What is the Islamic view of Humanity?
Each person is composed of three parts—spirit, carnal
soul, and body. Each of these needs to be satisfied. They are so interrelated,
and their needs are so different, that neglecting one results in our failing
to attain perfection.
The path to perfection
As we read in the Qur’an:
Fair in the eyes of men is the love of what they covet: women, children, stored-up
heaps of gold and silver, horses of mark, cattle and tillage (3:14).
Our physical make-up and individual characteristics produce certain inclinations,
and we can neither avoid satisfying these lusts implanted in us by the
Creator nor be rid of them. This does not mean that people attempting to satisfy
their lusts are free to do as they please or cannot overcome their inclinations.
On the contrary, this means that we can change our inclinations by exercising
our free will, and can control our lust, anger, and other emotions and then
use them to propel ourselves along the path of perfection and wisdom.
Made of dust (our earthly element) and spirit (our heavenly
element), we have to satisfy both our material and spiritual needs. Just as
we are subject to anger and passion, so can we exercise our intellect. We are
not just plants or animals; rather, we are unique beings with both plant and
animal aspects. Just as our physical body is subject to its own pleasures and
diseases, our spirit has its own joys and ailments. Sickness harms the body,
while the body’s well-being, health, and whatever is in harmony with its nature
gives it pleasure. As for the spirit, its pleasures and diseases depend on whether
or not the carnal soul has been purified.
Our most important task, inseparable from existence and
our life’s ultimate aim, is to attain felicity and happiness. The most consummate
happiness is to embody and manifest the Divine Attributes and characteristics.
The soul of a truly happy person develops by knowing and loving God, and is
illuminated by an effulgence emanating from the Godhead. When that happens to
a person, he or she radiates only beauty, for beauty can radiate only from that
which is beautiful.
True happiness cannot be reached or retained unless all
of the soul’s faculties and powers are purified and reformed. Doing so either
partially or temporarily will not result in true happiness. This is similar
to physical health. Just as a body can be considered healthy only when all of
its limbs and organs are eternally healthy, people can attain perfect happiness
only when freed from all evil-commanding and animal forces preventing their
ascension to higher realms.
Purifying our faculties and powers does not mean eliminating
desire and anger or destroying our reproductive instincts and capacity for self-defense,
for such abilities are necessary for our continued existence. For example, without
intellect we could not distinguish between good and bad, right and wrong, true
and false; without anger we could not defend ourselves; and without sexual attraction
and desire humanity’s continued existence would be threatened.
We must express our powers and faculties in a balanced
and moderate way so that they can perform their functions properly. Doing so
engenders a particular ability. For example, purifying and training the intellect
brings knowledge and wisdom, purifying anger engenders courage and then forbearance,
and purifying passion and desire develops chastity. The moral virtues acquired
by those rising toward perfection and the realization of true happiness are
wisdom, courage, and chastity.
If every virtue is considered the center of a circle,
and any movement away from the center is considered a vice, each vice becomes
greater the further it moves away from the center. Thus the number of vices
is infinite, for there can be only one center. Moreover the direction of deviation
does not matter, for any deviation from the center is a vice.
Each moral virtue has two extremes. For example, wisdom
has stupidity and cunning, courage has cowardice and rashness, and chastity
has lethargy and uncontrolled lust. Thus the purpose of our existence—perfection—lies
in maintaining a balance and moderation between these two extremes. Concerning
this, ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib is reported to have said:
God gave angels intellect without sexual desire and
passions or anger, and gave animals anger and desire without intellect. He
exalted humanity by bestowing all of these qualities upon it. Accordingly,
if our intellect dominates our desire and ferocity, we rise above angels,
because such a station is attained by people despite obstacles that do not
One important point related to our earthly existence is
that since we are social, civilized beings coexisting with other people, our
earthly life covers social, political, and economic aspects as well as spiritual
ones. Our worldly nature makes it possible for us to be too obedient to our
desires. History shows that when those who are interested only in power finally
attain it, they light fires of oppression and enslave the poor and the weak.
On the other hand, God is All-Just and never approves of injustice and oppression.
Thus the religion He revealed must—and does—cover all aspects of human life.
How do Islam and materialistic
philosophies view the ego?
