Chapter 11 THE DEVELOPMENT OF HUMAN PERSONALITY Islam: A challenge to Religion by G A Parwez

  1. The Law of Rububiyyah

In the course of ages, the idea slowly dawned on man’s mind and gradually crystallised that the world is not merely changing, but is developing towards perfection. The changes are not haphazard; nor erratic. They show a direction. In changing, the world is unfolding its real nature: in the process, what is implicit in it becomes explicit and what is hidden is brought to light. Purpose runs like a golden thread – a binding cord – throughout the universe. The progressive aspect of changes in the world did not escape the notice of some early Greek thinkers. The Greeks were an unusually gifted people and their fertile imagination, unhampered by tradition and custom, explored the realms of mind and matter. Their, restless minds were ever shaping new theories and advancing new viewpoints. They anticipated the evolutionary theory, as they anticipated many  scientific theories of this age. It is to the credit of modern science that by adducing palpable evidence it has raised what was a nebulous hypothesis, to the plane of a scientific theory, or almost a law of nature. Physics shows a picture of a developing and expanding universe. Biologists describe in minute, ornate detail the evolution of life from the protozoa and protophyta to Homo sapiens. It is true that biologists, with the exception of Lamarck, reject the concept of purpose as alien to science. It is because purpose does not fit into their conceptual framework of natural  science. But for the man who looks at the world with an untainted mind, purpose is a fact of observation: it is blinkers of science that may prevent us from noticing the purpose. Nevertheless, it is writ large on the face of nature. We understand a thing when we know its end. Nothing around us stays as it is at one particular moment, it is always changing and becoming something different to what it is. As a rule, we are much less interested in a thing as it is than in what it is tending to become. Suppose while taking a walk, we meet a man who is running fast. It is not by determining his exact location at a particular moment that we understand his activity, but by learning about his purpose and the goal he is heading for. The physical world as it develops is accomplishing a purpose. Although the physical world is not conscious of the purpose, nevertheless it is, in a sense, its purpose which enhances its value and enriches it with new attributes. The purpose is positive, constructive and operates objectively. We may say that the world is destined to move towards and attain the goal which God, in His wisdom, has set for it. This holds for the outer universe. With man the case is quite different. Possessing a free self, he can develop and attain his own end only by free choice and personal effort. Man cannot be forced to develop; he must develop himself. Because man grows, he is compared with a plant in the Qur’an. The seed germinates and puts forth a young shoot. The tiny stalk grows in bulk and height, It becomes the full-grown tree which bears fruit. It has fulfilled its purpose by reproducing its kind. Man takes his origin in the fertilized ovum. After birth, he grows in size and strength, till he reaches maturity and is ready for procreation. The analogy cannot be carried beyond this point. Man, when he has begotten children, has not fulfilled his purpose. His destiny is far different from that of the plant.  He is not a mere instrument for the preservation of his race. His body, no doubt, has fulfilled its purpose when he has begotten children, but he possesses a self and the self does not beget its like. It does not procreate. Says the Qur’an of the Divine Self that “He neither begets nor is He begotten” (112:3). This is also true of the human self which, though infinitely lower than the Divine Self, has more in common with it than with physical objects or animals. The self’s activity is creative, not procreative. It creates values and the values enrich and expand its nature and raise it in the scale of existence. While the evolution of nature proceeds under the direct control and supervision of God, man is an active participant in his own evolution. Man develops as a result of his own free choice and deliberate voluntary efforts. The evolution of his self, therefore, is governed by laws distinct from those that obtain for nature. He too cannot dispense with Divine help and guidance, but these are offered to him in a form which does not impair the integrity of his self, nor imperil his freedom. He is left free to accept or reject Divine Guidance. Deen comprises the principles of conduct which can lead him to his goal, but they would do so only when they are freely adopted and acted upon.

