The Tapping and Capping of Human Creativity: An Islamic Perspective

By Mohd Abbas Abdul Razak & Machouche Salah

Like human intelligence, creativity is diverse. In the beginning, the scientific investigation of human intelligence was mainly referred to as PQ (Physical Intelligence), later on, psychologists discovered other aspects of intelligence like IQ (Intellectual Intelligence), EQ (Emotional Intelligence) and the latest is SQ (Spiritual Intelligence). In a similar manner, creativity is not just confined to artworks. Of late, creativity is seen in the skillful use of language that produces good literary works, poetry, great movie dialogues, rhetoric etc. Besides language, the contemporary trend in looking at creativity also includes fields like culinary arts, fashion, music, management science, etc. In the industrialized and globalized world that we are living in today, there is a big demand for those embellished with the quality of being creative. As such, those who are not only book smart but also creative and innovative are more marketable when it comes to job opportunities. 

What is creativity?

Creativity is rather a difficult thing to define, as it has various meanings attached to it. In simplifying what the experts say about creativity is that it explains the act of an individual to create something new, his/her ability to present innovative ideas, ability to look at new ways of solving problems, ability to modify an existing object into something new, and one’s tendency to see things from a broader perspective etc. 

Different Views on Creativity 

It has been many decades already, and experts on creativity have been discussing whether creativity is a special gift from God that is bestowed upon a selected few and is creativity is a natural process and cannot be learned by those who do not have the acumen or can it be learned by all. The following discussion is an attempt by researchers to highlight the different conceptual views given by different schools of psychology: 

  1. According to the founding father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), creativity is something that comes from within the human psyche. His further elaboration on this was, that creative energy in mankind is the suppressed forbidden impulse of the Id that is the personality component made of unconscious psychic energy. To Freud, what is suppressed in the human psyche, doesn’t stay that way forever. The ego which acts as the “Policeman” of the human psyche in balancing the demands of the Id and Superego uses one of its defense mechanisms called ‘sublimation’ for the hibernating impulse of the Id to transform and manifest itself in an acceptable manner to the outside world (society). As a result of that, the perverted and forbidden sexual impulse now presents itself in the form of creative artworks, writing, sculptures, poetry, etc. 

2. J.B. Watson (1879-1958) and B.F. Skinner (1904-1990) from Radical Behaviorism presented an oversimplified concept of creativity. The two do not believe in the Self-concept in man and are of the opinion that creativity is simply the outcome of the learning process. They further explained that creativity is the product of stimulus-response activity. As such, creativity is not something that comes from within man, but it is a thing that is outside of man. In other words, they are of the opinion that creativity is in the environment. By looking at the environment or when an individual is put in a certain environment, he/she can learn to be creative. They also said that “reward and punishment” can be a motivational factor in making people creative. When there is a reward waiting, like money, award, pay rise and promotion in an organization, etc., individuals are driven to be creative.

3. Abraham Maslow (1908-1970) and Carl Rogers (1902-1987) who were iconic figures in the Humanistic school of psychology believed that every individual has the capacity to be creative. In order to be creative, one has to be in a free society where there is no restriction or hindrance that blocks the natural tendencies of an individual. In such a setting, an individual would be able to bring forward and develop his creativity which has been existing innately within his inner self. By actualizing his creative qualities, an individual becomes a ‘self-actualized’ person. Unlike Freud, Maslow believes that the human psyche is not only a storehouse full of man’s instinctual drives but also stores many hidden potentials that are creative and adorable to others once they are brought out from man’s inner self.  

4. Islamic psychology which is based on the ideas mentioned in the Qur’an and Sunnah, explains that ever since man came to exist on this planet, he was not only intelligent but also creative. The Holy script of the Muslims explains that even before that, in the assembly of the angels, Adam AS who represents the whole of humanity was able to demonstrate his superiority of intelligence over that of the angels. Witnessing the special gift bestowed upon Adam AS by God Almighty, the angels admitted their defeat and as such God asked them to pay homage to Adam AS (Al-Qur’an 2:34). Mankind being the progeny of Adam inherits many of the great qualities given to him by God Almighty. As such, being creative is an inborn nature of man. Moreover, the creativity of the creation of Adam AS and his children goes back to God Almighty. In Islam, God who is the Creator of all life forms in the universe is a creative Creator. In the Qur’an, God says of Himself as the best of creators (Al-Qur’an 23:14). God’s qualities as the creative Creator have been stated in the Qur’an by using terms like; al-Badi’i (the Initiator)(6:101), al-Faatir (the Bringer of existence) (35:1), al-Khaaliq or al-Khallaq (the Shape Giver) (6:102), al-Bari (the Inventor) (59:24), Musawwir (the Fashioner/the Designer), etc. The manifestation of God being creative can be witnessed in all diversity in the universe, flora and fauna. Man, who happens to be the best of creations was given these qualities of being intelligent and creative by his Creator. When God gave man this world, it was not like what we see today. It was given in its basic form; as a raw and unfinished product, and God left it to man to further develop and administer it. To be fair to man, God placed all the natural resources needed by man for his future use, in the belly of the earth. Many commentators of the Qur’an stated that during the time when the spirit (Ruh) infuses to the growing fetus in the mother’s womb, along with it goes the attributes of being intelligent and creative. In other words, being creative is a quality embedded in the soul. The aforementioned God’s Majestic Powers as the Creative Creator can be classified into three time periods in His act of creating human beings and other life forms in the universe. The first one explains how He created the universe, man and other living organisms in the beginning. He created everything out of nothingness. The second one explains how He will bring creations into existence once more again during the Day of Resurrection for judgment. The third one explains His ongoing act in creating things that are subjected to changes and progress that take place between His first and second time periods in His act of creating. According to Muslim scholars, the last said act of creativity of Allah in creating and bringing change and progress in our universe and our planet has been shared by man at a lesser degree. In describing one of His attributes, God says in Surah al-Rahman that he is preoccupied with the act of bringing changes to the world on a daily basis (55:29). The difference between God and man in the act of creation is that God can create out of nothingness, while man needs raw materials or something in order to create other things.

