Walladhīna kadhdhabū bi-āyātinā sanastadrijuhum min hathyu lā ya‘lamūna
wa-umlī lahum; inna kaydī matīn
As for those who deny our signs We will draw them imperceptibly [into ruin], from where they do not know. And I will grant them respite, for My devising is indeed sure.
(Sūrat al-A‘rāf, No.7, Āyat 182-183)
Allah subhānahu wa-ta‘ālā does not punish the wrong doers immediately after their sins. He gives them respite after their sins. This respite could go one of two ways. Either, it would lead to an awakening and the person would turn back to God. Or. it would lead further into sin and cement the downfall. On the surface the respite may be perceived as a favor from God. But the reality lurking beneath it is an opportunity to commit more sins and go deeper into self-destruction.
In the verse above the following words should be noted:
1) ‘Sanastadrijuhum,’ – Istidrāj means going step by step. It is a gradual movement to one side. In the context of this verse it means a gradual movement towards destruction, either in the world or in the Hereafter. The movement is not obvious and the eventual destruction comes unexpectedly, making it more dangerous.
During the respite the remembrance of Allah ‘azza wa-jall and the Hereafter goes away from the hearts through intense immersion in pleasures. This creates an inner void which is filled with other forms of perceived joys. When these distractions do not serve the purpose there is unrest and internal imbalance. The quest to sedate the inner yearning culminates in a downhill path leading to destruction of the individual as well as society. All this is done in complete oblivion of the actual cause of the downfall.
The Quran warns believers not to be deluded by the outward glamour of this respite. Never be misled by the bustle of the faithless in the towns. It is a trivial enjoyment; then their refuge is hell, and it is an evil resting place (Q 3:196-197)
2) ‘Umlī lahum’ – the word imlā means to give respite. An opportunity and time to commit more sin. This is a sign of being distanced from the mercy of Almighty Allah. Those whom He loves would be given hardship instead of respite. The hardships would cause them to turn back to God. The respite on the other hand is often used to commit more sin. Tafsīr Nūr al-Thaqalayn quotes a Hadith from al-Kāfī by Imam al-Sādiq (a): When Allah wishes good for a person He follows a sin with a punishment, so the person seeks forgiveness. But when He does not wish good for a person he follows a sin with a blessing and the person forgets to seek forgiveness.
The respite is to an appointed time which is decreed by the Almighty alone, hence the verb used is singular: I will grant respite.
The oppressors in history and contemporary times are afflicted with this punishment but are unaware of it. Lady Zainab (a) reminded Yazīd of this when she said in the court of Damascus; ‘You have become boastful because you have seen that the matters have taken a turn in your favor. You have, however, forgotten what Allah (swt) says: Let the faithless not suppose that the respite that We grant them is good for their souls: We give them respite only that they may increase in sin, and there is a humiliating punishment for them (Q 3: 178).
This verse is a reminder for society – both for the oppressors and the victims. And for those who watch helplessly. The respite is a chance to oppress more but the end has been decreed and will come unawares.
Sources: ‘Allāmah Muhammad Husayn Tabātabā’ī, Tafsīr al-Mīzān; Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (Ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūneh; Abd ‘Ali b. Jumu’a al-‘Arusi al-Huwayzi, Tafsīr Nūr al-Thaqalayn