On the Islamic Notion of Man

On the Islamic Notion of Man


To date, scholars from different fields and disciplines have attempted to describe and discuss the nature of man and his presence on earth in order to find a proper meaning over his true nature. In lieu of this, there are a myriad views about the nature of man;
Anthropologists hold that there is nothing unique about man because they have varying identities for them, but the gravamen of this view is that identity is flexible and can be shaped by culture and history.
In the Marxist view, man is deemed an economic entity who works hard to achieve his goals. The positivist school of thought assumed man as a machine and they claimed that if the right data is uploaded into this machine, a happy future is attainable.
Scholars like August Comte and Emile Durkheim reject the autonomy of man and emphasize on the importance of society and its social structure over the man.
While as interactionists like G.H Mead and H. Blumer assumed that man adopt his beliefs and decides on his actions, and they emphasize on the importance of man over social structure. The notion of man and his relationship, therefore, to society and the universe remains disputed issues in history and social science.
But, Islam views the overall make up of man as a whole and does not separate one aspect from the other. Man is created in the best form of creation with both inner and outer beauty and potential(s). As the Quran puts it in Surah At-Tin: “We have certainly created man in the best of stature”.
Despite the inherent nature of carnal desires and id in man, he is not in a passive submission state to these instincts; man also has the capacity, with his intellect and free will to control, regulate and utilize these feelings in the right way. The Quran says: “And we inspired it with discernment of its wickedness and its righteousness”.
According to Allama Iqbal, in the Quran, God commands humans to fight against their evil thoughts and desires. This command is not intended to destroy the ego; rather it is to foster a deeper, inner strengthening of its given will which can then defeat evil. Such an outlook rejects the ideas of passive submission of Durkheim, August Comte and rejects the view of Jabariyah’s and requires an active and willful obedience.
In the Islamic notion, man’s value is equal to the entire universe, because God exclusively assigned him/her as His vicegerent on earth. The Qur’an mentions man as the vicegerent, or representative of God (Khalifat Allah Fil – Ard.)
Allah consulted with his angels about His selection for the position of Khalifa on earth. Although, angels warned Him about man’s possible future of violence and mischief, Allah dismissed their objection by saying that He knows what they do not know about human possibilities.
In order to demonstrate the superiority of humankind more clearly, God said, ‘O Adam, inform angles of these things and beings with their names. Endowing man with this intuitive knowledge and skills, God has granted authority to man to intervene, create and control things to some extent-in the overall plan of his sojourn on earth.
Armed with this endowment, man would gain sovereignty in his own realm on earth and also act freely in the universe, on behalf of God. With this authority man judges, makes decisions and takes action in the name of God.
Islamic Man is not a social animal which happens to speak and think in its cultural context but a being that possesses a soul and a spirit created by God. The Islamic man contains within himself the plant and animal natures as he is the crown of creation (Ashraf al-Makhluqat , the noblest creature)
Ibn ‘Arabi, the great Sufi master of the thirteenth century, states that among the reflections of God in the universe the human being is the most polished and capable mirror which shows God. For him, man consists of two parts; the first part is Haqq (the ultimate reality) and the second part is ‘alam (the universe).
The physical component is ‘alam and the spiritual or metaphysical component is the image of God which is strongly related with the spirit that God has breathed into the body.
Man has not evolved from the lower forms of life what Charles Darwin claimed. Man has always been man. This notion can be clear understood by the words of an outstanding Muslim thinker of this century, Seyyed Hossein Nasr.
He argues that man is a pontifical creature who serves as a bridge between the terrestrial and the celestial worlds. Neither angel nor animal in the absolute sense, man is more than what scientific knowledge knows about him.
Man’s intellect, his psyche and his spirit have endowed him with attributes and capacities that go beyond the wildest dreams of the scientific community. Rather than enclose man within the biological framework of Darwinian theory, man should be seen as a creature that yearns for a rendezvous with the source of his life and existence. (Nasr contends that source is not the atoms but the metaphysical and transcendental being)
At the core of Islamic notion about man is the innate dignity conferred by God on him. The Qur’an unambiguously declares: “We have bestowed dignity on the progeny of Adam, and conferred on them special favours, above a great part of our creation.” Thus man has the right to live a life worthy of dignity as the vicegerent, or representative of God on earth.

—The author can be reached at: [email protected]

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