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Man… Vision and Mission

02 October, 2016
Q What are the teachings of Islam regarding the nature of the human being?


Salam Dear Joban,

Thank you for your question and for contacting Ask About Islam.

First of all, I would like to tell you that although your question seems very simple, it is in reality both profound and thought-provoking. The question of the nature of Man (obviously the word here refers to the human being and not just to the male Homo sapiens) has been one which has intrigued philosophers throughout the ages. It is a question that deals with the essence of our identity as human beings. Simply stated, it asks us “who are we?”

One of the many beauties of Islam is that it gives us a kind of outline for our identity. However, rather than imposing a constricting framework through which we can move, it creates a strong foundation on which we can build. This outline is to be taken by us and then filled out and personalized, each with his personal eccentricities and special traits that make each of us individuals.

As will become clearer later on in my answer, if we contemplate the nature of the human being as Allah created him, we realize that Allah has given us the tools and potential of becoming the happiest, most peaceful, and most fulfilled of His creation. The wisdom of Allah is manifest in the creation of Man.

So what is this wonderful creation? What makes a human being? In the Islamic worldview, the human being is a multi-dimensional creation. If we were to draw a parallel between the Islamic view on human nature and art, we can say that Islam would reject the flat emotionless paintings of the ancient Egyptians, leaning more towards the profoundly human and at the same time quasi-ephemeral paintings of Rembrandt, whose paintings reflect an inner life of his subjects in their faces that seem almost lit by some hidden internal light.

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To better tackle this subject, perhaps we should go back to the very beginning, the creation of Man. In the Quran, Allah says what means:

{And of His signs is this: He created you of dust, and behold you human beings, ranging widely!} (Ar-Rum 30:20)

In another surah, we are told that:

{He created man of clay like the potter’s.} (Ar-Rahman 55:14)

Although this may at first seem to be somewhat off-putting, triggering questions such as, “being created from dust, is Man essentially something ‘dirty’?” but when we elevate our thinking to a higher level, we realize that dust in Islam is not something impure, but is, in fact, a purifier in some cases; when you cannot find water with which to make your ablutions before praying, you can purify yourself with dust in a process called tayammum. In addition, we can also see that the verse in Surat Ar-Rahman describes the process of creation as if it was a work of art.

In another place in the Quran, we are told that Allah made {of water every living thing} (Al-Anbiyaa’ 21:30), which is another and more universally accepted medium of purification. We also realize that the Quran gives special attention to the creation of Man. The creation of the heavens and the earth and all that is within them is mentioned with examples throughout the Quran. Here and there Allah emphasizes on the creation of certain creatures such as the camel, the stars, the bees, the ants, and the spider, among others. However, none of these descriptions take as much care and detail as those related to the creation of Man.

So what we have in the beginning is a creature fashioned by divine ability of Allah out of the pure and purifying elements of dust and water, both of which are the essence of life—out of dust and water comes the clay and soil from which come the plants and trees on which the birds and insects and animals live.

The first created human was Adam (peace be upon him). The Quran then goes on to describe the creation of his mate, Hawaa’ (Eve):

{O mankind! Be careful of your duty to your Lord Who created you from a single soul and from it created its mate and from them twain hath spread abroad a multitude of men and women.} (An-Nisaa’ 4:1)

It is important to note that both man and woman came from a single soul, and thereby, neither is better than the other. All of mankind originated from that soul, a concept that leaves no space for discrimination between races, ethnicities, social status, economic situations, and sexes.

Man was created pure and sinless. The concept of Original Sin is rejected by Islam, as no one is held responsible for someone else’s sins. Instead, Allah gives us a fresh start in life. In Islam, there is no absolutist theory of human nature being “inherently evil,” as some philosophers have suggested. Rather, Allah created us with a fitrah, or inherent nature, which can, if neglected, over time become corrupted. The closer a person is to his fitrah, the purer he is and the closer he becomes to Allah. This inherent nature includes the belief in One Creator:

{Then set your face upright for religion in the right state– the nature made by Allah in which He has made men; there is no altering of Allah’s creation; that is the right religion, but most people do not know.} (Ar-Rum 30:30)

Despite this perfect state into which Man is born, he is not burdened with the task of attaining perfection. Allah does not expect us to remain as pure as the day we were born. He, in His infinite wisdom, knows that unlike the rest of His creation, Man has chosen to be given the freedom of choice and will, and therefore, is prone to error. Man can sin and then repent and then sin again and then repent, in a cycle that continues his whole life. Humans are capable of both good and evil, each depending on the choices that they make. Rather than expecting the impossible, Allah gives us options in which we can return to our original state through the purifying process of repentance.

In another verse of the Quran, the special honor that has been bestowed on humans is clearly spelled out:

{Verily we have honored the Children of Adam. We carry them on the land and the sea, and have made provision of good things for them, and have preferred them above many of those whom We created with a marked preferment.} (Al-Israa’ 17:70)

The honor lies not only in the particular attention given to the creation of Man, but also in his role in this life, his destiny in the afterlife, and the multi-partite nature he has been blessed with.

Allah makes clear from the very beginning that Man was created as a khalifah, or vicegerent, on earth. This responsibility was not given to any other creation of Allah. Allah has entrusted Man to cultivate, maintain, and rule the earth. It is his duty to rule with responsibility, and to take care of the earth, using the rules Allah has set down for him in the Quran and through the example of the prophets over time and the final example of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him).

Man is honored again in the afterlife. On the Day of Judgment, Man is guaranteed the Fairest and Most Just of all judges—Allah—to weigh his deeds, words, and intentions. Man is honored with the promise of Paradise, which is a reward so beautiful that the Prophet Muhammad described it as being what no eye has ever seen, what no ears have ever heard, and what has never crossed the heart of any human.

The multi-partite nature that Man has been blessed with highlights the essence of his creation, his role, and his destiny. Rather than stressing on the body or the soul in isolation, Islam endorses a multi-partite view in which the body, the spirit, the mind, and the conscience of Man are all highlighted. Islam does not endorse a worldview in which the physical body is seen as something “profane” and vulgar and necessarily completely independent from the purity of the spirit. Just as the spirit can be purified, the purification of the body is also an important part of everyday life.

Islam also respects both the mind and the conscience of Man. Many verses in the Quran stress the importance of using the mind when it says what means:

{Certainly We have revealed to you a Book in which is your good remembrance; what! do you not then understand?} (Al-Anbiyaa’ 21:10)

Also it says what means:

{It is He Who gives life and death, and to Him [is due] the alternation of Night and Day: will ye not then understand?} (Al-Mu’minun 23:80)

And again:

{Will they not then ponder on the Qur’an? If it had been from other than Allah they would have found therein much incongruity.} (An-Nisaa’ 4:82)

Pondering, understanding, thinking, are all encouraged. It is Man’s conscience that leads him to repent sincerely when he has sinned, thereby paving the way for Allah’s guaranteed forgiveness.

All of these aspects are not taken separately, but are seen as working in a mutually interdependent harmony, each supporting the other towards the goal of achieving inner peace and content in this life and the next.

Therefore, Man is not seen as a single-faceted entity, but rather as a multi-dimensional, honored being with a purpose in life and a goal to achieve. He is considered holistically, rather than partially. He is endowed with the abilities and traits which can help him both achieve his mission here on earth and elevate himself through a close relationship with his Creator and attain Paradise.

I hope this answers your question, Joban. If you have any further enquiries, please do not hesitate to contact us. Keep in touch.