Chapter 6: The Vices Attributed to Human Beings

We can describe man in two different ways. We can view man in general terms as masses or speak about some individuals. When we say an individual is good or bad, it does not imply that all are bad or good. It does not mean that the same qualities can be attributed to all human beings. If an individual happens to possess an undesirable quality, that stain can be cleansed through strengthening his faith. Here we want to mention some undesirable attributes of human beings mentioned in the Glorious Qur'an

A & B. Man Is Unjust And Ignorant

These two qualities are expressed in the following verse:

إِنَّهُ كَانَ ظَلُومًا جَهُولًا

“Surely he is very unjust, very ignorant.” (33:72).

Two qualities, man being very unjust and his being very ignorant are expressly emphasised. In Arabic there is a difference zalim, and zalum. A zalim is a person who commits sin, even if only once, but according to Arabic grammar zalam is said to be the exaggeration form of zalim It means a person who frequently commits unjust actions. Also, jahul is the exaggeration form of jahil. It means a person who is very ignorant or completely unwise.

Human beings suffer from ignorance and injustice. The unjust act is not restricted to others. It can be applied to the person himself.

وَمَنْ يَتَعَدَّ حُدُودَ اللَّهِ فَقَدْ ظَلَمَ نَفْسَهُ

“Every person who breaks Divine laws, has oppressed himself” (65:1).

If a person does not pray or fast then he has been unjust to himself. When a person beats someone or robs him of his money, he is initially doing a disservice to himself, then to the other person. Committing a sin is just like drinking poisoned water. Now if this person drinks poison, he is hurting himself. The same logic can be applied when he harms another being. The consequences of his ill acts would be his destroying the bases of his inherent God-given purity. He initiates hindrances on the way to his perfection.

C. Man Is Ungrateful

This fact is expressed in the following verse:

وَهُوَ الَّذِي أَحْيَاكُمْ ثُمَّ يُمِيتُكُمْ ثُمَّ يُحْيِيكُمْ إِنَّ الْإِنْسَانَ لَكَفُورٌ

“And it is He who has brought you to life, then He will cause you to die, then bring you to life (again); most surety man is very ungrateful.” (22:66).

According to Arabic, Kufr basically means to cover. For example, if a farmer places seeds in the ground, this action is called kufr. The term has been used later for two other meanings which were likened to the root meaning (to cover). These two are:

1. To disbelieve in Allah or his religion.
2. To be unthankful relating to the blessings of Allah (the Almighty). When a person is given health but misuses it or thinks it is not from Allah, this person is a kafir and if he is very ungrateful he is kafur. This meaning is meant by the above verse.

Man is often unthankful and ungrateful. He quickly becomes oblivious to the blessings of Allah, the Beneficent. We read in the Glorious Qur'an the story of Korah (Qarun). He had so much money kept in the treasury safes that it took a large number of the keepers of the treasures who had difficulty carrying the keys of his treasury:

وَآتَيْنَاهُ مِنَ الْكُنُوزِ مَا إِنَّ مَفَاتِحَهُ لَتَنُوءُ بِالْعُصْبَةِ أُولِي الْقُوَّةِ

“We gave him [Korah] from the treasures to the extent that keys were difficult to be carried by a group of people possessed of great strength.” (28:76).

Korah was invited to be thankful to Allah for innumerable bounties that the Almighty Lord, the Beneficent, bestowed on him. They invited Korah to make use of the blessings and perform good deeds to attain a station of piety and bliss in the next abode (the Hereafter) as God has bestowed upon him His favour. However, the ignorant and arrogant eyes of Korah could not perceive the divine Blessings. In return to this invitation he said:

إِنَّمَا أُوتِيتُهُ عَلَىٰ عِلْمٍ عِنْدِي

“I have been given this only on account of the knowledge I have.” (28:78).

