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!