The following is stated for man in the following verses: "Man is ungrateful" (al-Adiyat, 100/6), "unjust" (Ibrahim, 14/34), "Where is the refuge?" (al-Qiyama, 75/10), What is meant by "man (insan)" in the verses above?

Details of the Question

The following is stated for man in the following verses:  "Man is ungrateful" (al-Adiyat, 100/6), "unjust" (Ibrahim, 14/34), "Where is the refuge?" (al-Qiyama, 75/10), "unjust and foolish" (al-Ahzab, 33/72), "hasty" (al-Isra, 17/11), "impatient" (al-Maarij, 70/19). What is meant by "man (insan)" in the verses above?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

The concept “al-insan” mentioned in the verses above indicates the human species in general rather than a certain person. The characteristics mentioned in the verses exist in the nature of man in principle. These characteristics, which have been given to man due to a necessity of testing and which are demanded to be controlled with free will, are closely related to passing or failing the test. A person who stops and controls them is regarded successful and a person who cannot stop and control them is regarded to have failed.

The real losers are unbelievers; therefore, those statements are related to unbelievers in particular but other people are warned to be careful about them.

The word “kanud” mentioned in verse 6 of the chapter of al-Adiyat means ingratitude. Hasan Basr understood the verse as “Man is really ungrateful toward his Lord.” He explained it as follows:

“Man is so ungrateful that he forgets the boons of his Lord when he is hit by a misfortune.”(see Tabari, the interpretation of the verse in question)

According to what is reported from Abu Umama, the Prophet interpreted this verse as follows:

“Kanud is so stingy that he prefers eating alone; he is so cruel that he beats his slave; he is so merciless that he does not visit his relatives and does not do anybody any favors.” (see ibid)

Some aspects of ingratitude are put in the foreground in the hadith above and people are guided. 

“Verily, man is given up to injustice and ingratitude.” (Ibrahim, 14/34)

The characteristics of man called injustice and ingratitude are indicated in the verse above. Those characteristics in people’s nature are emphasized and they are warned about them. We can compare the other verses to that one.

As it is stated above, the human species in general is meant in all of the verses included in the question. However, the balance of belief and unbelief is considered in the Quran in principle. Believers who commit sins are mentioned less. Therefore, good characteristics are in question for perfect believers and bad characteristics are in question for unbelievers. The first addressees of the verses that mention bad characteristics and traits are unbelievers. That is, the real ungrateful, cruel, ignorant people who seek refuge in the hereafter, who are impatient and stingy are unbelievers. Those qualities fit them. If a believer commits those bad deeds, he is regarded to have some qualities of unbelief or hypocrisy.

As it is known, an unbeliever does not display the bad attitudes that are the attributes of unbelief all the time; similarly, a believer does not always reflect the good attitudes that are the requirements of belief all the time. As a matter of fact, an unbeliever sometimes tells the truth and a believer sometimes tells a lie. However, all good attributes are the requirements of belief and all bad attributes are the products of unbelief. Thus, the bad attributes belonging to unbelief are criticized in the Quran and the unbelievers are threatened; believers are guided.  

To sum up, man has bad traits as well as good traits as a requirement of testing. Belief takes man out of the bad traits – which exist in his nature – and leads him to the light of high ethics. Unbelief drives man away from the light of the good traits – which exist in his nature – and leads him to the darkness of bad traits.

Those balances are displayed in the verses.

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