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Concept of Sin and Equality and Life and Universe

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  • Qaradawi Fedyniak
    The Concept of Sin One of the major troublesome areas of human existence is the problem of sin or evil in the world. It is commonly believed that sin started
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 30, 2012
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      The Concept of Sin

      One of the major troublesome areas of human existence is the problem of sin or evil in the world. It is commonly believed that sin started with Adam and Eve during their life in the Garden of Eden. That event led to the Fall and has ever since branded the human race with guilt, stigma, and bewilderment.

      Islam has taken a unique position on the whole issue, a position which is not shared by any other religion we know. The Qur’an states that Adam and Eve were directed by God to reside in the Garden of Eden and enjoy its produce as they pleased, assured of bountiful supplies and comfort. But they were warned not to approach a particular tree so that they would not run into harm and injustice. Then Satan intrigued them to temptation and caused them to lose their joyful state. They were expelled from the Garden and brought down to earth to live, die, and taken out again at last for the Final Judgment. Having realized what they had done, they felt shame, guilt, and remorse. They prayed for God’s mercy and were forgiven (Qur’an, 2:35-38; 7:19-25; 20:117-123).

      This symbolic event is significantly revealing. It tells that the human being is imperfect and ever wanting even if he were to live in paradise. But committing a sin or making a mistake, as Adam and Eve did, does not necessarily deaden the human heart, prevent spiritual reform or stop moral growth. On the contrary, the human being has enough sensibility to recognize his sins and shortcomings. More importantly, he is capable of knowing where to turn and to whom he should turn for guidance. Much more important is the fact that God is ever prepared to respond to the sincere calls of those who seek His aid. He is so Gracious and Compassionate that His Forgiveness is Encompassing and His Mercy all – Inclusive (Qur’an, 7:156). One last revealing reading of the event is that discrimination on the basis of sex and hereditary guilt or sin are alien to the spirit of Islam.

      The idea of Original Sin or hereditary criminality has no room in the teachings of Islam. Man, according to the Qur’an (30:30) and to the Prophet, is born in natural state of purity or fitrah, that is, Islam or submission to the will and law of God. Whatever becomes of man after birth is the result of external influence and intruding factors. To put the matter in terms of modern thought, human nature is malleable; it is the socialization process, particularly the home environment, that is crucial. It plays a decisive role in the formation of human personality and the development of moral character. This does not deny to the individual the freedom of choice or exempt him from responsibility. Rather, it is a relief from that heavy burden of hereditary criminality or instinctual sin.

      God, by definition, is Just, Wise, Merciful, Compassionate, and Perfect. He has created man by breathing into him of His own Spirit (Qur’an, 15:29; 32:9; 66:12). Since God is the absolute infinite good and His Spirit the absolute perfect one; since man, through creation, received of the Spirit of God, then man was bound to retain at least some portion of this good Spirit of the Creator. This may account for the good dispositions of man and his spiritual longings. But, on the other hand, God created man to worship Him, not to be His equal, rival, the perfect incarnation or absolute embodiment of His goodness. This means that no matter how much good and perfect man may be, by the grace of creation, he is still far short of the goodness and perfection of the Creator. Man is not without such qualities, to be sure. But they are limited and proportionate to man’s finite nature, capacity, and responsibility. This may explain the imperfection and fallibility of man.

      However, imperfection and fallibility are not the equivalent of sin or synonymous with criminality – at least not in Islam. If man is imperfect he is not left helpless or deserted by God to fall victim to his shortcomings. He is empowered by revelations, supported by reason, fortified by the freedom of choice, and guided by various social and psychological dispositions to seek and achieve relative perfection. The constant gravitation between the forces of good and evil is the struggle of life. It gives man something to look forward to, ideals to seek, work to do, and roles to play. It makes his life interesting and meaningful, not monotonous and stagnant. On the other hand, it pleases God to see His servants in a state of spiritual and moral victory.

      According to the moral scale of Islam, it is not a sin that man is imperfect or fallible. This is part of his nature as a finite limited creature. But it is a sin if he has the ways and means of relative perfection and chooses not to seek it. A sin is any act, thought, or will that (1) is deliberate, (2) defies the unequivocal law of God, (3) violates the right of God or the right of man, (4) is harmful to the soul or body, (5) is committed repeatedly, and (6) is normally avoidable. These are the components of sin which is not innate or hereditary. It is true, however, that man has the potential capacity of sin latent in him; but this is not greater than his capacity of piety and goodness. If he chooses to actualize the potential of sin instead of the potential of goodness, he will be adding a new external element to his pure nature. For this added external element man alone is responsible.

      In Islam, there are major and minor sins as there are sins against God and sins against both God and man. All sins against God, except one, are forgivable if the sinner sincerely seeks forgiveness. The Qur’an has stated that truly God does not forgive the sin of shirk (polytheism, pantheism, trinity, etc.). But He forgives sins other than this and pardons whom He wills. Yet if the polytheist or atheist comes back to God, his sin will be forgiven. Sins against men are forgivable only if the offended pardon the offender or if the proper compensations and / or punishments are applied.

      In conclusion, sin is acquired not inborn, emergent not built-in, avoidable not inevitable. It is a deliberate conscious violation of the unequivocal law of God. If man does something that is truly caused by natural instincts or absolutely irresistible drives and uncontrollable urges, then such an act is not a sin in Islam. Otherwise, God’s purpose will be pointless and man’s responsibility will be in vain. God demands of man what lies within the human possibilities and reaches.


      One basic element in the value system of Islam is the principle of equality. This value is not to be mistaken with identicalness or stereotype. Islam teaches that in the sight of God, all men are equal but they are not necessarily identical. There are differences of abilities, potentials, ambitions, wealth & so on. Yet none of these differences can by itself esbtablish a status of superiority of one man or race to another.

      The stock of man, the color of his skin, the amount of wealth he has & the degree of prestige he enjoys have no bearing on the character & personality of the individual as far as God is concerned. The only criterion which God recognizes is the distinction in piety. In the Quran, God says: O mankind, verily We have created you from a single pair of male & female & have made you into nations & tribes that you may know each other. Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God is the most righteous (49:13).

      The differences of race, color, or social status do not affect the true stature of man in the sight of God. The foundations of this Islamic vallue of equality are deeply rooted in the structure of Islam. It stems from the basic principals such as the following:

      1. All men are created by One & the Same Eternal God.

      2. All mankind belong to the human race & share equally in the common parentage of Adam & Eve.

      3. God is just & kind to all his creatures. He is not partial to any race or age.

      4. All people are born equal in the sense that none bring any possession with him & they die equal in the sense that they take back nothing of their worldly merits.

      5. God has conferred on man a title of honor & dignity.

      The Concept of Life

      Life is a brilliant demonstration of God’s wisdom and knowledge, a vivid reflection of His art and power. He is the Giver and Creator of life. Nothing comes to existence by chance, and nobody creates himself or anybody else. Life is a dear and cherishable asset, and no sensible or normal person would like to lose it by choice. Even those who feel so desperate and take their lives by committing slow suicide, try in the last minute to regain their existence and wish to capture a second chance to live. Life is given to man by God, and He is the only Rightful One to take it back; no one else has the right to destroy a life. This is why Islam forbids all kinds of suicide and self-destruction, and recommends patience and good Faith when a dear soul passes away. When a murderer is executed in punishment, his life is taken away by the right of God and in accordance with His Law.

      When God gives life to man, it is not in vain that He endows him with unique qualities and great abilities. Nor is it in vain that He charges him with certain obligations. God means to help man to fulfill the purpose of life and realize the goal of existence. He means to help him to learn the creative art of living and enjoy the good taste of life according to the Divine guidance. Life is a trust from God, and man is a trustee who should handle his trust with honesty and skill, with mindfulness of God and with consciousness of responsibility to Him.

      Life may be likened to a journey starting from a certain point and ending at a certain destination. It is a transitory stage, an introduction to the Eternal life in the Hereafter. In this journey man is a traveller and should be concerned with only what is of use to him in the Future Life. In other words, he should do all the good he can and make himself fully prepared to move any minute to Eternity. He should consider his life on this earth as a chance provided for him to make the best of it while he can, because when his time to leave comes he can never delay it for one second. If his term expires, it will be too late to do anything about it or extend it. The best use of life, therefore, is to live it according to the teachings of God and to make it a safe passage to the Future Life of Eternity. Because life is so important as a means to an ultimate end, Islam has laid down a complete system of regulations and principles to show man how to live it, what to take and what to leave, what to do and what to shun, and so on. All men come from God, and there is no doubt that they shall return to Him. In one of His comprehensive statements Prophet Muhammad wisely advised man to consider himself a stranger in this life or a traveller passing by the world.

      The Concept of the Universe

      In this part, we shall discuss the position of man in the contemporary world, the general human situation, and the Islamic concept of the universe or world view. This will reaffirm the concepts that have already been discussed, add some new ideas, and tie together the various dimensions of the subject in a summary recapitulatory fashion.

      The present human situation is alarming, to say the least. It demands concern and active response on the  part of all people of good will and God – mindedness. But this does not, and should not, lead to despair or resignation. The spirit of hope is, and has always been, an integral part of Islam (see, e. g., Qur,an 12:87; 65:3)

      The problems and crises of modern times are not entirely unique or peculiar. It is true that they are difficult, complex, and agonizing. Perhaps this is even more so now than ever before. But the difference, however, between this age and those of yester centuries is basically a difference of  degree rather than of kind. The ever – increasing complexity of our contemporary predicaments may be largely due to a similar, proportionate rise in our expectations and capacities.

      For many centuries and in numerous regions of the globe, the chief source of the most difficult crises has essentially been a kind of inflexible, exclusive, and intolerant attitude toward the unfamiliar, the different, and the foreign. This orientation fostered racism, elitism, bigotry, prejudice, and a whole host of other equally distasteful attitudes.

      Few people can really deny that humanity is facing an unusual crisis. This present human crisis seems to emanate from a serious imbalance between our external, outward, material explorations and our internal, inward, moral gropings. Nothing is simpler than calling for the maintenance of an equilibrium, advocating a “middle range,” or crusading for the “golden means.” Yet nothing has been harder to attain. In the past, utterances such as man cannot live by bread alone were sometimes so distorted as to connote disregard for man’s material welfare. Similarly, trust in God has been misunderstood; it is often taken to mean helpless fatalism or categorical denial of human free will and self-realization. An overemphasis on spirituality and resignation is bound to give rise to a counter emphasis on materialism, rationalism, “free will”, and so on. Stressed beyond certain limits, spirituality may become superstition, and confusion. Likewise, a counter stress may turn materialism into laxity, free will into libertinism, and rationalism into sheer vanity. The intellectual history of the last few centuries demonstrates these tendencies only too well.

      Over the years of recent decades, the spiritual scale tipped up and down. In the sixties, and now in the seventies, the news-making events are those of the unsurpassed, unprecedented, outerspace explorations. Equally sensational are the unprecedented explorations in the inward, internal realms of being, however faddish, cultic, or neurotic they may seem to be.

      The rise of these two unprecedented and unbalanced types of exploration is exceptionally alarming. The reason probably lies in the fact that the two types do not seem to relate to each other, let alone converge. There is no apparent reciprocity, mutual reinforcement, or crossfertilization. Besides, their precarious, unbalanced existence is a constant threat to the majority of people. It may very well drive them into ambivalence and confusion which may, in turn, intensify the problems of society and harden the lot of modern man. But such a precarious course can be changed if the outward scientific explorations and the inward moral gropings are somehow reconciled. Man does not live by bread alone. That is true enough. But neither does he live by prayers only. He is both a political or materialistic animal and a religious explorer of the holy.

      As already mentioned, the contemporary world is clearly baffled by numerous problems. But it is equally baffled by the conflicting diagnoses and prescriptions to cope with these problems. Some people sing along with the popular lyric, “what the world needs now is love . . .etc.” Some call for a human rebirth. Others turn to Marxism, Humanism, Satanism, or Scientism as the ultimate solution. Still more are awaiting the arrival of some future Savior. Yet this long list does not even include the indifferent, the hopeless, and the apathetic who may in fact outnumber the optimist clubs combined. But it seems that the greatest need today is the pressing need for "understanding." What man needs  most of all is to understand himself and his nature, his potentials and limitations, his place in the universe and relationships with its elements.

      The question now is how can Islam help man to understand himself, unclog his mind, and clear his blurred vision? To try an answer to this question, it will be necessary to keep in mind the basic concepts of Islam which have been discussed and to elaborate further some elements of its value system. This analysis will hopefully show how they may relate to modern man in his contemporary predicament, and how they may help him to find his way through.

