By Marwa El-Naggar
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 internalized, each with his personal eccentricities and special traits that make each of us individuals.
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 toward 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.
To better tackle this subject, perhaps we should go back to the very beginning, the creation of Man. In the Qur’an, Allah says: “And among His signs is this that He created you (Adam) from dust, and then — behold, you are human beings scattered!” (30:20)
In another Surah, we are told that: “He created man (Adam) from sounding clay, like the clay of pottery.” (Qur’an 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 Surah Ar-Rahman describing the process of creation as if it was a work of art.
In another place in the Qur’an, we are told that Allah made every living thing from water (21:30), which is another and more universally accepted medium of purification. We also realize that the Qur’an gives special attention to the creation of man. The creation of the heavens and the earth and all that is within them are mentioned with examples throughout the Qur’an.
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 Qur’an then goes on to describe the creation of his mate, Hawwa’ (Eve): “O mankind! Be dutiful to your Lord, Who created you from a single person (Adam), and from him (Adam) He created his wife [Hawwa (Eve)] and from them both He created many men and women...” (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. 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, becomes 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
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 was 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 through 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 Qur’an, the special honor that has been bestowed on humans is clearly spelled out: “And indeed We have honored the Children of Adam, and We have carried them on land and sea, and have provided them with Al-Tayyibat (lawful good things), and have preferred them above many of those whom We have created with a marked preferment.” (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 Qur’an and through the example of the prophets over time and the final example of Prophet Muhammad (peace 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 Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) 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.
Islam also respects both the mind and the conscience of man. Many verses in the Qur’an stress the importance of using the mind when it says: “Indeed, We have sent down for you (O mankind) a Book (the Qur’an) in which there is Dhikrukum, (your reminder or an honor for you, i.e. honor for the one who follows the teaching of the Qur’an and acts on its teachings). Will you not then understand?” (21:10)
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 toward 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.
– The writer is one of the editors at Ask About Islam.