QUESTION: Are children inclined to believe God to:
a) Be three-in-one persons;
b) Be One; or
c) Not exist?’
Be honest. Which are they more likely to naturally incline towards?
In the Name of Allah, The Most Gracious, The Most Merciful
A) Are we all born Atheist?
In this article, the writer says:
“Let’s face it, we are all born atheists. No baby is born believing in the miraculous conception of Jesus, that Muhammad is a prophet or that Joseph Smith was chosen by God to spread Mormonism. Rather children are taught to believe religious doctrines, or adults freely choose them later in life. But even for those who identify as believing Christians, Jews, Muslims or any other religion they are still atheists in respect to other Gods.”
Let’s break this down:
- ‘We are all born atheists’? If ‘atheist’ means someone who actively disbelieves in God, then the fact is we are not actually born actively, consciously, rejecting or disbelieving in God. See B), C) and D), below. If by ‘atheist’, we mean ‘someone who doesn’t know (yet)/ hasn’t learned all the items of creed and doctrine (‘aqeedah’) of a said religious/atheistic worldview’ then (I believe) theists and atheists the world over will be united in agreement and song. Except the word ‘atheist‘ is completely the wrong word. Go to 2.
- ‘No baby is born believing in the miraculous conception of Jesus, that Muhammad is a prophet…’. Right, so here we have the beginnings of the religious creed noted in point 1, above. We have already established that we aren’t born knowing these details. So, yes, go to 3.
- ‘Rather children are taught to believe religious doctrines, or adults freely choose them later in life.’ Yes. Agreed. (Go to 4):
- ‘But even for those who identify as believing Christians, Jews, Muslims or any other religion they are still atheists in respect to other Gods…’ Er… Well, yes and no and not really. Now the writer is confusing the issue. For instance, Muslims believe that ‘Yahweh’ of the Old Testament and ‘the Father’ of the New Testament, in origin or in essence, is the same god as Allah of the Qur’an; (except for the fact that the biblical version ended up writing in (man-made) errors – noted in academic history. A restoration of His worship (and His description) and His religion back to its original was therefore necessary many times – for instance, via Prophets coming to restore the sacred traditions again (noted in the Old Testament and Qur’an). In this way, God could be devoted to in the way proscribed by Him. The last official time this restoration took place was via the Islamic ‘update’ in the seventh century CE). So that would disrupt the logic of the writer’s surmise on this point. I’d suggest we ignore point 4 and go to 5, next)
- Now if we were to rephrase the question posed in point 2, above, to something like this: ‘Are children inclined to believe God to a) be three-in-one persons; b) be One; or c) not exist?’ then – be honest – which are they more likely to naturally incline towards?
B) Fitrah: Are we all born Muslim?
Fitrah is the natural disposition in us, that children innocently manifest. And our fitrah is god-conscious. Fitrah is a term of Islamic parlance that means: “An inborn natural predisposition which cannot change, and which exists at birth in all human beings. What makes [Islamic] religious understanding positive is that it not only acknowledges fitrah as a natural predisposition, but also one which is inclined towards right action and submission to Allah, the One God.” (Source)
Islamically, we believe everyone is born Muslim, but – and this is the important bit – the word ‘Muslim’ has a number of connotations:
i) Natural, Biological, Physical: Minimally, it is one that inevitably ‘submits (in peace)’ to God (i.e. ‘is Muslim’) by virtue of his/her nature: For instance, that you have to breathe, eat or drink to live is not a matter of choice. You are succumb to natural laws and indebted to your body (that God created and controls to the extent that He deems appropriate). Putting aside whether you believe or disbelieve in God – this is one of the meanings of ‘being Muslim’.
ii) Instinct, Conscience: ‘Being Muslim’ in terms of your human nature – or instinct – where there is a type of inclination towards God, that we might term ‘God-Consciousness’ is constituted by the term ‘Fitrah’, noted earlier. And see below.
iii) Faith, Creed, Religious Belief: Maximally, in terms of doctrine, ‘being Muslim’ means one acknowledges that a) there is no other deity in human history that ever existed in reality other than the One God that there ever was and is (but mankind kept altering Him to fit into human ideas/desires) and that b) God sends Messengers or Prophets who received His Guidance via some type of revelatory experiences from God; that these Messengers have come to many different cultures across the ages, stating a way to understand our Creator/Truth/Reality – the most famous being Moses and Jesus for the tribes of Israel, peace be upon them, and the Final Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, sent to all humankind thereafter. Acknowledging this will affirm one’s testimony of faith (shahadah) – and one officially becomes ‘Muslim’. This is using one’s gift of personal free will and one’s critical faculties with maturity when assessing all the evidences/signs ‘out there’ in the real world, in our real lives (not the manipulations of TV). And then, therefore, concluding, by aligning one’s will to the natural religion of God’s Will: Islam (Submission unto God, Almighty, in peace).
