is actually a translation by Mr Saeed Ahmad of a transcription of few lectures
delivered by Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi on this topic. (Editor)
`What is good
and what is evil?'; Philosophers of all ages have thought over this question.
Each reckoned that he had solved the question once and for all, yet within a few
years the problem would re-emerge with new dimensions. In fact, most of the
answers would be later found inadequate or unsatisfactory. Religious thinkers
also joined in presenting a solution in this regard but only added confusion.
The Qur’ān also offers a solution to this question and an effort will be made to
explain it later in this dissertation.
A few basic
questions need to be answered in order to arrive at some satisfactory answer.
(i) Are good
and evil absolute or are they relative to the conditions associated with time
and place? Do conditions surrounding a particular situation make an act good and
at another time make it evil? Does an act appear to be good in the overall
perspective, but when torn away from its environment appear to be evil?
(ii) Is the
concept of good and evil imbued in the nature of man or has he been given divine
guidance? If not, how are good and evil identified? If reason is the only guide,
is there some criteria to determine what is good and what is evil?
(iii) If good
and evil are independent, do they have the same creator? Or is God the Creator
of good alone? If so, who has created evil?
(iv) If the
knowledge of good and evil is instinctive, there should be uniformity of thought
between various nations, religions and groups; but there are vast differences
among them in almost every aspect. What are the reasons?
questions have been thought over by philosophers and thinkers of all times. I
will now briefly discuss their views. However, I will mention only those
philosophers whose views left a deep impact upon philosophical thought. Later
on, I will present the guidance provided by the Qur’ān in this regard.
(535-475 BC): The Greek philosopher believed that good and evil are two notes in
a symphony. He found that many things change into their opposites: for example,
hard ice melts into water which is soft. This led him to believe that the
combination of opposites resulted in a harmonious whole. In music, harmony
results from the combination of low and high notes, while in the universe
harmony flows from the combination of opposites: good and evil.
(460-370 BC): He believed that the goal of life is happiness. What is conducive
to happiness is good, otherwise evil. According to him, happiness is an inner
condition or state of tranquility. He thought that one should not depend upon
material things alone as these are transient and a lack of them causes
unhappiness. Goodness, to him, was not only a matter of action but depends upon
man's inner desire. A good man is not one who does good, but who always wants to
Philosophy: The sophists confused the problem of good and evil. An important
sophist, Pythogoras, considered man as the standard of all things, and so the
standard of good and evil. Everybody has the right to determine for himself what
is good and what is evil. Some other philosophers of this school such as
Thrasymachus and Callicles went a step further and said that there are no moral
laws, no all-inclusive principles of right and wrong. Good or evil are a matter
of mere tradition and habit. Man is not bound by moral codes, he is free to live
as he desires and to get what he wants by any means possible and to frame his
own code of life. However, since the outcome was moral anarchy, pure
individualism and selfishness, Callicles went as far as saying: `To Hell with
morality, this has been propounded by the weak to debilitate the power of the
(470-390 BC): This great Greek Philosopher thought that the most important
question before man is the determination of good and evil. According to him,
knowledge of good and evil and its criteria are imbued in man and he can
differentiate between the two if he desires so. With sustained thought and
guidance of nature he is in a position to know what is good and what is evil.
His well known saying `O man! Know thyself' also points to the fact that the
basic principles of good and evil are innate in man and can be discovered by
deliberation. Socrates was firmly of the view that there should be basic
principles independent of individual desires and beliefs for measuring good and
evil and right and wrong. According to him, the greatest good is knowledge and
the treasure of knowledge is hidden in man and it can be discovered after
thoughtful deliberation. Socrate's emphasis on self-realization was due to his
belief that it is the innate knowledge which man cannot disregard. Knowledge
alien to him does not have a significant impact on him. Self-realization brings
real happiness. Other sources of happiness are not real. If someone acts
contrary to his knowledge, it is only transitory just as a clean and holy person
happens to soil himself but he does not live with it and cleanses himself at the
earliest opportunity. Socrates said, `No man is voluntarily bad. He turns bad
when he does not know what is good and what is evil. If he knew what is good, he
was sure to choose it.'
BC): He thought that man is endowed with the knowledge of good and evil before
coming to this world. This knowledge existed in his soul but during the period
between his creation and his descent in this world, he forgot most of the
things. These forgotten things can be recollected either by wise sermons or
through meditation on nature. Experience also helps in recollection of the
forgotten. All good and evil is innate in man. To Plato, the life of reason and
good behaviour is a happy life. Good itself is happiness and the soul's
paradise. It is its own reward.
(384-322 BC): He thought that reason is the greatest bounty of God, and called
it the `Divine Spark'. If man uses his reason and other capabilities properly,
he can attain self-realization after which he hardly needs any measure for good
and evil. The position of self-realization is sufficient for his guidance.
Aristotle also considered reason and nature to be sufficient for human guidance.
He said that goodness is in harmony with nature and its principles have been set
by reason which a wise man can easily find.
