Islamic Faith and Human Perfection
What is that faith which is spoken of in Islam and referred to throughout the Qur'an, as an axis around which all questions revolve? It refers to faith in God in the first place. In the second place, it connotes faith in angels, holy books, prophets, Resurrection, etc. In Islam, is faith a goal for mankind or a means for other goals?
All these are goals for man, for no divine goals or means are involved. These goals are meant as human accomplishments towards perfection.
Is faith itself a human perfection which has been recommended to him? Or has man been called upon to have faith because of its good effects? Philosophers put this question like this: "Is faith a blessing for man, or something useful?" There is a difference between a blessing and being useful. A blessing is in itself a perfection desired for itself, not for something else. But anything useful is good because of its beneficial effect. It is a prologue to a blessing, but not a blessing in itself.
In discussing Islam as a school of thought, it must be clarified whether faith is a goal and a blessing, irrespective of its effect. We speak of effects of faith and say it gives tranquility and fortitude against calamities, and in a society the people can trust one another, and show benevolence and avoid malevolence.
But is faith good because of its effects, or because it seeks perfection in itself? Here comes the question: What does human perfection consist of? This is more difficult to answer than the perfection of other matters. In the world we can often distinguish perfection of things. We can say how a perfect apple should be; it refers to its flavor, color, delicacy and shape, and if an apple has these qualities we call it perfect.
A perfect house can easily be defined, so can a horse. But it is most difficult to define a perfect human being Therefore various views concerning him must be studied to see which is right, or if we cannot do so scientifically, at least we should see how and to what extent such views are confirmed by the Qur'an.
Can it be said that a perfect being is he who gets maximum benefit from nature which is external to him? But this is wrong for two reasons:
Firstly we do not define other things in this way. We do not say a horse is perfect merely because it gets the highest benefit. We should consider its own particular qualities and assets. We do not think a horse perfect because of eating a large quantity of fodder. Nor do we call an apple perfect because of its getting more air, water and light. Secondly, it is hard to conscientiously agree that the most perfect man is one who benefits most from nature For it implies that a defective man is he who benefits less or least!
Let us compare two human beings: Muawiyah enjoyed maximum benefits in his eighty years of life. He was ruler of Syria for forty years (Twenty years as a powerful governor, and another twenty as a powerful Caliph).
Then there was Ali (a) who lived an ascetic life, with a philosophy for it, whether this philosophy was to be free, or generous or humane, or not to be taken in by the world, but to give his heart to spiritual things, Whatever it was, his share of this world's gifts was a few loaves of bread, Should we then call him imperfect on account of his benefiting least from the world?