What is the wrong and what is right? What is a transgression? Who does it harm? What is a crime? What is a “sin”? I can either listen to others or I can ask my maker.

I am never was satisfied with what people say about such things. They sometimes speak on God’s behalf: God does not like this! He will punish that! He will accept this and not accept that! This is obligatory! That is forbidden! People bring the language of “law” to revelation that I don’t find there. There are no laws in revelation. There is guidance for the person who finds guidance in it. There is nothing mentioned about any law-making body or law-enforcing mechanism of any kind or some ethnic, national, geographical, cultural, religious or historical community. Revelation addresses me to the extent that I care to pay heed to its message. And it “guides” me to the extent it relieves of what I understand as my misguidance – misguidance that I must witness as misguidance. Someone else telling me “You are misguided in this or that” is not my misguidance. It is someone else’s idea of what is right or wrong for me to do. Why should I take it seriously at all! If I am going to be convinced about the guidance of revelation, I must be convinced by revelation that I am misguided in the way it claims I am and I must feel that I don’t wish to remain in that misguidance. I have to witness, in myself, that what the revelation calls “wrong” is indeed a “wrong” for a creature like me. Wrongdoing can either be a social/cultural construct imposed on me by others OR it is a revealed concept that I witness to be true in myself once it is revealed to me by whoever made me.

So when I turn to the Quran and ask: what is a wrong?, it answers. It is not critical which term it uses, not for me to witness the truth of its answer anyway. I can ask using many terms but the answer applies to all: what is a crime? what is a transgression? what is a sin? what is a bad deed? what is a mistake or error? what is a shameful deed? so and so forth. What do I do wrong and who do I do it to? How will I know what is wrong (and thus what is right)? How should I interpret doing wrong? I find it interesting what the Quran says:

In 4:110-111, it say,

وَمَن يَعْمَلْ سُوءًا أَوْ يَظْلِمْ نَفْسَهُ ثُمَّ يَسْتَغْفِرِ اللّهَ يَجِدِ اللّهَ غَفُورًا رَّحِيمًا

Yet he who does evil or sins against himself, and thereafter asks God to forgive him, finds God much-forgiving, compassionate

وَمَن يَكْسِبْ إِثْمًا فَإِنَّمَا يَكْسِبُهُ عَلَى نَفْسِهِ وَكَانَ اللّهُ عَلِيمًا حَكِيمًا

and he who acquires a wrong, acquires it against itself, and God is indeed knowing, wise

What do I understand from this?

4:110 suggests to me that evil is, by definition, a wronging of myself. The wrong I do is something I do against myself. How do I wrong myself? In all kinds of ways. One way the Quran describes it is this:


مَثَلُ مَا يُنفِقُونَ فِي هِـذِهِ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا كَمَثَلِ رِيحٍ فِيهَا صِرٌّ أَصَابَتْ حَرْثَ قَوْمٍ ظَلَمُواْ أَنفُسَهُمْ فَأَهْلَكَتْهُ وَمَا ظَلَمَهُمُ اللّهُ وَلَـكِنْ أَنفُسَهُمْ يَظْلِمُونَ

The parable of what they spend on the life of this world is that of an icy wind which smites the tilth of people who have wronged themselves, and destroys it: for, it is not God who does them wrong, but it is they who are wronging themselves.

In short, if what I do is, in my own view, destroyed and perishes, I lose all that I worked for. To lose or be deprived of the fruits of one’s efforts is a wrong I do to myself. The Quran here seems to suggest that to think that my actions and all the love and effort and affection and passion and energy etc. that I expend in this world perishes when the icy and heartless winds of time destroy the fruits of those efforts (for instance when I think about all the love and care and effort I spend on raising my child, only for him to grow old and eventually die, my heart is wounded like it is being struck with indifferent/cold and unchangeable blows/”fact” of time). This love makes me worried sick about my child, whose happiness and wellbeing is not in my hands. The love I cannot sustain and it makes me feel terrible about myself. I am not a loving-enough dad! It cuts like a knife. The fruits of the love I spend as my own perish a thousand times, each time wounding my heart and leaving me despaired. This way of looking at my “spending” the love and care, for instance, that I spend on my child is, the verse claims, a wrong that I do to myself. This kind of spending does not preserve my child. It lets him be destroyed! This the verse, claims, is not a wrong that the maker is doing to me or to my child but it is a wrong I am doing to myself! That is indeed an interesting claim. I am suffering this consequence which is terrible (the pain of feeling the fruits of all my spendings/labor come to nothing), the verse claim, because of my doing wrong to myself!

Consider what 4:64 says,

وَمَا أَرْسَلْنَا مِن رَّسُولٍ إِلاَّ لِيُطَاعَ بِإِذْنِ اللّهِ وَلَوْ أَنَّهُمْ إِذ ظَّلَمُواْ أَنفُسَهُمْ جَآؤُوكَ فَاسْتَغْفَرُواْ اللّهَ وَاسْتَغْفَرَ لَهُمُ الرَّسُولُ لَوَجَدُواْ اللّهَ تَوَّابًا رَّحِيمًا
for We have never sent any messenger save that he is obeyed by God’s leave. If, then, after having wronged themselves, they would come to you and ask God to forgive them and the messenger forgave them – they would assuredly find that God is turned to them and compassionate.

