IN order to make this world a citadel of peace and tranquillity, the first vital step is to understand each other’s nature. In other words, perhaps there is no subject in the world more important than the understanding of human nature. According to the Quran, we are created from a single soul (4:1). Yet we are different from each other — physically and psychologically. Some of us bear a rigid mindset, while others hold a more flexible outlook. Therefore, the need of the hour is to better understand those whom we interact with, as many of our interpersonal conflicts are the result of misunderstandings.
Generally, it is said that human nature is fundamentally good as it is created according to the divine nature (30:30), but the material environment of the world alters humankind. Similarly, every nation or community around the world is different from the other because of their physical or material environment. People living in mountainous valleys are different in nature from those who live in tropical or coastal regions.
The formation of human nature is subject to many elements and it seems to run in a variety of ways. Sometimes we see a human being predicated upon an angelic character, suffused with the love of humanity, sacrificing his life in the service of others. At the same time, we see another human being of a satanic character, becoming a monster in human form and inflicting harm upon his fellow beings.
There is a vast body of literature dealing with human nature. Many are of the opinion that human nature consists of ingrained characteristics that impact interpersonal relations. The Holy Quran abounds in verses discussing human nature with clear-cut messages about what makes humans angelic or devilish.
Everyone carries within them a spark from the divine flame.
The majority of Quranic injunctions address humans in general. They pinpoint the innate nature of general humanity such as verse 4:28 which says that humans have been created weak. At another place, the holy book says humans have been created impatient (70:19). Yet another verse says humans are very miserly (17:100). In short, one needs to keep these characteristics in mind while dealing with humans in general.
Though every human being is thought to be an animal biologically, he or she carries the seed within them of spirituality — a spark from the divine flame. They have been bestowed with intellect to think, learn and seek guidance to mould themselves into higher beings.
Right thinking at the individual level is one of the fundamental requirements in developing the right type of nature. In our daily interactions, we come across thousands of people. Each person leaves an imprint of his/her thoughts on our minds. We need to monitor and evaluate these incoming thoughts before we turn them into actions. The negative thoughts need to be rejected, while the positive need to be promoted.
When these thoughts are turned into actions, and actions are then repeated over time, they become part of our nature. Thus human nature is a composite of characteristics acquired as a result of this thought process.
Another important element that plays a role in forming human nature relates to our daily intake of food. Food not only fills our stomach, satiates our hunger, makes our bodies strong and healthy, but also contributes in shaping our nature. The Holy Quran says “O ye people! Eat of what is on earth, lawful and good. And do not follow the footsteps of the evil one [Satan] for he is to you an avowed enemy” (2:168).
Islam emphasises upon believers to eat rightfully earned food. If one eats wrongfully earned food (haram) through corruption, dishonesty, fraud or other illegal means, it will definitely affect his nature. Though the unlawfully earned food fills the stomach, it generates undesirable thoughts and beastly tendencies. Therefore, Islam is very emphatic about lawful earning.
Besides the above, there are other elements which play a significant role in forming human nature. These include genes, upbringing, environment, socialisation and education.
Recently, a scientific study was conducted on identical twins, who share the same set of genes. It was believed that studying identical twins could effectively answer several questions related to human nature, including the influence of genes, upbringing, environment and socialisation.
The scientists employed these studies to understand the nature of identical twins that were adopted by different families and thus grew up in significantly different environments. This scientific study later proved that all these elements have a role in shaping the nature of individuals.
Humans are complex beings; their nature is a product of many kinds of influences. Understanding human nature will result in making this world a more peaceful place.
The writer is an educationist with an interest in religion.
Published in Dawn, April 19th, 2019