You are on page 1of 8


Farrah Diebaa Rashid Ali Universiti Teknologi MARA Pahang ABSTRACT
Everyman is a play written by anonymous Dutch rhetorician during medieval English. This play highlighted the journey that one has to face when death approaches. As this play was written in a Christian-dominant western society, much of its arguments coincide with the teaching and belief of the Christian. In this paper, the author tried to unlock the keys that concealed the similarities shared by Christianity and Islam. Among the six keys discussed in this paper are:- (1) Concept of death, (2) Gods judgment, (3) indebtedness, (4) knowledge, (5) repentance and (6) nature of man. From the above discussion, it can be concluded that regardless of ones religion and culture Everyman is indeed representing everyman in this world.

Keywords: Morality literature, comparative religion, belief and ethics.

1.0 Introduction
Everyman is the only play from English medieval time which has survived in written form. It has been translated from Dutch into English and has been part of European theatrical tradition ever since. It is the most celebrated morality play written by anonymous Dutch Rederijikers (rhetorician) which was encouraged and supported by the chambers of rhetoric a group interested in instilling morality, piety, and culture in their communities through drama. This play highlights the journey that everyman in this world shall undertake. It reminds everyman of what will happen if he does not repent or confess his sins and the consequences of lack of good deeds (Coldeway and Streitberger, 2001). As the aim of this paper is to look at Everyman from an Islamic perspective, it is important to identify the messages the play is trying to put forward. Thematically, this play is about death and how man should behave in this world from the point of view of Christianity and it is very much alike to what the Muslims believe. Therefore, differences that might exist between the two were neither highlighted nor discussed. In order for man to be able to see the similarities between the Muslim and Christians concept of life and death as forwarded in this play, he should first be able to differentiate between a reliable and a non-reliable source of knowledge. He should accept that Al-Quran is a book of Allah, and Prophet Muhammad never lied in his saying. Nevertheless, Al Quran and Sunnah are not the ultimate source of knowledge and truth, as Al-Nasafi says the causes for knowledge for created beings are three: the sound senses, true report and reason. The senses are five: hearing, sight, smell, taste and touch; by each sense, information is given about (the class of objects) for which it is appointed. (Al-Nasafi, trasn 1994).

Everyman Bridging the

One of the easiest ways to obtain knowledge through senses is by reading. However, the process does not end with reading only; one should be able to react either positively or negatively to the newly acquired knowledge. And it is really important that the first part of this process should not be omitted, as one should first read and understand the content of the books before jumping into any conclusion. However, in today society, most people pretend to be a scholar by forwarding comment and openly criticize others however without first knowing the truth which is written in those books. Unfortunately, many Muslim are one of them. It is distressing to note that because of their lack of interest in acquiring varieties of knowledge, these people are unable to see the similarities between concepts or ideas. They are overwhelmed with the differences as there are easier to be identified. Even though, these differences what made man a unique individual, most of the time it causes disunity, hatred, and misunderstanding between men. Therefore, this paper will focus on the similarities instead of the differences between the Islamic and Christian concepts of life and death as has been forwarded in the play. However, in choosing from a vast selection of knowledge, Muslim particularly should be able to choose which knowledge should be first learnt prior to another; and this is known as priority of knowledge. Priority of knowledge means that one should first learn and understand the Islamic fundamental knowledge or what is known as Fard Ayn. Nevertheless, Fard Kifayah is a must, and the whole society is answerable to Allah if none of the members of the society possessed such knowledge. Even so, Muslim should not use this priority of knowledge as escapism for not learning other knowledge outside the Islamic umbrella. Muslim should constantly remember that all knowledge come from Allah and it is the responsibilities of all individuals to acquire it and act accordingly in response to it; practice the good things and avoid the negative acts. And ones decision of what is right or wrong should be based on Quran and Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h). The later parts of this paper will further discussed on the concept of life and death as forwarded in the play from an Islamic perspective. These concepts will be discussed under six sub heading which are; concept of death in Islam, Allahs judgment is based on how one spends their life, concept of indebtedness in Islam, concept of knowledge, concept of repentance and the forgetfulness nature of man.

2.0 Concept of Death in Islam

This play is about the journey led by Everyman in searching for accompany who is willing to come with him either to heaven or hell. It emphasizes on two characteristics of death which are unexpectedness and inevitability (it will happen to every one). However, the word unexpectedness here does not mean that man does not know at all that one day he will die and all his deeds will be judged by God. Man does know that one day he will return to the first stage of creation which is nothingness. As in this play, the messenger has made an opening remark by saying The story saith: Man in the beginning Look well, and take good heed to the ending, Be you never so gay! (Coldeway and Streitberger, 2001) which indicates that man has been informed that one day he will die but he has not been given a specific time for it. It is very much alike in Islam, as all Muslims know that one day we will return to our creator, however Allah has not prescribed us with the specific time and place, when and where its going to happen (this will be further discussed under subheading 5.0 Concept of Knowledge). These

Everyman Bridging the

two characteristics of death; the unexpectedness and inevitability have also been highlighted in Islam, for instance in surah Al-Imran, verse 185 Allah said: Every soul shall have a taste of death (Al-Imran: 185) Verily it is We Who give Life and Death; and to Us is the Final Goal. (Al-Qaf: 43) According to Hassan Ayub in his book Islamic Belief, every living things including man will die at their appointed time as Allah says: Say: I have no power over any harm or profit to myself except as God willeth. To every people is a term appointed: when their term is reached , not an hour can they cause delay, nor (an hour) can they advance (it in anticipation). (Yunus: 49)

3.0 Allah judgment is based on how one spends their life

In the play, only Good Deed is accepted by God to accompanied Everyman as good deed what made a person. Others; friends, relatives, wealth, physical characteristics, knowledge and five wits were not counted. The argument for this, one may have pious friends and relatives, however it does not confirmed that he is pious too. He may be good looking, but it has nothing to do with the number of good deeds he did while living. He may have knowledge, however, he did not practice the good one but the bad one instead. From the play also, we understand that it is Good Deeds who recorded Everymans deeds as Good Deeds says Your book of accounts full ready had be. In Islam, Allah has appointed two angels to record both good and bad deeds of man. This is from surah Al-Qaf verse 17 and 21, and Surah Al-Infitar verse ten until fourteen. Behold, two (guardian angels) appointed to learn (his doings) learn (and noted them), one sitting on the right and one on the left (Al-Qaf: 17) And there will come forth every soul : with each will be an (angel) to drive, and an (angel) to bear witness. ( Al-Qaf: 21) But verily over you (are appointed angels) to protect you, - Kind and honorable writing down (your deeds): they know (and understand) all that ye do. As for the Righteous, they will be in Bliss; And the Wicked they will be in the Fire, ( Al-Infitar: 10-14) In Islam, when a Muslim died he will be separated from everything except three things which are prayers from his faithful children, knowledge which has been practiced for the benefit of oneself and others and wealth which has been spend for the sake of Allah. Every deed shall be evaluated and counted by Allah as in Surah Al-Zalzalah verses seven and eight: Then shall anyone who has done an atoms weight of good, see it! And anyone who has done an atoms weight of evil, shall see it (Al-Zalzalah: 7-8)

Everyman Bridging the

Later, in surah Al-Qariah Allah mentions that one whose has done more good deeds than bad deeds will enter the paradise and those who has associated himself with evil deeds will enter the hell. And this is in agreement with the play, as Everyman was first subjected to hell for his bad deeds, however, he was later accepted in the heaven after he has done his confession. Then, he whose balance (of good deeds) will be (found) heavy, Will be in a Life of good pleasure and satisfaction. But he whose balance (of good deeds) will be (found) light,- will have his home in a (bottomless) Pit. And what will explain to thee what this is? (It is) a Fire blazing freely. ( Al-Qariah: 6-11) Allah in His book has given us the picture of heaven and hell, for instance in surah Muhammad, verse 15; (Here is) a Parable of the Garden which the righteous are promised: in it are rivers of water incorruptible; rivers of milk of which the taste never changes; river of wine, a joy to those who drink; and rivers of honey pure and clear. In it there are for them all kinds of fruits; and Grace from their Lord. (Can those in such Bliss) be compared to such as shall dwell for ever in the fire, and be given, to drink, boiling water, so that it cuts up their bowels (to pieces)? ( Muhammad: 15)

