Man As the Best of Creation
By: Muzafar Alidina
“We have indeed created man in the best of moulds “ (Holy Qur’an, 95:4).
Man is granted that special status in the creations of Allah (S.W.T) of being the best of creations. Naturally, being granted with a higher position brings with its responsibilities. Being able to fulfill these responsibilities is a task that one can only accomplish after listening to the same Creator that bestowed upon us this mammoth role.
In his book The Collector of Felicities, Muhammad Mahdi al-Naraqi tries to break down the very essence of human needs and desires. He begins by trying to define the very nature of the soul (or nafs). He begins by examining a quote (or Hadith) from Imam Ali (a.s), which says:
“Surely God has characterized the angels by intellect without sexual desire and anger, and the animals with anger and desire without reason. He exalted man by bestowing upon him all of these qualities. Accordingly, if man’s reason dominates his desire and ferocity, he rises to a station above that of the angels; because the station is attained by man in spite of the existence of hurdles which do not vex the angels”.
Using this as the basis of discussion, the soul is then determined to have four faculties, or major functions/roles, namely:
- The faculty of intelligence
- The faculty of desire
- The faculty of anger and
- The faculty of imagination.
The first faculty is the faculty of intelligence, which as Imam Ali (a.s) explains is the angelic faculty. In humankind, the intellect functions by helping to distinguish between a subjective good and evil, something that we do on a day-to-day basis when making decisions. Unlike humans however, angels only have this faculty and hence their judgment is not clouded by anything else. Oftentimes we as humans are confused and worried that things are too complicated. This is because our judgment is clouded by the other factors. If man were to truly make a purely rational judgment based on facts, then the answer would be much more clearer. Doing this required untying the web of knots built in our own minds.
The second faculty is that of desire, without which mankind would cease to exist. Sometimes known as the animalistic force, this faculty helps maintain sexual attraction in man. Although this faculty is a necessity (this goes without saying), it does hinder the functioning of the intellect at some instances. Through pondering and reflection (via the power of the mighty intellect), it becomes clear what the role of the intellect is with regards to ones desires. By its very definition, desires are unlimited. However, humankind is restricted by time and space. So one can conclude that the faculty of desire will never be fully satiated, no matter how hard you try. This does not imply that desires should be completely kept away from, as the very common discussion of abstinence versus sexual relations goes to show.
The third faculty is that of anger, or the ferocious power. If man did not possess the power of anger, he would not be able to defend himself against aggression. Again, this faculty is necessary and has to be used in some cases. And once again, the inability of the intellect to reign in on the faculty of anger can lead to utter chaos.
The very last faculty, which isn’t given much importance or thought, is the faculty of imagination. This faculty, or force allows man to theorize and develop models in various different fields. One can imagine the negative consequences of the faculty of imagination if it is allowed to run wild. It provides the initial material required for plots, schemes and so on, and can be very detrimental to society as a whole.
The author provides the following allegory in trying to explain the interdependence of these faculties on one another:
“Imagine a traveller on horseback accompanied by a dog and a man who is a spy for the bandits. The mounted traveller represents reason. The mount represents desire and passion. The dog represents the power of anger and fierceness. And the spy represents the imaginative power. If the traveller just mentioned is successful in controlling his mount, the dog, and the spy, and in maintaining authority over them, he shall arrive at his destination safely; otherwise, he will be destroyed. “
Yes, the soul is a battleground. It’s a warzone. We are blessed to be the ashraful makhluqat (the best of creations), but with great power, also comes great responsibility.