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ISLAMIC MEDICAL EDUCATION RESOURCES-03

0101-NATURE OF THE HUMAN, (TABIAT AL INSAAN)

Lecture for 1st year medical students on 26th January 2001

A. THE NATURAL STATE, fitrat

FITRAT IS THE BASIC AND IDEAL

Allah the creator created humans in the state of fitra. This is the best state both biologically, morally, socially, and psychologically. Iman is the state of fitra (30:30). Humans believe in the oneness of Allah as part of fitrat (p 699 6:63, 7:172-173, 10:22, 16:53, 29:65, 31:32, 39:8, 41:51). Unbelief, kufr, is a denial of fitrat. If humans keep to this state of fitrat, they will be happy and prosperous. Fitrat can be degraded by human behavior. Humans unlike other living things were given an intellect and a free will that enables them to change their environment and themselves to a certain extent. They sometimes make major mistakes that end up distorting the fitrat biologically, morally, and in terms of aqidat.

 

NATURE VS NURTURE

The debate about the relative impact of nature and nurture on humans has been long and no generation has been able to resolve the issue conclusively. The nearest to the truth is to assert that both play a role in human action and behavior. The relative role of each varies according to what aspects of human biology and behavior are being considered.

 

KNOWLEDGE OF GOOD AND BAD

The basic human fitrat enables humans to know the bad from the good in most cases without the need for revelation, wahy. Revelation and human experience only reinforce what is known innately. There are however a few aspects that humans cannot know without the guidance of revelation.

 

INNATE HUMAN WEAKNESSES

Humans have innate weaknesses in their fitrat. It is one of the secrets of Allah (SWT) that although humans are the best creation, they have innate weaknesses in them. These weaknesses exist alongside the potential and strength to overcome them. It is therefore a challenge to the human to use the limited freewill they have to make the right choices such that the strengths and the good predominate over the weaknesses and the evil component of their nature.

 

CHANGING OF FITRAT

There is controversy whether fitrat should always be preserved as is or can be changed. In terms of biology there are many changes that occur in humans as a result of therapeutic medical procedures. There are also changes in the basic anatomy and physiology that humans, thanks to modern biotechnology, can make for cosmetic or other reasons. Scholars are still discussing these issues and no easy answer is available. In terms of basic psychology, drives, and emotions, the natural state of fitrat is always the ideal. Any changes tend to be to the bad.

 

 

 

B. THE ESSENCE: NAFS, QALB, RUH

NAFS

Definition of nafs: The essence of the human is the nafs. The words qalb and ruh are also used to mean nafs. The exact nature of the nafs, ruh, or qalb is in Allah’s knowledge. Humans were given limited knowledge and understanding which is all in the holy Qur’an.

 

Levels and types of nafs: The nafs has three levels, maratib al nafs: prone to evil, nafs ammara, (12:53); self-reproaching, nafs lawamat (75:2); and perfect, nafs kaamilat. The nafs ammaaarat is the lowest level of inclination to evil. The nafs lawaamat is a higher level when the nafs tries to choose between the two highways, al najdayn, the good and the bad (90:10). The nafs kaamilat is the highest level of perfection and has 3 manifestations: satisfied, nafs mutmainnat (89:27); pleased, nafs raadhiyat (89:27-28); and pleasing, nafs mardhiyat (89:27-28).

 

Signs and secrets of Allah in the nafs: There are many signs of Allah in the nafs, ayat Allah fi anfus(   ). Allah put a lot of secrets in the nafs, asrar al nafs ; the Qur’an has told us about some of them and many are not known. The nafs is also the seat of human secrets (p 1250 2:235, 2:284, 3:154, 5:57, 12:77, 33:37, 58:8). 

 

Positive attributes of the nafs: The Qur’an has described positive attributes of the nafs: ultruism, ithaar al nafs (p 1250 59:9); faith, iman al nafs (p 1250 6:158, 10:100); conscience, taqwa al nafs (p 1253 91:7-8); fear, khawf al nafs (   ), surrender for the sake of Allah, istislam al nafs li al llaah  (p 1252-3 2:207, 9:111); and patience, sabr al nafs (p 1255 18:28).

