Reflection No. 98 on Q 17:7 – Freedom of Choice

إِنْ أَحْسَنتُمْ أَحْسَنتُمْ لأَنفُسِكُمْ وَإِنْ أَسَأْتُمْ فَلَهَا

In ahsantum ahsantum li-anfusikum, wa-in asa’tum falahaa

If you do good, you do good for your own souls, and if you do evil, it is for them [the souls]
Suratul Israa (No. 17), verse 7

This verse is an address to the Bani Israel, but is a statement that reflects an integral principle in the system that Allah has created. Whatever action the human being does, the effect comes back to the doer himself. Both good and bad actions have effects and consequences. Although we might assume that our actions are sent outwardly, that our words and deeds target other people, in reality they bounce back to affect us in many different ways.

Tafsir of this verse mentions some interesting points. Note that the verse reflects the freedom of human beings to choose their actions. They have the liberty to decide if they will do good, or evil. This freedom of choice brings responsibility and accountability. Also note that good actions are mentioned before evil actions. The positive is always brought forth first.

How do our actions affect ourselves, when they are often targeted at others? To answer this, think about the following results of good actions;
– Our actions please or displease Allah, and that makes a huge impact on our relationship with Allah.
– the emotional state of the human being is affected by the positive actions s/ he performs. When we do good to others, it makes us feel happier, more fulfilled, etc.
– positive actions create love and harmony etc., which make life pleasant and joyful.
– people respond well to good, and will often return good with good. Thus the doer of good will also receive good from others.
– doing good increases the scale of good deeds in preparation for the life to come, and that is what matters most for the human being. To prepare baggage for the life hereafter is really the purpose of life in this world.

These and other results of doing good reflect the principle outlined in the verse above. Negative actions have similar negative results. Thus it is important for us to realize that we favor no one but ourselves when we do good. As Imam Ali (a) says; A good deed that you do to any one, you have only ennobled yourself through it, and beautified your disposition, so do not expect gratitude from others for what you have done for yourself.