"We have indeed created man in the best of molds. Then do We abase him (to be) the lowest of the low? Except such as believe and do righteous deeds: for they shall have a reward unfailing."
[Surah at-Tin; 95]
Philosophers and thinkers have always been wondering and arguing about the nature of man. Is man evil by nature? Is he a born sinner? Is he intrinsically good? Or, as the post-modernists are now saying, is there even such a thing as good and evil? To them, just like beauty, good and evil are in the eye of the beholder.
Inevitably for secular minds, the point of reference is the animals. Biologically man is also an animal, albeit a civilized animal. A social animal. A tool-using animal. The most intelligent animal. One with a sense of morality. Similarly, when we see a person doing some horrible violence the immediate word that comes to mind about the perpetrator is animal. Those committing such heinous crimes cannot be human beings. They are animals.
Both characterizations miss reality. When a good, man is not just an animal with a sense of morality. When a bad, man is not just a beast.
Consider the butchery that is going on today under the media spotlight in Kosova, or away from the attention of the media in Kashmir, Palestine, Iraq, or a dozen other places in the world. What animal is capable of committing such horrors? Animals kill for food or territory but they do not commit massacres, plot massive starvation of their enemies, invent tools and techniques of torture, or establish rape camps. There is no animal that has ever committed the atrocities that the human-looking perpetrators in all these places are committing today.
Similarly, consider the wickedness of another group of actors in the same drama. The "Operation Allied Force," as has been obvious from the beginning, was actually the "Operation Allied Farce." Its purpose has been to help destroy the Muslims and bury once and for all their desire --- as well as their legal and moral right--- to liberation from Serb tyranny while appearing to be helping them. Both in Bosnia and Kosovo, Muslims would have been in a much better position had there been no NATO at all. Again, such chicanery is only possible in the human world. While stories invented by human beings tell of the wickedness of animals, in reality, animals do not hatch conspiracies or appear to be your friends when they are actually trying to hurt you. There are no spin doctors or "media experts" in the animal kingdom. It is humans, not crocodiles, that shed the proverbial "crocodile tears."
On the other hand, consider the cases of extreme sacrifice, perseverance, courage, restraint, kindness, and altruism, shown by human beings during the darkest moments of history. Even more, consider the near-universal appreciation of these attributes. How can a being capable of doing so much evil also show love for so much good? Simply because God has endowed us with the potential for reaching the greatest heights or the lowest depths. In the first case, man becomes higher than the angels. In the second case, he becomes the lowest of the low. Which of the two paths we follow is up to us as God has given us the freedom to choose between the two.
As the Qur'an tells us, "Allah has created man in the best mold". This refers to the potential for goodness built into human nature. All the goodness we see in the world today or find in the pages of history is a result of this innate goodness.
It was because of that potential that angels were asked to bow down to Adam (alayhis salam). By nature angels never commit any sin.
Human beings, who have been given the freedom of choice by their Creator, have the potential of surpassing the angels in goodness when they follow the path of obedience to Allah out of their free will. The best expression of that goodness was in the Prophets of Allah, peace on all of them. The best of the prophets was Rasulullah (Sallallahu alaihi wasallam) . Thus we see that during his ascension to the heavens (Miraj) he went to the point where angel Jibreel was not even allowed.
The goodness of the rest of us can only be derived from Prophetic goodness. For humanity now the path to goodness is through following the teachings and example of Rasulullah (Sallallahu alaihi wasallam) . To the extent that one follows him in Beliefs and actions, one will attain his or her potential.
Of course, human beings have the freedom to choose another path, rejecting Belief in One True God and refusing to obey Him. Instead of worshiping God, they can worship and obey their own lusts and desires. They can do whatever pleases them or feels good. In their pursuit of power, wealth, or sensory pleasures, they can choose to ignore all moral values or ethical principles. This road is wide open too. Those who follow it will become the lowest of the low.
The same freedom of choice that has been given to human beings also requires that those who choose the second path to be not punished right away. Thus, we see that people get away with murder here. Crime and wrongs seem to pay. Little do the perpetrators realize that their victories and gains are fleeting; they will be gone before they know it. Then they will suffer the eternal doom that they had earned. And the never-ending reward will only be for those who chose the first path.
This is the central teaching of Islam. "We showed him the Way, whether he be grateful or ungrateful." [Ad-Dahr 76:3]. Man has been shown the Way through Revelation brought to him by the Prophets. If he is grateful, he will accept the Guidance, follow the path of Righteousness and be Successful both here and in the hereafter. If not, he will face eternal doom and a never-ending Blazing Fire.
Today the affairs of this world are being controlled by the lowest of the low and the daily news is a reminder of that tragic fact. This should not make us lose hope, but only make us redouble our efforts to follow and promote the path of Belief and good deeds.