Quranic Reflection No. 525. Ayat 40:29 – Truth in the face of oppression
يَا قَوْمِ لَكُمُ الْمُلْكُ الْيَوْمَ ظَاهِرِينَ فِي الْأَرْضِ فَمَن يَنصُرُنَا مِن بَأْسِ اللَّهِ إِن جَاءَنَا
O my people! Today sovereignty belongs to you, and you are dominant in the land. But who will save us from Allah’s punishment should it overtake us?
(Sūrat Ghāfir, No 40, Āyat 29)
When people are in power and have the upper hand, they become oblivious of their own weakness. There is the delusion that everything is under their control, and no-one can stop them from wreaking havoc on others. This false sense of invincibility often comes before an undignified end. It can be seen in many stories of the past, as well as in the ends of dictators in our era.
The verse above are the words of Hizqīl, also known as Mu’min of Āli Fir‘awn. According to hadith, the Siddiqūn (those who were foremost in accepting the truth brought by the Prophet of their time) in history are three: Habīb al-Najjār (also known as Mu’min of Āli Yāsin), Mu’min of Āli Fir‘awn, and Ali bin Abī Tālib ‘alayhimus-salām.
Hizqīl was from the relatives of Fir‘awn. Some scholars say he was the chief of the police force of the time. When he heard Prophet Mūsā calling people towards the worship of One God, he accepted belief in God. He did not reveal his faith to anyone. Hizqīl spoke out when he realized that Fir’awn and his people wanted to kill Prophet Musa (a). He could no longer remain silent.
In this verse Hizqīl reminds the people of all the blessings they have, and the power they enjoy. He warns them that oppression and tyranny could result in the punishment of Allah on them. They were not immune from what Prophet Musa was warning them about. When people are in comfort and have wealth, they think that they have become needless. This is a very short-sighted conclusion as these can change and disappear very quickly.
Speaking the truth in the face of oppression requires courage. Especially reminding them that they are not entirely in control, and Allah ‘azza wajall can send down punishment to them when He wishes. The time given to them in which they rule and oppress others is not a favor to them. Allah says: Let the disbelievers 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). The courageous daughter of Amīrul Mu’minīn, Zaynab bint Ali (a) invoked this verse in the court of Yazīd, to remind the tyrant that he was destined for doom.
Imam Ali (a) reminds Malik al-‘Ashtar of the dangers of oppression in his letter to him: When a person oppresses the creatures of Allah then, instead of His creatures, Allah becomes his opponent, and when Allah is the opponent of a person He tramples his plea; and he will remain in the position of being at war with Allah until he gives it up and repents. Nothing is more inducive of the reversal of Allah’s bounty or for the hastening of His retribution than continuance in oppression because Allah hears the prayer of the oppressed and is on the look out for the oppressors (Letter 53, Nahjul Balāgha).
Believers need to speak out the truth in the face of oppression. They also need to remind themselves of the fact that Allah subhānahu wata‘ālā is in full control and His punishment will always come for the oppressors. The present should not beguile people into thinking that the control will always last.
Sources: Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (Ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūneh