A Summary of Man in the Holy Qur'an

Introduction to Sciences of Quran

Man has a wonderful story in the Islamic ideology. According to the Holy Qur'an, man is too mysterious and complex...


Man has a wonderful story in the Islamic ideology. According to the Holy Qur’an, man is too mysterious and complex to be defined in a few words. As well, based on the Holy Qur’an, the human being has the ability to capture the world and to have God’s angels be in his service. He can also fall to the lowest of the low as he himself determines his destiny. The present article starts with an assessment of ‘human values’, ones that have been enumerated and praised in the Holy Qur’an.

Human Values

1. Man is the vicegerent of God on earth: “And He it is Who has made you successors in the land and raised some of you above others by various grades, that He might try you by what He has given you…”1.

2. Man’s scholarly potentials are the greatest of the potentials a creature can possess: “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 have taught us; surely Thou art the Knowing, the Wise. He said ‘O Adam! Inform them of their names, and when he had informed them of their names, He said, ‘did I not say to you that I surely know what is Unseen in the heavens and the earth and that I know what you manifest and what you hide”2.

3. Man has a God-knowing nature, while all disbeliefs, denials and hesitations are more deviation from the original innate disposition: “Then turn thy face straight to the right religion before there comes from Allah which cannot be averted …”3

4. Man is the selected and the revered creature of God: “Then his Lord chose him, so he turned to him and guided him.”4.

5. Man enjoys inherent dignity just as God has granted him excellence over many of His creatures:

“And surely We have honored 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.”5.

6. Man has moral conscience and can by inspiration and nature distinguish wrong from right and beauty from ugliness: “ And the soul and Him Who made it perfect, Then He inspired it to understand what is right and wrong for it…”6.

Human Anti-values

Even though the human being is highly revered and honored in the Holy Qur’an, he has been greatly reprimanded and scorned: …Surely he is unjust, ignorant﴿7, …Most surely man is ungrateful﴿8, …And man is very hasty﴿9, Surely man is created of a hasty temperament…﴿10.

However, the praise and scorn of man in the Holy Qur’an do not mean that man has a dual nature, one praiseworthy and another despicable. Instead, man potentially has all perfections which he must actualize. It is man himself who must be committed and develop his nature. The most necessary condition for man to achieve what he virtually possesses is the ‘faith’. Therefore, the true human being, who is the representative of God, is the faithful one, not the faithless, for the latter is selfish and meaner than the animals.

The praiseworthy man and the rebukeable man have been described in the Holy Qur’an as follows:

By Time, Most surely man is at loss, except those who believe and do good, and enjoin on each other truth, and enjoin on each other patience﴿11,

And certainly We have created for hell many of the jinn and the men; they have hearts with which they do not understand, and they have eyes with which they do not see, and they have ears with which they do not hear; they are like cattle, nay, they are more astray; these are the heedless ones.﴿12.

Man: A Multidimensional Creature

Even though man is similar to other animals in many respects, he has a cluster of significantly different aspects, each of which gives him a special dimension. These differences lie in three areas:

1. The area of perception and the discovery of the self and the world,

2. The area of attractions surrounding man,

3. The area related to the manner of conduct under the influence of the attractions and their choice.

In the first area, the area of sensory perceptions, man and animals are similar. Some animals are even stronger in this respect. However, man has a unique power for the discovery of the self and the world in addition to the power of thought, which is absent in animals. Man perceives numerous facts that are not tangible through the senses. In the area of attractions, like other animals, man is also influenced by such desires as food, sleep and sex. However, the desires which attract man, are not restricted to these. Some of the main spiritual and nonmaterial human desires that have been identified so far include the following:

1. Knowledge and understanding. Man has an instinct for doing research and seeking after the truths.

Knowledge and understanding are pleasing to man.

2. Moral goodness. The fact that one’s conscience dictates “Is the reward of goodness aught but goodness?”13 is rooted in his moral conscience. Such behavior is called moral goodness, which is unique to man and which constitutes one of his spiritual dimensions.

3. Beauty and attractiveness. Another spiritual dimension of man is his interest in beauty, which plays an important part in his life.

4.Sanctification and worship: One of the oldest and most permanent manifestations of human soul as well as one of the most original dimensions of his existence is the sense of invocation and worship. This sense, also called the religious sense, exists in all human beings. In this connection Eric Forum says: “The question is not whether or not man is religious or non-religious; the question is which religion he follows.” (Eric Forum, The Alien World). Worship signifies a ‘possibility’ and a ‘desire’: the possibility of going beyond material affairs, and the desire for associating with a higher and broader horizon. Such a desire and love is unique to man.