Korah was finally punished by Allah. Allah made the earth swallow him up and his abode. Those who yearned for his place only the day before began to say:

وَأَصْبَحَ الَّذِينَ تَمَنَّوْا مَكَانَهُ بِالْأَمْسِ يَقُولُونَ وَيْكَأَنَّ اللَّهَ يَبْسُطُ الرِّزْقَ لِمَنْ يَشَاءُ مِنْ عِبَادِهِ وَيَقْدِرُ لَوْلَا أَنْ مَنَّ اللَّهُ عَلَيْنَا لَخَسَفَ بِنَا وَيْكَأَنَّهُ لَا يُفْلِحُ الْكَافِرُونَ

“Ah! (Know) that Allah amplifies and straitens the means of subsistence for whomsoever he pleases of His servants; had not Allah been gracious to us, He would most surely have abased us; Ah! (Know) that the ungrateful are never successful.” (28:82).

D. Man Is An Inordinate Being

This fact is expressed in the following verse:

كَلَّا إِنَّ الْإِنْسَانَ لَيَطْغَىٰ

“Nay! Man is most surely inordinate” (96:6).

أَنْ رَآهُ اسْتَغْنَىٰ

“Because he sees himself free from want.” (96:7).

Human beings feel self-sufficient when they enjoy the status of wealth, health or position. When a man has no money or social position or is not from an important family, he is not inordinate. To illustrate, one of the companions of the Prophet (S) was quite poor. He asked the Prophet (S) for help. He gave him some money. That money was blessed and had good effects. Day by day his money increased. He used to pray behind the Prophet (S). But as his money increased, his worship decreased. The Prophet (S) began to feel concerned about him. So, one day he asked that man to pay the money back. When he paid it back, his money was no longer blessed. He became poor again and started to attend the mosque regularly and say his prayers behind the Prophet (S).

E. Man Is Hasty And Does Not Have Sufficient Patience

This fact is expressed in the following verse:

وَيَدْعُ الْإِنْسَانُ بِالشَّرِّ دُعَاءَهُ بِالْخَيْرِ وَكَانَ الْإِنْسَانُ عَجُولًا

“And man prays for evil as he ought to pray for good and man is ever hasty.” (17:11).

Therefore if one wants to be patient, he will have to train himself

F. Man Shows Total Reliance On God Only When He Is In Trouble And Difficulty

When men's difficulties disappear their reliance also diminishes. They think they have become self-sufficient. This fact is expressed in the following verse:

وَإِذَا مَسَّ الْإِنْسَانَ الضُّرُّ دَعَانَا لِجَنْبِهِ أَوْ قَاعِدًا أَوْ قَائِمًا فَلَمَّا كَشَفْنَا عَنْهُ ضُرَّهُ مَرَّ كَأَنْ لَمْ يَدْعُنَا إِلَىٰ ضُرٍّ مَسَّهُ

“And when affliction touches a man, he calls on Us, whether tying on his side or sitting or standing but when We remove his affliction from him, he passes on as though he had never called on Us on account of an affliction that touched him.” (10:12).

For example, before examinations students observe all the religious rituals and try to be close to Almighty Allah, but once the examinations are over, the feeling of being close to the Lord, the Creator, wanes.

G. Man Is A Niggardly Being

This fact is expressed in the following verse:

قُلْ لَوْ أَنْتُمْ تَمْلِكُونَ خَزَائِنَ رَحْمَةِ رَبِّي إِذًا لَأَمْسَكْتُمْ خَشْيَةَ الْإِنْفَاقِ وَكَانَ الْإِنْسَانُ قَتُورًا

“Say: if you controlled the treasures of the mercy of my Lord, then you would withhold (them) from fear of spending, and man is niggardly.” (17:100).

H. Man Is A Greedy Being

The fact is expressed in the following verses:

إِنَّ الْإِنْسَانَ خُلِقَ هَلُوعًا

“Surely man is created of a hasty temperament” (70:19).

إِذَا مَسَّهُ الشَّرُّ جَزُوعًا

“Being greatly grieved when evil afflicts him” (70:20).

وَإِذَا مَسَّهُ الْخَيْرُ مَنُوعًا

“And niggardly when good befalls him” (70:21).

إِلَّا الْمُصَلِّينَ

“Except those who pray,” (70:22).

