وَكُلًّا نَّقُصُّ عَلَيْكَ مِنْ أَنبَاءِ الرُّسُلِ مَا نُثَبِّتُ بِهِ فُؤَادَكَ
And each [story] We relate to you from the news of the messengers is that by which We make firm your heart.
(Sūrat Hūd, No.11, Āyat 120)
The stories of many Prophets ‘alayhimus-salām and past peoples have been told in Sūrat Hūd. Towards the end of the sūrah, the Almighty concludes the messages and stories by explaining the goal behind the narrations. The first reason is given in the above part of the verse; to strengthen the heart of the Prophet sallal-lāhu ‘alayhi wa-ālihi wasallam and fortify it against the many wounds inflicted on it.
The word ‘kullan’ refers to the different lives and struggles mentioned in the sūrah. There are a range of experiences narrated. It includes the responses of people to the Prophets, the types of deviations of the people, the form of punishment meted out to them, etc. These diverse experiences throw light on the different aspects of human life. Every aspect of today’s struggle can be found in some experience of the past. Historical narratives reveal clearly that essentially human nature remains the same. It may change in outer manifestations as society becomes more sophisticated, but the inner workings of the human mind and heart do not change. Thus, relating to struggles of the past can provide an impetus to continue struggling.
The heart of the Prophet (s) was strengthened to face the fierce opposition of the enemies. It was also to bear the hurt of his people rejecting the truth, of seeing the early believers suffer, and of countering the stubborn and vicious criticism of his mission. The Prophet (s) was a human being and was naturally affected by this. The Quran reassures him at times, acknowledging that he was going through a lot of pain in his work. It says:
فَلَعَلَّكَ بَاخِعٌ نَّفْسَكَ عَلَىٰ آثَارِهِمْ إِن لَّمْ يُؤْمِنُوا بِهَٰذَا الْحَدِيثِ أَسَفًا
Then perhaps you would kill yourself through grief over them, if they do not believe in this message, out of sorrow (Q18:6).
Many verses also tell him not to be saddened by the disbelievers.
وَلَا يَحْزُنكَ الَّذِينَ يُسَارِعُونَ فِي الْكُفْرِ
And do not be grieved by those who hasten into disbelief. (Q 3:176)
فَلَا يَحْزُنكَ قَوْلُهُمْ ۘ إِنَّا نَعْلَمُ مَا يُسِرُّونَ وَمَا يُعْلِنُونَ
So let not their speech grieve you. Indeed, We know what they conceal and what they declare (Q 36:76)
The Almighty narrates the stories of the past Prophets and their struggles, as well as their eventual triumphs, to give hope to the Prophet (s). He should not feel even a small amount of despair at how the people were reacting to the message of Islam. That was how people had also behaved in the past. Such narrations would comfort the heart of the Prophet and strengthen his resolve. Strengthening the heart of the Prophet is also mentioned in Sūrat al-Furqān, verse 32. InshāAllāh, we will do a separate reflection on that verse sometime.
History of the past people has lessons which can help people in the present. Amīrul Mu’minīn Imam Ali (a) says: Learn lessons from past events for future events, because they are like one another (Nahjul Balāgha, Document 69). He also says: Think about the conditions of the believers of the past, how they were tested by God. Did they not have to face a lot of hardships? . . But when God, the Almighty, observed their perseverance and patience in the face of obstacles for His sake, He changed their misery into prosperity, and their fear into security. God made them governors, statesmen and leaders. They received such favors from God they had not even hoped for. (Ibid, Sermon 192).
This verse is a reminder of how Allah ‘azza wajall strengthened the Prophet (s) through reminders of the past. Those who struggle in Allah’s way are never left to fend for themselves. Allah (swt) helps them and strengthens their hearts, giving them a firm resolve to persevere.
Sources: Allāmah Muhammad Husayn Tabātabā’ī, Tafsīr al-Mīzān; Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (Ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūneh; https://www.al-islam.org/imam-alis-first-treatise-islamic-ethics-and-education-zainol-aabideen-qorbani-lahiji/24