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Muhammad Shama {*}

Honour to Man in Islam


From the periodical of the Catholic Academy in Bavaria
'zur debatte', 7/2007, pp 19-21
webmaster's own, not authorized translation


From time immemorial the philosophers have always been at a loss with the description of man. They defined him as follows: He was an animal endowed with reason, a working animal, a resident animal, a metaphysical animal or a laughing animal, etc. Some of them turned to the dark side of man by defining him as wolf for his brother man, as beast of prey or the only animal that causes pain to others - and that admittedly only for the purpose of causing pain. Or he was a minor particle wandering about somewhere in the vast silent universe, or a useless capriole. Or he was in the midst of existence as the biggest mistake and incurable disease as well as a dilemma that life has reached in the course of its development. Yes, the Existentialists went even further by illustrating the "senselessness" of human existence; their leaders Sartre said for instance, "Man is the being that feels it has been created without value; I think that he understands himself by the description of senselessness that has no value. He always knows that he is superfluous. De trop."

When we open the books of theologians, Church Fathers, Pascal, Bossuet, of Massillon and others who speak in the name of the Christian tradition, we find that man - according to their view - was a low creature that has neither any purity nor any virtue or innocence in itself. Among the representatives of the theory of "original sin" he is a failing and bestial creature. His low desire makes him blind; if there was not his fear of hell fire or his respect for the institutions of power in society, he would dare to commit the basest deadly sins and the most abominable crimes.

Islam speaks about man since the beginning of creation. It explains that God created the first man (Adam) from sticking clay. So the Lord says: ... Surely We created them of firm clay. (sura 37, verse 11). God also mentioned that HE created him from malleable clay mixed with black sludge. So HE says: And when your Lord said to the angels:



Surely I am going to create a mortal of the essence of black mud fashioned in shape." (sura 15, verse 28). So we notice that God mentioned three substances from which HE created man, namely, first, firmly sticking clay, secondly dry malleable clay and thirdly smelling malleable black sludge. As regards the clay, it is dust mixed with water. After some time it becomes black and stinky and is malleable clay dough. In the end it is the stinky black mud with which figures and statues are moulded. Are they now the phases for the composition of Adam's creation from the dust that has no value in the world of earthen components? Maybe! This induced some of the materialists to say that man was worthless: "If we take a human being that weights approximately 63 kilograms and analyze its composition, we find that his body contains the following substances:

A quantity fat - enough for the production of seven pieces of soap, a quantity carbon - enough for the production of seven pencils, a quantity phosphorus - enough for the production of one hundred twenty matches, a quantity magnesium - enough for a single dose of laxative, a quantity iron - enough to produce a medium-sized nail, a quantum lime - enough to white-wash a hen-coop, a quantity sulphur - enough to free the skin of a single dog from the fleas sitting in his hair, and a quantity water that fills a keg of ten gallons. "

These substances can be bought on the market for a few euros. According to the view of that group of materialists this then is the value of man: A conglomerate of material elements fitted together in a certain way, so that they fulfil various tasks - though well-ordered and harmonizing. Would that order be impaired and would the factors of harmony fluctuate, the components would fall apart and melt, they would form something else, namely, what is called 'death'".

Are in this view, which invites man to despise and disregard himself, which lets see him his existence as something without sense to which is due no attention and also no reflection since it does in no way differ in its composition from what surrounds it, not missing cause and effect between the various substances in the way of chemical reactions even in the subtlest specific characteristics that differentiate him from others: the ability to understand and to think as well as a dynamic cycle that comes to a standstill as soon as a disruptive factor occurs in these chemical reactions or a fluctuation in the process between their various functions.

Without doubt this consideration of man causes that he feels he was nothing (special) with regard to other creatures worth mentioning; for as long as the synthesis is uniform and the elements are equal, and nothing is found that distinguishes him from others he is really like an insect or like an animal with its substance and synthesis. One of the Existentialists expressed the uniformity between man and other living beings by saying, "Are we any idea more than the insects are an idea?! We are no more than our souls, and the insects in exactly the same way. The difference between us and the insects is only the difference of superiority, and the difference of superiority between us and highly developed animals does not much exceed the difference between the lowest insect and the most highly developed animal. What do we lose or what loses the universe, or what lose sun and moon because of the loss of our soul?"

This idea abstracts man from the most subtle of his specific characteristics and robs him of the gift with which God singled him out from HIS other creatures and gave him precedence over them, i.e. by breathing into his body HIS divine breath, so that he was changed into a different being that distinguishes itself by its specific characteristics, inclinations, tendencies and ways of thinking from all other creatures.

God, the Almighty says: So when I have made him complete and breathed into him of My spirit... (sura 15, verse 29). It is this breathing into man that elevates him from the earth and lets float him into heaven, elevated above the other creatures that God created on this earth. So he is a different species that differs from them and precedes them. That is also the reason why he holds sway over them. They on their part have been made serve him, so that he in all his life situations benefits from them. This idea lets man feel the power and dignity and gives him an aura of grandeur and rank, what in its turn lets him feel his authority over everything that surrounds him. So he sets about cultivating the universe, so that he realizes the following words of God, of the Almighty, " ... HE brought you into being from the earth, and made you dwell in it ... (sura 11, vers 61) and HIS words: ... And He it is Who has made you successors in the land ... (sura 6, verse 165). For man's feeling that he is deputy differs considerably from the feeling that he was a creature just as the insects and worms of the earth.

