Quran’s Concept of Self (Dr. Manzoor-ul-Haque)

Reflecting the various facets of Allah (within the human limitations) is the development of the self. It must be kept in mind that the human self is not a part of the Self of Allah. Self is an undeveloped indivisible whole and can not be divided into parts.

The base of every action of the human lies on his intention. So  the consequence of his every action has its impact on his self, even “the treachery of the eyes and what the breasts conceal (Quran, 40: 19)” develop the imprints on the self. This is the Registry of conduct, the debit or credit side of the ledger kept for him: “And on every man We have fastened his record about his neck (Quran, 17: 13).” He will read this same augury at the time of judgment (the time when the consequences are declared). The Quran says: “Read your Register today. Today your self suffices you as a reckonor against you (Quran, 17: 14; and also 75: 14-15).” This establishes the individuality of the human self (Quran, 6: 95 ; 19: 95). Man bears responsibility for all those actions in which his self was involved. If the action was wrong, he has no option but to submit to the “punishment” which is the necessary result of his action. It will not avail him to offer excuses, that he acted heedlessly in a fit of abstraction, or with a good intention. His own heart will bear witness against him (Quran, 75: 14; 6: 165).

The very important phenomenon of the human self is that it is a proficiency, potentiality, capacity or a realizable form, neither good, nor evil in itself. Its use, like other entropies, makes it good or evil. When the human makes its use for the solidarity and preservation of  higher values, it becomes the cause of good (it develops with this process.) When the human makes use of his “choice and will” for achieving the low/mean self-gains (where the higher values are neglected) it manifests evil. In this case, just for discrimination from human self, we call it as “ego”. Ego is extant at the animal level whereas self is at the human level. When human emotions operate under the command of ego, the Quran interprets it with the term “Hawa” (The very root of this word connotes the concept of “mean-ness, low-mindedness, mean-spiritedness”.) And when the human intellect serves the purpose of ego, it is called ruse, craftiness, feigning, deceitedness. On the contrary, when the emotions operate under the command of human self, it becomes the highest essence of humanity. And when the intellect becomes subordinate to the self, the human life and the society become a heaven.

The ego as “ruse, craftiness, feigning” is usually called “Nafs-e-Ammara”, the term derived from the saying of the wife of “Aziz-e-Misr” (Quran, 12: 53) ” Surely the Nafs incites to evil.” It does not mean that the human Nafs is the one that orders for the evil. It does never mean this. This is said of ego. That is why, the Quran, just after this verse, says “except that on whom rest the nourishment of the Nourisher (Quran, 12:53).”

Some times it so happens that the Nafs of the human commits an evil, then there emanate the feelings of shame, of remorsefulness. This, in fact, is a kind of conflict between the ego and the self. The Quran calls this condition as “Nafs-e-Lawwama” (Quran, 75:2) i.e., the reproaching Nafs, the remorseful Nafs. This must be understood, in this connection, that the human self has no proficiency, no capacity, no capability, to distinguish between good and evil in itself. Discrimination between good and evil can be done by means of Revelation of Allah alone. “Nafs-e-Lawwam” will reproach that alone which it considers as evil. But it is not necessary that the one which it considers evil is evil in real sense. And the one it considers good is good in reality (consult the Quran’s concepts of La Ha Meem and Fa Ta Ra). In this way the human conscience is no criterion for judging the good and evil.

When man obeys the Laws of Allah, the conflict between good and evil vanishes. The self overpowers the low and the mean attractions. The Quran calls this state as “Nafs-e-Mutmaenna” (Quran, 89: 27). This phase, in the terminology of the contemporary Psychology, is called Integrated Personality. The reverse of it is called Disintegrated Personality. The Quran has interpreted both these conditions as Fojooraha wa Taqwaha (Quran, 91: 8-9) and has called the development of the self as the ultimate goal of human life. According to the Quran, this is the achievement of life (Quran, 91: 10). Since every human child gets the human self by birth, every human is respect worthy (14: 70). And none enjoys the right to make anyone subordinate. “Choice and will” is the basic facet of the human self, so getting anyone obey one’s orders, exploiting others’ option of “choice and will”, is depriving one of one’s prestige and dignity. According to the Quran, obeying is only to the Laws of Allah. (The Quran calls it as Ibadat.) It is not the obeying  of the orders of any despot or of any tyrant ruler. This obeying is the acting upon the Laws of Allah from the core of one’s heart. ‘This acting upon’ is the self-imposed limitation of the human being on himself. It is because it makes one’s self develop. It is only the Quranic Social Order that establishes the milieu in which no one remains subservient to any one else. This makes the self go on growing higher and higher. The human self can not grow in the solitary life of the monasticism.

There is one verse in Sura Zamr: “Allah stops the Nafs at the time of its death, and that which does not die, makes it so, in its state of sleep; then He withholds that for which He has decreed death, and sends back the other for a stated term (39: 42).” The question is: “What does the term Nafs    -which is made to stop during the state of sleep and death both; and when the human awakes, sends it back, but in case of death is not sent back   – mean in this verse?” So far as sleep is concerned, we know it well that every thing except consciousness is extant in the human; even the subconsciousness remains present. It is evident that Nafs in this verse means the state of its consciousness. It means the consciousness does not remain present in both the states of sleep and death. When the sleeping person awakes, his consciousness again starts operating. But in case of death, consciousness loses its link with the body. After death, the reactivation of consciousness is called “the life after death.” How does the consciousness (or Nafs) reactivate in this life, we can not understand it at this level of our consciousness? It is because the only mean of activation of our consciousness today is our material body. We can not imagine the operational state of our consciousness without the body; it is because the body is the mean at this stage of life through which the consciousness operates. The Quran has never told as to what will be the mean for activating consciousness in the life hereafter, nor was it of any use. But the activation of Nafs after death is the reality which the Quran describes as an established fact. And we have fervid faith (conviction) in it. This is the genuine base on which the edifice of Deen is erected.

That is why the Deen is said to be a Social Order where the dualism of personal and private segments of life, of Deen and Dunya, or of religious and ‘worldly’ matters etc. does not exist.

It must be remembered here that 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. 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 Quran 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 self, these shall prosper (Quran, 59: 9). That is why the Quran has laid down the standard that “Only the most munificent is the fittest to survive”. Those who have imbibed the true spirit of the Quran, will eschew selfishness and will dedicate themselves to the service of humanity. These are the real Muslims manifesting the Quran’s true concept of human self.

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