If you read the Qur’an, you will find that it deals with all of the subjects relating to human beings. But the basic theme of the Qur’an is the Creation plan of God. All other subjects touched on by the Qur’an are related to this basic theme, directly or indirectly. God Almighty created the universe, and, it is God Almighty who revealed this book that is called Al-Qur’an. The primary purpose of the Qur’an is to reveal that divine plan according to which the world was created and people were settled in it. This theme, which is central to the Qur’an, is thus described in chapter sixty-seven, Al-Mulk (The Kingdom): “He created death and life so that He might test you, and find out which of you is best in conduct.” (67:2)
Here the words “life” and “death” refer to two different periods of humanity. The word “life” represents the pre-death period and the word “death” represents the second period of life, which may be called the post-death period. God Almighty created man as an eternal being but he divided his life into two periods—the before death period and the post-death period. The pre-death period is very short, about a hundred years, while the post-death period has no such limit. It will continue for all eternity. According to the Qur’an, God Almighty created an ideal world that is called Paradise. The present world — the planet earth — has all those things that man needs or desires. But, in this world, everything is imperfect in its form. In Paradise, on the other hand, everything will be perfect and ideal. Paradise will be free of every kind of limitation or disadvantage. Moreover, Paradise is an eternal world. Paradise has a beginning but it has no end. God Almighty created man and woman, bestowed them with freedom of choice, and then settled them on the planet earth. Through His prophets, God Almighty gave guidance to humanity. At every age, the prophets told the people of all races about right and wrong. They told them what was good and what was bad.
This was simply a piece of guidance: there was no compulsion for people to follow it. People were asked to develop their thinking in such a way as to bring about moral consciousness in themselves and to lead a good life by their own choice. In this sense, everyone is being tested. Then God Almighty established a system of complete recording. This recording system is managed by the angels. It is so comprehensive that it can record the intentions, the speech, the behavior, and the dealings of every single person. This system is operative at all times, day and night. The purpose of all these arrangements is to select the kind of men and women who deserve to gain entry into eternal Paradise. At the time of Doomsday, God will appear with His angels and according to the angelic record, He will select those men and women who passed the test.
What are those qualities that are required for a person to be a deserving candidate for Paradise? In a single word, it is spirituality. Paradise is a spiritual world and only those men and women who have developed spiritual qualities in their personality will be blessed with entry into Paradise. According to the Qur’anic description, “Paradise is the home of peace.” (10:25). A paradise is a place where there is no nuisance, no noise and it is free of all kinds of pollution. The inhabitants of Paradise will be positive thinkers in the complete sense of the phrase. The environment of Paradise will be free of all kinds of negative states, like anger, malice, hate, revenge, wrong desires, jealousy, fighting, exploitation, and dishonesty, for these negative factors cannot be part of the psychology of the spiritual inhabitants of Paradise. The definition of spirituality given in the dictionary is—the state of being opposed to worldliness. This definition is partly true, for unworldliness is not just for the sake of unworldliness. It is for the sake of a higher goal. And that goal is to develop a spiritual way of life. There are two kinds of spirituality—negative spirituality and positive spirituality. Negative spirituality means renouncing the material world, or leaving the society and settling in some jungle or on some mountain. This kind of negative spirituality has no creative role. It suppresses all the natural qualities of a human being, who then dies without having made full use of his natural potential. Qura’nic spirituality is the spirituality of the positive kind. It means living in the world and trying to derive spiritual food from material things as a matter of intellectual discipline. It means to control rather than kill one’s desires.
The fact is that God Almighty has created a person with great potential. It is not good to suppress this potential. One should rather avail of this potential for the sake of personality development. It means experiencing all the goods and all the evils of society and trying to live with others without reaction. Positive spirituality can be termed creative spirituality. For example, there is a verse in the Qur’an which says with reference to the believers that “they forgive people when they are angry.” (3:134). It means that positive spirituality is based on the formula of anger management rather than on trying to become a person who has no feelings of anger. The formula for positive spirituality can be summarized thus: turn your negative sentiment into a positive response; make friends out of enemies. The formula for positive spirituality is based on the principle of simple living and high thinking. Simple living and high thinking are complementary to each other. Simple living saves you from all kinds of distractions and high thinking saves you from being the victim of negative experiences. Simple living and high thinking are a sine qua non of the spiritual culture. Positive spirituality is mentioned as follows in the Qur’an: “You are on the sublime character.” (68:4). A sublime character is that character that is based on high thinking.
If you read the Qur’an, you will find that it lays great emphasis on sabr (39:10), sulh (4:128), forgiveness (42:40), avoidance (7:199), contentment, and so on. Why all these teachings? These teachings apparently seem to advocate passivity. But that is not so, for they embody great wisdom. The Qur’an tries to build that kind of mind which is able to manage all the affairs of life on the basis of spirituality. It is not passivity that is advocated but skill in the proper management of life’s problems. The purpose of this formula—indeed, it is the Qur’an’s greatest concern—is to concentrate on high goals and one who wants to achieve high goals has no option but to foster the aforementioned qualities. He has to try to effectively manage all undesirable situations. Otherwise, he will become preoccupied with trivial issues and will fail to continue his journey towards higher goals.
In the chapter Al-Shams (The Sun) of the Qur’an, you will find these verses: “He who purifies it will indeed be successful, and he who corrupts it is sure to fail.” (91:9-10). These Qur’anic verses refer to the importance of personality development, laying emphasis not on its physical but on its spiritual aspects. It is no exaggeration to say that this is the main theme of the Qur’an, personality development being its basic goal. What is the purification of the soul? It is to purify your mind of all kinds of bias and negativity. In other words, it is to de-condition your conditioning. This is the mind the Qur’an tries to build. One who fails in this de-conditioning process will become a corrupt or an unwanted personality in the divine scheme of things. Man’s personality is like an onion. Onion has a central core, but this core is covered by many layers. If you want to reach the core, you have to remove all these covers or layers. The same is true of human beings. A human personality is always subject to the process of conditioning, which wraps it up in many layers. The process of conditioning begins right from birth. Initially, it is an unconscious process. The individual’s family, his institutions, his society, and his community: all are sources of this conditioning. From childhood up to adolescence, he is affected by this conditioning. Only after reaching adulthood does he become able to understand this problem consciously. From here onwards begins what is called personality development. It calls for an awakening of the mind and a conscious discovery of this problem. At this stage, the individual must develop the capacity for anti-self thinking. He must engage in introspection. He must try to de-condition his previous conditioning with complete objectivity. This is the most important task for every man and woman. What is de-conditioning? It is a process of sorting out the items you have stored in your mind, all of which you must view with complete objectivity if you are to overhaul your personality in a dispassionate manner. You have to remove the negative items in your mind if you are to turn your negativity into positivity.
A man once asked the Prophet of Islam a question—a very comprehensive one. He said, “O Prophet, give me a masterpiece of advice by which I may be able to manage all the affairs of my life.” The Prophet replied: “Don’t be angry.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, 6116). This means that you must try to purify yourself of anger. Don’t allow anger to become a part of your personality. It is only in this way that you can truly develop your personality.