The Arabic term for corruption in the Quran is الْفَسَادَ (l-fasāda). It comes from the root ف س د and occurs fifty times in the Quran. Oftentimes it is translated as “committing evil” as is seen in the first occurrence of this root, in the following verse, where it is addressing the hypocrites and their response:

[2:11] When they are told, “Do not commit evil,” they say, “But we are righteous!”

وَإِذَا قِيلَ لَهُمْ لَا تُفْسِدُوا فِي الْأَرْضِ قَالُوا إِنَّمَا نَحْنُ مُصْلِحُونَ

The derivative meanings of the root ف س د are the following:

It is interesting that both in English and Arabic the word for corruption also means to decay or rot.

The similarity between these two meanings is that corruption in society causes more corruption, just like spoilage creates the environment for further spoilage.

When fruits like apples and pears ripen they produce a gaseous hormone called ethylene, which is, among other things, a ripening agent. When you store fruits together, the ethylene that each piece emits causes the others around it to ripen further causing a positive feedback loop. 

The riper a piece of fruit is, the more ethylene it produces, and overripe fruit gives off even more ethylene, eventually leading to a concentration of the gas that’s enough to over-ripen all the fruit. Given the right conditions and enough time, one apple can push all the fruit around it to ripen—and eventually rot. Additionally, an apple that is infested with mold will contaminate other fruit it’s stored with as the mold seeks additional food sources and spreads. In both cases, it actually does take just one single apple to start a domino chain that ruins the rest of the bunch.

The inherent problem with tolerating even a single rotten piece of fruit is that it will inevitably lead to the expedited rotting of all the fruit around it. This is because the environment that the mold produces upon rotting will impact the environment around it causing the other produce within its vicinity to also spoil.

This the reason that the Arabic Quran usually references this word in the context of “spreading” of corruption, because corruption by its very nature creates the environment to infect the people who happen to be within its reach. When corruption finds an environment where it can be fostered it will inevitably spread. We see this in the following verse regarding the alternative that God was placing on the Earth.

[2:30] Recall that your Lord said to the angels, “I am placing a representative (a temporary god) on Earth.” They said, “Will You place therein one who will spread evil therein and shed blood, while we sing Your praises, glorify You, and uphold Your absolute authority?” He said, “I know what you do not know.”

وَإِذْ قَالَ رَبُّكَ لِلْمَلَائِكَةِ إِنِّي جَاعِلٌ فِي الْأَرْضِ خَلِيفَةً قَالُوا أَتَجْعَلُ فِيهَا مَنْ يُفْسِدُ فِيهَا وَيَسْفِكُ الدِّمَاءَ وَنَحْنُ نُسَبِّحُ بِحَمْدِكَ وَنُقَدِّسُ لَكَ قَالَ إِنِّي أَعْلَمُ مَا لَا تَعْلَمُونَ

In the above verse again we see the word يُفْسِدُ which is translated as “he spread evil.” Here is the word by word breakdown:

1wa-idhوَإِذْAnd when / Recallا ذ
2qālaقَالَ[He] saidق و ل
3rabbukaرَبُّكَyour Lordر ب ب
4lil’malāikatiلِلْمَلَائِكَةِto the angels,م ل ك
5innīإِنِّي“Indeed, I amا ن ن
6jāʿilunجَاعِلٌappointing / placingج ع ل
7فِيinف ي
8l-arḍiالْأَرْضِthe earthا ر ﺽ
9khalīfatanخَلِيفَةًan alternative / vicegerent / ruler,خ ل ف
10qālūقَالُواthey said,ق و ل
11atajʿaluأَتَجْعَلُ“Will You placeج ع ل
12fīhāفِيهَاin itف ي
13manمَنْ(one) whoم ن
14yuf’siduيُفْسِدُhe (will) spread corruption / evilف س د
15fīhāفِيهَاin itف ي
16wayasfikuوَيَسْفِكُand he (will) shedس ف ك
17l-dimāaالدِّمَاءَ[the] blood[s],د م ي
18wanaḥnuوَنَحْنُwhile we,ن ح ن
19nusabbiḥuنُسَبِّحُ[we] glorify / singس ب ح
20biḥamdikaبِحَمْدِكَ[of] Your praisesح م د
21wanuqaddisuوَنُقَدِّسُand we sanctifyق د س
22lakaلَكَ[to] You?ل
23qālaقَالَHe said,ق و ل
24innīإِنِّي“Indeed, [I]ا ن ن
25aʿlamuأَعْلَمُI knowع ل م
26مَاwhatم ا
27لَاnotل ا
28taʿlamūnaتَعْلَمُونَyou [all] know.”ع ل م

Or take the example of a society that tolerates bribery. As more of the society become accustomed to the act it will penetrate into more facets of that society until the entire system is decayed from the inside out.

[2:188] You shall not take each others’ money illicitly, nor shall you bribe the officials to deprive others of some of their rights illicitly, while you know.

وَلَا تَأْكُلُوا أَمْوَالَكُمْ بَيْنَكُمْ بِالْبَاطِلِ وَتُدْلُوا بِهَا إِلَى الْحُكَّامِ لِتَأْكُلُوا فَرِيقًا مِنْ أَمْوَالِ النَّاسِ بِالْإِثْمِ وَأَنْتُمْ تَعْلَمُونَ

Today we see corruption in all facets of society since we failed to take heed, and because of this we are suffering some of the consequences.

[30:41] Disasters have spread throughout the land and sea, because of what the people have committed. He thus lets them taste the consequences of some of their works, that they may return (to the right works).

ظَهَرَ الْفَسَادُ فِي الْبَرِّ وَالْبَحْرِ بِمَا كَسَبَتْ أَيْدِي النَّاسِ لِيُذِيقَهُمْ بَعْضَ الَّذِي عَمِلُوا لَعَلَّهُمْ يَرْجِعُونَ

1ẓaharaظَهَرَ[It] has appearedظ ه ر
2l-fasāduالْفَسَادُthe corruption / decay / destructionفسد
3فِيinف ي
4l-bariالْبَرِّthe landب ر ر
5wal-baḥriوَالْبَحْرِand the seaب ح ر
6bimāبِمَاfor whatب م ا
7kasabatكَسَبَتْ[it] earned / committedك س ب
8aydīأَيْدِي(the) hands (of)ي د ي
9l-nāsiالنَّاسِ[the] people,ن و س
10liyudhīqahumلِيُذِيقَهُمْso that He may let them tasteذ و ق
11baʿḍaبَعْضَa part / someب ع ﺽ
12alladhīالَّذِي(of that) whichا ل ل ذ
13ʿamilūعَمِلُواthey didع م ل
14laʿallahumلَعَلَّهُمْthat they mayل ع ل ل
15yarjiʿūnaيَرْجِعُونَ[they] return.ر ج ع

God informs us that anyone who mediates an evil work incurs a share thereof. Therefore, these individuals, who were the originators of the corruption, will not only have to bear their own sins on the Day of Judgment, but also all the sins of all the numerous individuals their actions caused when they negatively impacted the environment.

[4:85] Whoever mediates a good deed receives a share of the credit thereof, and whoever mediates an evil work, incurs a share thereof. GOD controls all things.

مَنْ يَشْفَعْ شَفَاعَةً حَسَنَةً يَكُنْ لَهُ نَصِيبٌ مِنْهَا وَمَنْ يَشْفَعْ شَفَاعَةً سَيِّئَةً يَكُنْ لَهُ كِفْلٌ مِنْهَا وَكَانَ اللَّهُ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ مُقِيتًا

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