Anatomic basis of human morality

Our brain and the morality

The area of the brain that helps process our moral decision making is the prefrontal cortex. The medical science views prefrontal cortex as the anatomic basis of human morality. The prefrontal cortex is a part of frontal lobe of the brain that occupies the area behind our forehead.

The Quranic symbolism

The word “nasyah” is an ancient Arabic idiom that means forehead, forelock, or complete control. To clarify, Arabic words can have multiple meanings depending on the context. Quranic revelation used “dragging by nasyah” to describe the consequences of persecution and killing by a pagan leader named Abu Jahl.

Anatomic basis of morality. Story of abuJahl

History of Abu Jahl, The father of ignorance

The word Abu Jahl means the father of ignorance. Abu Jahl was a prominent polytheist known for his critical opposition towards Muhammad (Peace be upon him). His savage beating made a Muslim slave blind. He killed a Muslim woman named Sumayah, by inflicting her with a mortal wound. He forbade prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) and his followers from worshiping in the Holy Qaba. Allah revealed the following Quranic verse to warn him of his hateful actions.

Prefrontal cortext is the area of the brain that helps  process moral decision making

The Quran 96:15-16

“…Nay, if he does not stop, We shall most surely drag him by the forehead (Nasyah), a lying, sinful forehead…”

” A lying, sinful forehead…”

As we can see in this verse, Allah mentions that if Abu Jahl does not stop immoral acts, he will be dragged by his “lying and sinful forehead” in the Day of Judgment. The people of the prophet’s (Peace be upon him) time did not know the function of human brain. They understood “A lying sinful Nasya” as a figure of speech. Consequently, people understood the verse as a warning to Abu Jahl about the shameful punishment promised from God in the day of Judgement for his persecutions of Muslims.

Relating the forehead to lying and sinning

It is important to realize that our forehead supports and protects the prefrontal cortex which is the part of our brain that processes many of our moral attitudes. In particular, our prefrontal cortex controls our greed, selfishness, lying, deception, ruthlessness, anger and aggression.

Not surprisingly, to a reader with knowledge of brain function, this verse gives hints to the function of the frontal lobe of our brain. Surely, the people of the seventh century did not have the knowledge of our frontal lobe function. Given these points, one can see how the Quranic verses provide additional new meanings to the newer generation of readers. Muslims see this as an illustration of the Quran’s miracle to the newer generations of the readers.

Sujud: touching our forehead to the ground

Prostration (sujud) is part of the Muslim daily prayer. During prostration, we bow down to God with our forehead (Nasyah) touching the ground. To put it another way, this is a gesture of surrendering our executive power to God. Also, this is one of the most spiritually uplifting and intimate position Muslims can have. If you want to know more about five daily prayers, please click here:

Prefrontal cortext is the area of the brain that helps  process moral decision making

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