believe. As we said earlier, belief does not require a special miracle; for those who use their intelligence, miracles happen every minute of the day.
Allah reveals that unbelievers use His name to keep people ignorant of the truths revealed in the Qur’an and to prevent them from following the right path:
Whenever they commit an indecent act, they say: “We found our fathers doing it, and Allah commanded us to do it too.” Say: “Allah does not command indecency. Do you say things about Allah you do not know?” (Surat al-A‘raf: 28)
As we can see, those who follow their ancestral religion seek to hide the unseemly things they do behind Allah’s name in order to legitimate their deeds.
2. Some people try to influence and cloud the minds of anyone listening to a presentation of religion. These people are called the ruling circle who did not believe. They use their oppressive authority to confuse people and do what they can to keep them from believing. The reason for this is clear: believers, who are intelligent and aware, do not accept the falsehoods to which they are subjected and, most importantly, react against those who oppose religious morality and call upon them to justify their actions. It is natural that if such a spirit were established in society, the losers would be the ruling circle who did not believe.
Elsewhere we see that these people are part of satan’s design, his squad that attacks believers with his promptings to help him attain his goal.
3. “The prominent individuals” who oppose what is said about religious morality accuse a prophet or a messenger of trying to gain prestige. This accusation has no relation to the truth and is discussed in the chapter entitled “Accusations against the Prophets and the Messengers.”
4. One of the sayings of unbelieving ruling circle is: “We never heard of anything like this among our ancestors of old.” However, the Qur’an shows just how attached they are to their ancestral religion and how unwise this attachment is: "What, even though their fathers did not understand a thing and were not guided! (Surat al-Baqara: 170), “Even if satan is calling them to the punishment of the Blazing Fire?” (Surah Luqman: 21), or “What if I have come with better guidance than what you found your fathers following?” (Surat az-Zukhruf: 24).The interesting thing is that people who are attached to their ancestral religion want to convert believers who communicate the true religion.
The ruling circle of those 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 asked: “What, even though we detest it?”(Surat al-A‘raf: 88)
This “conversion” is very important for those who are attached to their ancestral religion. They are very annoyed when one of their numbers accepts religious truth and so try to return that person to the fold. If this attempt is unsuccessful, they dismiss such people from their minds. (They are actually doing the new believers a favor.) Members of the ruling circle with power and authority go even farther by making threats.
Every ingrained belief that lies outside religion and every tradition that is contrary to the Qur’an fits into the category of “ancestral religion.” The followers of this religion could end up in Hell.
Then their destination will be the Blazing Fire. They found their fathers misguided, and they are following hard upon their heels. (Surat as-Saffat: 68-70)