The Quranic View on the Uniqueness of Human Beings

The following unique paper was presented by Philosopher of Science, Nadeem Haque at the 16th Conference (held from April 26 to May 1, 2016) of the European Society for the Study of Science and Theology (ESSSAT) in Lodz/Warsaw, Poland. There were 70 papers in all and 16 were published in the ESSSAT Yearbook in 2018:  “Studies in Science and Theology, Volume 16 (2017-2018), “Are We Special?”, Edited by Dirk Evers, Michael Fuller, Anne Runehov and Knut -Willy Saether, published by Martin-Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, Institute for Systematic Theology, Franckplatz 1/Haus 26, D-06110 Halle (Saale), Germany.

 

Abstract

The Quranic position on the uniqueness of human beings itself exhibits a rather special type of uniqueness. In this paper, is shown that understanding this uniqueness is central to the physical, intellectual and spiritual development of the individual human being and of human society. A failure to understand this uniqueness is the root cause of the destruction of the individual self, animals and societies in our world today. It is illustrated, using the Quranic text, that although the human being has evolved from nature, with humans and animals sharing a common origin, and that although human consciousness is accessed from the same source as is that of animals (from leading edge research into the Quran on consciousness), what makes the human being tick uniquely is his/her superior ability to think abstractly, and communicate extensively. The human being is not bound tightly to niches as are non-human animals. It is the human being’s capacity to imagine and create that makes him or her unique. As a result of this, the human being becomes the custodian of the balances of nature, and hence a khalifah (an Arabic word used in the Quran). It is in this sense that such a title bestowed on the human being should be understood. More specifically, the khalifah’s role in this cosmos is to use science in a particularly defined way, so as not to cause imbalances. In fact, this “uniqueness realization” concerning the human being is itself a methodologically unique endeavour, based on reason, which each human being must strive to understand and implement. In this universal and timeless Quranic, and hence Islamic, view, anthropocentrism is replaced by universal teleocentrism in a designed universe.

 

 

Al-Mizan (the Balance): Key to Understanding Human Uniqueness

 

In order to ascertain the position of the human being within the natural order, from the Islamic perspective, we need to examine its source, which is the Quran. The Quran consistently and explicitly mentions, in numerous verses, that the entire natural world belongs to God and God alone (3:189)[1]. However, humankind is given only temporary successorship/stewardship (khilafah) of the natural world. Therefore, humankind is responsible and accountable in this capacity for any abuses of the earth’s life forms or natural resources as a test (6:165). This responsibility is instilled upon humankind because humanity is capable of reasoning. In Arabic, the word used to signify reason in the Quran is aql, from the root aqala, which is based on iqal, a word that denotes a cord used to tie a camel’s legs so that the animal does not run away. It therefore means ‘to bind’ and hence ‘to secure something.’ Reason, therefore, secures reality by interconnecting information.

Reason is the foundation of Islam, and it is claimed in the Quran that no contradictions exist between nature (the work of God) and the Quran (the word of God); i.e. there is supposed to be 100% congruence between the Quran and nature. In the Quran, the gauntlet is cast to challenge us, using the Principle of Non-Contradiction, which is the basis of rationality:

 

Have they not pondered on the Quran? If this book were from other than a Singular God, then surely, in it, you would find many inconsistencies (Quran 4:82).

 

By using reason properly, we can maintain the mizan (Foltz 2006: 150; Kemmerer 2012:  272), an Arabic word used in the Quran. But what is the mizan, and what is its connection to Human Uniqueness?

The universe itself was created as a test to see who would perform the best in deeds (67:2), that is, who would abide by the laws of God, the first of which is not to upset the pre-existing balance:

 

It is He [God] who has created the expansive universe and established the balance [mizan], so that you may not disrupt the balance. Therefore, weigh things in equity and do not fall short of maintaining that balance (Quran 55:7-9).

 

He (God) has appointed, precisely established and positioned the earth [both the planet as a whole, and the earth’s crust] for the maintenance and development of sentient life forms [both humans and nonhumans] (Quran 55:10).

 

We have surely sent messengers with clear evidences, and sent them with the Book [the Quran] and the Balance [the Equigenic Principle], so that human beings may behave with equity (Quran 57:25).

 

In the Quran 55:10, the word wada-aha, has been translated as “appointed, precisely established…” to convey its entire range of meanings as derived from its root meaning and its contextual use elsewhere in the Quran.

