Maternal affection- Signs of Allah’s (swt) compassion

handholdingRecent scientific research has shown that there are genes in infants that are activated when they receive affection — or lack of affection — from their mothers.

Brain analysis performed by researchers from NYU Langone Medical Center has revealed that several hundred genes are more, or less, active when infants experience pain than those that do not. However, when infants receive affection from their mothers as a manifestation of Allah’s (swt) compassion, fewer than a hundred genes are similarly expressed.

In a study involving rats, Regina Sullivan, a neurobiologist researching the subject, for the first time revealed the short-term effects of maternal affection on a distressed infant’s brain.

The study was also designed to show the long-term consequences of maternal affection. The study’s conclusion was striking, because similar effects were shown in humans, as well as, other mammals.

The study showed that a mother’s “Tender Loving Care” (TLC) reduces sensations of pain in babies. TLC also had a positive effect on early brain development. It was conducted by altering gene activity in the region of the brain involved in emotions.

Sullivan said: “Our study shows that a mother comforting her infant in pain does not just elicit a behavioural response, but also the comforting itself modifies — for better or worse — critical neural circuitry during early brain development.”

The study involved genetic analyses on the almond-sized amygdala region in the infant rat’s brain. This is the region responsible for emotional processes. Signals related to fear or pleasure, for instance, are processed by that region.

Sullivan discovered that maternal affection controlled electrical signaling in the infant rat’s brain. The latest research has shed light on the complex mechanisms by which affection eliminates feelings of pain in newborns.

Sullivan went on to say that nobody would want to see an infant, from whatever species, suffering; and emphasized that, new alternative methods should be developed to treat pain in infants, since the opiate-based drugs used to treat adults suffering from physical pain could be very dangerous for infants. Maternal affection and care, and maybe even factors such as the mother’s scent, may be able to reduce that pain.

Sullivan directed her attention to the long-term consequences of these genetic modifications. In her view, these long-term consequences must be compared to the short-term benefits for tying pain stimuli throughout infancy to the mother, the symbol of safety and security.

Sullivan also said: “The more we learn about nurturing the infant brain during infancy, the better prepared we are to deal with the long-term problems that arise from pain, and physical and mental abuse experienced during infancy.”

It is of course, Almighty and Omniscient Allah (swt) Who produces all living things’ superior characteristics; Who causes them to adopt rational plans; and Who creates and inspires these. “And Allah did create you (Adam) from dust, then from Nutfah (male and female discharge semen drops i.e. Adam’s offspring), then He made you pairs (male and female). And no female conceives or gives birth, but with His Knowledge. And no aged man is granted a length of life, nor is a part cut off from his life (or another man’s life), but is in a Book (Al-Lauh Al-Mahfuz) Surely, that is easy for Allah.” (Fatir 35:11)

Chance is unable to account for the cause and source of a living being’s behaviour. It is of great importance to examine living being’s behaviour from that perspective because observations show that no living being is completely uncontrolled. It is Allah (swt), the Lord of the earth and heavens and all that lies between; Who creates all living things from nothing; Who observes them at every moment and commands their behaviour. This is revealed as follows in the Quran, “

“I put my trust in Allah, my Lord and your Lord! There is not a moving (living) creature but He has grasp of its forelock. Verily, my Lord is on the Straight Path (the truth).” (Hud 11:56)

The wisdom behind sensitivity to affection

There is much wisdom in the way that Allah (swt) creates people to be so sensitive to love and affection. Allah (swt) is the Most Merciful of the merciful, and He commands people to submit to, and seek refuge in, Him alone.

People are created to be so sensitive to love and affection- so that they feel a natural need to seek the shelter of their Lord, the All-Merciful and the Most Loving. Such people turn to Allah (swt) with a great passion, and submit to Him in all matters.

The affection that people need as babies is met by the love of Allah (swt) manifested in the mother; but as a person gains consciousness, he becomes aware that he needs to seek the shelter of Allah’s (swt) love, and he needs to alter his mind and will accordingly. Believers who possess unwavering faith know that Allah (swt) is the All-Merciful and the Most Merciful; and that He is the most loving toward His servants; and they feel His love and compassion throughout their lives.

Paradise, the greatest manifestation of His love, awaits the believers in their eternal lives.

It is revealed in the Quran that Allah (swt) is the Most Merciful of the merciful as follows, He (Moses) said, “Musa (Moses) said: “O my Lord! Forgive me and my brother, and make us enter into Your Mercy, for you are the Most Merciful of those who show mercy.”(Al-Araf 7:151)

And (remember) Ayub (Job), when he cried to his Lord: “Verily, distress has seized me, and You are the Most Merciful of all those who show mercy.”(Al-Anbiya 21:83)

Bring Life to Learning and Learning to Life

education_researchChildren are naturally inventive. They do not need to be told to be creative. Perhaps, they need guidance, motivation and inspiration to boost up their creativity. Research, design and evaluation provide the opportunity to young children to enhance their intellectual learning. The concept of research development is not yet accepted as fundamental to educational change by our educational institutions. Many schools still believe in traditional teaching methodologies. However, educational research culture should be adopted for an improved educational system in our country.

Educational research defined

It is a field of inquiry, the systematic generation of new knowledge, development of new ideas and experimenting with new techniques. Clear and open-minded questions call for real research and thinking and furnish ways for evaluating answers. It aims at advancing knowledge of education and learning processes, while simultaneously developing the human resource.

Teachers’ professional development – a crisis or negative teaching culture?

Teachers’ learning and professional development is not much valued in Pakistan. They are merely trained as classroom teachers. The research-based teacher training culture is hardly seen in Pakistani schools. Research culture has made its way into higher educational institutions but not in schools. School heads and principals expect teachers to teach their students but not lead them. Teachers are required to teach the syllabus prescribed by the school. They are not encouraged to experiment with new innovative approaches of teaching. Anyone, who shares a new idea from a book or design creative activities for students, is criticized. In such schools, positive views of professional learning are counter cultural. Due to negative and unsupportive attitude of the school management, teachers do not bother to take interest in research and are compelled to use the age old traditional teaching methods.  Thus, negative teaching culture has seriously impaired learning skills of teachers.

To respond to these challenges, many educationists face confusion and constraints in their minds as to how can they make schools research oriented.  What goals and strategies should be adopted to create research learning environment in the schools?

 Action research strategy

Today, many schools are using research culture in their schools; however, they are not aware that their teaching methodologies are based on research. The teaching strategy used in classrooms is action research strategy.

Action research involves three forms of research:

  1. Exploratory
  2. Evaluative
  3. Experimental

The teacher uses research element in developing the curriculum, content and activities. To make the classroom climate interactive, teacher uses teaching methods that include group discussion, individual presentation, searching information from the library or internet and creative writing tasks. The research projects introduced in classroom help to explore student’s learning strategy and also strengthen student-teacher relationship.

School – a teacher’s hub

To promote teacher as a researcher and a proactive learner, work place learning such as school is considered as an essential element in enhancing the professional development of teachers. The work place must provide continuous learning opportunities for teachers and encourage them to reflect and practice new ideas or new skills in classroom. Many teachers believe that they learn most effectively from the judgment and perception of their students in the classroom.

Collaborative learning

Another important source of learning for teachers is co-operative learning in which teachers share their new ideas and introduce modern teaching methods to their colleagues.

Some schools are following observation and assessment approach which is also beneficial for enhancing teacher professional development. This includes peer coaching and teacher evaluation which encourage teachers to improve their professional competencies. The teacher, as a person and learner, has to develop skills, qualities and attitudes such as commitment, confidence, flexibility and passion for learning, analytic and conceptual thinking to enhance his professional skills respectively.

Importance of research-based learning

The sole purpose of stimulating educational research in children is to give them an insight of what they learn. The curriculum, modes of instruction, assessments and learning opportunities should be clearly linked with natural environment and developed to cater the needs and interests of the students. The firsthand experience in a child’s education comes from nature. Dienes (1969) suggests that children need to build or construct their own concepts from within rather than having those concepts imposed upon them. This means that children at a very young age are inquisitive about their surroundings and have a desire to explore them. It is the responsibility of teachers to let children explore, think and question. The questions formed in the mind enhance learning and intellectual capabilities of young children.

Let the wind of change blow!

