Sometimes people wonder whether religion is inherited. Could it be genetic? Is there something in man’s make-up that sways him to be religious, or to reject religion? If so, is he influenced by his parent’s religion? What about the children of interfaith marriages? The ready answer offered on the basis of both science and reason is that belief in a religion is not genetic.
It is something that we choose for ourselves, influenced by various factors, no doubt, but there is nothing in our make-up to make us lean toward a particular religion. When we are born, we have no knowledge of anything, whether religious or temporal. God says in the Qur’an: “Allah has brought you forth from your mothers’ wombs devoid of all knowledge, but He has given you hearing, and sight, and minds.” (16: 78) Our knowledge is acquired, not inherent. Yet we have the faculties of perception which will indeed influence how we react to what we acquire of knowledge.
This is indeed confirmed by the Prophet in the following hadith quoted by Abu Hurayrah: “Every newborn is born with sound nature. It is his parents who bring him up as a Christian, a Jew or a Zoroastrian. It is just like an animal is born whole: you do not see any of them born with a cut ear.” As he reported this Hadith, Abu Hurayrah quoted the Qur’anic verse that says: “(It is) the natural disposition which God has installed into man. Nothing can change God’s creation. Such is the ever-true faith.” (30: 30)
The Hadith stresses the fact that we are all born with the same clear image of religion. It does not matter what religion our families follow, we have the same blank sheet at birth. We are just like clear and pure water which has no taste, smell or color. When you add salt, sugar or lemon juice to water, you make it salty, sweet or sour. You can color it with whatever dye you put in it. The Prophet gives the analogy of cattle and how they are born complete: none is born with a cut ear or nose. It is people who print their marks on cattle, or cut their ears or noses to mark them for identification.
The Prophet says that it is a child’s parents that make him a Jew, a Christian or a Zoroastrian. It is how they bring him up. Thus, it is the family and social environment that influence a child’s identity, giving him his religion.
When a child grows up in a religious environment, he will follow the religion he is brought up in. Likewise, if he is brought up in an atheist or agnostic environment, he will not care about religion.
If we imagine someone growing up without any environmental influence whatsoever in as far as religion is concerned, he will retain his clear nature. As such, he tends to believe that the universe is created by a Supreme Being, and that Supreme Being is one and has no partners. This is the religion of clear human nature. This is the natural disposition God has installed in man.
The more contemplation in the universe around us we do, the stronger is our belief that everything in it is controlled by its Creator, the Supreme Being we call God in English, Allah in Arabic, and by other names in other languages.
-by Adil Salahi