Nature or Nurture?

By Jerrmein Abu Shahba

A large deafening sound of a horn blowing piercing our ears and waking us from a deep slumber, a nap which transferred us from one world to another, from the mundane life of this world to the eternal abode.  The sound of Israfeel’s horn bring us to our senses as we realize that behold it is the Day of Judgment, the day of accounting, the day when deeds are no more, and the bills are paid the and points are redeemed.  If we present enough good deeds and obtain the mercy of the Almighty God, we find our book of deeds on our right hand.

After a wait which seems eternal, the questioning begins and the pages of our book are flipped through every line and every deed.  It is a day like none other.  Many of us will be tempted to bring about excuses to justify our sins, big or small, in order to save ourselves from the chastisement of God.  Many of us will think to ourselves or utter words that convey the idea “it is nature not nurture” in that we cannot help ourselves and have no choice in committing that sin.  We will blame it on our genetics and claim that we are helpless and we are victims of something beyond our control.  Perhaps this may be true for very exceptional cases among thousands of cases where biologics are involved, but certainly not all cases.  Will this pretext really carry weight in front of the Almighty Creator who knows best what and whom He created?

“I am addicted to drugs and can’t stop!” “I can’t get good grades in school and am just not smart”.  I can’t focus during prayer and can’t pray on time!” “I have a temper which is my nature and that’s not going to change!”  “I have attraction to the same gender and I can’t help it!” “I can never change, that’s just who I am!”  And so on and so forth…

Yes, all these scenarios are challenges not so easy to overcome.  Some may have some genetic influence, some may be affected by environmental and social effects, but nothing is impossible to overcome!  Allah (SWT) has given us the ability to choose right over wrong, to control our carnal desires and channel them in the right way, to discipline ourselves and have patience at the time of need.  Fasting is certainly a great exercise which serves to train our bodies and souls how to say ‘no’ even though we may suffer a bit.  It is wrong to think that nature has a greater effect on us than nurture to the point of winning us over.  That may be the case with animals that have no ability to make conscious decision of right versus wrong, or good versus bad.  Even then you will find that some animals have actually accomplished that! Our actions and behavior are affected by our faith and creed.  Each theological belief we hold affects how we behave and how we worship God. The belief in divine destiny and decree can certainly impact the way we shape our actions.

Can human beings change?

Yes, the answer is right there in the Holy Quran, إِنَّ اللَّهَ لا يُغَيِّرُ مَا بِقَوْمٍ حَتَّى يُغَيِّرُوا مَا بِأَنفُسِهِمْ surely Allah does not change the condition of a people until they change their own condition” [13:11] It is possible for us to change, but the first step must come from within ourselves.  The first step would be to make a sincere intention and have the desire to change in that direction, to seek God’s help and take the necessary correct steps to accomplish this goal.

An interesting story conveys that message. One time the Holy Prophet (SA) was approached by a young man who confessed that he is addicted to adultery and can’t help doing so.  What was the prophet’s advice to him?  Instead of scolding him harshly, the prophet practiced andragogy instead of pedagogy as a teaching mechanism. He asked him whether he would like it if some stranger committed this act with his mother, sister, or wife.  Immediately, the young man expressed his dislike and came to understand the prophet’s point.  He asked the prophet to pray for him and the prophet did. After that, it is narrated that the man changed completely and never returned to that sin again.  Here is an example of a person who changed although he thought it was his nature to commit that sin, he reformed himself after taking the first step of going to the prophet (who represents the guide), he confessed and admitted his problem, and he listened to the words of the prophet, reflected then acted upon it. Mission accomplished and nurture through sincere intention, regret, proper guidance, and determination, led to a different new person, Subhanallah!

We have a great example in the story of the companion of Imam Hussain, Hur ibn Yazid Al Riyahi would made the critical last minute decision to choose eternal salvation over temporary glory of this world, and so he defended the representative of truth (Imam Hussain) and fought against the representative of falsehood and injustice (Yazid and his supporters).  Change is possible if one helps themselves towards that change.

But only God can judge, we shouldn’t judge anyone! 