From this vantage point it is clear to us that development is the rule in the world. In the language of the Qur’an it is the Law of Rububiyyah. This Law states that God carries forward the universe and everything in it from one stage to a higher one. God keeps everything moving forward, actualising its latent capabilities. It is a dynamic universe and the most dynamic being in it is man. In such a universe, there will obviously be different stages of existence. The Law of Rububiyyah is tuned, to each stage of existence but its purpose and aim remains unaffected throughout. The Law is the sheet-anchor of the universe, the guarantee that everything in it will develop to the full extent of its capacity: the only possible exception is man who, through his own volition, may set himself against it and misapply his freedom by choosing to descend instead of ascending, to creep on earth instead of soaring in the sky (7:176).

  2. Course of Self-development

The evolutionary process, in evidence in the outer world, takes within man the form, of self-development. What are the conditions  under which self-development proceeds smoothly without let or hindrance? Some conditions are common for each stage of development in general, others apply only to self-development – the most exciting form of development. Let us consider the common ones first. Nothing exists by itself in isolation. Everything is related to many other things and the relationship between them is not merely of co-existence, but of co-operation. The development, therefore, depends on the presence and co-operation of several factors. To take a concrete example, a seed is capable of growing into a tree. However, for its growth it depends on soil, water, minerals, air and sunlight. All these must not only be present, but they must also bear proper relations to each other and to the seed. If the seed is placed in one pot, soil in another and water in a third pot, nothing will happen. But if the seed is related to these things in such a way that they interact on each other, the seed will soon sprout and burgeon. The human body too develops through intimate interaction with environmental forces and objects. All things in the world are interdependent; they need each other and help each other. This is still more true of the self of man. The self can develop only in a social environment, through interaction with other free selves. It needs a society in which there is internal harmony and concord. It burgeons in the context of friendly relations with kindred beings. Their sympathy and co-operation are essential to its growth. The sense of participation in social activities directed to a noble end adds a new dimension to the self. Self-realisation is possible for man only in society, a society which is based on justice and respect for human personality, a society which is dedicated to the acquisition of higher values. The society which favours the growth of the self, is that in which every man gladly helps others and gratefully receives help from them. In a society torn by dissension, the demands of the physical self become imperative. In such a society, every man will be thinking of himself and his personal interests. His mind will be engrossed with the problem of protecting his life, property and children from other men. Biological motives will dominate the mind and the urge for a higher life will be relegated to the background. In a society of this kind the pursuit of the good is not possible. Man needs a society in which all the members are bound to each other by ties of friendship and animated by the spirit of comradeship. Belief in these values is the first commitment of belief in God. The Qur’an exhorts man to build up a society in which men are united by such an Eiman in God for the purpose of collating a society which is not wrought-up by internal tensions:

And hold fast by the cord of God, all of you, and be not divided; but remember the favour of God towards you, when you were enemies and He united your hearts so that you became, by His favour, as brothers  (3:103).

The society so cultivated and congenial is the Ummah of the Qur’an. “This is how He has raised an Ummah – community – from among you” (2:143). This is the reason for the Qur’an’s emphasis on corporate life and for its disapproval of monasticism. Goethe once remarked that character is formed not in solitude, but in the hurly-burly of life. The self shrinks and contracts in solitude, while it grows and expands through active and continuous participation in group activities.

A harmonious, well-knit and integrated personality can take shape only in a balanced and concordant society. The human mind is the arena of conflicting desires. Society too carries the seed of discord as it is composed of individuals with different and often opposed tastes, interests and aims. In society the resulting conflicts should not be resolved by suppressing one party and giving free rein to the other. The true solution lies in mutual adjustment, in reconciling one to the other and in discovering an activity or a way of life which affords reasonable satisfaction to rivals. Balance and proportion should characterise personality as well as society. How can human personality acquire proportion? The answer is that it can do so only by taking as its model the Divine Attributes, Asmaa-ul-Husnaa (Beautiful Names).