Stoic Philosophy: Epicureans thought that the goal of all human activity is
pleasure and that happiness is the supreme good of all. But the focus should be
on ultimate pleasure instead of immediate pleasure. An excellent meal is a
pleasure to eat but its excessive consumption will bring discomfort. A temporary
enjoyment cannot be called happiness because its ultimate result may not be
good. Epicurus (341-270 BC) considered mental pleasure as the real one in
contrast with physical pleasure. The intellectual field is the one where man
should search for happiness. According to the stoics, man is a part of the
universe and therefore he must live in harmony with the laws of nature: this is
the greatest good.
BC): In the early ages, religious movements in philosophy, of which the
Babylonians and the Assyrians are well known, a sharp distinction was made
between the principles of good and evil. Philo thought that the spiritual part
of man, his mind or soul, is the seat of good, and his body, the material part,
is the seat of evil. Consequently, when the soul is incorporated in the body it
suffers a fall from divine perfection and becomes predisposed to evil. Thus the
goal of man is freedom from matter and a return to God who is perfect goodness.
Augustine (354-430 BC): The early Christian thinkers thought that God had given
man a good nature, but he had turned away from God to the flesh ie, the body.
The sin of Adam has been transmitted to all men as the original sin and will
continue to harass him throughout his life unless he seeks salvation through the
divine grace of God. For salvation, they invented the doctrine of `contempt for
family-life' or Monasticism. For this they prescribed nerve-racking meditation
to get rid of the sin of Adam through self-attrition. Saint Augustine, the
greatest of the Christian thinkers, thought that God is all good, all
perfection. He cannot be the creator of evil. `How then to account for evil in a
world created by an all-good God?' To solve this problem, Saint Augustine said
that everything in the universe is good; even that which appears to be evil is
actually good inasmuch as it fitted into the whole pattern of the universe.
Flowers of different colours are necessary to the beauty of a garden and every
flower is good in its own place adding to the beauty of the garden. For example,
in a painting, shadows and dark spots add to its beauty. An attractive and
beautiful painting is made up of different colours. Similarly, the evil which is
found in the world is there to make the whole good. It looks evil only when one
sees the dark spots broken away from the whole picture but when seen in the
picture they add to its beauty. If we fit evil in the whole system of the
universe, it would look good and beautiful.
(1079-1142 AD): In the middle ages, a Christian thinker, Peter Abelard, added a
new dimension to the problem. He thought that an act itself is not good or bad
but it is the intention of the doer that makes it good or bad. If a thief
commits a theft intending it as something good, it is thereby good. God
considers only the spirit in which an act is done. If one acts in terms of what
he deems right but errs and does wrong, the act will remain good. According to
him, goodness and morality are a matter of conscience and intention to do wrong.
An evil done with good intention is not sinful.
(1227-1274 AD): Another Christian thinker, Thomas Aquinas, also thought that the
goodness or evil of a particular action depends upon the aim or purpose of the
doer. But he did not share Abelard's view that a bad act if done with a good
intention becomes good. According to him, good is that which is done with good
intention and with the knowledge that the results would be good. He said that
God has created all things including man for good. To achieve goodness is the
highest good, and the greatest good for man is to realize God's purpose in the
creation of man. The best way to attain goodness is to abandon worldly things
and seek communion with God like a saint in a monastery devoting himself
entirely to the service of God. For Aquinas, evil is the negation of good. Where
there is no good, there is evil. For him, evil is the absence of good. All
things created by a good-God aim at goodness. When an object fails to achieve
good results, evil comes into being.
Eckhart (1260-1327 AD): He propounded the mystic theory of good and evil. He
says that a good and perfect life is not one of deeds but one of merging with
God. Separation from God is evil. Therefore, to achieve real good, man must
annihilate himself and unite with God. Thus Eckhart propounded the theory of
(1588-1679 AD): He considered good and evil to be relative. According to him,
they change not only with time but also with every individual; that which
pleases man is good, and that which causes pain or discomfort is evil; also,
that which pleases one may not please another. Therefore, there is no absolute
good or evil.
(1596-1650 AD): He regarded God to be the perfect good who, therefore, could not
be the creator of evil. The power gifted by God to man to distinguish truth from
falsehood is not complete. Man goes astray due to the pressure of his desires
and sentiments. Due to lack of accurate judgement, he fails to distinguish
between good and evil, and treads the wrong path by mistake. Error lies not in
God's action but in ours, and this is due to our poor judgement which is based
on insufficient knowledge.
(1632-1677 AD): He also considered good and evil to be relative. In fact, there
is neither good nor evil in the universe nor is it necessary. Our knowledge
about things is incomplete. In spite of this, we want that every thing should be
according to the demand of our reason, and when it happens otherwise it looks to
be bad. What appears to our intellect to be evil is not so according to nature's
law: it is evil according to the laws that relate to us. Similarly, everything
that helps man to achieve the goal of his struggle is good and that tending to
block this struggle is bad. According to him, an act can be good and bad at the
same time and be devoid of the both as well. For example, a happy man enjoys
music but a grieved and sorrowful man does not like it. For the dead it is
neither good nor bad. To Spinoza good and evil, piety and guilt are prejudices
and cannot be recognized as fundamental truths.
