In Search of Human Potential

According to the Qur’an, the revelation communicated through the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), God created the heavens (multiple universes) and the earth with a purpose and allocated the earth as the place for human habitation. Humanity was not the first creation of intelligent life; angels, created from pure light, and jinn, spirits created from the element of fire, preceded man. In fact, the Creator announces his plan to them prior to creating the prototype of man, Adam (peace be upon him): “When your Lord said to the angels, ‘I am going to place a representative on earth’, they said, ‘Are you going to place someone there who will do mischief and spill blood, whilst we (already) sing your praise and glorify you?’ He said, ‘I know what you don’t know.’ And He taught Adam all the names and then presented (things) to the angels and said: ‘tell me the names of these if you are right.’ They said: ‘Glory be to you, we have no knowledge except what You have taught us. You are the Knowledgeable and Wise.’ He said: ‘Oh Adam, tell them their names.’ And when he told them their names, He said: ‘Did I not tell you that I know the secrets of the heavens and the earth and that I know what you let on and what you hide?’ Qur’an, Surah 2 – Al-Baqarah – ayah 30-33. 

The key difference between the knowledge given to the angels and that given to man is that the angels only know what they have been taught, whereas Adam (peace be upon him) was taught all the names, in other words, he was given the power of creative thought and speech, being able to conquer unknown environments in his mind and give a name to things he never encountered before. The news of this in many ways superior creation did not go down too well with the angels, for man’s abilities can also be used to do great harm to his fellow creatures and the world in which he lives. Nonetheless, the angels, readily submitted and bowed down to Adam (peace be upon him), but Iblis (the devil), a jinn put in charge of the angels, refused. His objection, however, was not one of principle, but governed by pride, scoffing at the humble origins of man who was created from base material, the soil of the earth, when he, Iblis was of a purer, better substance, fire. This original racism, judging others by their make-up and origins rather than their potential, is the prime cause of strife and competition between people today. The devil was reprimanded for his attitude and stripped of his position of honour. He bargained for time to prove that man, on whose account he became rejected, was not worthy of the privilege. He was given until the Day of Judgment to try and seduce people from the path designed for them by God, and those whom he would manage to lead astray would go down with him. Thus, the devil becomes the enemy of man, rather than the rival of God as in other religious traditions. 

Adam (peace be upon him) was given paradise to live in, a place free of want, and for companionship was given a partner from his own makeup, Eve. The complete bliss of paradise was tainted by only one small prohibition: a tree, the fruit of which Adam (peace be upon him) and Eve must not eat. Given the abundance of fruit available, this minor restriction should not have mattered much, but the devil succeeded in arousing the couple’s ambition, telling them that God only forbade them from eating this fruit to prevent them from becoming angel-like and eternal. The fruit had the opposite effect, however, and made them aware of their nakedness and vulnerability, and as punishment they are sent as mere mortals to live on earth, toiling in hardship to survive. It is said that above God’s throne it is written that His mercy overcomes His anger, and in true keeping with that Adam (peace be upon him) and Eve were forgiven and provided with guidance which, if followed, should help them find their way back into paradise. Life on earth then becomes the temporary examination room where the intentions of each and every human being are being tested, whether they follow the guidance which helps them fulfil their true potential of living up to the spirit of God in them as His representatives on earth, or whether they follow the devil into obeying their base desires which betray their humble material make-up. Through religious observance and prayer man can thus rise from an animal-like existence to a level of worthiness above that of the angels. Rather than having evolved from an animal, the animal existence is the fallen state of man when he gives up on searching for and fulfilling his potential as a spiritual being.


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