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The Primordial Human Nature and the Future of our World

People have long wondered and debated about human nature. There are some behaviors that arise naturally from the human being and others which arise solely due to the influence of the cultural environment. Some would argue that many of the good traits of human beings arise naturally, including moral traits like compassion and concern for others. It is generally believed between intellectuals and scholars that the mind of babies is a blank slate (Tabula Rasa) in infants from the time of birth [1a&b].

Human nature by definition includes the core characteristics (feelings, psychology, behaviors) shared universally by all people. We all have different experiencesof the humans in our life, and this is where the different views begin. Some people will tell humans are ‘good’ or ‘bad’, or ‘predators’ or ‘capable of great kindness.’ These views are colored by the influence of people we know and what our culture and subcultures tell us.

The group in which one is born into will pass on its particular ideas about what makes humans a ‘human.’ While talking about human nature, philosophers and scholars tend to talk of human nature based on major schools of thought from human history. In many beliefs scholars argue that spiritual or religious natures are the key trait in human nature. For example, Hinduism (the oldest religion)has the Brahman that is essentially the sacred, the spirit and the universe, while the Atman is the human soul, or the self. Buddhists think that to be human is to be aware (conscious) and to desire good for others.Confucianism is known for stressing that humannature is intrinsically good. It stresses that human beings are born with the ability for differentiating between wrong and right. Abrahamic (Judeo-Christian-Islamic) beliefs present humans as creations of God that have free will, which provides them both dignity and ethical risks. 

Beyond the East, in Western cultures, the discussions usually begin with Plato and Aristotle in classical Greece. Plato thought that humans were rational, social animals, and he connected human nature with our souls and the ability to reason rather than our bodies. Aristotle differed primarily in his belief that both body and soul contributed to our human identity. All these theories were not mutually exclusive, but have been built upon each other, adapted and reconciled over time.

Overall viewing of Eastern and Western philosophies, psychologies and belief systems having very similar universal virtues, goals and perfectibility efforts and ideas. It is certainly possible to reconcile the universal goals of human fitrah (nature) to arrive at the same destination of global peace and harmony for the world.

In the eleventh century, the theory of tabula rasa was developed clearly by a Persian philosopher and physician Ibn Sina (known as “Avicenna” in the Western world. In thetwelfth century, an Andalusian-Islamic philosopher, novelist and physician, Ibn Tufail, inspired by Avicenna, was the one who demonstrated the theory of tabula rasa as a thought experiment through his Arabic philosophical novel, Hayy ibn Yaqzan [2], in which he depicted the development of the mind of a feral child “from a tabula rasa to that of an adult (re) constructive mind, in complete isolation from society” on a desert island, through experience alone. The Latin translation of Ibn Tufail’s philosophical novel, entitled Philosophus Autodidactus, was published by Edward Pococke in 1671, that had influence on John Locke (1632–1704), the English philosopher who began formulating tabula rasa in An Essay published in 1690 Concerning Human Understanding. John Locke had been inspired by Ibn Tufail and argued that the human mind was essentially a blank slate at birth and that all knowledge was acquired through experience.

Later on Adam Smith (d. 1790 CE) argued that human sympathy had to be inherent.He wrote, “No matter how selfish you think man is, it’s obvious that there are some basic principles in his nature that give him an interest in the welfare of others.”  The writings of Avicenna, Ibn Tufail, and Aquinas on the tabula rasa theory thus stood un-progressed and untested over the centuries. Therefore, the modern idea of the theory was attributed mostly to John Locke’s expression of the idea in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding written in the 17th century. In Locke’s philosophy, tabula rasa was the theory that at birth the (human) mind is a “blank slate” without rules for processing data, and that data is added and rules for processing are formed solely by one’s sensory experiences. The notion became central to Lockean  empiricism.

Muslim and Global Perspective of Human Nature

Similar to the context of tabula rasa, human primordial nature [3a, 3b, 3c] being foundational to the child and human development, Muslim scholars and philosophers over the centuries earlier preceded and presented commentaries (based on Quran) with a vast, rigorous and systematic analysis of human nature (a spiritual instinct) Fitrah when defining it – as the primordial nature of all human beings.

Despite the fact that human beings live with so many different ideologies, religious faiths, belief systems, and world-views, this basic human instinct teaches that we are all born with the same inherent nature and that the labels are acquired through one’s upbringing, one’s culture, one’s society and one’s environment. These labels are human ways of recognizing their own “brand”. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) had famously said, “Every single child is born upon the fitrah, and then his parents may make him into a Jew or Christian or Muslim.”The fitrah means a tendency that naturally develops and shapes the way we see ourselves and the world – it does not mean being born with a set of facts in one’s head, as the Qur’an states, “And God brought you forth from the wombs of your mothers not knowing a thing, but He granted you hearing, seeing, and reasoning so perhaps you may show gratitude” (Qur’an Surah An-Nahal 16:78).

