How is man defined according to the Western philosophy and Islam?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,


There is a great difference between the description of man made by the Western philosophy and the Islamic philosophy.

Christianity accepts that man was born as a sinner. It regards the sin of Hz. Adam’s eating the forbidden fruit as the sin of every child that is born. However, Islam accepts that a newborn child is innocent and sinless and acknowledges that the innocence of the child continues until he/she reaches the age of puberty.

6.2.1-Definition of Man According to the Western Philosophy

            Plato describes man as follows:

Man is a featherless biped (a creature with two legs)”.

     Diogenes stated that this definition of Plato’s did not represent man; he plucked a rooster, showed it to people and said, “That is the human being Plato describes”.

Aristotle describes man as follows:

Man is a speaking animal”.

However, a parrot can also speak. Thus, this definition cannot express the nature of man, his loftiness and the wisdom behind his creation.

As it is seen, the philosophers who do not believe in a true religion describe man as a featherless biped or a speaking animal. 

6.2.2- Definition of Man According to Islam

The Quran describes man in the best way. As a matter of fact, the explanation of the verses in the Chapter of at-Tin about the creation of man is as follows:1

Since man has been created on the most excellent of patterns and has been given most comprehensive abilities, he has been cast into an arena of trial and examination in which he may rise or fall to stations, ranks, and degrees from the lowest of the low to the highest of the high, from the earth to the Divine Throne, and from minute particles to the sun. He has been sent to this world as a miracle of Divine Power, the result of creation, and a wonder of Divine art before whom have been opened two roads leading either to infinite ascent or infinite descent.”2

            Thus, man differs from other creatures by reason, consciousness and belief. Man has been created in the most excellentand most capable way as a miracle of art and power.

    Man has been sent to this world, which is a place of trial and examination, with the intelligence and abilities given to him. Those abilities can develop in a good or bad way. It is the Islamic religion that will develop them in the best way.

            Besides, man has weakness, helplessness, impotence in his nature; therefore, he needs to believe in a merciful and powerful being from whom he will receive help and who has infinite knowledge and power.

When man uses those abilities in the best way, he can attain the highest ranks, degrees and posts. For example, Hz. Abu Bakr attained the level of veracity (sidq). The opposite is also possible. If he uses his abilities in the wrong way, he can go down to the worst and lowest levels like Abu Jahl.

Man is described as follows: in the tafsir book called Şualar:

Also, since we see with our eyes and understand with our minds that

  • Man is the final and most comprehensive fruit of the tree of the universe,
  • And in respect of the Muhammadan (peace and blessings be upon him) reality is its original seed,
  • And the supreme sign of the Quran of the universe,
  • And he is its throne verse bearing the greatest name,
  • And the most honored guest in the palace of the universe,
  • The most active functionary empowered over the other inhabitants of the palace,
  • The official charged with overseeing the income and expenditure, and the planting and cultivation of the gardens in the quarter of the earth in the city of the universe,
  • And is its most noisy and responsible minister, equipped with hundreds of sciences and thousands of arts,
  • And an inspector and sort of vicegerent of the monarch of pre-eternity and post-eternity, under his close scrutiny, in the region of the earth in the country of the universe,
  • And one with disposal over it whose actions, particular and universal, are all recorded,
  • Who has undertaken the supreme trust, from which the heavens and earth and mountains shrank,
  • And before whom are two roads, on one of which he is the most wretched of living beings, and on the other, the most fortunate,
  • And he is a universal bondsman charged with most extensive worship,
  • The place of manifestation of the greatest name of the monarch of the universe and a comprehensive mirror of all his names,
  • A special addressee of his, with the best understanding of his divine addresses and speech. The mostneedy of the living beings of the universe,
  • And is a wretched living creature who has innumerable desires and goals, numberless enemies and things that harm him, despite his infinite poverty and impotence,
  • Is the richest in regard to abilities and potentialities,
  • The most suffering in respect of the pleasures of life, whose enjoyment is marred by ghastly pains,
  • And a wondrous miracle of the power of the eternally besought one and marvel of divine power who is the most needy and wanting, and worthy and deserving of immortality, and seeks and beseeches eternal happiness with endless prayers, and if all the pleasures of this world were given him, his desire for immortality would not be satisfied,
  • And who loves to the degree of worshipping Him the one who bestows bounties on him, and makes him loved and is loved,
  • And all of whose faculties, which encompass the universe, testify that he was created to go to eternity, and through the above twenty universal truths is bound to Almighty God’s name of Truth,
  • And whose actions are continuously recorded by the All-Glorious Preserver’s Name of Preserver, who sees the most insignificant need of the tiniest animate being, hears it plaint and responds in action; and being related to the whole universe whose deeds are written down by the “noble scribes” of that Name and who more than anything else receives its attentionas required by the above twenty truths, most certainly and without any doubt there will be a resurrection and judgement for man, and in accordance with the Name of Truth, he will receive reward for his above duties and punishment for his faults, and in accordance with the Name of Preserver, he will be questioned and called to account for his actions, all of which have been recorded, and the doors will be opened of the feasting halls of everlasting bliss in the eternal realm, and of the prison of eternal misery; man, who has been an officer with command over numerous species of beings in this world, and has intervened in them and sometimes thrown them into confusion, will not enter the soil never to be questioned concerning his actions, nor lay down in concealment not to be roused”.3

       Thus, man is a guest, a traveler, an official, an inspector in the world and the most honorable being that can be addressed by Allah.

If we liken the universe to a palace, man is the most honorable guest of that palace. In other words, he is a guest before whom even the angels are ordered to prostrate, at whose disposal all the beings in the universe are put and who is entertained generously.

He is also an official who is allowed to benefit from the other beings in the palace of the universe as he wishes, a vicegerent and a traveler who is an addressee of Allah.

Thus, man is both a guest and a traveler, both an official and a vicegerent in the world.

Man is also the last and most fertile fruit of the universe tree, the supreme sign of the Quran of the universe.

There are two ways in front of man. It is either the way to Paradise, the place of eternal bliss, or the way to Hell, the place of eternal torment. Therefore, man should make his evaluation accordingly.,verses 4,5,6.
2.Nursi, B, S.  Sözler.p. 382.
3.Nursi, B.S.Şuâlar. p. 218-219.

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