Let me put 4:111 here again

وَمَن يَكْسِبْ إِثْمًا فَإِنَّمَا يَكْسِبُهُ عَلَى نَفْسِهِ وَكَانَ اللّهُ عَلِيمًا حَكِيمًا

and he who acquires a wrong, acquires it against itself, and God is indeed knowing, wise

What I understand:

When I am made aware of what I have done wrong, it is an awareness of having wronged myself. This awareness of having done something wrong is a messenger that is sent and it is obeyed. Awareness of wrongdoing is unavoidable for a human being (when this is sent….it is possible that it is not there and in that case, i would say that the messenger was not sent..not yet at least, to that person). That is to say, when I become aware that I have wronged myself, it is by necessary that I find myself wanting to not wrong myself. No one likes being wronged when they become aware of what is being done unto them as wrong. Now, I experience what we may call “guilt” and I want to be forgiven. My awareness of my wrongdoing does not forgive me on its own! I don’t want to be the one who wrongs myself but my awareness of my own wrongdoing does not allow me to be forgiven until I turn to it as a messenger, bring me a message from my maker and asking the maker to forgive me. To turn to my maker to erase this wrong means that I turn to this “awareness of having done wrong” as a messenger from my maker. Now, the Quran claims that this messenger i.e. the awareness of having done wrong forgives me or wants forgiveness for me and wants the wrong to be erased. And in this feeling/need of forgiveness, I find the One who sends me the awareness of wrongdoing. I can then know that the One who sends me this awareness of wrongdoing and the need to be forgiven is someone turned to me. He is aware of me. And I find him turned to me (tawwab) and merciful (in my need to be forgiven is his message that he forgives me) IF i see the need as a messenger. The experience of feeling I have done something wrong to myself is presented in the Quran as an aya/sign/messenger by which I can come to know my maker as One turned to me in mercy. The Quran says to me: when you feel you are being wronged, it is you who is doing it to yourself. And you can find meaning in this creation of mine (i.e. you doing wrong to yourself) if you follow this guidance: your awareness of wrongdoing is a messenger. If I understand then that I am the one doing wrong to myself, I ask my maker for forgiveness i.e. I ask my wrongdoing to be erased and forgiven.

When you hear the call of the messenger i.e. when you feel that you need to be forgiven and not be wronged (by yourself), in this is the One who forgives you turned to you. Consider this:


وَالَّذِينَ إِذَا فَعَلُواْ فَاحِشَةً أَوْ ظَلَمُواْ أَنْفُسَهُمْ ذَكَرُواْ اللّهَ فَاسْتَغْفَرُواْ لِذُنُوبِهِمْ وَمَن يَغْفِرُ الذُّنُوبَ إِلاَّ اللّهُ وَلَمْ يُصِرُّواْ عَلَى مَا فَعَلُواْ وَهُمْ يَعْلَمُونَ

and who, when they have committed a transgression i.e. have sinned against themselves, remember God and ask their sins be erased/forgiven – for who but God could forgive sins – and do not knowingly persist in doing whatever they may have done.

I will wrong myself or commit a transgression by forgetting God and thus remembering God will be the forgiveness. The wrong I do to myself is that I forget who my maker is. When I remember Him, my wrong is forgiven. How so?

Think about this together with 4:111. I understand this:

I will know what is wrong by knowing what is wrong for me! And my coming to know something as wrong that I did to myself, reveals God as the knowing and God as the wise. To become aware of something that I wasn’t aware of before, is to be the servant and creature of the One who is knowing. My knowing makes it possible for me to know Him as the One who knows. Only, of course, if I choose to become aware or know bi-ismillah. Further, to become aware of something “as a wrong” is a to act in the name of the Wise – only from the perspective of right/wisdom can something that came before be called a “wrong”. The recognition of something as wrong is a retrospective act, an act of wisdom and, if I act bi-ismillah, the act of the One who is Wise. In my recognition of something as “wrong” is the One who is knowing, turned to me, showing he wants to forgive me by giving me the need to be forgiven and the Wise One, who knows right from wrong and who favors wisdom over the wrong.

I do wrong to myself when I forget God, the One in whose name all what I spend in this world bear fruits of lasting and beautiful existence in a hereafter and without which all what I have and anticipate are being entirely lost. What I waste! This fruitless toil is what the Quran calls waste, evil, crime and so on. This forgetting, when I am made aware of it, is a blessing for it brings the Knowing One, the Wise One into my life. It brings me to the One who is aware of my condition and is turned towards me, and One who wants to erase the wrong from me. I find this Compassionate One with me. Through my wrong, I can come to remember Him and when I remember Him, the One with whom are all the fruits of all my labor preserved, I am saved from wronging myself and saved from perishing. In the remembrance of the One who does not perish and who is compassionate and forgiving of my past wrongs (against myself), I find the reward of not wanting to forget him and to not want to continue in my heedlessness. He blesses me with the need for Him. When I choose to remember Him, I find Him remembering me! Turning to God and remembering Him is not some religious thing to do. It is an existential need and the only way I can be saved from wronging myself. No forgiveness is possible except by finding the One who makes me aware of my wrong and gives me the need for the wrong to be taken away.

Published by Faraz Sheikh

Faraz Sheikh

%d bloggers like this: