MAN AS ALLAH’S VICEGERENT ON EARTH

This week we reflect on a verse in Surat al Baqara when Allah in the form of conversation between Him and the angels presented His intention to create Man. Allah says: “Behold, thy Lord said to the angels: I will create a Vicegerent on earth. They said “Will Thou place therein one who will make mischief therein and shed blood. Whilst we do celebrate Thy praises and glorify Thy Holy (name). He said: ‘I know what you know not”. Holy Qur’an 2:30.

Let us discuss the two subjects mentioned in the verse: Khalifa and Malaika.

‘Khalifa‘ or vicegerent in Arabic means one who exercises the authority delegated to him by his principal, and does so in the capacity of his deputy and agent. Hence, whatever authority he possesses is not inherently his own, but is derived from, and circumscribed by, the limits set by his principal. A vicegerent is not entitled to do what he pleases, but is obliged to carry out the will of his master. If the vicegerent were either to begin thinking of himself as the real owner and to use the authority delegated to him in whatever manner he pleased, or if he were to acknowledge someone other than the real owner as his lord and master and to follow his directions, these would be deemed acts of infidelity and rebellion.

The same idea is presented here, but supported on slightly different grounds – namely that Allah created Man as His vicegerent. In this capacity, man is obliged not merely to serve and worship Him, but also to act in accordance with His instructions and guidance. The Qur’an warns that if man allows himself to be misled by his arch-enemy, Satan, he will be guilty of the most serious rebellion and will have to face the consequences of his action.

Thus far Man has been summoned to serve and obey Allah on the grounds that Allah is his creator and sustainer; that in His grasp lies man’s life and death; that He alone is the Lord Who rules over the entire universe in which he lives. In view of this, the only attitude which can be deemed appropriate for man is one of service and subjection to Allah.

The full import of this verse is that Man is the masterpiece of Allah’s creations. He has bestowed upon him countless blessings and bounties. He has arranged everything on earth and Heavens for his convenience and comforts.

In this connection the Qur’an defines precisely the true nature of man and his correct position in the universe. It also enlightens us to a period of man’s past which is otherwise inaccessible. What the Qur’an tells us here, with its practical consequences, is of far greater value than knowledge derived by unearthing bones and pottery, and piecing together scattered fragments of information with the help of conjecture.

The word malak in Arabic means ‘message-bearer’. Angels are not depersonalized and abstract forces, they are beings with personalities of their own and are employed by Allah for the administration of His universe. They are His faithful servants. Some people have incorrectly considered them to be, in some way or another, Allah’s partners in His Lordship, while others have considered them to be His Kinsfolk, turning them into gods and worshipping them.

When they enquired from Allah His purpose for creating a Man, it should be noted that it was not said by way of objection or protest. It was said rather by way of inquiry and in order to satisfy their curiosity; it is inconceivable that the angels could object to any of Allah’s decisions. The word ‘vicegerent’ suggested to them that the proposed species of creation would be placed on earth with some authority. It was incomprehensible to them how a species of being which had been invested with discretionary power and authority could conform with the overall order of the universe, which is based on absolute and involuntary subservience to the will of Allah. They thought that investing anyone with authority any part of the universe would lead to mischief and disorder. It is this aspect which the angels were curious about.

This does not mean that the angels considered themselves suitable for Allah’s vicegerency. They merely wanted to point out that Allah’s orders were already being carried out fully, that they `- the angels – were engaged in doing His will and that according to His Divine will the entire universe was kept in a state of absolute purity; moreover, Allah’s glory was constantly being extolled and His holiness celebrated. Since all these things were being done, they wanted to ask what gap was still considered to exist that called for the creation of a new species of being to fill it.

The word Tasbih has two meanings: (i) to proclaim glory and (ii) to exert oneself earnestly and energetically. In the same way, Taqdis has two meanings; (i) to celebrate or proclaim holiness and (ii) to purify.

This was an answer to the latter doubt expressed by the angels. The angels were told that the reason for the appointment of a vicegerent was best known to Allah alone and could not be understood by them. Despite the services rendered by the angels, something over and above their work was still required. Allah decided, therefore, to create a new species of being in the world and to invest it with some authority. To be Continued in sha Allah.

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