Why Don't People Follow Their Conscience in Spite of Knowing The Truth?
At the core of a man's not following his conscience, lies the weakness of his faith in Allah and the hereafter. This weakness leads to many moral disorders which make the person even less inclined to follow conscience.
The conscience of those who resist faith also know righteousness and the existence of Allah, but for various reasons do not follow the things which they acknowledge to be right. In the Qur'an, Allah states in many verses that people reject knowingly even though they understand and their conscience is convinced.
For instance, the following is said in relation to the Jews who distorted the Torah, which is the revelation of Allah:
…A group of them heard Allah's Word and then, after grasping it, knowingly distorted it. (Surat al-Baqara: 75)
Many of the People of the Book would love it if they could make you revert to being disbelievers after you have become believers, showing their innate envy now that the truth is clear to them… (Surat al-Baqara: 109)
Those We have given the Book recognise it as they recognise their own sons. Yet a group of them knowingly conceal the truth. (Surat al-Baqara: 146)
How can someone recognise the truth but resist it so firmly and deliberately?
In the chapter 'Evidence of Allah's existence can be seen through conscience', we used evolutionist scientists as an example of those who reject Allah despite seeing the evidence of His being with their own eyes. Renowned British zoologist and evolutionist D.M.S. Watson explains why he and his colleagues have accepted evolution:
What Watson means by 'special creation' is the creation of Allah. This is what scientists find 'clearly incredible', and yet science proves the truth of creation. The only reason Watson considers this incredible is the way he has conditioned himself to think. This holds true for all other evolutionists. In the Qur'an, such people are referred to as follows:
They repudiated them wrongly and haughtily, in spite of their own certainty about them. See the final fate of the corrupters. (Surat an-Naml: 14)
Among the reasons for rejecting truth are vanity and arrogance, which are forms of 'ananiyyah'(self-conceit). The term 'ananiyyah' is derived from the word 'ana' which means 'I'. Someone's seeing himself and all the beings around him as independent from Allah, and his orienting all his manners and approach to this point of view is self-conceit. When someone sees himself as independent of Allah, he will think all his qualities are his own. However, all that he is and all that he possesses belong to Allah. Allah can take them away as He wills. In a verse, the following answer is given to the person who took all his possessions as belonging to himself:
He said, 'I have only been given it because of knowledge I have.' Did he not know before him Allah had destroyed generations with far greater strength than his and far more possessions? The evildoers are not called (immediately) to account for their sins. (Surat al-Qasas: 78)
Self-conceit prevents one from seeing clearly. A self-conceited person thinks that he does everything by his own power. He does not think of his weakness and that he needs Allah. Since he sees himself as a being independent of Allah, he does not feel a sense of accountability to anyone else, and this causes arrogance to grow.
This arrogance prevents him from accepting what his conscience knows to be true. His accepting Allah's existence would also mean accepting the dominance of a more superior being than himself, submitting to him and being His slave. By doing so, he will have confirmed that nothing is from himself and that he needs Allah's help in everything.
We have talked thus far about the dangers that can be present in everyone's self. It would be a great mistake for someone to think of the examples given here as if belonging to a third person, and not to take them upon himself. For instance, it is a great mistake to suppose that rejection in spite of the conscience being convinced is a quality peculiar to evolutionists. The evolutionists' disregard of science in order not to accept creation is only one type of self-conceit. There are other people who do not follow Allah's commands although they say that they accept His existence. They may think that their own thoughts and judgements are more correct for their particular situations than the guidance Allah sent to all people for all times. This is a different side of self-conceit. Self-conceit may reveal itself more openly in some people, and more covertly in others. Be it big or small, the same logic underlies it; the inability to grasp the power of Allah, His glory and our dependence on Him.
Those who do not follow their conscience because of their weak will
The number of weak-willed people in society is quite high. Since they do not think deeply and do not feel the need to use their reason, these weak people aim solely to meet the needs, pleasures and passions of the moment. Very few people exercise their capacity for deep thought or attempt to develop their characters. To display the good manners prescribed by the deen, and to live in accordance with Allah's good pleasure requires a serious effort of will.