 

Animals also know their purpose, but their usage of reason constrains them to only following the laws of God and not deviating from those laws. How animals interconnect in their natural state corresponds with the Equigenic Principle: meaning equilibrium in and realized from the dynamic balance of nature, from equi (equal) and genic (origin) (Banaei and Haque 1995: 120-235). Since nonhuman animals also interconnect with things to attain goals, they also use ʿaql, that is, reason, from this core definition. However, the human being’s intellectual flexibility and greater degree of freedom to connect/disconnect things, intellectually and manually, allows him or her to disconnect what ought to be connected and connect what ought not to be connected in nature. This disruption in the equigenic flow and pattern designed by God leads to harm. In other words, the human mind can choose to embark on actions that disrupt the dynamic balances in nature, flagrantly violating the Equigenic Principle.

The uniqueness of humans is that they are able to deviate from the purpose by their choices. This ‘choice’ and the mizan (balance) has implications for all facets of existence which we shall discuss in the following sections, to gain a complete understanding of Human Uniqueness – of the question of the ‘specialness of humans’, that is, of what makes us special, and the unique implications of such a status. All of these facets are inextricably connected to the al-mizan (the balance).

 

 

The Uniqueness of Consciousness

 

According to the Quran, human life continues after death because we possess consciousness, depicted by two words: ruh and nafs. Ruh is brought into existence by God’s creative commandment and is sustained by His will. Both nafs and ruh are connected to the created consciousness that arises from the infinitely rich imagination of God – that is, from His transcendent, ever-existing consciousness, since, logically speaking, created consciousness (according to the Quran) can only come from, and be sustained by, a higher consciousness. Ruh relates to the created and sustained consciousness and nafs to the personality and individuality that develops, based on the life experiences associated with that consciousness, created as a sustained command from the mind of God (Haque and Muslim 2007: 227-229).

The Quran further tells us that nonhuman animals, who offer their obeisance to God in every movement, know what they are doing:

 

Do you not see that all those in the galaxies and the earth, praise God, as do the birds with outstretched wings? Each knows it prayer and glorification: God has full knowledge of what they do. (Quran 24:41)

 

This verse makes it abundantly clear that they are capable of consciously performing such acts, and, being always Muslim (always in total submission to God), they coexist with their environs in constant, natural genuflection.

According to the Quran, then, humans and animals are self-aware and possess consciousness as fractionalized from the source of all Consciousness – an indivisible God (Haque and Muslim 2007: 132-133, 179-205). The human being, therefore, is not unique in respect of possessing consciousness and self-awareness. It is the use of his/her consciousness tied to the mizan that is crucial.

 

 

Uniqueness in Salvation

 

Individuals who have companion animals often wonder and ask what happens to their dogs, cats, turtles, and so on after they die. Just as the Quran accurately and remarkably described the Big Bang, far in advance of contemporary science, so, too, the Quran tells us that when this universe is terminated by the Creator in a Big Crunch (21:104) it will be replaced by a new and different type of universe (14:48 and 36:81) in a second Big Bang. In light of the continuance of the nafs, or ruh, from the Quran it can be deduced that all animals will be gathered unto their Creator after death in another universe as a holding place until the final hereafter is recreated in a second Big Bang (Haque and Muslim 2007: 225-258). It is the will of God that determines whether or not individual consciousness continues in the next life in a new and different, albeit similar, form (56:61). This is why the Quran declares that all creatures will be gathered unto their Sustainer, not just human beings (6:38).

Human beings are therefore not unique in having an afterlife, according to the Quran. Whereas all animals will have some form of afterlife, not described by the Quran for animals per se, the afterlife of humans is either a permanent paradise (various levels) or a temporary reformatory place of severe torment (various levels), described in great detail in the Quran – a new universe with different laws (14:48 and 36:81), not experientially knowable but analogically described in the Quran by the extra-universal entity that created it and the Quran itself.

 

 

Uniqueness of Personhood

 

According to the Quran, all nonhuman animals possess personhood, and not just human beings. Human beings tend to regard themselves as being special because they feel they are uniquely endowed with intelligence, self-awareness, higher communication abilities, and a soul. Using these assumptions about uniqueness, humans often trample callously upon other species because they think that nonhumans either do not possess these abilities or faculties, or, if they do, that they exist in a primitive state. Indeed, humans tend to justify their actions according to these unsubstantiated assumptions. The Quranic – and hence Islamic – outlook reveals to us, however, that these assumptions are incongruent with reality and that if the attributes of nonhuman animals are understood properly, great untapped and embracing knowledge exists that could lead to a revolution in the largely discordant relationships between humans and other species.

