I was recently reading Surah 33: 72 in the Qur’an and was a bit confused. Is the Surah stating that humans chose “al-amanah” (which I am translating as reason….) but that it was a mistake? Is the Surah implying that one should not use one’s reason?
Could you clarify?
First of all, I would like you to consider a simple translation of the referred verse. The Qur’an says:
We offered the trust (i.e. al-amanah) to the heavens, the earth and the mountains but they refused to carry this burden and were scared of doing so, but man undertook to bear it. Man is prone to crossing his limits (over-estimating himself) and prone to taking emotional decisions. (Al-Ahzab 33:72)
The first question that a person is faced with regarding the interpretation of this verse is the meaning and implication of the word “Al-Amanah“, translated as: “the trust”.
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. At that time, all the creations, including man, were shown the great pleasures (during the life hereafter) that they shall receive in case of success in this test and were also shown the severe punishment (during the life hereafter) which shall befall them as a consequence of failing in this test. All the creations refused to take up the trust of being bestowed with this free will and, thus, to take the test of the life of this world, for they were scared of the consequences of failure. The only exception was man. He accepted this trust. He accepted the trust to gain the pleasures of the life hereafter and was so attracted to these pleasures that he completely ignored the consequences and the severity of the punishment in case of his failure. But man’s past and present (on the basis of which his future seems to be no different) shows that he has normally misused his free will and has generally opted for evil. Thus, man has generally failed in the trust that he himself accepted to fulfill. This is a clear evidence that his 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).
From the above explanation, it should be clear that the implication of the referred verse is not that man should not use his reasoning faculty, it is rather a reminder to man that the attribute of free will, which he is bestowed with is a great trust – between himself and his Creator – and therefore should not be misused. He is reminded that the pleasures in the life hereafter are completely dependent on whether or not he uses his free will in the right and desirable manner and thereby fulfills his trust. Man’s rejection of the truth, his indulgence in deeds that lead him to the punishment of hellfire – all these things are the result only of the misuse of the quality of free will. Thus, in effect, the very quality, which was bestowed upon man so that he may use it properly and thereby prove himself deserving of the pleasures of the life hereafter, is proving to be the quality, which is leading a big portion of mankind to the severe punishment of hellfire. In this verse man is reminded to use this great quality in his own favor rather than against himself.
Free will and this particular trust – of using his free will in the correct manner – which man himself accepted to bear, is the very reason and the basis of the punishment that man shall face in the life hereafter, if he misuses his free will and fails in his trust. Thus, in the verse that immediately follows the above verse, the Qur’an says:
So that God puts the hypocrite men and hypocrite women and the polytheist men and the polytheist women in a severe punishment [for misusing their free will and thereby failing in their trust with Him] and to show mercy on the believing men and the believing women [for correctly using their free will and fulfilling their trust with Him]. God is Most forgiving, Merciful. (Al-Ahzab 33:73)
I hope this helps.
9th March 1999