Quranic Reflection No. 434. Āyat 2:205 – Corruption on the Earth

وَإِذَا تَوَلَّىٰ سَعَىٰ فِي الْأَرْضِ لِيُفْسِدَ فِيهَا وَيُهْلِكَ الْحَرْثَ وَالنَّسْلَ
Waidhā tawallā sa‘ā filardhi liyufsida fīhā wayuhlikal-hartha wannasla
If he were to wield authority, he would try to cause corruption in the land and to ruin the crop and progeny.
(Sūrat al-Baqarah, No 2, Āyat 205)

Almighty Allah ‘azza wajall talks about different types of people in the Quran. The above is part of verses which describe hypocritical people who talk sweetly but harbour internal animosity towards Islam and Muslims. When such a person gets an authority, he strives to spread corruption. When given an opportunity he rushes towards actions that will create wrong-doing and evil. According to ‘Allāma Tabātabā’ī the word ‘tawallā’ could also mean to turn back. The verse would then mean ‘when he turns away from you . . .’ The hypocrite is in the different behavior as soon as he turns away from the truth.

Ruining the crop and progeny is a description of corruption on earth. Existence of the human being and his well-being depends on food and procreation. These are essential for humans to flourish. Food is acquired from plants and animals who themselves need plants. Destroying or tampering with crops can be a huge blow to human existence.

The person being discussed in this verse claims to improve society. But in reality, he spreads corruption and destroys. He changes the laws ordained by Allah subhānahu wata‘ālā and manipulates the Divine teachings. His actions cause depravity in society. Religion is negated and human society is ruined. This form of corruption unravels the threads of human society and brings havoc on earth. Imam al-Sādiq (a) explains the words crop and progeny as referring to religion and humanity (Tafsīr Majma’ al-Bayān).

When virtuous and God conscious people take on authority, they improve the society and cause it to flourish. The Quran says: Those who, if We granted them power in the land, will maintain the prayer, give the zakat, bid what is right and forbid what is wrong. And with Allah rests the outcome of all matters (Q 22:41). They uphold virtues and thus there is growth in all aspects of society. But when unworthy people take on positions their inner darkness makes them act in insidious ways. Society suffers and growth is stunted. Much of what was flourishing before becomes destroyed.

History is witness to the damage inflicted on society by unsuitable rulers. Their evil ways ruined the people they led, and the suffering spread over generations. Their misconceptions, their egos, and lack of nobility and vision become a severe blow to the progress of society. The modern age endures many such leaders. Corruption on earth is being spread at an amazing pace. Crops and progeny are being destroyed subtly.
Let this verse remind you of the danger of hypocritical leaders. The world is afflicted with many such people who lead others, who have followers hanging on to their words. The internet has allowed them to gain notoriety and they are able to spread corruption easily.  Believers have been warned and should be alert.

Sources: ‘Allāmah Muhammad Husayn Tabātabā’ī, Tafsīr al-Mīzān; Agha Muhsin Qarā’atī, Tafsīr-e Nūr