What follows is a summary of
Said Nursi’s explanation
of how Islam views the human ego and its education, and how this view differs
from those human philosophies based on human arrogance and denial of God:
An absolute and all-encompassing entity has no limits
or terms, and therefore cannot be shaped or formed, or determined in such a
way that its essential nature can be comprehended. For example, light undetermined
by darkness cannot be known or perceived. However, light can be determined if
a real or hypothetical boundary line of darkness is drawn. In the same way,
the Divine Attributes and Names (e.g., Knowledge, Power, Wisdom, and Compassion)
cannot be determined, for they are all-encompassing and have no limits or like.
Therefore, as their essence cannot be known or perceived, a hypothetical boundary
is needed for them to become known.
In order to make Himself known through His Attributes
and Names, God Almighty drew a hypothetical line before His all-encompassing
Attributes and Names. This line is the human ego. By reflecting all of His Attributes
and Names on it and thereby making it an essential dimension of human existence,
the ego became a Divine trust, an arena in which the manifestations of Divine
Attributes and Names are reflected in order to mirror the Divine Being. The
ego imagines within itself a fictitious lordship, power, and knowledge as reflections
of their Divine counterparts, and so posits a boundary line, hypothesizes a
limit to the all-encompassing Divine Attributes, and says: “This is mine, and
the rest is His.” Ego thus makes a division. By means of the miniature measure
it contains, ego slowly comes to understand the true nature of the Divine Attributes
Ego can understand the Lordship of the Creator of the
universe through this imagined lordship, as well as the real Ownership of its
Creator by means of its own apparent ownership. This enables it to say: “I own
this house, just as the Creator owns all of creation.” Ego obtains a degree
of understanding of His Absolute Knowledge through its partial knowledge, and
can intuit the Exalted Fashioner’s primary, originative art through its defective,
acquired art. For example, ego says: “I built and arranged this house, so there
must be One Who made and arranged this universe.”
Ego contains thousands of states, attributes, and perceptions
that disclose and make the Divine Attributes and essential Qualities knowable
to some extent. It is like a measure, a mirror, or an instrument for seeing
or finding out, an entity with an indicative function. Having no meaning in
itself, it discloses meaning outside itself. It is a strand of consciousness
from the thick rope of human existence, a fine thread from the celestial weave
of humanity’s essential nature, a hypothetical line from the book of human character.
That character has two aspects or faces. One looks toward
good and existence and, unable to create, only receives what is given. The other
looks toward evil and derives from non-existence. Here ego is active. Ego’s
real nature is indicative—like a letter that has no meaning by itself—and points
to the meaning of things other than itself. Its lordship is completely hypothetical,
and its existence so weak and insubstantial that it cannot bear or support anything
on its own. Rather, ego is a scale or measure designed to show the degrees and
quantities of what is measured. The Necessary Being’s absolute, all-encompassing,
and limitless Attributes can become known, to some degree, through it.
Those who know and realize this reality of their essential
nature and act accordingly are included in: Truly he [she] who purifies it succeeds
and prospers (91:9). They carry out the trust and, through their ego, see what
the universe is and what duties it performs. Since they find in themselves a
point of confirmation with respect to their Creator’s Existence and Oneness,
they see that their ego confirms the information they have gathered about the
universe. As a result, this information retains the quality of light and wisdom
and is not changed into darkness and futility.
When ego has performed its duty correctly, it renounces
its claim to lordship and hypothetical ownership (mere devices of measurement)
and proclaims: “His is the sovereignty and ownership of all beings, and to Him
is due all praise and thanks. His is the judgment and rule, and to Him you are
returning.” Thus it achieves true worship and attains the rank of the best pattern
But if ego forgets the Divine purpose of its creation,
abandons the duty of its nature, and views itself as a self-existing being independent
of the Creator, it betrays the trust and falls into the class of those warned
and threatened by: And he [she] who corrupts it fails (91:10). This development
is responsible for all of the polytheism, evil, and deviation that have caused
the heavens, Earth, and the mountains to be terrified of assuming the trust,
lest they be led to associate partners with God.
Followers of materialistic and naturalistic philosophies
have adopted this second face of ego. They consider ego as having an essential
meaning of its own, for they view it as an independent existence, an index only
to itself, and as working wholly on its own behalf. Considering its existence
necessary and essential, they mistakenly assume that it owns its being, is the
real lord and master of its own domain, and is a permanent reality entrusted
with a quest for self-perfection to acquire self-esteem.
