Good and evil are not alien to man. He is doubtless equipped with a sharp vision to separate the former from the latter. More often than not, he strikes the right choice between right and wrong. Even where he fails, he is found to have another good sense. This sense helps him appreciate the correct choice when someone else distinguishes between good and evil. While he appears to be instinctively inclined to good in order to personify it, he seems to experience strong repulsion to evil – so much so that he wants to eliminate it altogether. His adherence to good makes him feel relieved, contented, and humble. And his submission to evil causes him to feel low, embarrassed and arrogant. However, perpetual adherence to either virtue or vice determines the course of his life before too long. Little does he deviate from this course once it is set by his conscious compliance with either of them – he is then destined to reach the destination defined by his own actions.

The Holy Qur’an says that the Lord has shown him both these ways. In addition to blessing him with eyes, tongue and lips, he also blessed him with the knowledge of right and wrong (90:9-10). At more than one place, the Qur’an reinforces that man knows both ways and it is up to him to choose whatever he may wish; he can either become thankful by taking the correct course of life or be unthankful by treading the path of evil (76:3). The Lord indeed has inspired to him the boundaries to respect and the vices to avoid that lie beyond them (91:7-8). The assertions of the Qur’an can hardly be disputed since they depict a phenomenon commonly observed. The tradition of the majority of mankind seems to be pregnant with narratives of how they have cherished the good virtues and loathed the despicable ways of evil. The annals of history record the awe inspiring anecdotes of the sacrifices made for upholding the virtue of justice, and eradicating the evil of oppression. From a simple shoemaker to a grand emperor each has made unforgettable contributions to the preservation of virtues and elimination of evil. It is therefore highly improbable that we can put down the assertions of the Holy Book regarding the human knowledge of right and wrong.

Despite our instinctive impulses to comply with our knowledge of good and bad, the Holy Qur’an enjoins upon us to remind each other. True it is that we have the knowledge; we nonetheless have other frailties that obstruct perpetual adherence to good. The Holy Book recognizes that to have this knowledge does not mean that we have acquired a knack and that we are now preconditioned to do good (103:3). For if we were conditioned, there would have been no reward for us in the Hereafter. To confuse knowledge and even experience with conditioning is to overlook the central problem in most issues facing mankind on the face of this earth. Unless hypnotized, man will of necessity carry out good works by his own free volition. To galvanize the volition into the favor of good, one needs to be reminded constantly. It is a duty prescribed for us – to help others and be helped in order to lead a life that is virtuous.

(Jhangeer Hanif)