One must always think, 'How can I do better?' 'How can I be more humble, more forbearing, more affectionate, more concerned, more solicitous, to the believers?' 'What more can I do to explain Allah's religion to the people, to summon them to good behaviour, sincerity and honesty?' 'How can I avert them from their astray beliefs and actions?' 'How can I draw near to Allah?' Just thinking about these questions is surely not enough. What is important is one's exerting the effort of will to practise these things constantly.
Someone who only worries about his own comfort, who never makes sacrifices and who does not take an interest in the condition of the people around him, will never make the effort necessary to practise what his conscience dictates. Such weak-willed people find it too difficult to make a real effort to live by Islam, so they ignore it or postpone it indefinitely. In the Qur'an, Allah states that a serious effort is favoured:
But as for anyone who desires the hereafter, and strives for it with the striving it deserves, being a believer, the striving of such people will be gratefully acknowledged. (Surat al-Isra': 19)
Those who do not follow their conscience because they are not steadfast
Following the conscience requires a profound steadfastness. Someone who has not firmly decided to follow his conscience in all circumstances may be discouraged after a few trials thinking that his interests were harmed because he made sacrifices, and he could not get the results he wanted and thought he deserved. Following his conscience therefore becomes difficult for him and he gives up.
Following the conscience will certainly involve sacrifices. For instance, it is by virtue of his conscience that a man who is hungry and in need does not steal, but takes recourse to legitimate ways to satisfy his need, even though this may be more difficult. Under these seemingly difficult circumstances, it may at first be considered a hindrance never to do something of which Allah would not approve. However, a conscientious person acts for his eternal benefit in the hereafter, rather than the benefit of a few days, and behaves as Allah would approve.
It is important to understand that conscientious behaviour must be carried out purely for the sake of Allah. If someone does what he considers to be conscientious acts with the expectation of compensation from people, he will be often disappointed. On the contrary, a conscientious act performed with the expectation of a reward from Allah, brings an absolute gain to the person. In the Qur'an, this exemplary character of a believer is described:
They give good, despite their love for it, to the poor and orphans and captives: 'We feed you only out of desire for the Face of Allah. We do not want any repayment from you or any thanks. Truly we fear from our Lord a glowering, calamitous Day.' (Surat al-Insan: 8-10)
Living Islam inevitably requires some sacrifices. Since such sacrifices are not common in societies which have no fear of Allah, constant misery and distress prevail. On the other hand, those who follow their conscience by displaying strict resoluteness with fear of Allah constitute extremely safe, peaceful societies. Moreover, this is only the compensation they get in this world. Allah gives the good tidings of eternal beauties in the hereafter to those who make sacrifices despite the passions in their selves:
So Allah has safeguarded them from the evil of that Day and has made them meet with radiance and pure joy, and will reward them for their steadfastness with a Garden and with silk. Reclining in it on couches, they will experience there neither burning sun nor bitter cold. Its shading branches will droop down over them, its ripe fruit hanging ready to be picked. Vessels of silver and goblets of pure crystal will be passed round among them, crystalline silver – they have measured them very exactly. They will be given there a cup to drink mixed with the warmth of ginger. In it there is a flowing spring called Salsabil. Ageless youths will circulate among them, serving them. Seeing them, you would think them scattered pearls. Seeing them, you see delight and a great kingdom. They will wear green garments of fine silk and rich brocade. They will be adorned with silver bracelets. And their Lord will give them a pure draught to drink. 'This is your reward. Your striving is fully acknowledged!' (Surat al-Insan: 11-22)
It should not be forgotten that Allah promises to help His slaves who show steadfastness for His pleasure, and that He will pave their way to ease. In a verse, He states:
As for he who gives out and has taqwa and confirms the good, We will pave his way to ease. (Surat al-Layl: 5-7)
In the Qur'an, Allah refers to steadfastness as a good manner that He favours. An important trait of the young believers recounted in Surat al-Kahf is Allah's having 'fortified their hearts' (Surat al-Kahf: 14). In another verse, it is remarked that Allah 'made them (His Messenger and the believers) stick close to the expression of taqwa'. Also in other verses, it is commanded to display steadfastness in living the deen. In a verse it is said:
He is the Lord of the heavens and the earth and everything in between them, so worship Him and persevere in His worship. Do you know of any other with His Name? (Surah Maryam: 65)
Those who do not follow their conscience because they think they are self-sufficient
