Please bear with me as I attempt to present a rather complicated question (or set of questions) concerning what the Trust mentioned in Surah Al-Azhaab 33:72 represents.
In your article regarding the meaning of Al-Amanah, you write:
In my opinion, the word “Al-Amanah” refers to the free will in matters relating to the choice between right and wrong and good and evil, which, according to the Qur’an, humans are bestowed with.
In other words, the Trust, according to your understanding, represents moral free will. As I see it, there are some problems with this interpretation. In (1), I shall present these problems and in (2), I shall present an alternative interpretation, which, I think, solves and/or avoids these problems.
- If the Trust represents the free will in matters relating to the test and between right and wrong, then 33:72 is really implying that prior to Man’s acceptance of the Trust, Man lacked moral free will. If Man lacked moral knowledge prior to making the choice to accept the Trust, it would be unjust to hold him accountable for making a morally loaded choice in the absence of proper moral knowledge. If this is so, how can God accuse Man of foolishness and crossing limits if he could ONLY have known that his choice to accept the Trust was morally deficient AFTER having made the choice? That is, how can God hold Man accountable for a certain choice when Man never fulfilled the preconditions for moral judgment? It seems to me that the only way to tackle this problem is to interpret 33:72 in such a way that Man’s decision to accept the Trust was not wrong, reprehensible, or deficient in any way. What was foolish and steeped in “zulm” was not the acceptance of the Trust itself, but rather the MANNER in which Man accepted the Trust. Man’s acceptance of the Trust itself was ultimately good. It was not the choice he made which was wrong, but rather his lack of proper and thorough deliberation before making the choice which was foolish and tainted by emotional bias. What was foolish was the way in which he made a choice that was not itself necessarily foolish.Why, one might ask, should we think that Man’s acceptance of the Trust was ultimately good? My reply is that it is inconsistent to consider being subjected to the test of the life of this world regrettable (owing to Man’s “wrong” decision to accept the Trust) and simultaneously to think that the acceptance of the Trust was ultimately good since it lent us free will in matters relating to the test, where the test too is ultimately good despite its ostensibly evil elements.Let me explain this a little further. As Muslims, we believe that the test of the life of this world – which consists of both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ – is ultimately good, even if it is difficult for us to understand why a good God should subject us to suffering as a part of the test. The example you give to clarify this idea is that of a parent and its child. A child may be unable to see the goodness in his/her parents’ decision to send him/her off to elementary school. For all the child knows, this decision reflects his/her parents’ cruelty. Yet it is not until much later in life that the child begins to comprehend the goodness of what seemed to be a cruel decision. Similarly, while we humans might think it is cruel of God to make us undergo suffering, we trust that God will allow us to comprehend the goodness of the entire test in the next life. Thus, we hold that the test, as well as the Trust (which represents free will in matters relating to the test), are ultimately good.I am essentially claiming that it is a contradiction to think that Man’s acceptance of the Trust is ultimately good (like the test of the life of this world) and simultaneously to maintain that Man’s acceptance of the Trust was regrettable and foolish, as your interpretation of 33:72 seems to portray. For example, you write:
… [Man’s] decision of taking this test and accepting the trust of free will was an emotional one (jahalah) and in doing so he crossed his limits and over-estimated himself (zulm).
If by the phrase “in doing so,” you refer to “taking this test and accepting the trust of free will,” then my criticism holds. However, if by the phrase “in doing so” you refer to the way in which the decision was made (i.e. emotionally), then my criticism is invalid. I am not quite sure which you refer to.
