Have, then, they [who deny the truth] never yet seen how79
We visit the earth [with Our punishment], gradually depriving it of all that is best thereon?80
For, [when] God judges, there is no power that could repel His judgment: and swift in reckoning is He!
Or: "curtailing it from [all] its sides" (min atrapha) - depending on whether one understands by atraf the "sides" or "extremities" or "outlying parts" (of a concrete body or land) or, alternatively, the "outstanding men" - i.e., the great leaders, scholars and thinkers (Taj al-'Arus) - and "the best of the [earth's] inhabitants and fruits" (ibid). Many commentators, taking the primary meaning of atraf, are of the opinion that the above sentence relates to the struggle between the early Muslim community at Medina and the pagans of Mecca, and interpret it thus: "Do they [i.e., the pagans of Mecca] not see that we are visiting [with Our punishment] the land [held by them], gradually curtailing it from [all] its sides?" - which would imply a prophecy of the gradual conquest of all Arabia by the Muslims. Other commentators, however, prefer the secondary meaning of atraf and - without denying its relevance to the early history of Islam - interpret this passage in a more general sense, similar to the rendering adopted by me. Thus, for instance, Razi: "Have they [i.e., the deniers of the truth] never yet seen the turns of fortune (ikhtilafat) that take place in this world - destruction after prosperity, death after life, humiliation after glory, deficiency after perfection?... Hence, what makes those deniers of the truth so sure that God will not render them abject after they had been mighty, and subjected [by others] after they had been rulers?" Thus, in its widest sense, the phrase "gradually depriving it of all that is best in it" may be taken to relate not merely to physical and social catastrophes but also to the loss of all ethical values - and, thus, to the loss of all worldly power - which "those who are bent on denying the truth" are bound to suffer in the end.