Source of Morality and the Origin of Evil

وَنَفْسٍ وَمَا سَوَّاهَا فَأَلْهَمَهَا فُجُورَهَا وَتَقْوَاهَا قَدْ أَفْلَحَ مَن زَكَّاهَا وَقَدْ خَابَ مَن دَسَّاهَا

“And the (human) soul and That (Mighty Lord) Who made it perfect, Then He revealed to it [the soul, the ways of] its evil and its righteousness. (All these are cited to witness that) one who purifies it [his soul], certainly succeeds, and he indeed is ruined who corrupts it” (91:7–10).

Our Creator, at the time of our creation, gave us a simple and pure nature and embedded in us a desire to seek Him, adore Him, and worship Him (91:710). Our innocent nature was fortified with divine guidance and divine inspiration. He says: لَقَدْ خَلَقْنَا الْإِنسَانَ فِي أَحْسَنِ تَقْوِيمٍ, “We have surely created the human being in the finest make and the best proportions (with enormous capabilities for an all-round advancement through the process of evolution)” (95:4). This description as well as the statement: وَتَقْوَاهَا  وَنَفْسٍ وَمَا سَوَّاهَا فَأَلْهَمَهَا فُجُورَهَا, “And the (human) soul and That (Mighty Lord) Who made it perfect, Then He revealed to it [the soul, the ways of] its evil and its righteousness” (91:7–8) substantiates the absence of evil and the purity of your soul from any inherited sin at the time of our creation. It also states that there was no “original” sin that needed to be washed away with someone’s blood. In other words, you were born innocent and unblemished in your nature, and you did not enter this world carrying a load of “original” sin.

The topic of the origin of good and evil has presented intricate issues for religion and philosophy. Crude notions and inaccurate ideas have given rise to many doctrines. For the old Zoroastrians in Persia, evil and good each came from a god, the god of evil and the god of good, and humankind therefore became a toy in the hands of these two deities.  According to Pauline Christian doctrine, human nature has been contaminated with inherited sin from its very outset. According to Lord Headley (Rowland George Allanson-Winn, 12711354 AH / 18551935 CE), the notion of original sin was absurd: “As if the machine became amiss at the beginning. [A person] could not set it right for thousands of years.” To the Buddhists, the very existence of human beings is a loathsome thought: Trouble and misery, which are viewed as the fruits of evil, dominate human destiny, from which human beings cannot be extricated. In Buddhism, human liberation lies only in annihilation. Hindu philosophers, in turn, have great difficulty rebutting the presumption that Para Brahman, their greatest god, is the author of evil.

Those who suppose that a human being is sinful by birth are mistaken. Similarly, it is a wrong assumption, as believed by some, that a human being is the product of an earlier life, that his present birth is an outcome of some previous birth, and that he is caught up in the ramifications of his actions from a previous existence. There is no mention of “original sin,” “atonement,” or “transmigration of the soul” in the Holy Qur’ân, because these concepts run counter to rational thought and the laws of human nature. Our original instinctive state was the opposite of being selfish and aggressive; it was selfless and loving, definitely not the state of an instinct-controlled animal, which the Holy Qur’ân calls al-nafs al-Ammârah النَّفْسَ لَأَمَّارَةٌ . 

The consciousness of good and evil is embedded in human nature (91:7). God says:

لَقَدْ خَلَقْنَا الْإِنسَانَ فِي أَحْسَنِ تَقْوِيمٍ ثُمَّ رَدَدْنَاهُ أَسْفَلَ سَافِلِينَ إِلَّا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ فَلَهُمْ أَجْرٌ غَيْرُ مَمْنُونٍ

“We have surely created the human being in the finest make and the best proportions (with enormous capabilities for an all-round advancement through the process of evolution). Then (according to Our law of cause and consequence) We degrade him to the lowest of the low (if he does evil deeds). Different, however, is the case of those who believe and do deeds of righteousness. There awaits them a never ending reward.” (95:4–6)

Accordingly, our Creator was the Fountainhead of all morality, and the “fallen” and corrupted state developed later, as the Word  ثُمَّ, thumma, “then” or “thereupon” or “thereafter,” in the foregoing passage informs us. Thus, the evil in the human being is something that evolved later. The Holy Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have said, “No infant is born except with an inborn sense of natural goodness, and then his parents make him a Jew, a Christian, or a Muslim” (Bukhârî).

When it is said that a human being is by nature good and virtuous, the question arises as to why we are endowed with negative states and why troubles and agonies are a part of human destiny. In the light of the Qur’ânic teachings, the answer is that though it cannot be denied that some negative faculties found in human beings lead to hardship and defilement, this condition does not prove that humans are sinful by nature. These negative emotions have a use; they have been vouchsafed to us for our defensive needs. A human being needs such emotions as much as he needs the finer emotions, such as sympathy and forbearance. The fact of the matter is that all the faculties found in a human personality, if used properly, are good morals in themselves. If at any time you see a defect in your personality or if you notice a slip, it is due to your misuse of these faculties. The capacity for good morals has been endowed in your nature, and through your use of will power and training, this capability can safeguard against slipups.  

The Holy Qur’ân teaches that when an immoral act is committed, human nature and natural animal-like instincts are not the basic motivators of such an act. Instead, the perpetrators wrong upbringing, his training, his unsuitable environment, his desires instigated in a society of artificially created necessities, his bad company, and his imbalanced use of his natural passions and impulses generate his animal-like behaviour. However, when your passions and impulses come into play, you can remain within the bounds of Divine Law, and such consequential acts can fall within the definition of good morals. For example, your libido can be controlled by marriage, your hunger from observing a fast, and your anger from self-discipline. Imâm Abû Hâmid Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Ghazâlî stated that it is against human nature and disposition for us to be inclined towards evil and blameworthy actions. On the other hand, your inclination towards the Love of God, the worship of God, and Gods Gnosis is as natural as your inclination towards eating good and pure things and channeling your libido, because this first inclination is in complete accord with your nature and disposition and the very desire of your heart. What is the heart? It is an inspired Command of Allâh, and the inclination of your heart towards the dictates of your passions is imposed upon it from outside your person (al-Ghazâli, Ihyâ ulûm al-Dîn 3:63).

Behavior psychologists have invented excuses to justify selfish and aggressive behaviour, the main one being that you, as a human being, have savage animal instincts that make you compete and fight for food, shelter, territory, and a mate. This explanation has arisen from the biological theory of Social Darwinism; however, just blaming your genes fails to adequately explain your selfish and aggressive behaviour. In the first place, the theory overlooks the fact that your behaviour involves your unique, fully conscious, thinking mind. Such descriptions as egocentric, arrogant, deluded, hateful, mean, immoral, and alienated all imply consciousness-derived actions. The “savage instincts” in you cannot be the real explanation for any divisive, selfish, or aggressive behaviour of yours. Proponents of this theory are overlooking the fact that you also have altruistic, cooperative, and loving moral instincts—what is recognized as your “conscience”—and these moral instincts in you are not derived from reciprocity, from situations where you always do something good for others in return for a benefit you expect from them, as evolutionary psychologists would have you believe. No, you have an unconditionally selfless, fully altruistic (that is, universally considerate of others), truly loving, genuinely moral conscience.

If human faculties are the source of morals, and immoral actions emanate from humans, must you then understand that some of these emotions and faculties are evil in themselves? The Holy Qur’ân has answered this question in the negative, teaching that the headwaters of human birth are not muddied, nor is sin and immoral behaviour an intrinsic part of human nature.

وَمَا بِكُم مِّن نِّعْمَةٍۢ فَمِنَ ٱللَّهِ ۖ ثُمَّ إِذَا مَسَّكُمُ ٱلضُّرُّ فَإِلَيْهِ تَجْـَٔرُونَ

“And whatever blessings you have, come from Allâh. And when affliction befalls you [is from you] it is to Him that you cry (for redress)” (16:53)

All faculties that come from Allâh are for the good of humanity. If properly used, within given limits, they cannot harm you. The Holy Prophet (pbuh) said, “The good, all of it, is in the Hands of Allâh, and the evil does not go back to Him.” Allâh is not the source of evil, nor did evil enter into the world as a separate entity; rather, evil results from the misuse of faculties provided to you by Allâh (see 7:31). Allâh created a human being and breathed into him His spirit (15:29), and then made him His vice-regent on earth (2:30). “We have surely created the human being in the finest make and the best proportions (with enormous capabilities for an all-round advancement through the process of evolution)” (95:4). Therefore, sin and evil are not innate features of human nature; rather, humans have impulses towards morality and righteousness, as verses 91:7-10 and 92:5-10 states.  

The foremost question that arises concerning any moral code of conduct is: What are the sources and the causes of evil?  The Holy Qur’ân mentions three sources of good morality, and all three are embedded in human nature. They are the commanding self, the self-reproaching spirit, and Faith in the All-Mighty.

1. The Commanding Self (Nafs al-Ammârah): The inciting animal impulse that drives a human being to commit evil acts is the commanding self (nafs al-Ammârah,  النَّفْسَ لَأَمَّارَةٌ).  You read in the Holy Qur’ân what Joseph said:

وَمَا أُبَرِّئُ نَفْسِي ۚ إِنَّ النَّفْسَ لَأَمَّارَةٌ بِالسُّوءِ إِلَّا مَا رَحِمَ رَبِّي ۚ

“Yet I do not hold myself to be free from weakness, for the Commanding Self [the animal self] is surely prone to enjoin evil, except on whom my Lord has mercy.” (12:53)

Your commanding intellect challenges your inborn “to-do-good” instincts for control, and a battle breaks out between your inborn instincts and the commanding self. If the commanding self wins the battle, you can fall into the selfish and aggressive state known as the evil human condition. Controlling the commanding self (nafs al-Ammârah), which is inciting an evil action, is the first source of morality. Your human reasoning faculty is sufficiently well developed that you can critically self-analyze your behaviour, become conscious of the evil-inciting forces, and perceive both the immediate and the remote consequences of your actions. It is your sense of critical self-reasoning that is triggered whenever animal-like impulses, actions, and behaviour try to take control.

Out of this exercise of reason and controlling efforts a basic moral state starts to take shape. In other words, the foundation of good morals lies in your exercising control over your naturally endowed powers and instincts. Hunger and sexuality are the basic commanding needs of both humans and animals alike. If you can bring these basic commanding forces under control through fasting and marriage, they then become virtues. It must be emphasized that there are varying degrees of quality and quantity of natural powers among individuals. There is a difference between origins and practical manifestations of emotions across various races, regions, and cultures and these differences give rise to a vast sea of moral values.  

The Holy Qur’ân has not only discussed in detail the basic human emotions and instincts, but also has gone further by bringing to light the underlying causes behind the arousal of such emotions. It can also guide you to channel and sublimate these emotions in an effort to establish and evolve your moral perception and behaviour.

2. The Self-Reproaching Spirit (Nafs al-Lawwâmah): The second source of morality is the self-reproaching spirit (nafs al-Lawwâmah, نَّفْسِ اللَّوَّامَةِ). This is the voice of the conscience, which becomes louder in the face of any wrongful act. Every human being is endowed with this voice. You read:

وَلَا أُقْسِمُ بِالنَّفْسِ اللَّوَّامَةِ

“And I swear by (and bring to witness) the self-reproaching soul [nafs al-Lawwâmah] (at the doing of an evil deed as an evidence to the truth of Final Resurrection)” (75:2).

The self-reproaching spirit (nafs al-Lawwâmah, نَّفْسِ اللَّوَّامَةِ) is present in every person, and every person is endowed with a voice of conscience that reproaches him when he performs an evil act. A person with a sense of morality tries to get a ruling from nafs al-Lawwâmah, which is the call of the conscience.

Here is a simple method for getting a ruling from the voice of your conscience: When you are about to commit any action affecting others, you should first imagine applying such an action to yourself. If you would not be adversely affected by this action applied to you, and if the action proves to be good and effective for you, then such an action would also likely be beneficial and good for others. If you cannot accept it for yourself, then you must assume that it is inappropriate for others as well. The Holy Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have said, “When deciding whether something is good or bad, ask your inner self, and if that deed gives you a feeling of satisfaction to your heart and inner soul, it is a virtuous deed. The deed that rankles in your heart and produces perturbation and hesitancy in your mind is a sinful deed, however, even though people may tell you that it is a lawful deed.”

The question that arises is the following: If the self-reproaching spirit is present in every person and if every person is endowed with the voice of conscience, then why is it that so many people still commit immoral acts. The answer is simple. Though our conscience does raise its voice in protest against the commission of such acts, most people do not pay heed to that voice. Immorality is a poison, and repeated doses of this poison blunt or destroy the self-reproaching conscience.

3. Faith in the All-Mighty: The third, and ultimate, source of morality is Faith in the All-Mighty. Through a firm Faith in Allâh, you become free of all weaknesses, unlawful and prohibited acts, and find peace and tranquillity.

إِنَّ الَّذِينَ قَالُوا رَبُّنَا اللَّهُ ثُمَّ اسْتَقَامُوا تَتَنَزَّلُ عَلَيْهِمُ الْمَلَائِكَةُ أَلَّا تَخَافُوا وَلَا تَحْزَنُوا وَأَبْشِرُوا بِالْجَنَّةِ الَّتِي كُنتُمْ تُوعَدُونَنَحْنُ أَوْلِيَاؤُكُمْ فِي الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا وَفِي الْآخِرَةِ ۖ وَلَكُمْ فِيهَا مَا تَشْتَهِي أَنفُسُكُمْ وَلَكُمْ فِيهَا مَا تَدَّعُونَ

“Verily, those who say, Allâh is our Lord, and then remain steadfast (and follow the straight path), the angels will descend upon them (saying), Have no fear nor grieve rather rejoice at the glad tidings of receiving the Gardens (of Paradise) which you have been promised. We are your Patron in the present life and in the Hereafter and you shall find in that (Paradise) all that you desire and you shall have therein all that you ask for.” (41:30)

Faith in a Supreme Deity is within your nature, as it is within the nature of all humans. Faith is at your disposal and exists within your various natural states. Faith in Allâh is the foundation of the Qur’ânic code of ethics in the sense that Allâh’s Attributes are like milestones on the way to good morals. It is through this channel that your soul can find its ultimate peace and tranquillity, which is called in the Holy Qur’ân al-nafs al-Mutma’innah النَّفْسُ الْمُطْمَئِنَّةُ , the soul at peace (89:2730).  Faith in the hereafter and in the Day of Judgment is the continuation of the principle of retribution and recompense for your deeds, which is the pivotal determinant in the laws of nature. If you are merely adhering to a moral code only by using your own personal judgment or the norms of your society, you are not motivated by the idea of any reward that you may get. When the Holy Qur’ân motivates you towards higher morals, however, it simultaneously tells you that by adopting higher morals, you not only improve and reform society, but you are also making your next life better (41:3031).

When a person with Faith in Allâh commits an act of disobedience (6:120), he exposes himself to divine punishment. When affliction descends upon him because of his act, he returns to Allâh in repentance. His repentance may be accepted by Him (3:135; 16:119; 61:12; 71:4), depending on the level of his Faith (imân). Allâh then repels the affliction from him and protects him and possibly others from the consequences of his wrongful deeds. This occurs because of Divine Mercy. The believer then offers thanks to his Lord, in the form of purifying alms and his repentance. Allâh says: “Do they not know that Allâh is He Who accepts repentance from His servants and accepts their alms and that Allâh is He Who is Oft-Returning (with compassion), Ever Merciful?” (9:104). The significance of the Words “Do they not know” is inevitability: Nothing can stop Him from accepting the repentance of His servant, and in return He expects the servant to give alms to the poor and needy.

Khulqخلق  is the term used in the Holy Qur’ân (see 68:4) to describe the disposition in a human beings virtue from which moral actions flow spontaneously and effortlessly. All the moral principles that exist are nothing else but a manifestation of natural human emotions, and human nature is the source of them all. However, also the human being can degrade himself to the “lowest of the low (if he does evil deeds) (95:5). He degrades himself only because of the Divine Law of cause and consequence.

The Attributes of Allâh mentioned in the Holy Qur’ân are the measures, balance, and standard of good. Observance of those measures is a virtue, and their contravention is sin. Virtue is not the suppression or denial of your human passions. When controlled correctly, passions can lead you to develop a high morality. Asceticism, monasticism, and priesthood have always caused more harm than good, because they demand the suppression of natural impulses, a suppression that can have disastrous results. On the other hand, all natural human impulses are necessary constituents for human progress. It is only a question of measure and balance (see 55:45).

The Holy Qur’ân uses many Words to differentiate the various acts of evil—such Words as dzanb, ithm, ‘udwân, sharr, fuhush, sû’i, isyân, fisq, fujar, khatâ; fasâd, bagh’î, munkar, and kufr. Each of these words expresses a different aspect of evil. Dzanb (3:31; 3:135; 3:147) is an act whose consequences are disagreeable because of unintentional disobedience; it is an evil act committed through inadvertence. Ithm (2:188; 2:206; 5:2; 6:120; 24:11), on the other hand, is intentional offense or crime. ‘Udwân (5:2) is transgression, a going beyond the limit, a state of being in enmity (4:14; 65:1; 68:12; 70:31). Sharr is the finding of faults in others, the descent into evil nature from ones upbringing (68:1113). Fuhush is shameful, immoderate lewdness, the knowledge of which is confined to the one who commits it (2:168; 3:135; 4:15; 4:19). Sû’i is a bad deed that makes a person regret and feel sorrow (2:169; 3:30; 4:17, 149; 9:37; 12:24). Isyân is rebellion against the law (2:61; 3:112; 73:16; 79:21). Fisq is first acceptance a law but then going against it (5:3; 6:121). Fujar is oral wickedness (38:28; 71:27; 75:5). Khatâ’ is the commission of an offense accidentally. Mischief making that may cause bloodshed is  fasâd (2:11, 60; 7:56; 38:21; 47:22). Baghî is rebellious transgression (2:90; 3:19; 7:33). The vice that society and people discover and condemn is munkar (3:104, 110, 114; 5:79, 7:157; 9:67). Besides these social evils are those that pertain to God, such as denying His messengers (3:98; 38:14), hiding the truth revealed by God (kufr; 3:70), betraying trust (4:107), and associating a son to Allâh (2:116;; 10:68; 17:111).

Ignorance is the Source of Evil

The Holy Qur’ân also mentions ignorance (jahâlat جَهَالَةٍ) as a source of evil. People do evil acts out of lack of knowledge as you read:

إِنَّمَا التَّوْبَةُ عَلَى اللَّهِ لِلَّذِينَ يَعْمَلُونَ السُّوءَ بِجَهَالَةٍ ثُمَّ يَتُوبُونَ مِن قَرِيبٍ فَأُولَـٰئِكَ يَتُوبُ اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِمْ ۗ وَكَانَ اللَّهُ عَلِيمًا حَكِيمًا

“Verily, Allâh undertakes to accept the repentance of only those who do evil through lack of knowledge, then repent soon after. Such are the persons towards whom Allâh turns with mercy. And Allâh is All-Knowing, All-Wise” (4:17).

Imâm Ghazâlî said, “When you grow up, a whole world of observation and perception is opened before you by nature, and the laws of nature begin to unfold themselves one by one before you. A reservoir of information of diverse types accumulates and is built up gradually in your mind, and this reservoir itself becomes a source of training for you and your fellow beings. Most people observe events unintentionally and pass over them summarily and think that their memory has not preserved these in its storehouse, but in fact, these observations and scenes find their way into your consciousness silently and imperceptibly, and they affect your behaviour.”

To acquire knowledge is a Divine Command, as the commanding word qul قُل (say!) in verse 20:114 قُل رَّبِّ زِدْنِي عِلْمًا  tells us. The real source of knowledge is the All-Knowing (al-‘Alîm), Who out of His Grace of Mercy (Rahmânîyyat; 55:1) has taught the human being the art of] intelligent and distinct speech” (عَلَّمَهُ الْبَيَانَ 55:4). He has implanted in you faculties of in you to acquire knowledge. What cannot be acquired by you with these faculties He has taught you through the Revelation of al-Qur’ân (55:2). There are four faculties implanted in you that help you to acquire knowledge. All these four faculties require effort on your part to make use of them. They are: 1) Ta‘aqil تَعْقِلُ (cf. 13:4; 11:51; 16:12; 8:22, mentioned 49 times). 2) Tafakkur تَفَكَّرُ (cf. 45:13; 16:12; 30:8, 13:3 mentioned 18 times). 3) Taddabur تَدَبَّرُ (cf. 38:29; 4:82, mentioned 44 times) and 4) Tafaqqah تَفْقَهُو  (cf. 7:179; 4:78, mentioned 20 times). Ta‘aqil تَعْقِلُ is derived from ‘aqala عْقِلُ that means, to be intelligent, use understanding, use reason, to ascend on the summit of the mountain, abstain from evil with the use of reason, to bind something that is contrary to understanding, keep back from something if it is in opposition to what was understood. Ta‘aqil تَعْقِلُ is to acquire knowledge in an intelligent manner about objects around you with direct observation that will enable you to make reasonable conclusion out of this observation. It demands from you the understandings of the proportion to which they appear, is to be used and is intended, and abstain you of using in a manner that can harm you. And by making use of your ‘aqal you can understand their origin and cause that is Allâh.  You read for example:

وَفِي الْأَرْضِ قِطَعٌ مُّتَجَاوِرَاتٌ وَجَنَّاتٌ مِّنْ أَعْنَابٍ وَزَرْعٌ وَنَخِيلٌ صِنْوَانٌ وَغَيْرُ صِنْوَانٍ يُسْقَىٰ بِمَاءٍ وَاحِدٍ وَنُفَضِّلُ بَعْضَهَا عَلَىٰ بَعْضٍ فِي الْأُكُلِ ۚ إِنَّ فِي ذَ‌ٰلِكَ لَآيَاتٍ لِّقَوْمٍ يَعْقِلُونَ

