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God as King, Man as Trusted Servant: An Exploration of Islam, Part II

May 4, 2012

II.  Islam as Metanarrative: The “Story”

            In the beginning, the one God—Allah—created the heavens and the earth and all that is in them (Surah 1: 22, 28-29; 2: 116-117).[1]  .  Whatever Allah made, he made it exactly as he wanted with a specific nature and a specific purpose.[2]  And all things rightfully worship Allah as creator.  Allah created angels out of fire, purified beings to be his servants.  Allah also created mankind out of clay (the original man and woman being Adam and Eve).  Though made only of clay, Allah honored man by breathing his spirit into him and making him His viceregents (khalifah) on the earth.  In this way all of creation, save Allah, was subjected to the authority of man.  The angels, created in the purity of fire, questioned this decision by Allah.  How could Allah trust mankind to rule the earth as his viceregents, when they are inclined towards corruption and evil?[3]  Allah in his infinite wisdom claimed that mankind would know something that the angels themselves would not know.  He taught Adam “the names,” giving him knowledge above the angels.[4]  When the angels saw that Adam had knowledge that they did not possess, they were amazed.  Allah commanded the angels to bow down before man.  All did this accept Iblis (Satan).

Mankind thus became very special and privileged to Allah.  Like a great king, Allah appointed mankind as his special ambassadors, to fulfill his purposes in creation.  Yet, as with any earthly king (though Allah is incomparable to any creature), his servants that are given great responsibility must prove themselves worthy of the honor.  Those who serve the king well are rewarded; those who disobey the king or forget his rightful place as master of their lives will be dreadfully punished.  The same is true for Allah and his viceregents.  The life of man is the testing ground or the trial by which he shows himself worthy of being given such an honor or unworthy and deserving only of dreadful punishment.  Truly mankind was created to worship Allah and obey him.[5]  Surely if this is true for an earthly king, must it not be infinitely so for Allah?  As King of heaven and earth (and all things), Allah is beneficent and merciful.  He is not a terrible despot, though he is stern and unwavering.  He rules, as we might say, with an iron—but fair—fist.  He is both merciful and just.

A tree was placed in the garden in which Allah made for Adam.  The garden was placed somewhere above the earth as a sort of paradise for the first man and woman.  Though Adam and his wife Eve could eat of everything else in the garden, this tree’s fruit was forbidden by Allah.  Tragically, because of Iblis’s jealousy of man and his enmity against Allah, he tempted Adam to eat of the tree, thereby becoming a wrongdoer and losing his “former state.”[6]  Allah punished Adam and Eve by sending them “down” to earth and living out their days there.  Though punished, Adam repented and was forgiven by Allah because of his mercy.  Then Allah promised that he would send guidance to them so that they would know how to live well and obey Allah.  Those who would receive such guidance would have no fear, for they would be rewarded by Allah.  Those who reject Allah’s guidance would be punished in the day of judgment by being thrown in “The Fire.”

This, indeed, is the story of humanity.  Human beings have been given a special role of being Allah’s viceregents.  Because the disobeyed once, they were banished from their former state.  Allah has sent guidance to them to cause them to remember their creator and master and do the things that he commands.  The most explicit guidance mankind has received is God’s own words written in the Quran.  Those who heed Allah’s guidance are Muslims—those who have surrendered.  They will be rewarded for their obedience.  Those who do not heed Allah’s guidance are infidels, and they will be punished with eternal fire.

 


[1] Surah 2: 117 says “He is the Originator of the heavens and the earth, and when he decrees something, He says only, ‘Be!’ and it is.”

[2] See Khaled Nusseibeh, “Islam’s View of the Universe and Man.”  MidEast Web. http://www.mideastweb.org/islamintro5.htm.  Accessed March 19, 2012.  He writes, “Each created thing is endowed with a definite and defined nature.”

[3] See Surah 2: 30-33.

[4] This enigmatic reference to “the names” is explained by Michael Shelley as a reference to sovereignty:  “To be able to name means to have control over something.”  See Michael Shelly, “Created By God, Blessed With a Sacred Trust:  Some Biblical and Qur’anic Perspectives on Humanity,” Currents in Theology and Mission 33.3 (June 2006), 244.

[5] The famous scripture here is Surah 51: 56, “And I did not create the jinn and mankind except that they may worship Me.”  Though like all religious faiths, there is a great deal of complexity and nuance in the development of theology and doctrine, this scripture makes it quite clear that the ultimate purpose of man is to worship Allah.

[6] Surah 2: 35-37.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Kat permalink
    May 6, 2012 12:04

    Good Job! What you have summarized is mostly correct—but it is from an Islam 101 level. The story of Iblis has more nuance….I hope you don’t mind if I elaborate……
    An important theme of the Quran is the difference between 2 “states of being”—The grateful person (Shakir) and the ungrateful person (Kaffir). This word, “Kaffir” is translated as infidel/unbeliever….yet its nuanced meaning is “one who rejects truth after knowing it because he is ungrateful”.
    The story of Iblis also shows how wrong belief —an assumption of an arbitrary superiority—led Iblis into wrong intentions—arrogance and pride—-and thus to wrong actions
    (refer to 2:30-34—then continue on to 7:11-17 to get the full story of Iblis)
    ….in this story, after God has given knowledge to Adam, the Angels and Jinn are asked to bow to Adam—and Iblis refuses. (Sura 11, verse 12) (Allah) said: “what prevented you from prostrating when I commanded you?” He (Iblis) said: “I am better than he: You created me from fire, and him from clay.” —–What this story emphasises is that pride and arrogance can blind us to God’s will. Here Iblis uses an arbitrary argument that the element of fire is “superior” to “clay” therefore he is superior—forgetting that in God’s eyes, all creation is equal—-none above the other, for God’s compassion and mercy extends to ALL of his creations. Iblis was ungrateful and this attitude led him to pride and arrogance…..
    However, a question does arise….If all are equal…then why did God ask Iblis to bow to Adam?…..and by asking this question, the meaning of “Khalifa” (trusteeship) becomes clearer. We are equal recipients of God’s love, Compassion and Mercy—but we have been given different responsibilities/duties. Our trusteeship (Khalifa) isn’t about “superiority” but about responsibility—the duty to ensure that right beliefs promote right intentions that lead to right actions for the benefit of all of God’s creations.
    That is why—the Islamic worldview asks the question–“What can we do for God?”or “what is our responsibility to God?” and the answer is—to aspire for the betterment of all of God’s creations.

    (By the way—Equality is also one among many important themes of the Quran.)

    In Both Judaism and Islam, God forgives Adam therefore neither religion has the concept of “original sin”—therefore they posit that human beings are created inherently good.

    • jonathangroover permalink*
      May 6, 2012 8:12

      Thanks Kat! That is very helpful. I do begin to nuance some of that as we proceed, but the idea of grateful and ungrateful is helpful.

  2. Kat permalink
    May 6, 2012 12:11

    sorry a mistake —I wrote surah 11 verse 12, it is supposed to be surah 7 verse 12

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