So, having identified three versions of what ‘being Muslim’ means, when one claims that we are all ‘born Muslim’, what is being referred to is i) and ii).
In this sense, everyone (Muslim and non Muslim) and everything (including the inanimate) are ‘Muslim’ in the sense that they are all objects of natural laws; they fulfill the function they were created/exist for. They ‘submit to God’, hence they are ‘Muslim’ (‘one who submits to God’) as in the i) Natural case.
However, when it comes to human Will after we gain maturity, we have a choice as to whether to accept the iii) Faith version of ‘being Muslim’ in line with 1) and ii). This will be elaborated, below.
When Richard Dawkins says ‘Babies have no religion’, he is correct in terms of the iii) Faith version but he is incorrect in terms of the i) Natural. Babies have no self-conscious choice (no self-conscious will, conscience) but must submit to God’s plan for them. Hence, ‘Babies are Muslim’. And as their conscience grows whilst young, the ii) Instinct version manifests.
With reference to the ii) Instinct version, this is human nature that is intrinsic from childhood. Until, of course, when socialisation might alter this ‘natural state’. Please see below for further details. (This outline also explains why, in the Islamic worldview, children automatically go to heaven when they die – whether from Christian, Muslim or Atheist households – because of their instinctive submission to God and lack of maturity to be tried for the morality of their actions.)
Please note, there is an idea that the term ‘childish’ is a negative term. This refers to that aspect of the self that is ego-centric and tyrannical (i.e. tantrums, being a naughty child etc). This is the Nafs al Ammara (The commanding self) which develops in children through to adulthood. (Note, there are other significant states of the ‘Nafs’ or ‘Self’ we ought to be aware of: Source.) Yes, within us, there is the possibility of corruption and it is the Nafs al Ammarah that must be tamed or controlled in life, so that it does not subvert our Fitrah for goodness, which should be nurtured. This learning is supposed to take place via socialistion/education as we mature into adults (Source Go to 1:10)
In terms of the iii) Faith version, this is what adults (i.e those with a discerning mind) will be able to ascertain from the world, their conscience, their experience, from reason – in terms of the existence or reality of the One God that is and always has been. Will we submit to Him (peacefully) like everything else in existence? This is an important choice we are free to make in our life-time and this question ought to be researched thoroughly before one dies; one’s position to this question will demonstrate one’s acknowledgment of/commitment to the only One God that is/was always/will continue to be. (This assumes that we ought to have learned just Who He is earnestly, i.e. without our prejudices/arrogance blocking our understanding; we must discover what He seeks of us; we ought to refer to the revelations sent by Him: the last and most intact one that we still possess, unchanged, unlike the others, is the (miracle of the) Qur’an. So check it out. Your conscience is now committed to at least find out.)
And this is why the writer of A), above, made a number of logical errors in her coverage of the Islamic point of view when conflating its position with other religions. This is not surprising as some of the simplest notions in Islam by and large is not really understood by many people, but Islam’s normative notions are always reasonable, logical and straight-forward. This lack of basic knowledge, clearly, needs to be rectified.
There is an idea that if parents didn’t indoctrinate their children then religion would not last. Yes and no. It depends on what you mean.
i) If by ‘not indoctrinating our children’ we mean we will indoctrinate them with atheism instead, this means that a) they’re still being indoctrinated. And b) we need to query what we mean by religion. In Islamic parlance, for instance, any ‘way of life’ is called ‘deen’. And the word ‘deen’ is the Arabic synonym for ‘religion’. So if one were to have an atheist ‘way of life’, then that would be your ‘deen’/ religion. In essence you might have stopped your children from becoming Christians or Muslims, but they’ve changed their ‘testimony of faith’ (religion) to one of ‘non belief’, so one has indoctrinated their children to a non Christian, non Muslim (non Spiritual? materialistic?) religion.
ii) A general but important point needs to be made here: It is possible to foster an intelligent, critical, nuanced mindset via robust education regardless of whether people are Christian, Muslim or Atheist. ‘Indoctrination’ is a pejorative term. Intelligent Muslims (and Christians and Atheists – all) would insist on fostering an analytical mind. Atheists make the error in assuming that ‘believing in no God’ (Atheism) is the only intelligent position, simply by stating dogmatically that it is so. There are plenty of idiot-Atheists as there are idiot-Christians and idiot-Muslims. All of us ought/must struggle/strive for knowledge – allowing each to speak their minds whilst also adhering to basic etiquette. See ‘Discussing Truth. How?‘
One may argue that our belief in a specific religion has more to do with nurture rather than nature. That is to say that it might be true to say that if our parents were devout Christians, then we’d probably be one. And if they were devout Muslims, then we’d probably be one.
i) Now, though it might be true to a certain extent about nurture being a determining factor for why we are as we are, what this doesn’t quite explain is the large (or small) scale conversions over different moments in time. Western nations were pagan before they were Christian. Nowadays in the West, there’s (apparently?) a decline in Christianity. And a rise in Atheism. Yes, there’s a rise in conversions to Islam too, but that tends to be wildly exaggerated in the media. Check out the latest UK census to see that I’m right and the Islamophobes are wrong, as usual. This ‘change’ via conversions destroys the conventional idea that we all – every single one of us – simply follow our parent’s deen, uncritically.
ii) Notwithstanding what has been stated above, Islamically speaking, however, it is true that, in fact, there is a congruence to the notion that children do – by and large – adopt their parent’s way (i.e. the culture we’ve been born into). But this is a general rule – not an absolute one. But Muslims are encouraged to reflect critically on the religion of their parents too! What if man-made errors crept into the religion again like it had done in other religious traditions, historically, making it more and more false? (See Qur’an 2:170 and Qur’an 7: 173-174. See also further references, here.) This idea must be spelled out!
Although we are born with this fitrah, this natural inclination towards God/godliness/ goodness, this ‘submission (and peace therefrom) to God’ i.e. being ‘Muslim’ lasts till we are socialised to our parents’/culture’s deen (remember ‘deen’ means ‘way of life’).
The Prophet (peace be upon him) once said:
“Every new-born child is born in a state of fitrah. Then his parents make him a Jew, a Christian or a Magian…”
[Bukhari and Muslim]
This statement was noted 1400 years ago as a general rule.
C) Children are Born Believers in God
The notion that we are born with fitrah (i.e. we are born Muslim) still has relevance nowadays: Click on the pic below.
“Dr Justin Barrett, a senior researcher at the University of Oxford’s Centre for Anthropology and Mind, claims that young people have a predisposition to believe in a supreme being…
He says that young children have faith even when they have not been taught about it by family or at school, and argues that even those raised alone on a desert island would come to believe in God.
“The preponderance of scientific evidence for the past 10 years or so has shown that a lot more seems to be built into the natural development of children’s minds than we once thought…” READ MORE: Click: The Telegraph: Children are born believers in God academic claims
The writer of this other article confirms that “There are no atheist babies, and certainly no agnostic ones.” But he too suffers in not understanding the nuance implied in the meaning of ‘being Muslim’, explained above. But he makes an interesting extended point:
“Everything we know from science shows that supernaturalism comes naturally to children.” He confirms the ‘science in belief’ whilst young, noted in C), above.
But please note, Muslims worship the One God – not science. Science is limited to the material. So sometimes it is used by man to ‘capture God’, which is arbitrary. Science is merely a tool which is good and beneficial only when used appropriately.
Moreover, the writer makes a categorical error: He uses the word ‘supernaturalism’ which implies belief in anything supernatural. Calling it ‘supernaturalism’ is deliberately pejorative, in my opinion. It is not a neutral term. The Telegraph article, in C) above, however, was clear that he was talking about a belief in a ‘Supreme Being’ – not UFOs! It is (apparently) ironic that some atheists can’t tell the difference despite their claims to a deeper intelligence? Muslims would insist that children instinctively feel there is certainly One God to Whom they might privately confide in – and this is yet another sign we’re talking about that is an evidence for the One God.
He has to call it ‘supernaturalism’ as he feels children possessing this intrinsic (natural) intuition is in “[defiance of] scientific rationality”. There is a reductionist, positivist underpinning in his perspective that science is the measure to judge God’s existence (God, who is the One beyond measure.) His is a type of conceptual blindness. See God-Focussed or Self-Focussed.
He says “we [must] train ourselves out of it [this god-conscious way of thinking]”. I wonder what else we possess that is at once natural, instinctive, good, valuable and innocent, that we must ‘train ourselves out of’. There is functionality in all of us. But to a mind that believes in no real purpose, that from nothing can come nothing, function-less things of significance are, it seems, possible in nature. So despite an instinct for One God in human nature (and an ordered universe, everywhere else) there is… lo and behold – no God!
He ends by stating: “And that is why no one can really be called an atheist or an agnostic until they have grown up.” This is really his slight against the Theist. You see, some atheists, like teenagers, claim they have ‘grown up’ all the time in that rebellious-tantrum sort of way. It is a passing stage that requires patience from us all. Because, some Theists, like adults in the full-bloom of maturity, know better.
- Science confirms Belief in God is Natural
- Dr Olivera Petrovich, Childs Theory of World and Justin L. Barrett, Jonathan A. Lanman, The Science of Religious Beliefs cited in 3 Reasons for God
Any errors in this post are my own.
سبحان ربك رب العزة عما يصفون وسلام على المرسلين والحمد لله رب العالمين والصلاة والسلام على رسول الله محمد وعلى اله وصحبه أجمعين
Exalted be your Lord, the Lord of Glory, above what they attribute to Him, and peace be upon the Messengers, and all praise be to Allah, the Lord of the Universe. And the peace and blessing upon prophet Mohammad and his relatives and all his companions.