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Islamic view of humanity and its relationship with religion

Immediately after our birth, we have no conscious knowledge of ourselves or our surrounding environment. And yet we are not aliens, but rather beings who are fitted to survive here. For example, each person’s body is made up of the same elements that exist in nature. The building blocks making up Earth’s mineral, vegetable, and animal elements also constitute the sperm and the egg that, when joined, initiate our earthly life. And yet no one knows how this inanimate matter is transformed into living forms. We can say only that it is a direct gift of the Creator. Thus we are children of nature and aware of ourselves as creatures made by the Creator. Such awareness makes us aware of the second aspect of our being: our heavenly aspect.

Typically, children are born into a welcoming environment and know the embrace of parents and a wider family of relatives. Moreover, they are immediately provided with the most perfect nourishment: a mother’s milk. As they grow, children experience the world as a fully ordered environment of sight and sounds, heat and light and rainfall, and an infinite diversity of plants, fruits, and animals. All of these enable children to exercise and enlarge the senses, feelings, and intellect implanted within them by the Creator.

Likewise, their bodies function without their conscious effort or decision. Each person receives a minutely arranged and coordinated physical body as a gift from the Creator when He bestows life, so that his or her life may be supported and mature. Very little of what we have can be said to be our own doing. In fact, without the Creator’s help, we could not even manage our own bodies and therefore would die. 

The One Who created the universe and subjected it to our stewardship is also the One Who created us. Given this, it makes perfect sense to consider what our responsibility is and, considering all that we have been given, to reflect on how we will answer for ourselves and for what has been placed in our care. Human responsibility before the Creator is voluntary, whereas all non-human creatures perform their duties without reflection but also without defect.

The apparent efficiency of modern technology obscures our relative impotence and vulnerability. We cannot create even a leaf or a fly, although we are free to tamper with God’s creation to the extent He wills. We have no dominion over our body’s operations, such as its hunger or thirst, or the world. We cannot determine our parents, our time and place of birth and death, or our physique or physical structure. We have to use the natural world to sustain and enlarge our lives. The One Who subjected nature to us also implanted within us the necessary intellectual faculties by which we can use nature. Our intellect is capable of obtaining some knowledge of nature’s orderly operations and then formulating laws based upon the observed uniformity and reliability. These laws are our imperfect, human intimations of the supreme laws created and used by the Supreme Being to create the universe.

Our humanity and development. 

The quality of being human comes from our immaterial and spiritual aspects, not from our natural and material aspects. The spirit and intellect do not originate in the physical body, for the spirit’s departure from a dead body reduces that body to something that will decompose into the soil. The body remains for a while, but all of its former senses are now absent. This means that the spirit uses the body, and that only life gives the body any meaning.

This body–spirit relation can be understood somewhat by the following analogy: A factory, no matter how complex, sophisticated, and excellent, has no more value than a pile of mechanical junk if there is no electricity to operate it. This does not mean that the spirit is everything in and of itself and that the body is junk; rather, the spirit needs matter or a corporeal form to express its powers and functions.

A fruit tree’s future life is encapsulated in its seed, and a tree is worth only as much as the value of the fruit it yields. In the same way, each person’s life-history is recorded and is of value only in proportion to the number of good deeds done and the level of virtue attained. Again, just as a tree increases by means of the seeds in its fruit, we prosper by our good deeds, the weight and consequence of which one day will be revealed to us.

We scatter our deeds in this world and harvest the results in the next world. Given this, the All-Majestic, All-Powerful, All-Wise Creator, Who brings us into existence from non-existence and Who brings us to life by breathing the “spirit” into our bodies fashioned from nature’s clay, will resurrect us after we decompose into the ground. For Him, doing so is as easy as bringing day after night, spring after winter, and making what appears to be dry wood at the end of autumn yield grapes the following summer.

In addition to all of this, we have three principal drives: desire, anger, and intellect. We desire or lust after the opposite sex, and love our children and worldly possessions. We direct our anger at what stands in our way, and by using it can defend ourselves. Our intellect enables us to make right decisions. The Creator does not restrain these drives, but rather requires us to seek perfection through self-discipline so that we do not misuse them. It is this struggle that determines our humanity, for without it we would have no purpose and would be the same as all other non-human creatures.

Only people mature spiritually and intellectually, for no other part of creation has the necessary ingredient for this process: free will. All of them live lives that are wholly determined within nature, for without free will they have no way to keep themselves within the correct limits. If we ignore these limits, we may usurp the property of others or seek illicit sexual relations, or use our intellect to deceive others.

This is why our powers must be held in check. Our intellect was given to us to be used with wisdom, and our desire and anger to be used lawfully and in moderation. Moreover, since we are social beings we must restrain ourselves, or else wrongdoing, injustice, exploitation, disorder, and revolution will occur.

But what is lawful and right, moderate and wise? Who decides the criteria, and how will they be accepted by people? Who am I? Where do I come from? What is my final destination? What does death demand from me? Who is my guide on this journey, beginning from clay and passing through the stages of a sperm-drop, a blood-clot, and a lump of flesh, another creation where the spirit is breathed into my body, and finally reaching the grave and through there to the Hereafter? In all of these questions lie the essential problem of human life.

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Last Updated on April 15, 2002

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