(1632-1704 AD): He held that the principles of good and evil are imbued in man's
nature. Man finds and feels them as if nature had written them on his mind from
the very beginning. Locke said that pleasure and pain are innate in man. It is
in our nature that we enjoy happiness and seek to avoid pain. Therefore, things
which bring happiness are good and those which cause pain are evil. As the same
act will not bring happiness to everyone, there must be certain laws to keep
others happy. Through experience we learn what is good and what is evil: by
experiencing pain, if we do evil and pleasure, if we do good.
Cumberland (1631-1718 AD): He was the first philosopher who propounded the
utilitarian theory. He said that man is not totally selfish but is basically
sympathetic towards his fellowmen. Thus, the welfare of the society is the
criterion for good and evil. Lord Shaftesbury also shared his views.
Hutchenson: He was also of the same general opinion and coined the phrase, `the
greatest good for the greatest number' and made it the criterion of good.
(1646-1716 AD): He suggested that there are certain innate principles sufficient
to determine what is good and what is evil. Because of passions and impulses man
disobeys these principles and generates evil. One of these principles is that
one should seek pleasure and avoid pain and it is this criterion which decides
the question of good and evil. He also held that evil served to make good really
good. It is like shadows in a painting that serve to bring the colours into
bolder relief and greater beauty.
(1724-1804 AD): He held that the principles of good and evil are well known
since eternity and the moral laws are inborn in man's nature and intellect. One
of these laws that serve as a criterion for distinguishing good from evil is
that one should like for others what he likes for himself. According to Kant,
the principle that an act is good if its result is good is wrong. Consequences
of an act do not determine the characteristics of an act. If the act is
performed with good intentions out of respect for moral laws it is thereby good.
Kant said: `always do what every body would like to follow.'
(1762-1814 AD): He followed the views of Kant. He said that the basic principles
of good and evil are innate in man's nature. These are the criteria for good and
evil. It is not sufficient to respect these laws, rather essential to put them
into practice. Morality and goodness is not a state to be attained once only,
but a constant struggle to act in every situation according to the requirements
of moral laws.
Shopenhauer (1788-1860 AD): This German sceptical philosopher, said that man's
will to live is his greatest and fundamental desire and the cause of all the
struggle in the world. This is the root cause of all evil and suffering. A world
where wild desires are struggling with each other, where the more powerful kill
and devour the less powerful, is a world of evil; there is no goodness in it.
If, however, one, through self-sacrifice, acts sympathetically with others and
lives for them, happiness and peace shall prevail in this world.
Mill (1806-1873 AD): According to the modern philosophers, the principles of
good and evil are not inborn, innate, but continue to change according to social
conditions. They, therefore, propounded the theory of relative utility of good
and evil. An act can be good in certain circumstances but can be evil in
different circumstances. J.S. Mill who belonged to the utilitarian school said
that the greatest good of the greatest number is the highest good and the
criterion for good and evil. If an act is beneficial to the greatest number, it
(1874-1832 AD): He is also the follower of the utilitarian school of thought. He
said that good and evil are determined on the basis of social benefits. For him,
morality is relative for which there are no innate or inborn principles enjoined
by God involving His pleasure or wrath.
Spencer (1820-1903 AD): He dealt with the problem from the scientists’ point of
view and made the evolution theory the basis of his thoughts. He held that man's
conduct was developing and continued making adjustments. The most developed
conduct which made living richer for the individual and for the society is the
best. In other words, Spencer also believed in the relative theory of good and
evil, also maintaining that the achievement of happiness is not the absolute
good. The absolute good is to establish a society where man is able to live
happily, individually as well as socially.
(1842-1910 AD) & John Dewey (1859-1952 AD): They represent the pragmatic school
of thought. In their time, democracy held a sway over contemporary thought. They
attached great importance to the group benefits and the individual's rights. To
them, individuals and groups are tied together and man's identity is due to his
membership of a group. According to them, good is that which enriches the life
of both the individual and the group. The social unit is the individual and a
good act must hold his welfare uppermost along with the welfare of the society.
The individual and social results of an act are the basis for good and evil.
Examination of Philosophical Views
discussion summarizes the views of philosophers and thinkers who thought over
the problem of good and evil and tried to answer the questions mentioned
earlier. A critical examination of these views follows:
Philosophy of relativeness: Philosophers who uphold this philosophy are
those who have exemplified good and evil with musical notes or dark and red
shades of a picture. Heraclitus and St Augustine are in this category. For them,
the high and low notes in a symphony or shades in a picture increase its
attractiveness. Similarly good and evil are essential for the world's beauty and
charm. Obviously these philosophers assumed good and evil as material things and
this assumption misdirected their thoughts. Good and evil relate to morals. The
question is not of good or bad things but that of moral good or evil. There is
no question of good and evil in material things. Every thing has its own
benefits; even garbage has its own value and is beneficial in its own place and
so is the case with diamonds and ornaments. But are truth and falsehood, mercy
and tyranny all alike or do falsehood, heresy, fraud, infidelity and banditry
become good in certain circumstances? It is impossible to prove that these acts
would become good or beneficial at any stage or time. At the most, these acts
may, perforce, be ignored under certain conditions. For example, falsehood is
always bad, but if you were asked by a tyrant, who intended to murder someone,
about the whereabouts of his intended victim and you, knowing well, lied to him
to save the wanted man, then such a lie may be excused as you did it under
compulsion to save a life. Similarly, to escape the death of hunger one is
allowed to eat prohibited edibles but this will not affect the prohibition and
make these permissible for others. While it is possible to say about material
things that the dirtiest of these can be beneficial to the crops as manure, the
same cannot be said about immoral acts. These can be excused only under
compulsion. Therefore, the views of the philosophers regarding this theory of
relativeness of good and evil are absurd, or at the most mere poetical jargon.
