Why Are Some Gifted More Than Others?

24 February, 2018
Q My question concerns giftedness. I have several questions and concerns and would like to know what the Islamic perspective is. Why does Allah make some people exceptionally smarter than others? Are such people obliged to serve humanity in some extraordinary way? Any gender difference in expectation/obligation to the world? Does Islam offer or recommend any ways to raise gifted children or extra obligations on the part of the parents? For example, is a father compelled to spend his money to get IQ, psychological testing, special schools, classes, enrichment activities? Would the mother have extra obligations to remain home to support the child, rather than seeking her own career (even if the mother is gifted)? How can one handle: psychological, social and other problems that arise from being gifted? (E.g. teacher resentment, peer resentment, asynchronous development, perfectionism, disappointment in others and the world around.) What if you have a child who is musically gifted? I don't understand why Allah would create such qualities in a child, yet disallow music. Would enrichment classes such as ballet, tap, gymnastics, swimming, etc. be frowned upon Islamically? Some of the "problems" of having a gifted child is their excessive energy, their need for constant attention/teaching (at least when young), their hypersensitivity to physical and emotional sensations (resulting in lots of crying and the need for the parents to devote more attention). It can be very demanding and taxing for a family, for other siblings, etc. How can a family deal with these extra stresses, especially without any family or many friends nearby? Thanks.

Answer

As salamu `alaykum.

Thank you for your several questions, which are all quite challenging. Firstly, I would just respond overall that we should all see ourselves, every single human being on earth, as being created to serve. The best people are those who are most useful to others.

Yes, Allah has given each of us certain abilities and capabilities that are to be used to serve Him by serving His creation, for as so much as we serve and contribute to human welfare we glorify Allah. One thing we must understand, however, is how we define such words as ‘greatness’, ‘extraordinary’, etc. During our times, we may think a genius has to go to Harvard and become a great scientist or become famous in some special skill or trade.

However, in the eyes of Allah, greatness can only be defined according to our piety. If we are endowed with certain gifts, wand we use those gifts to serve Allah, then they truly are great. However, if we use them merely to obtain fame and fortune, then they are our means of self-destruction. It is not so much the gift, therefore, but rather how we use it and what we do with it, i.e. the intention with which it is used.

In a time past, the greatest talents in the Muslim world became scholars of all kinds and ended up spending their lives in the service of Allah. These are the people that we read about from centuries ago, the Al-Ghazali’s the Ibn Sina’s, etc. These geniuses used their tremendous skills and talents in the way of scholarship, science, the arts and humanities to serve the Muslims and humanity as a whole. It was their dedication to Allah, i.e. their piety and noble character that defined their greatness. The modern age has very different definitions of greatness, and it often has to do with how famous one is and how much money one makes. This is not how Islam defines greatness, however.

To my knowledge, there are no special requirements of parents when it comes to having gifted children. All children have the same rights over their parents, regardless of whether they have special gifts or not. However, if a child is in special need of certain things due to those gifts then it would only be wise to provide them. I’m not so sure about IQ testing and the like, I don’t see why that would be necessary, but certainly highly gifted children need challenging activities and opportunities or else they become bored very easily.

If you as a mother feel that your child would be best protected and nurtured by you being home with him/her, then go with what your heart tells you. Personally, for such a child, if the child is being raised in a Muslim home, such a child, if he/she has such intellectual gifts, should learn to memorize the Qur’an. To have such gifts and not use them first by memorizing Allah’s book would be a tremendous loss to the Muslim community both now and for the future, as well as a huge loss for the child.

Furthermore, it would be a challenging opportunity for such a child, and act as an intellectual and spiritual foundation like no other for the rest of the child’s life. In addition, it will no doubt only increase your child’s gifts and add to his or her intellectual abilities. Most if not all of the great Muslim scholars and scientists of the past were muhafizun (memorizers of the Qur’an) before they went on to their various scientific pursuits.

In terms of the problems that might arise for such a child, of course, it is always good to surround them as much as possible with other children who are similar in their abilities and talents. It is important that the children he or she is around, whether they are gifted as well or not, are taught the virtues of good character and conduct. For example, if he or she is in an Islamic school, the teachers and administrators of that school should be in the business of teaching the children how to treat one another with respect, and to appreciate differences.