The Divine Attributes, severally, represent the highest degree of each intrinsically valuable quality and they collectively reflect proportion of the highest order. If we bear in mind that proportion is an essential condition of beauty, and some might go so far as to say that proportion itself is beauty, it will be clear to us why the term Husnaa is applied to these attributes. These are beautiful because each bears the right proportion to others, so as to form a well-balanced whole. Husn, however, must be taken in a wider sense. It denotes not only physical beauty but moral beauty as well. Proportion is the only antidote to the poison of discord and conflict in the self as well as in society.

There is at least one marked distinction in the way of development of the self from that of the body. The body grows by taking and assimilating nutrient substances from the environment. The more nourishment it gets, the better is its growth. Paradoxically, the self grows not by receiving but by giving. Generosity promotes its growth and meanness checks it. The more the self gives of its riches, the richer it grows. If this basic truth is clearly perceived, men will rush to the help of those in need. Pride in possession will give place to joy in munificence. They will think more of what they can give than of what they can keep for themselves. The acquisitive instinct will be weakened and the impulse to give will gain strength. The Qur’an extols men who put the interests of others above their own:

They prefer others before themselves, although there be indigence among them; and whosoever is preserved from the covetousness of his own soul, these shall prosper (59:9).

The tendency directly, opposed to generosity that we have been considering is covetousness, termed shuh-un-nafs in the Qur’an (59:9). It is acquisitive, possessive and egoistic. The covetous man wants to appropriate all the good things within his reach and is callously indifferent to the needs of others. Suppose a number of men are gathered at a water tap. They know that the flow of water will cease in an hour or so. Each is eager to fill his pitcher. The covetous man elbows his way through the crowd, rudely pushes the pitcher of another from underneath the tap and places his own in its place. He does not care if others have to go without water. All he cares for is to have a plentiful supply of water for himself. Covetousness deadens the human self and the Qur’an admonishes us to be on our guard against this insidious disease of the self. It exhorts us to help all men, and not only our kith and kin. The Qur’an is objective and universal in its outlook. It seeks the welfare of all humanity and not only of a particular sect or community. According to the Qur’an, only that endures which benefits “man” whoever he may be and to whatever country, nation or group he may belong. We would do well to reflect on the verse quoted below:

He sends down water from heaven, and the brooks flow according to their (respective) measure, and the flood bears along a swelling foam. And from the metals which they smelt in fire seeking to cast ornaments and necessaries, arises a scum like it. Thus Allah coineth the similitude of the true and the false. As to the foam, it goes off as refuse, and as to what is profitable to mankind, it remains on the earth. Thus God strikes out parables (13:17).

The proposition, “Only that survives which is for the benefit of all mankind,” together with its corollary, “only those survive who benefit all mankind” are the fundamental principles of self-development. The law is not “the survival of the fittest” but “the survival of the most munificent” In other words, according to the standard laid down by the Qur’an, only the most munificent is the fittest to survive. Those who have imbibed the true spirit of the Qur’an, will eschew selfishness and will dedicate themselves to the service of humanity. They are the real Muslims.

Nationalism and colonialism have been dominant forces in the West during the last two or three centuries. Both generate narrow-mindedness and a parochial attitude. The European thought only of his own nation or empire. Even in the West, however, some thinkers have exhorted their compatriots to work for the good of all mankind. We quote an eloquent passage from Rashdall’s book on ethics:

It may be urged that the ideal is that I should be producing something for another and find my good in doing so; while he is working in turn for my good, and finds his good in doing so.(1)

An eloquent  defence of this view is  to   be   found  in Robert Briffault’s Making of Humanity:

The peculiar means and conditions of human development necessitate that development shall take place not by way of individuals, but by way of the entire human race; that the grade of development of each individual is the resultant of that oecumenical development (p. 260).