“And in the earth are (diverse) tracts side by side, and (in them there are) gardens of vines and (different kinds of) cornfields and date-palms; growing in clusters (many together from one root) and (others) growing separately from different roots. They are all watered with the same water, yet We make some of them excel others in (respect of) bearing fruit and (their) tastes. Behold! in all this, there are signs (to recognize their Lord) for a people who use their understanding” (11:4)

Tafakkur تَفَكَّرُ is derived from fakaraفَكَّر that means to reflect, think over with care, give proper attention. It is the act of speculation combined with thought and emotion. This faculty demands from you to think and reflect over a matter to ascertain the root cause of some action. This requires your attention, meditation and observation of nature in order to speculate the laws under which they are happening and exhibiting their actions and arrive at the cause and originator of that observation. For example you read:

وَهُوَ الَّذِي مَدَّ الْأَرْضَ وَجَعَلَ فِيهَا رَوَاسِيَ وَأَنْهَارًا ۖ وَمِن كُلِّ الثَّمَرَاتِ جَعَلَ فِيهَا زَوْجَيْنِ اثْنَيْنِ ۖ يُغْشِي اللَّيْلَ النَّهَارَ ۚ إِنَّ فِي ذَ‌ٰلِكَ لَآيَاتٍ لِّقَوْمٍ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ

“And it is He Who drew forth the earth (from another heavenly body) and made it productive and fertile by means of particles (of other planets), and made firm mountains and rivers on it. He has grown therein fruit of every kind in a pair comprising both sexes (the male stamens and female pistils). He causes the night to cover the day. Behold! in all this there are signs for a people who reflect”. (13:3)

 Taddabur تَدَبَّرُ is an obligation to consider, think over and ponder over something in an excellent manner and to get maximum benefit out of it. The word is derived from dabara دبَرَ that means to manage and administer an affair in excellent manner; to consider the issues and the results of the affairs; perform and execute the affair with thought and consideration, and regulate an affair (Tâj; Lisân; Lane). You read:

كِتَابٌ أَنزَلْنَاهُ إِلَيْكَ مُبَارَكٌ لِّيَدَّبَّرُوا آيَاتِهِ وَلِيَتَذَكَّرَ أُولُو الْأَلْبَابِ

“(Behold! this Qur’ân is) a great Book which We have revealed to you; full of excellences, so that these (people) may ponder over its verses and so that those gifted with pure understanding may take heed” (38:29)

Faqîh  فقيهis the one who is learned and skilled in laws of nature and other Divine laws. He makes use of his faculty of tafaqquhتفقٌه  to penetrate, understand and then master that particular field of knowledge. He makes use of all other three faculties to acquire knowledge. A person who does not make use of this faculty is described in Qur’ân dumb, deaf and blind.

وَلَقَدْ ذَرَأْنَا لِجَهَنَّمَ كَثِيرًا مِّنَ الْجِنِّ وَالْإِنسِ ۖ لَهُمْ قُلُوبٌ لَّا يَفْقَهُونَ بِهَا وَلَهُمْ أَعْيُنٌ لَّا يُبْصِرُونَ بِهَا وَلَهُمْ آذَانٌ لَّا يَسْمَعُونَ بِهَا ۚ أُولَـٰئِكَ كَالْأَنْعَامِ بَلْ هُمْ أَضَلُّ ۚ أُولَـٰئِكَ هُمُ الْغَافِلُونَ

“And, verily, We have created many of the jinns [fiery natured] and the ordinary people whose end is Gehenna. They have hearts wherewith they do not understand and they have eyes but they do not see with them (the truth), and they have ears but they do not hear (the Messages) with them. They are like cattle, nay, they are (even) worse. It is these who are utterly heedless (to the warnings)”. (7:179)

Every action is followed by a reaction. You already know how your health is influenced by changes in the weather, by your food, your dress, and your home. The Holy Qur’ân goes even further, saying that these environmental influences affect even your morals. The Qur’ânic commandments, such as its laws about food, dress, the principles of government, and the economic order, are meant not only to keep the physical, social, and economic aspects of your life in order, but also to uplift your moral condition. For example, the use of unclean and unlawful food (alcohol and so on) will negatively affect your moral condition and your family life.