Such ideas cause ego to swell until it gradually permeates
all parts of a human being, to change from a hypothetical line or “light vapor”
into a “viscous liquid.” Our indifference to creation’s miraculous truths (with
which we are now “too familiar”) and our preoccupation with this world and natural
sciences causes that “liquid” to “harden.” After this, our neglect and denial
cause ego to “freeze.” Losing its refined and opaque nature, due to ingrained
rebelliousness, arrogance, injustice, and wrong viewpoints, it increases in
density until it envelops the person. Like some huge monster, the ego completely
swallows its owner so that he or she and his or her faculties become no more
than its slave.
Eventually, the ego of the human race strengthens the
individual ego through individual and national racism, causing this now-swollen
ego to contest the Majestic Maker’s commands, just as Satan did. Finally it
considers itself the yardstick by which everyone and everything else should
be compared and measured. Thus it divides God’s sovereignty between itself and
other causes and associates partners with God in the most grievous manner. To
justify its position, it then shares God’s acts with many other things (e.g.,
causality, idols, natural forces, and matter), just like a thief who seeks to
justify his or her theft by claiming to have taken a certain amount for each
of his or her friends.
As a result, people can no longer perceive and confess
their impotence and weakness, insufficiency and need, deficiency and imperfection,
which are basic to human beings, and thus cannot fulfill the purpose of their
creation: to worship and serve God as He wills. Immersed in naturalism and ascribing
partners to God, they cannot locate the wide open doors of gratitude and thus
are the people mentioned in: To associate partners
with God is the highest wrongdoing (31:13).
This betrayal of the Divine trust causes ego to sink into
absolute ignorance. Regardless of how much science it has acquired, knowledge
only compounds its ignorance. Whatever glimmers of knowledge of God it obtains
from the universe through its senses or reflective powers are extinguished,
for it can no longer find within itself anything with which to confirm, polish,
and maintain them. Whatever comes to ego is stained with the colors within it.
If pure wisdom were to come, an ego stained by atheism, polytheism, or other
forms of denying the All-Mighty could not even absorb a small fraction of it.
If the whole universe were full of shining indications of God, one dark point
in that ego would cause them to be hidden, just as if they were invisible.
Philosophies based on denying God and disobeying religion
cause ego to pick up the reins and gallop headlong into error. Their principles
approve of power, for they believe that “might is right” and live by the maxims
of “all power to the strongest,” “winner takes all,” and “right comes from power.”
They give moral support to tyranny, encourage dictators, urge oppressors to
claim divinity, and consider conflict to be social life’s fundamental principle.
In fact, conflict springs from tyrants, brutes, and savage people misusing their
innate dispositions. Conflict is so fundamental and general to the their line
of reasoning that they absurdly claim: “Life is conflict.”
By ascribing the beauty of the Divine works of art and
the threads of which they are made to the works and threads themselves instead
of to the Maker and Fashioner’s pure, sacred Beauty, they say: “How beautiful
it is” instead of: “How beautifully it has been made,” and thus consider each
as an idol worthy of adoration. Such philosophies assume the form of an evil
tree spreading its dark veils of ascribing partners to God and of misguidance
to countless people. The branch of empowered reason or intellect, one of human
nature’s three main drives, yields the fruits of atheism, materialism, and naturalism
for the intellect’s consumption. The branch of empowered anger and passion produces
such tyrants as Pharaoh, Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin, while the branch of
empowered animal desires and appetites produces the fruits of goddesses, idols,
and those who claim divinity.
In sum, the powers of evil have flattered the reason of
philosophers and thrown them, in their self-conceit and arrogance, into the
abyss of deviation. They have transformed ego into a false deity (microcosm)
and nature into an object of worship (macrocosm).
Hence, whoever rejects false deities and believes
in God has grasped a most unfailing support that never will give way: God is
the All-Hearing, All-Knowing (2:256).
In contrast, the blessed line of Prophethood represents
ego’s first, purified face and assumes the form of a blessed tree of worship
bearing the fruits of Prophets, Messengers, saints, and the righteous in the
garden of Earth and on the branch of empowered reason or intellect. On the branch
of empowered anger, which defends against and repels evil, it yields the fruits
of virtuous and just rulers and governors. On the branch of empowered attractiveness,
it bears the fruits of generous, benevolent persons of good character and modest
bearing. As a result, this line shows humanity as creation’s perfect fruit.
