Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Quran Project - Man as Individual

At various points in its text, the Quran tells stories about the nature of humankind, and in describing this nature, shows how we humans can make the best of it. Reading through Fazlur Rahman’s chapter on “Man as Individual,” three major points in the Quran’s discussion on human nature are apparent: (1) fitra, (2) human weakness, and (3) the Middle Road and taqwa.


According to the Quran, God gave all people a mission when He created them. This mission is called “The Trust”, and it’s the attempt to create a moral social order on Earth. In order to fulfill this Trust, God created all people with a basic nature that knows what is Good and aspires to create goodness in the world. This basic nature is called fitra. And although it can’t be destroyed or altered, it can be at least temporarily disturbed.

The Basic Weakness of Humans

How is this fitra disturbed? By one major weakness in people: the inability to see “the big picture.” People often find it hard to see beyond what they are doing now, or what they are experiencing now. People’s pettiness (da’f) and narrow mindedness (qatr) make them hasty, panicky, and unable to see the long-term consequences of their actions and reactions to the world.

This makes people jump between two extremes: either (1) having a sense of complete power over themselves and the world, which leads to pride and self-destructive selfishness, or (2) having a sense of no control and total powerlessness, which leads to despair and lack of self-reliance. Actually, people tend to fluctuate regularly between these two extremes, one day feeling like they’re on top of the world, and another day feeling like all is lost. The Quran calls this the “unstable character of man,” and it the cause of all our problems here on Earth.

The Middle Road and Taqwa

This unstable character of man isn’t a problem that the Quran tries to make sense of theologically – it’s a problem that the Quran tries to help us deal with in a practical manner. The Quran states that the key to living a positive, successful and moral life is in staying away from the extremes noted above. It is in taking what the Quran calls “the Middle Road.”

The Middle Road is a metaphor for living in balance in between the extremes of our unbridled power and utter helplessness. Living this balance is described in the Quran as taqwa – a word that is usually translated as “fear of God” but which better translated as “conscience” or “consciousness of God.” The root of the word literally means “to guard or protect against something,” and in the context of the Quran it implies protecting ourselves against the harmful or evil consequences of our actions.

Rahman says that the best way to understand taqwa is to say that although we chose our actions, the consequences and judgment of those actions are outside of our control. When we are fully aware of this as we act, we have true taqwa. So to live with taqwa is to live with conscience, being attuned to the world around us and always aware of what comes out of our actions. It is living in harmony with the laws of the universe (created by God), and only by doing so can we prosper in the long run.

Thanks for reading. If you have any questions or thoughts, don’t hesitate to comment.

Till the next chapter!


ashaari said...

thank you for posting this up, loved reading it (and your previous post which i have many thoughts on as well).

i like the way it is explained that being god-fearing is not necessarily a negative thing, like say how a "slave" fears his master's "whip" and constantly thinks of that and nothing else (thus hindering proper work being done), rather it is trying to urge this attitude of being conscious, being aware and mindful of each thought, action and emotion one has or experiences at every single moment in ones life. knowing that one has all the ability to choose and take action, but the outcome does not belong to one's self, therefore one depends on God. maybe that is part of truly living, to be aware of oneself fully, because "how can one know god if one knows not ones own self?"

i like how this post relates with the last so much. i like that thoughts and ideas like this is being shared, thank you very, very much! awaiting the next (while digesting the last two ones).

Manar said...

thank you nour for sharing the project with us..

I like how he clarify the "unstable character of man".

guess that he got this meaning form the verse "Ennaho kan dhalooman jahoola". right ?

Anonymous said...

This is very beautiful Nour! Thank you for taking the time to share this.

If you have the time, I would love for this project to be followed by a series of posts in which you examine the varied responses Rahman's book have received.


Anonymous said...

Asalamu aliakum wa rahmat Allah wa barakatoo :D

MashaAllah, anohter great post. Really well written! :D It takes a lot of talent to be able to summarize a whole chapter in such a clear and logical way. MashaAllah. :D

What I really wanted to comment on is “man’s biggest weakness”: his inability to see beyond “now”. The Egyptian da’ee, Amr Khaled, once explained that a major theme of Chapter 19, or surat Al Kahf is that God has wisdom in everything He does, but because of our shortsightedness we are not always able to see it. To Khaled, Prophet Musa (peace be upon him) represents us, or ordinary people who may question why something happens. Al Khidr, Musa’s “mentor”, and the man Mosa (peace be upon him) is told has more wisdom than him, represents Destiny. The two men come upon three different trials representing the kind of trials we go through in life, including loss of life and money. In every instance, Prophet Musa (peace be upon him) can’t help himself, but questions Al Khider’s motives. Ultimately, Al Khider explains why he did everything he did, showing that everything was actually tied to a greater good. Amr Khaled reminds us that we are asked to read Surata Al Kahf every week partly to re-enforce the concept that we are shortsighted and God’s actions are always tied to a greater good.

It also reminds me of that famous story where a guy is stranded on an island cause of a shipwreck. After weeks of collecting driftwood, the man builds a little hut for himself. One day, he goes out searching for food and comes back to find his hut in flames (a thunderstorm had happened and it had been hit by lightening or something like that). The man cries out “O, Allah, why??? Why me? Why did you do this?” A few minutes later, a search team rescues him! He asks the search team, “How ever did you find me?” And they say “We were flying by and saw all that smoke. We figured it must have been a signal for help.”

One of the famous sayings by scholars is that Allah knows what happened in the past and what will happen in the future and if something other than what actually had happened, happened, how it would have been….
الله يعلم ما كَانَ وما يكون، ومالم يكن أن لو كَانَ كيف يكون

(more in the next post)

Anonymous said...

About being conscious of God… One of my favorite hadiths is when Prophet Mohammed explains what “ihsan” is and says “Worship God as if you see Him, for if you do not see Him, He sees you”. Unfortunately, it’s so easy to forget that every single thing we do needs to be approached with true consciousness since we’re ultimately going to be judged on it. When you look at what the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and the Companions used to do, it’s scary to think of what extent they were conscious of God and of what they were doing. When Omar bin Al Khatib, May Allah be pleased with him, was the Caliphate, for instance, he said something about how he was responsible for everything- he feared he would be judged by Allah if an animal in a very far part of the kingdom stumbled because he hadn’t done the roads. In addition, the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, warned about the importance of cutting one’s fingernails before milking a cow. Not only does this show his mercy, but it also shows how conscious he was that God is going to judge us over every single thing we do.

Well, that’s all we have to add. Jaziki Allah khair Noor wa j3laha fee meezahan hasnatik.

Amina and Mariam

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