One of the most important factors that people use to inactivate their conscience is their seeing themselves self-sufficient in everything. For instance, when asked about their observance of Islam, most people would say that it is enough not to harm anyone and to try to be a good person. However, this is pure self-deception. What is important is to be a slave to Allah and to live as He wishes. Unless man does this, everything else he does is meaningless and harmful. Allah says in the Qur'an:
And what of him the evil of whose actions appears fine to him so that he sees them as good? Allah misguides whoever He wills and guides whoever He wills. (Surah Fatir: 8)
What makes someone see his actions as good and attractive is the belief that his own judgement is flawless. Those who consider themselves to be kind-hearted and generous in the sight of Allah are such people. The truth is in fact quite different from what they assume. In a verse it is stated that one's seeing himself self-sufficient is the greatest reason for his deviation from the truth:
No indeed! Truly man is unbridled seeing himself as self-sufficient. (Surat al-'Alaq: 6-7)
The linguistic meaning of the word 'mustaghni' (self-sufficient) is 'without need, satisfied'. Its meaning as referred to in the Qur'an is someone's seeing his nearness to Allah, his fear of Allah and the hereafter, his good actions and his piety as sufficient and therefore not striving for the better. Most people deviate from Allah's way for this reason.
Although people see themselves as self-sufficient, they actually know in their conscience how incomplete they are, and what they fail to do to please Allah. This is why they avoid talking about subjects such as death, doomsday and the hereafter. When one raises the subject, they try to close it because it is 'depressing'. The reason they become depressed is because they are resisting their conscience, and dwelling on the subject causes them to feel restless inside.
It is not possible for someone who listens to his conscience to feel self-sufficient. On the contrary, he looks for the better and tries to do the better in everything. For man's conscience always reminds him of the Day of Account. Someone who knows that he will give account to Allah about the life of this world will never see his deeds sufficient. He practises what he is commanded by his Creator with great attention. In the Qur'an, those who seriously strive for the good pleasure of Allah and the hereafter are referred to as follows:
As for anyone who desires this fleeting existence, We hasten in it whatever We will to whoever We want. Then We will consign him to Hell where he will roast, reviled and driven out. But as for one who desires the hereafter, and strives for it with the striving it deserves, being a believer, the striving of such people will be gratefully acknowledged. (Surat al-Isra': 18-19)
No doubt, as we have stated before, striving for Allah's way with the striving it deserves, is only possible by following the conscience. In the understanding of the ignorant, it is enough to display an 'average' character in accordance with the general trend in society. Many people think that they are sufficiently devout so long as they do not commit such crimes as murder, rape or theft. They do not think that there are hundreds of good actions and rites of worship that they postpone or disregard completely. Although it is forbidden, they gossip, they do not keep regular prayers, they do not try to improve their moral conduct and they do not thank their Lord for the favours He has bestowed upon them. They act unjustly when it suits their purposes, and lie to cover up their guilt. Their seeing themselves self-sufficient and not fearing the account in the hereafter is a sign of their ignorance and short-sightedness.
The prophets and the believers exemplified in the Qur'an provide the best examples of the highest levels of conscientiousness. Prophet Yusuf, for instance, prayed to Allah to 'take him as a Muslim at his death and join him to the righteous' (Surah Yusuf: 101). Even though he was Allah's chosen prophet, he referred to the hereafter with fear and hope. Ignorant people talk as if they are sure that they will go to paradise. If they continue to grow in blind arrogance, they are in danger of meeting an awful doom:
…lest anyone should say, 'Alas for me for neglecting what Allah was due, and being one of the scoffers!' or lest they should say, 'If only Allah had guided me, I would have had taqwa, or lest he should say, when he sees the punishment, 'If only I could have another chance so that I could be a good-doer' 'No, the fact is that My Signs came to you but you denied them and were arrogant and were one of the disbelievers. On the Day of Rising you will see those who lied against Allah with their faces blackened. Do not the arrogant have a dwelling place in Hell?' (Surat az-Zumar: 56-60)
The excuses put forward for not following the conscience
In fact, man will be clear proof against himself in spite of any excuses he might offer. (Surat al-Qiyama: 14-15)
Every person knows without doubt the right within his conscience; nevertheless, he continuously puts forward excuses for not practising these righteous acts. For this reason, he is always in a state of unease. Indeed, it is an intolerable burden for a person's conscience to commit evil acts while knowing that they are wrong. The shaytan, however, makes their deeds fair-seeming and shows them many ways to block their ears to the truthful voice inside them. While it is possible to lead an easy life in mind and soul by exercising the right, these people choose the difficult way by covering their conscience.
