Quranic Reflection No. 543. Ayat 33:72 - The Trust Undertaken by Human Beings
إِنَّا عَرَضْنَا الْأَمَانَةَ عَلَى السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ وَالْجِبَالِ فَأَبَيْنَ أَنْ يَحْمِلْنَهَا وَأَشْفَقْنَ مِنْهَا وَحَمَلَهَا الْإِنْسَانُ إِنَّهُ كَانَ ظَلُومًا جَهُولًا
Innā ‘aradnal-amānata ‘alas-samāwāti wa-‘aal ardi wal-jibāli fa-abayna an yahmilnahā wa ahsfaqna minhā wa hamalahal-insānu, innahu kāna zalūman jahūlā.
Indeed We presented the Trust to the heavens and the earth and the mountains, but they refused to undertake it and were apprehensive of it; but man undertook it. Indeed, he is most unjust and ignorant.
(Surat Al-Ahzāb, No.33, Ayat 72
According to exegetes of the Holy Quran, the verse above describes the superiority of human beings. Allah ‘azza wajall ‘says in this verse that He offered the trust to the heavens and earth and mountains, but they all refused it. It was only the human being who accepted it. Before discussing what this ‘trust’ is, it is important to contextualize the refusal of the heavens and the earth and the mountains to accept this offer from Allah subhānahu wata‘ālā.
In their physical creation, the heavens, earth and mountains are far greater and superior than the human being. These creations are bigger, stronger, and live longer than human beings, a point mentioned in the Quran: Certainly, the creation of the heavens and the earth is greater than the creation of mankind, but most people do not know (Q 40:57). What distinguishes human beings from these other creations is the soul, and what is done with it. It is important to keep in mind that the refusal of the heavens, earth and mountains to accept this offering was not out of arrogance and pride, the way Iblīs refused to obey the command of Allah: And when We said to the angels, prostrate before Adam, they prostrated, but not Iblīs: he refused and acted arrogantly, and he was one of the faithless. (Q 2:34). Rather they shied away from this offer because they would not be able to fulfill and honor it. They had a fear and awe of the responsibility that came with it.
How exactly did the earth, heavens and mountains refuse this trust? Did they have the intelligence to understand the enormity of the responsibility and refuse to take it on? Or is it that they were just not capable of rising to it? According to Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shīrāzī, it means that their state was such that innately they could not take on that responsibility. They did not have the capability nor the potential for such a task. It was beyond their reach.
The trust that human beings accepted was to be the Wali – representative - of Allah on His earth. It was to take on the qualities of intelligence and free will and use them to be good servants of Allah. It meant to accept to have a form that would have different parts, each of which would be a trust from Allah. The eyes, ears, heart, etc. are all given by Allah to mankind to fulfill a purpose. All these qualities would equip mankind to know Allah and reflect His qualities. It would pave the path towards perfection. The earth, heavens, and mountains, like other creation have their own form of consciousness and perform glorification of Allah. But this is innate in them and is not done out of free will and choice, as human beings do. Thus, there is no perfection in it.
The responsibility of being Allah’s representative is wide-ranging; to obey the commands of Allah, to refrain from that which He has prohibited, to guide others to Him, to conduct oneself with the highest levels of morality and integrity etc. In other words, to be a beacon of light that is illuminated through the guidance of Allah, and that provides illumination to others. This illumination and guidance stems from accepting the authority of the Prophet (s) and his noble family, beginning with the wilāyah of Imam Ali (a). Imam Al-Sādiq ‘alayhis-salām was asked about this trust to which he replied: It refers to the leadership with Divine authority of Amir al-Mu’minīn (a). (Al-Kāfī, v. 1 p. 413).
It is the acceptance of this trust, and the subsequent fulfillment of the responsibilities
that originate from it, that allow human beings to attain the highest levels of perfection and closeness to Allah. But because human beings do not realize the value of this trust and fail to comprehend the status, they can attain with Allah through its
fulfillment, Allah ends the verse by saying: Indeed, he is unjust and ignorant. Mankind is not ignorant because they accepted the trust that the heavens, earth, and mountains refused. Rather they are ignorant because they fail to realize that their success is linked to this trust. This ignorance is an injustice to themselves. We pray to Allah that He may grant us the ability to fulfill this trust so that we can attain success and closeness to Him.
Source: Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shīrāzī, Al-Amthal fí Tafsír Kitáb Alláh al- Munzal.