He says further:

The making of humanity! That is the burden of man’s evolution; and that is the solid, nay, somewhat hard fact, of which the ‘moral law’ is the vaguely conscious expression. It is not throbbing impulse of altruism, no inspiration of generosity for its own sake, but a heavy weight of necessity laid upon man’s development by the unbending conditions that govern it (p. 261).

On another place, he has elaborated the point:

In the natural scale, that action is good which contributes to the process of human development, that act is evil which tends to impede, retard, oppose that process: that individual life is well deserving which is in the direct line of that evolution, that is futile which lies outside the course of its advance; that is condemned which endeavours to oppose the current. That is the natural, the absolute and actual standard of moral values. Nature does not value the most saintly and charitable life which brings no contribution to human growth, as much as a single act which permanently promotes the evolution of the race. …. The only measure of worth of which nature takes any account – by perpetuating it – is the contribution offered towards the building up of a higher humanity (p. 352).

The real interests of the individual are not detached from but are interwoven with those of mankind. They are not antithetical to but are identical with each other. Man, therefore, realises himself by furthering the interest of mankind. This is the truth which the Qur’an proclaims. It regards all “mankind as one community” (10:19). It does not recognize the distinctions of caste, race, creed or colour. Mankind is one whole, a single, though complex, entity for it:

Your creation and your raising are but as those of single self (31:28).

The Qur’an speaks of Ka’bah, the centre of the Muslim world, as “an establishment for the entire mankind” (5:97). It holds that the wellbeing of the individual depends on the well-being of the society. Muslims are enjoined to work not for the well-being of the Muslim community but for that of all mankind. The Qur’an leaves no doubt on this point, and Prof. Whitehead is in full agreement with it when he says that:

The perfection of life resides in aims beyond the individual person in question.(2)

Mason says:

Man, in his individual capacity, self-develops his personality as he satisfies his desires, and his self-conscious interpretations of his subconscious knowledge of his origin in Pure Spirit may influence his activities. But, racially, man ought to engage only in such activities as tend to extend creative freedom to the utmost through the self-creativeness of all personalities to their uttermost limits. Man may turn from this second movement while holding to the first. Man, therefore, may be moral individually and immoral racially. The highest personalities unite the two moralities.(3)

The interdependence of man is the recurring theme of the Qur’an. The Qur’anic programme for man has a twofold aim – the furtherance of the best interests of the individual as well as of the society. In working for the good of mankind, man achieves his own good as well. This view has been held by some great thinkers in the West also. We quote from Kant:

Act in such a way as to treat thyself and every other human being as of equal intrinsic value; behave as a member of a society in which each regards the good of the other as of equal value with his own, and is so treated by the rest, in which each is both end and means, in which each realises his own good in promoting that of others.(4)

The Qur’an goes a step further and declares that “the believers prefer others to themselves although there is indigence among them” (59:9). Julian Huxley, a great scientist who holds no brief for religion, writes to the same effect:

I believe that the whole duty of man can be summed up in the words: more life for your neighbour as for yourself. And I believe that man, though not without perplexity, effort and pain, can fulfil this duty and gradually achieve his destiny. A religion which takes this as its central core and interprets it with wide vision, both of the possibilities open to man and of the limitations in which he is confined will be a true religion, because it is conterminous with life; it will encourage the growth of life, and will itself grow with that growth. I believe in the religion of life.(5)

Julian Huxley, of course, does not believe that man needs the help of Divine Revelation. He holds fast to the view that reason alone can enable man to grasp the true relationship between himself and mankind. Here, he is oversimplifying the problem.  He fails to see that mere intellectual apprehension of a truth is not enough, that it does not guarantee that we will always follow the hard path he has suggested. Reason may lead us to the lofty peak which gives a wider vision of life, but Revelation gives us the strength to stay there and order our life in accordance with that vision. Ovid’s famous line is pertinent to the point, “Video meliora proboque, deteriora sequor!” (I see the better way, approve it, but I follow the worse!). Reason can point out the right path but it lacks the power to compel us to follow it. Revelation supplements reason. It confirms and expands the vision granted by reason and also sustains and guides us in the arduous journey to our goal. Revelation summons men to a fuller and richer life and is meant only for those “who are living” (36:70).

