The Role of Humanity and the Sin of Self Exaltation

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The Qur'an approaches the relationship between humanity and the rest of existence in an interesting scene, which evokes imagination and historical contemplation:

`Behold,' your Lord said to the angels: `I will create a khalifah (vicegerent) on earth.' They said: `Will You place therein one who will make mischief therein and shed blood? While we do celebrate Your praises (chant gratitude) and glorify Your holy (name)?' He said: `I know what you know not.' (Surah 2 Al Baqarah: 30)

In the story, the word "Khalifah " (Caliph or vicegerent) stands for a creature, who will be trusted to perform tasks assigned by God. In a discussion about the human project, the angels object because this creature, they claim, will spread corruption and spill blood; for them, corruption is the absence of equality, the hierarchy of superiority and inferiority, and bloodshed is the result of this corrupt relationship. God responds that He knows what they do not know in terms of this creature's abilities and potential.

Another Qur'anic passage suggests that humanity has been given a place of trust, because of our ability through the nervous system to know good &om evil, to carry the covenant. "Agreement, covenant, trust, integrity, knowledge, loyalty" are the words used in the Qur'an to stress the uniqueness of the human condition and our special existential status in relation to other creatures: "We did indeed offer the Trust to the heavens and the earth and the mountains but they declined to undertake it, being a&aid thereof but insan (the human being) undertook it. He was indeed oppressive and ignorant." (Surah 33 Al Ahzab: 72)

This is also the same meaning we find in the book of Genesis: "The Lord God . . . said, `The man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil . . . . "' (Gen 3:22)

The Heavens and other creatures are incapable of distinguishing good from evil, incapable of disobedience. Only humanity has the capacity for obedience and disobedience, for humanity alone has knowledge of harms and benefits. In the dialogue between God and the angels about humanity, the angels admit their ignorance when they are faced with the new creature's capacity:

And He taught Adam all the names; then he placed them before the angels, and said : `Tell Me the names of these if you are right.' They said: `Glory to You: of knowledge: we have none, save what You have taught us: in truth it is You who are perfect in knowledge and wisdom.' He said: `O Adam! Tell them their names.' When he had told them, God said: `Did I not tell you that I know the secrets of heaven and earth, and I know what you reveal and what you conceal?' (Surah 2 A1 Baqara: 33)

It is as if God is saying that this creature's potential comes from its ability to name, to give symbolic designation to things in creation, an ability that makes humans worthy to become God's deputies on earth. Through this human ability to symbolize, God's prophecy will unfold, even though humanity itself does not see this divine futuristic vision. Our species is still realizing the expectations and predictions of the angels, instead of God's vision1.

Indeed, Satan himself is unwilling to accept God's conferral of authority upon humans2, tempting them with the prospect of their own power as gods:

Then did Satan make them slip from the (garden), and get them out of the state (of felicity) in which they had been. We said: `Get you down, all (you people), with enmity between yourselves. On earth will be your dwelling place and your means of livelihood for a time.' (Id. at 36)
Then began Satan to whisper suggestions (insinuate) to them, in order to reveal to them their shame that was hidden from them (before): he said: "Your Lord only forbade you this tree, lest you should become angels or join those who are immortal3." (Surah 7 Al-A'raf 20)

However, when Adam and Eve fall for Satan's lure, God addresses them equally to signify their equal responsibility and status, and they confess the injustice they have committed: "They said: `Our Lord! We have been unjust to ourselves (wronged ourselves). If You forgive us not and bestow not upon us Your mercy, we shall certainly be lost. "' (Id. at 23)

It is perhaps this ability to admit the truth that made Adam worthy of vicegerency4, unlike Satan, or (Iblis), who thought himself too important to recognize the trust given to Adam. Not only did Satan refuse to take responsibility for his own actions5, but he took pride in his material origins: (God) said: "What prevented you from bowing down when I commanded you?" He said: "I am better than he: You did create me from fire, and him from clay." (Id. at 12)

Like Satan, the racial pride and reference to one's origins and refusal to take responsibility for disobedience leads to religious, ethnic and even civilizational conflicts. History teaches us that civilizations do not perish as martyrs, but as suicides from their internal diseases. Solutions come from the self, from discovering one's mistakes, not from blaming others. That is why the Qur'an suggests that God is not responsible for injustice, for injustice comes from the self and is worse than injustice inflicted by any other6.

The Soviet Union perished through its own injustice and so will other societies, even those that consider themselves to be orthodox, to be beloved sons of God. The Qur'an condemns what some call orthodoxy as self perceived exalted status, and shows how judging other nations as less worthy is a common problem that afflicts us all: "And they say: `None shall enter Paradise unless he be a Jew or a Christian.' Those are their (vain) desires. Say: `Produce your proof if you are truthful. "' (Surah 2 Al Baqarah: 112)

All religious and political communities reward themselves with a monopoly over paradise in their stories and tales. These are only mere human wishes, which many previous nations have expressed; but the law of the Lord in history is not based on some whimsical illusion or on favoritism for some at the expense of others. According to the Qur'an, the law of the Lord does not distinguish among humans. "Nay¬whoever submits his face (self) to God while compassionate (doer of good) has his reward with his Lord; on such shall be no fear, Nor shall they grieve." (Id. at 111)7


1 It is said: "And behold, We said to the angels: `Bow down to Adam:' and they bowed down: not so Iblis (Satan): he refused and was haughty; he was of infidels." Surah 2 AI Baqarah: 34.

2 "We said: `O Adam! Dwell you and your wife in the garden; and eat of the bountiful things therein as (where and when) you will; but approach not this tree, or you be among the unjust (transgressors)."' Id. at 35.

3 The passage continues: "And he swore to them both, that he was their sincere adviser. So by deceit he brought about their fall: when they tasted of the tree, their shame became manifest to them, and they began to sew together the leaves of the garden over themselves. . . . And their Lord called unto them: "Did I not forbid you that tree, And tell you that Satan was an avowed enemy unto you?" Surah 7 Al-A'raf 21-22.

4 Although the Qur'an states that Satan had a big role in tempting them to eat from the tree by arguing that it would give them immortality and eternal authority, Adam and Eve confessed that it was they who wronged themselves. Satan presented himself as a sincere counsel. But Adam and Eve did not mention Satan's temptation and misleading. Rather, they took the burden of responsibility without trying to place blame somewhere else. T'hey perhaps even felt that blaming Satan would condemn them twice whereas admitting the truth could redeem their wrong

5 We hear:

Then We bade the angels bow down to Adam, and they bowed down; not so Iblis; He refused to be of those who bowed down. (God) said: `Get thee down from this: it is not for thee to be arrogant here: get out, for thou art of the meanest.' He said: `Give me respite till the day they are raised up.' (God) said: `Be thou amongst those who have respite.' He said: `Because Thou hast thrown me out of the way (misled me), lo! I will lie in wait for them on thy straight way.' Surah 7 A1 A'raf 12-16.

It is impottant to note that Satan had two reasons to excuse his disobedience. First, he used his material origin, arguing that he was created of a matter better than Adam's. Second, he used his worldview to explain his disobedience, arguing that God made him sin.

6 For instance, there are passages that read: "Whatever good, happens to you, is &om God; but whatever evil happens to you is from your own self." Surah 4 Al-Nisaa: 79. "God was not unjust to them: nay, they were unjust to themselves." Surah 16 A1 Nahl: 33. So, any judgement about others is a judgement about one's self be it good or bad. Moreover, the Surah says: "Whoever works righteousness benefits his own self; whoever misbehaves, it is against his own self; nor is your Lord ever unjust (in the least) to his servants." Surah 41 Fussilat: 46.

7 . The Qur'an also says:

Nor your desires, nor those of the People of the Book (Can prevail): whoever works evil, will be requited accordingly. Nor will he find, besides God, any protector or helper. Surah 4 A1 Nisa': 123.

(Both) the Jews and the Christians said: `We are the sons of God, and his beloved.' Say: `Why then does He punish you for your mistakes (sins). Nay, you are but humans of those He has created. . . .' Surah 5 A1 Ma'idah: 18.

This passage implies the equality of all human beings: God does not have sons above the law, and no group of people have special privileges, not even the peoples of the Book:

The Jews say: `The Christians have naught (to stand) upon,' And the Christians say: `The Jews have naught (to stand) upon.' Yet they study the same Book. Like unto their word is what those say who know not; but God will judge between them in their quarrel on the Day of Judgement. Surah 2 Al Baqarah: 1 13.

This is the message of all prophets, as the Biblical story of John the Baptist shows: When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism he said to them: `Vipers' brood! Who warned to escape from the wrath that is to come? Prove your repentance by the fruit you bear; and do not imagine you can say, `We have Abraham for our father.' I tell you that God can make children for Abraham out of these stones. The axe lies ready at the roots of the trees; every tree that fails to produce good fruit is cut down and thrown on the fire. Matt 3:7-10.

We read these words elsewhere in the Bible as well:

Many, I tell you, will come from the east and west to sit with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob at the banquet in the kingdom of Heaven. But those who were born to the kingdom will be thrown out into the dark, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth. Man 8:11-12.

Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because my teaching is beyond your grasp. Your father is the devil and you choose to carry out your father's desires. John 8: 43-44.