The Arrogance of Karun and His Punishment
Along with Pharaoh, Karun is mentioned among those who were destroyed at the time of the Prophet Moses (pbuh).
The Qur'an informs us that Karun was the owner of great possessions in Egypt despite being a descendant of the Israelite tribe.
In the following verse Allah indicates that Karun opposed the Prophet Moses (pbuh) together with Pharaoh:
We sent Moses with Our Signs and clear authority to Pharaoh, Haman and Karun. But they said, "A lying magician." (Surah Ghafir: 23-24)
It is noteworthy that Karun, who was with Pharaoh, was also in charge of a great treasure:
Karun was one of the people of Moses but he lorded it over them. We gave him treasures, the keys alone to which were a heavy weight for a party of strong men… (Surat al-Qasas: 76)
The great fortune and status Karun possessed in Egypt, due to his closeness to Pharaoh, made him arrogant and insolent towards his own people. He refused to accept the Prophet Moses' (pbuh) message, and boasted about his possessions to make the Children of Israel feel attachment to the life of this world. In fact, his great fortune and status became the envy of some of the people from the Prophet Moses' (pbuh) tribe. Allah relates the arrogance of Karun and the envy those of poor faith among the Children of Israel felt for him:
He went out among his people in his finery. Those who desired the life of the world said, "Oh! If only we had the same as Karun has been given! What immense good fortune he possesses." (Surat al-Qasas: 79)
The true believers among the Children of Israel never felt inclined towards Karun. On the contrary, they comprehended the pitiful situation he was in, and warned him:
…When his people said to him, "Do not gloat. Allah does not love people who gloat. Seek the abode of the Hereafter with what Allah has given you, without forgetting your portion of the world. And do good as Allah has been good to you. And do not seek to cause corruption in the earth. Allah does not love corrupters." (Surat al-Qasas: 76-77)
These same people of faith gave advise to some of the members of their own tribe who were inclined to Qarun, and warned them to retain the nobility of a believer in their conduct, and never to prefer the temporary pleasures of this world over the mercy of Allah:
...Those who desired the life of the world said, "Oh! If only we had the same as Karun has been given! What immense good fortune he possesses." But those who had been given knowledge said, "Woe to you! Allah's reward is better for those who believe and act rightly. But only the steadfast will obtain it." (Surat al-Qasas: 79-80)
Although an Israelite by nationality, Karun had accumulated wealth beyond measure under the patronage of Pharaoh. The Qur'an explains its extent by indicating the difficulty with which even just the keys of these treasures were carried.
However, his wealth, which had merely been as a trial for him from Allah, only increased him in arrogance and insolence. Nevertheless, Allah destroyed all of his possessions, and made of him a lesson for succeeding generations, as well as those who envied him, turning their backs on the religion.
"He went out among his people in his finery..." (Surat al-Qasas: 79)
"We caused the earth to swallow up both him and his house. There was no group to come to his aid against Allah..." (Surat al-Qasas: 81)
The main reason why Karun went astray was his belief that he was possessed with "knowledge." In other words, he had the boastful attitude that he was superior to other people.
He said, "I have only been given it because of knowledge I have." Did he not know that before him Allah had destroyed generations with far greater strength than his and far more possessions? The evildoers will not be questioned about their sins. (Surat al-Qasas: 78)
Nevertheless, in the end, Karun's arrogance brought him nothing but harm. He brought great torment upon himself by being unwisely ungrateful to Allah, and arrogantly believing that all his possessions were earned of his own accord. Karun finally came to realize that he was a feeble and helpless servant of Allah, when his possessions, which had made him so boastful, were completely destroyed by Allah:
We caused the arth to swallow up both him and his house. There was no group to come to his aid against Allah, and he was not someone who is helped. (Surat al-Qasas: 81)
What befell Karun was a warning, and an event from which those around him, as well as succeeding generations, were to draw lessons from. Those who sympathized with him immediately realized that what they had desired so dearly was actually temporary and ultimately worthless. They recognized that those who boast of their possessions and wealth can never attain salvation, and that they will eventually have to give account for their deeds:
Those who had longed to take his place the day before woke up saying, "Allah expands the provision of any of His servants He wills or restricts it. If Allah had not shown great kindness to us, we would have been swallowed up as well. Ah! Truly the unbelievers are not successful." (Surat al-Qasas: 82)
Ultimately, the prepared end for Pharaoh and Haman, was the same met by Karun:
And Karun and Pharaoh and Haman—Moses came with the Clear Signs to them, but they were arrogant on the earth. They could not outstrip Us. (Surat al-Qasas: 39)
The story of Karun clearly illustrates for us that Allah does not bestow his mercy on those who are arrogant because of their wealth and possessions, and who consider themselves to be wiser or more knowledgeable than others. In the Qur'an, Allah also gives us examples from other peoples of the past. Many civilizations of the past had attained great success and material wealth. Yet, all these civilizations were obliterated from the face of the earth. Allah took back the souls of these people, who had thought themselves to be the rulers of the earth, and reduced their glorious palaces to ruins:
How many wrongdoing cities We destroyed, and now all their roofs and walls are fallen in; how many abandoned wells and stuccoed palaces! (Surat al-Hajj: 45)
There is another lesson the story of Karun teaches us: not to be taken by the allure of the temporary riches of this world and of those who possess them.
The ones a believer should be inclined to are hose who withstand hardships in the way of Allah, those who spend their possessions, and live for the cause of Allah, and those men of faith and wisdom, whose hearts are full of love for Allah. As the Prophet Muhammad (May Allah bless him and grant him peace) said "Allah does not look at your forms and possessions, but He looks at your hearts and your deeds." (Muslim) Those who appear to lead a luxuriant and prosperous life, actually live in spiritual deprivation. Each day drift these people into eternal torment in Hell. Allah indicates this situation as follows:
Do not let their wealth and Children impress you. Allah merely wants to punish them by them during their life in the world and for them to expire while they are unbelievers. (Surat at-Tawba: 55)
Possessions should not be desired for pleasure and ostentation only. We need to keep in mind that Allah puts humans to test by their possessions as well. These possessions bring enjoyment to people as long as they are used to earn the good pleasure of Allah. Karun, for instance, ended up in misery, despite his measureless wealth. The case of Karun is indeed a warning for all generations, both past and present.