Quranic Reflection No. 493. Āyat 10:23 – Human transgressions only hurt themselves


يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنَّمَا بَغْيُكُمْ عَلَىٰ أَنفُسِكُم
Yā ayyuhannāsu innamā baghyukum ‘alā anfusikum
O mankind! Your violations are only to your own detriment.
(Sūrat Yūnus, No 10, Āyat 23)

In Sūrat Yūnus Almighty Allah talks about a people who when facing a storm in life beseech Allah to save them and they promise to be grateful and obedient to Him afterwards. But when He saves them, they violate their promise and continue with their old ways, rebelling against Allah ‘azza wajall and transgressing against His rules. Allah (swt) then warns them about an important fact – their acts of violation will only harm themselves. Note that this announcement is a direct address to human beings, not an address through the Prophet (s). It is an address to all human beings, asking them to listen and realize that they are only hurting themselves.

According to most Tafāsir, the word ‘baghy’ here means oppression. Tafsīr Majma‘ al-Bayan says they oppressed other people due to their greed. This emphasis on the transient world hurt them as they were oblivious of worship and obedience which would have got them closer to Allah.  Allāmah Tabātabā’ī says that the word ‘baghy’ originally means to seek. It is often used for oppression because it involves seeking out the rights of others and trampling on them.

Baghy has been used many times in the Quran in different ways. It generally refers to anything that transgresses appropriate boundaries. It can mean anger, overpowering by force, oppressing, corrupting, being unjust etc. Some examples of the context in which the word is used in the Quran include:
1. Oppression – Those who, when afflicted by oppression, defend themselves. (Q 42:39)
2. Aggression – Indeed Allah enjoins justice and kindness, and generosity towards relatives, and He forbids indecency, wrongdoing, and aggression. He advises you, so that you may take admonition (Q 16:90)
3. Jealousy – Evil is that for which they have sold their souls, by defying what Allah has sent down, out of envy that Allah should bestow His grace on any of His servants that He wishes. (Q 2:90)
4. Seeking, going after – He said, ‘That is what we were after!’ So, they returned, retracing their footsteps. (Q 18:64)
5. Revolt, transgression – And if Allah were to expand the provision for His servants they would certainly revolt in the earth. (Q 42:27)

These and other meanings show that a ‘baghy’ is one who exceeds the limits. In Islamic jurisprudence it refers to a Muslim who rebels against a just leader. The battles of Jamal, Siffīn and Naharwān are the manifestation of that type of wrongdoing which transgressed the limits of obedience to the just leader.

What the verse announces is that actions which transgress all appropriate limits will return to hurt the doers themselves. Because people are all linked in the system that Allah subhānahu wata‘ālā  has created, trespassing boundaries has an effect on the whole. The oppressors are part of the whole and when the system malfunctions, they are also affected. The world today is suffering from the transgressions of some. People who did not consider the rights of others, the rights of the earth and its resources, the rights of future generations, are all part of the mess that has been made. The consequences are on a global level on all aspects of life. Issues of physical and mental health, economic inequality, environmental pollution, social dysfunction, are just some of the chaos unleashed by the transgression of human beings.

Remember this verse when you hear of transgressions in the world today. They abound in all forms and each day new ones come to light. If only people would listen – your actions are only to your own detriment.

Sources: Shaykh Tabarsī, Tafsīr Majma’ul Bayān; Allāmah Muhammad Husayn Tabātabā’ī, Tafsīr al-Mīzānhttps://rasekhoon.net/article/show/1275175/