Man’s Various Capabilities

A factor that produces an effect is called ‘power’or ‘force’. If ‘force’ is accompanied by awareness and will, then it will be called ‘ability’. Unlike inanimate objects and plants, men and animals apply some of their forces on the basis of their desires, likes, or fears, or as a consequence of their wishes. Unlike the animal, man can do what is contrary to his inner desires.

This is what is termed man’s ‘will power’, governed by his ‘intellect’. The intellect determines and the will carries out. That is to say, man is different from other animals in two series of abilities:

1. The series of spiritual attractions and desires,

2. The powers of “intellect” and “will”, which can go against desires and “govern” them.

When man relies on his intellect and will, he concentrates his powers and rejects the influences from the outside world. He sets himself free. It is because of his intellect and will that man can govern himself and organize well his personality. The goal of Islamic education is spiritual freedom. It is to achieve mastery of the self, which frees man from external forces and influences.


The Holy Qur’an endeavours to help man discover his true “self”. This “self” is not what is written in one’s identity card. Rather it is what is termed “the Devine Spirit”. It is through this knowledge of “self” that man finds his dignity, sublimity and nobility, and ceases to surrender himself to the mean things.

Materialistic philosophies attribute man’s governing power to his strength. Accordingly, man’s message and responsibility will be senseless. However, according to the Holy Qur’an, man is God’s selected successor on the earth. He has been appointed, or in Qur’anic terms selected, not by force and struggle, but due to the efficiencies and qualifications endowed to him by the most qualified authority in the universe, God. Knowledge of self means knowledge of one’s real status in the universe, to recognize that man is not merely an earthly creature.

Growth of One’s Abilities

Islamic teachings give special attention to the entirety of human dimensions: physical, religious, material, spiritual, intellectual, emotional and social.

Man’s Corporeal Growth

Islam seriously condemns the development of man’s corporeal dimension so long as it means the growth of sensuality and the physical body in particular. Instead, it pays special attention to the maintenance of one’s health and safety.

Man’s Spiritual Growth

What has been given much consideration and attention in Islam is the Growth of man’s thought and intellect, the enhancement of his independent reasoning and his struggle against intellectual dependence. The cornerstone of many of Islamic worship services and teachings is the Growth of man’s will and his acquisition of self-control.

Man’s Influential Role in Building his Future

Both knowledge and faith play various roles in the construction of man’s future. The role of knowledge is to show man how to build his future and to enable him to do so in the ways that he wishes. As to the role of faith, it is to guide man into building his future to make it better for himself and his society. Its role is to prevent man form building his future on personal and material bases. Knowledge is a tool at the service of man’s desires. It subjects nature in the way he desires and dictates. How it is carried out depends on the person who possesses and controls knowledge. Faith shapes man, and with the help of knowledge, man shapes the world. When faith and knowledge go hand in hand, both man and the world take their true shape.

The Scope of Man’s Freedom and Will

That man suffers many limitations and that his freedom is relative are self-evident. It is within these limitations that man can build for himself a prosperous future or a wretched one. Man’s limitations fall in to four areas:

1. Genetics,

2.‌ The natural and geographical environment,

3. The social setting,

4. History and its relevant factors.

Man can, however, overcome these limitations by resorting to the power of knowledge and intellect on the one hand and to the faith and will power on the other. He can change these factors and adjust them as he wishes in order to build his destiny.

Divine Decree and Measure

Divine Decree and Measure are incontrovertible but they are not limiting factors for man. Decree is tantamount to the definitive judgment with regard to the events and phenomena; the divine measure means the measuring out of the events and phenomena. According to theological sciences, God’s decree does not directly relate to an event, and every situation takes place only by its causes, for the ordinance of God entails that the order of creation be a cause-and-effect order. No matter how free man is in terms of intellect and will and no matter how limited he is in terms of the genetic, environmental and historical factors, he is governed by the inevitable cause- and- effect order of the world.

Man and his Obligations

One of man’s main potentials is his ability to accept obligations and responsibilities. Unlike all other creatures, which are controlled by compulsory natural laws, man lives within the framework of laws enacted for and imposed on him by a supreme qualified authority. The imposition of these laws involves special hardship for man, known as “obligation” (taklif).

