Dealing with evil
Good and evil are inextricably intertwined and form an inseparable part of the human condition. The Islamic perspective on human nature and on the interface between good and evil is characterized by four characteristics. First, man’s nature is the repository of two contradictory potentialities and impulses: benign and sublime, on the one hand, and vicious and evil, on the other. This duality of human nature is illustrated in the story of Abel and Cain mentioned in the Quran as well as in the Bible (Quran 5:27-31).
The Quran says that man has been created from clay, a lowly substance (Quran 23:12; 32:7). Man tends to be greedy and impatient (Quran 70:19). He has a tendency to be ungrateful (Quran 43:15; 100:6), niggardly (Quran 17:100) and contentious (Quran 18:54). He is prone to injustice (Quran 14:34) and sometimes tends to make his desire into his god (Quran 45:23). On the other hand, man is described as God’s vicegerent on earth (Quran 2:30; 6:165). God is said to have breathed His soul into him (Quran 15:29).
Second, man has been shown the path of righteousness as well as the path that leads one to wickedness and sin. He has been endowed with reason and the freedom to choose between good and evil (8:53; 13:11). Islam thus emphasizes human agency.
Third, man is held accountable for his actions, which is a logical corollary of his capacity for moral choice.
Fourth, the cultivation and actualization of human potentialities takes place in a social context—family, kin, peer group and the wider community. Thus socialization, family environment and education have a crucial bearing on the development of human personality. The Prophet is reported to have said: “A man tends to be influenced by the ways of his friend. Therefore one should be mindful abut the company he keeps.”
Since the existence of evil cannot be wished away, the Quran exhorts Muslims to deal with it with patience, forbearance and magnanimity. It says: “Good and evil cannot be equal. Repel (evil) with what is better (and then you will find that) the person with whom you had a hateful relationship will become like a friend or close relative (Quran 41:34)”.
An eminent Sufi saint Shaykh Abu Said Abul Khayr has vividly brought out the Islamic way of dealing with evil and malice in the following verses.
He who is not my friend—
May God be his friend.
And he who causes me distress—
May his joy increase.
He who places thorns in my path—
With malice in his heart,
May every flowers that blooms in the garden
of his life
Be without a single thorn.
Moral values serve as the corner-stone of human character and the building blocks of the social order. Islam therefore places great emphasis on the cultivation of moral values and on cleaning one’s mind and heart of evil and wickedness. Pride, jealousy, malice, greed, selfishness, suspiciousness, backbiting and aggression undermine the fabric of human character and weaken the foundations of social and collective life.
An insidious trait is to harbor suspicion about someone’s intentions and to attribute motives to his actions without rhyme or reason. The Quran warns against this trait in very strong terms. “ O you who believe! Avoid suspicion as much (as possible), for suspiciousness in some cases is a sin…..” (49:12).
The seeds of evil and sin are sown in one’s mind and heart and, after germination, find expression in his/her behaviour and actions. It is therefore of the utmost importance to nip the evil in the bud, so to speak, and to cleanse one’s heart and mind of evil and malicious thoughts and impulses.
Shaykh Nizamuddin Awliya, a prominent 13th century Sufi saint of Delhi, suggested that one should control one’s lower self—which is the breeding ground of base qualities—and facilitate the unfolding of one’s benign potentialities by two inter-related means: By purging or cleansing the self of evil attributes (takhliya), and embellishing it by replacing the base attributes with noble qualities (tahliya).
Profile of a Muslim
Hasan of Basra, an eminent scholar-sage of the first century of the Islamic era, has graphically profiled the character and personality of a true Muslim in the following words.
The true believer is steadfast in his faith and resolute in his
conviction. His forbearance complements his knowledge. He
is sagacious and kind-hearted. His clean exterior and his
composure conceal his indigence. He never loses his sense of
balance and moderation in prosperity. He spends with affection.
He is kind towards the destitute, and generous in regard to the
fulfillment of his obligations. He is eager and preserving in respect
of justice. His hatred and love (for someone) do not lead him to
excess. He is not given to finding fault, nor to sneer, sarcasm and
insinuation. He has no interest in what does not concern him
nor does he indulge in self-glorification. He does not backbite.
He does not stake a claim for something which does not
rightfully belong to him. He does not refuse what is incumbent
on him. He offers no undue apology. He takes no pleasure in
other’s distress, nor does someone’s sinful actions
delight his heart. His prayers are marked by genuine devotion
and piety. His words have a soothing effect. His patience
reflects his piety. His silence conveys his thoughtfulness.
He observes in order to learn. He keeps company with the
learned so as to acquire knowledge. He keeps quiet for fear of
accountability and sinfulness. He speaks in order to gain something.
An act of virtue brings happiness to his heart; an error propels
him to repentance. If someone treats him with inconsideration, he
repays it with perseverance. He is patient in the face of
oppression. He does not forsake justice, even when injustice is done
to him. He seeks protection with no one save with God, nor does he
beseech succour save His. He is dignified in assembly, thankful in
privacy and content with his daily bread. He is grateful (to God) in
affluent circumstances, and patient in situations of hardship and distress.