While following the footsteps of the shaytan, they claim that they are on the right way, and put forward various excuses for behaving contrary to Islam. Some of the excuses are as follows:
'It's what's in your heart that matters.'
Many people have developed a form of defence mechanism; their conscience knows what is right, while the self draws them to the wrong side. When they hesitate in deciding whether to commit a wrongful act, the self immediately cuts in and puts forward various excuses. By listening to the self, the person feels relieved and convinces himself that he does not need to calculate so painstakingly: what he is doing is very trivial; nothing will come of it; his heart is so pure that it will not be affected and he will remain a good man, so long as he does not do anything 'serious' like murder or theft.
This is the reason why the majority of people easily lie, gossip, and make fun of others. Telling lies about a subject completely conflicts with one's conscience. However, people suppress the voice within themselves that bids righteousness, and they convince their conscience that these are 'innocent lies' and nothing will come of them. Despite neither performing the rites of worship, nor following the code of good manners and behaviour prescribed by Islam, they believe themselves to be very good and righteous people. This approach is both insincere and false.
Unless the person follows his conscience, it is impossible for him to hope for a good recompense in the hereafter. With the mentality of 'I have a pure heart' he may be recognised as a 'good man' in this world, but he may meet an unexpected repayment in the hereafter. Islam does not only command people not to commit murder, robbery, etc. There are many other good acts that have to be practised and bad ones that have to be avoided. Most important of all, Islam commands man to be a slave only to Allah and to live for Him. In the Qur'an, Allah defines the real 'good people':
It is not devoutness to turn your faces to the east or to the west. Rather, those with true devoutness are those who believe in Allah and the Last Day, the Angels, the Book and the Prophets, and who, despite their love for it, give away their wealth to their relatives and to orphans and the very poor, and to travellers and beggars and to set slaves free, and who establish regular prayers and pay regular charity; those who honour their contracts when they make them, and are steadfast in poverty and illness and in battle. Those are the people who are true. They are the people who have taqwa. (Surat al-Baqara: 177)
Instead of comparing themselves to the prophets or the real 'good people' depicted above, and trying to improve themselves, many people compare themselves to the evil oppressors throughout history, saying: 'I am not as bad as them, so I do not deserve the same penalty.' The cause of this lies in their ignorance – in their not knowing Allah and the hereafter. Allah has created hell in degrees. Therefore, everyone will be repaid in accordance with what he or she did. It is also a fact that even the highest storey of hell is a source of unbearable torment, which will continue for eternity.
Therefore, those who say 'nothing will come of this' or 'it's what's in my heart and not what I do that matters' should think again about hell, reconsider their decisions and listen to what their conscience tells them.
'The Qur'an does not mention it.'
There is a serious misconception prevalent among people to the effect that if a certain act is not specifically mentioned in the Qur'an, then it is all right to perform or neglect it at will. However, not performing something which is considered as right by the conscience because it is not mentioned in the Qur'an, is nothing but hypocrisy. The Qur'an provides us with all the basic knowledge to carry out the deen and gain Allah's good pleasure. Furthermore, the Qur'an commands us to follow the example of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW). A wise and conscientious person will sincerely try to live his life according to this guidance.
