Saturday, January 5, 2008

Human life and spirituality: a Quranic perspective

The last section of the Qur’an, commonly called Juz’’Amma[ft.1] contains the most vivid references to Judgement day, Paradise and Hell, and the Hereafter. Yet, in the midst of reading about subjects related to the end, we also encounter tidbits of information about the beginnings as well. Take, for instance, the following Quranic statement “Surely, Man has been created very impatient” [70:19]

The verb Khuliqa [“created”] is passive, showing that mankind had no choice or option in the manner of his beginnings. A seemingly negative quality has been placed, in the Quranic narrative, in human nature. We next read “When touched by a portion of evil, fretful; and when touched by a gain [Khayr], stingy” [70:20-21]

Some may actually read into these Quranic observations a validation of the idea of Original sin, as found in most strands of Christianity. It is our view that such a view would be incorrect for several reasons, the main one being that original sin is usually presented as punishment brought about by the sin of disobedience committed by the first human pair[ft.2] , the atonement of which is found in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ[ft.3],. In addition to being “impatient” , the Qur’an also states that humans are “hasty”[ 17:11, 21:37] as well as “weak” [4:28, 30:54]

The question is obvious-for what purpose has God created humans with these negative characteristics? To answer this question, we look to the human child itself as the perfect example.These characteristics are certainly there in the newborn. They have a function! These characteristics are in need of channeling properly. A newborn is certainly In need of its loving family to provide food, shelter, and clothing. The parents have the role of not only providing these needs, but of also instilling morals and ethics in the child,. These lessons influence the child to adolescence, to adulthood.

The Qur’an has provided the guidelines by which humans are to evolve into what may be termed spiritual adulthood. “[Humans are generally impatient] except those who pray, are consistent in their prayers, who recognize that in their wealth there exists a right for the [needy] of those who ask and those who do not, who confirms the day of judgment, who fear the punishment of their Lord, ..Who guard their chastity, Who are trustworthy in contracts and agreements, who are honest in testimony, who guard their prayers, it is they who are honored in paradise” [70:22-35]

These steps are summarized in a very short text; “[God swears ] By the time, surely, humans are in consistent loss, except those who believe, do righteous works, and enjoin mutual [calling to] truth, and mutual [reminders of ] patience: [103:1-3]
Life is education, and the Qur’an is essentially providing the format and content of education, a stable foundation for maturation.

“Which then is best? He whose foundation is built upon dedication to God, and [seeking] his pleasure? Or he whose foundation is built upon a sand cliff, ready to crumble to pieces?” [9:109]

If any of these steps, as given in the Quranic texts cited, are missing or lacking in human life, spiritual maturity, happiness and contentment can not be attained.

So, condemned are those who pray [Musal-leen], who observe prayer in a negligent manner, who do so[i.e. pray] to be seen, and [yet] refuses the assists neighbors” [107:5-7]

"And when they meet those who believe, they say ‘We believe’ [as well] and yet, when with their devilish [minded compatriots] they say ‘Surely, we are with you, we were simply joking]. God throws back their mockery on them, gives them rope in their trespasses, they wander blind [spiritually], it is they who have bartered guidance for error, their business transaction [actually] has no gain, and they are not guided. Their comparison is that of one who kindles a fire, when it is lighted around him, God took away their light, leaving them in darkness, they cannot see”[ 2:14-17]

[They were asked] ‘What led you to the Hell?’ They will reply ‘We did not pray, we did not feed the hungry, we used to engage in vanities with the vain, we dismissed judgment day as a false [myth] until there came to us the true reality” [74:42-47]

We should not make the mistake of assuming that “simply by” observing the steps given in the Qur’an , instant gratification will automatically follow. The steps are constant, a process of trial and error, which is in itself a learning experience.

“O believers! Fasting is prescribed on you, as it was on those before you, so that perhaps you will grow in dedication to God” [2:183]

O mankind! Worship your Lord, who has created you as well as those before you, so that perhaps you will grow in dedication to God” [2:21]

Prayer and fasting, perhaps the most commonly practiced rituals in all religious traditions, are rituals designed to change one’s attitudes, to deepen one’s understanding and spiritual perception. If failure occurs, then it must be done again and again.

For Muslims, prayer is a requirement daily, fasting is a requirement for a minimum of one month, and so forth.[ft.4]

This article is a call for personal spiritual cultivation, in essence a reminder to ‘grow up’. This process may even require a re-examination of other aspects of our existence, from the concepts we hold, to the company we keep, to even the food we eat, and the income we earn! [ft.5]

An apt statement from the Christian scripture reads:

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me” [1 Cor. 13:11, NIV]

We conclude with the following supplication in mind, arguably the most often read prayer in the world.

With the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful. Praise is due to God, the Cherisher and sustainer of the Worlds. The Compassionate,The Merciful. Master of the Day of Judgment. It is you we worship, and it is you we seek assistance from. Guide us on the straight path. The path of those on whom you have bestowed blessings, not that of those you are angered with, nor of those misled” [ Qur’an 1:1-7]


[1]The Qu’an is divided into 114 chapters [Surahs], almost evenly into 30 sections [Ajza’] allowing for the entire text to be read in a monthly period. Its style is somewhat disjointed, for more thoughts on this, see our pamphlet in PDF format “An introduction to the Qur’an” available at

[2] Islam rejects the notion of original sin, and teaches that all humans are responsible for their own actions. The Qur’an repeatedly states “And no soul shall bear the burdens of another” [6:162, etc...]

[3]This doctrine is expressed in the following words “For we know that our old self was crucified with him[Jesus] so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin” [Romans 6:2, NIV]

[4] Prayer is observed five times daily by practicing Muslims, and fasting in the month of Ramadan [per 2:185]. Of course, a great many Muslims pray and fast much more than this.

[5] Prayers and supplications should be directed to God Alone, according to Islamic teachings. Personalities, alive or dead, are of no assistance, despite whatever stature they hold. The Qur’an repeatedly addresses this point, in one verse we read “The parable of those who take for protectors other than God is that of a spider who has constructed for itself a house[i.e. spider web]. It is the weakest of houses, the spider web, if they only knew” [29:41]

The Prophet Muhammad is reported to have said “Allah the almighty is good and accepts only that which is good…then he [Muhammad] ,mentioned [the case of] a man who, having journeyed far, is disheveled and dusty and who spreads out his hands to the sky saying ‘O Lord, O Lord!’ while his food is unlawful, his clothing unlawful, and he is nourished unlawfully, so how can he be answered?!” [Al-Nawawi’s Forty Hadith, Ezzedinne Ibrahim, page 40, Muslim, The Holy Koran publishing house, Beirut, Lebanon, 1979]