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Last Updated: 2012/11/20
Summary of question
Why are there differences among human beings in terms of mood and behavior? How far do the external factors affect our nature? What is the interpretation (tafsir) of verse 30 of Chapter Al-Room in this regard?
Salam, God says in the Holy Quran that everything that he has created is created good, means that all of us by nature are created good, but we come across many people for whom being bad or good comes naturally. For example in my own family we are four brothers who all have, more or less, received the same upbringing, but one of us is the type who since childhood was always angry and self centered whereas another one has been helpful to others and nice to everyone since childhood. So why is there the difference and how much effect do external factors have on our nature? Could you explain verse 30 of chapter 30 of the Holy Quran? Thanks and may God give you the highest reward.
Concise answer

Man being created good and with a divine fitra (nature) does not mean that there should not and cannot be any difference among human beings in terms of mood and conduct. In fact, it means that they have been created naturally similar in terms of accepting religion, God-seeking and being naturally monotheist.  God-seeking and religious inclinations are imbedded in man’s conscience and subconscious mind. It is a divinely gifted tendency towards doing good deeds. Even those who are bad-tempered and ill-mannered have the same innate inclination.

When it comes to the differences among human beings in terms of personal mood and conduct or external appearance and physicality, it is common among all men and women. These differences are undeniable and some of which are the effects of external causes and stimuli. Some of them are potentials that are divinely-gifted and have been actualized. Indeed, each of them is for reason and there is wisdom behind it of which we are unaware.

Detailed Answer

God, the Exalted, says:

«فَأَقِمْ وَجْهَکَ لِلدِّینِ حَنیفاً فِطْرَتَ اللَّهِ الَّتی‏ فَطَرَ النَّاسَ عَلَیْها لا تَبْدیلَ لِخَلْقِ اللَّهِ ذلِکَ الدِّینُ الْقَیِّمُ وَ لکِنَّ أَکْثَرَ النَّاسِ لا یَعْلَمُونَ»[1]

“So set thou thy face steadily and truly to the Faith: (establish) Allah's handiwork according to the pattern on which He has made mankind: no change (let there be) in the work (wrought) by Allah: that is the standard Religion: but most among mankind understand not.”

God, the Glorified, addresses the Holy Prophet (pbuh) in this verse and instructs him to put his ambitions and efforts into the pure religion and be steadfast and firm in it because Islam is the religion of fitra on which man’s creation and nature are based. There is no change in God’s creation and tradition. In fact, all human beings have been created similar in terms of accepting religion, God- seeking and being monotheist by nature without time, space and other factors taken into consideration.

Although the Holy Prophet (pbuh) is the addressee of this verse, it includes each and every Muslim individual of the Muslim Ummah. All Muslims are under the obligation to make their effort to strengthen and consolidate the basis of the monotheistic religion.[2]

The above verse indicates several realities:

1. Not only knowledge of God but also religion in general and with all its aspects are compatible with man’s God-gifted nature. That is, whatever the sound and healthy nature considers to be good, the religion of Islam as well as the Shari’ah also favors, accepts and instructs it. Likewise, whatever the religion considers to be good and beneficial and instructs it, the human nature also accepts it. As for Shari’ah, it creates limitations and restrictions to guide the nature; Shari’ah prevents fitra from deviation but it never opposes the requirements of nature. In fact, it guides the nature through legitimate ways; otherwise there would be contradiction and disagreement between divine legislation and divine creation. In case, there is such a contradiction, it would be opposed with the very basis of monotheism.

2. Religion exists purely in man’s nature and essence whereas deviation and perversion are accidental to him. Therefore, the prophets’ duty is to do away with these accidental matters and help man’s God-gifted nature blossom.  