Criterion of Intention: Similarly, the views of the philosophers who
maintain that an act is neither good nor bad in itself but intention makes it so
are equally incorrect. Mere intention cannot make a bad act good. At the most, a
bad act performed in good faith can be excused but it cannot be classified as a
good act. Therefore, intention cannot be made the basis of determining good and
evil. This view is without a rationale.
Criterion of Pleasure and Happiness: The philosophers who consider pleasure
and happiness to be the criterion of good are also far from the truth. The
criterion of pleasure and happiness is baseless. No single measure can be laid
down for pleasure and happiness. The measures and standards differ from man to
man. For example, likes and dislikes of the rich and the poor widely differ.
Sometimes the objects of pleasure for the poor are uncomfortable to the wealthy,
a loud note of music may upset a civilized man but others may at the same time
enjoy it. Also, there is lot of difference between the standards of enjoyment of
human beings: some like playing hockey while others enjoy cricket and still
others are least interested in any game. Therefore, if an act pleases one, it is
essential that it will also please others as well; it may be uncomfortable,
inconvenient and despicable for others. The criterion of an act to be good when
it is a source of pleasure and happiness for the majority also does not seem to
be correct. For example, benefits of the television are most common but its
harmful effects are equally widespread. Moreover, conditions of an era also
affect the majority's viewpoint. In an age, an act may be a matter of pride for
the majority but with the passage of time it may lose its charm and become
abominable. For example, in primitive ages, slavery was a symbol of pride while
now-a-days it is despicable. Also, the measures of pleasure and happiness differ
from society to society. A society may enjoy eating frogs and serpents but to
others this could be altogether unthinkable. In fact, pleasure and happiness
relate more to man's inner self rather than to outward conditions. A deeper
study would reveal that pleasure is not connected with the outward disposition
of man. Rather it is more close to his mind and heart and inner self. If you
offer good music to a sad person, he will not be able to enjoy it. Similarly, if
you serve a sumptuous meal to a grieved person, he will not be attracted towards
it. Only a person endowed with a peaceful disposition of mind will enjoy his
meals, whether it may be simple food or fried fish or roasted chicken.
Criterion of Utility: In the utilitarian theory, whatever benefits the
individual and the society is good. But if the beneficial things are examined
more closely, many of them may be found to be destructive. For example, the
benefits of the Banking System cannot be disputed but the whole world is
groaning under it as it has engulfed the society with the curse of `interest'.
Similarly the benefits of scientific inventions are indisputable but at the same
time science has invented highly destructive bombs and lethal weapons, and piled
these up in such quantities that the whole world is on the brink of destruction.
Even a small incident may bring about complete disaster. The theory of utility
is therefore disputable and dangerous.
Descartes Theory: Descartes described God to be all-good and at the same
time thought that the intellect bestowed by God on man was insufficient to
handle the problems of life. Due to man's failings evil comes into being. God
placed man in a very difficult situation but did not give him sufficient wisdom
to come up to the task. His physical desires and ambitions were too strong to be
controlled by the wisdom gifted by God. Descartes glorified God by saying that
He bestowed man with such sublime capabilities as intellect and wisdom and at
the same time he blamed Him for not providing a sufficiently balanced mind to
face the problems of life. Descartes perhaps failed to appreciate this
self-contradiction in his reasoning.
Spinoza's Views: Spinoza's point of view that God is above good and evil
which concern only the human beings, is revolting. This position is contrary to
his own belief in pantheism. For him, God is not a person; the motion and energy
in the overall system of the universe is God and we being all parts of the
universe are also God. His saying `when we love ourselves we love God because we
are God is well known.' Therefore, when he relates good and evil to man alone,
this negates his own thinking.
theory of Divine Intuition: Great philosophers like Socrates, Plato,
Aristotle, Kant, John Locke and Liebnitz, all of them, considered good and evil
to be independent. The foundation, of both already exists in man's nature.
Conception of moral laws is innate in man; There is a Divine Spark within him to
guide him. Man often forgets the moral laws and needs to be remained. Self-realization is
the real knowledge that guides man to the path of the highest good. If man
realizes his own self, he treads the path of virtue and avoids evil and
ultimately achieves perfection. The views of these philosophers appear to be
founded on strong grounds and are nearer to the Qur’ānic concept.
question, `if good and evil were independent, are their creators also
independent?'. Most of the philosophers have not discussed this question. Those
who thought good and evil to be relative, dumped the question itself.
Polytheists consider gods of good and evil to be independent of each other.
Christian thinkers known as Apologists also answered the question as the
polytheists did. According to their representatives, Thomas Aquinas and St.
Augustine, God is pure good and He cannot be the Creator of evil. The nature of
man as created by Him is good but man being matter is attracted towards evil.
