The Blank Slate

Steven Pinker on Parenting (The Blank Slate):

The Blank Slate


motherhoodThe “nature verses nurture” scientific debate concerns the extent to which a child is influenced by the norms and values of its society, in contrast to its natural inbuilt DNA/spiritual influences. Muslims don’t necessary believe that a child is born as a “blank slate” – to be programmed and conditioned by its parents or society. Within Muslim religious tradition, there is also the belief that the child already has a predisposition to believe in God. Every newborn child is considered to be a “Muslim” until they are predominantly influenced by society to become something other than that.


In his English translation of the Holy Qur’an, Mohammad Asad explains the term “Muslim” as follows:


“The term Muslim signifies “one who surrenders himself to God”; correspondingly, Islam denotes “self-surrender to God”. Both these terms are applied in the Qur’an to all who believe in the One God and affirm this belief by an unequivocal acceptance of His revealed messages. Since the Qur’an represents the final and most universal of these divine revelations, the believers are called upon, in the sequence, to follow the guidance of its Apostle and thus to become an example for all mankind.

…it is obvious that the Qur’an cannot be correctly understood if we read it merely in the light of later ideological developments, losing sight of its original purport and the meaning which it had – and was intended to have – for the people who first heard it from the lips of the Prophet himself. For instance, when his contemporaries heard the words Islam and Muslim, they understood them as denoting man’s “self-surrender to God” and “one who surrenders himself to God”, without limiting these terms to any specific community or denomination – e.g., in [Quran verse] 3:67, where Abraham is spoken of as having “surrendered himself unto God” (kana musliman), or in 3:52, where the disciples of Jesus say, “Bear thou witness that we have surrendered ourselves unto God (bi-anna muslimun)”. In Arabic, this original meaning has remained unimpaired, and no Arab scholar has ever become oblivious of the wide connotation of these terms. Not so, however, the non-Arab of our day, believer and non-believer alike: to him, Islam and Muslim usually bear a restricted, historically circumscribed significance, and apply exclusively to the followers of the Prophet Muhammad.”


[Qur’an 7:171] AND WHENEVER thy Sustainer brings forth their offspring from the loins of the children of Adam, He [thus] calls upon them to bear witness about themselves: “Am I not your Sustainer?” – to which they answer: “Yea, indeed, we do bear witness thereto!”

(See translator’s note on this verse, as below)

[Of this We remind you,] lest you say on the Day of Resurrection, “Verily, we were unaware of this”;

(7:173) or lest you say, “Verily, it was but our forefathers who, in times gone by, began to ascribe divinity to other beings beside God; and we were but their late offspring: wilt Thou, then, destroy us for the doings of those inventors of falsehoods?”



In the original, this passage is in the past tense (“He brought forth”, “He asked them”, etc.), thus stressing the continuous recurrence of the above metaphorical “question” and “answer”: a continuity which is more clearly brought out in translation by the use of the present tense.

According to the Qur’an, the ability to perceive the existence of the Supreme Power is inborn in human nature (fitrah); and it is this instinctive cognition – which may or may not be subsequently blurred by self-indulgence or adverse environmental influences – that makes every sane human being “bear witness about himself” before God. As so often in the Qur’an, God’s “speaking” and man’s “answering” is a metonym for the creative act of God and of man’s existential response to it.


Qur’an verse: 30:30:

AND SO, set thy face steadfastly towards the [one ever-true] faith, turning away from all that is false, in accordance with the natural disposition which God has instilled into man: [for,] not to allow any change to corrupt what God has thus created – this is the [purpose of the one] ever-true faith; but most people know it not.



The term fitrah, rendered by me as “natural disposition”, connotes in this context man’s inborn, intuitive ability to discern between right and wrong, true and false, and, thus, to sense God’s existence and oneness. Reference the famous saying of the Prophet, quoted by Bukhiri and Muslim: “Every child is born in this natural disposition; it is only his parents that later turn him into a ‘Jew’, a ‘Christian’, or a ‘Magian’.” These three religious formulations, best known to the contemporaries of the Prophet, are thus contrasted with the “natural disposition” which, by definition, consists in man’s instinctive cognition of God and self-surrender (Islam) to Him. (The term “parents” has here the wider meaning of “social influences or environment”).

[Source: The Message of the Qur’an, Translated and explained by Muhammad Asad]


For further information – on the Muslim view of the natural disposition of a new-born, watch the following YouTube videos by Muslim revert Prof. Joseph Lumbard:


Islam and Covenantial Pluralism (Prof J. Lumbard) Part 2 – YouTube:

Islam and Covenantial Pluralism (Prof J. Lumbard) Part 3 – YouTube


Song lyrics by Sia “Blank Page”:





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