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ظَهَرَ الْفَسَادُ فِي الْبَرِّ وَالْبَحْرِ بِمَا كَسَبَتْ أَيْدِي النَّاسِ لِيُذِيقَهُم بَعْضَ الَّذِي عَمِلُوا لَعَلَّهُمْ يَرْجِعُونَ
Zaharal-fasādu fil-barri wal-bahri bimā kasabat aydin-nāsi liyudhīqahum ba‘dal-ladhī ‘amilū la‘allahum yarji ‘ūn.
Corruption has appeared in the land and the sea on account of what the hands of men have earned, that He may make them taste a part of that which they have done, so that they may return.
(Sūrat al-Rūm, No 30, Āyat 41)
Corruption is the distortion of things from what they should be. When something changes from its original in a negative way it is said to be corrupted. The process of change takes place due to some inappropriate and unrighteous actions. If things go according to how they naturally should, no corruption can occur.
This verse links corruption to human actions. When humans sin there is a disharmony that occurs. Corruption on sea could refer to decrease of the sea’s resources, or the unrest and conflicts played out at sea. The water of the earth is naturally meant to be pure to sustain life. Over time the actions of human beings have changed this natural function. Recent changes in climate patterns are one manifestation of the corruption caused by human beings.
Unseemly behaviour of human beings such as sin, indecency, inappropriateness etc. create dysfunction in the world around them. It is like ingesting unwholesome food into the body. The body is naturally built to receive nutritious food that will allow its systems to function well. When that is changed, and it receives polluted or unwholesome food the systems of the body begin to fall apart. It cannot do what it is supposed to do in order to maintain health and well being. In the same way the universe is designed to for the well being for its inhabitants. To achieve these, human beings must live in line with the rules and expectations of the Creator. Acting contrary to this puts the whole system in chaos and results in the corruption of the natural course of things.
Many examples manifest the truth behind this understanding. When lying takes place in a society, trust and reliability are eroded. Cheating others weakens social relationships and increases greed and selfishness. Oppression and tyranny give birth to anger and more oppression. Injustice breeds hatred and resentment and leads to disunity in society. Thus, we see that every unrighteous deed, individual or collective, has a negative repercussion which creates a deviation from how things should actually be. This is one of the understandings of corruption on earth.
Corruption in this verse also includes a loss of blessing and goodwill. When unrighteous deeds are committed, negative consequences are not the only result. Positive receptivity to blessings from Allah is also decreased. This is stated in another verse of Quran where Allah says: And if only the people of the cities had believed and feared Allah, We would have opened upon them blessings from the heaven and the earth; but they rejected, so We seized them for what they had earned (Q 7:96).
The consequences which come in the form of unpleasantness and difficulties for the human being are not inflicted out of vengeance. They are a natural result which has disciplinary and training qualities. The negative results of sin and unrighteous action occur in order to make humans aware of the wrongfulness of their action. This would encourage them to stop and turn back to God. Without such consequences they would continue their actions. People whose hearts are still soft have the potential for realization and change.
Let this verse be a reminder that human beings cause corruption on land and sea through their actions. Good and righteous actions would prevent corruption and allow human beings to live in ease and comfort on earth.
Sources: Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (Ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūneh.
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