The devil allures him to worldly pleasures and thus evil comes into being. These
views expressed by these Christian thinkers suggest that the devil may be the
creator of evil or at least a means of creation of evil. Who created the devil
is a question that the Christian thinkers have not been able to answer. Also
they could not justify the existence of the devil. If the devil was the source
of evil and enjoyed the power to bedevil anyone into evil why did God create
this evil when He Himself is perfect good?
Are Good and
Evil of Divine Command?
A few Muslim
theologians are of the view that Muslims obey moral laws because God and His
Prophet (sws) have so ordained. Since the Prophet (sws) has said that falsehood,
avarice, cruelty, injustice, and ostentation are bad traits, Muslims consider
these bad. Similarly, the Prophet (sws) cherished truth, sympathy, justice and
mercy as good traits and commanded these to be followed, therefore the Muslims
consider them to be good. Had the Prophet (sws) declared falsehood to be good
Muslims would have cherished it. These thinkers did not care to ponder that
pronouncing some acts as good and others as bad has no rationale. Why is it in
the nature of man to love truth, justice and mercy and hate falsehood, tyranny
and such other evils? If there is nothing innate in man's nature, what did the
Prophets endeavour to ‘remind’ mankind? If good and evil emanate only from a
divine order, there is no rationale for repeated exhortations in the Qur’ān to
use reason, intellect and wisdom. Had the arguments of these thinkers been true,
God would have ordained mere obedience. On the contrary, God has exhorted man to
ponder on his own self and the universe surrounding him so that by reasoning he
can find the truth. Hence, the views of those who thought good and evil to be
merely divinely ordained are not correct.
View of the
philosophy of good and evil is based on man's nature. It is the Qur’ān’s
assertion that it has provided knowledge and guidance for all moral virtues and
beliefs. It has exhorted man to be virtuous and avoid vices, the knowledge of
both being inherent in him and not imposed from outside his personality. It has
reminded man of things which are innate in him, which he often ignores for the
immediate accomplishment of his worldly desires.
The unity of God
the Holy Qur’ān, the highest good is the belief in the unity and providence of
Allah and this belief is the pre-requisite of Islamic commandments. This concept
is the fountainhead of good conduct and morality. It is the divine sanctuary of
all good without which no good or virtue is safe and incorruptible. The Holy
Prophet (sws) explained its importance when he was asked `which act is the
best?'. The reply was ‘Belief in Allah’. When another Companion of the Prophet (sws)
asked ‘which sin is most the heinous in the eyes of Allah?’, the Prophet (sws)
named the act of setting up another god beside Allah although the latter had
created man. As all the messengers of Allah were inspired by the same divine
source, Christ also gave a similar reply, as is contained in the Bible. When one
of the scribes asked him, `which is the first commandment of Allah?' he
The first of
all the commandments is `Hear! O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord, and thou
shalt love the Lord with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy
mind, and with all thy strength; this is the first commandment. (Mark 12:29-30)
good has so thoroughly permeated man's nature that the Holy Qur’ān says that
Allah created the souls of the sons of Adam and got a solemn pledge from them
that they would accept Allah alone to be their Lord, the Bounteous. This was
done lest man may put up an excuse on the Day of Judgement that he was not aware
of it. Sūrah Aa’rāf reads thus:
And when thy
Lord took from the children of Adam, from their loins, their seed, and made them
testify upon themselves, ‘Am I not your Lord’? They said, ‘Yes we testify’ lest
you should say on the Day of Resurrection, ‘As for us, we were unaware of this’.
concept of the unity of God is the first of the fundamentals of human nature and
an irrefutable fact for every human being. Allah will not entertain any excuse
against this innate evidence. One may argue that he does not remember such a
testification. Forgetfulness or ignorance of an incident does not affect its
veracity. The survival of the signs or remnants of an incident is a sufficient
proof. So is the case of the testification held before Allah by the progeny of
Adam. Polytheists and monotheists of all times subscribe to the belief that
God's existence does not need any proof or philosophical arguments. Arguments
are required for polytheism. The Holy Qur’ān has therefore asked them
consistently to produce proof for existence of the alleged partners of Allah.
Knowledge of Good and Evil in Man’s Nature
testification about the Almighty encompasses all the attributes and imperatives
of His unity. All good emanates from this highest good and is in fact an
offshoot of this mainstream. Evil is an opposite and independent permanent fact.
The Almighty has endowed the knowledge of good and evil in human nature. The
Holy Qur’ān says:
By the human
mind and that which perfected it and inspired in it lewdness and God-fearing.
According to a
group of philosophers man was born with a clean slate. All the shades that came
up later were the results of the surroundings on his gaining experience and
knowledge. The Holy Qur’ān regards this to be a misconception. The environment
is all made up of man's right or wrong actions. Only good, justice, rightfulness
spring from the real source of his nature and every believer or disbeliever
knows this. Evil, cruelty and falsehood result from man's submission to his
immodest desires and everyone holds them to be undesirable. The knowledge of
good and evil is one of the capabilities bestowed by the Almighty on man to
enable him to face the ordeals of life. God has, therefore, mentioned this
knowledge as His special bounty. The Holy Qur’ān says:
Have we not
blessed him with two eyes and a tongue, and two lips and guided him on the two
highways' of right and wrong. (90:8-10)
on man two eyes for the observation of the surroundings and a tongue and two
lips for speech and explanation. He also granted the knowledge of good and evil
to follow the righteous path.
views are nearer to the Holy Qur’ān. He says that there is a divine spark in
man. The Holy Qur’ān has described it as breathing of the Almighty's spirit into
man. When Allah placed the whole plan of creation of man before the angels, He
commanded them to bow before Adam (sws) in these words:
When I have
perfected him and breathed My spirit in him, fall you down unto bowing before
This spirit is
the divine spark. Its realization helps attain perfection imbued in his nature.