الَّذِينَ هُمْ عَلَىٰ صَلَاتِهِمْ دَائِمُونَ

“Those who are constant at their prayer” (70:23).

I. Man Is An Inquisitive And Curious Being

He is interested in discussing and arguing about everything more than needed. The Scripture presents such an idea:

وَلَقَدْ صَرَّفْنَا فِي هَٰذَا الْقُرْآنِ لِلنَّاسِ مِنْ كُلِّ مَثَلٍ وَكَانَ الْإِنْسَانُ أَكْثَرَ شَيْءٍ جَدَلًا

“And certainly We have explained in this Qur'an every kind of example; and man is most of all given to contention.” (18:54).

Up to now we have discussed nine bad attributes of human beings (although there are more). According to the Glorious Qur'an a human being is a responsible being and has the capability of either following right path or going astray. A man is able to choose either of these qualities, grow them, nurture them and strengthen them in his being.

The bad attributes or vices are not such that they can prevent a human being from reaching perfection, because the vices are of three kinds:

1) Some are necessary implications of his creation and he cannot prevent them. For example, he is weak and has many limitations in his existence and actions. Allah, the Glorious and Most High, says:

وَخُلِقَ الْإِنْسَانُ ضَعِيفًا

“And man is created weak.” (4:28).

This kind of attribute will not be questioned or punished. Allah just explains them to make us aware of our weakness and to prevent us from taking pride in ourselves.

2) Some are implications of his creation but are not necessary. It means that his nature only inclines toward vice, but it can be resisted. To explain this point philosophically, we should say that his nature is not the sufficient condition or complete cause (al-illah al-tammah) of moral vice. It is just the incomplete or partial cause (al-illah al-naqisah). It is lip to human beings to submit themselves to their nature or to resist. For example, growing up in a bad family tends to result in vice, but this is only an incomplete cause. Returning to our own discussion, the human being has a greedy temperament but he can control and direct his temperament to any direction he wants. He can even use it to acquire infinite perfection.

3) Some vices are caused by the human being himself, i.e., by his free will and are not due to human or individual nature. For example, if a human being is a liar, this is because he himself has chosen that.

Thus, we understood that the vices of human beings cannot prevent us from perfection and that Allah, the Most Merciful and Forgiving, will never punish us for those nature-given attributes. Man possesses of capabilities and potentialities as well as freewill. It is up to him to decide what to do or obtain. In the Glorious Qur'an Allah says:

إِنَّ الْإِنْسَانَ لَفِي خُسْرٍ

“Most surely man is in loss,” (103:2).

إِلَّا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ وَتَوَاصَوْا بِالْحَقِّ وَتَوَاصَوْا بِالصَّبْرِ

“Except those who believe and do good, and enjoin on each other truth, and enjoin on each other patience.” (103:3).

According to the above verses all human beings are in a state of loss, because they are losing their lives and their bodily and mental powers. The only exceptions are those who believe, do good and invite each other towards truth and patience. These people spend their lives or powers or properties to get divine pleasure and salvation. So what they get or obtain is more than what they spend or lose.

لَقَدْ خَلَقْنَا الْإِنْسَانَ فِي أَحْسَنِ تَقْوِيمٍ

“Certainly We created man in the best make.” (95:4).

ثُمَّ رَدَدْنَاهُ أَسْفَلَ سَافِلِينَ

“Then We render him the lowest of the low.” (95:5).

إِلَّا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ فَلَهُمْ أَجْرٌ غَيْرُ مَمْنُونٍ

“Except those who believe and do good, so they shall have a reward never to be cut off.” (95:6).

Again the same fact is seen. Allah has created man in the best way. Then it is up to him to be the lowest of the low or to be higher than other creatures, even angels.

It is obvious that not everybody known to be a human being is precious. Human beings are not at the same level. Therefore they should not be treated equally. For example, those people who create world-wars and perform many crimes are not to be respected at all. Really, they are not human beings (in spite of their shape or body). God-willing there will be an appendix on Islamic punishments. We will shed some light on this matter to meet objections against the Islamic system of punishment suggested by some Westerners who consider it incompatible with human values