Intelligence and the acceptance of God
By A. Muhammad

The inspiration behind this article came from a question I once received. The question was rational and quite relevant; it required a Quranic answer. As often is the case, many questions when answered in the light of the Quran will give replies that can be quite different than if the Quranic input was not taken into account. The difference is that the Quranic reply incorporates God's view on the subject of the question, while as without the Quranic input the reply would merely represent human logic and common sense. These two are not always congruent. The following was the question paused:

"My interaction with some people demonstrates to me time and time again that such people have no chance to understand anything other than what their parents taught them. I struggle with reconciling an extremely merciful God who does not forgive 'shirk' with the fact that some people are simple-minded through no fault of theirs. Surely, their lack of intelligence restricts their chance of understanding and distinguishing truth from falsehood. How can they on Judgement Day be treated on par with those who were blessed with more intelligent brains? It seems that more intelligent people are given an unfair advantage!"

Before replying, it is important to correct a misconception found in the following sentence of the question:
"Such people have no chance to understand anything other than what their parents taught them."

The word "understand" in the above statement is not the accurate word to describe what actually happens. The more accurate word to use to illustrate the behaviour of such people should be:

"Such people have no chance to accept anything other than what their parents taught them."

What they were taught by their parents with regards to religion was understood and accepted by them. The true Islam of the Quran does not require a higher degree of intelligence. It is not the lack of understanding that prevents them from following the Quran. The real reason is their unwillingness to accept and follow the Quranic teachings and law. That is what ultimately leads them astray as the following words assert:

And when it is said to them, "Follow what God has brought down," they say, "No, we only follow what we found our fathers upon." What! Even if their fathers did not understand anything and were not guided?

When they were invited to follow what was brought down to them (Quran), they did not say that they do not understand what was brought down, but they expressed their unacceptance to follow anything other than what they found their fathers doing. It is a case of not accepting rather than not understanding. The reason why they are unwilling to accept the Quranic teachings is what we aim to analyse in this article.

In normal circumstances, whenever the human brain attempts to understand or analyses any matter, intelligence plays a key factor in the success or failure of what is being attempted.
Since the journey of finding God, accepting God, and submitting to His absolute authority all seem to be intellectual procedures, we need to know why God, the Most Merciful, would judge people equally on the Day of Judgement, when the level of intelligence granted to every individual is different. This question becomes more apt in the knowledge that the variations in intelligence between people can indeed be extensive. In addition, God grants people minds of different intelligence, without them having any choice in the matter. It would, therefore, seem that there may be a degree of injustice involved. It would seem that those with higher intelligence are granted an unfair advantage over those with simple minds!
To examine this apparent injustice in the light of the Quran, it is necessary first to point out that the human being is a combination of 3 things:

The Physical body: The physical body houses all the organs of the body. One of these organs is the human brain. The human brain is assigned numerous functions such as receiving information, analyzing the information as well as storing it. The brain is also responsible for orchestrating all body functions through sending signals to every part of the body that ensure the smooth functioning of all the organs of the body. We may think of the human brain as a very advanced computer, for that is what it is in practical terms. It is estimated that the human brain can process trillions of instructions per second.

The NAFS (self): this is the true person inside each one of us. The self is not a component of the physical body, but a separate entity. The self lives on long after the physical body has died and decayed.

The RUH: We learn from the Quran that the RUH is something that comes from God. In a loose sense, it can be likened to a spark that instills life in the human being:

Once I have fashioned him and blown into him from My Ruh, you shall fall prostrate to him. 15:29

It is the final act of blowing into Adam from the RUH of God that sparked life into him and he became a living creature.
As to what exactly is the RUH: this knowledge is beyond our understanding. Its knowledge is known only to God:

They ask you about the Ruh, say, "The Ruh is my Lord's concern, and the knowledge you have been given is but little."
It was necessary to list the three components (body-self-Ruh) that comprise a living human being because the role of each one is quite crucial to the subject of this article.
Now let us study the verdict of a number of important verses.

Several Quranic verses tell us that although the self is encased in the physical body for the duration of the worldly life, yet the self is independent of the physical body:

God takes back the 'anfus' (selves) at the times of their death, and also of those who have not died during their sleep. Then He retains those for whom He has decreed death and sends the others back for a specified term. In that are signs for people who reflect.

The above words confirm that the self is separated from the body even while we sleep, and thus the self is not a component of the physical body; it is independent of it.

