The Human Soul
Human beings, according to Islam, are born good. This goodness is an attribute of the human soul; it consists in being
- born with a natural capacity to be aware of the fact that they are servants of God, their sole Creator who alone is to be worshipped. All the other good human qualities are related to this basic quality. I mean the qualities of cognition and volition, of morality and prudence, of rationality and of the aesthetic taste, and so on. They are related to it in the sense that they are strengthened by it, in the sense that they are justified by it, and in the sense that they act as avenues that lead to it. They are thus used in the Qur’an as standards on which it bases its arguments for inviting people to its truths
- created with a wholesome soul,
- given the capacity to distinguish between what is morally good, and what is morally bad. Allah says,
“By the soul and He who shaped it and inspired it [with understanding of] its wickedness and Allah-consciousness, successful is he who purifies it, and has failed he who corrupts it.” (Q, 91:7-10)
All of God’s commands and prohibitions in Scripture have their foundation in this original good nature of the human soul. It is because of this that the religion to which Prophets like Muhammad invite people is called the religion of human nature,
“Set your face towards the religion as a true monotheist, the natural disposition toward Allah, with which He created humanity. There is no changing Allah’s creation. That is the straight religion, but most people do not know.” (Q, 30:30)
And it is because of this Divine commands and prohibitions are justified in the Qur’an in terms of their compatibility with the good qualities of this original human nature. Gambling and alcoholic drinks are, for example, prohibited because Satan, the archenemy of human beings, uses them to create enmity and hatred among people (Q, 5:90-91) who are born to be faithful brothers. The justification that is given for killing the killer is that it saves life (Q, 2:179). The relatives of the killed person are given the right to forgive or take ransom, because in this way even more lives are saved. Prayer helps to prevent them from committing grave sins. Being mindful of God gives peace to their hearts. And so on and so forth.
Humans, however, are created as willful beings; they are therefore given the choice either to live an actual life that is a reflection of their natural humanness, or to rebel against their human essence and live a life of alienation.
God likes for them to choose to worship Him, and He helps them in many ways to make this right choice:
First, He does not create them neutral between these alternatives, but makes this choice the natural thing for them to prefer; it is the one that makes them live in peace with themselves.
Second, He makes His whole creation consist of signs of His existence and His attributes of perfection, and provides in it evidence for the truthfulness of the Prophets whom He sends, and the Messages with which they come.
Third, He makes belief in God the only alternative that is compatible with all the good qualities they have: reason, the moral values of justice, mercy, wisdom and so on.
Fourth, He sends Prophets with messages that describe for them in detail the good life that is compatible with their good essence, give them reasons for their being so, and adduces arguments against the alternative of rebelling against their Creator and therefore their own human essence.
Fifth, If they make the wrong choice, still however much their actual life is perverted, their essence remains incorrigible; they always have the chance to make the decision to come back to their it so long as they are alive, and their all-Merciful God will always accept them.
It seems from this that no external factor can change or corrupt the human soul and deprive it of some or all of its good qualities. Only the person himself can corrupt himself by his willful acts.
The Human Body
The soul, we said, is of a nature that is completely different from that of the body. But it needs a body to make the actual life of the human person an expression of the humanness of his soul. The body that it needs is not, however, any body; it is a special body that is designed to suit that soul.
- Though this body is in many ways like that of animals, it is the one with the best form, as the Qur’an says.
- Because it is a special body it is to be treated with respect even when it is dead. To cut off part of a dead human body, the Prophet tells us, is (as sinful as) cutting it off a living body.
- When a person dies and his soul leaves his body, that dead body is to be washed and cleaned; it is to be wrapped in clean cloth, and be buried. People are told to stand up whenever a funeral passes by, irrespective of whose funeral it is.
- Human bodies are not to be mutilated even in war.
- Because the soul uses the body, many of its acts are attributed to some bodily parts, especially the heart. But the language used leaves one in no doubt that what is meant is not the physical body part.
- Human beings are advised not to degrade themselves by behaving like animals especially when performing acts of worship. We are told not to raise our voices the way donkeys do. The Prophet saw someone leading another by a rope; he cut the rope and told him to lead him by his hand. He tells us that, when performing prayer, we should not make any act that looks like that of an animal. We are thus told not to come down for prostration as a camel does, not to make our acts of prostration like the pecking of a crow, not to sit as a dog sits, and so on. We are even told by the Prophet not to wear beast hide that makes us look like them
This is not to be taken as unfair prejudice against animals; it is only meant to advise the human to behave in the way that suits his human nature. He is however encouraged and even ordered to care for animals and show mercy towards them. The Prophet tells us of a prostitute whom God forgave and even caused to enter paradise because she descended into a well and brought water in her shoes to quench the thirst of an almost dying dog. He tells us on the other hand of a woman who went to hell-fire because she kept a cat that she neither fed nor allowed to seek food for itself. Animal bodies are not to be maimed, neither are their faces to be branded. When the Prophet saw a brand on the face of a donkey, he cursed the person who branded it.
There are in Islam, some general principles that help to guide us in our dealings with God’s creation, and that can thus help us in the position we take regarding genetic engineering. These include the fact that
- Everything God creates He creates in the best of ways.
“Who has made well everything He has created.” (Q, 32:7)
- All of God’s creation around us is created to serve human beings.
- This creation should not therefore be altered.
- There are close relations and links not only among the constituents of an individual creation, but also among all creation
- Experience tells us that the results of all such alterations have been harmful.
You might say that we do, we have to, till the land, plant crops, kill animals, dig wells and canals, build bridges, and so on. Yes indeed but in doing all this we are working within the natural order not disrupting it. We do the same when we fix something that goes wrong; we seek cures for our ailments and the ailments of our animals; we might to that end even have to cut off some parts of our bodies. This is because though God’ creation is the best, it cannot, in the nature of things, be as perfect as its Creator is.
Genes should be dealt with in the same way. There is no harm in replacing genes that are not working properly with better ones. Genetic engineering should not aim at perfecting nature; it will only distort it.
If the human person, body and soul, is the best of God’s creation, any tampering with it will only make it worse. We are warned in the Qur’an of making any alterations in God’s creation. One reason for this might be the fact that there are close relations and links not by only among the constituents of an individual creation, but also among almost all kinds of God’s creation.
Genetic engineering should not therefore aim at perfecting nature; it will only distort it. It should only be resorted to for therapeutic purposes.
As to human cloning there is in my view nothing that justifies it and much that is against it. The way a human being is naturally reproduced is a way is a way that is very well connected to nature; it involves sexual urge, close intimacy between two individuals, growth in the uterus of a natural mother, love, suckling, caring and the joy of childish behavior; it has father and mother, brothers and sisters and relatives. But a cloned being lacks many of these qualities and relations.
What kind of a creature is that going to be? And what is the need for it? Isn’t it really odd that while we try to control natural birth, we encourage un-natural production of creatures that, to say the least, lack some of the qualities of naturally reproduced humans?