The Worthiest Duty of Man
The most important, as well as the worthiest, of man's duties is education. Man discovered the value of education at the very dawn of his existence. For the same reason, he laid down certain principles and objectives commensurate with the development of his human environment and in proportion to his perception of his real duties and mission in life, though these objectives were sometimes correct and at times misconceived.
We clearly witness the amazing changes brought about in the course of human history by the various schools of thought that totally altered the features of life. Our study of the world's realities makes us arrive at the conclusion that man has not been created evil and satanic by nature. Were we to accept that man is inherently evil, all the efforts to educate him would be fruitless and futile and the endeavours and efforts of all the divine prophets and world's educators would be an exercise in futility. Had crime, murder and destructiveness been inherent in the nature of the people of the Arabian peninsula, would it have been possible for the Prophet of Islam, may God bless him and his Household, to bring about such a comprehensive revolution in the spirit of individual Arabs and transform their essential nature?
It is true that man is confronted with physical forces and urges at the first stages of his life. From the moment that he opens his eyes on this world, his faculties are realised gradually one after another and thus he begins his activities. However, at the same time, by the side of physical faculties he possesses an immense capacity and potentiality for spiritual development and growth. There are capacities and aspirations sublimer than needs that are latent in his being, and his energies, while they are being utilised, may take various forms and flow in different channels, although the phase of spiritual development generally commences later than the phases of physical growth.
But in any case it is a natural process and man's higher aspirations are capable of taking over and employing his other energies for their own purposes. However, for this objective he stands in need of effective external assistance, care and guidance. Because in the absence of such assistance these aspirations may suffer deviation or misorientation.
Of course, such external assistance is not something unnatural or imposed but a part of the human nature. It is similar to helping a child to learn speech although it possesses the natural capacity for speech since the day of its birth. The principle of human development and man's destiny as the noblest of creatures is described in the Holy Qur'an in these words:
O man! Thou art labouring unto thy Lord laboriously, and thou shalt encounter Him. (84:6) And that the final end is unto thy Lord. (53:42)
Man, in the course of his flight on the horizons of being and towards the infinite, must draw inspiration from the teachings of divine prophets, which constitute a genuine and comprehensive programme of education. This is necessary in order to release the divine energies latent, in his being and which he needs in order to be able to attain to the ultimate end of his development, success and deliverance.
Gustave Lebon writes:
It was after relentless endeavours that philosophy realised that it cannot make a way to the supranatural. Hence we are forced to follow the prescriptions of the physicians of the spirit who have insight into the peculiarities of the human soul and can be entrusted to take care of his spiritual development. These spiritual physicians are God-sent prophets and seers who propose prescriptions for man's welfare received from the source of revelation and inspiration and aimed to achieve an inner discipline, by means of which they can assist him to attain the perfection of which he is worthy.
The Holy Qur'an refers to both the aspects of man's nature while describing human nature. 7 It points out that should man fail to acquire the basic training, the tempestuous urges within him will begin to advance, weakening the forces of reason and conscience and subjugating other impulses within the soul, employing them for their own purposes and ends. The greatest marvel of man's creation is that he possesses a two-sided nature. Therefore, one must not ignore his capacity for taking on different colours and the need to guide him in a definite direction.
'Ali, may peace be upon him, said:
Beings endowed with the faculty of reason require education in the same way as farms need rain. 8
If the principles of education are not based on the regulating factors and the human energies be left untended and unchannelled in a state of wild freedom, they will always remain subject to the primary human needs. That is why human character and conduct always stand in need of a formative training through praise and reward and blame and punishment.
The Qur'an declares:
Prosperous is he who purifies the soul and failed has he who soils it with sin and impurity. (91:9-10)
The very concept of punishment is based on man's innate power of discrimination between good and evil, and exoneration from responsibility requires the presence of some physical or mental deficiency in a person. The viewpoint maintained by some modern trends of thought that exonerate the criminal as a victim of social evils or decadent and deviant training and consider the individual, despite his possession of an innate power of discrimination, as a powerless and negative being, cannot be considered as a scientific truth. Of course, no one can deny the great role of upbringing and training or ignore the momentous responsibility borne by society and environment; for the various factors related to commission of crime share the responsibility for it. But nevertheless it does not mean that the culprit is devoid of responsibility for his act.
There is no doubt that a group of offenders consists of those who can be reformed through a little guidance and direction. They are victims of spiritual illnesses and their crime is a product of certain psychic disorders and afflictions which are not deeply rooted. Or it is a result of company and association with wayward and immoral persons. This kind of sick persons should be identified and treated at the earliest opportunity. On the whole, severity of reaction and intensity of campaign against crime cannot by itself root out criminal conduct. The punishment meted out to the criminal for the sake of safeguarding social and individual welfare is necessary, because the sanctions against him are a natural result and product of his own conduct and essential for the maintenance of justice and equilibrium in society and security of social life. However, punishment alone is not sufficient and that which is more significant is the re-education of criminals, so that their unhealthy approach to life can be altered through fruitful instruction and so that their unlawful and aggressive spirit does not infect other individuals in society.
7. The Qur'an, 43:14, 14:33, 95:4, 17:69.
8. Al-Amidi, Ghurar al-hikam, p. 224.
Adapted from: "Ethics and Spiritual Growth" by: "Sayyid Mujtaba Musawi Lari"
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