Man Wrongs Himself, Accusation, Conformity

Issue 776 » February 7, 2014 - Rabi al-Thani 7, 1435

Living The Quran

Man Wrongs Himself
Al-Baqara (The Cow) Chapter 2: Verse 231 (partial)

"Whoso does that [i.e transgresses the limits set by God] has wronged his soul [or himself] (zalama nafsahu)"

The world Zalim is generally translated in English as 'wrong-doer' or 'evil-doer', and the corresponding nominal form zulm variously as 'wrong', 'evil', 'injustice', and 'tyranny'. The root plays an exceedingly important role in the Quran. It is not too much to say that it is one of the most important negative value words in the Quran. Indeed, we encounter the root on almost every page of the Scripture, under a variety of forms.

The primary meaning of ZLM is, in the opinion of many of the authoritative lexicographers, that of 'putting in a wrong place'. In the sphere of ethics it seems to mean primarily 'to act in such a way as to transgress the proper limit and encroach upon the right of some other person.' Briefly and generally speaking, zulm is to do injustice in the sense of going beyond one's own bounds and doing what one has no right to. The Quran repeats everywhere that God does not wrong anyone 'even by the weight of an ant' or 'by a single date-thread'. A good deed He will double, a bad deed He will punish; in any case man will never be wronged.

Thus Men are made to bear the consequences of their own deeds. Even the torment of the Fire which all evil-doers are to suffer will after all be their own making. Hence the concept of zulm al-nafs (lit. 'wrongdoing of the soul', i.e. 'doing wrong to one's own soul, or one's self) which we find expressed very frequently in the Quran in connection with that of the divine chastisement of evil-doers. 'God wrongs nobody; man wrongs himself.'

Compiled From:
"Ethico Religious Concepts in the Quran" - Toshihiko Izutsu, p. 164-166

Understanding The Prophet's Life


Since unity of faith is the very foundation of the Islamic fraternity, the Prophet (peace be upon him) has warned the believers to avoid accusing one another of disbelief. Thus according to a hadith reported by Abd Allah Ibn Umar, 'When a man calls his brother "kafir" one of them is afflicted with the charge. Either it is as he says or it befalls the person who uttered.' [Muslim]

According to yet another Hadith, reported by Abu Dharr al-Ghaffari: 'Whoever charges another person with disbelief, or calls him an "enemy of God", while this is not so, will have the charge rebound upon himself.' [Mishkat]

The message in the preceding hadiths is not confined to the prohibition of takfir but extends to transgression or sin (fisq) and the unfounded attribution of crime and sin to others. A Muslim is thus forbidden from charging others with fisq. This is the purport of another hadith which declares in the broadest of terms: 'No man accuses another of transgression (fisq) or disbelief (kufr) without partaking of it himself if the accused is not what the accusation claims he is.' [Mishkat]

Compiled From:
"Freedom of Expression in Islam" - Mohammad Hashim Kamali, p. 188



We now understand basic religious terms differently and in a way that has made faith problematic. "Belief" no longer means "trust, commitment, and engagement" but has become an intellectual assent to a somewhat dubious proposition. Religious leaders often spend more time enforcing doctrinal conformity than devising spiritual exercises that will make these official "beliefs" a living reality in the daily lives of the faithful. Instead of using scriptures to help people to move forward and embrace new attitudes, people quote ancient scriptural texts to prevent any such progress. This neatly demonstrates our modern understanding of religion as something that we think rather than something that we do.

Compiled From:
"The Case for God" - Karen Armstrong, pp. 325, 326