4.0 The concept of indebtedness in Islam Good Deed is the most important character in this play as he is the one who directed
Everyman to confession and knowledge which enable Everyman to free himself from sins. In addition, Good Deed is the only one who is willing to accompanied Everyman in his journey of death. The reason why Good Deed has been given a lot of attention in this play is because the Christians believe that God owns everything on earth including mans life. As the Christians believe that human was born with the sins of forefather, it is their duty to perform good deeds in order to pay back their debt to god and in order to free themselves from the sins of forefather. And this is quite similar to the concept of indebtedness forwarded by Syed Naquib Al-Attas except the part that Muslims are not born with the sins of his forefather. In Islam, it is important to highlight the relationship between the understanding of the concept of indebtedness and performing good deeds. In surah Mukminun verses 12 until 14, Allah mentions the stages of human creation; starting from clay molded into shapes, drop of sperms, changes into zygote, than it grows up and become a fetus. Out of this fetus, Allah has developed bones and clothed the bones with flesh. Finally, Allah completed it by determined it to be male or female. Clearly from this verse, we are convinced that we owed Allah for our existence Whom has created us in the best way ( A-Tin: 4). In Surah Al-Araf, verse 172 ; all human being has affirmed to Allah that He is our Lord who cherishes and sustains us. During alam al-ruh, there are five things which have been appointed by Allah for us which are our life, our sustenance, our tomb, our marriage, and our happiness or misery. And these are added to the list of things that we are indebted to Allah.

Everyman Bridging the

Once, we are aware that we are indebt to Allah, and we own nothing to pay Allah. It is our duty to perform ibadah; both specific and sunnah in order to pay our debt as ibadah is the purpose of our creation. Allah said: I have only created Jinns and men, that they may serve me ( 51:56) Our performance of ibadah and realization of being indebted to Allah will prohibit us from vices and will promote virtues in our daily life.

5.0 Concept of knowledge

In this play, Knowledge plays an important part as he led and accompanied Everyman meeting Confession at the House of Salvation. In the Islamic reference, knowledge means marifah which derived from the root arafa which means to know. Al-Jurjani in his book Al-Marifat has defined Marifah as: Knowledge is the perception of something as it exist in the reality and before handed by ignorance

However, the word marifah is not mentioned in the Quran, but the root word arafa is mention in seventy one verses of the Quran among which are: They recognize the flavors of Gods; then they deny them; and most of them are (creatures) ungrateful (An-Nahl:83) Thou will see their eyes overflowing with tears for they recognize the truth (Al-Maidah:83) Based on these two verses, Al-Imam Al-Asfahani said that the Quranic definition of Maruf and knowledge is: The perception of something as exist in reading with contemplation thinking on its trace and consequences Knowledge in Islam is divided into two categories which are absolute and perfect knowledge and secondly, relative and limited knowledge or as Syed Muhammad Naquib Al-Attas named it as Gods knowledge and knowledge of man about God, religion, the world, things sensible and intelligible, spiritual knowledge and wisdom. The first category of knowledge which is the absolute and perfect knowledge or Gods knowledge has been forwarded in the play in the first scene where God tells Death that it is time for Everyman to return to Him. This type of knowledge refers to the knowledge of Allah who possessed knowledge of everything and His knowledge is absolute and perfect. On the other

Everyman Bridging the

hand, the knowledge of man or relative and limited knowledge has been clearly mentioned by Allah in surah Al-Baqarah verse 255: He knoweth what (appeareth to his creatures as) before or after or behind them. Nor shall they compass aught of His knowledge as He willeth(Al-Baqarah:255) It is clearly stated in the Quran that certain knowledge is limited to Allah only and it is unattainable by man. For example, the knowledge of time and place man will die; Verily the knowledge of the Hour is with God (alone). It is He who sends down rain, and He who knows what is in the wombs. Nor does any one know what it is that he will earn on the morrow. Nor does anyone know in what land he is to die (Luqman: 34) Therefore, this verse explains why Everyman has never expected that Death will approach him so soon as man does not possess such knowledge. Even though God has warned him at the beginning of his life that one day he will die and he should be prepared to face it.

