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Adab: Education of One's Ego - A Model for Gifted Education
Jul 1, 2005

Although some people deny the existence of super talents, rather seeing success as a result of extreme concentration and hard work, most people agree that there are individuals who are born with certain talents in various areas, such as the arts, leadership, scholastic, and scientific excellence. When considered from a general perspective, it is possible to list some characteristics of these people who have extraordinary talents: strong personality, the ability to question, contemplation, interest in social and global issues, contention with discipline and routine, speedy learning, etc. Vast research has been done in order to understand the special needs of these talents and develop an education system that can address their needs. Advanced classes in schools are one of the outcomes of such efforts. In addition to these advanced classes that can provide an enriched curriculum to such students, there are practices developed to trigger the creativity of the mind; for example story completion, finding parallels between two given sets of information, figuring out the hidden sequences in a given set of numbers or shapes, etc. Although the needs of these gifted people are addressed from an aspect that will benefit society with potential future inventions, the spiritual and behavioral education of these people is not studied as much. Considering the fact that humanity has passed through times where spirituality and religious values have been neglected, times where the ego has been idolized, the situation of gifted people has become critical, due to lack of sufficient education in terms of the values and foundations that build the bridge between their minds and hearts.

It is the collaborative work of the mind and heart that will yield the desired spiritual and behavioral education of gifted people. But, how is it possible to satisfy the mind and the heart both at the same time? Traditionally, the heart is associated with religion and the mind is associated with science. So, cooperation between the mind and heart means cooperation between science and religion. Unfortunately, some religious subjects that solely depend on acceptance rather than investigation have been overemphasized during the course of many centuries for various reasons. As a result of this overemphasis and other incentives, Western society has broken the ties between science and religion, leading to an unbalanced relation between the mind and heart. In this imbalance, the mind is united with the ego and oppresses the heart; hearts are suffocated in the name of rationalism, and science is used as a means to deny religion.

It is true that religion is a way that eventually recourses to submission and acceptance rather than questioning. However, a correct perception of religion will never contradict the requirements of the mind, because of the fact that both religion and the mind originate from God. Therefore, a true religion will accept information about the universe that is arrived at by intellectual questioning as a way of acquiring knowledge of God; this consequently links the mind to the heart. A true religion will feed the heart in such a way that the love that sparks therein will give momentum to the investigations of the mind, enabling greater knowledge of God to be acquired, which will in turn increase the love of God and thus, link the heart to mind. It is the lack of this true cyclic relationship between the mind and the heart that has yielded uncontrolled, uneducated, self-idolized minds that boost the ego, creating a vicious circle in which the ego propels the mind. Therefore, the question is “how is one to achieve a unity between the mind and heart so that the education of gifted people yields humble servants to the community and to God?”

The solution to this problem lies partially in what can be called “ego education.” Although it may sound new, this concept is deeply rooted in Muslim cultures, and is called “adab.” In the context of this article, adab can be briefly described as knowing the ideal function and limits of the ego in order to be a good servant of God and a faithful member of society. Adab is traditionally learned from people who are already practicing it. This is referred to as education through the language of disposition (hal). Therefore, teachers who are already adorned with adab are needed to educate the egos of gifted people. It can be easily understood from a short reflection that the prophets and the saints throughout history and the sages in different cultures are those who represent the mission of ego education at different levels. For Muslims, adab is primarily learned from Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, who is the person that practiced and taught the way that leads to the point where the mind and heart are united under submission to God. Even according to the eyes of an outside viewer, Prophet Muhammad was an excellent and a distinguished person as a teacher, as a leader, as a servant of God, as a family man, as a commander, as a strategist . . . a person who came up with a totally new understanding of life and religion. In our context, we can take this as a model where a new approach to religion can be seen as an innovation introduced by a gifted person. Based on this model, it can be said that by learning the good behavior of Prophet Muhammad, who was a gifted person in many aspects, a method can be developed for the education of the ego of gifted people. Here, some of the conclusions from such an analysis are presented.

