“Do not wrong your own souls; your souls have got rights on you, too.” Could you explain this sentence?

The Details of the Question
“Do not wrong your own souls; your souls have got rights on you, too.” Could you explain this sentence?
The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

Wronging One’s Own Soul: 

Wronging one’s own soul means to walk in the direction which Allah has forbidden. Actually, no matter whom one wrongs - Allah or other people - he is regarded to wrong his very own soul every time. This is because one who does something unfair will himself suffer its results sooner or later. As a matter of fact, the Quran says: “And if any one earns sin, he earns it against His own soul…” (an-Nisa, 4:111) In this sense, attitudes such as, attributing partners to Allah, unbelief, denying the verses and decrees, not believing in the Day of Judgment are all considered as wronging one’s own soul, when evaluated in terms of creed. 

It was not We that wronged them: They wronged their own souls: the deities, other than God, whom they invoked, profited them no whit when there is sued the decree of thy Lord: Nor did they add aught (to their lot) but perdition!” (Hud, 11:101) 

Evil as an example are people who reject Our Signs and wrong their own souls.” (al-Araf, 7: 177) 

When we approach the subject in terms of deeds, we see that many verses in the Quran evaluate lots of deeds, which are minor and major sins, as “wronging one’s own soul”. Homicide, exceeding the limits drawn by Allah, keeping women and preventing them from re-marrying after divorcing them and the likes are all indeed wronging one’s own soul. 

The phrase “wronging one’s own soul” is mentioned in the subjective form determining the “soul” in two places in the Quran (al-Nisa, 97/al-Nahl, 28). And others are in the form of passive voice. 

Another point about wronging one’s own soul in the Quran, which captures our attention, is as follows: In four places in the Quran, there is confession of wronging one’s own soul because of sins committed and Allah’s forgiveness is sought. These supplications are responded and accepted by Allah. In these supplications, the translations of which we are going to give below, Muslims are somewhat taught how a good example of supplication should be. First, we are going to accept, confess and declare our sin and guilt and then we are going to seek Allah’s forgiveness.

Adam and Eve, after having eaten the forbidden fruit, regretted it and sought Allah’s forgiveness through the following words: “They said: "Our Lord! We have wronged our own souls: If thou forgive us not and bestow not upon us Thy Mercy, we shall certainly be lost."” (al-Araf, 7:23)

We see the same in Prophet Jonah’s supplication: “And remember Zun-nun, when he departed in wrath: He imagined that We had no power over him! But he cried through the depths of darkness, "There is no god but thou: glory to thee: I was indeed wrong!"” (al-Anbiya, 21:87)

“Zun-nun” means the owner of fish. This refers to Prophet Jonah here., Because the people upon whom he was sent as a prophet did not listen to his call, Prophet Jonah left them without waiting for Allah’s permission and boarded on a ship. One of the passengers on the ship had to be thrown into the sea because the ship would not move or it would sink. They cast lots and as a result, they threw Jonah into the sea. A fish swallowed him in the sea. The fish left Jonah, who supplicated to Allah for a while in the stomach of the fish, on a shore.

The Queen of Sheba, Balqis, used the same expressions when converting into Islam and seeking Allah’s forgiveness: “She said: "O my Lord! I have indeed wronged my soul: I do (now) submit (in Islam), with Solomon, to the Lord of the Worlds.” (an-Naml, 27:44)

As we stated in the beginning of our subject, no matter whom one wrongs, Allah or other people, he indeed happens to wrong his very own soul because the sins one has committed are only against his very own self. So, in this sense, what kind of a situation are those who have wronged their own souls in? After all that we have written about wronging one’s own soul so far, we can come up with this conclusion: If one has wronged his own soul by attributing partners to Allah, Allah states in the surah an-Nisa that He will not forgive them. If one has wronged his own soul by violating others’ rights, nothing can save him from the suffering of this guilt and sin, as the only way of repentance he has got is to compensate for them and seek their forgiveness. Actually, hadiths say nobody can get away with what they have done and on the Day of Judgment; Allah will take the wronged ones’ revenge on the wrong-doers. If one has wronged his own soul in a way that is outside these two ones, Allah says that He is very forgiving and protective of such people when they seek forgiveness: “If any one does evil or wrongs his own soul but afterwards seeks God's forgiveness, he will find God Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.” (an-Nisa, 4:110).

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