To safeguard the new-born from any evil influence and to impress upon him the highest form of uplifting sound effects, the Holy Prophet (pbuh) used to recite the adzân (the call for Prayer) in the right ear and the iqâma (the Prayer service readiness call) in the left ear of a new-born child. If you look closely at the wordings of these two calls, you notice that they consist of sentences calling one to the highest level of purification. Another way to avoid evil is to keep away from the company of persons of low moral standards. We are told:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اتَّقُوا اللَّهَ وَكُونُوا مَعَ الصَّادِقِينَ

“O You who believe! Keep your duty to Allâh and be with the truthful” (9:119).

This companionship with the truthful can be accomplished in different ways, but one practical way would be for you to develop friendships with the pious, attend gatherings of such persons, study their writings, and read their biographies.  The pollution of the environment can be another source of evil. To rectify this kind of uncleanness, the Holy Qur’ân teaches:

وَثِيَابَكَ فَطَهِّرْ وَالرُّجْزَ فَاهْجُر

“And purify your clothes and your heart. And idol-worship, (spare no pains to) exterminate it and shun all uncleanliness”. (74:4–5)

“Atonement” obviates the Necessity for Good Deeds

In Christian theology, atonement refers to the forgiveness, or pardoning, of sin through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christians believe that Jesus died for the sins of humankind, the sins of the past, the present, and the future. It is this teaching that prevails in Christianity today, and it is the marketing tool of all Christian missionaries. It is the foundation of virtually every Christian church, whether it be Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Baptist, Methodist, or any of the other denominations. Majority of Christians believe that their sins are forgiven by the blessed name and blood of Jesus. They believe that the sacrifice of the “Son of God” was needed to atone for the evil deeds of humanity, since God, being a judge, cannot, and should not, forgive sins without taking revenge, unless somebody can be found to provide compensation. In the ransom metaphor, Jesus has liberated humankind from its slavery to sin and its slavery to satan by giving his own life as a ransom sacrifice. This “ransom view of the atonement” is one of the main doctrines in Christian theology, providing the effect of the death of Jesus Christ. According to Christian belief, the death of Christ was a ransom sacrifice, usually said to have been paid to satan, and in some views paid to God the Father, in satisfaction for the bondage and debt on the souls of humanity as a result of inherited sin.

Since the Christian God could not find any other remedy for the cleansing of human sins, then you would have to conclude that there is no need of any good action on your part. If forgiveness and the cleansing of sins were attainable merely by a belief in the “Grace of Blood,” few would consider it worthwhile to bear the hardships and trials of a life of piety and righteousness. Many Christians feel that belief in atonement obviates the necessity for good deeds. It is dangerous to believe in such doctrines as atonement, which not only have no bearing on your life but also are actually harmful in their effects on the building of your character. In the matter of culture and civilization, such doctrines as atonement have proven an implacable enemy to spiritual progress. Law loses all its force and cannot compel universal adherence unless and until some reward or punishment comes to the one who fulfils or breaks it. Only a few have the moral fortitude to pursue virtue for its own sake. It is only the requital and reward of virtue, especially when seen in its efficacy in counterbalancing the effects of sin that leads to constant fulfilment of the law and a good life. We cannot imagine any greater harm to the very fabric of human society than that which comes to us as a belief in the doctrine of atonement. It is here that the makers of the modern Christian creed have erred. The doctrine of atonement was inherited from paganism and is contrary to the very teachings of Jesus Christ, who demanded of every person that he should bear his own cross.

It is also wrong to think that a human being was born with a hereditary stain, that this stain, for which he was not personally responsible, had to be atoned for, and that God was compelled to make a blood sacrifice of His own “innocent son” in order to neutralize this mysterious curse. It goes against the justice and Mercy of our Creator. It is a piece of superstition and can never receive approval from reason and culture. It was created to popularize the Christian faith in the pagan world. The dogma of God incarnate, along with other mysterious tenets within the prevailing pagan psyche, has been incorporated into the real and simple faith of Jesus Christ. The crucified deity is an old myth, an overly simplified understanding of personal responsibility and Faith, only befitting those who are inclined to shift their burdens onto the shoulders of others. The Holy Qur’ân has this to say about such a believer:

أَعِندَهُ عِلْمُ الْغَيْبِ فَهُوَ يَرَىٰ أَمْ لَمْ يُنَبَّأْ بِمَا فِي صُحُفِ مُوسَىٰ وَإِبْرَاهِيمَ الَّذِي وَفَّىٰ أَلَّا تَزِرُ وَازِرَةٌ وِزْرَ أُخْرَىٰ وَأَن لَّيْسَ لِلْإِنسَانِ إِلَّا مَا سَعَىٰ وَأَنَّ سَعْيَهُ سَوْفَ يُرَىٰ ثُمَّ يُجْزَاهُ الْجَزَاءَ الْأَوْفَىٰ

