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The Development of Personality in Islamic Thought

Every existent has an individuality special to itself, and nothing can possibly be conceived without taking into regard its individuality. Hence judgements and conditions apply only to an existent that possesses its own particular individuality. Moreover, the perfection of a being is realised in its outward and inward aspects only when it has a sensible as well as a spiritual personality. The sensible and outward personality of human individuals is evident, but their spiritual personality depends on certain human qualities and spiritual merits so that their being is not confined to their sensible personality.

This is true of individuals as well as nations and societies, which with their specific characteristics are scattered around different parts of the world. The spiritual personality of any society relates to the extent of its knowledge of realities and its approach to life.

It is essential for the development of personality to take into consideration all the human dimensions and potentialities, so that an overall balance and equilibrium, necessary for a balanced growth, is achieved and a balanced personality is formed. The Islamic approach in this regard consists of taking into consideration all the innate characteristics of man. It takes into view all his urges and instincts, and with a perfect knowledge of the capacities that man has been endowed with, it guides and develops them in a balanced manner. Neither it suppresses any capacity by diminishing its due role, nor gives any of them an undue predominance. It determines the extent of each capacity's role by keeping in view the overall welfare of the human being, so that the human personality develops in an optimum manner.

The human soul, like everything else in life, in its own orbit and within the totality that is man, is always in a state of growth and development in accordance with the laws of its nature. It grows and develops with every movement that it makes. During childhood years, the field of imagination is expansive, but the intellect is weak and closer to the world of the senses than to the world of the spirit. However, gradually there is a movement from the simple to the complex as he undertakes bigger tasks. Imagination then mingles with facts and draws closer to thought and intellection. As a result of this movement, his maturity and constructive abilities constantly increase.

If this perpetual development does not follow the course of Divine guidance and is not nourished properly, it inclines towards weakness and disease, requiring remedial measures. Because in the same way as the capacity to develop is innate in man, so also there is the vulnerability to degenerate and decay. Both of them are innate and none of them is imposed by anything outside the soul, and nature too, despite the apparent change associated with each of these two opposite directions, is itself unchangeable.

The guidance provided by Islam is the sublimest and the most valuable of approaches aimed at the development of personality and sublimation of nature, as well as mobilisation of the ontic constituents of man's being in conformity with their natural configuration.

In the view of Islam, real development lies in movement towards truth and in uniting with the Divine glory and beauty. One who has been brought up and nourished by Islamic principles rejects all misleading temptations, whether they relate to the servitude to men, or submission to his own base lusts and desires, or to other power in the world of creation.

Human beings should develop their personality within the framework of this objective and elevate their consciousness, because this path of development and progress has been proposed by someone who is the Creator of man, Who is well aware of his nature and needs. It is vital for every person to know the situation of man and the ultimate end of his existence so that he may discover through this knowledge the role of man, his relationship to the world, and the frontiers of his responsibilities.

However, such an awareness must be followed by action and movement and this knowledge must be transformed into a dynamic force, so that the inner self is mobilised toward the realisation of the ultimate purpose assigned to human existence in this celestial plan. It is then that man can attain to an enduring sublime life commensurate with his divine destiny.

Islam came to build a unique community that establishes God's law on earth, a community that should lead humanity and deliver it from deviate paths and misleading schools of thought that lead it into suffering, a community with a correct world view, which is the greatest means of man's progress. It offers a world view which is in tune and harmony with all the essential constituents of the human personality-i.e. intellect, thought, emotion, and all other elements of man's being and his faculties of perception-and is capable of bringing up intellectually and spiritually as well as from the viewpoint of conduct and action, unique and magnificent examples of humanity.

It reminds man that the pursuit of lusts leads the soul into a darkness where his light-the principle that draws him naturally towards human merit and excellence-is concealed by the enveloping gloom.

Accordingly, it is necessary that man should get rid of this obstructing darkness if he is to discover his genuine functions and identify the true and beneficial values, so that he may get a positive view of life and fulfil his urge for perfection by adopting a sound educational policy.

Finally, Islam intends to bring up an integrated human personality which, on the physical plane, utilises all the possibilities offered by the world of physical nature and on the spiritual plane benefits from the unlimited opportunities offered by the world of spirit and immortality. It does not cease reminding the individual that within this corporeal, earthly frame there is a celestial light, a sacred fire, and a Divine breath that can raise him to the exalted station of being God's vicegerent.

Adapted from: "Ethics and Spiritual Growth" by: "Sayyid Mujtaba Musawi Lari"

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