The Holy Qur’ān further emphasizes that faith is man's nature but he is prone to
forget it. Allah has been sending His messengers to remind him of this forgotten
faith. The faith commanded by these messengers is in harmony with human nature.
The Qur’ān says:
So get thyself
upright to your religion. This is the providential nature in which He created
man. There is no altering the creation of Allah. This is the right religion but
most men know not. (30:30)
There is no
dichotomy and inconsistency between Islam and human nature. Both have the
relationship of law and its explanation or commentary. Whatever is innate in
human nature, has been explained through divine revelation. In Sūrah Nūr (24:35)
good nature and divine inspiration have been described as `light upon light' ie,
divine revelation is not light over darkness but light upon light.
Soul’s Invisible Reprover
has not only imbibed the awareness of good and evil in man's nature but has also
placed in him an invisible guard who reproves him on acts of evil and urges him
towards virtuous acts. The Holy Qur’ān has adduced the existence of this
invisible guard as an evidence for the life hereafter:
Nay, I swear
by the Day of Resurrection. Nay, I swear by the rebuking soul [that the Day is
bound to come]. (65:1-2)
Man loses his
balance between good and evil under pressure of worldly desires and succumbs to
evil acts. Due to this tendency of the soul, according to the Holy Qur’ān, it is
prone to evil. The Prophet Yusuf (sws) pointed towards this in these words:
I do not
exculpate myself. Lo, the human soul is prone to evil. (12:53)
The human soul
is aware of virtues and man's nature impels him to follow the path of virtue. So
long as he maintains a correct balance, he repents on committing evil and also
resents the evil stance of others and even admonishes them. This trait of the
mind is called `the soul's self-reproving' by the Qur’ān.
this balance, the Almighty requires man to keep Him and the Day of Judgement
uppermost in his mind so that he does not fall an easy prey to worldly desires
and always stands up against them. If he stumbles, the soul's `self-reproving
trait' at once reprimands him and he, on receiving the warning, tries to make
amends through penitence and returns to the Almighty's shelter. One who is able
to maintain this balance, enjoys, in the words of the Holy Qur’ān, a `contented
soul', the highest position that a believer is expected by the Almighty to
strive for. A contented soul will find the coveted position in Heaven and this
is, in fact, man's highest status in front of Allah.
Qur’ān while describing the secrets of man's creation has revealed a lot about
man's nature. The discussion in the following sections will show that it is
based on very sound lines.
The Concept of
Good and Evil is Inherent in Human Nature
of good and evil in human nature is so manifest, so evident, and indubitable
that it hardly needs any proof or arguments. Proof is normally needed when it is
more evident than the subject. If the subject is itself more than explicit, no
proof is required. The faith acquired through experience cannot be destroyed by
arguments. Pain in a patients heart or stomach does not need any external proof.
None can convince the patient as he is experiencing it. The existence of the sun
needs no proof, one has just to open his eyes to see it. No proof can be greater
or more acceptable than the sun itself. Similarly, the mind is a flawless
witness to the fact that truth is good and falsehood is bad; cruelty is bad and
justice is good. The traits of goodness, mercy, honesty, pity, benign conduct
are all moral virtues. The human mind is a standing witness to these; what
stronger argument or proof is needed higher than the mind's own admission.
important truth is the fact that the soul always reprimands a person on the
committing of an evil or a sinful act. Man's nature is aware of evil. Otherwise,
there would not be uniformity of thought among people of different religions,
races, countries and continents about the basic virtues, particularly in the
presence of a lot of differences in their modes of living, customs culture and
civilization etc. The consensus about the natural awareness of good and evil is
evidently due to the fact that the Creator imbued the knowledge of good and evil
in human nature.
Man is a
telling witness against himself although he tenders excuses. (75:14-15)
The virtue of
good and the vice of evil is so well accepted and manifest in human nature that
they have been continued to be acknowledged and their consistency has never been
questioned. In some societies, there may be exceptions to this truth, but
humanity never subscribed to such deviations. For example, the Pārsīs allowed
marriage with sisters, the Spartans used to kill weak children, or the Arabs
before Islam used to bury their daughters alive. Nevertheless, such conduct
always remained very despicable and the common human conscience condemned such
exceptions being against human nature.
Criterion of Good and Evil
succumb to a sinful life or cruelty to others do not, however, regard their acts
to be good nor would ungrudgingly yield to a similar treatment by others. Thus,
the basic moral law in man's nature impels him to a treatment of others that he
would like for himself at their hands. This principle is a criterion for
discrimination between good and evil. The Holy Qur’ān has drawn attention to
this principle of human nature as follows:
Woe to the
stinters who, when they measure against the people, take full measure but, when
they measure for them, do scrimp. (83:1-3)
does not like for himself, he dislikes it for others' is a principle ingrained
in human nature and it easily determines the correctness or otherwise of an
attitude without any external evidence.