Ownership of the innovation

Although it is Prophet Muhammad who announced and taught Islam, it is God who taught him the religion and sent the Qur’an. Therefore, it is the Prophet who is the fountain through which the water of Islam flows, but the Prophet himself is neither the owner nor the originator of Islam. Similarly, any invention, be it a theory or a machine or a social system or a strategy, is only owned, originated, and inspired by God. The inventor is only the fountain through which God sends the innovation(1) as a blessing to humanity.

This point is important in many aspects. In terms of society, this way of consideration prevents the idolization of certain people and opens the door of thanksgiving and praise of God. For the inventor, it saves them from becoming an arrogant person and also leads them to thanksgiving and praising God. From another aspect, an invention is a gift from God to the inventor and society. Therefore, especially for the inventor, who, in this case, plays a role similar to that of a mother, this gift quickly leads to love of God.

Innovation as a unit of comparison

One of the purposes for the creation of the ego and the apparent potential it is given is that the individual can use these as a unit of comparison to learn about his Creator.(2) In other words, it is to humbly say “how beautifully created am I and how beautiful is my Creator” instead of arrogantly saying “how beautiful am I.” In a hadith, Prophet Muhammad is related as saying, “My Lord educated me, and how beautifully He has educated me.”(3) In the original text of this saying, the word adab is used for education. Based on this model, both being gifted in any area and the innovation that follows this potential are great units of comparison. A person who is gifted in any area can see God as the ultimate source of his own talents and as the omnipresent Lord who exercises His attributes in the universe on all scales.

Superiority versus neediness

Without the appropriate ego education, it is dangerously easy for a gifted person to indulge in the conviction that they can do things better than others and that they, not someone else, can invent something because they are superior to others. Such a conviction is powered by the ego and is also at the same time a means of feedback for further strengthening the ego in a vicious cycle. A gifted person can very easily fall into the deep and dark pit of arrogance with such thoughts, and will suffer in their social life due to this conviction.

An educated ego, on the other hand, knows that it owns nothing and it has no real creative power. It knows that it can only receive good things from its Creator.(4) What falls to its lot is only awareness of its poverty and neediness and praying to the Almighty for the satisfaction of its needs. This way of understanding leads to the result that it is the inventor who is needy of the invention, because of the way they have been created, because of the potential they have; in other words because of the “hunger” they have been given.(5) These needs can only be met by God, Who is the All-Rich, the All-Beneficent. Contemplation and experimenting in several ways must be considered both as conscious prayers and awareness of the neediness to reach the result of an effort.

Prior to the start of the prophethood, Prophet Muhammad used to seclude himself in a cave on a nearby mountain and contemplate the problems of society, the oppression, the unfortunate state of the women, the absurdity of the idolatry . . . Distressed by these factors, he wished for a salvation that would extinguish the fire within him and eventually deliver society from its wretchedness. This was the way in which the Prophet felt his neediness, and God replied to his conscious and unconscious prayers by choosing him as His Messenger.

So, what is so important about being gifted?

The special thing about being gifted is that the gifted person’s prayers are answered quickly in the way in which they are gifted. This is why certain people can do something or learn things very quickly and others cannot. A parallel to this is the acceptance of the prayers of the saints and the prophets. According to the Risale-i Nur, the prayers made in the language of natural need, innate potential, and in intense difficulty are quickly accepted and responded to(6) and such is the case with gifted people. The potential of the gifted person builds the foundation for the acceptance of their prayers, which are made in the language of their neediness in order to fulfill and develop their potential.

Servanthood as a gift

Every person is a creation of God on which different combinations of His names are manifested. This means that every person has a different and unique gift from others. In daily life, we usually recognize gifts of the people who achieve outstanding things. However, every person can realize the particular gifts given to them. The best of these gifts is the belief and love of God. Every person is given a potential to discover the existence of God and a potential to make an acquaintance with God that leads to His love. For every single human being, this discovery is unique; it is a discovery that nobody else can make for another. 


  1. Nursi, S., The Words, Kaynak A.S., Izmir, 1997, First Word, pp. 4-5.
  2. ibid, Thirtieth Word, pp. 228-229.
  3. Al-Ajluni, Kashf al-Khafa, 1/72.
  4. Nursi, S., The Words, Thirtieth Word, pp. 229-230.
  5. ibid, Eighteenth Word, pp. 296.
  6. ibid, Twenty-third Word, pp. 412-415.