We are told in Qur’an 95:4 and 5 that Allah (SWT) indeed “created man in the best of moulds” and gave him the purest nature. By making man His vicegerent on earth, Allah (SWT) has exalted man to a position that is more privileged than that of the angels because while angels do not disobey Allah, man’s position as vicegerent grants him will and discretion. In spite of this advanced position given to man, he would be reduced to a rank lower than that of the beasts if he fails to listen to the voice of his conscience when he tries to engage in evil. Qur’an describes this rank as “the lowest of the low”. However, those who rightly use their sense of reason and allow it to be guided by their conscience would be able to preserve the natural sanctity of man.
While animals rely upon their instincts to traverse the course of their development, instincts do not play this role in the case of human beings. It is man’s use of reason and intellect that regulates not only his life but also distinguishes him from other animals. It is through the use of reason that man can recognize the right path towards which he must strive to bring about decency in life. Reason is one of the greatest gifts of Allah to man. Allah (SWT) says in Quran 67:23 “Say: It is He (Allah) who brought you out of naught and bestowed upon you hearing, vision and an (understanding) heart even though there are only a few who are grateful (to Allah)”. The intellect is man’s most precious asset. It uplifts him when he breakdowns; and guides him when he is lost.
It is because of man’s ability to use reason to differentiate between good and bad that Allah (SWT) gave him the choice of following either of the two ways; the right or the wrong way. Allah (SWT) says in Qur’an 90:8-10 “Have we not made for him a pair of eyes? And a tongue, and a pair of lips? And shown him the two highways (of good and evil)? In the great battlefield within the human spirit, there is always a tough battle going on between reason and instinct. These two powers are pitched in a relentless battle where each of them seeks to overpower the other. In order that we may benefit from our inner powers and remain secured from their harm, we must bring our instincts under the domination of reason. It is to reason that all our urges, instincts and motives must be made to submit in complete obedience.
Moral conscience is a major moderating agent of the human mind. Man’s failure to properly use his reason could predispose him to sins and vices. When man turns to himself after committing a sin, a painful feeling of guilt and shame envelops him. This is what is called conscience. This explains why those who are unable to exhibit sense of remorse or whose sinful acts do not cause them to be ashamed of themselves are said to lack conscience. A man once asked Prophet Muhammad (SAW) about the sign by which he might know the reality of his faith. The Prophet (SAW) said: “If thou derive pleasure from the good which thou hast done, thou art a true believer”. The man asked: In what doth a fault consist? The Prophet (SAW) said: “When anything pricks thy conscience, forsake it”.
Each time instincts attempt to influence or even overcome man, an inner moral voice is always there to call him from within. This is the voice of conscience. The nature of conscience makes it one of the most attractive phenomena of creation even though some psychologists including Sigmund Freud believe that conscience is a product of civilization, and therefore, plays no essential role in the human psyche. Freud does not recognize other inner factors that form the source of good and bad behaviours. Contrary to Freud’s hypothesis, this writer believes that actions, which are universally recognized as virtues or vices, cannot be said to be product of repressed instincts. There is evidently no society in the world where dishonesty, injustice and breach of trust are considered as virtues or where honesty, justice and trust are recognized as evils. Freud’s theory might only be pertinent if man had learnt to distinguish between good and evil through experience.
If conscience were to be considered a product of the forces of external environment, the actions of the righteous people who out of self-sacrifice voluntarily deny themselves many pleasures for the sake of attaining higher ideals would yet have remained unexplained by Freud’s theory. Conscience seldom makes error in its judgments. The various errors of human beings in their social life result either from the errors of reason or the senses or are a consequence of conscience losing its power of resistance against instincts. Errors observed in man’s life cannot be regarded as misjudgment on behalf of conscience, because conscience only examines the conclusions and data provided by reason and sensory faculties.
Conscience is not only a reliable guide in man’s life but also a fair and honest witness over man’s conduct. Conscience keeps watch over man and declares at the appropriate time what it has observed. A person may say with the tongue something, which may be opposite of what he holds in his heart. He may also hide his secret thought by controlling his apparent movements. However, he certainly has no power to silence the voice of conscience or stop it from reproaching him. Conscience readily flogs every criminal, vicious or sinful person with the whip of guilt and regret. Conscience is the very essence of an individual’s character. It gives man the power of resisting temptation. It is conscience that sets man on his feet and frees him from the domination of his own instinctive desires.
When stubborn instincts try to undermine the role of reason and conscience by making man captive to lusts, faith, shall be the best support to lean upon. With sincere faith in Allah, reason and conscience shall be able to suppress instincts in all circumstances. With faith, man shall be able to resist the hostile pressure of desires. Fear of Allah, Taqwa, illuminates the intellect and opens the gate of wisdom wide before man. When the fear of Allah (SWT) takes hold of the human heart, it puts desires and passions in chains; making them docile and tractable. This allows intellect to be active.
Although man is always threatened by desires some of which may sound wild, reason and conscience are there to keep his instincts in check. These two have a greater power than external police authorities. In order to attain the virtuous destiny intended for us by Allah (SWT) as the best creature, the choice is ours to always listen to the voice of conscience each time it cautions us. May Allah (SWT) guide us to allow reason and conscience to prevail over our instincts, amin.