In the Quranic Verses of Surah Al-Insan 76:1-2-3,we are taught, “There was a time when human was non-existent and was not even mentioned”. And then, we learn,” Indeed, We created human from a sperm-drop mixture that we may test him; and we made him hearing and seeing.” And further, “Indeed, We guided him to the way, be he grateful or be he ungrateful.” Other Verses in Al-Muminun 23:12−14 further clarify, “Verily, We have created the human from a quintessence (heavenly touch) of clay; we then placed him as a drop in a fixed resting place. We then made the drop into a clot and that into a fetus. We then made bones and clothed the bones with flesh and from that brought forth another creation. Therefore, blessed is God, the very best who created us.” Our Creator has provided us instinct and insights about His creation of us as humans of yet another and higher level creation stated in VerseSAD 38:72, So when I have proportioned him and breathed into him of My own (created Ruh), then bow down to him in prostration”. The Creator then ordained us humans to connect with Him for the purpose of attaining the highest spiritual level and perfection (ihsan). This status can only be achieved through completion when every individual gets an opportunity to be brought up and develops constructively through best of parenting and knowledge based on scriptural (Quranic) guidance positively utilizing the breathed in Ruh and the instilled original human spiritual instinct (nature), the fitrah to accomplish human transcendence. Quran repeatedly defines human creation and its stature. We will continue here with Surah At-Tin followed by several other verses pertaining to the components of human holistic life as it operates at multiple levels including: natural disposition, human body, mind, spirit, soul, heart, selfhood and enlightenment (Nuran-ala-Nur)[3-d] “light upon light”.

Thus, a very important aspect of the human in the Qur’an is about the human’snatural disposition, which is described by the Qur’an asfiţrah. Like the physical creation and the spirit/soul being discussed here, we will further discuss the fiţrah that proceeds directly from the Creator God with the nature of God himself, upon which He has fashioned every human and all of humanity. As stated in Surah At-Tin 95:4-6 “We have certainly created human in the best of stature; Then We return him to the lowest of the low, except for those who believe and do righteous deeds, for they will have a reward uninterrupted”. We then read inSūrah -Rūm 30:30,“So stand firm in your devotion to the Deen (the holistic way of life and not just an individualized faith) inclining toward the truth, [according to] the instinctual and innate nature (fitrah) God has instilled in [all] humans. There is no changing in God’s creation. This is the correct belief, but most people do not know it”. We humans are the best of the creation in terms of physical structure as well as in the spiritual and intellectual realms. In addition, we are all to begin with born in a state of purity (known as fitrah). As we grow and mature in an environment (progressive or regressive), we have the liberty to make decisions that can either bring out our immense potential and grandeur or we submit to low inclinations that lead to disgrace.

Biblical Definition of Human Nature and whole Person

In light of all the scriptural data examined by scholars, human nature could best be defined as such: The human being is a living soul consisting of spirit, mind and body animated by a breath of life from God.

The term “soul” (nephesh/psuche) in its broadest sense clearly refers to the whole personthe whole human being—spirit, heart, mind and body. Describing human nature as  —“soul and body”—non-physical and physical—immaterial and material. “Soul” in such cases clearly refers to the whole immaterial being, both mind and spirit. The heart could be best described as the core of the mind, the center of our being. It is part of the mind, but specifically refers to the deepest, most central part, i.e. the core. The bottom line is that we decide what’s stored up in our hearts depending on whether we’re governed by the flesh or the spirit.                              

 Fig-1 Biblical perspective of human nature [4]

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                                                       Human Nature                                                  

Islamic perspective of Human Nature

In an Islamic perspective, also we believe that the human is a whole, integrated spiritual being which includes the body, mind, heart, and spirit.  

Fig-2 Islamic perspective of human nature     [5]                                             

                                   God

                                       I   

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The nafs, which is commonly referred to as the “Ego” or “Self”,is an immaterial entity which embodies certain human conditions such as anger, hatred, ill will, irritation, lust and desires .The nafs (self) is the interface between the body and the ruh (spirit). When connected with the ruh (spirit), the self submits to its positive commands. However, when the self submits exclusively to the body’s needs, it will only seek to satisfy its temporal worldly desires and negative appetites. Thus, the Self is ready to accept direction towards good or evil.

Despite the crude bodily pleasures and appetites of the Self, and its potential to influence one unfavorably, it is still considered a blessing endowed by God, if utilized adequately. Firstly, the Self allows humans to be free from absolute limits, allowing one either to completely satisfy their appetites or desires, or alternatively, undergo mindfully Self-taming (tazkiya al-Nafs & Jihad al-Nafs), transforming or purifying Self individually and collectively to a moderating level. Thus, the Self allows us to exercise the free will and choose the direction we wishes to follow; whether that of good, or evil (Qur’an, Al Mulk, 67:2). Also, unlike other creation, the Self provides humans with the opportunity to select the rank in which they seek to position themselves; either one higher than the Angels, or one lower than animals(Qur’an, Al Tin, 95:4-6).

A Self that is left unrestrained has the potential to steer its possessors towards a grim destination since the driving force is set by the aforementioned destructive conditions, customs, habits or states. However, a Self that is nurtured by good deeds and which surrender’s to the ruh (spirit), has the ability to guide its owners to the destination of apex peace and contentment, submission to God the Almighty. The Self is therefore not in a fixed state and is in fact accustomed to variations. Thus, while God endowed humans with the purest and best of nature, it is human duty to preserve that purity.

The Human Soul and how it differs from Nafs?

The soul in its pure state, before being covered up and veiled from the Creator’s reality, has the spark of the Divine nature and breath that was breathed into us, known as the ruh (spirit). The ruh, or spirit, is the purest aspect of the human soul that is always there and which cannot be corrupted or misaligned.

In the Islamic metaphysical paradigm the true identity of a human person is its soul, which is one integrated spiritual being, including the body. Thus an important distinction of human is that the central identity of the living person remains the soul, rather than the more narrowly defined notion of the Self (nafs), which is primarily conceived of as the construction of identity-based on personality and memories that are confined to these worldly aspects. A basic aspect of the Islamic conception of the soul is that at the starting point in the soul’s journey is not limited to the moment of birth, but includes pre-existence and existence after worldly life. This goes back to the point of origin of all of the souls when they were created and Allah asked them “Am I not your Lord?” (Qur’an 7: 172). As the Qur’an narrates every single soul that will ever be created was there in that moment and replied: “Indeed we witness”. This critical moment in the trajectory of every human soul distinguishes the human identity as a soul that is in a state of witnessing that Allah is one and that they (each human being) are servants of the Lord. In other words, it is within our true instinctive nature to be dependent on the One God for subsistence and to recognize that Almighty is in control of everything, a very different picture than the self that is in control of its own destiny as many popular narratives go in the self-help notion of the contemporary world.

Human Fitrah as soul’s true identity

The human soul’s trajectory becomes a challenge or a test the minute we human enter into the contemporary world in human form as that innate witnessing of their true spiritual instinct and nature becomes veiled to us, thus beginning the journey back to the purity and witnessing our Creator. As Islam narrates, at the end of the temporary state of human life in this worldly living all souls will again be made aware of Creator’s omnipotence as the veil is removed from us, but what each soul has done in terms of their transformation to uncover that witnessing in the time they had in this worldly life will determine their relative state in the next and eventual eternal life in the hereafter.Thus, the Islamic paradigm is not limited to this life alone, but rather includes both pre-natal and post mortem realities. The concept of human fitrah, the innate natural disposition of the human being as this soul from its point of origin as a witness of tawhid (Oneness of God) is crucial to a conception of Islamic worldview as it fundamentally defines both the bio-psycho-social humanistic understanding of human aberrant functioning alignments. Thus the definition of what we call wholesome humans, their happiness and wellbeing is connected to the spiritual state of the persons as a society, not just their relative level of comfort or happiness in this contemporary world alone.

The optimal state of the human beings then is to be in re-alignment with instinctive spiritual fitrah and to uncover that true nature of human witnessing which is constantly being veiled and challenged by multiple vices and factors within this life. When we are in a state of submission to the will of Allah we are in our optimal state of functioning and aligned with our fitrah. However, this is a difficult state to maintain as we have numerous factors impacting our ability to be in the state of remembrance of that true nature which is necessary to maintain optimal homeostasis. In addition to the external worldly factors that distract us from the remembrance of Human link to the Creator becoming a constant struggle inside of us that we must re-engage to that which amounts to a battle for our souls. In order to be better equipped for the battle, it is important that we understand the terrain of the human innate souls and how to navigate them fully.

Human transcendence as the development of the soul

Human transcendence or development[5 b-c] (subsequent to early child development and education) still necessitates uninterrupted engagements to undoing of mal-alignments, malfunctions and the blockages of human heart, essentially keeping the heart cleansed, and striving consistently to stay in remembrance of the Almighty amidst all the distractions in all realm of human life and from birth blocking downward pulls of worldly predicaments. One aspect of the structure of human soul instilled in the womb that can always help us in this struggle is the aql (deeper insight), which can be conceived of as the cognitive function, but which is more of a Divinely connected kind of reasoning (link). In the Islamic model of the human soul, the aql is not understood as the central driving aspect of the self but is actually better understood as a core function of the qalb (heart). In addition to the normal kind of logical (intelectual) reasoning that we attribute to the mind (brain), the qalb has the ability to perceive further and to see things as they really are. The form of the word aql that is used in the Qur’an.  It is used as a descriptor of function of the qalb, so that the heart has the ability to perceive better than brain in holistic human. It is in using this ability to perceive that the qalb possesses what we can effectively turn our hearts away from the veils of the contemporary world alone which results in a state of forgetting and ignorence, and turning it again towards the Creator, accessing through the point of Divine connection within us, the ruh and pure Fitrah.