6.0 Concept of repentance

In the play, Confession helps Everyman to free himself from sins and let his Good deeds to stand up and accompanied him through the journey of death. Even though, the concept of salvation and repentance in Islam are not in agreement with each other, it is clear that both Islam and Christianity has its own way for its followers and believers to free themselves from sins which they have committed intentionally or unintentionally. In the Quran, Allah said: And the Garden will be brought nigh to the Righteous, - no more a thing distant. ( A voice will say : ) This is what was promised for you, - for everyone who turned (to God) in sincere repentance, who kept (His Law). (Al-Qaf: 31-32) Again will God, after this, turn (in mercy) to whom He will: for God is Oftforgiving, Most Merciful. (Al - Taubah:27) This play emphasizes on the importance of confession / repentance. As long as we realized and admit our sins and faults and beg for Allah forgiveness sincerely, we will be forgiven. However, in order to be able to have the intention to repent, one must first realize that what he has done is wrong and sinful. In order to know this, one must be knowledgeable on what is right and wrong. Here is where the importance of knowledge comes in, just like in the play it is Knowledge who led Everyman to Confession.

7.0 Nature of man Forgetfulness

The purpose of Allah created man and appointed him as a khalifah on earth has been long forgotten by many people especially those who believes that the world belongs to them. According to Syed Muhammad Naquib Al-Attas (1985), Mans purpose is to do ibadah to God (51:56), and his duty is obedience (taah) to God, which conforms with his essential nature

Everyman Bridging the

(fitrah) created for him by God (q.v. 30:30). But man is also composed of forgetfulness (nisyan);. Indeed, man is called insan because, having covenanted with Him, he forgot (nasiya) (narration from Ibn. Abbas) Therefore, this play was initially written with the objective to remind everyman about their short life and duties. Drama was selected as a medium to remind people of what they have forgotten (Coldeway and Streitberger, 2001).It is similar to the concept of dawah or al-tadhkir (reminder) in Islam (Abdullah Muhammad Zin, 1991) as Prophet Muhammad said: He who sees indecency and has power to change it with the force of his hand, he must change it. But if he has not the power, he must do it by his tongue, and if he has not the power , he must deprise it in his heart, and this is the lowest stage of religious belief. (An-Nawawi, Riyad al-Salihin, hadith 189)

8.0 Conclusion
In discussing a piece of literature originated from the land where Christianity conquers, it does not mean that we as a Muslim should draw a definite conclusion that it is highly secular or unIslamic. The Muslim communities do not need another narrow minded person who refused to look at the similarities between the two bodies of knowledge by focusing only at the differences. The Muslim world needs Muslim who is objective; who is able to see both similarities and differences based on a complete understanding of a subject. It does not mean all that come from the west or other religions are bad. It is depend on how we interpret and give it an appropriate meaning based on Quran and Sunnah .

Abdullah Muhammad Zin (1991) Islamic Dawah (Mission) The Definition, Conception & Foundation. Kuala Lumpur: Pustaka Antara. Al-Nasafi, al-Aqaid al-Nasaffiyah in Islamic Creeds: A selection, trans. W. M. Watt. Edinburgh. Ayub, Hassan.( n.a ) Islamic Belief. Delhi: Hindustan Publication. Coldeway, John. C. and Streitberger W.R. (2001). Drama - Classical to Contemporary. New Jersey: Prentice Hall. Syed Muhammad Naquib Al-Attas (1985) Islam, Secularism and the Philosophy of the Future. New York: Mansell Publishing Limited. Fethi Jamaa Ahmed (2000) Class Notes for Basic Themes of Quran. IIUM Matriculation Centre.

Quranic References
The Holy Quran Text and Translation (Abdullah Yusuf Ali (1994), Kuala Lumpur: Islamic Book Trust. Al Quran dan Terjemahan (head by R.H.A Soenarjo S.H.(1971), Jakarta:

Everyman Bridging the

About the author

Farrah Diebaa Rashid Ali (Ms) received both her Master of Human Sciences (TESL) and Bachelor of English Language and Literature (Hons.) from International Islamic University Malaysia. She has been teaching proficiency English, MUET, and ESP for few years. Currently, she is working as a lecturer at the Academy of Language Studies, Universiti Teknologi MARA, Pahang. She has attended and presented in several international conferences. She co-authored several books among other; The Goblins of English Grammar published by McGraw Hill Education Asia (2009) and The Quranic and Historical Approaches to Inter-faith Discourse published by ABIM (2010). .