Man may undertake the responsibility of performing the obligations if he meets the following prerequisites:

1. Puberty,

2. Intellect,

3. Knowledge of obligations,

4. Power and ability, “Allah does not impose on any soul a duty but to the extent of its ability…”14,

5. Freedom, choice and absence of compulsion in performing the obligations.

The condition of obligation is one without which man would have no responsibility. There are also other conditions related to the validity of the obligation, called conditions of validity. A condition of validity is one that renders an obligation invalid if it is not fulfilled and without which an obligation becomes unacceptable. Like conditions of obligation, conditions of validity are divided into general and specific.

Power and intellect are conditions for both obligation and validity. Puberty and knowledge are conditions for obligation, but not for validity. A condition which is not related to the obligation but pertains to validity is “maturity”. Maturity means readiness and qualification for the performance of a task one wishes to undertake. Therefore, in order for one to decide to marry or to own a piece of property, sanity, puberty, and freedom are not sufficient according to Islamic laws. As it is stated in the Holy Qur’an:

And test the orphans until they attain puberty; then if you find in them maturity, make over to them their property…﴿15.

Man’s Self-consciousness

Man is both self-conscious and world-conscious. He wishes to be aware of both the self and the world. His development, evolution, and prosperity are subject to these forms of awareness. Which of the two is of more importance is controversial. Science tries to make man not only world-conscious but also self-conscious. However, unlike religious self-consciousness, the type of self- consciousness that science produces is lifeless. Religious self-consciousness inflames the entirety of man’s existence, and the call for this kind of self-consciousness counts as a prerequisite for religious teachings. As the Holy Qur’an says:

And be not like those who forsook Allah, so He made them forsake their own souls: these it is that are the transgressors.﴿16 The Holy Prophet, Muhammad (p.b.u.h) also says: “He who knows himself knows his lord.”17 The main weakness of the western civilization is that it is a world-conscious civilization. The more one is aware of the world, the more he forgets himself. What is the use of capturing the world when man suffers from ‘loss’ of self in Qur’anic terms? Perhaps the best criticism of this aspect of the western civilization was issued by the late leader of India, Mahatma Gandhi, who says: “A westerner is capable of accomplishing great ones, tasks which other nations consider in the realm of God. However, he suffers from one thing, lack of reflection on the innermost self. This alone is enough to render the false glory of the modern world vain and useless…18

No matter how much importance we attach to self-consciousness or world-consciousness, and whether or not we give them equal significance, the growth of consciousness inevitably entails the development and expansion of man’s life. Therefore, the more one gains awareness of the self and the world, the livelier and more active he becomes. Apart from surface self-consciousness including awareness of one’s identity card, there are different kinds of self-consciousness as follows.

1. Innate Self-consciousness

Man is self-conscious by nature. That is to say, consciousness forms the essence of man’s nature. The emergence of man’s self means the emergence of his self-consciousness. When man’s knowledge of the matters increases, his awareness also increases. However, before man becomes aware of his self through acquired knowledge, he is already self-conscious with knowledge by presence, an awareness that is not subject to hesitation about one’s existence, identity and so on. For hesitation and doubt are characteristics of acquired knowledge. Innate self-consciousness, though real, is not acquired. It is the existence of man’s self. Therefore, this kind of consciousness which is automatic and genetic and which is brought about as a result of the transubstantiation of nature is not what the Holy Qur’an calls for. After the last step in the creation of the fetus in the womb, the Holy Qur’an states:

And then We created him as a different creation…﴿19, a reference to the fact that non-conscious matter changes to a self-conscious substance.

2. Philosophical Self-consciousness

In this dimension of self-consciousness, the nature and reality of the self is an object of discussion. It is about what self is and what it is made of. When the philosopher is self-conscious, he knows the nature, type and essence of the self.

3. Universal Self-consciousness

Universal self-consciousness means the awareness of our relationship to the world. It is about where we come from, where we are and where we are going to. This kind of consciousness enables man to discover the fact that he is part of the whole universe. The following meaningful quotation from Imam Ali (p.b.u.h) is about this kind of self-consciousness:

“May Allah’s mercy be on one who knows where he comes from, where he is, and where he is going to.” It is this self-consciousness that brings about the issue of fate and destiny of man.

4. Class Self-consciousness

This kind of self-consciousness is a form of social self-consciousness. It means awareness of the self in relation to the social class with which one is associated and lives. This self-consciousness is unique to Marxism.

5. National Self-consciousness

National self-consciousness is the awareness of one’s national culture and national character. It is an awareness of “us”, as a unique national entity. The nationalistic awareness, which became popular in the 19th century, is based on this self-consciousness. Like class self-consciousness, national self-consciousness is devoid of any moral dimensions.