We experience different qualities or characteristics of our soul depending on our relative position in the worldly confrontations of our soul. When we are subsumed by the cover-ups on our heart and are in a state of an-nafs al ammarah, we can manifest bevavioral and character qualities that are destructive, such as anger, jealousy, and envy; these are called the destructive behaviors and actions. And when we are engaged in the struggle of the jihad an-nafs (struggle of the greater self), attempting to realign our lower tendencies toward individuation and self-direction, we are in a state of an-nafs al lawwamah, or the path to self-reproaching soul, here we take ourselves to account making efforts to doing the work of turning our hearts in the right direction. This can involve a process of adab and tehdib, the refinement of character, where through self-awareness we consciously try to change and attempt to emulate perfect character traits (of Insane Kamil) such as courage and virtues of wisdom and justice, as saviors and are to be exemplified in the perfected character of the Prophet (PBUH). These manifestations of destructive or negative character, are signs of where we need to make improvements ourselves in our process of personal Human development with the goal of aligning with fitrah and evolving to our higher self, or the next best version of our self. When we have moments of success in this process we can experience the soul in a state of peace, which is the an-nafs al mutma’inah, or the soul at peace. While it is rare to fully achieve this state, we can get glimpses of it that keeps us motivated to do the work of striving toward that next best version, having more frequent experiences of the state of the soul in an-nafs al mutma’inah. This is the goal of personal human development in an Islamic paradigm and there exists within the Islamic tradition a whole host of tools and guidance in the pursuit of the purification of the heart and soul through education/knowledge and from parenting in early child development to all other aspect of human life.

Stages of Human transcendence

The Holy Qur’an describes these three stages of the Self (nafs). During human life, the nafs experiences some impediments that trigger our potential for corruption and evil. Thus, it is essential that we identify various stages of the nafs (self) in order for us to consciously transform and realign the nafs back towards the path of ourpurity and true fitrah:

i) The evil commanding self (nafs-al ammara): this stage of nafs is the lowest form, whereby it commands us to be seduced by evil (Qur’an Surah Yusuf 12:53) and surrender to all forms of negative tendencies without limits. All that is evil becomes attractive and we lose our conscience and insight. To God those who submit to the evil commanding self resemble to the” cattle” (Qur’an Al A’raf 7:179) since such nafs disables one’s heart and intellect.

ii) The self-accusing (nafs-al lawwama): this stage of nafs causes us to self-observe and self-criticize our wrong actions or neglect of our duties, and then blame ourselves for any shortcomings (Qur’an Surah Al Qiyamah 75:2). While being at this stage allows us to develop and perfect our nafs, it changes often, and has the potential to progress or regress. Thus, a person at this stage should strive to transcend in order to progress to a higher stage.

iii) The peaceful self (nafs-al mutmaina): a person at this stage truly believes in God Almighty’s existence and understands who God is. This understanding leads one to resolve all inner conflicts as well as display true love, empathy tolerance and forgiveness to others. Such a person is a true believer who possesses a tranquil and peaceful nature, and has reconciled with his/her fitrah whereby they may return to God, all content, well pleased and pleasing to Him (Qur’an Fajr 89:28).

Understanding Nature and Nurture

Philosophers and scholars have debated the relative roles of nature and nurture in child and human development for centuries and since the Middle Ages including Muslim contributions and Quranic interpretations. Muslims inspired the 17th-century English philosopher John Locke as he described a young child’s mind as a tabula rasa (blank slate) upon which the child’s experiences were written. Jean-Jacques Rosseau, an 18th-century French philosopher, also had argued that human development and learning was primarily a function of experience. He believed in the existence of a natural, unspoiled state of humankind that is being altered and corrupted by some ongoing aspects of even the modern age. In contrast, 19th-century scientists highlighted the importance of heredity in shaping human development. While all of these scientists provided meaningful insights into the role of heredity and the environment, modern researchers have sought to further explore the dynamic interactions between natures and nurture that shape human development.

The 20th century saw the evolution of various theories of such development that differentially emphasized the role of biological versus environmental factors. These theories can be classified according to major developmental frameworks: (1) environmental learning (empiricism), (2) biological maturation (nativism), (3) cultural and broader context, and (4) (re) constructivist.

The environmental-learning framework, best exemplified by the behaviorist theories that underscore the paramount importance of empirical learning in child and adult human development. Learning in this context is characterized as the process by which an organism’s behavior is shaped by experience. While environmental-learning theorists do not completely discount the role of innate factors, they argue that it is the external environment that has had the greatest influence on human development.

Biological-maturation framework posited that biologically and genetically predetermined patterns of change have had greater impact on development than environmental framework. In the early 20th century, theorists did propose that experiential influences were secondary to innate biological maturational mechanisms. This perspective did regain popularity in the late twentieth and early 21st centuries as a result of major advances in genetic research, as well as the introduction of studies on behavioral genetics. Researchers then asserted that human characteristics such as personality, intelligence, and language acquisition were, to a great extent, genetically grounded and controlled by biological maturation.

However, the cultural-context perspective of psychologists contends that while both biological and experiential factors exert important influences on development, such factors are filtered through an individual’s social and cultural context. Some believed that the activities, symbols, and customs of particular social groups are formed by the collective social, cultural, and historical experiences of their ancestors. Through influences on social customs and practices, parenting, and the environment, culture shapes children’s cognitive, language, and social development. For example, children’s academic performance has been found to vary cross-culturally, as demonstrated by studies showing that Asian immigrant children outperform their white peers in the United States, as well as the black-white test score gap.