The present scenario implies that in order to bring a cultural change in schools, the teachers, students and communities should collectively work together for a unified goal. Research and development has great significance in shaping developing communities. The first step to raise awareness among teachers and parents to bring a meaningful change in our education system is the collective acceptance of re-thinking schooling. Workshops, seminar and other training sessions provide a platform to teachers and educationists to collectively think about redefining their goals and objectives. Having the same vision in mind, an educational institution organized a seminar which focused on enhancing research culture in schools. The guest speakers in the seminar talked about the significance of research in teaching and learning; and pondered over various reasons that are causing hindrance in increasing research skills among teachers and students.

The focal point of that seminar was to emphasize upon a radical change in education system. The change has been centered to the need for schools to create an environment which is conducive to promoting research skills in teachers and students. We need to provide the learners with a fundamental precept of Islamic education integrated with Islamic Tarbiyah. An eminent Muslim political thinker Al-Mauwardi in his book entitled “The Leadership and Politics” writes that the essential characteristic for a Muslim educator is to have knowledge, perception, intellect, intuition and revelation which enhances research skills in teachers and students. Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah said: “To gain knowledge and research in children, an educator must encourage children to be creative, inquisitive and ask questions. Children should remain quiet and listen attentively and understand well. And lastly act upon the knowledge being gained.

The seminar outlined the fact there is a general consensus that schools need to adopt research teaching approaches. But this process of change is still a big challenge for various schools who still believe in unreflective and conventional teaching methods. Radical change in education is impossible unless education leaders critically analyze and understand the goals and objectives of research in educational development. Research element reveals that transmission of knowledge, values and beliefs into classroom practices offers multiple opportunities for students and teachers to improve their effectiveness and efficiency.


Let’s Talk Taharah

clean-water“Better keep yourself clean and bright; you are the window through which you must see the world.” (George Bernard Shaw)

While people generally consider cleanliness desirable, Islam insists upon it. Let’s talk Taharah.

We jump into the shower, soap up and clean the dirt off – then get on with our days’ activities. We mull over the brand of our toothpaste, soap and shampoo more than the actual “act” of cleaning.

Islam deals with hygiene as part of an overall scheme of ritual, spiritual and physical cleanliness called Taharah. The nearest meaning of Taharah in the English language is “purity.” But it also includes essence of cleanliness, ablution as well as sanctity.

We do not know “Taharah.” We generally associate Taharah with cleaning and hygiene only.

Hygiene is a complex Pandora’s box of a topic, full of doubtful stuff we’d rather not confront. It contains filth and disease, bugs, germs and grubby private habits. On the other hand, it also contains images of sparkling kitchens and bathrooms; scrubbed, perfumed and well-groomed people; and an endless array of cleaning products. It sits uneasily between filth and cleanliness; between the private and the public; and between the scientific and the religious domains of society. While we all agree that hygiene is important, improving it becomes difficult if we cannot agree on what it means or understand where it comes from.

Islam deals with hygiene as part of an overall scheme of ritual, spiritual and physical cleanliness called Taharah. The nearest meaning of Taharah in the English language is “purity.” But it also includes essence of cleanliness, ablution as well as sanctity.

So, do we humans have hygiene instincts? After a series of research projects looking into hygiene motivation around the world (example, India, Africa, Netherlands and the United Kingdom), a scientific study found evidence for this idea. When interviewed about the ‘why’ of their hygiene habits, the study found that people found it hard to explain their reactions to certain stimuli. Faced with feces, bodily fluids, rotten food and creepy-crawlies, people would say, “I can’t explain it – they are just yuck!” It seemed that there was a powerful sense of disgust involved, which compelled people to avoid nasty, sticky, oozing and teeming stuff. (‘A Natural History of Hygiene’, Valerie A Curtis, PhD, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine)

So, do we humans have hygiene instincts? After a series of research projects looking into hygiene motivation around the world (example, India, Africa, Netherlands and the United Kingdom), a scientific study found evidence for this idea.

It is in our nature (Fitrah) to want to be pure or Tahir. Taharah is an instinct ingrained in us by Allah (swt). It is no wonder then that Taharah is the first lesson of Islam. Allah (swt) says in one of His first revelations: “And purify your garments….”  (Al-Muddaththir, 74: 4 – 5)

There is a link between physical and ritual purity. Physical purity is ridding one-self of dirt and physical impurities (Najasah). Being physically clean is conducive to ritual purity. Just like having a clean container is essential for keeping water free of impurities. No matter how pure the water is, if the container is contaminated with filth, it will certainly contaminate the water.

