9710-BASIC PRINCIPLES OF INTER -CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING
Talk at al Faruq College, International Islamic
University, Gombak 24th October 1997 by Prof Dr Omar Hasan Kasule, Sr. Deputy Dean for Tarbiyat, Training, and
This presentation concentrated on explaining the basic principles upon which positive and
mutually beneficial inter-cultural understanding can be based. All humans have the same biological and social origin. There
are some minor biological, social, and cultural differences thatare part of Allah’s scheme to make a inter-dependent
world by enabling people to identufy and know one another. These differences can not be denied neither can they be misused
for any other purpose other that for which they exist.
2.0 COMMON BIOLOGICAL ORIGIN
All human beings are from Adam. Modern discoveries about DNA and the molecular basis of
life prove that there is a biological commonality that must have been caused by a common origin.
Unity of humanity (wahdat al basahariyat) is
based on the common biological origin
The concept of sub-human types is not accepted by Islam. Primates may have external features
similar to humans but they are, like humans, a unique creation by Allah and not a sub-human type.
As far as we know all offspring of Adam are on planet earth. It is however possible that
some of them live on some other planets; science has yet to settle this doubt.
The possibility remains open that humans not descended from Adam do exist somewhere in
the cosmos. When Allah informed angels about the impending creation of Adam they seemed to be concerned about human sins and
violence as if they had previous experience of humans not descended from Adam.
Life as we know it in plants and animals could also be found on other planets or other
galaxies. Scientific exploration will clarify these issues in due course.
Although humans are from the same biological origin, there are observable differences among
them. These differences coincide to a large extent with the geographical habitat in which they live. It is better to classify
humans on the basis of ethnicity and not race. The word race is non-scientific and is difficult to define and operationalize
3.0 COMMON SOCIAL ORIGIN
Humans started as one family that of Adam. They were at one time one community or nation
(ummat wadihat) but differences developed between them and they became many groups
(p 152 …42:8). Because humans
all arose from one primordial civilisation, we can detect many similar social institutions in people living in different parts
of the globe.
Differences in social organisation arose as humans moved to live in different environments.
The environment has a decisive effect on social life and social behaviour. Social organisations and behaviors differ by the
habitat: forests, deserts, and open plains.
4.0 BIOLOGICAL SIMILARITIES AND DIFFERENCES
Humans are a spectrum and not discrete groups with clear boundaries. Colors and physical
features merge at the interfaces of human contact. The Qur’an has talked about differences in skin colour and languages
(ikhtilaaf al alwan & ikhtilaaf al alsinat p 79 30:22) as well as differences
in tribes and nations (ikhtilaaf al qabail & ikhtilaaf al shu’ub (p 79
The first major classification of humans is that based on gender. Males and females are
different biologically, psychologically, and emotionally. These differences do not indicate superiority or inferiority. They
are rather part of Allah’s scheme for a balanced society. The differences enable the man and woman to have specialized
functions that complement one another.
Biological similarities among humans: basic biological similarity among races: chemical,
genetic (DNA), inter-breeding. The cell is the basic building block. There is specialization among cells therefore they differ
in structure and some of their physiological functions.
Basic biological differences among humans: color, languages, races (caucasian, mongoloid,
negroid). These differences were created by Allah and did not arise as passive adaptations to the environment. There are gradations
and different shades of color even within one race. Skin color is due to melanin and carotene. The darker races have more
melanin. The mongoloid races have more carotene. Melanin protects the body from dangerous ultra-violet rays. Albinos are humans
with a genetic defect that causes deficiency of melanin; they have to wear eye glasses or other protective body clothing to
be able to walk in the sun.
There is no pure race living on earth today. Humans have mixed a lot. DNA studies are likely
to show this diversity of humans.
5.0 SOCIAL SIMILARITIES AND DIFFERENCES
Variations among humans can be at the ethnic, family or individual level.
Customs differ from community to community. Customs are ways of living followed by a great
many people. They are transmitted from generation to generation. A custom starts when people find an easy and convenient beneficial
way of doing something. Some customs come from religion. Some are short-lived whereas some continue for a long time. Customs
are a factor of similarity within the community and factors of differences between communities.
Language differences are among Allah’s signs. Allah created differences in languages.
Languages change continuously as they adapt to differing needs of communities.
6.0 INDIVIDUALITY OF EVERY PERSON
Each individual has a unique biological and spiritual identity.
Not all people will be the same even when given equal opportunities. Some individuals will achieve distinction because
of: intelligence, special aptitudes, motivation, personality, and travel. These differences do not by themselves confer any
superiority. The only true criterion of human excellence is taqwa and only Allah
(SAW) can determine an individual’s level of taqwa.