Identity is something that is really fascinating to me, our reason for being. What makes someone who they are? Identity was why I quit my job as I turned 30 - as I wasn't clear on who I was or what my purpose in the world was. Was I a lawyer? Was I a buyer?
For most, their job makes up most of their identity. "Hi, I'm [insert name here] and I'm a [insert job here]" - is the usual introduction at meetings, events or parties.
On another level, it may be their race that defines them most - ("I'm Pakistani") or their religion ("I'm a Muslim"). Some may even combine the two ("I'm a British Muslim.")
Sometimes it's age or life milestone based - "I'm a teenager / millenial / GenZ / dad with two kids".
Some people may even go further and refer to their interests or political leanings, particularly if it's a huge part of who they are and what people know them for. "I'm a Manchester United fan" or "I'm a Labour supporter." It could be who they associate with or their lifestyle choices - "I'm a goth / emo / crip / blood / vegan / feminist / athiest" etc. You get the idea.
I've just been pondering on this, and one interesting observation I glean from the Quran, is the nature of man and his identity.
On one hand, he is reminded constantly of his humble, lowly essence, the fact he was made from nothing but a drop of sperm or a clot of blood or some soil or dust or fluid.
Here are some examples:
"So let man observe from what he was created. He was created from a fluid, ejected, Emerging from between the backbone and the ribs." 86:5-7
"Cursed is man; how disbelieving is he. From what substance did He create him? From a sperm-drop He created him and destined for him..." 80:17-20
"Does man not consider that We created him from a [mere] sperm-drop - then at once he is a clear adversary?" 36:77
"Indeed, We created man from a sperm-drop mixture that We may try him; and We made him hearing and seeing." 76:2
"O People, if you should be in doubt about the Resurrection, then [consider that] indeed, We created you from dust, then from a sperm-drop, then from a clinging clot, and then from a lump of flesh, formed and unformed - that We may show you..." 22:5
All this suggests that man is nothing more than a lowly beast - and he is nothing except a speck of dust with the luck/honour to have life breathed into him.
But then on the other hand, he is elevated and told he has been honoured with the highest of all gifts, that of knowledge of all things, a mind to reason and been provided with a lofty rank and all of the good things on the heaven and the earth.
"And We have certainly honoured the children of Adam and carried them on the land and sea and provided for them of the good things and preferred them over much of what We have created, with [definite] preference." 17:70
"Taught man that which he knew not." 96:5
And [mention, O Muhammad], when your Lord said to the angels, "Indeed, I will make upon the earth a successive authority." They said, "Will You place upon it one who causes corruption therein and sheds blood, while we declare Your praise and sanctify You?" Allah said, "Indeed, I know that which you do not know." 2:30
"And He taught Adam the names - all of them. Then He showed them to the angels and said, "Inform Me of the names of these, if you are truthful." 2:31
"And [mention] when We said to the angels, "Prostrate before Adam"; so they prostrated, except for Iblees. He refused and was arrogant and became of the disbelievers." 2:34
"Surely We created the human being of the best of forms." 95:4
This seems like a paradox. How do you reconcile these two such opposing positions?
Why does God tell mankind that he is bestowed upon with the highest rank and created as a vicegerent on earth with all of these amazing responsibilities and the gift of knowledge, if within the same Book it is telling mankind he is nothing but a drop of sperm, an insignificant being who is forgetful and neglectful and ungrateful?
The late, great Shaykh Ramadan al-Bouti really explained this well.
“If you contemplate the Quran's address to man, and the insight, guidance and instruction it contains, you realise it all revolves around the axis of this goal. Thus, it inspires man to start to comprehend his reality and become familiar with his essence then establish his behaviour upon a foundation that is harmonious and strongly in line with this knowledge. If he does this, he will not be submissive or servile to anyone other than the One in whose Hands is his life, his death, his benefit and his harm, and he will not clothe himself in the garments of arrogance and oppression whilst knowing that he is a slave, owned by his Master and Protector."
Having such a great responsibility to carry out, without reminding mankind of his lowly essence, may cause him to become arrogant, and think all of the gifts and success are because of his own doing. Therefore to know and be aware of your limitations keeps you humble and within the bounds. You become cognisant that above all else, you are Allah’s slave and subject to his authority alone whilst being honoured by the mission he has given to you.
Essentially, what this means is that this is the perfect balance for us as humans to have. Having awareness of what exactly we are capable of, aware of our purpose and responsibility to fulfil God's mandate on the Earth (and knowing he has given us the talents, intellect and skill to do it). After all, if God taught Adam (as) the name of all things, that means he's a great example of how much potential a human actually has. Until we've not learned the name of every single thing... we're not fulfilling our potential, that's the way I see it.
But at the same time, always being humble to remember our core essence, and the fact we are solely dependent on Him should (in theory) prevent us from ever becoming too arrogant.
Sadly, what has happened today is we have become so entrenched in capitalism and working to the bone, we have left the Book on the shelf, instead of it transforming the self. So we forget that we are capable of amazing things, and settle for wherever the tide takes us, as long as it pays the bills. And when we achieve something noteworthy, we think it came from us, our own brain, my hard work, effort. Both of these things, in conjunction cause us to forget God. And when we forget God, that's when we forget our nature.
And when we forget our nature, that's why we become British vegan trans feminist teen goth Tory cat-lovers who support Manchester United.
A lifelong learner, avid reader and passionate writer, I am the founder of KNOW and a serial entrepreneur.
I am a huge believer in personal development and am also the co-founder of Muslim CEO.