Finally, the (re) constructivist, or interracial, approach stressed the balanced interaction of nature and nurture in forming the foundation for developmental change. In such a framework, both genetics and environment play an important role, and it is the dynamic relations among such internal and external influences that ultimately shape human development. Piaget’s theory of cognitive development also asserted that children acquire their knowledge based on the combination of input received from both maturational and environmental sources. Other theorists have taken this conceptualization one step further with the introduction of dynamic systemstheories, which emphasize that the source of developmental progress is the process of bidirectional interaction among complex environmental and biological systems.

Some have explored one facet of the nature-nurture question relevant to education by examining the importance of entrance age, or maturation level, on school readiness and academic growth. They found that younger first graders benefited as much from instruction in reading and math as older first graders, and that the younger students made significantly more progress than older kindergarteners of essentially the same age. Thus, entrance age–or maturation level–is not an important indicator of learning or academic risk.

The dispute over the relative importance of nature and nurture in child development has endured over several centuries, and will no doubt continue to divide theorists for a long time to come. Increasingly, however, developmental scientists are concluding that, for most human characteristics, nature and nurture are inextricably linked and interact in complex ways to shape human growth.

Child Development, Parenting and Educating

Basic concepts of human nature and their impact on education remain crucial in learning on how to produce best of students (and human beings of character) with a truly integrated personality. Our major belief systems and sciences teach us that each human is born with the fitrah (the primordial nature). We also learn that human fitrah needs to be nurtured and developed with the help of a healthy and conducive environment along with best of parenting and best system of education.

Biblical and Quranic important guidance about human nature and education have further affirmed our positive understanding and constructive criticism of the Western views on human nature. It is a step towards ‘Islamizing of psychology’, by Langgulung (1989) very particularly in his papers “The Ummatic Paradigm of Psychology‟ and a “Paradigm Shift: The Landmark of 21st Century Education” (Langgulung, 1995) [6] that offered Islamic psychology as a solution to the many contradictory views conceptualized by Western psychologists pertaining to the subject on human nature. He criticizes that the Western schools of psychology, particularly Psychoanalysis, Radical Behaviorism and Humanistic psychology, having been influenced by their materialistic, atheistic and hard secularist ideas in formulating their erroneous concepts on human nature. The dominance of these three major schools of psychology in the West with their fragmented and partial views on human nature has not led the Western society to a better understanding of the homo sapiens (Langgulung, 1995).

As an alternative to Western psychological viewpoints on human nature, Langgulung (1991) advocated the Islamic ideas on human nature presented in Islamic psychology. Compared to Western psychology, Islamic psychology fosters or restores the spiritual element (the human soul) in understanding the true concept of human nature. To him, the spiritual dimension of human should be the first and foremost aspect in understanding the true concept of human nature. Besides his criticism towards Western schools of psychology, his advocacy and promotion of Islamic psychology, which is based on the most comprehensive concept of human nature, is a message found in almost all of his works. 

The Islamic philosophy of education thus emphasizes on the holistic development of an individual; body, mind and spirit. In line with this principle, parents and teachers should provide education that caters for an individual’s intellectual, physical, moral, social, emotional, psychological, personality and spiritual developments. Muslims believe that a mere intellectual development most aptly can cause an imbalance in the personality of an individual. Parents and educators should provide students with a holistic concept of education without neglecting any one of the aforementioned developments. The ideal Muslim and universal education should aim at the transfer of knowledge, skills, values, culture, heritage, language, beliefs, etc. from one generation of people to the next. A well-educated person from any denomination should enjoy a good relationship with the Creator, with his Self, with his fellow human beings and his environment (flora and fauna).

Throughout the civilized world governmental institutions, people in authority and the public must create rules to protect our societies in order to establish a safer, peaceful and harmonious future for the world. Without these rules and guidance, human beings would lose all bearing and sense of morality, and societies would fall into anarchy and chaos. Indeed our children and future generations will be the leaders of tomorrow and thus their upbringing and educating remain a matter of tremendous importance and key to whether we can maintain a peaceful, respectful and orderly universal civil society.

Current research strongly indicates that parenting has the singular and greatest influence on a child’s development and understanding the environment in which children grow up contributing to their emotional, spiritual, physical, social and intellectual development. And these are key factors that indicate whether children will grow up to become accountable, responsible and happier adults. Thus, positive parenting is essential to safeguarding future societies and to foster peace at home and all of the neighboring communities.

Although there are some similarities in parenting concepts globally, it is intriguing how parenting styles differ from culture to culture. They are to take into account various factors such as the child’s physical, psychosocial and spiritual environment, customs and practices of child care in different countries and the parents or caregivers’ understanding of parental responsibilities.

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Regardless of the varying global and cultural parenting strategies, Islamic teachings in relation to parenting and educating are holistic and universal concepts for every parent worldwide; these teachings are not restricted exclusively to Muslim parents alone. This writing seeks to explore one of the most critical issues the world faces today, the parent-child relationship, and expounds on the Islamic and profound concept of parenting and educating .All this boils down to the scriptural and Quranic teachings and guidance for all of humanity. 

