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IOS Minaret Vol-1, No.1 (March 2007)
Vol. 14    Issue 06   01 - 30 November 2019

Luqman’s Advice to His Son

Professor A. R. MOMIN

According to some commentators of the Quran, Luqman was an eminent sage of pre-Islamic Arabia. According to others, he was an Ethiopian or a Nubian. Regardless of his background, Luqman was known for his wisdom and sagacity. One of the chapters of the Quran is named after him. The Quran says, “We bestowed wisdom on Luqman” (31:12).

The chapter “Luqman” deals with several significant and interrelated themes, including the attributes of Allah and His countless bounties, condemnation of associating partners with Allah, the necessity of fear of Allah, the role, rights and responsibilities of parents, and good conduct and etiquette.

In this essay, we shall focus on Luqman’s advice to his son and examine its wider religious, social and psychological context and import.

وَاِذْ قَالَ لُقْمٰنُ لِابْنِهٖ وَهُوَ يَعِظُهٗ يٰبُنَيَّ لَا تُشْرِكْ بِاللّٰهِ اِنَّ الشِّرْكَ لَظُلْمٌ عَظِيْمٌ

وَوَصَّيْنَا الْاِنْسَانَ بِوَالِدَيْهِ ۚ حَمَلَتْهُ اُمُّهٗ وَهْنًا عَلٰي وَهْنٍ وَّفِصٰلُهٗ فِيْ عَامَيْنِ اَنِ اشْكُرْ لِيْ وَلِوَالِدَيْكَ واِلَيَّ الْمَصِيْرُ

وَاِنْ جَاهَدٰكَ عَلٰٓي اَنْ تُشْرِكَ بِيْ مَا لَيْسَ لَكَ بِهٖ عِلْمٌ ۙفَلَا تُطِعْهُمَا وَصَاحِبْهُمَا فِي الدُّنْيَا مَعْرُوْفًا ۡ وَّاتَّبِعْ سَبِيْلَ مَنْ اَنَابَ اِلَيَّ ۚ ثُمَّ اِلَيَّ مَرْجِعُكُمْ فَاُنَبِّئُكُمْ بِمَا كُنْتُمْ تَعْمَلُوْنَ

يٰبُنَيَّ اِنَّهَآ اِنْ تَكُ مِثْقَالَ حَبَّةٍ مِّنْ خَرْدَلٍ فَتَكُنْ فِيْ صَخْـرَةٍ اَوْ فِي السَّمٰوٰتِ اَوْ فِي الْاَرْضِ يَاْتِ بِهَا اللّٰهُ ۭ اِنَّ اللّٰهَ لَطِيْفٌ خَبِيْرٌ

يٰبُنَيَّ اَقِمِ الصَّلٰوةَ وَاْمُرْ بِالْمَعْرُوْفِ وَانْهَ عَنِ الْمُنْكَرِ وَاصْبِرْ عَلٰي مَآ اَصَابَكَ ۭ اِنَّ ذٰلِكَ مِنْ عَزْمِ الْاُمُوْرِ

وَلَا تُصَعِّرْ خَدَّكَ لِلنَّاسِ وَلَا تَمْشِ فِي الْاَرْضِ مَرَحًا ۭ اِنَّ اللّٰهَ لَا يُحِبُّ كُلَّ مُخْـتَالٍ فَخُــوْرٍ

وَاقْصِدْ فِيْ مَشْيِكَ وَاغْضُضْ مِنْ صَوْتِكَ ۭ اِنَّ اَنْكَرَ الْاَصْوَاتِ لَصَوْتُ الْحَمِيْرِ ۧ

Behold, Luqman said to his son by way of instruction: “O my son! Join not in worship (others) with Allah: for false worship is indeed the highest wrong-doing.”

And We have enjoined upon man (to be good) to his parents: in travail upon travail did his mother bear him, and in years twain was his weaning: (hear the command), “Show gratitude to me and to thy parents: to Me is (thy final) destination.

But if they try to make you join in worship with Me things of which you have no knowledge, obey them not; yet bear them company in this life with justice (and consideration), and follow the way of those who turn to Me (in love): in the end the return of you all is to Me, and I will tell you the truth (and meaning) of all that you did.”

“O my son! (said Luqman), “Of there be (but) the weight of a mustard seed and it were (hidden) in a rock, or (anywhere) in the heavens or on earth, Allah will bring it forth: for Allah understands the finest mysteries (and) is well-acquainted (with them).

O my son! Establish regular prayers, enjoin what is just, and for bid what is wrong: and bear with patient constancy whatever betide thee; for this is firmness (of purpose) in (the conduct of) affairs.