Life, we should bear in mind, is much more than physical existence. It is a steady and continuous progress towards a higher stage in social, moral and intellectual development. Man approaches this stage by helping his fellow beings to do the same. If man pushes society forward, society in turn pushes him on, and so both rise to the desired higher level. Says the Qur’an:

O ye who believe! Respond to God and His apostle, when he calls you to that which gives you life (8:24).

To sum up, man is organically related to all mankind. His vital interests are bound up with the interest of humanity. He can fulfil himself only by serving other men and by putting their interest above his own. He realises his good only by working for the general good. The Qur’an puts it clearly:

(The believers say): We feed you for the sake of Allah only. We wish for no reward or thanks from you (76:9).

Man is really benefiting himself by serving other men. So the question of reward does not arise. As the Qur’an says:

Is the reward of Ihsaan aught save Ihsaan (55:60).

Dedicated to the service of mankind, the believers keep the doors of the Rububiyyah Order open to all. They sincerely rejoice at the progress of others:

Those who spend their wealth in accordance with the Laws of Allah (for the benefit of mankind) and afterwards make not reproach and injury to follow that which they have spent: their reward is with their Rabb and there shall no fear come upon them neither shall they grieve (2:262).

They are happy in serving others, seeking neither wealth nor fame:

O ye who believe! Render not vain what you spend for the cause prescribed by Allah by reproach and injury, like him who spends his wealth only to be seen of men and believe not in Allah and the last day    (2:264).

So the Rasool, whose mission it was to summon men to the Rububiyyah Order, declared:

And I ask of you no reward for it; my reward is only with the Rabb of all the worlds (26:109).

We must now face the crucial question, whether it is really possible for man to sacrifice his interests for the sake of the general good. No doubt, man is endowed with altruistic as well as egoistic impulses. But the egoistic impulse which impels man to appropriate all good things for himself, is far more powerful than the social impulse. Moreover, worldly wisdom too lends its support to the egoistic impulse. Few can resist the powerful appeal of immediate personal gain. Mysticism seeks to strengthen the altruistic motive by inculcating into man ideas such as that the body is utterly worthless, that all sensual pleasures are sinful and that the world is shot through with evil. It is believed that if man is fully convinced that the body is an obstacle to his “spiritual” progress, he would cease to care for things that minister to its needs. The Qur’an, however, does not approve of this kind of other-worldliness. It treats the body and the world with the respect due to them. It tells us that there is nothing sinful in possessing worldly goods and in gratifying bodily needs. It fully recognizes the fact that it is possible to have value experience through the body:

Beautiful for mankind is love of the joys (that come) from women and children, and stored up treasures of gold and silver, and horses branded (with their mark) and cattle and land. That is comfort of the life of the world. Allah! with Him is a more excellent abode (3:13).

The Qur’an encourages man to enjoy the good things of the world:

Say: Who hath forbidden the adornment of Allah which He hath brought forth for His servants, and the good things of His providing ? (7:32).

Mysticism pleads for the suppression of the egoistic impulse which would leave the field open to the altruistic impulse. The Qur’an is opposed to this view and asks us to do justice to the physical self as well as the real self. How can the interests of these two selves be reconciled and how can man have the best of both the worlds? This question is discussed in the next chapter.


  1. J.H. Rashdall, The Theory of Good And Evil, Vol. H. p. 77.
  2. A. N. Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, p. 373.
  3. J. W. T. Mason, Creative Freedom, p. 226.
  4. Quoted by Rashdall, op. cit, Vol. I. p. 133.
  5. Julian Huxley, Religion without Revelation, p. 113.

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