Child Development, in current context, is for combination of studies in psychology, sociology, health and education guiding parents and professional teachers about children’s development through a process of close observations following what are known as the developmental milestones of the age and stages of child development into adulthood. The key areas of development are: “the physical development, cognitive development, communication & language development, personal, social, emotional and spiritual development”. “Parents should play a vital role as their children’s first and most important teachers.  Today in the early 21st century Fethullah Gulen’s philosophy and model of education has already been acknowledged and understood as well as being practiced around the globe in close to 150 nations.

Gülen’s educational model and Goals for the world in the 21-century

In Eastern and Western civilizations, softening secular ideas, and sacred traditions are bound to be merging. Utilizing ideals born in the traditional context, Fethullah Gülen and his teachings have helped develop and put them into practice as an educational system that combines the strengths of both Western and Eastern cultures, cultivating students for academic achievements in the sciences that possess deeper ethical grounding. Founded in universal values of honesty, hard work, empathy and conscientious service, Gülen’s model appeals to the world with a wide range of belief systems. Through Gülen’s teachings, this educational system stresses the compatibility of science with sacred and aims to bring up people equipped with the moral values and knowledge to use science for the benefit of humankind.

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Islamic Scholar Fethullah Gulen

According to Gülen, schools should pair moral models with concrete training in the sciences so that students have the capacity to bring about positive change.”It must be the foremost duty,” as, writes Gülen, “of those future leaders upon whom the people have set their hopes to equip the coming generations with lofty and enlightenment ideals, leading them to the fountain of the ‘water of life’” (Gülen 1996c).

Gülen’s inspired groups have established educational institutions all over the world in close to 150 countries. These institutions concentrate on teaching universal values, but do not specifically teach religion. Students with different religious convictions attend these schools; in some countries there may not be a single Muslim student. Students and graduates have proven to be well prepared in the sciences and are also known for their high moral standards and characters.

Gülen’s educational philosophy [7]

The contemporary world often sees science and religion as incompatible. As Michel (2003) put it, “Secular educators saw religion as at best a useless expenditure of time and at worst an obstacle to progress.” Conversely, this perception of a dichotomy between sacred and science resulted in some religious scholars leading to religion being viewed as “a political ideology rather than a belief system in its true sense and function” (Gülen 1996a, 20). Gülen’s writings have pointed out time and again that science and sacred are perfectly compatible, and in fact must be combined for science to have meaning. Gülen proposes an educational system that combines technical and moral training.

He sees the competition between secular and sacred educational institutions as having caused a crisis in religious societies, since graduates of such restricted schools lacked an integrated perspective on the future (Michel 2003, 72). In the early twentieth century, the religious education system included medreses– institutions of religious training, tarikats – Sufi orders, and secular schools. Medreses did not offer an education appropriate for the contemporary world; Michel (2003) describes them as lacking “the flexibility, vision, and ability to break with the past [and] to enact change” (Michel 2003, 72). While tarikats had been traditionally concerned with developing spiritual values alone, Gülen perceives them as looking backwards. Secular schools, on the other hand, exhibit an inflexibility of ideas (Gülen 1996c, 11) and are designed to provide a value-free, job-oriented education that is too shortsighted to look to the future (Michel 2003, 74).

Gülen is especially concerned with what he sees as the lack of ethical values in the world. He perceives today’s people constitute “generations with no ideals” (Gülen 1996c, 51-52). The main value taught in today’s schools is that of material success. Current educational systems have taught people to search for new ways to dominate nature and other human beings (Gülen 2003). This has resulted in the worsening of the imbalances both between humanity and nature and among individual humans. Gülen’s teachings carry the assumption that some major global problems such as weapons of mass destruction and environmental pollution are created by  scientists who do not take responsibility for the consequences of their work (Agai 2003, 59). To Gülen, harmony between humans and nature and an understanding between peoples will only be achieved when “the material and spiritual realms are reconciled” in the upbringing of young and future generations (Gülen 2000).

Gülen is interested in developing “contemporary human” who lives by the ethical values of any belief system and are well rounded when it comes to science and present-day knowledge (Agai 2003, 51). In this context, the whole person is composed of the body, mind and spirit (Gülen n.d., 2). He believes in developing the spirituality of the students, including those from all other religions. To him, the term spirituality has a sense broader than that of religion. It includes ethics, logic, psychological health and emotional openness (Michel 2003, 76). Gülen’s educational vision is one in which “genuinely enlightened people” will be produced through a fusion of religious and scientific knowledge, morality and spirituality (Michel 2003, 76, Gülen 1996a).

Compassion and tolerance are key attributes that Gülen would like to see instilled by parents and educators. Gülen urges us all to “applaud the good for their goodness” and “return good for evil” (Gülen 1996a). Özdalga (2000) argues that problems in democracies are often intertwined with problems of integrating diverse components of the society and that Gülen’s teachings address these problems.  Gülen tells his followers to be themselves, not through isolation, but by “following [their] way among other ways” (Gülen 1994).

Furthermore, Gülen stresses the importance of traditional and cultural values. Gülen’s model aims to teach young people to integrate themselves with their past to prepare them for the future (Michel 2003, 72-73, Gülen 1996a). Gülen sees golden era Islamic past, middle ages [8] for instance, as a long amassing of wisdom, much of which is still valid today. At the same time, he has no interest in reconstructing the past, instead using the values that have developed to move forward today (Michel 2003, 77).

At no time is the importance of science undermined. Gülen understands science as a way to comprehend the existence of the Creator and to exalt His greatness.

Science means comprehending what things and events tell us, and what the Divine Laws prevailing over the universe reveal to us. It means striving to understand the purpose of the Creator. Human, who has been created in order that he shell as a vicegerent ruling over all things, needs to observe, read, discern and learn about what is around him. Then, he has to seek the way of exerting his influence over events and subjecting them. At this point, by the decree of the Sublime Creator, everything will submit to human, who himself will submit to God Almighty (Gülen 1985).

Gülen further writes “the universe is a book written by God for us to study over and over again” (Gülen 1993). Thus, the curriculums of the schools inspired by him have a special emphasis on the sciences. The students have outstanding performance in academic competitions in the natural sciences, information sciences and languages (Michel 2003, 70-71).

Gülen’s educational model combines scientific ideals with the moral ideals that come from belief systems. He is concerned with nurturing all aspects of young people’s characters, including an understanding and tolerance for other people, a comprehension of their obligation to the world and humanity as a whole, and the intellectual abilities to be able to fulfill those obligations. This vision may seem impractical, but one needs only to look at the Gülen inspired schools around the world and the students who have attended to see that this goal is not unrealistic.

Gülen envisions a future “Golden Generation” [8] that is well educated in the sciences and well rounded in moral training. The prototype of the Golden Generation is the teacher of the Gulen education philosophy as an example and who works to bring on a “Golden Age” (Agai 2003, 57). The Golden Generation has the defining characteristics of faith and strong ethical values, which drive them to apply science for the benefit of humankind (Agai 2003, 57). In stark contrast to the typical Western view of political Islam, where Islamic activism is a reaction against modernism (Yavuz and Esposito 2003), in Gülen’s vision, the Golden Generation will participate in modernity and help to reshape it (Agai 2003, 58).

Gülen’s ideal person is zul-cenaheyn, (“A Station above that of Angels”) “one who possesses two wings, ”exhibiting a “marriage of mind and heart” (Gülen 1996c, 12). Consolidation of different educational currents should result in a holistic system that trains individuals of “thought, action and inspiration” who are able to cope with the changing demands of the world (Gülen 1996c, 12). These individuals, then, would use their knowledge and training for the service of the entire humankind.

 Summing up here, we have logical arguments to say that honorable Fethullah Gulen promotes “ truly an educative and enlightening Islam” contradictory to mis-interpretations  “ radical and political Islamism”. In the Muslim world, those who want to genuinely reform their world on the prophetic model must reform themselves. In order to invite all of humanity to the rightful  path of traveling to a better world today. They must purify their inner worlds of hatred, rancor, and jealousy, and adorn their outer worlds with all kinds of virtues available in their nafs-al ammara.

Those who remain far removed from self-control and self-discipline (Nafs-al mutmaina through tazkiya-an-nafs), and have failed to refine their feelings, may continue to be stuck in primitive ammara and Lawwama stages without any insight and hindsight. They all have failed miserably to inspire others in any permanent way, and the sentiments they live with are not bound to disappear that easy. Goodness, beauty, truthfulness, and being virtuous are the essence of the true world and humanity. Whatever happens, the world God-willing will, sooner than later, find that essence? No one can prevent this (Gulen 2000). This service is our true right; conveying it to others is our responsibility (Gulen 2004: 201).

Conclusion

Child development studies, on which western theorists spent decades researching, are only recently coming to a better light. However, it is fascinating that these facts and many more relating to child /human development were being already revealed from ancient scriptures, from biblical times and again from Islamic era since 1400 years ago when revealed to the world through the Holy Qur’an. The Qur’anic principles were based further on the requirements of human nature (fitrah) revealed again by God Almighty at a time when there were still no means for philosophic, psychological or scientific research. God Almighty says:“And We have sent down to thee the Book to explain everything, and a guidance, and a mercy, and glad tidings to those who submit to God.” Quran Surah An-Nahl 16:90

The child developmental and educational experts further confirm that children were born as “blank slates”, beginning their lives morally neutral. From this point of view, infants are neither inherently good nor inherently evil. A child’s nature and personality would develop during childhood, a period of time during which they believed a child was particularly impressionable. Parents, teachers, and adults surrounding children could potentially have the most positive and lasting impact on their personalities. 

To John Locke’s child development ideas and education presented the basic argument that “a child’s mind must be nurtured before he/she is instructed, that the true purpose of child development and education was the cultivation of the child’s mind and heart rather than an accumulation of facts.” According to Locke, the ideal education and development would instill a holistic moral sense. In particular, a child should be taught virtue, wisdom, best of breeding and learning. 

