Man in the Quran

The Quran[1] is explicit that although Adam committed a mistake, he was, nevertheless, not arrogant. When he was reminded by God, he admitted his mistake and transgression. In return God bestowed upon him His Words and taught him how to repent. Adam’s repentance was then accepted[2], which thereafter left upon him no scars of sin.

Speaking in general terms about man the Qur’an says that he is created out of the best stock[3].  He is the viceroy of God upon earth[4]. By birth he is neither evil nor good in the ethical sense, but he is given a just bias towards good, and a bias against evil has been put into his nature[5]. He has also been endowed with the freedom to choose between right and wrong[6]. Man is, however, by nature weak and constantly needs divine help and guidance[7]. The story of Adam, if it teaches anything, teaches that man can never be self-sufficient. In history and society, the forces of good and evil work side by side, and man is continually tested, but in the end judgment will be according to each one’s own capacity[8].

The idea of incarnation is strongly opposed and rejected by the Qur’an[9]. Christ was only a prophet and messenger of God[10]. His message, like that of all other messengers of God, was “to serve God and avoid unrighteousness.”[11]

The idea of transference of the punishment of sins or vicarious punishment is not accepted by the Qur’an[12]. But it must also be noted that, according to the Qur’an, the punishment is not the necessary and unavoidable consequence of sin. If there is repentance than any sin, however grave it may be, can be forgiven by the mercy of God[13]. God is not bound to punish[14]. Contrary to Augustinian understanding of justice, Divine justice in the Qur’an means that God does not punish anyone without reason, or beyond that which is necessary. Justice also means that no good of man is left by God unrecognized and unrewarded[15]. It does not mean that God is not allowed to leave any sin unpunished.

Words like fidaa, fidyah, kaffara and kaffaarah (as in Hebrew paadaa and kaapar) are used in the Qur’an. In the case of sickness or journey or some other incapacities one is allowed to make expiation (fidyah) if one had failed to perform one’s obligations[16]. Kaffaarah or ransom is made when a violation of religious duties or rituals is commited[17]. However, the Qur’an says explicitly that “repentance” (tawbah) is always needed, and when one repents and acts in faith God does the act of kaffaarah[18]. As in the Old Testament, so in the Qur’an only God is the subject of kaffara and only He can wipe out sins, not by paying a ransom—which is alien both to the Old Testament and to the Islamic tradition—or by accepting a price[19], but simply by His grace and mercy.

[1] Quoted from an essay titled “The Doctrine of Redemption: A Critical Study”, Part IV, in “Islamic Perspectives: Studies in Honor of Sayyid Abul A’la Mawdudi”, 1980, The Islamic Foundation, pp 99-100.

[2] The Qur’an, 2: 35-37 []

[3] Ibid., 95: 4 []

[4] Ibid., 2: 30 []

[5] Ibid., 91: 8 []

[6] Ibdi., 91: 9-10 []

[7] Ibid., 4: 28 []

[8] Ibid., 2: 286 []

[9] Ibid., 5: 17, 72 [;

[10] Ibid., 5: 75 []

[11] Ibid., 16: 36 []

[12] Ibid., 6: 164; 17: 15; 35: 18; 39: 7; 53: 38 [;;;;

[13] Ibid., 39: 53 []

[14] Ibid., 4: 147 []

[15] Ibid., 2: 281; 4: 124; 19: 60; 46: 19 [;;;

[16] Ibid., 2: 184, 196 [;

[17] Ibid., 5: 45, 89, 95 [;;

[18] Ibid., 2: 271; 4: 31; 5: 12; 8: 29; 64: 9; 66: 8 [;;;;;

[19] Ibid., 3: 91; 10: 54; 39: 47; 70: 11; 57: 15 [;;;;

2 thoughts on “Man in the Quran

  1. Beautiful article Hanna! There is a typo in the foruth paragraph… I beleive you meant “God does not punish anyone without reason”. I like reading your articles… They are very useful! Keep the good work!

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