For instance, in the Qur'an, Allah commands the believers not to waste time with vain pursuits:
When they hear worthless talk they turn away from it and say, 'We have our actions and you have your actions. Peace be upon you. We do not desire the company of the ignorant.' (Surat al-Qasas: 55)
Those (the believers) who turn away from worthless talk; (Surat al-Muminun: 3)
Even though the Qur'an may not specify exactly what pursuits are considered worthless, Allah has given conscience and wisdom to His sincere slaves to find out what vain things are and avoid them. Every person is individually responsible for this. When in the company of people with limited knowledge of the deen, a conscientious person will not begin a mundane conversation, pushing aside such subjects as the glory of Allah and the beauty of Islam. His conscience will definitely bid him to converse with them in a way most beneficial for their hereafter and his own. A Muslim should never do anything he believes to be useless for his hereafter, such as reading useless magazines, watching pointless programmes, or being drawn away from the remembrance of Allah by idle talk.
During the day, one may frequently meet different alternatives between which one may have to make a choice. In such optional situations, the person decides with his conscience which is the most correct. Someone who does not follow his conscience may think it beneficial to act with the logic of 'this act is not forbidden in the Qur'an.' Such people, however, should know that unless they act upon what would please Allah most by listening to their conscience and emulating the Messenger (SAW), they may face a terrible fate in the hereafter. More importantly, these people will not be able to put forward the excuses they take refuge in here while giving account on the Day of Judgement. As stated in the verse, that day it will be said to every man:
'Read your Book! Today your own self is reckoner enough against you!' (Surat al-Isra': 14)
They will say, 'Our Lord, twice You caused us to die and twice you gave us life. We admit our wrong actions. Is there no way out?' That is because when Allah alone is called upon, you disbelieve, but if others are associated with Him, you believe. Judgement belongs to Allah, the All-High, the All-Great. (Surah Ghafir: 11-12)
It all but bursts with rage. Each time a group is flung into it its custodians will question them: 'Did no warner come to you?' They will say, 'Yes, indeed, a warner did come to us but we denied him and said, "Allah has sent nothing down. You are just greatly misguided."' They will say, 'If only we had really listened and used our intellect, we would not have been Companions of the Blaze.' Then they will acknowledge their wrong actions. Away with the Companions of the Blaze! (Surat al-Mulk: 8-11)
'Everyone else does it.'
Following the majority is one of the greatest mistakes in life. In almost everyone's subconscious lies a belief that what the majority does is right.
However, the majority may happen to have a very superficial and distorted understanding of Islam. They may say that they believe in Allah and the hereafter but they do not reflect on the meaning of it. They respect religious values 'in their own understanding', but they express their respect not practically but verbally. They think that most of the commands of Islam were binding for the past times, but cannot be binding for today. According to this understanding, as we have mentioned before, someone's having a 'pure heart', and not harming anyone is enough for him to be 'religious', and the rites of worship can be postponed until old age.
Everyone around a person may have such a distorted understanding, so it would be nothing but self-deception to adopt it and not to think with the conscience. There is no evidence that the majority always holds the right view and makes the right decision. Contrarily, Allah states in the Qur'an:
If you obeyed most of those on earth, they would misguide you from Allah's Way. They follow nothing but conjecture. They are only guessing. (Surat al-An'am: 116)
Therefore, the only guideline for a person in the way he lives and practises the Qur'an, must be the conscience. Someone who acts upon the direction of his conscience never pays attention to what the majority says or does. Even if it means staying alone, he continues to listen to the voice of his conscience and follow the book of Allah.
The psychology of 'following the majority' represents a danger for everyone. Once someone has decided to practise what his conscience dictates, the attitude and viewpoint of those around him should never affect him or sway him from his purpose. Each and every one of us is responsible for practising what conscience and the Qur'an dictate. It should not be forgotten that Allah tests His slaves. Another person trying to convince us to give up a right decision we have taken may well be a close friend whom Allah has made us encounter to test our resolve. In the hereafter, however, people will say the following about such friends:
Alas for me! If only I had not taken so-and-so for a friend! He led me astray from the Reminder after it came to me. The shaytan always leaves man in the lurch. (Surat al-Furqan: 28-29)
'I'll do it in the future.'
