Determining One’s Humanity

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If man acts according to his natural instinct which goad him not to harm others or show empathy when others need it, he will not be inhuman. According to this school of thought, the more he has control over his carnal or material desires, the more he will be humane.In the present context, the piracy and loot of international aid ships and blockade of impoverished Gaza resulting in deprivation and poverty of its residents by Israel raises questions about the criteria of humanity. What is humanity? How do we determine if one is human or inhuman? What determines the loftiness or meanness of people? Who are the more humanly high ranking and who are the low ones? The answer to these questions lie in the understanding the determining factors of humanity.


Many people claim that the level of one’s knowledge determines the level of humanity. According to them, knowledge makes us more humane, and lack of it takes us to brutality. This viewpoint is flawed, because if we consider only knowledge to be the sole determiner of humanity, then where will we put those who have been knowledgeable but still have persecuted others and have colored their hands with the blood of innocents? So of course, knowledge is a great jewel for man, but not the only one to measure his character and conduct.

Character and Disposition

Another important criteria discussed is the character and disposition of a person. The proponents of this school emphasize on moral values in one’s life. The character has different dimensions and related aspects, one of them being love. They claim that the more a person’s heart is full of love for other human beings, the more he will be philanthropic and humane towards others and vice versa. The deep feeling of love will always prevent us from harming others and helping them whenever they are in need.

Will Power and Resolution

Some people argue that man does wrong to others when his desires and passions dominate him. If he acts according to his natural instinct which goad him not to harm others or show empathy when others need it, he will not be inhuman. In their view, the more he has control over his carnal or material desires, the more he will be humane.


Freedom or liberty is said to be one of the criteria for determining humanity. According to this view, if one makes his choices free of any external force or pressure, he will be a good human being. He will deny all negative forces and fulfill his duties towards others.


The knowledge is a great guiding force in our life. It separates virtue from the evil, and gives us wisdom to comprehend the distinction between the right and wrong actions. The Holy Qur’an has praised the truly knowledgeable ones:

[3:18] “Allah bears witness that there is no god but He, and (so do) the angels and those possessed of knowledge, maintaining His creation with justice; there is no god but He, the Mighty, the Wise.” [4:162] “But the firm in knowledge among them and the believers believe in what has been revealed to you and what was revealed before you, and those who keep up prayers and those who give the poor-rate and the believers in Allah and the last day, these it is whom We will give a mighty reward.”

But as mentioned earlier, only knowledge cannot make us more humane. Character and moral chastity is a great criterion. And so is will power and resolution. The Holy Qur’an says about purification:

[91:7-10] “And the soul and Him Who made it perfect. Then He inspired it to understand what is right and wrong for it; He will indeed be successful who purifies it, and he will indeed fail who corrupts it.”

The purified soul is more humane because it is not dominated by material desires and so is not prone to trample down others for material sake. A person who has accomplished self control and purification is more towards loving others and helpss whey they are in need.

Ayatollah Murtadha Mutahhari writes:

“….why do we think Hadrat Ali, peace be upon him, is a perfect human being? Because he felt society’s pain, and his ‘I’ had become ‘We’. His personality attracted all others. He was not an individual separated from others. He was a limb or organ of a whole body. He himself said that a pain in one part of society, as in a body, made itself felt in the other parts, one of which was himself. Ali had declared this long before the humanistic philosophy of the twentieth century claimed it as an ideal.

“Islam has laid great emphasis on self-control. I relate a story here in connection with it. It is narrated that the Prophet was passing by a place in Medina where a number of young men were testing their strength by lifting a heavy stone. When they saw the Prophet, they asked him to act as judge. The Prophet agreed, and at the end of the competition he said, ‘Do you know who is the strongest? It is he who controls his anger and does not allow it to overcome him. He must not use his anger in a way contrary to God’s satisfaction and should be able to dominate over his own desires.’

On that day, the Prophet transformed a physical contest into a spiritual one. What he meant was that physical strength shows manliness but it is not the only sign of it. True manliness is in the strength of will power.”

The question of freedom in determining one’s humanity is also an important one. If one does not bow before others’ whims and follows Divine guidance, he is more likely to be a good human being. We do not rise against the exploiters and persecutors because we fear them and we let them take sway over our freedom.

Again, Martyr Mutahhari writes,

“Hadrat Ali says in his testament to his son, Imam Hasan, peace be upon him, ‘Consider yourself and your life above every mean deed. In return for what you pay out of your life for desires, you receive nothing. Do not make yourself a slave of others, for God has created you free.'”

In truth, humanity is a combination and balance of the abovementioned virtues. But from the Islamic point of view, the most important one is love of Allah and seeking His pleasure when doing anything. All other factors are relative and may lose their meaning in changed circumstances and contexts. Only the love of Allah and seeking His pleasure and nearness is the true and abiding criterion for making us true human beings:

As Imam Ali said to his children, “Love Allah, and for the sake of His love, you love His creatures, your children, and fellow beings too. I love you for the sake of Allah.”



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Asad Raza

A stimulated mind. An avid reader. An IT professional. A beleiver in Deen e Hanifa : "Then set your face upright for religion in the right state-- the nature made by Allah in which He has made men; there is no altering of Allah's creation; that is the right religion, but most people do not know--"(30:30)

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