The Islamic perspective acknowledges animal communication in ways not yet recognized by science, though recent research is in fact shedding more light on animal communication. Fourteen centuries ago, the Quran mentioned numerous animals and their relationship with human beings in unique contexts: The Quran, for instance, describes ants communicating meaningfully with one another. It mentions an ant who is on the lookout and warns fellow ants of impending doom; they had better evacuate immediately, lest Solomon and his entourage crush them unwittingly:

 

…then they were led forth in orderly ranks, until, when they came upon a valley of ants, an ant exclaimed: ‘O you ants! Get into your dwellings, lest Solomon and his hosts crush you unawares’ (Quran 27:17-18).

 

The ant identifies Solomon and his group, and her own ant community, and seeks to avoid being killed. Solomon, we are told, not only understood this communication but took delight in the discourse (27:19). Perhaps most noteworthy is the fact that the female ant (field observations attest to female ants being on the lookout) is aware of Solomon’s awareness; this type of meta-awareness requires a very high degree of social intelligence. Present-day researchers note that ants communicate by pheromones, tactile sensors, vibrations, and so on.

As a result of these factors, it becomes obvious from the Quran that animals also communicate to various degrees like human beings, and each has personhood; in this sense, humans are unique only to the extent that they are able to wreck the equigenic flow, hitherto discussed, by a misuse of communication.

 

 

Uniqueness of Community

 

Not enough attention has been paid to the fact that the Quran seals the biological parity between humans and the rest of the species, first elaborated in modern times, at great length, in the now classic book Animals in Islam, by the pioneering Islamic thinker and author Al-Hafiz B.A. Masri (1989), and encapsulated by the Quranic passage which states that:

 

There is not a nonflying and two-winged flying [water/carbon-based] creature, but they are in communities like yourselves…in the end they will all be gathered to their Sustainer (Quran 6:38).

 

Humans and animals have communities and they all communicate in their own modes, but human beings are unique with respect to being able to disrupt the balance by creating dysfunctional communities, whereas the communities of animals, on the contrary, maintain the balance.

 

 

Uniqueness of Sentience

 

According to Islam, we are certainly not alone, for in the Quran it is explicitly stated that:

 

Among His signs is the creation of the galaxies and the earth, and whatever corporeal creatures (dabbatin) that He has dispersed throughout them both. He is able to gather them together, when He so chooses (idha yashao) (Quran 42:29).

 

Remarkably, the Quran also states that there are other earth-like planets, which consequently means that they are hospitable to life. In connection with the following verse that speaks of extrasolar planets like the earth, it is important to note that the number seven in the Arabic is often synonymous with ‘several’, but it may also mean exactly seven. The Quran says, ‘It is God who has created seven heavens (samawati) and of the earth their like’ (Quran 65:12). This verse explains that the universe is clustered with countless earths, just as the stars are in clusters, forming galaxies and galaxies themselves are clustered and so on and so forth: in other words, ‘similar earth’ clustering, mirrors hierarchical stellar clustering. This is discussed in great detail in one of this writer’s other works (Haque and Shahbaz 2015: 57-61).

Surprisingly, the Quran does not state that we are the topmost species in the realm of the universe, in our overall attributes, be they intellectual and/or physical:

 

And indeed We have honoured the children of Adam, and We carried them by land and sea. We have provided them with wholesome things, having specially favoured  them above many of those whom We have created (Quran 17:70).

 

Yes, favoured ‘above many,’ but not all!  When viewed in the context of the existence of jinn (non-carbon based sentient entities) on earth and various forms of higher sentient life on other planets, human beings are not unique but rather, are a class of species in the cosmos who can either be creative or destructive in nature.

 

Uniqueness of Revelation

 

Animals also receive revelation (wahi). In the Quran it speaks of bees receiving wahi (16:68) to guide their behaviour etc. It is more at the instinctual, programmed level for optimal foraging, hive building, hive location selection, communication etc. Other animals, like the Monarch Butterfly, receive wahi, since their navigation system is calibrated through their brain wiring (Reppert et al. 2016). It directs animals towards sustenance etc. Likewise, the Quran is a wahi for humans, which is humanity’s guidance system as were the originals of other scriptures. Therefore, humans are not unique in receiving wahi, but their form of the wahi is unique, at least on this planet. Animals follow wahi, but humans are severely lacking in this department!

