Hadith on Past Nations: Why Were They Destroyed?

24 September, 2020
Q A hadith I read today says: "Verily the people before you were destroyed only because of their excessive questioning and their disagreement with their Prophets.” Who were the people before you who were destroyed? What were their excessive questions? What was the disagreement? Who were the prophets being referred to here?


Short Answer:

  • There are several nations mentioned in the Quran who were destroyed in the past, including the People of Prophet Noah and the People of Prophet Lot and others.
  • When people turn in anger towards one another and disagree with their leader, as is the case with past people who disagreed with their Prophets, they received severe punishment, and in some cases were totally destroyed.


Salam and thank you for this question.

It brings up a very interesting point. Namely, If Allah or His Prophet do not provide details, are those missing details relevant to our understanding?

The answer is, of course, they are not relevant to the points being made in the text or details would have been given.

This is true for the Hadiths as well as for the Quran.

Let us first look at the full text of this hadith you asked about:

The Ordered and the Forbidden

The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said,

“What I have forbidden you, stay away from. What I have ordered you [to do], do as much of it as you can. Verily, the people before you were destroyed only because of their excessive questioning and their disagreeing with their Prophets.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)

“What I have forbidden you stay away from”

The Arabic word ‘nahi’ here is translated as ‘forbidden’. There is the strict or complete prohibition of an act which makes something forbidden or haram, which is understood here.

These would include the major sins: adultery, fornication, drinking alcohol, stealing, murder and dealing in interest etc. which should be avoided at all times and under all circumstances.

“What I have ordered you [to do], do as much of it as you can.”

This is an order that is obligatory on the believer and, under normal circumstances, there is no excuse for failing to perform these acts.

These include prayers, obligatory charityfasting, pilgrimage if one has the means, fulfilling one’s oaths and promises etc.

If a person fails to do these things and they are within one’s ability, then in general, they are considered to have committed a sin.

We should question ourselves whether we are indeed trying hard to perform the obligatory acts. Just how much effort are we really making?

“Verily, the people before you were destroyed only because of their excessive questioning and disagreeing with their prophets”

Now, we are not told anything about these people as being specific. It is a general observation. Therefore, as stated above the details are unnecessary.

People are known to procrastinate. Also the questions may vary over time.

For example, I doubt evolution was an issue during the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him). But today it has become an argument, and a protracted argument at that.

Differences and disagreements are one of the greatest means by which a people become weakened.

People turn in anger towards one another and may even disagree with their leader, as is the case with past people who disagreed with their Prophets. This can clearly be understood as a lack of submission.

One of the clearest examples of people disagreeing with their Prophet is found in the account of the Tribes of Israel in the Quran. Allah says:

“And (remember) when Moses said to his people, ‘Verily, Allah commands you that you slaughter a cow.’ They said, ‘Do you make fun of us?’ He said, ‘I seek refuge in Allah from being among the ignorant….’ (2: 67-71)

These verses clearly illustrate obstinate and disagreeable behavior towards the commands of a Prophet, and thus Allah.

Instead of fulfilling what Allah had commanded them they began questioning and procrastinating.

There are examples of people being destroyed, in the Quran. These can be read as being typical and general comments which apply to all could be drawn. Are they really relevant?

Again, since we are not given specifics, we cannot apply specifics. For this reason, I will only give the relevant references in the Quran.

Any conclusions drawn from them cannot be taken as literally applying.

People destroyed in the past include:

– The people of Noah. They disputed with him for 950 years (7: 59-64)

– The people of ‘Ad  (7: 65-72)

– Thamud’s people  (7: 73-79)

– The people of Lot. (7: 80-84)

– Madyan’s people  (7: 85-93)

Reading these passages, one could form a pattern that the Prophets might have followed, their people’s reaction to the message of their prophet, and what transpired.

The passages also appear to show the Prophets coming with a similar message – essentially – worship what I worship and follow my way.  However, I must stress; unless we are specifically told this it is merely our conjecture.

There are hadiths like the hadith of Jibreel, when the angel came to ask the Prophet (peace be upon him) important questions about the religion of Islam, showing some types of questioning can be beneficial.

There are questions one must ask as they seek to understand their religion. These are actually considered obligatory upon us. We should seek knowledge and we must ask questions to do this.

Excessive Questioning

So what then is excessive questioning and how can we avoid it?

To assist us in understanding this we should first turn to the Qur’an, where Allah (SWT) says:

“O believers! Ask not about things which, if made plain to you, may cause you trouble. But if you ask about them while the Qur’an is being revealed they will be made plain to you. Allah has forgiven that, and Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Forebearing.” (Surah al-Maidah, 5:101)

The reference here is to questions for which answers are not in fact needed, they are more hypothetical, or seeking to ridicule.

These kinds of questions are not acceptable. They are the type of questions that were put forward by the hypocrites and disbelievers who used to ask questions like these.

During the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him) in particular, it was disliked to ask too many questions about permitted and forbidden acts, because it was feared that due to someone’s excessive questioning an act may become forbidden.

We should concern ourselves only with questions relating to the understanding and practice of the religion, and not hypothetical situations that may occur.

It is reported that if one of the companions was asked about a hypothetical situation, they would say ‘Has it happened?’ and if the answer was negative they would say, ‘Leave it until it happens’.

It follows the real issue lies in having the correct intention in our seeking understanding and in our use of questions.

We should have the intention of getting closer to Allah through a deeper understanding and practice of Islam. If we do that, Allah will guide us and show us the Straight Path.

“…and their disagreeing with their Prophets”

We can find the same thing prevalent today. Many people question the wisdom of the teachings of Allah and His Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Even when a ruling is clear they seek to question. Some will say, ‘Oh it is only a Sunnah’ or ‘That was only for that time in Arabia’ as if the Sunnah does not form an integral part of the complete practice of Islam, and the example of the life of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was not the best example for all people for all time.

May Allah make us of those who ‘hear and obey’ and are successful. Ameen.

Please keep in touch.


(From Ask About Islam archives)

Please continue feeding your curiosity, and find more info in the following links:

Stories of Noah and Lot in the Quran and the Bible

Storms – A Form of God’s Wrath & Punishment?


About Daud Matthews
Daud Matthews was born in 1938, he embraced Islam in 1970, and got married in Pakistan in 1973. Matthews studied physics and subsequently achieved Chartered Engineer, Fellow of both the British Computer Society and the Institute of Management.He was working initially in physics research labs, he then moved to computer management in 1971. He lived and worked in Saudi Arabia from 1974 to 1997 first with the University of Petroleum and Minerals, Dhahran,and then with King Saud University in Riyadh. He's been involved in da'wah since 1986.