 

Negative attributes of the nafs: The Qur’an has also described the negative attributes of the nafs: transgression, israaf al nafs (39:53); neglect, tafriit al nafs (p 1253 39:56); argument, jidaal al nafs (p 1253 16:111),envy, hasad al nafs (p 1254 2:109); covetousness, shuhhu al nafs (p 1255 64:16), desire, shahwat al nafs (p1255 21:102, 41:31, 43:71), stress, dhiiq al nafs (p 1255 9:118, 18:6, 26:3, 35:8), transgression/injustice, dhulm al nafs (p 1256 2:54, 2:57, 2:231,  3:117, 3:135, 4:64, 4:97, 4:110, 7:23, 7:160, 7:177, 9:36, 9:70, 10:44, 10:54, 11:101, 14:45, 16:28, 16:33, 16:118, 18:35, 27:44, 28:16, 29:40, 30:9, 34:19, 35:32, 37:11, 65:1), self pride, ‘ujb al nafs (p 1256 4:49), temptation,  fitnat al nafs (p 1257 57:14), evil-doing, fujuur al nafs (p 1257 91:7-8).

 

Changes of the nafs: The nafs can undergo changes, taghyiir ma bi al nafs (p 1253 8:53, 13:11). The nafs can be deceived, khidau al nafs (p 1254 2:9), it can be a victim of treachery, khiyanat al nafs (p 1255 2:187, 4:107). It also can have positive influences on it such as guidance, hidayat al nafs (  ). The nafs can undertake actions to improve or strengthen itself: selling itself to Allah, bai’u al nafs li llah (p 1252-3 2:207, 9:111), self-purification, tazkiyat al nafs (p 233-4 2:151, 2:129, 2:151, 2:232, 3:164, 4:49, 9:103, 18:74, 19:19, 20:75-76, 24:21, 24:28, 24:30, 35:18, 62:2, 79:18, 80:3, 80:7, 87:14, 91:7-9,  92:18), undertaking obligations, takliif al nafs (p 1253 2:233, 2:276, 4:84, 6:152, 7:42, 23:62, 65:7, 85:7), repentance, tawbat al nafs (p 1252 2:54, 4:64), and  protection, hifdh al nafs (p 1254 86:4),

 

QALB

Location of qalb: The Qur’an has used the word qalb in various ways. Most of the time it is synonymous with nafs but there are situations when it is not. It is wrong to translate qalb to mean the anatomical heart that pumps blood. The qalb is situated in the thorax, al qalb fi al sadr (p 962 22:46, 33:4) but its exact nature is not fully known to humans and perhaps they do not need to know.

 

Qalb and iman: Qalb is the seat of iman, al qalb markaz al iman (p 961 5:41, 16:22, 16:106, 22:54, 39:45, 49:7, 49:14, 58:22 & p 962 2:93 .. 48:26). In the absence of iman the qalb is the seat of kufr, al qalb markaz al kufr (p 962 2:93, 16:106, 48:26).

 

Qalb and human emotions: The qalb is the seat of many positive human emotions like: affection, ulfat (p 959 ?3:10, 8:63, 9:60),  compassion, ra'afat (p. 959 57:27), mercy, rahmat (p. 959 3:159, 57:27). It is also the seat of negative human emotions like: fear, khawf (p 959 3:151, 8:2, 8:12, 23:60, 28:100, 33:10, 33:26, 40:18, 59:2, 59:13); doubt, riibat (p. 959 9:45, 9:110); perversity, zaigh (p. 959 3:7), harshness, ghaldhat (p. 959 3;159), repulsion, tanafur (p 959 59:14), regret, hasrat (p 959 3:156).

 

Qalb and sensation: Qalb has been described related to human physiological sensation, al qalb wa al hawaas (p 962 2:7, 6:46, 6:110, 7:10, 16:78, 16:108, 17:36, 17:46, 18:57, 23:78, 45:2, 46:26, 50:37). Thus sight, al qalb wa al nadhar (    ) and hearing, al qalb wa al sama’u  (     ) are related directly to the qalb.

 

Qalb and intellect: Qalb is also related to higher functions like knowledge, al qalb wa al ilm (p 962 2:97, 2:118, 9:93, 16:78, 26:192-195, 29:49, 30:59, 47:24); intellect, al qalb wa al ‘aql (p 962 22:6); understanding, al qalb wa al fiqh  (p 963 7:179, 9:87, 9:127, 17:46, 18:57, 63:3).