In many cases, Taharah encompasses both physical and ritual purity simultaneously.  For example bathing (Ghusl) after sexual intercourse, and for women – at the end of menstruation and after post partum bleeding is a deliberate cleansing act of purifying the body by following a Sunnah prescribed ritual.

The Islamic prayer (Salah), has a uniqueness unlike the prayer in other religions, in which physical purification is a necessary condition. If prayer is the key to Paradise then, likewise purification is the key to prayer. 

A distinctive characteristic of Taharah is that it is a means to an end as well as an end in itself.  It is a form of worship (Ibadah) as well as preparation for other forms of Ibadah. Since worship is direct communication with Allah (swt), Taharah can also be viewed as a protocol preparation for an important event.

Taharah embraces cleanliness. A clean environment and a clean body are part of aesthetic beauty and are also necessary for sanitation and health. However, we must not equate it with fancy stuff only. There are some cases like Tayammum (dry ablution) where Taharah is achieved without cleanliness as we usually understand.  The spectrum of Taharah then goes beyond our acceptable perception of hygiene here.

Do not think for a minute that Taharah is merely a hypothetical concept.  Islam is pragmatic in all matters and Islamic concepts have practical implications. Taharah is an essential part of the rites and worship to such extent that it is an inseparable part of a Muslim’s life.  The Prophet (sa) said: “Purification is half of faith.” (Muslim, Ahmad and Tirmidhi)

A distinctive characteristic of Taharah is that it is a means to an end as well as an end in itself.  It is a form of worship (Ibadah) as well as preparation for other forms of Ibadah.

The Islamic prayer (Salah), has a uniqueness unlike the prayer in other religions, in which physical purification is a necessary condition. If prayer is the key to Paradise then, likewise purification is the key to prayer. The Prophet (sa) said: “Allah does not accept prayers without purification.” (Muslim and Ibn Majah)

Taharah then becomes essential knowledge for every Muslim, it is not simply “staying clean” or “being hygienic” – but preparing for standing before Allah (swt).  It is a ruling of Islamic law. Every Muslim is obliged to turn to the Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet (sa) and take instructions from there.

“O you who believe! Approach not As-Salah when you are in a drunken state until you know (the meaning) of what you utter, nor when you are in a state of Janabah, (i.e. in a state of sexual impurity and have not yet taken a bath) except when travelling on the road (without enough water, or just passing through a mosque), till you wash your whole body. And if you are ill, or on a journey, or one of you comes after answering the call of nature, or you have been in contact with women (by sexual relations) and you find no water, perform Tayammum with clean earth and rub therewith your faces and hands Truly, Allah is Ever Oft Pardoning, Oft Forgiving.” (An-Nisa, 4:43)


The Companions of the Prophet (sa) declared with confidence, that yes, our Prophet (sa) has even taught us how to clean ourselves after going to the toilet – Alhumdulillah.

Why is there such stress on Taharah in Islam? Firstly, it is one of the qualities beloved to Allah (swt). He says: “Truly, Allah loves those who turn unto Him in repentance and loves those who purify themselves.” (Al-Baqarah, 2:222).  Secondly, it is the path to health and strength. The Muslim is entrusted with his body, thus, he must not neglect it. The Prophet (sa) said: “Your body has a right on you.” (Agreed upon)

Thirdly, it is a prerequisite to appearing in the way most loved by Allah (swt) and His Prophet (sa). Allah (swt) says: “O children of Adam! Take your adornment (by wearing your clean clothes) while praying.” (Al-Araf, 7:31)

And lastly, cleanliness and pleasant appearance are conducive for cultivating healthy human relationships. A man came to the Prophet (sa) with unkempt hair and untidy beard. The Prophet (sa) pointed to him, as if ordering him to straighten his hair and beard. He did so and returned. Thereupon the Prophet (sa) observed, ‘Is that not better than one of you coming with his hair unkempt, as if he were a devil?’ (Malik)

Science continues to zero in on, to make more precise, what we ‘feel’ to be right: dirt causes disease. But as a species, we are naturally hygienic – in fact, we ‘knew’ that all along. Islam endorses and institutionalizes the whole hygiene thing for us in the most user-friendly package – so go soap up!