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

May 8, 2012

IV.  The ‘Theology’ of Human Origins in Islam

            According to Islamic theology, humanity is a synthesis of earth and Spirit—of “mud” and the breath of Allah.  Not unlike Christian theology, where Adam is created from the “dust of the earth” and yet made in the image of God, humanity is at once both exceedingly base and incredibly noble.  Ali Shariati describes this synthesis well:  “Since God wants to create a viceregent on earth, He must, as a rule, choose the most valuable and sacred material.  Yet, he selects the basest matter.”  At the same time, writes Shariati, “the Spirit of God is the most sacred, exalting the noblest ‘part’ of His being…He blew his own soul into man.”[1]  Though humanity, without the Spirit of God is little better than dirt, because of Allah’s action, mankind takes a unique place in Allah’s economy.[2]  Humanity is so unique and so privileged, in fact, that Allah commands all the angels to bow down to Adam.  We might rightly conclude, then, that humanity is the supreme creation in Allah’s plan.

The significance of humanity’s creation is profound in the Islamic view.  It is true that man should always recognize that he comes from mud when tempted to elevate his position above the will of Allah; he must recognize his rightful place in “the story.”  However, man is not some insignificant creature created merely for Allah’s pleasure; rather, he is invested with the very spirit of the Divine and given substantial authority and power.[3]   Islam, like Judaism and Christianity, will not allow an unimpeded exaltation of man to the point of man being a god, as some eastern traditions tend to do.  Nor will it allow for an utter abasement of man, whereby man is nothing more than a combination of dust and particles that has somehow managed to gain consciousness, as in a materialistic worldview.  Rather, in response to the question “Where do I come from,” the Islamic answer is, “You come from dust, but have the Spirit of God inside of you; you are both irreducibly small and incomprehensibly great.  This was Allah’s design.”   The logical next question then, is “What is humanity created for?” or “Why am I here?”

[1] Ali Shariati, “Man and Islam,” Al-Islam.  Accessed March 19, 2012

[2] See Malise Ruthven, Islam in the World, 2nd Ed. (New York:  Oxford University Press, 2000), 105.  According to Ruthven, we should understand that Man is “an earthly being created out of ‘dust’ and given dominion over the earth and its creatures as God’s ‘vice-regent’” and even being earthly “ranks higher in hierarchy of creatures than the angels and jinns.”

[3] Yet, in comparison with Allah’s power, it must be acknowledged that mankind’s authority is quite miniscule.  The Quran and Islamic teaching always, even in elevating the status of man, return to the greatness of Allah.


4 Comments leave one →
  1. Kat permalink
    May 8, 2012 8:50

    wow! excellent job. You have managed to capture a lot of the nuance and complexity this time……and this leaves me with nothing to comment about.

    so, if its ok, I’ll comment on Ruthvens remarks on “hierarchy” of humans and angels. (I havn’t read his works) Human and Angel are both intelligent creations but a Human has limited autonomy whereas the Angels do not. What this means is that Angels are able to do God’s will perfectly—but only that—they cannot go beyond that—But human beings can use their intelligence and autonomy to come up with creative solutions to their problems and thus accomplish their responsibilities/God’s will in a manner that takes them beyond the capacity of the Angels. That is one reason why Humans, not Angels, have been given the responsibility of trusteeship. Ruthvens “hierarchy” must be understood in terms of responsibility and not “inherent superiority”—but we’ve already covered that previously………………

    • jonathangroover permalink*
      May 21, 2012 9:29

      Thanks for the comments Kat! I haven’t been able to post lately, but I continue to appreciate your input.

  2. kat permalink
    May 11, 2012 11:32

    If you want to know Islam according to Muslims—you have to go to a source that is Muslim–

    here are some suggestions—their video lectures on various topics are on the net ….

    Dr Aziza Al-Hibri
    Dr Timothy Winters (a.k.a.Abdal Hakim Murad)
    Sh Hamza Yusuf
    Dr Amina Wadud
    Prof Tariq Ramadan

    • jonathangroover permalink*
      May 21, 2012 9:29

      Great! Thank you for these names…I will certainly look into them.

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