And swell not thy cheek (for pride) at men, nor walk in insolence through the earth; for Allah loveth not any arrogant boaster.

And be moderate in thy pace, and lower thy voice; for the harshest of sounds without doubt is the braying of the ass.”

We shall now dwell on the wider dimensions and distinctive features of the verses quoted in the foregoing.

Universality of Islamic Teachings

The Islamic faith, as exemplified in the Quran and the Hadith, is quintessentially universalistic and inclusionary. It eschews racism, xenophobia and cultural and epistemological solipsism. Islam’s universalism is reflected, for example, in its view of prophecy. The Quran says that Allah has sent down prophets or divine messengers for the guidance of humanity in all ages and to all regions of the world (Quran 10:48; 35:24).

The prophets and other historical figures and momentous events that are mentioned in the Quran are not confined to Islamic history or the Islamic faith. The Quran approvingly mentions several anecdotes relating to figures (such as the People of the Cave or the People of Ukhdud) that are a part of Christian history and tradition. Similarly, it mentions some figures, such as Zulqarnayn (who is identified by the commentators of the Quran with the Persian king Cyrus), who are a part of Persian or Jewish traditions.

In fact, the Quran says that there is an unbroken chain of divine revelation encompassing all the prophets that were sent down to earth at different points of time. Muslims are heir to this shared spiritual legacy of mankind. They are therefore required to believe not only in the prophecy of Muhammad but in that of all the prophets. Similarly, they are required to believe not only in the Quran but in all divine scriptures.

The universalism of Islamic teachings is also evidenced in the Islamic view of knowledge.

The Paradox of Human Nature

The Islamic perspective on human nature is marked by four distinct features. In the first place, Islam offers an ennobling view of human nature. Man, according to the Islamic view, has been created in the best of moulds, designated as God’s vicegerent on earth and given dominion over all that is in the universe (Quran 2: 30; 6: 165; 14: 32-33; 45:13). Man is not the product of a blind process of evolution, but a self-conscious being who has been created by God Almighty with a purpose. All humans are born innocent, untainted by original sin or guilt.

The equality and brotherhood of mankind, regardless of the distinctions of birth, class or caste, is one of the cardinal tenets of the Islamic faith. According to the Islamic view, all humans have been created from a single primordial pair and are therefore equal (49:13). The Prophet categorically declared in his Farewell Pilgrimage: “O people! Verily your Lord is One and your father is one. All of you have descended from Adam, and Adam was (created) from dust. The most honoured in the sight of God is the one who fears Him the most. An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor is a red-skinned person superior to a dark-skinned person, except in respect of piety”.

Secondly, human nature is characterised by a certain duality. On the one hand, man has been created from clay, a lowly substance (Quran 23:12; 32:7). On the other hand, God has breathed His soul into him (Quran 15:29). Thus, man possesses two rather contradictory potentialities: sublime and divine-like, on the one hand, and base and demonic, on the other (13:15; 100:6; 41:51; 22:16; 17:100; 70:19; 14:34; 43:15; 70: 19-21; 14:34; 16:4; 18:100; 100:6; 17:11, 67). Man tends to be impatient and greedy (Quran 70:19). Furthermore, he has a tendency to be ungrateful, niggardly and contentious. He is prone to acting in an unjust manner and often surrenders to his desires (Quran 45:23). 1

Thirdly, Islam eschews a deterministic view of human nature. It takes due cognizance of human agency and emphasizes that man has been endowed with self-consciousness and the capacity for reasoning and moral choice. The Quran says: “Verily We created man from a drop of mingled sperm, in order to try him: so We gave him (the gifts) of hearing and sight. We showed hi the way: whether be grateful or ungrateful (rests on his free will)” (76:2-3). And further: “Have We not made for him a pair of eyes? And a tongue and a pair of lips? And showed him the two highways (of right and wrong, good and evil)” (90:8-10).

The Quran says: “We did indeed offer the trust (amanah) to the heavens and the earth and the mountains but, being afraid, they refused to take it up; but man took it up……” (Quran 33:72). The commentators of the Quran point out that the word trust (amanah) refers to the capacity for reasoning, self-reflection and moral choice. Islam strikes a balance between submission to God’s will and human agency. It strikes a balance between submission to God’s will and human agency, between determinism and free will and provides sufficient autonomous spaces for human intervention. The Quran says: “That man can have nothing but what he strives for” (53:39). Further: “Surely Allah will never change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves” (13:11).

