Qualities of Man: A Combination of Goodness and Evil
In the holy Quran Allah has described the character of man, both good and bad with clear examples. The picture of man that emerges from this description is one that is black and white, punctuated with goodness and ungratefulness, and worthy of being a true viceroy of God on earth or a vassal of devil. In this essay we will examine how Allah describes man with qualities that make him the worst of beings and qualities that make him the best of creatures.
Man is born with the negative quality of forgetting Allah’s bounties and favours quickly and becoming unjust and ungrateful (14:34). He has been given a life by Allah and will die and then will be raised and live permanently, but he is ungrateful (22:66). He rejoices in Allah’s blessings but if some harm comes to him on account of his own deeds, he becomes ungrateful (42:48). Man associates partners to Allah from His own creation; man is truly ungrateful (43:15).
When Allah gives a taste of prosperity to him after a touch of adversity, man says my ills are gone; he becomes totally proud and boastful (11:10). When Allah grants his favours to man, he turns away and acts arrogantly, but when touched with adversity, he loses all hope (17:83). Man never tires of wishing for good but when he is touched with evil, he becomes desperate and hopeless (41:49).
Man cries to Allah for help when he is in hardship but when Allah showers His blessings on him, he says I have attained this because of my knowledge, and this is what I deserve (41:50). He does not realise that this is no more than a test for him (39:49). Man is always in need; only Allah is free from need (35:15). When man is tested by Allah with generosity and blessing, he boasts that my Lord has deservedly honoured me, but when he is tested with adversity, he protests that my Lord has undeservedly humiliated me (89:15-16).
When man is in distress, he remembers God and seeks His mercy, but when he is brought to safety, he is ever ungrateful and forgetful of his Lord (17:67). Man is stubborn and denies the Truth (80:17). Man desires evil in a manner he ought to desire good; he is ever hasty (17:11; 21:37). It is the outcome of this haste that when Allah offered the Trust (Quran) to the heavens and the earth and mountains, they all declined to bear it but man assumed it. Allah says man is truly wrongful to himself and ignorant of the consequences (33:72). Man is created impatient and anxious (70:19). Man behaves miserly. Even if he had been given all the treasures of his Lord’s bounty, he would still hold them back and not spend these on others for fear of losing his wealth. He is ever grudging and stingy (17:100). Man is more contentious and argumentative of all beings (18:54).
Man amasses wealth and is forgetful when misfortune touches him. He becomes tight fisted when good fortune comes his way. In the love of wealth man is violent (100-6-8). Man exceeds all bounds and thinks he is self-sufficient (96:6-7). He does not want to be reminded how he was born from a drop of sperm, helpless and small, and yet he is boastful (16:4; 36:77; 75:37). He forgets his insignificant and dirty origin of biological birth and ignores how his provisions were made easy for him (80:18-32). Man is born ignorant and is nurtured and taught by his Lord. He denies the Day of Judgement and mockingly asks when it will come (75:5-6). He thinks he will be left without accountability and purpose (75:36). Man forbids others to worship God. He denies the Truth and turns away from it. He does not realise that God sees all he does. Man is the worst of creatures if he is a disbeliever of God’s divinity, and associates partners with Allah (98:6). Man is deep in loss just as the declining day is destined to end (103:2).
Let us now turn to the other side of human character which is filled with good and noble qualities.
The good men are kind and mindful their duties and responsibilities toward Allah and his creation. Their hearts are attached to mosques as they love to purify themselves (9:108). There are men who constantly remember Allah and establish prayer. Neither possessions nor trade take them far from Allah’s remembrance. They help the poor and fear the day when their hearts and eyes will be overturned as in death or on the Day of Judgement (24:36-7). They stick to the divine path and observe their Covenant with Allah (33:231). They support and defend Allah’s messengers who are rightly guided (36:20-21). They are well-wishers of the believers and give them good advice when they are in a state of fear (28:20).
It is interesting that the choice of suppressing man’s violent and unbridled nature or submitting to it rests with man himself. Allah has shown the right way to man and given him the choice to become either grateful or arrogant (76:30). These attributes are not permanently ingratiated in man’s personality, nor are these pre-destined. These can be subdued or sharpened by becoming recessive or dominant in man’s personality. It depends on man which attributes he wants to develop and which he wants to mute. By exercising his free will, man can become disgruntled, contentious, miserly, anxious, fretful, hopeless, angry, ungrateful, unbelieving, disobedient, violent and tyrant, or alternately, he can become obedient to his Lord, kind to other human beings, generous, compassionate, forgiving, thankful, and peace loving.
To make man’s task easy Allah has provided guidance in the Quran about how to avoid the bad attributes from taking control of his character and instead promote good and noble characteristics. For instance, the cure of anxiety is placed in the reading of the holy Quran (13:28). Performance of obligatory five times prayer keeps a believer away from lewdness and prohibitions (29:45). Feeding the hungry makes one humble and generous (69:34; 76:09; 89:18; 107:3). Astagfar removes poverty and brings peace (11:52). Pursuit of knowledge brings wisdom (96:3-5). Fasting promotes patience and forbearance. Doing good brings goodness and discards grief and fear (55:60; 2:112). Patience and forgiveness overcome the instinct to take revenge (42:43). Seeking Allah’s mercy prevents the heart from inciting toward evil (12:53).
Man decides his own ranking whether he wants to join the party of devil (58:19) or the party of Allah (58:22). As humans, it is up to us to decide for ourselves if we want to be the inheritors of paradise with higher aims and attainment, or a creature of earth with its mundane pleasures and absence of any substance.