Tuesday, 9 October 2018


Question by an Atheist: Why does Allah want us to believe in the unseen like his angels, or give up gambling or indulging in a lot of morally bad traits labelled as "vice"? Or why ask us to abstain from natural desires like drugs (as is legal in some states now)? Does it even make sense to ask us to do certain things that are in stark opposition to our human nature of desiring somethings now in this life ? 

The Stanford marshmallow experiment was a series of studies on delayed gratification [1] in the late 1960s and early 1970s led by psychologist Walter Mischel, who was then a professor at Stanford University. The experiment in simple words studied human behaviour wherein they voluntarily sacrificed an imminent desire or want for something (a reward) that seemed far greater or better in value or appeal.  The study involved kids who were asked to resist their temptation of eating a cookie or two kept in front of them for 30 minutes in exchange for more/better goodies (that are unseen to them). So if they managed to control their temptation and waited for 30 minutes they possessed the trait derived from delayed gratification

[Ref: Mischel, Walter; Ebbesen, Ebbe B.; Raskoff Zeiss, Antonette (1972). "Cognitive and attentional mechanisms in delay of gratification". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology]

[1] Delayed gratification, or deferred gratification, describes the process (or a trait) that the subject undergoes when the subject resists the temptation of an immediate reward in preference for a later reward. Generally, delayed gratification is associated with resisting a smaller but more immediate reward in order to receive a larger or more enduring reward later.

[Ref: Carducci, Bernardo J. (2009). "Basic Processes of Mischel's Cognitive-Affective Perspective: Delay of Gratification and Conditions of Behavioral Consistency". The Psychology of Personality: Viewpoints, Research, and Applications. John Wiley and Sons. pp. 443–4. ISBN 978-1-4051-3635-8.] 

The subjects of this study were observed for almost 5 decades. It started in the early 1960's and last known record of evaluating these subjects was in 2011 which is approximately 51 years. Ofcourse this original study observed these subjects for a span of 5 decades leading to certain results which for the purpose of this article are irrelevant.  Rather what is relevant is the methodology with which the study was carried out. 

What the study exhibited (not to be confused with conclusion): 

That humans when explained aptly, have the ability to consciously and voluntarily sacrifice their imminent desires or wants for a greater or more appealing reward promised to them. This reward can be anything they were promised either verbally or textually and in many cases this greater reward may not be shown to them beforehand. This was what we derived and observed from psychology experiments like the marshmallow study and is called the delayed gratification process. 

So ,does Islam appeal to this particular psychology of delayed gratification? 

GOD, the one who created humans with these abilities, appeals to this very human psychology of delayed gratification via various verses wherein he promises of a much greater reward in exchange for submitting to his commandments that includes adherence to a wide spectrum of laws and faith in this world.  Some of these verses are enlisted below where the act of delayed gratification (resisting imminent temptations) is highlighted in the red font. 

[And it will be said on the day of judgement], "Indeed, this is for you a reward, and your effort has been appreciated." (Al-Insaan: 22) 

And the reward of the Hereafter is better for those who believed (in the unseen and in the book) and were fearing Allah. (Chapter of Joseph: 57)

And be patient, for indeed, Allah does not allow to be lost the reward of those who do good. (Hud: 115)

Those - their reward is forgiveness from their Lord and gardens beneath which rivers flow [in Paradise], wherein they will abide eternally; and excellent is the reward of the [righteous] workers. (Aali Imraan: 136) 

إِنَّكَ لَنْ تَدَعَ شَيْئًا لِلَّهِ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ إِلَّا بَدَّلَكَ اللَّهُ بِهِ مَا هُوَ  خَيْرٌ لَكَ مِنْهُ

The prophet (s.a.w) said : “whoever leaves something for the sake of Allah then Allah, the Mighty and Magnificent, will replace it with something better than it (either in this world or hereafter or in both)” [Ref: Musnad Ahmad 2256]


Remember, that the original question was: Does it even make sense to ask us to do certain things that are in stark opposition to our human nature of desiring somethings now in this life ? 

The main point of this article was to show that it is proven using western methods involving evaluation based experiments that a human being is capable of giving up something he wants or desires at hand in exchange for something that is far more appealing to him even though that reward may be unseen too him at the moment. 

Thus modern studies that observe and analyze human behaviour or psychology teach us a variety of things, one of which was used to derive this very article. Allah communicates with man via appealing to various aspects of human behavioural traits. This is precisely why he commands us to stay away from certain enticing activities and belief systems. He promises us of a far greater reward that no eye has seen in exchange for exhibiting the trait of delayed gratification and as the questioner commented (re-read the question) it is definitely sensible to expect humans to give up their desires for a greater reward as it is a very part of their human psychology. So it is definitely not senseless for Allah to expect us to give up our imminent desires for a greater reward

 This is precisely why Allah says: "Should not He Who has created (all that exists) know (the human psyche and how to appeal to it?)? ." [Qur'an - chapter of kingdom verse 14]

Please re-read the question again now. 

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