3. The sentence “no change (let there be) in the work (wrought) by Allah” and then “that is the standard Religion” are further emphases on monotheism, religion and faith being natural. Unfortunately many people disturb the progress and development of their primary nature making it deviate from the right path by following their whims and worldly desires and there are many people who are not aware of this fact.[3]

Some exegetes of the Holy Quran say: As stated in this verse “Turn ye back in repentance to Him, and fear Him: establish regular prayers, and be not ye among those who join gods with Allah”[4] God mentions certain conditions for development of primary fitra which exists in every individual irrespective of whether he is Muslim or non-Muslim. Those conditions are the following:

1. Detaching oneself from everything other than God and returning to him 2. To be pious and God-fearing and to refrain from doing anything which is despicable to God, the Exalted 3. Establishing prayers and not being negligent towards fulfilling it 4. Being sincere in doing all these obligations and refraining from associating any partners with God.

When these conditions are correctly met, then that monotheistic and God-seeking nature will achieve reality properly and its effects will become manifest[5] as the Holy Prophet of Islam (pbuh) and Imam Ja’far Sadiq (a.s.) said: "No child is born except on Al-Fitra (Islam) and then his parents make him Jewish, Christian or Magian.”[6]

Keeping the foregoing explanation about human nature into account, we must now say that being created good and with a divine fitra (nature) does not imply that there should not and cannot be any difference among human beings in terms of mood and conduct. In fact, it means that they have been created naturally similar in terms of accepting religion, God-seeking and being naturally monotheist. God-seeking and religious inclinations are imbedded in man’s subconscious  and innate mind. It is a divinely gifted tendency towards doing good deeds. Even those who are bad-tempered and ill-mannered have the same inclination.

The differences characteristic of animals are essential to them and they are concomitants of the system of cause and effect. For example, an individual who is born to “x” is for some reason subject to his internal and external circumstance such as gen quality, heredity, weather, living environment, manner of sexual intercourse, time and place, food quality and thousands of other factors. Similarly, the child that is born to “y” is subject to the same conditions and circumstances. Therefore, a world devoid of differences and variations cannot be possible because if all the creatures were identical and similar in every aspect, an organized world with its parts functioning consistently would not be possible.  Therefore, every system whether it is creational or mentally posited (i’tibari) remains essentially different at different times. There is no doubt that God pays attention to the deficiencies that are not on the part of the individual himself but they emanate from other causes. He Himself compensates for those deficiencies. Every individual has an obligation to the extent of his ability and God does not impose upon any soul a duty but to the extent of its ability.[7] The world of existence is not restricted to this world.[8]


[1] - Al-Room, 30

[2]  Banuye Esfahani, Sayyida Nusrat Amin, Makhzan al-Irfan dar Tafsir Quran, vol.10, p. 100, Muslim Women’s Movement, Tehran, 1361 (1982).

[3]  Makarem Shirazi, Tafsir Nomuounah, vol.16, p. 418 – 419, Dar al-Kutub al-Islamiyah, Tehran, 1374 (1995).

[4]  Al-Room, 31 «مُنِیبِینَ إِلَیْهِ وَ اتَّقُوهُ وَ أَقِیمُوا الصَّلاةَ وَ لا تَکُونُوا مِنَ الْمُشْرِکِینَ.»

[5] Makhan al-Irfan, Ibid, pp. 100 – 101.

[6]  «کل مولود یولد علی الفطرة حتى یکون أبواه یهودانه أو ینصرانه أو یمجسانه»Majlisi, Muhammad Baqir, Behar al-Anwar, researched and edited by a group of researchers, vol. 58, p. 187, Dar  Ihya al-Turath al-Arabi, Beirut, second edition, 1403 A.H.; Ibn Babvayh, Muhammad bin Ali, Man la Yahzuruhu al-Faqih, researched and edited by Ghaffari, Ali Akbar, vol.2, p. 49, Islamic Publications Office, second edition, 1413 A. H.

[7] «لا یُکَلِّفُ اللَّهُ نَفْساً إِلاَّ وُسْعَها»، Baqara, 286.

[8] Extracted from Collection of Works by Ayatollah Murteza Mutahhari, vol.1, pp. 125 – 143 (summarized and modified).


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