If knowledge of
good and evil is in man's nature, the evil conduct of the majority of mankind
needs to be explained. If it were so, all human beings or at least the majority
should have followed the right path. Unfortunately, however, the majority does
not follow it. The question is answered when we understand a few basic concepts.
There is vast
difference between animal instinct and man's nature. Animals are slave to their
instinct and cannot but follow it truthfully. A cat eats mutton, milk, etc, but
will not eat apples and grapes even if it starves to death. So is the case with
other animals. Man is quite different; he may turn poison into medicine and may
fill his belly with leaves of trees, roots and other similar things. The nature
of man has a freedom of action and desires. The greatest quality of man is his
power to act according to his will. Man's vicegerency of the Almighty is also
due to his freedom to act. One can also use this faculty to debase one’s nature.
Knowing what is good, one can commit evil and on the top of it and one can also
adduce arrangements to justify his action. In fact, the faculty of intellect
granted to man has the capability of adducing arguments for and against a
thesis. Thus man is free to act as he wills. He knows what is right, virtue,
truth magnanimity and self-respect. He knows the directives of Allah and the
requirements of religion. However, he acts against them under pressure of
desires and sentiments and then sacrifices his conscience with the help of his
Freedom of Will Creates Evil
sentiments and likings are essential to human existence; without them man loses
his entity. If he so desires, he can keep them under control or be a slave to
them. Man disobeys the Almighty by misusing his will. The Almighty, in His
wisdom, sometimes leaves a man free to act as he pleases. He does not deprive
man of the free will otherwise man would be reduced to a mere animal and would
not then be accountable for his deeds.
commits evil through misuse of his freedom of will. A great majority of human
beings, under pressure of desires, get into evil and detract from nature's moral
laws, except a small minority among them.
Who is the
Creator of Good and Evil?
remains that has one and the same creator created both good and evil? If these
have been created by two different deities, existence of more than one God will
be inevitable. If Allah is the Creator of both; how can the all-good God be the
Creator of evil? The discussion in the preceding sections makes it clear that
evil is created through the misuse of man's faculty of free will. Man can use
this power for good as well as for evil. This universe is based on natural laws
that are all good. But the knowledge of these laws ie, science can be applied
for mankind's benefits as well as for its destruction. A knife can be used for
peeling fruits and vegetables as well as for killing people. It has been left to
man's discretion to use nuclear power for peaceful purposes or for destruction.
If he wants to use this power for destruction and tyranny, he has the liberty
and freedom to do so. It would then be a blatant misuse of power gifted by the
The freedom of
will is a great blessing granted by the Almighty. This freedom places man above
animals and crowns him with the vicegerency of the Almighty. It cannot be argued
that the evil springing out of the misuse of this freedom could be the creation
of Allah. He is all good. By foolish misuse of this freedom, man assumes the
responsibility for the creation of evil.
Why should man
use his freedom of will for the generation of evil? The reason appears to be
that the greed for quick gain misleads him to evil actions. The reward of evil
is immediate but the results of good acts and compliance of moral laws do not
produce a cash reward; one may have to wait even till the Day of Judgement. This
difficulty is present in the reformation of the society. Although the doctors
continue warning against the evil effects of smoking and drinking but just for
temporal enjoyment and elation, people do not heed the doctor's advice and
continue with the addiction. This is also true of moral evils. By falsehood and
fraud one may achieve his immediate ends forgetting its evil effects. The
temptation may be so strong that one does not care even for the warnings of the
reproving soul within him. A murderer by killing another man derives some
pleasure or satisfies his urge for revenge but its consequential effects that
engulf the society remain a distant reality. On the other hand, the reward of
virtues like truth, honesty, sympathy and other good acts is hardly immediate;
sometimes one may face difficulties and torture for a virtuous conduct. A long
period of waiting is usually inherent in the outcome of good acts. For these
reasons, man disobeys his nature to accomplish his evil desires immediately.