Therefore, in view of these problems, we must seek an alternative interpretation. The Trust cannot represent moral free will because, as I mentioned, moral free will was requisite to his decision to accept the Trust in the first place. Moral free will was a precondition, a criterion for accepting the Trust. Why? Because Man needed the moral tools with which to judge between reward and punishment (i.e. Heaven and Hell) and to appreciate the moral weight of his responsibilities. Your interpretation suggests that Man was shown the amazing rewards and blessings he would receive if he succeeded in the test as well as the terrifying penalties he would receive if he failed in the test. Man overlooked the punishment and became all too quickly emotionally attached to the reward when he decided to accept the Trust – hence, the emotional decision. Since there is reward and punishment in the picture, the decision to accept the Trust required, as a precondition, moral consideration and knowledge (yes, moral free will) BEFORE the decision was made and not after, for what else is reward except a response to and consequence of good action and what else is punishment except a response to and consequence of bad action?
The Trust, it seems to me, can only represent the duty of performing the role of God’s khalifah, his deputy on earth. Man had and we must PRESUPPOSE that he had full rational and moral capability (including moral free will) BEFORE he made the decision. It was his lack of careful deliberation before making the decision that God criticizes in Surah 33:72, not the decision itself. For if accepting the Trust itself was the wrong thing to do, then the whole structure of the test comes tumbling down, and we can no longer believe that the test of the life of this world is ultimately good. If the test of the life of this world is not ultimately good, then the one who administered the test is not ultimately good either. Obviously, we must cancel the idea that accepting the Trust was wrong, for we cannot think of God as anything but perfectly good.
What is the lesson for Man in this story of the Trust? Just as Man failed to carefully reflect and deliberate before the decision to take up the Trust – the duty to perform the role of God’s vicegerent – and instead fell prey to his emotional bias, so Man fails to carefully reflect and deliberate before making important morally loaded decisions now. Thus, he ought to learn from the mistakes of the past, so that he may correct the present and thereby secure the future. He must learn to carefully deliberate and contemplate before making important morally loaded decisions. [I do not think that the lesson which your interpretation derives from the story is much different from mine. I only repeat it here for the sake of completion].
I would like to solicit your thoughts on this matter. I acknowledge that my interpretation of this verse may be incorrect and that I may be incorrect in identifying what appear to be grave problems with the current interpretation. Allah knows best. Please do let me know you think as soon as time permits.
If the Trust represents the free will in matters relating to the test and between right and wrong, then 33:72 is really implying that prior to Man’s acceptance of the Trust, Man lacked moral free will. If Man lacked moral knowledge prior to making the choice to accept the Trust, it would be unjust to hold him accountable for making a morally loaded choice in the absence of proper moral knowledge. If this is so, how can God accuse Man of foolishness and crossing limits if he could ONLY have known that his choice to accept the Trust was morally deficient AFTER having made the choice? That is, how can God hold Man accountable for a certain choice when Man never fulfilled the preconditions for moral judgment?
Mr. Moiz Amjad had written in his response:
In my opinion, the word “al-Amanah” refers to the free will in matters relating to the choice between right and wrong and good and evil, which, according to the Qur’an, humans are bestowed with. The verse actually tells us that before the creation of man in the present physical and material form and before putting him in the test of the life of this world, man, with other creations – like the heavens, the earth and the mountains – was given the option of accepting to take this test, bestowed with the quality of free will in opting for good and evil.
By the free will we do not mean the basic ability to choose or reject the option presented before all the creations. Obviously they all must have the ability to consider the nature of the test presented and consequences of failing in the same lest the whole dissertation loses its meaning. Rather it refers to the exercise of free will in adopting either good or evil during the test. Hence the writer used the words ‘the free will in matters relating to the choice between right and wrong and good and evil’. This means that these creations were presented with the choice of accepting the test during which they were going to be bestowed with the power of choosing from either the good or the evil. They were not going to be forced to adopt only the good and consequently succeed in the test. Rather the success in the test depended upon the right of exercise of the power of choice between the good or the evil. The writer also explained that man has not only proven himself emotional in his decision while accepting the option of going through the test he also failed to stick to the right during this test. That also proves his nature of being emotionally biased in his decision.
In the light of the foregoing explanation the objection you have raised stands resolved.
Tariq Mahmood Hashimi