This was possible because, among other reasons, a child’s mind was a “tabula rasa”, or blank slate (Locke initially used the term in his earlier workconcerning Human Comprehension, considered by modern philosophers to be his most influential work).

Since the child’s brain (mind) as we learn today, from neural-sciences, is to do with so much potential neural-plasticity [9] where a parent and teacher could mold him/her with due diligence. After all, one could instill good moral sense upon a blank slate as well as overcome numerous faults and deviations.

While earlier thinkers including Avicenna and Ibn Tufail had originated and espoused the ideas of  John Locke, the theory was largely ignored until Locke’s publication by mid 18th century over a dozen editions had been published, and his works were translated into French, German, Italian, Dutch, and Swedish. The popularity of Locke’s ideas helped make popular the discussion of childhood as a separate stage of development than that of adulthood. Not only were parents influenced by his work, but also were other thinkers and writers of the time.

In summary, the child development and learning is to be continued and pursued vigorously based on universalizing philosophies, psychologies and belief systems among other and central themes like:  the importance of nature and nurture, stages in child and human development, the existence of critical or sensitive periods, and the impact of early and positive experiences. Significant progress has already been made over the last several decades on each of these topics, resulting in a more complex view of human philosophy, psychology and integral beliefs and all the forces that shape them. With regard to child development and educational practices, modern and holistic Gulen like practical approach stresses the notions of genetic determinism, developmental stages, critical periods, and the lasting impact of early experience are to be encouraged and emphasized today on the basis of neural-plasticity of human nature and its potential for positive universal paradigm change in child/human development and education.

Historically Western philosophy generally dealt with Individualism and laïcité style secularism that was mainly used in the Western parts of the world, such as in the European countries. The Eastern philosophy has been related to collectivism and more of a spiritual approach that was prevalent in the Eastern countries. Between the West and East there was historic Al-Andalus [10], the western part of moderating Muslim world through the end of 15th century. This having been the hub of both east and west for close to a millennium had commenced a homeostatic human philosophy and belief systems into a universalizing mode where both east and west centered on human universal values and virtues reciprocally into a common path. It was a universal world inclusive of the East and West, through multiplicity of approaches to problem solving through this common and shared path of harmony and peace.  Our future success depends on our return to the common path persistently without disturbing or hurting each other.  

Both east and the west, once again, are to become holistic and of hands-on life style in this current 21st century  .The differences between “I” of the West, and the “We” of the East, are slowly but surely vanishing as both sides focus on finding true and deeper meaning and purpose of collective human life, mutual love, tolerance and co-existence in harmony and peace. The true and broader comprehension of the primordial human nature can certainly enhance the level of human conscience and help rid the world of all ignorance, enmity, hatred, racism, prejudice etc. and transform the world to be a better place for all of humanity. 

References:

[1- a] Steven Pinker – The Blank Slate (The Modern Denial of Human Nature) [2002].pdf

[1- b] https://labs.la.utexas.edu/buss/files/2015/10/the-nature-of-human-nature-2003.pdf

[2] Http://www.muslimphilosophy.com/books/hayy.pdf

[3-a] https://www.halaltube.com/umar-faruq-abd-allah-primordial-nature-of-human-beings#.Xm3ueM4qMdU

[3-b] https://yaqeeninstitute.org/nazir-khan/human-origins-theological-conclusions-and-empirical-limitations/ August 31, 2018 > Human Origins

[3-c] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6132620/

[3-d] https://sunnahonline.com/library/the-majestic-quran/760-tafsir-of-chapter-024-verse-35-the-verse-of-light    “light upon light”.

[4] Http://www.fountainoflifetm.com/2015/06/09/the-nature-of-human-beings-spirit-mind-body/

[5] https://productivemuslim.com/what-islam-offers-to-modern-self-help/

Abdullah Rothman, December 31, 2019

[5-b] https://productivemuslim.com/what-islam-offers-to-modern-self-help/ full article

[5-c] https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10943-018-0651-x

[6] Https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1202117.pdf > The Landmark of 21 Century Education” (Langgulung, 1995)

[7] http://gulen101.org/purposes-of-education-in-the-light-of-fethullah-gulens-teachings/

[8] http://www.gulenmovement.com/fethullah-gulens-golden-generation-integration-of-muslim-identity-with-the-world-through-education.html

[9] Https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-brain-plasticity-2794886

[10] Al-Andalus, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GGotnIfQaQg  > (Lessons from the Golden Era of Andalusia | Al Jazeera World)

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MUZAFFAR K AWAN
MUZAFFAR K AWAN
Muzaffar K Awan MD is a Pakistani-American physician who has lived in the USA for over 40 years. He practices medicine in Allen Park, Detroit Metropolitan area of Michigan. He has had keen interests in the enlightenment thought and practice of moderate Islam, East-West intellectual exchanges and interfaith dialogues. He is an amateur writer and has written numerous articles in International and Pakistani magazines and newspapers.
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