The materialists' consideration of man is not uniform. So they have different opinions about the elements making up the human being, and differ also in explaining his existence. While some of them think that he was a lump of flesh, blood and bones, etc. - as we have previously described it, others hold the thesis that his existence in this form was a link in the development chain of living beings. Thus man is according to their view the brother of the insects, but his development took place faster, so that he was changed into this form. One of the most famous statements in this regard is the opinion of Darwin, which can be summed up in the fact that man as living being went through three phases in his development stages, in the last phase he change into his present shape, in the phase of the monkey. So the opinion spread among people that man is descended from the apes.

This way of looking at man does not differ from the previously mentioned, because both degrade him and set him in contradiction to what him distinguishes from the other living beings. It recognises of course man's development, but the concept of this development depends here on the material elements. It does not get as far as to what is behind the matter: spirit and soul and grandeur and transparency, and does even not go beyond the existence of a well-developed animal that develops from one stage to another until it is where man now stands. For the animal is his origin and materialism his throne. He consists only of the lower elements, even if they developed a bit more upwards than similar others.

Is that not to be regarded as the worst idea of man's soul?

Is there something that is worse than this view of his life?

Man sees himself as a low creature that differs in no way from animals. He distinguishes himself by no preference that raises his reputation and strengthens his position among the creatures. In the shadow of this view he feels the poor state, the dirtiness and degradation. He has accordingly no dislike for dirtiness, since it is his origin. He is also not ashamed to plunge into the realms of dirtiness and morass, for he comes from them. There is nothing that raises him or encourages him to get rid of all that. A pure life is something foreign to him and there is not the slightest connection between him and noble qualities, for he is free of all what could induce him to approach them or what could let grow in him the confidence to them, or the search for them, or the effort to cultivate them. He is mere matter. There is nothing in him what refines this matter or frees it from stains, and lifts it into the world of the noble qualities and thus flies to the horizons of the highest truth, so that he masters lascivious desires and keeps away from material wishes and thus approaches truth and aims at its satisfaction.

The materialists' consideration of man means the contempt of him and the disregard of his nature as well as his decline to the level of brutality. In contrast to it Islam looks at man in a way that he - even if he was created from sticking clay, dry malleable clay and smelling malleable black sludge - is a creature honoured by God, which was regularly shaped and formed by its Lord who precisely and beautifully mastered its moulding. HE created man with his own hands, breathed into him HIS spirit and ordered the angels to prostrate in his honour, and to let him feel that he was distinguished from HIS other creation. In it there is an impulse for man to do everything suitable to be lifted above the material area and so float with it into the heaven of noble qualities. This happens far away from every materialism and its garbage. And he avoids all what is able to draw him down into the abyss where dirtiness, degradation and decline reign - down to a stage that is not at all adequate for him. For he is a creature that is favoured by God before all other creatures: He breathed of HIS spirit into him, honoured him by the prostration of the angels, favoured him with cognition and will, appointed him HIS governor, and made him pivot of the conscious activity in the universe. HE made him serve what in heavens and on earth exists. Therefore everything in the universe is at his disposal, whereas God made him servant or slave of absolutely nothing, but called upon him to serve and adore HIM alone.

The physical status of man among the creatures is hardly worth mentioning. From his size and material composition he is - compared to the universe and also to the many other creatures living on earth - something extremely low; but regarding what God gave him of spirit, thirst for knowledge, will and insight he is something great. Since he has got by those non-physical qualities a noble position, he feels the grandeur and the sovereignty over other creatures. This feeling induces him to use all his available energy, so that he remains high in the heaven of virtue and dignity.


Man Honoured by God

In many verses of the venerable Koran God emphasizes that HE honoured man and favoured him before all other creatures. To them belong the words of the Almighty: And surely We have honoured the children of Adam, and We carry them in the land and the sea, and We have given them of the good things, and We have made them to excel by an appropriate excellence over most of those whom We have created (sura 17, verse 70 ). And HIS words: HE created man. Taught him the mode of expression (sura 55, verses 3-4). And HIS words: Certainly We created man in the best make (sura 95, verse 4). Yes, the description of the venerable Koran that God informed the angels HE would appoint a governor on earth, and how they uttered their fear that this creature would cause disaster on earth, and then God's explanation to them by the cogent argument that this creature would have intellect, knowledge and understanding of what surrounds it is for man even a clear description of the dimensions of his superiority over God's creatures and of the fact that he was favoured before them. For his reason saved him from the materialism's degradation and lifted him into the heaven of comprehension and understanding. The Almighty says: "And when your Lord said to the angels, I am going to place in the earth a khalif, they said: What! wilt Thou place in it such as shall make mischief in it and shed blood, and we celebrate Thy praise and extol Thy holiness? He said: Surely I know what you do not know. And He taught Adam all the names, then presented them to the angels; then He said: Tell me the names of those if you are right. They said: Glory be to Thee! we have no knowledge but that which Thou hast taught us; surely Thou art the Knowing, the Wise. He said: O Adam! inform them of their names. Then when he had informed them of their names, He said: Did I not say to you that I surely know what is ghaib in the heavens and the earth and (that) I know what you manifest and what you hide?" (sura 2, verses 30-33).



God had also ordered the angels to prostrate before Adam - although they are close adoring servants of God who do not rebel against God in what HE orders them, and they are those who day and night praise God's grandeur over every lack; that's why there is no one among God's creatures that was closer to HIM than they - an announcement that man occupies a noble position with the Lord of the Worlds, the Most Venerable. And what kind of position can be compared with his welcome in the worlds of the angels? That welcome came in the form of God's order to the angels that they prostrate - as welcome for him. That welcome expresses sympathy for the great respect and esteem - it is the reason why God made them to those of HIS creatures that are closest to HIM. The Venerable says: When your Lord said to the angels; Surely I am going to create a mortal from dust: So when I have made him complete and breathed into him of My spirit, then fall down making obeisance to him. And the angels did obeisance, all of them, but not Iblis ... (sura 38, verses 71-74).

Iblis has not understood the significance of the prostration before man. He has also not grasped its reason. That's why he commented on his non-prostrating with a mere material manifestation when God asked him why he did not prostrate himself. The sublime says: He said: "O Iblis! what prevented you that you should do obeisance to him whom I created with My two hands? Are you proud or are you of the exalted ones? He said: I am better than he; Thou hast created me of fire, and him Thou didst create of dust" (sura 38, verses 75-76).

Iblis opposed his Lord's order. He did not welcome the new creature. For hatred and envy for the honour of man by God and his being lifted above the rank of angels led him to arrogance. So he rejected the humble submission under God's order. That's why he belongs to those who deny Islam.

And what was now the consequence of this mutiny?
And what was the fate of the one who did not acknowledge man's preference and did therefore not bestow the highly esteemed reverence on him?

The venerable Koran mentions that he was painfully punished, because God took HIS mercy away from him cursed him. So he became everywhere an outcast and is for all times cursed by every tongue. The Venerable says: He said: "Then get out of it, for surely you are driven away: And surely My curse is on you to the day of judgment. (sura 38, verses 77-78). And the one who is cursed by God will find no helpers for himself, and the one from whom God takes away HIS mercy will never feel bliss. On the contrary, his life remains a life of wretchedness, misery and pain, his mind is weighed down until the last hour begins, and that day he will be thrown into hell - a bad end.

And what sin committed Iblis, so that he finds all this pain in this life and the life hereafter?

It is nothing else than the rejection to honour man, as his Lord had ordered him. This describes the preference of man with the Lord of the whole universe and his position with the Creator of the stars and what is on them and of heaven and what lies between them.

If you distinguishes between the materialists' way of looking on man, who regard him only as animal that eats, drinks, satisfies its desires, instincts and impulses, and this, to be precise, without the slightest feeling for what - amid God's honour for him - urges him to superiority and the ascent to the top. So he feels the dimensions of the insult and contempt by the materialists, and also the humiliation and disrespect if he moves in their sphere of influence, follows their passions, and is mixed up in their desires. Islam, on the other hand inspires man with self-confidence and self-awareness. Yes, he is even filled with pride in the dimensions of faith, because his origin is attributed to God, and he is connected with HIM, and also because HE personally created him. He comes closer to HIM, because HE prefers him and honours him before the other creatures. This feel is not insignificant in the world of man, because it affects his feeling that encourages him to avoid to get involved in shameful actions, because they are not appropriate to his position. Thus his behaviour will be refined, and so he keeps to the path of good that brings him bliss in this life and success in the life hereafter.

By Adam's so-called original sin the honour of man is not reduced, because God has forgiven him that first sin. About this the venerable Koran says in the statement of the Almighty: "But the Shaitan made an evil suggestion to him; he said: O Adam! Shall I guide you to the tree of immortality and a kingdom which decays not? Then they both ate of it, so their evil inclinations became manifest to them, and they both began to cover themselves with leaves of the garden, and Adam disobeyed his Lord, so his life became evil (to him). Then his Lord chose him, so He turned to him and guided (him)" (sura 20, verse 120-122). This means that - according to Islam's view - no one bears the first sin except Adam and his wife, and that God forgave them both when they asked their Lord to give them again HIS grace. A fundamental principle of Islam says that no soul bearing the burden of (its) sin is to bear the burden of sin of someone else, as the venerable Koran decides on this in verse 18 of sura 35. Consequently, Adam's children do not bear his burden of that first sin, because they have not committed it. Just this is the idea of justice proclaimed by all legal regulations; it is insignificant here whether it is about divine or human laws, as also the intellect agrees with them and reason accepts them.


    {*} Professor Dr. Muhammad Shama is professor of religious studies and religious history at the Al-Ahzar University of Cairo


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