Is Creativity Innate or a Learned Behaviour?

Our investigation of creativity, made us arrive at the conclusion that Freud belittled the human creative intelligence by bringing it to the level of sexual impulse, while radical behaviourists believed that creativity is within man as they did not believe in the mind concept. On the contrary, they believe creativity is found outside of man in the environment and man learns to be creative through the stimulus-response process found in his learning activity.  Humanistic and Islamic psychologies in some ways share the same notion of creativity. Both believe that creativity is found in the human psyche and also in the environment. More to add, these two believe that creativity is a natural tendency (innate) and can be learned from the environment. The major difference between the Islamic and Humanistic concepts is that the former explains that man’s quality of being creative originates from God, while the latter concept based on secular views did not relate it to God. As such, the two views are similar in some ways but they are not the same. One is attached to God and the other to the world. 

Tapping Creativity

Allama Iqbal, believes that man as the creation of Allah has the ability to be creative and innovative in bringing out new things into this world. He believes that man’s creativity is hidden or embedded in the human soul. Unlike many others who limited themselves in highlighting the dark side of human nature, Iqbal very passionately emphasized that the human soul is also a repository of positive energy that is creative in bringing improvement to human lives and in the creation of a better world. In one of his poems on the subject of man’s creative intelligence he penned the following lines:

You made the night and I the lamp.

You made the clay and I the cup.

You made the deserts, forests, mountains high,

I flowerbeds and orchards and the park.

It is I who grinds the mirror out of stone.

It is I who makes from poison, antidote.

Besides Iqbal, the late Sir Ken Robinson said the following when he commented on the topic of creativity in these words: 

“Creativity is as important as literacy. Human resources are like natural resources; they’re often buried deep. You have to go looking for them, they’re not just lying around on the surface. You have to create the circumstances where they show themselves.”

In reflecting on what Iqbal and Robinson said about creativity, the researchers feel that the Muslim world needs to pay extra attention to the subject of creativity. After all, creativity was the selling point of the scholars during the Golden Era of the Muslims (750-1258) who came out with many creative and innovative ideas that the world has benefitted from to this day. If the present Muslim world neglects the importance of creativity, this situation will make it lag behind the rest of the world. Being dependent on others for a very long period of time is not an ideal thing situation for the Muslim world.  

Capping Creativity   

Living in a globalized world with a timeless and boundless usage of the internet and social media has opened the avenue for the global community to demonstrate and market their creative ideas, behaviour and product. When we analyze some of the underlying reasons or motivations behind those who promote their creativity, it is mainly for money, power, fame and glory. 

In the West, the coming age of Renaissance and Enlightenment had in some ways changed people’s perceptions of life. With their rejection of religion, dogmas and Christian values, all governing ethical values disappeared. When God goes missing in the lives of the people, they started to follow their own desires. Driven by the obsession for money and popularity, people started to neglect all ethical and moral principles that should be there in their works of creativity.     

Despite the many healthy display of creativity by the West in the areas of science and technology, literary works, etc. it has gone unbridled in promoting obscenity in films, paintings, literature, fashion industry, etc. At present, in the name of creative arts, obscenity and nudity of women have been approved. In order to catch the consumer market, women have been made the main object to promote their products and services. Particularly, in the fashion industry, women are made to wear indecent clothes to parade during catwalks. Surprisingly, during such shows, seated in the audience are mainly men from the business community.    

In Islam, despite man’s position as God’s vicegerent on this planet and subjected to shoulder the Amanah (the Trust of God) and for the reason that all his actions will be held accountable, man in Islam has to actualize his innate potential by being industrious, productive, progressive, innovative and creative. All such qualities in a way can be interpreted as acts of Ibadah (worship) in Islam. As such, creativity in Islam explains man’s nature as one who performs actions that are constructive and morally in line with his faith and love for God. Creativity and creativeness in Islam also describe the condition of men who are upright, just, and ready to abide by Allah’s commandments. At the same time, the act of being creative keeps one away from all prohibited things in Islam. Interestingly, the one who is being engaged in the creative process finds no time for any resentment and prejudice towards others.  

In realizing the importance of creativity, Muslim countries around the globe need to introduce creativity as a subject in schools and colleges. In doing that, learning institutions have to keep a watchful eye on how creativity has been taught to the students. By doing that, creativity in the Muslim world does not go beyond the parameters set by the ethical norms in Islam.

Leave a Reply