Principles of Human Development Derivable from the Qur’an and Hadith

 In the opening chapter of the Qur’an, the Fatihah, God declares that He is the Lord and Cherisher of the worlds: All praises are due to Allah, Lord of the worlds. (1:2) What this means is that He is the sole creator of the universe and that He nourishes and sustains it. The implication is that He is the originator of everything (seen and unseen, known and unknown) and that everything depends on Him for sustenance, growth, and development. This interpretation is conveyed in the following verse of the Qur’an: God is the creator of all things, and He is the guardian and disposer of all affairs. (39:62) These verses provide the background for our discussion on aspects and principles of human development in the Qur’an, particularly cognitive development. In fact, as far as the Qur’an is concerned, the meaning of these two verses is the fundamental principle of human development. So, God is the creator of man, and He is the sole determinant of the pattern and process of his growth and development. The following paragraphs enunciate this dominant principle in forms of subprinciples of human development. In the Islamic perspective of developmental psychology, the following principles are identifiable. Human Life (Growth and Development) Is a Gradual ProcessThis is the first principle of development that can be derived from the Qur’an. Having told us that He is the creator, guardian, and disposer of all things, God also told us that He created man in various progressive stages of growth and development. In other words, man’s life has been patterned in stages from conception to death. The stages through which man passes in his growth and development are not merely a matter of chance or accident. They were predesigned, predetermined, and graduated by God Himself. God mentions this basic fact in a number of verses in the Qur’an. Examples of such verses are the following: It is He Who created all things and ordered them in due proportions. (25:2) This verse clearly spells out the fact that the life of every thing has been designed in such a way that every aspect of it is proportionately graduated. In the case of human growth and development it means that the various phases mentioned above have been duly proportioned and all humans have to pass through each stage up to old age and death. That growth and development do not take place at once but pass through the duly and proportionately designed phases is what makes them a gradual process. The following verse clearly mentions that we have been created and caused to grow in phases, not at once: What is the matter with you, that you place not your hope for kindness and long suffering in God? Seeing that it is He that has created you in diverse stages? (71:13-14) Ibn Kathir reported that Abdullah ibn Abbas (hereinafter referred to as Ibn Abbas) and others interpreted this verse to mean that man has been created from a drop of sperm, then transformed into a clot of blood, then into a morsel of flesh, and so on. Allah says in the Qur’an: You shall surely travel from stage to stage. (84:19) Ibn Kathir again reported that ‘Ikrimah (one of the disciples of Ibn Abbas) interpreted this verse to mean that man shall grow from one condition to the other such that he becomes a toddler after being an infant, old after being young and strong. The above verses tell us in general terms that man’s growth and development definitely follow certain stages. These stages are specifically spelled out in some other verses in the Qur’an in more elaborate and particular terms. The Prophet himself enunciated and expounded them in more detail in some of his traditions. These will be seen in our subsequent discussions. It is however important to note that the phases through which growth and development pass are themselves spread over two broad stages. Human life (growth and development) has been categorized in the Qur’an into two broad phases: the prenatal and the postnatal. Each of these phases has been subdivided into different substages having different terms and periods. The following Qur’anic verse succinctly describes the first phase of human life: He makes you in the wombs of your mothers, in stages, one after another, in three veils of darkness. Such is God, your Lord and Cherisher: to Him belongs (all) dominion. There is no god but He: then how are you turned away (from your true center)? (39:6) In another verse, the Qur’an describes the two phases in a precise and concise manner: It is He Who created you from dust, then from a sperm-drop, then from a leech-like clot; then does He get you out (into the light) as a child; then lets you (grow and) reach your age of full strength, then lets you become old-though of you there are some who die before-and lets you reach a term appointed; in order that you may learn wisdom. (40:67) The Qur’an has also told us that the first phase has a certain fixed and definite term within which it reaches its apex of development. Then it is terminated through birth (by delivery). The Qur’an says: And We cause Whom We will to rest in the wombs for an appointed term. (22:5) But in much more elaborate, precise, and detailed terms the following verse further describes these two broad stages with their respective specific phases. It reads thus: O mankind! If you are in doubt about the Resurrection, then verily, We have created you (i.e. Adam) from dust, then from a nutfah (mixed drops of male and female sexual discharges), then from a clot (a piece of thick coagulated blood) then from a little lump of flesh – partly formed and partly unformed – that We make it clear to you (i.e. to show you our Power and ability to do what We Will). And We cause whom We will to remain in the wombs for an appointed term, then We bring you out as infants, then (give you growth) that you may reach your age of full strength. And among you there is he who dies (young), and among you there is he who is brought back to the miserable old age, so that he knows nothing after having known. (22:5) The Prophet (S.A.W.) has precisely and accurately described the first broad stage with fixed time specifications stipulated for each of the phases within it. The hadith reads thus: Lo! The creation of each one of you is composed in the womb of his mother (first) as a nutfah (mixed drop of sperm and ovum) for forty days then after that he transforms to alaqah (a clot of congealed blood) for a similar term, then he transforms to mudghah (a lump of flesh), and then an Angel is sent to blow the spirit into him.18 The Qur’an has also told us that the first broad stage (prenatal) has a certain fixed and definite term within which it reaches its apex of development. Then it is terminated through birth. Allah says: And We cause whom We will to rest in the wombs for an appointed term. (22:5) Therefore, the Qur’an has established that the prenatal period is definite and fixed (usually 9 months under normal circumstances as enunciated in one of the Prophetic traditions) and as experienced practically in daily life. However, the Qur’an further mentions to us that there are exceptional cases whereby the prenatal period terminates, before or after the normal term. And all these happen in accordance with God’s Absolute Will and Decree. The Qur’an says: He it is that fashions (shapes) you in the wombs as He pleases. There is no god save He, the Exalted in Might, the Wise. (2:6) This means that the nature, form, size, and time in which individuals are created and shaped in the womb may vary according to the will and wishes of God. Because of this, He affirms that some pregnancies may be delivered before or after the normal time of delivery. But the knowledge of that (addition or reduction in time) is His exclusive preserve: God doth know what every female (womb) doth bear, by how much the wombs fall short (of their time or number) or do exceed. Every single thing is before His sight, in (due) proportion. He knoweth the unseen and that which is open: He is the Great, the Most High. (13:8-9) As for the postnatal phase of growth and development, the Qur’an does not mention any fixed span of life that is generally applicable to all individuals; it differs from one individual to the other. That is why the Qur’an says: And some of you are called to die (at different ages) and some are sent to the feeblest old age. (22:6) But if the postnatal period is taken in its entirety, Islamic scholars have divided it into four broad stages, and each stage is itself divided into short substages. Allah says: It is God Who creates you and takes your souls at death; and of you there are some who are sent back to a feeble age, so that they know nothing after having known much. (16:70) In his commentary on this verse, Gummi (1922-1992) says the following: Some Islamic scholars have said that man’s life (after birth) has four broad stages. The first stage is the stage of continuous growth and development, which begins from 0 to 33 years (the end of youth and the age at which an individual attains full physical and intellectual maturity). The second stage, from 33 to 40, is the stage of constancy in which increase in growth and development is hardly noticeable. The age of 40 is usually considered the stage at which both physical and intellectual ability reach maturity. The third stage is the stage of mid- or proper adulthood (al-kuhulah). From 40 to 60 years man begins to decline physically and mentally though so subtly and steadily that it can hardly be noticed. The last stage, from 60 to the end of life, is the stage of old age and decline (senescence). In this stage decline becomes more obvious and noticeable.19 According to the Qur’an, human growth and development follow one common pattern which is applicable to every human being. Despite individual differences this pattern applies to every person. The pattern is that every individual grows and develops from initial weakness to strength and then to weakness. In other words, growth and development follow a certain natural inevitable law of rise and fall. That is to say that when the individual gradually reaches the apex of his development, whether physical or cognitive, he then begins to decline gradually. The Qur’an is very precise about this: It is God Who created you in a state of (helpless) weakness, then gave (you) strength after weakness, then, after strength, gave (you) weakness and a hoary head; He creates as He wills. And it is He Who has all knowledge and power. (30:54) It needs to be emphasized here that this single pattern mentioned in this principle and as demonstrated in this verse is applicable to all human beings. We are all created in a state of weakness. This refers to the early stage of our creation right inside the wombs and up to delivery. We are weak at these early stages both physically and mentally. This weakness at the onset of our life is also mentioned in another place (Surat al-Nahl) in the Qur’an but with specific reference to mental weaknesses: And Allah has brought you out from the wombs of your mothers while you know nothing. And He gave you hearing, sight, and hearts that you might give thanks (to Him). (16:78) In several other verses this single and common pattern of early weakness that first characterizes every person’s life and then strength in later development is also clearly indicated. For example: We have enjoined on kindness to his parents: In pain did his mother bear him, and in pain did she give him birth. The carrying of the child (in the womb) to his weaving is (a period of) thirty months. At length when he reaches the age of full strength and attains forty years he says, O my Lord? Grant me that I may be grateful for thy favour, which Thou has bestowed upon me, and upon my parents.20 The necessary analogical deduction that can be made from this verse is that each person’s life begins in weakness, gradually attains strength, and then gradually declines, just as the first verse under this principle clearly states. The decline is the beginning of a second dimension of weakness that characterizes human life at the end of one’s life. And this has also been stated in this verse and several others. This pattern is certainly common to all human beings as it is witnessed in our life experiences. This principle, it should be noted, does not eliminate the fact of individual differences. What is actually meant is that, although this pattern is applicable to all humans, there are always a number of differences among individuals in terms of specific developmental variables and processes. For the purpose of illustration, let us assume that two identical things are born at the same moment. This principle applies to both of them in the sense that they are both helpless, weak, miniature human beings, and both gradually begin to grow and develop until both attain full strength. However, it may be noticed that one may be dark in complexion while another may be light. Again, while one may be fat, the other may be slim. These are some forms of individual differences. They do not however, like all other forms, eliminate the fact of the common pattern of development represented by this principle, just as the principle itself does not wipe away this very fact of individual differences. A more detailed discussion on individual differences in development comes later in this article.

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