The evening of May 12 will mark the end of Ramadan and the beginning of Eid al-Fitr. Since the time of Aristotle philosophers thought that mankind’s ability to use tools was what made human nature unique. However, we now know that several different species (including birds) use and make tools.
Chimps also use tools in different ways in various locations, so tool use must also have a cultural factor and not just be a genetic factor. Chimps also can be taught simple sign language and are able to make up simple sentences in sign language.
So if tool making, culture, and simple language do not distinguish human nature from our nearest primate relatives, what makes humans what we are?
Religious spirituality is one answer. Religion; like art, music and advanced language capabilities are found universally among all human tribes, ethnic groups and nations in the world.
The concept that every child is born with a natural belief in God; and an inborn inclination to worship only one God, is called in Arabic; “Fitra”.
Religion is part of human nature (fitra). As Prophet Muhammad taught, “ “No babe is born but upon Fitra. It is his parents who make him a Jew or a Christian or a Polytheist.” (Sahih Muslim, Book 033, Number 6426)
Children are not born out of any sin, original, inherited or derived. They are all born with the natural ability to believe in a religion as part of their nature, just as they are born with the capability to learn any human language.
It is reported on the authority of Abu Mu’awiya that (the Prophet) said: “Every new-born babe is born on the millat (organized religion) and remains on this until his tongue is enabled to express himself (is able to talk in sentences)”.
This Hadith has (also) been narrated on the authority of Abu Mu’awiya through another chain of transmitters (as follows):” Every child is born only with this Fitra, so long as he does not express himself with his tongue.” (#6427)
Thus, every (normal) human baby is naturally endowed by its creator with the ability to speak a language; and to believe in a religion of unseen spiritual beings and ritual practices.
Parents provide the specific language content (words, grammar, syntax, etc.) and the specific religious content (polytheism, idolatry, monotheism, etc.) Thus, “It is his parents who make him a Jew or a Christian or a Polytheist.” This does nor occur because parents rationally convince their children that their own beliefs are true.
Children believe what their parents teach them because during the last 5-10.000 generations, the importance of human cultural became increasingly important, and young children who ignored what their parents and society taught them, had a lower survival rate than those who believed their parents.
All sentient beings are able to respond to the challenges of life. In each species some individuals respond to new environmental challenges better than others do; and their descendants increase. All sentient beings that are conscious, are capable of learning from the challenges of life. They can improve themselves.
A few species are even able to show others in their species what they have learned; and thus improve their group and their descendants chances of survival. These species have developed cultural ways of meeting life’s challenges.
Our species has developed the God given ability to believe in our parents and our society’s religion with great skill.
For almost all of the last 200,000 years Homo Sapiens were small group, hierarchically organized, social primates. Although biological evolution occurs in individuals, any genes that enable the group (extended family and/or band) to function better as a group, will contribute to individual survival rates and reproductive success within the group.
Increasing mental capacities were productive from a tool making perspective; but these same increasing mental capacities sometimes had negative side effects such as anxiety, stress, self imposed tension and neurosis.
Any genetic adaptation that increased individual and community levels of social and individual trust, confidence, and optimism would in turn help correct or ameliorate individual mental disabilities due to negative mental states.
Such genes would be selected for, and would spread throughout that population. If that gave the group better survival rates and increased population growth the genes would keep spreading.
Spiritual activities among our species have evolved over the last 120-170,000 years. If one takes seriously the Biblical claim that humanity was created in the Divine image, and the Qur’an’s statement that humans were created to be vice-regents with God, spiritual evolution testifies to the creation by God, of creatures who are social co-creators of purpose driven, non-material religious responses to environmental and social challenges.
You might think that if children were left alone, they would all worship Allah the right way, but that cannot happen because all children must be raised by other people or they would die.
Even if they could be raised by Godless robots, all children are affected by all the things around them, seen or unseen.
The only known exception to this universal situation is a Hadith from Ubayy b. Ka’b, who reported that Allah’s Messenger said: The young man whom Khadir killed was a non-believer by his very nature and had he survived he would have involved his parents in defiance and unbelief. (#6434)
The evolution of spiritual activities that enhance the successful survival of humanity is not only concerned with enhancing the survival of our own species. With the recent domestication of plants and animals and the very recent industrial revolution, humans acquired a great deal of responsibility for the evolution of most of the species on the planet itself.
Thus, the behavior of religious people themselves now becomes a factor in the evolution of life on earth. All human beings need to connect to our Fitra and accept our duty help heal our planet and our society before it is to late.