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The Frontal Lobes & Higher Mental Functions

by Keith Moore, Mustafa Ahmed, & Abdul Majeed A. Zindani

I. Introduction.

For many years the anterior or frontal parts of the brain, called the crontal lobes, were thought to be silent areas of the brain which had little to do with the control of the functions of the body. The reason these ideas were prevalent was because when the nerve fibers entering and leaving the frontal lobes were severed or cut, there were no noticeable changes in the activities of animals. Similar observations were made in human beings who had their frontal lobes damaged, or had the fibers associated with them severed during accidents. The fact that stimulation of the anterior parts of the frontal lobes resulted in no movements of the body, contributed to the idea that the frontal lobes were silent.

II. Functions of the frontal lobes.

The frontal lobe and other features of the lateral surface of the brain can be seen in Figure 1. It has been found that if these areas of the brain are stimulated, no movement occurs. Therefore they were called the silent areas of the brain. If the motor area of the brain is stimulated, movement of various parts of the body will result. Thus this area, as well as the sensory and visual areas, could be recognized, but the frontal area was considered to be silent.

However, in the last fifty years it has been learned that the frontal lobes are concerned with some of the highest mental functions of animals and human beings. Electroencephalographic and electrophysiological studies have shown that patients and animals with injuries to the frontal lobes often have a reduction in their mental ability. In human beings there may be a lowering of ethical standards. Patients present with signs of complacency and self satisfaction, and they frequently show signs of boastfulness. Their powers of concentration, their initiative and their endurance are also reduced.

Memory of recent events suffers when the fibers passing to and from frontal lobes are cut (e.g. following a lobotomy), and the patient’s capacity for solving problems is greatly reduced, especially those which require considerable intellectual ability. The patient’s power of judging his own situation is impaired, and his awareness is reduced to the present and to himself.

In summary, the frontal lobes are now known to be very important parts of the brain, because they are involved in the highest mental functions. We make plans within these lobes and so they affect the action and functions of other parts of the brain, e.g. our thoughts, our feelings and our sensations. The Qur’an has described the relationship between the frontal lobes of the brain and the ethical behavior of human beings, as in the following passage:

“Do you see one who forbids a servant of Ours (God) when he (turns) to pray? Do you see if he who prays follows the guidance and enjoins righteousness? Do you see if he who obstructs rejects (Truth) and turns away? Does he not know that God sees? Let him beware! If he desist not, We (God) will punish him upon his forehead - a lying, sinful forehead!” (Surah Al-’Alaq (96): Ayat 9-16).

The word used in the last two ayat above is an-nasiyah which means “the forehead” (3). The forehead in this statement obviously refers to the frontal lobes of the brain which lie behind or posterior to the frontal bone in the forehead. The act of lying is initiated by the mental activities in the frontal lobes, and its instructions are then carried out by the speech organs during the act of lying. Similarly, sins are planned in the frontal lobes before they are carried out by the eyes, hands, sexual organs, et cetera.

A hadith of the Prophet (peace be upon him) asserts that the forehead represents the center of direction and control, and that it is the front of the head. He (peace be upon him) said, “No distress and grief occurs to anyone who says, ‘Oh Lord, I am your slave and the son of your slaves, my forehead is in your hands, firm in your ruling, and my destiny from You is just’…” (4). The hadith indicates that the fate of a man is in his Lord’s hand. It mentions the destiny and the ruling. It explains that the forehead is in God’s hand. Therefore it indicates that the forehead plays a great role in the control and direction of human behavior. Perhaps for the above mentioned reasons, God orders us to perform sujood , i.e. place our foreheads on the ground, as stated in the continuation of the Qur’anic passages above:

“Then let him call his associates. We will call on the angels of punishment. Then follow not him, but prostrate yourself and draw nearer to Us (God)” (Surah Al-’Alaq (96): Ayat 17-19).

This order to perform sujood means we should place the center of our will and decision making processes upon the ground to show our absolute submission to God. A person who is punished in the forehead could have his frontal lobes damaged. This would interfere with his higher mental functions, which would reduce his mental ability and cause signs of complacency and self satisfaction. Thus the Qur’an has described the role of the forehead, or more specifically the function of the frontal lobes of the brain in making decisions, and the hadith has referred to the role of the forehead in the control and direction of human behavior.

Although we have some understanding of the function of the frontal lobes of the brain at the present time, this knowledge was obscure even to the imagination in early times. In the past some of the interpreters of the Qur’an found difficulty in following the literal meaning of the passages, and they interpreted the ayat to mean that the owner of the forehead is a liar and sinful (5-9). However, other interpreters considered the description of lying and sinful to apply to the forehead itself (10-12).

The Almighty also says:

“There is no living creature that moves on the earth, but He (God) holds its forehead completely” (Surah Hud (11): Ayah 56).

In his interpretation of this statement, Ibn Katheer (13) said, “i.e. under his force and power.” Ibn Jareer At-Tabari (14) said, “There is nothing that moves on this land unless it is owned by God. Under His grasp and power, it is submissive and obedient to God.” Al-Qurtubi (15) said, “That means He directs it as He wishes and prevents it from what He wills.”

III. Conclusion.

Almighty God has mentioned that He controls every creature by His will and that this is done through controlling the foreheads of all creatures. Thus it is understood that the forehead is the site of control of an animal’s behavior.

Consequently, these statements in the Qur’an, recorded in the 7th century C.E., imply an awareness of the functions of the frontal lobes of the brain which was not known to physicians at that time. It is only after a thorough study of the physiology and functions of the lobes of the cerebral hemisphere and their locations in man and animals, that the function of the forehead (including the brain) has been recognized by modern comparative anatomy. Is this not further evidence of the soundness of the statements in the Qur’an, and that they were not written by scientists or physicians in the 7th century C.E.? These statements warn those who reject these revelations that they will be punished severely.


  • 1. Al-Khazin in Majmu’at At-Tafaseer, Vol. 3, p 335
  • 2. Ibn Al-Jawzi, Zad Al-Maseer, Vol. 9, p 187
  • 3. Lisan Al-Arab, Vol. 15, p 327
  • 4. Related by Ahmed, Abu Ya‘la, Al-Bazzar and Al-Hakim
  • 5. At-Tabari, Jami’ Al-Bayan fi Tafseer Al-Qur’an, Vol. 30, p 164
  • 6. Abu Haiyan, Al-Tafseer Al-Kabeer, Vol. 8, p 495
  • 7. Al-Zamakhshari, Al-Kashshaf an Haqaiq Al-Tanzeel we Uyun Al-Aqaweel fi Wujuh Al-T’aweel, Vol. 4, p 272
  • 8. Tafseer Abu As-Sa’ud, Vol. 9, p 180
  • 9. Al-Shawkani, Fath Al-Qadeer, Vol. 5, p 470
  • 10. Al-Qurtubi, Al-Jami’ Li’Ahkam Al-Qur’an, Vol. 20, p 126
  • 11. Ibn Katheer, Tafseer Al-Qur’an Al-’Azeem, Vol. 4, p 529
  • 12. Al-Razi, Al-Tafseer Al-Kabeer, Vol. 32, p 24
  • 13. Ref. 11, Vol. 2, p 451
  • 14. Ref. 5, Vol. 12, p 37
  • 15. Ref. 10, Vol. 9, p 52

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