Fourthly, Islam recognizes the role of the social environment and education in unfolding, as well as in stifling, human potentialities. The Prophet is reported to have said: “There is no infant who is not born in a state of nature, but his parents make him a Jew, a Christian or a Magian.” He is also reported to have said: “A man follows the ways of his friend. Therefore, you should be watchful about the person you befriend.” Islam also suggests an ethical code to facilitate the flowering of man’s benign potentialities and to check and control the destructive tendencies in his nature.

The Quran refers to man as God’s vicegerent on earth. The notion of divine vicegerency not only bestows an exalted status on man but also entails certain obligations. As God’s vicegerent on earth, man is responsible to Him for all his actions and deeds. The Prophet is reported to have said: “All of you are (like) shepherds; and all of you are accountable for your sheep”. Man has a moral responsibility to safeguard God’s bounties, including the planet’s resources and its biodiversity.

Role, Rights and Responsibilities of Parents

Socialization refers to the process whereby the individual learns the way of life of the society or community in which he is born and raised and which enables him to become a participating member of his society. The child is innately endowed with certain potentialities and capabilities, including reason and imagination, self-consciousness, sociability, the ability to communicate through language, and aesthetic sensibility. The actualization of these potentialities is critically dependent on the child’s continuous and sustained interaction with his family members and the community. Growing up in a family and social interactions are absolutely essential for the child’s physical, social, cognitive and emotional development.

The question whether one’s personality, temperament and attitudes are determined by heredity or moulded by the social environment has engaged the attention of philosophers, scientists and psychologists for centuries. Ibn Sina (980-1037) argued that the human intellect at birth is like a blank slate, a pure potentiality that is actualized through learning and education, observation and reasoning. The 12th century Andalusian philosopher and literary writer Ibn Tufail (1105-1185), in his novel Hayy ibn Yaqzan, depicted the development of the mind of a feral child, brought up in complete isolation from society on an island, from a blank slate to an adult, through learning and experience. The Latin translation of Ibn Tufail’s novel, published by Edward Pococke in 1671, had a profound influence on the English philosopher John Locke (1632-1704). In his Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Locke held that the child’s mind is like a blank slate (tabula rasa), on which external impressions and experiences are inscribed in the course of his growth and development. The French thinker Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) also held a similar view. On the other hand, Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) and Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) argued that heredity plays a key role in shaping an individual’s personality and character. Sigmund Freud suggested that humans begin life as “amoral animals.”

The views outlined in the foregoing provide at best a partial and at worst a distorted account of the complex linkages between heredity and the social environment. Neuroscientists point out that the child’s mind is not like a blank slate or a passive receptacle of external stimuli. On the contrary, it is innately endowed with certain potentialities and capabilities that are distinctively human. These capabilities, which are programmed in the human brain, include reason and imagination, self-consciousness, sociability, ability to learn a language, moral choice and aesthetic sensibility. However, the actualization of these potentialities is crucially dependent on the social process, especially during the early years of childhood.

There have been cases of children – known as feral children – who grew up in the woods amid wild animals and walked like animals and made sounds like them. When they were discovered and brought back to society, they could hardly learn to speak a language or to behave like normal human beings. In spite of a sympathetic and supportive social environment and the sincere efforts made by social workers and counsellors who tried to bring them back to society, they could not become fully human.

There are at least 15 cases of feral children who were isolated from contact with humans at a young age and who lived amidst animals. Shamdeo, a boy who was spotted in a forest in India at the age of four in 1972, was found to be playing with wolf cubs. He bonded with dogs and liked to taste blood and to eat earth. He could never learn to speak but learnt some sign language. He died in 1985 at the age of 17. A young girl Marina Chapman was kidnapped in 1954 at the age of five from a remote village in Columbia and left by the kidnappers in a forest. She lived with capuchin monkeys for five years and was found by hunters. She ate berries, roots and bananas dropped by the monkeys, slept in holes in trees and walked on all four, like the monkeys. She was treated like a monkey by the other monkeys, who would often pull lice out of her hair. Chapman now lives in Yorkshire with her husband and two daughters.

Such incidents suggest that close and sustained social interaction between the child and family members is absolutely essential for the development of the child’s inborn potentialities and his cognitive and emotional development and that the early years of socialization mark a critical phase in the learning of language and social skills.

Unlike in the case of animals, the physical, social and emotional dependence of the child on the mother is far more intense and prolonged. The intensity of the relationship between the mother and child is not only sustained over a long period of time but stays beyond maturity and even old age. This distinctive quality of mother-child relationship has a far-reaching and enduring influence on the child’s cognitive and emotional growth and the development of his personality. The impairment of this relationship leaves a deep scar on the child’s memory, consciousness and personality.