 

Qalb and responsibility: Human responsibility and accountability are in the heart, al qalb qa al mas’uliyyat (p 963 2:225, 2:283, 17:36, 33:5).

 

Qalb and guidance: The qalb can be rightly guided, hidayat al qalb (p 962 64:11) or otherwise.

 

Positive attributes of the qalb: The qalb has been associated with positive attributes: vision, ru’yat al qalb (p 960 53:11-12); healing, shafau al qalb (p 960 10:57); soundness, salamat al qalb (p 960 26:89, 83:41); devotion, qalb muniib (P 960 50:33), cleanliness, taharat al qalb(P 961 5:41, 33:53); consciousness of Allah, taqwa al qalb (p 957 22:32, 49:3); fear, khushu al qalb (p 957 57:16), calmness, tama’ininat al qalb (p 957 2:260, 8:10-11, 11:120, 13:28, 18:14, 2:32, 28:10, 48:4, 48:18), softness, liin al qalb (p 958 3:159, 39:23; openness, inshiraah al qalb  (p 957  6:125, 20:25, 39:22-23, 94:1).  

Negative attributes of the qalb: The qalb has also been associated with negative attributes: bad thoughts and conjectures, dhann al qalb bi al asayi (p 960 48:12),lack of seriousness, lahwat al qalb (21:3), mutual repulsion, tanafur al qulub (p 959 59:14); regret, hasrat al qulub (p 959 3:156);,doubt, riibat al qalb (p 259 9:45, 9:110); perversity, zaygh al qalb (p 959  3:7);  harshness, ghaldhat al qalb (p 959 3:159); stress, dhiq al qalb (p 957 4:90, 39:45); hardness, qaswat al qalb (p. ? 2:74, 5:13, 6:43, 22:53, 39:22, 57:16), evil whispering, waswasat al qalb (p 958 7:20, 20:120, 50:16, 114:4-5).

 

Diseases of the qalb: The qalb has been described as the seat of diseases of a moral nature, amradh al qalb p 958 2:10, 5:52, 8:49, 22:53, 24:50, 33:12, 33:60, 47:20, 74:31 such as lack of seriousness, lahw (p 958 21:3); neglect, ghaflah (p 958 18:28); sense of injury, ghill ( p 958 7:43, 15:47, 59:10); anger, ghaidh (p 958 3:118-119);  pride, kibr (p 958 40:56); hypocrisy, nifaq,(p 958 2:8-10, 2:204, 3:167, 5:41, 9:8, 9:64, 9:75-77, 48:11).

 

Changes of the qalb: The qalb can be influenced or changed. This can be from human action or sometimes divine intervention from Allah (SWT). Examples are covering, hijaab al qalb (p 960 6:25, 17:46, 18:57, 41:5); sealing, al tabau ala al qalb (p 960 2:7, 2:88, 4:155, 6:46, 7:100-101, 9:87, 9:93, 10:74, 16:108, 17:46, 18:57, 23:63, 30:59, 40:35, 42:24, 4:23, 47:16, 47:24, 63:3, 83:41).

 

RUH

Ruh in the Qur'an: The term ruh has been mentioned in the Qur'an in various verses (p 515-516 4:171, 15:29, 16:2, 17:85, 21:91, 32:9, 38:72, 66:12, 97:4). The word ruh conveys all the meanings of nafs and qalb described above. The Qur’an specifically informed us that human knowledge or understanding of the ruh is limited. It is eternal having been created before appearance of the human in a physical form and will outlive the human phase of the human’s existence. It makes the difference between a human and a non-human. The Qur’an teaches that in the course of embryological development Allah inspires the ruh into the fetus, nafkh al ruh wa bidayat al hayat (p. 516 32:9, 38:72, 15:29), thus turning it morally and legally into a human being. End of the earthy life is signified by death of the body, nihayat al jasad (    ) but the ruh continues, khuluud al ruuh (     ).

 

C. DUALITY

NAFS OR RUH IS THE PERMANENT ESSENCE OF A HUMAN

The non-material part of the human is the nafs or the ruh. It is the essence and the most important. It is the source of identity for each individual human. It is permanent existing before and after the end of the physical part of the human.

 

TEMPORARY PHYSICAL FORM

The physical form of the human body is temporary in two ways. The cells of the body change every day thus the actual atoms and molecules that were in the body a month ago are not the same as those today because new cells are continuously being formed from the food eaten. In another sense when a human dies the material body becomes one of the elements of the earth when it is buried in the soil.

 

MATTER and SPIRIT

The uniqueness of the human lies in the duality of matter and ruh. Both are needed for a complete human to exist. The physical part of the human is from the elements of the earth, turab. The material part of the human is referred to by the Qur’an as the living body, jism al insan  (p 278 2:247, 63:4) or the dead body,  jasad al insan (p 278 7:148, 20:88, 21:8, 38:34). The nafs is not physical but it exists in a physical body. Thus a human is both physical and matter.

 

HUMAN BEHAVIOR AND DUALITY

Human behavior is a reflection of the dual nature. The ruh and nafs have overriding control. If they are good the person is good. If they are bad, the person is bad. The physical part of the human through the hormonal and neural drives is also responsible for some types of behavior.

 

D. RELATION WITH THE UNSEEN, ‘alaqat al insan bi ‘aalam al ghaib

EMPIRICAL BASIS OF HUMAN CIVILIZATION

The human lives and functions in the empirical world of the seen, aalam al shahadat. All human actions are confined to what is empirical. The human must study and discover the laws of the empirical world, sunan al laahi fi al kawn, and manipulate them for the good of all humanity.

 

BELIEF AND AWARENESS OF THE UNSEEN

Humans are aware that there is a world of the unseen, ‘aalam al ghaib, around. They believe in power and phenomena beyond their empirical grasp. Good fitrat leads to belief in the unseen because there are so many phenomena in human life that cannot be explained easily in the empirical sense. Humans have only one method of interacting with the unseen through the revelations in the Qur’an. Apart from that the human has no contact or dealings with the unseen.

 

ANGELS AND JINN

Angels, malaika, and jinns are part of the world of the unseen. There can be no active interaction initiated by humans with these creatures of the unseen world. The angels on the orders of Allah do interfere in many human affairs but there is no way for humans to know or even understand this interference. The jinn may also have limited interference in human affairs. Humans should know that the angels are around and are acting on humans in various ways but this is one-way from angels to humans and not human to angel. The exceptions are few isolated incidents in history and were all described by the Qur’an

 

PROPHETS

Prophets being human had the same relationship to the unseen world like other humans with a few exceptions that the Qur’an listed for some prophets. These exceptions are the miracles that Allah bestowed on His prophets. Prophets could interact with angels in the process of revelation (    ). Some prophets spoke with Allah (    ). Some prophets had interactions with and control over the jinn (      ).

 

 

ASTROLOGERS

The prophet taught that astrologers and all those who pretend to know the unseen future are liars. Human knowledge and understanding are confined to the empirical present unless they get knowledge about the past and future from revelation.

 

SCIENTIFIC PREDICTION OF THE FUTURE

Scientific empirical prediction is not considered human intrusion into the world of the unseen. This is because any predictions are made with the full knowledge that they are not perfect and often they turn out to be wrong. They are based on studying trends and patterns of the empirical present. They are thus part of empirical observation and not invasion of the unseen.

 

SCIENTIFIC RECONSTRUCTION OF THE PAST

The work of archeologists and other scientists is not considered an intrusion into the past that is part of the unseen world. This is because such reconstructions and interpretations depend on what humans can empirically observe today; they may be right or wrong. There is no claim of possessing any extra knowledge or power.

 

ALLAHS' OMNIPRESENCE

Allah the almighty is watching and knows what the entire human is doing and nothing can be hidden from Him, ihatat llah bi al al insaan ( ).

 

D. ATTRIBUTES of the HUMAN, sifaat al insan

THE POSITIVE AND THE NEGATIVE

It is one of the secrets of Allah’s creation that a human the highest creation has positive and honorable attributes, sifaat hamidat, associated with good, hasan & khair. The human at the same time has negative attributes, sifaat dhamimat, associated with bad, sharr. This duality however does not contradict the fact that the human can reach the pinnacle of perfection, al insan al kamil, who has honor and dignity, karamat al insan. The weaknesses of the human are innate. They can be corrected, mitigated, or even turned round into strengths. Despite the potential for doing evil due to weaknesses, Allah gave humans the responsibility of vicegerancy on earth, isikhlaf al insan. This is in recognition of the preponderance of the good in them. Standing out and being good despite existence of the negative in the human makes human achievements all the more spectacular.   

 

POSITIVE HUMAN ATTRIBUTES

The Qur'an has described the positive attributes of humans as: gratitude, al insaan al shaakir (  );  desire of both the earth and the heaven,  al insan murid al duniya wa al akhirat (   ); belief, al insan al mumin (   ).

 

NEGATIVE HUMAN ATTRIBUTES

The Qur’an has described the human as proud, fakhuur (p 163 11:10); unjust, dhaluum (p 163 14:34); hasty, ‘ajuul (p 163 17:11), miserly, bakhiil (p 187 3:180, 4:36-37, 4:128, 17:29-30, 17:100, 25:67, 33:19, 47:36-38, 57:23-24, 59:9, 64:16); ignorant, jahil (p 309 3:273, 4:17, 2:273, 6:54, 12:89, 16:119, 49:6 & p 309 2:67, 6:35, 7:199, 10:89, 11:46-47, 12:33, 25:63, 33:33, & 11:46-47); foolhardy, safih (p 320 4:5); neglectful, ghaafil (p 869-70 6:131, 6:156, 7:179, 12:3, 12:13, 16:108, 28:15, 36:6, 24:23, 51:11 & 24:23, 19:39, 21:97, 7:136, 10:92, 7:205, 107:5, 7:172); evil-doer,  fasiq (p 897 58:11, 5:59); spreader of evil, mufsid (p 895 2:30, 2:30, 2:220, 10:40); denier of the truth, kafir &  kafuur (p. 163 17:67) &  p 163 22:66 & p 163 42:48, 43:15), polytheist, mushrik (   ); hypocrite, munafiq (    ); niggardly, qatura (p. 163 17:100); argumentative, mujadil (p 163 21:37);  perfidious, khattaar (p 163 31:32); adversarial, khasiim (p 163 36:77); despairing, ya’uus (p 163 41:49); impatient, haluu’u (p 163 70:19-21), fretful,  jazuu’u (p 163 70:19-21); transgressor, twaaghi (p 163 96:6-7); self-sufficient, mustaghni (p 163 96:6-7); ungrateful, kanuud (p 163 100:6-8); denier of favors, munkir al ni’mat (p 163-4 10:12, 10:21-23, 11:9-10, 16:53-54, 17:67, 17:83, 29:65-66, 3:33-34, 30:36, 31:32, 39:8, 39:49, 41:49-51, 42:48, 70:19-21); lover of passions,  muhibb al shahwaat (    ).

 

HUMAN INTELLIGENCE

The most important attribute of humans is intelligence. Humans have a more developed intellect than other creations. Their brain has a bigger surface area in relation to weight compared to all other living things. It is more sophisticated and more specialized. Humans differ in the way they use their intelligence. Some are able to undertake difficult tasks involving abstract thinking and problem solving whereas others cannot or can do so at varying degrees. The Qur'an has described 4 levels of understanding: qalb (  ), fuad (  ), albaab (p 170 2:179, 2:197, 2:269, 3:7, 3:190-194, 5:100, 12:111, 13:19-24, 14:52, 38:29, 38:43, 39:9, 39:17-18, 39:21, 40:54, 65:10),  and jibala (p 269 26:183).

 

HUMAN AGGRESSION

Human aggression is a constant characteristic of humans as individuals and societies. It always leads to destruction. Aggression can be against the self, other humans or the eco-system. Aggression is the final pathway for many of human weaknesses and failures. The first recorded act of human aggression was homicide committed by one of Adam’s sons because of jealousy. Since then human history has been characterized by aggression of various types and kinds. Human aggression is so much that even when seeking recreation, they have a tendency towards  sports like boxing, wrestling and others that allow expression of the inner tension or aggression.

 

LIMITATIONS OF THE HUMAN,ajz al insan

The human whatever strengths he may have to realize that he has limits beyond which he cannot perform. The limitations can be absolute or relative. Absolute limitations are in knowledge and understanding. Relative limitations are in sensory perception and physical action.

Professor Omar Hasan Kasule Sr. January 2001