This line is the origin of pure worship and servitude
to God, for the ego represented by this line knows that it is His servant, that
it was created to serve One other than itself, and that its essential nature
has only an indicative function. Ego understands that it bears the meaning of
One other than itself and is meaningful only when pointing to that One upon
Whom its existence depends. Believing that its existence and life depend upon
that One’s creativity and Existence, ego knows that its feeling of ownership
is illusory, that it enjoys only an apparent and temporary ownership by the
real Owner’s permission, and that it has only a shadow-like reality. Understanding
itself as a contingent entity, an insignificant shadow manifesting the true
and necessary Truth, ego knows that its function is limited to serving as a
conscious and willing measure and balance for its Creator’s Attributes and essential
This is how Prophets, pure and righteous people, and saints
following the Prophets’ line perceive ego’s nature. As a result, they ascribe
sovereignty only to the Exalted Sovereign of creation; believe that He has no
partner or like in His Sovereignty, Lordship, and Divinity; has no need of an
assistant or deputy; and that He possesses the key to and absolute power over
all things. They also believe that causes serve as veils to conceal reality
and that nature is no more than the sum of His creation’s rules, an assemblage
of His laws through which He displays His Power.
This radiant, luminous, and beautiful face of ego always
has been like a living seed full of meaning, a seed from which the Exalted Creator
has created the blessed tree of worship whose branches have adorned humanity
with such illustrious fruits. This face lifts the past’s darkness, thereby enabling
us to know that it is a source of light, a bright shining ladder whose many
rungs enable all souls traversing it to leap into the future and eternal happiness,
and a radiant abode and garden for souls that have left this world, cast off
their heavy loads, and been set free, as opposed to what the materialist, naturalist,
and even existentialist philosophies claim it to be: a domain of eternal extinction
or a vast graveyard.
Prophethood teaches that our aim and function is to be
molded by Divine values and achieve good character. Prophets believe that we
should perceive our impotence and seek refuge with Divine Power, perceive our
weakness and rely on Divine Strength, realize our insufficiency and essential
poverty and trust in Divine Mercy, know our need and seek help from Divine Riches,
see our faults and plead for pardon through Divine Forgiveness, and perceive
our inadequacy and glorify Divine Perfection.
Prophethood states that the principles upon which human
social life is to be based are mutual assistance, magnanimity, and generosity,
since all things, from the sun and the moon and down to particles, work together
in ways determined by reciprocal cooperation. For example, plants help animals,
animals help people, and particles of food help the body’s cells.
What are the differences
between Islam and other religions with respect to
the spiritual education of humanity?
Islam and other religious traditions
Almost all moral or religious revival movements prior
to Islam emerged or developed as reactions against existing circumstances. This
explains why they lacked some principles and did not deal with every aspect
of life and humanity. For example, Taoism taught a corrupt and vice-ridden China
to neglect material pleasure. Confucianism was opposed to these principles and
called upon those who had retreated to monasteries to seek spiritual purification
and individual piety to establish a virtuous state and live a fully social life
among the people. India’s vast fertile country was invaded several times, which
caused its religions to become very mystical. In addition, asceticism grew as
a reaction against the previously prevalent luxury and debauchery.
Christianity, particularly in the beginning, developed
too much as an otherworldly religion. One reason was its emergence in an atmosphere
dominated by worldliness. Another reason was because, as Jesus admitted, it
was a revelation for a particular nation at a particular time and in particular
circumstances, and so was not the final and complete Divine message:
I have much more to tell you, but now it
would be too much for you to bear. However, when the Spirit of truth comes,
who reveals the truth about God, he will lead you into all the truth. He will
not speak on his own authority, but will speak of what he hears and tell you
of things to come. (John 16:12-13)
Five centuries later, the entire truth was revealed to
humanity via the Spirit of truth, known to history as Prophet Muhammad. God
revealed that the message he brought was universal (34:28), that he spoke only
what was revealed to him, and that he did not speak on his own authority. Such
facts were foretold by Jesus (John 16:12-13) and mentioned in the Qur’an (53:3-4).
Only Muhammad has emerged as a Prophet after Jesus, and
only he has been used by God to reveal His truth. Before this, polytheism and
other denials of monotheism were prevalent: Most
of humanity does not believe in Him, but associate other gods with Him
(12:106). As people measured not God with His true
measure (6:91), some believed that He had a son while others considered
the angels to be His daughters.