The family and the extended kin group, which include parents, siblings, grandparents, cousins and maternal and paternal relatives, constitute the most important agency of socialization across the world. The family plays a pivotal role in the development of the child’s innate potentialities and capabilities. It is in the family context that the child imbibes the values and norms of his society and learns to interact with others in a meaningful way. The family provides an important setting in which the foundations of the child’s personality are laid. In large parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America, where three-fourths of the world’s population are concentrated, the child grows up amid a large group of kin. His social world is significantly larger in comparison with Western societies in which the nuclear family is the norm and kinship ties are fragile. A society’s worldview and the way in which the relationship between society and the individual is defined and structured have a significant bearing on the pattern of socialization.

The family provides the primary and most crucial setting in which the child learns to communicate with others, initially with gestures and facial expressions and later through language. Noam Chomsky has convincingly shown that the child’s capacity and skills for symbolic communication or language are inborn. However, this innate capacity for language can be actualized only through social interaction. The learning of language and cognitive development are closely intertwined.

Stability, a peaceful and harmonious atmosphere, responsive and sensitive parenting, and interpersonal relationships in the family that are suffused with affection and concern have a positive influence on the child’s cognitive and emotional development. On the other hand, if the family atmosphere is vitiated by mistrust, conflict and lack of concern, the child will grow up with a deep-seated sense of insecurity and vulnerability. 2

Since parents play the most important role in the child’s life, particularly during the early years of its life, Islam places a great deal of emphasis on the rights of parents and on respecting them and treating them with kindness. The Quran says: “Thy Lord hath decreed that you worship none but Him and that ye be kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in thy life, say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in terms of honour. And out of kindness, lower to them the wing of humility and say: “My Lord! Bestow on them thy mercy even as they cherished me in childhood” (17:23-24).

And further: “We have enjoined on man kindness to his parents: in pain did his mother bear him, and in pain did she give him birth. The carrying of (the child) to his weaning is (a period of) thirty months. At length when he reaches the age of full strength and attains forty years, he says, “O my Lord! Grant me that I may be grateful for Thy favour which Thou has bestowed upon me, and upon both my parents, and that I may work righteously such as Thou mayest approve; and be gracious to me in my issue” (46:15).

Islam places great emphasis on educating children, inculcating them with moral values and good manners and building their character. In Islamic view, the goal of education is not just the transmission of knowledge and the development of the child’s cognitive abilities but the growth of the whole person, including the development of personality and character. The Prophet Muhammad is reported to have said that a father cannot give a better gift to his children than good manners and etiquette. Islam disallows any kind of discrimination between male and female children in respect of food and clothing, health care, love and affection, and education. Islam put an end to the reprehensible practice of female infanticide, which was widely prevalent in pagan Arabia.


1. In Judaeo-Christian thought, human nature is seen as a combination of good and evil forces. The Old Testament describes man as “a little lower than the angels and a little higher than the beasts” (Psalm 8: 4-5). The Bible describes the creation of man in two ways. In the Book of Genesis, man is said to have been created in the image and likeness of God. Later, when he is commanded by God not to eat the forbidden fruit, he is described as having been formed from the dust of the earth. “Dust thou art and unto dust thou shall return,” says the Book of Genesis. In other words, man is formed of an inferior substance in the most sublime image. The Bible views history as an arena in which good is invariably intertwined with evil. Man’s moral responsibility, according to the Bible, is to differentiate the good from the evil and to strive for the fulfilment of his benign potentialities. In Christianity, Christ is believed to epitomize man’s guilt and suffering and final atonement through crucifixion. St Augustine (d. 430) developed the doctrine of original sin or man’s fall from grace and held that all humans are born sinful.

Interestingly, one can find an echo of duality of human nature in the observation of an eminent French philosopher Blaise Pascal (d.1662): “It is dangerous to show man too clearly how much he resembles the beast without at the same time showing him his greatness. It is also dangerous to allow him too clear a vision of his greatness without his baseness. It is even more dangerous to leave him in ignorance of both. But it is very profitable to show him both.” Carl Jung (d. 1961) held that some of our unconscious motives are indeed dark and frightening, while others can serve as wellsprings of creativity. Gordon Allport (d. 1967) maintained that all humans possess deeply rooted selfish tendencies, together with the inherent potential to outgrow and overcome them.

2. A. R. Momin: Introduction to Sociology: An Islamic Perspective. Delhi: Institute of Objective Studies, 2017, pp. 41-44.

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