Koranic View of Man
Both the Koran and the Bible always speak of man in terms of his relationship to God. Man is not a product of chance but a being created by the Almighty, to whom he is also accountable. All mankind stems from one set of parents (Sura 49:13; 4:1) thus making every person equal before God.
Creation of Man
God formed man out of a lump of clay (15:26) and then breathed his spirit into him (15:29). Nowhere in the Koran do we find that the Creator bestowed on man a special closeness to himself by breathing his spirit into him, or that he established a personal relationship with him; there is no mention in the Koran of God making man ‘in his own image’.
The view of man created by God can vary considerably. In one place God says (95:4): “We made man in excellent condition.” Elsewhere we read (4:28): “Man was created weak” and (70:19): “Man was created impatient (or: timid).” A clarification of these is noted in A. Yusuf Ali’s English translation of the Koran: “According to God’s plan man was meant to be in the best possible condition. However, to be able to fulfil his high calling he was given a limited degree of free will. Improper use of this free will makes man weak, rash or … impatient. This is caused by man’s own actions; but he is said to have been created in this way because these capabilities were given him when he was created.” It remains unclear whether man really was created good.
Man’s Exalted Position
God appointed man as his representative (khalifa) – to rule creation on behalf of its Ruler, God himself (2:30). But the angels asked God regarding man (2:30): “Do you want to appoint someone on it (the earth) who makes mischief and sheds blood…?” It is astonishing that from the outset they didn’t expect anything better from human kind. God did not correct what they said, nor did he explain why he still entrusted rulership over the earth to man. God then even commanded the angels to prostrate themselves (in worship) before Adam (2:34; 15:29) – whereas elsewhere in Islam only God may be worshipped.
Fall of Adam
The Koran also contains the story of the fall of man. Satan (Iblis) plays an important role. Through pride he was the only one who refused to obey God’s command to prostrate himself before Adam, resulting in his expulsion from paradise. Satan though asked God for a deferment until Judgement Day so that he could now tempt human beings to stray as well – something he would succeed in doing, except in the case of God’s chosen servants (Sura 15:34-40). Although God warned man about this tempter, mankind allowed itself to be deceived and misled (7:22).
According to the Koran, Adam’s sin was a lapse (2:36) and not a falling away from God that broke their relationship. Thus the outcome was also not nearly as serious as the consequence in the biblical account. Instead of the pronouncement: “…you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17), God issued man a warning about Satan: “that he does not just drive you out of paradise and make you miserable!” (20:117) Man only hurts himself when he sins: “Our Lord, we have done wrong to ourselves” (7:23).
However, Adam was somehow restored by God: “Afterwards his Lord chose him and turned to him again and gave him guidance” (20:122) – without mentioning whether or how God dealt with the problem of Adam’s sin. It appears that man did not become a slave to sin, who needed salvation, nor was his relationship to God so broken that reconciliation was necessary. Adam and Eve were indeed thrown out of paradise but were told: “If then right guidance comes to you from me then those who follow my guidance have nothing to fear and nor shall they grieve” (2:38). In light of the fact that Islam totally rejects the idea of ‘original sin’, it is surprising how often the Koran is pessimistic when referring to mankind: Human beings are unjust and ungrateful (14:34), rash (17:11), miserly (17:100), disobedient (80:23), sacrilegious (96:6) and prone to ruining themselves (103:2).
Purpose of Man
Every person is in the same position before God as our original parents were at creation; despite their weakness, human beings have the ability to fulfil God’s purpose for their lives: “And I created jinn and mankind for the sole purpose of serving me” (51:56). True service to God consists of following the right religion (30:30): “Turn your face towards the religion as followers of the pure faith! That is natural in God’s creation plan. The way God created man cannot be altered. That is the correct religion.” This original religion is Islam (42:13). Man was created a Muslim; all children are also born Muslims and only become followers of one of the false religions through their environment. Man is always situated between the risk of Satan’s temptation on the one hand and the gracious offer of divine guidance on the other hand.
Responsibility of Man
Many verses in the Koran emphasise man’s own responsibility for his eternal fate. Because God sent mankind guidance through the prophets, our attitude to them determines our fate on the Day of Judgement (7:35-37). Muslims can hope they will be allowed into paradise, perhaps also some of the “People of the Book” (Jews and Christians), but on no account idol worshippers who associate other deities with Allah. All those who have been led astray by Satan will be asked on the Day of Judgement: “Did you have no understanding then?”(36:62)
On the other hand some Koran verses sound as if God does not want to guide all people on the right path: “And if your Lord had wanted to he would have made mankind into a single community. But they are all still at variance with the exception of those to whom your Lord has shown mercy. He created them (mankind) for this purpose (i.e. so that they are in disagreement and stray from the truth). And the word of your Lord is fulfilled (that says): ‘I will truly fill hell with nothing but jinn and people’ ” (11:118-119; cf. 32:12-14 and 7:179).
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