Can We Blame Evil on Bad Influences?

15 March, 2017
Q Salam. Almighty Allah has created us and everything we can and cannot imagine. He has given us mental qualities to do good, to have ethical standards, etc. But my question is: how can we really be purified by doing good in this world? What's the point of preventing yourself from performing sins (such as drinking, holding yourself back in your aggression, or having sex with different women, etc.) that is, if you genuinely, in your soul, in your conscience, want to do it, and consider it as being completely right? The reason why you are not doing it is because Allah forbids it, but your heart still wishes to sin. The human psychology is susceptible of manipulation. We can teach people to be very evil and make them believe that it is the right thing. How shall they be judged? Example: A child is born, he has been taught through his whole life that their evil dictator is good, and that he must follow all the dictator's rules (killing people, doing nothing but evil things) or burn in hell. The person's soul has been infected by evil doctrines through every second of his life, and he is not aware of how evil he is since he has been taught to do evil his entire life. He finds his acts absolutely good, having no empathy at all. How can such people be judged?

Answer

Salam Brother,

Thank you for contacting About Islam with your question.

People often speak of values that are absorbed from parents, teachers, religious leaders, and other influential people.

There are persons who argue that there is no such thing as an essential human nature. They say, what is called human nature is simply nurture or the result of the environment and experience.

Religions, especially Islam, hold the view that humans are born with a basic nature, which includes a susceptibility of being influenced by experiences of the world around them.

In other words, there is a basic part of human nature that is unchangeable, while nurture can effect changes in beliefs and behaviors.

Dr. Robert S Hartmann, the well-known originator of axiology (i.e. the science of values) and other proponents of humanistic psychology, has stressed five defining qualities of human beings.

Of these, three are relevant to our discussion:

  1. Human beings are aware and aware of being aware — that is, they are conscious. Human consciousness always includes an awareness of oneself in the context of other people.
  1. Human beings have some choice and, with that, responsibility.
  1. Human beings are intentional, aim at goals, are aware that they cause future events, and seek meaning, value, and creativity. (Five Basic Postulates of Humanistic Psychology)

With regard to the second part of your question, here you echo the behaviorist claim that the basic nature of humans can be manipulated through indoctrination and drill to the extent of making them lose all awareness of good or making them believe that ‘evil’ is ‘absolutely good’.

No human being can completely fail to see the distinction between good and evil. Even in the course of the kind of training given him to be completely evil, he has got to observe certain norms.

For instance, he should respect his trainers; he should not hurt or abuse those in authority or their dear and near ones. He should always tell them the truth and so on.

In this way, his trainers teach him to be ‘good’, while their ultimate aim is to make him absolutely evil. And at least out of one’s own self-love, he ought to be basically good to himself; from which experience he comes to know what is good for others too.

But it is true that he can be trained to deliberately ignore all the promptings of his conscience and behave like an automaton for a certain length of time; that is, until he gets exhausted and sick of what he has been doing, and slowly comes to realize his essential humanity and his basic affinity for good.

In short, man in this world cannot say as Milton’s Satan says:

[…] So farewell Hope, and with Hope farewell Fear,

Farewell Remorse: all Good to me is lost.

Evil be thou my Good […]

(John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book 4, verses 108-110)

In Milton’s poem, Satan was determined to exact his revenge on God by wrecking humans, God’s best creation.

But no human can afford to wreck his or her life in this world and the next by invoking evil to be his or her good. It goes against psychology, nature, and destiny to court evil at the expense of good.

As for Allah’s judgment, it is never ever unjust. In the Quran He says what means:

{Allah is never unjust in the least degree: If there is any good (done), He doubles it, and gives from His own presence a great reward.} (An-Nisaa’ 4:40)

This means that Allah punishes only those people who have deliberately chosen evil with the full awareness of the distinction between good and evil.

And from the psychological studies made on human behavior so far, we know how humans consciously choose evil, neglecting good. Only such people are punished.

Those who are immature, mentally disabled, or insane are unaware of the consequences of their actions, and so they are innocent and are spared of punishment.

As for how to be purified, the only way is to leave off doing evil and keep doing good. As you yourself have said, it is Allah Almighty Who has given us the ability to do good and to live by ethical standards.

And Allah Almighty is the Creator of all, and so He knows what is best for us; and if we are wise, we ought to follow His Guidance.

As I have explained, no sensible human being commits an evil act without knowing its ethical implication. It is only when a person consciously does wrong, is he judged a sinner.

And no human worth the name, genuinely wants in his soul and in his conscience to do evil. And no one considers an evil act as completely right either.

It is a gross misrepresentation of human nature to say that human beings go on committing sins, without any prick of conscience.

Whenever we are about to do something terrible, the nature God has created in us warns us: “Don’t do it! Don’t do it! Don’t do it!” And people cannot do wrong except by ignoring that warning.

And if they believe in the Day of Judgment, certainly they are aware of the consequences of their actions too.

Again, you ask: what is the point in preventing yourself from doing wrong, if that is what you actually want to do? “The reason why you are not doing it is because Allah forbids it, but your heart still wishes to sin.”

I wonder why you cannot accept the fact that humans are basically good. Do you really believe that humans are actually programmed to do evil? If not, can’t you see that people have a natural preference for good? It is only when they go against their essential nature, that they land in trouble.

The Quran speaks of good rewards for good; and evil consequences for evil. The promise of rewards and the warning about punishments serve as incentives for people to do good in this world. That would be a re-enforcement to the basic human preference for good indeed.

I hope this answers your question. Please keep in touch.

Salam.

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

The Evolution of the Human Spirit

A Believer’s Good Deeds

How Do You Muslims Understand Natural Evil and Disasters?