The Prophet revealed the truth about God and emphasized
His Unity. With him, God perfected religion and declared that the true religion
with Him is Islam (3:19) and: therefore, whoso desires
another religion than Islam, it shall not be accepted of him; in the next world
he shall be among the losers (3:85). Jesus stated: He [the Spirit of
truth] shall glorify me, for he shall receive of mine and show it to you (John
16:14), and the Prophet acknowledged Jesus’ true glory by revealing the true
importance of his life and teachings. Finally, he brought Islam, the last and
complete message, because he is the Seal of Prophets.
Given all of this, Islam is a religion that contains a
complete guidance for all aspects of life regardless of time and place; a faith-based
system of life that combines action, intention, and faith and considers the
totality of human life. Although it concentrates on our spiritual aspect, it
does not neglect life’s socioeconomic and administrative aspects. In fact, the
Qur’an mentions the qualifications of the people chosen by God Almighty to guide
and educate humanity and describes the foundations of a perfect community as
follows: Thus We appointed for you a Messenger from
among you so that he will recite to you Our signs, purify you, and teach you
the Book, wisdom, and what you do not know (2:151).
As Islam is the way of love, knowledge, and action, humanity
needs signs to implement it. Thus every event in the universe and human life
is no more than a sign upon which we are to contemplate and through which we
can find ways to the Sublime Creator. By contemplating these signs in the light
of the Qur’an’s guidance, we acquire knowledge of God and faith and lead a virtuous
life based upon Islam, which purifies our soul from evil and sin. Such contemplation
enables us to “discover” modern science, all of which originates in the signs
(commonly known as the Divine laws of nature).
However, we should note that only purified souls can use
science and technology to benefit humanity. If this fact is ignored, such knowledge
can lead to millions of deaths, widows and orphans, and homeless people, as
we saw throughout the twentieth century. Only purified souls familiar with science
and knowing how to use it can lead humanity toward true happiness and salvation.
Obviously, such purified individuals endowed with scientific
knowledge and ability must live among the people. Thus the Messenger was sent
with the Qur’an, which contains the Divine principles of social life, and the
Balance so that we could follow absolute justice.14 Any religion or system that
lacks the principles of spiritual purity or the conditions of a virtuous social
life cannot provide true happiness. As will be explained, and as witnessed by
history, Islam provides a complete guidance for our lives here and in the next
world. Prophet Muhammad was sent as the blessing for all the worlds, and so
there is no need to renew the Divine message through another Prophet—we already
have the eternal and uncorrupted Qur’an.
Some people argue that Islam, now 1,400 years old, is
obsolete and unsuitable, that new guidance is required. Such an assertion is
totally unfounded, for Islam was revealed by God and thus is eternal, as He
is. Our knowledge is limited, whereas God’s Knowledge is all-inclusive. God
is also omniscient, for He is not limited by time and space as we are.
Moreover, Islam is based on essential human nature, which
does not change over time or according to location. It is a modern illusion
that everything is subject to change. Human life and nature show a beautiful
balance between elements of permanence and change: Outward forms change, while
fundamental principles, basic values, and essential human nature and needs do
The Qur’an and Sunna propound Islam’s eternal principles,
while deductive reasoning based upon them (ijtihad) meets the needs of every
age. Ijtihad is neither independent reasoning (Joseph Schacht) nor free thinking
(Hamilton Gibb), but a technical legal term and principle defined by Muslim
scholars as “the competency or legal ability to deduce rules of law through
juristic speculation from original sources where definite authentic decisive
texts are not specific.” For example, Islam does not object to modern traffic
laws, but considers murder a capital sin and a grave crime worthy of severe
punishment even if committed by someone driving a car.
Someone once said to a famous Muslim jurist: “You argue
that the Qur’an contains every principle related to modern needs. If so, does
it say how many loaves of bread can be made from a kilo of flour?” The jurist’s
answer is very significant to understanding the matter’s essence: “Yes, the
Qur’an gives that information in 16:43, which tells us that if we don’t know
something we must ask the experts. So ask a baker about it.”
Islam is the only religion that embraces all dimensions
of life and possesses an established method that allows for the perennial evolution
of human society in accordance with life’s fundamental principles and permanent
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