6. Humanitarian Self-consciousness

Humanitarian self-consciousness refers to the awareness of the self in relation to all other human beings. It is based on the philosophy that all human beings form together a unique entity and share a “common human conscience”. With these ideas in mind, some scholars, like Auguste Comte, seek a “human religion”. Humanism, which is more or less the common philosophy of our time and about which most proponents of intellectualism talk, is related to humanitarian self-consciousness. Humanism pictures man as a unique entity that is beyond class, nationality, culture, religion, color, race and blood; it denies all forms of discrimination and difference. This kind of self-consciousness, if ever found, has moral dimensions unlike national and class self-consciousness. Even though it is the most logical and highly controversial form of self-consciousness, humanitarian self-consciousness has not been actualized as much as other forms of self-consciousness. Why? The secret lies in the nature and reality of man’s existence. Man is not as he has been created but as he chooses to be. Man is the outcome of numerous educational factors, including will and freedom of choice. When man is born, his corporeal aspects are actualized, while the spiritual dimensions that make his personality remain only potential. His human values are his inner potentialities which wait to flourish and develop.

The question is: in what kind of human beings does humanitarian self-consciousness develop to make them sympathetic and compassionate? Does it develop in those who have actualized their human values and their true human nature? Does it develop in those who only potentially possess these values? Does it develop in those who have distorted their true nature and transformed themselves to the worst animals? Does it develop in none of them? Does it develop in all of them?

The answer is that human beings who are part of a single body and who share one common human soul are those who have achieved deep humanity, those who have discovered their real human nature, and those who have developed their innate human dimensions. As a result, what makes human beings “us”, what gives them a single soul, and what brings about such moral and humanitarian miracles is the “common faith”, not the common essence, the common root or the common life.

7. Mystic Self-consciousness

Mystic Self-consciousness refers to an awareness of the self in relation to the Divine essence. From the viewpoint of mysticism, this relationship is not a linear relationship between two things like the one between man and society. Rather, it is a relationship between the whole and the part, between the real and the non-real, and between the absolute and the dependent. The interest of the mystic is not the representation of external self-conscious problems, in contrast to that of the intellectual. His problem is the result of his innate nature. It is an innate problem of God- consciousness. The mystic’s problem is also different from that of the philosopher. Even though both of them seek after the truth, the philosopher tries to know and to learn the truth and the mystic attempts to be part of the truth and disappear into it. Such an interest does not even exist in the angels whose essence of existence is self-consciousness.

8. Prophetic Self-consciousness

Prophetic self-consciousness is different from all of the above-mentioned types of self- consciousness. The prophet has both Divine self-consciousness and human self-consciousness. He is concerned about both God and the people of God. However, this is not dual self-consciousness, for his concern for men stems from his concern for God. It does not emanate from a different source. The prophet’s task begins with his concern for God, and this is what brings him close to God. This is what guides him in his journey to God, this journey is also called, the “journey from creation to God”. The end of this journey is the beginning of another journey called “the journey by God in God”. This is the journey, which fully develops him and in a way helps him with integration. Still, this is not the end of his journey. Once he is appointed a prophet of God, his third journey begins, that is the journey from God to creation. This is the third stage in the development of a prophet.

When he comes to people, the prophet’s fourth journey begins, which counts as the fourth stage in his perfection, the journey in creation by God. This is where he goes among the people to guide them in the path of true perfection, the infinite Divine perfection.

It is clear from the above discussion that the goal for the intellectual counts as a single stage of perfection for the prophet, where he guides the creation. What the mystic seeks is to move forward in the path of the prophet. To distinguish mystic self-consciousness and prophetic self- consciousness, Iqbal stated that: “Holy Muhammad ascended to Heaven and came back. In this connection, one of the mystics, know as Abd al-Quddus Gahangi, mentioned: ‘Had I ever been there in Heaven in place of Prophet Muhammad, I swear by God, I would have never come back.’”20.

* By Martyr M. Mutahhari

1- 6:165
2- 2: 31-33
3- 30: 43
4- 20: 122
5- 17: 70
6- 91: 7-8
7- 33: 72
8- 22: 66
9- 17: 11
10- 70:19
11- 103: 1-3
12- 7: 179
13- 55: 60
14- 2: 286
15- 4: 6
16- 59: 19
17- Bihar al-Anwar, vol.2, p.32
18- This Is My Religion, Introduction
19- 23: 14
20- The Reconstruction of Religious Thinking in Islam, pp. 143-44

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