Of course, there is no better or more capable Judge than the Almighty Creator and he is the Absolute Judge. He is Just and also most Merciful and Compassionate.  We as human beings shouldn’t get into the habit of playing judge and condemning other people right and left according to our own minds.  However, we can judge by the book of Allah and the teachings of the Prophet (SA).  We can certainly take and apply the divine judgment presented in Quran and by Ahlulbayt (AS).  For example, no one can deny or disagree about the great sins and their punishment, such as killing an innocent being intentionally, or committing adultery, or perjury.  The human judgment must comply with the divine judgment, not our desires and whim, not our leniency and our interests.

Allah is most Merciful so why should we be harsh?

When Prophet Nuh (as) asked for his son to be saved from the flood, what was the divine answer?  Allah (SWT) said,   He said: O Nuh! surely he is not of your family; surely he is (the doer of) other than good deeds, therefore ask not of Me that of which you have no knowledge; surely I admonish you lest you may be of the ignorant.” [11:46] What is Allah (SWT) trying to say? Through the Prophet, Allah (SWT) wants to teach us that when it comes to truth versus falsehood, there is no emotion or blood relations involved.  Although understandable, human mercy in this case is not applicable and it is only the justice of God which has to be served, unless He decides otherwise. As Allah (SWT) put it, ignorance often times lead for a human to pass a judgment or a request that does not comply with the divine judgment.

We find that the divine judgment always supersedes human judgment although sometimes it may be in sync.  Allah (SWT) says to the Holy Prophet in Surat Al Tawba with respect to the Prophet’s treatment to the non-believers., “Ask forgiveness for them or do not ask forgiveness for them; even if you ask forgiveness for them seventy times, Allah will not forgive them; this is because they disbelieve in Allah and His Messenger, and Allah does not guide the transgressing people.” [9:80]  This is not to belittle the prophetic judgment, however, to teach all of us that Allah knows better what His creation deserve, and His judgment supersedes all judgment.

Openly committing a sin

A believer will always be challenged with tests and difficulties, either in his health, property, or loved ones.  Many of us are going through issues and problems that we are trying to overcome.  Some of us may be trying to overcome an addiction, to stop committing a sin which has become our habit, some of us are ashamed of what we or our family member has committed.  What shall we do?

Aside from tears, regret, prayers, repentance, and seeking proper guidance which should take place, the last thing we should ever do is submit to that sin and consider it as Ok and acceptable.  If we reach to that point, then Shaytan has overcome us and won our battle.  If we accept the sin as nature over nurture, then we have fooled ourselves in falsely justifying the sin which is being committed.  If we believe otherwise that we are not committing sin or we have accepted that fact, our day of accounting will come in the Hereafter.

In the meanwhile, we should never go about broadcasting and announcing to the public about our sin, thereby condoning it and promoting its legitimacy.  For Allah (SWT) has said, “Surely (as for) those who love that scandal should circulate respecting those who believe, they shall have a grievous chastisement in this world and the hereafter; and Allah knows, while you do not know.” [24:19] Actually it is despised in Islam for a person who witnessed a sin to announce to the public about it, for Allah (SWT) is حليم  (forbearing). Then imagine if we are selves are committing the sin, it is absolutely prohibited for sins to be committed publicly as it has negative social effects on others and it constitutes outright challenge to the divine command. It is one thing to engage in sin secretly with or without shame, and it is another thing to engage it in openly without shame for others to see and perhaps follow suit!  To support others who openly and proudly commit the sin is in itself a great transgression and is an active participation in the sin.

Furthermore, it is absolutely rejected that such a person who commits a grave sin openly or condones such act (even if they did not commit that sin) be allowed to take out positions of leadership in the community, to lead prayer, or to serve as a role model for the youth, or assume an high level role where they represent a community or organization under the name of Islam.  Our leaders and representatives must carry a pure record, a chaste reputation, a good moral, with good family history.  There is no person that is free of fault or sin, however, a basic level of criteria of moral integrity, justice, and faith must be met before we allow for a person to represent us or stand in a role of leadership.

There is no test that is easy, no challenge not difficult, however with proper guidance through the Prophet (SA) and Infallible Imams (AS), correct path of repentance and redemption, a person can change themselves and what they think to be natural for them, into becoming a refined and respectable individual who is valued for his stances and positions in life.

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