“Has he the knowledge of the unseen so that he can see (his own future)? Has he not been informed of the contents of the Scriptures of Moses, and (those of) Abraham who thoroughly and faithfully fulfilled (the commandments of his Lord? (The Scriptures say that) no soul that bears a burden shall bear the burden of another (soul). And that a human being will have (to his account) what he strives for. And that his strivings shall necessarily be seen (and evaluated), Then will he be recompensed fully and fairly.” (53:35–41)

It is only the awe and fear of Divine Majesty that can safeguard against sin and evil. Once you realize that Allâh is the Dispenser of punishment and that His punishment is severe (2:165), this awesome consciousness becomes a barrier against sins.

Suppression of Natural Instincts is not Piety

Allâh does not expect you to suppress your basic instincts and renounce the good things of life, nor has He told you that any human faculty or desire is in itself bad.  You read:

يَا بَنِي آدَمَ خُذُوا زِينَتَكُمْ عِندَ كُلِّ مَسْجِدٍ وَكُلُوا وَاشْرَبُوا وَلَا تُسْرِفُوا ۚ إِنَّهُ لَا يُحِبُّ الْمُسْرِفِينَ

“O Children of Adam! Look to your elegance (by dressing properly) at every time and place of worship, and eat and drink but exceed not the bounds, for He does not love those who exceed the bounds.” (7:31)

The Qur’ânic moral teachings come to light through this verse. Your instincts and impulses become bad when you use them inappropriately by exceeding limits. The Holy Qur’an has lauded those who control their libido but not the one who wipes out his capacity for libido. In fact, the triumph of joy and cheerfulness in this world is promoted not through snuffing out your emotions and instincts; rather, it lies in your proper, balanced, and appropriate use of them. Allâh also discourages the giving up of this worldly life and adopting monasticism:

وَرَهْبَانِيَّةً ابْتَدَعُوهَا مَا كَتَبْنَاهَا عَلَيْهِمْ إِلَّا ابْتِغَاءَ رِضْوَانِ اللَّهِ فَمَا رَعَوْهَا حَقَّ رِعَايَتِهَا ۖ فَآتَيْنَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا مِنْهُمْ أَجْرَهُمْ ۖ وَكَثِيرٌ مِّنْهُمْ فَاسِقُونَ

“..but as for monasticism they invented it themselves, We did not enjoin it upon them. (They started monastic life) to seek Allâh’s pleasure, but they did not observe it (as faithfully) as it should have been observed. Yet We duly rewarded such of them as (truly) believed but many of them were transgressors” (57:27).

The monks and recluses are often a burden, because they live off the society. In addition, some moral qualities require a minimum amount of interaction with society to develop fully. The Holy Qur’ân has never aimed at the elimination of any human power, faculty, or emotion; rather, it has stressed the need for the normalization and training of these natural powers.

قُلْ مَنْ حَرَّمَ زِينَةَ اللَّهِ الَّتِي أَخْرَجَ لِعِبَادِهِ وَالطَّيِّبَاتِ مِنَ الرِّزْقِ ۚ قُلْ هِيَ لِلَّذِينَ آمَنُوا فِي الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَاخَالِصَةً يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ ۗ

 “Say, Who has made things unlawful Allâh’s beautiful things of adornment and elegance which He has produced for His servants and the delicious and pure things of (His) providing? Say, They are primarily meant for the believers (and for the disbelievers too) in this present life (but) exclusively for (the believers) on the Day of Resurrection.” (7:32)

Holy Qur’ân does not advocate the abandonment of any of these instincts; rather, it has drawn attention towards the promotion of their growth. Behind all Qur’ânic commandments, the same wisdom is at work, and that is to train these instincts. You should not go about suppressing your physical desires and start living the life of a monk in order to attain His pleasure and acceptance. In other words, the measure of moral excellence lies midway between unrestricted license to follow your desires, on the one hand, and monasticism, on the other hand. Avoidance of attachment to physical needs, when carried out within certain limits, is useful in developing your spiritual powers, since no spiritual power can develop without your first controlling your physical powers. Such control is encouraged in the form of fasting, including I‘tikâf, the ten days of seclusion devoted to Prayer during the month of fasting. It is the only such isolation recommended in Islam.