 

 

Uniqueness of the Implication of Human Uniqueness

 

It has been illustrated, through recent research on the Quran and a model of the origination of life (Haque, 2009), that all life, including that of humans, has evolved from water and clay, with clay  as a cooking receptacle/vessel for the evolution of nucleotides etc. As a consequence, everything is related to each other, though the convergence of origin, and shares in the same consciousness as willed by God. Human beings  are the most complexified in the evolutionary process on earth, together with the jinn, who share in the attributes of human uniqueness, though the jinn cannot normally be seen by humans. These two concepts – a common source of evolution of carbon-based life, and its sustenance (both body and consciouness) – are captured remarkably by one Arabic word in the Quran : Rabb, meaning the evolver or developer of a thing from one stage to another until it reaches perfection, or completion, while also encapsulating the meaning ‘Sustainer’. This realization of a common source tying everything together, yet everything at the same time being seperate, leads to empathy and compassion, that can be summed up by one word: affinity.

The entire universe, therefore, has indeed been created for testing highly mentally capable carbon-based and non-carbon based entities (humans, jinn, and higher extraterrestrial lifeforms) to see if they can choose to minimize going against the equigenic flow and to see who would choose to develop affinity.  It is recognized in the Quran that human beings are unique in their ability to interconnect things and to create and name things (creation of artistic/scientific, abstract concepts and technology), on a quantitatively much higher level than animals, according to the Quran and as evidenced by more recent research. However, human beings are not unique in terms of the basic principles and attributes of having consciousness, using reason, receiving revelation, communication, personhood and creating communities, according to the Quran.

How then are we unique and special? If the ability of humans is understood as being a precarious predisposition of having the potential to disrupt the dynamic balances in nature (the equigenic flow), then it becomes a mode of awareness and sensitivity synonymous with being cautious. This cognizance of the precariousness that constitutes human uniqueness, should make all humans sensitive, cautious, circumspect and more creative in the non-disruption of equilibrium in all the interrelated spheres of life.

Although the human being is indeed an animal, categorized by the Quranic word dabbah – a water- and carbon-based creature that can move spontaneously, as described in verse 24:45 – a conditional hierarchy prevails in the Quran. This hierarchy elevates human animals above nonhuman animals when we treat nonhuman animals and the rest of nature and fellow human beings properly, but reduces the human person to a mere shell with a mere human façade, when we fail in our rightful role.

Though human beings are unique, God is Unique with a capital U, as captured by the following Quranic passage: ‘There is no thing like anything like Him’ (112:4). In fact, the word ahad, translated as ‘one’ in the Quran, in 112:1 not only means one, but means that which is indivisible in any manner.  From the Islamic perspective, it is thus realized that once we understand the uniqueness of God and, as such, God’s relation to creation, and thereby instill in ourselves AWE for God, we can then understand the level of human uniqueness in its true essence and perspective. Once this is understood, then our relations to God and creation can be set aright, in the refulgent equipoise that it was ideally meant to be. The Islamic view, therefore, fosters a teleocentric understanding of the universe, whose centrepoint is a singular, unmatchable God, so that a more interconnected and caring society can evolve for the holistic betterment of both humans and the rest of creation, of which humans are an integral part.

 

 

Bibliography

 

Banaei, M., and Haque, N. 1995. From Facts to Values: Certainty, Order, Balance and their Universal Implications, Toronto: Optagon Publications Ltd.

Foltz, R. C. 2006. Animals in the Islamic Tradition and Muslim cultures, Oxford: Oneworld.

Haque, N., and Muslim, M. 2007. From Microbits to Everything: Universe of the Imaginator, Volume 2: The Philosophical Implications, Toronto: Optagon Publications.

Haque, N. 2009. From Microbits to Everything: Beyond Darwinism and Creationism, Volume 3: The evolutionary implications. Toronto: Optagon Publications Ltd.

Haque, N. and Shahbaz, Z. 2015. “Extraterrestrials and Intraterrestrials in Islam”, Nexus August – September Issue.

Kemmerer, L. 2012. Animals and World Religions, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Masri, Al-Hafiz B.A. 1989. Animals in Islam, Petersfield: The Athene Trust.

Reppert, S.M., Guerra, P.A. & Merlin, C. 2016. ‘Neurobiology of Monarch Butterfly Migration’, Annual Review of Entomology, 61:25–42

 

[1]  3 refers to the chapter and 189 to the verse in the Quran.

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