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#3 Man: the Responsible Steward

Man: The Responsible Steward

Bismillah: In the Name of Allah, the Merciful.
The human being, according to Islam, is a unique and exalted creature. In the Quran, man is called “khalifatullah”: Allah’s representative, His vicegerent, His responsible steward on Earth. This lofty position means that man–in potential–is superior to even the Angels. Yet it also means that when man fails in this responsibility, and misuses his extraordinary position, then he is capable of falling lower than animals.
The Quran refers to the creation of the first man, Adam (peace be upon him). Allah formed his body from the elements of earth and breathed life into him directly from His divine Spirit. Then Allah offered Adam (pbuh) “the trust”, a responsibility so weighty that even the mountains could not shoulder it. This trust, as explained in the Quran, was “the names.” Some scholars have pointed to a profound connection between these names and the 99 Beautiful Names of Allah, the Divine Attributes through which God brought all of creation into being. To know the “names” means to understand the relationship between the Creator and His creation. This means having the ability to see God’s signature on every unique element of creation. It is this knowledge and vision that inspires in man a profound respect for every living thing. And this respect is the necessary starting point for man to fulfill his role as God’s steward.
Adam (pbuh) did not choose the form of his body, or the composition of his soul, nor did he even choose to accept the gift of life. Nonetheless, he was given the choice whether or not to accept the trust. This signifies that man has chosen to accept his exalted position, and all the weighty responsibilities that go with it. According to Islam, everything in creation has been put under man’s control and is available for man’s use and benefit. Yet this privilege is not without limits and conditions. Man has been ordered by God to help maintain the balance of all things. Man has been instructed to use his intellect to observe the world around him, but also to seek God’s guidance so that man’s actions will nurture the harmony and unity inherent in all existence. The Quran repeatedly warns man not to transgress limits, never to misuse or abuse any of God’s handiwork. This warning is extended not only to living beings but also to the inanimate, physical world. To poison or torture even the natural environment is a violation against God and a misuse of man’s God-given authority. Furthermore, to abuse anything is to disrespect the Creator, whose name is stamped on every atom in existence.
That man chose to accept the “trust” signifies that God has granted him free will. This free will is not the ability to define and create all the laws governing the universe. This free will does not even allow man to establish his own laws of morality and spirituality, although man constantly tries to claim this right for himself. Man has the freedom to seek and to follow God’s guidance, guidance in harmony with the physical, moral and spiritual reality of creation, guidance that will allow man to know and fulfill his role in this divine pattern. Or man is free to reject this guidance, and choose a path in conflict with even his own God-given nature. Man is not free, however, to escape the consequences of his wrong choices, any more than the earth can escape the consequences of man’s constant misuse.
Hence man can be higher than angels or lower than beasts. And God has left him free to choose.

Barbara (Masumah) Helms

(Courtesy of the Standard FreeholderApril 8, 2006)

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