indulging in evil acts for immediate gains gradually debase their nature. Those
who heed the reprovings of their soul and have an eye on the ultimate good
instead of immediate gains, are virtuous people. Allah has exemplified their
nature in the Qur’ān (24:35) as pure and transparent oil that lightens upon
seeing the fire short of contact. For people endowed with such good nature, the
words of the Prophet (sws) and his person serve as a miracle. They have the
divine flame ready to lighten up on hearing the revelation. For such people, the
Prophet's call is the voice of their own. If one feels some estrangement towards
the Prophet's guidance, evidently his pilot flame has gone off. Those who have
debased their nature, feel perturbed on the Prophet's advice as the Holy Qur’ān
says in the sermons of the various prophets in Sūrah Hūd:
He said, O my
people; Bethink you, if I rely on a clear proof from my Lord and there hath come
unto me a bounty from Him and it is obscure from you, should We compel you to
accept it when you are averse there-to? (11:28)
What then is
the devil's role in the spreading of evil? This problem could not be understood
by St. Augustine, an intelligent Christian thinker as mentioned before, and he
met his defeat at the hands of the devil. He accepted the devil as a torch
bearer of evil and an entity independent from God. It gave rise to the belief
that there are two independent domains of God and of the Devil in the universe
and both remain at loggerheads. The Holy Qur’ān does not regard the devil an
independent creation: he can be from men as well as from the Jinn folk. The
devil who beguiled Adam was from among the Jinn folk named Iblīs. The Holy
He was one of
the Jinns and he disobeyed his Lord. (18:50)
The point of
view that the devil who beguiled Adam (sws) is still alive and continues to
mislead mankind is childish. The devil has sought the Almighty's permission for
continuation of his mission to misguide people till the Day of Judgement to
establish that His followers were few. Allah has said:
is granted thee till the Day of the Time appointed: [Iblīs] said: Then, swearing
by Thy power, I will put them all in the wrong. Except thy servants among them
sincere and purified. [God] said: `Then, it is just and fitting, and I say what
is just and fitting. That I will certainly fill Hell with thee, and those that
follow thee, Every one'. (38:80-85)
Qur’ān makes it clear that there are both good and bad Jinns. The physical laws
that apply to the Jinn folk are also applicable to Iblīs. When the Jinns are not
immortal, how could Iblīs be immortal? Thus the devil is not an immortal
creation. The Holy Qur’ān is clear on the issue that there are devils from men
in the same manner as from the Jinns and these devils are perhaps even more
cunning than Iblīs himself.
In the human
life, the devil's role is no more than that of a sneaking whisperer. Allah has
not empowered him to forcibly mislead anyone he wishes. He is free only to
whisper evil and he can do nothing beyond that. This role has been clearly
described in the last Sūrah of the Holy Qur’ān:
Say: I seek
refuge with the Lord of mankind, the King of mankind, the God of mankind, from
the mischief of the whisperer who withdraws [after his whisper], who whispers
into the hearts of mankind, among the Jinns and men. (114:1-6)
the technique adopted by the devil. All his effort is directed towards
whispering, propaganda and false promises. With these he entraps people and then
absolves himself of the responsibility, and enjoys the misfortune of these
foolish people who spoil their life in the Herein and Hereafter.
Thus the only
power with the devil is of whispering evil. He has not been armed by the
Almighty with any weapon to mislead them perforce. On the Day of Judgement, he
will absolve himself of the responsibility, addressing those who fell prey to
his whispering in the following words:
Nor had we any
authority over you, Nay, it was ye who were a people in obstinate rebellion.
The devil, in
addition to false promises, deceitful talk and kindly advice with veiled warning
tries to harass people through threats. But those of Allah's bondmen who do not
yield to his threats are able to parry his attacks. When the devil threw a
challenge that he would certainly mislead all the progeny of Adam, Allah
permitted him in clear words:
whatever you like: As for My servants, no authority shall thou have over them.
Allah is sufficient for all manoeuvrings. (17:6)
cherish the help of their Lord and stand up to face the devil will come up
triumphant with confidence in their Lord and His blessings.
Qur’ān has drawn attention to another facet of the devil's character: that of a
defrauder and a deceiver. When someone falls into his trap by committing a sin,
he absolves himself of all the consequences and leaves him to suffer alone. This
aspect of his character has been described by the Holy Qur’ān as follows:
The devil is
but a traitor to man. (25:29)
of Iblīs has been very clearly stated in Sūrah Hashr:
when he said to man `Disbelieve', then when he disbelieved, he said, surely I am
quit of you. Surely I fear God, the Lord of the worlds. (59:16)
everything, mankind's conscience has never commended evil. It has always tried
to propagate good in practice. Ever since the time of social awareness, there
has always been a system to dispense justice and righteousness. Sometimes some
evils did overwhelm a society but such a position has never been tolerated by
the universal conscience of mankind. There have always been such men in the
society who played the same role as that of the invisible adjudicator in man's
soul. Whenever the situation worsened to the extent of extinction of good or
virtue, the divine law came into play and completely wiped out that society to
elements of good and evil are inherent in man's nature. Allah keeps on reminding
him lest he may offer an excuse on the Day of Judgement that he was taken
unawares. Through the prophets and divine revelations all the principles have
been explained in great detail. It is His infinite bounty.
Man will be
answerable to God on the basis of his nature. Those who received the Prophet's
message but did not pay heed, will be doubly guilty. Those who did not receive
the Prophet's message will be answerable on the basis of the natural innate
knowledge of good and evil.
perfect good. Evil is created through man's misuse of his own power to act. He
gets into evil of his own. The devil's role is no more than evil whispering to
misguide him. Allah has not given the devil the power to forcibly misguide. Man
misuses his discretion to act under pressure of his desires and satisfaction of
his sentiments. These desires and sentiments are not evil in themselves as to be
destroyed in the manner the monks or nuns do. They prescribe nerve-racking and
self-attritious practice to get rid of desires and sentiments. All that is
needed, is to control the desires and sentiments and confine them within
appropriate limits. Anger, rage, ambition, all are essential for cultivating
virtue and good in human character and are not to be destroyed altogether.
Nevertheless, anger has a limit which, if crossed, will result in tyranny. It
is, therefore, essential that desires and sentiments should not be completely
destroyed but need to be kept under control or civilized for which the Prophet
(sws) has imparted excellent teaching.