For many people, the rites of worship such as going on Hajj and offering regular Salah (prayers) are postponed to old age. This is because, either consciously or subconsciously, they think that by devoting themselves to the Islamic way of life they will be deprived of all worldly pleasures. However, Allah states in many verses of the Qur'an that He offers favours to believers both in this world and the hereafter:
… There are some people who say, 'Our Lord, give us good in the world.' They will have no share in the hereafter. And there are others who say, 'Our Lord, give us good in the world, and good in the hereafter, and safeguard us from the punishment of the Fire.' They will have a good share from what they have earned. Allah is swift at reckoning. (Surat al-Baqara: 200-202)
In order for someone to fully appreciate the favours of Allah, he has to have peace in his heart. Someone whose heart is restless will not be able to take pleasure in or even recognise the countless blessings of Allah which he is surrounded with. People who say 'I'll do it in the future,' actually know the right guidance and know that if they start to follow what their conscience orders, they will have to rearrange their whole lives accordingly. They know that when they start performing Salah regularly, the voice of their conscience will start to weigh more heavily and they will start to feel ashamed of the evil acts they commit. In the verse, it is said that prayers guide people to the right:
Recite what has been revealed to you of the Book and establish regular prayers. Regular prayers preclude indecency and wrongdoing. And remembrance of Allah is greater still. Allah knows what you do. (Surat al-'Ankabut: 45)
Because people understand this, they try to escape the conscience-related responsibilities brought about by the rites of worship by finding excuses; 'When I get married, when I've made more money, when my children grow up,' etc. However, on the day of account Allah will make man face the things he put off:
That day the only resting place will be your Lord. That day man will be told what he did and failed to do. (Surat al-Qiyama: 12-13)
'Putting off' is a trait peculiar to those people who do not think of death and how close it is. We do not know when, where or how we will die. We all know that death does not only come to the old. Many people of all ages die from various causes, many of them sudden and unexpected. While reading this book in the privacy of your own home, you may feel very safe and secure; but a fall down the stairs, an accident in the house or a heart attack could cause your death at any moment.
In light of this knowledge, how is it possible to so freely put off what one's conscience commands? Allah states that every man seeing the angel of death will feel a great remorse for the things he put off and he will say, 'I wish I had done such and such'. This is an inconsolable remorse with no chance of return.
The day when a wrongdoer will bite his hands and say, 'Alas for me! If only I had gone the way of the Messenger! Alas for me! If only I had not taken so-and-so for a friend! He led me astray from the Reminder after it came to me.'… (Surat al-Furqan: 27-29)
That Allah does not punish evil acts immediately, also deceives people into thinking they will have lots of time to make atonement for what they have done or failed to do. If Allah punished every evil act at the very moment it was committed, no one would ever do wrong again. However, the penalty being deferred is a test to reveal who will follow righteousness, who will repent and reform, and who will continue in wrong-doing. Allah's giving us this chance to make amends in this life is a representation of His eternal mercy. In a verse it is said:
If Allah were to take mankind to task for what they have earned, He would not leave a single creature crawling on it, but He is deferring them until a specified time. Then, when their time comes, Allah sees His slaves! (Surah Fatir: 45)
People should not be deceived by the fact that Allah does not repay evil acts immediately, because it is a certainty that they will be thoroughly repaid in the hereafter. Allah says:
… and say to themselves 'Why does Allah not punish us for what we say?' Hell will be enough for them! They will roast in it. What an evil destination. (Surat al-Mujadila: 8)
People who avoid thinking about the hereafter may try to soothe their conscience with various excuses and lies, but no excuse will be acceptable on the day of account. Lying to oneself may bring temporary peace, and help one escape reality, but only for a short time. There is, however, one thing they forget, which is stated in the Qur'an:
Those who have been given knowledge and belief will say, 'You tarried in accordance with Allah's Decree until the day of rising. And this is the day of rising, but you did not know it? On that day the excuses of those who did wrong will not help them, nor will they be able to appease Allah. (Surat ar-Rum: 56-57)
The end of those who silence their conscience with various excuses is stated as follows:
The day when the excuses of the wrondoers will not help them. The curse will be on them and they will have the most evil Home. (Surah Ghafir: 52)