Although it is our brain that receives, analyses and stores information, yet the brain is not a decision-maker. All our conscious decisions are made by our self. This is confirmed in the following verses:

I do not claim innocence for myself. The self is indeed an enjoiner of sin, except for what my Lord has mercy upon. My Lord is Forgiver, Merciful.

Anything bad that happens to you is from your own self. 4:79

The words above state that it is the (self) that enjoins sin, and not our brain.

His own self persuaded him to kill his brother
, so he killed him, and thus he became one of the losers. 5:30

The words in 5:30 once again confirm that it was the (self) of the evil son of Adam that enticed him to kill his brother and not his brain.

Since the self is independent of the brain (point ONE above), and also it is the self that is the decision-maker (point TWO above) and not the brain, it follows that it is our (self) that should be held accountable on Judgement Day and not our brain. That is exactly what we read in the following verses:

And beware of a Day when you will be returned to God, then every self will be paid in full for what it has earned, and they will not be wronged.

Every self earns
for none other than itself. 6:164

That is when every self will be put to trial for what it had previously done.

That will be the Day when every self will come arguing for itself, and every self will be paid in full for what it did, and they will not be wronged.

The self is independent of the brain, and it is the self that is the decision-maker and not the brain. All our conscious decisions and choices during our life on earth are made by our self and not our brain.
One of these decisions, and indeed the most important, is the decision to accept God or reject God, to worship God sincerely or to commit shirk.
The degree of development or intelligence of the human brain is not the deciding factor when it comes to accepting God and devoting the religion purely to Him (39:11) or not. No matter how bright or dim the brain may be; it will never be the decision-maker.

If the decisions made by the self are not dependent on the intelligence of the brain, what are they dependent on? The Quran, which contains "explanations for all things" (16:89), informs us that such decisions are a product of the degree of purity of the self.
When the angels told Mary that God has purified her, it meant that God purified her (self) and not her brain:

The angels said, "O Mary, God has chosen you and purified you, and He has chosen you over the women of all the people.

When God instructed prophet Muhammad to take a charity from the money of the believers to purify them, the purification was also of the self and not of the brain:

Take a charity from their money to cleanse and purify them with it, and support them.

It is worth noting that reference in the Quran to the self can also be made with the words 'heart' or 'chest'.

1- The 'heart': In such verses where God speaks of the content of the heart, reference is to the self and not to the physical organ in the body:

Absolutely, through the remembrance of God do the hearts feel assured.

What is assured is the self and not the physical organ in our body.
We also read that God will not guide or purify those with sickness in their hearts self:

In their hearts is sickness. Consequently, God increased their sickness and they shall have a painful punishment because they used to lie. 2:10

Those are the ones whose hearts God did not wish to purify.

The reason God would not guide some people is not because their brains are not intelligent enough, but because their self is impure, they have sickness in their hearts selves.

2- Reference to the self is also often made with the word 'chest' such as:

He knows what is in the heavens and the earth, and He knows what you conceal and what you declare.God is Knowledgeable of what the chests hold. 64:4

God is not saying that He knows what people hide in their lungs, but once again, the reference is to the content of the self.

In the Hereafter, God will purify the self from all animosity for the believers granted Paradise. Once again, the word used is 'chest':

We stripped away any animosity there was from their chests, and rivers will flow beneath them.
7:43 (also 15:47)


If the choice between belief or disbelief, the pure worship of God or committing shirk, was a decision made by the brain, then we would expect to find all the intelligent intellectuals, scientists, philosophers to be sincere believers, while the simple-minded to all be atheists!
However, the stark reality is that we often find a large number of very highly intelligent individuals, scientists, and great philosophers, to be renowned atheists! In contrast, we find that the ratio of believers seems to be much higher among the less educated simple-minded people.

The human brain is no more than a physical apparatus devised for us to navigate our journey in the worldly life. At the end of our life on earth, our brains will die and decay just like any other organ in the body.
The self on the other hand is the real person who we are. The self does not die but carries on long after the end of our worldly life. It is the self that is responsible for all decisions we make and it is thus the part of us that will be judged and held accountable on the Day of Judgement.

Brain intelligence does not make belief easier nor more difficult, simply because such decisions are not made in the brain nor by the brain. The brain is simply an information collection, analysis, and storing apparatus. The brain is not responsible for any of the conscious decisions and choices a person makes during his life.
Therefore, there is no trace of injustice in this matter. God does not inflict any injustice on any human being:

God does not inflict an atom's weight of injustice.

God does not wrong the people in any way, but it is the people who wrong themselves.10:44