      The principle of “moderation” is most characteristic of Islam. It is probably best expressed in the way Islam views human nature, the meaning of life, and the idea of God. Islam does not subscribe to the one-sided “humanistic” philosophy, which almost deifies man and recognizes nothing beyond. Neither does Islam endorse the equally one-sided verdict that human nature is inherently vicious, wicked, or sinful, Islam rejects the idea that life is nasty, brutal, short, and miserable. But it equally rejects the idea that life is an end in itself, pleasurable, and carefree. Islam does give life a positive meaning, a purpose. It would devalue life on earth only relative to the Hereafter. It is not concerned exclusively with the here and now, the instant hedonism, and the immediate pleasures. Nor does it completely bypass the here and now in pursuit of a future paradise in a hereafter. It addresses itself to both the human condition here on earth and the human destiny in the Hereafter. Such concern is, of course, proportionate; it values each phase of existence according to its relative effect on the general well-being of man (Qur’an 7:33; 17:18-21; 28:77; 57:20-21).

      In the Qur’an, there is a passage (2: 27-39) which is typical of so many others. This passage contains some of the fundamental principles of Islam, and represents the foundations of the world view of Islam. Outstanding among these principles are the following:

      1.     The world is a becoming entity, created by the will of a Designer and sustained by Him for meaningful purposes. Historical currents take place in accordance with His will and follow established laws. They are not directed by blind chance, nor are they random and disorderly incidents.

      2.     Man also is created by God and is commissioned to be God’s viceroy on earth. He is so chosen to cultivate the land and enrich life with knowledge, virtue, purpose, and meaning. And to achieve this goal, everything in the earth and the heavens is created for him and is made subservient to him. Life on this planet is not a prison for man; his coming into the world was not an arbitrary punishment for previously committed sins. Nor was he expelled from another world and cast out into this one. His existence was no mere chance or undesigned occurrence.

      3.     Knowledge is the unique faculty of man and is an integral part of his personality and his being. It is knowledge that qualifies man to be the viceroy of his Creator and entitles him to command the respect and allegiance even of the angels of God.

      4.     The first phase of life on earth began not in sin or rebellion against the Creator. The “Fall” from the Garden of Eden and what followed thereafter – the remorse of Adam and Eve, their repentance, God’s forgiveness of and compassion for them, the enmity between man and Satan – all this was no surprise to the Creator. Nor was it an accident in the course of events. It was too meaningful to be accidental. Rather, it seems to have been designed to discipline the first man, to give him actual experience of fall and rise, moral defeat and triumph, straying from and reconciliation with the Creator. In this way, man would become better prepared for life and more enlightened to face its uncertainties and trying moments.

      5.     Eve was not the weaker party of the first human couple. She neither tempted Adam to eat of the forbidden tree nor was she alone responsible for the expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Both Adam and Eve were equally tempted and equally responsible; both were remorseful, repented, and were blessed with the forgiveness and compassion of God. This is significant as it liberates Eve from the curse that followed her and her sex throughout the ages, and acquits her of the charge that she alone bears all or most of the responsibility for the Fall. Furthermore, it declares in no uncertain terms that the belief in the moral inferiority of women is unfounded and the double standard is totally unjustifiable. Here, as elsewhere, the Qur’an makes it very clear that both man and women are equally capable of virtue and weakness, equally sensitive, and equally meritorious.

      6.     Man is a free agent endowed with a free will. This is the essence of his humanity and the basis of his responsibility to his Creator. Without man’s relative free will life would be meaningless and God’s covenant with man would be in vain. Without human free will, God would be defeating His own purpose and man would be completely incapable of bearing any responsibility. This, of course, is unthinkable.

      7.     Life emanates from God. It is neither eternal nor an end in itself, but a transitional phase, after which all shall return to the Creator.

      8.     Man is responsible agent. But responsibility for sin is borne by the actual offender alone. Sin is not hereditary, transferable, or communal in nature. Every individual is responsible for his own deeds. And while man is susceptible to corruption, he is also capable of redemption and reform. This does not mean that Islam prefers the individual to the group. Individualism means little or nothing when severed from social context. What it means is that the individual has different sets of roles to play. He must play them in such a way as to guard his moral integrity, preserve his identity, observe the rights of God, and fulfill his social obligations.

      9.     Man is a dignified honorable being. His dignity derives from the fact that he is infused with the spirit of his Creator. What is more important is that such dignity is not confined to any special race, color, or class of people. It is the natural right of man, every man, the most honorable being on earth.

      10.The passage, finally, points to the deep-seated roots of the Oneness of God and the unity of mankind. It shows, further, that man’s highest Normal 0 false false false MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0cm 5.4pt 0cm 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0cm; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:10.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-ansi-language:#0400; mso-fareast-language:#0400; mso-bidi-language:#0400;} virtues are piety and knowledge, that when such knowledge is acquired and invested according to the divine guidance, man’s blissful destiny will be assured and his life will be serene.

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