That way, even if your child is ‘different’ he or she will still be appreciated and respected regardless. This doesn’t have to be found in an Islamic school, either. There are many other good programs and schools I’m sure that share similar values where the adults are mindful and proactive in teaching respectfulness and good conduct among the children. However, in regular schools, there is always the possibility that a gifted child will become bored as you mention, and not challenged to use his gifts in the way of service. In fact, many kids that flunk out of school is due to this reason – they are simply bored and not challenged in school, and as such, they become problematic behaviorally.

This must be guarded against as well by ensuring that such children have challenging settings and that the parents are aware and can provide such an environment in the home as well. I would imagine also, with such children, that it is important that they are not so much aught that they are different, but that they are blessed in certain ways that others are not perhaps.

They should be challenged to use their gifts to help others, make the world a better place and put their gifts to use for Allah’s sake. The more we are given in terms of our abilities, yes, the more we should be called on to work and act for Allah’s sake, and children need to be taught this early on so that they don’t allow their special abilities to become a means of arrogance or haughtiness, but rather one of service.

I have a good friend, in fact, who is the father of a very bright teenage girl who was showing many indications of arrogance and rebelliousness. He simply put it to her, like an adult would to another adult, that she was very gifted and could choose to use her gifts for the benefit of humanity by upholding her faith, or rebel and use her precious gifts to cause harm to herself and others.

With this challenge, al hamdu lillah, she has since responded positively and now sees her talents as a means for being a source of good in the world. My friend’s approach, however, was one of respect, making it clear to his daughter that as an adult, he could not force her to do anything, that she had God-given free-will to choose on her own, but that he could only guide her and warn her that she would be held responsible for whatever she decided — good or bad.

In terms of enrichment classes, there are a myriad of opportunities for children – Muslims included – to partake of. You’ll have to refer to a better qualified scholar in terms of the specifics of what is allowable in Islam or not, but please understand that there are a range of scholarly opinions about most of the issues surrounding music and the arts. You would have to be more specific about the content of the specific programs you are interested in, in order for anyone to comment on whether it is to be avoided or not. Music is, of course, a controversial subject in Islam, but again, there are many schools of thought on it and there are many forms and genre of music that are certainly permissible and, as you say, can be used in valuable ways.

I think that what is most important for gifted children is a balanced, yet stimulating environment and that the people who are responsible for them know them and what they need, and are dedicated to provide it for them. You are obviously highly in-tune to the uniqueness of your child and his or her needs. It is a bit difficult to be specific in terms of advice and support because I am not familiar with the details of your situation there.

Lastly, do your best, ask for Allah’s help, set a good example, and most of all, love your child to death. This, above all else, will help you and your family through the difficult times. Allah never tests us beyond that which we are capable of, so the fact that He gave you this particular child is a clear indication that you are the right person for the job! Make sure the family is on the same page, and that there is a clear understanding among the family members of the situation and what is needed. That you are all in this together, you have a special member that needs everybody’s extra love, patience, and attention, and that this challenge is from Allah and is therefore, an act of love.

The best way to deal with the stress of it all is understanding. Help your family understand the situation. Stress comes from us, not understanding and not trusting in what Allah has created for us. We need to be in touch with ourselves and try to understand the source of our stress. If it’s physical exhaustion, then we need to find ways to rest and increase our energy level. If its mental or emotional exhaustion and the like, we should be able to identify it (or if necessary have someone else ID it for us) and address it accordingly using all the resources at your disposal to maintain a balanced existence.

All in all, stress and exhaustion are intricately tied to spiritual health. As such, we must make sure that we are putting in the proper spiritual practices for Allah’s sake alone to keep our spiritual batteries at full capacity and aligning ourselves with Allah and His Divine Unity and endless bounty.

Not only must we know our child, but we must know ourselves and our family members. We must work with one another’s strengths and weaknesses to maximize each person’s contribution to the situation. This requires teamwork and getting the family on the same page working together for the sake of the whole and your special child.

About Dr. Abd. Lateef Krauss Abdullah
Dr. Abd. Lateef Krauss Abdullah is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Social Science Study’s Community Education and Youth Studies Laboratory, Universiti Putra Malaysia. He received his B.A. from the University of Delaware (U.S.), his M.S. from Columbia University (U.S.) and his PhD from the Institute for Community & Peace Studies (PEKKA), Universiti Putra Malaysia in 2005 in the field of Youth Studies. Abd. Lateef is an American who has been living in Malaysia since 2001. He is married and has 2 children.