In this verse, the author stipulates that if laws and statutes fail to align themselves to fiṭra – the natural order, then they will be susceptible and ultimately collapse.
The use of the metaphoric winds of destruction razing a structure can be said to allude to the Quranic parable of a tribe named ʿĀd and a City of Pillars called Iram. Allah states, ‘Have you not seen how your Lord dealt with ʿĀd? [and] with Iram, [a city] of lofty pillars, the likes of which had never been created across the lands?’ It is said that the people of ʿĀd, inflamed by their imposing physique and great strength, took to oppressing others. Their ability to construct grand monuments filled them with hubris and pride. Ultimately, their refusal to mend their ways led to their perishment by winds of destruction, sent down upon them by Allah. Many years later, the son of ʿĀd sought to build a city in the desert based upon the descriptions of heaven he had come across in sacred texts: a city the likes of which the world had never seen. When the construction of Iram, this magnificent city, was complete, he set out towards it. However, with only a day’s distance between him and his city, a furious wind descended upon him and those with him, killing them and leaving Iram in ruins. These Quranic references indicate that individuals, communities and their physical and theoretical constructions that violate fiṭra and display behaviour that goes against man’s purpose in this world and his place in the divine order will share a similar fate as ʿĀd, his son and the city of Iram.
The annals of history are filled with failed ideologies and inefficacious social conventions. Laws and statuettes laid down with divine foresight were replaced with shortsighted, man-made conventions, with their shortcomings soon becoming evident. Although various reasons are often proffered for their failure, it is their violation of the fiṭra that ultimately led to their demise. In this verse above, the similarity brought about by the common letters in the words fiṭrat and tafaṭur, which means to break apart, alludes to the fact that specious alternate orders which were initially projected as seemingly being ideal for human development and prosperity were ultimately detrimental to human betterment.
One ancient school of thought believed that a virtuous life was one that is lived in accordance with nature. This outlook suggested that contemporary social conventions contravened nature and reason. However, instead of formulating conventions that were truly in line with nature, they paved the way for anarchism which did away with codes of conduct and greatly reduced the threshold of acceptable social behaviour. Ultimately, this outlook conveyed a narrow definition of fiṭrat.
Others, however, dismissed the need to even consider the compatibility of human nature with laws and regulations arguing that the flexibility and adaptability of human nature permits a wide and diverse range of social organisations. This viewpoint stemmed from their consideration of the various manifestations of human nature after it had been shaped by external influences, instead of considering it in its original state: fiṭra. This inevitably brought moral relativism to the forefront and along with it a host of social, economical and political systems and structures that eventually led to more detriment than benefit.
An example of one such convention is the financial practice of interest. The Quran states, ‘that which you give as interest so that it may increase the wealth of people, will yield no increase with Allah’ (30:39). This verse makes it evident that the act of giving and receiving interest is against fiṭra for it violates divine decree, as is any economic and banking system of which it remains an integral part. From a moral perspective, this verse highlights the need to help others without attempting to benefit from their adversity or even seeking something from them in return, which is often the case when someone who is already facing financial constraints is required to pay interest on a loan he has taken to see him through a difficult period.
Fiṭrat, in turn, shows us how the various organs and parts of the human body aid each other, without seeking anything in return. Likewise, the natural world offers numerous examples of symbiotic relationships between organisms. In this way the affluent assist the less fortunate and the knowledgeable help those who do not know.
The natural world also epitomises the importance of maintaining a balance and treading the middle path. One observes that regions of climatic extremes are largely uninhabitable for humans and even other life is sparse. Similarly, social systems that call for either extreme individualism or complete collectivism are unable to foster the prerequisites for a healthy society. Experiments that advocated common ownership and equal access for all to the means of production did not adequately consider the psychological and social benefits of human effort and initiative.
A paradigm or system needs to be aligned with fiṭra if it is to realise both the immediate and long term needs of mankind, both individually and collectively, otherwise, it will not fulfill either. The only way of fulfilling this aim is to consider both the spiritual and temporal worlds as complementary and indeed a reflection of one other, as the author sets out in the next verse.