Quite clearly and unambiguously, the Qur’an points out the fact that human beings are a product of the environment where they live. As a rule, if the social environment is good and righteous, most probably everyone who is part of it is good and righteous. Thinking that one cannot be affected by the environment could be fatal.
The Qur’an addresses this phenomenon very well and in different ways. In the Surah Al-A’raf, Allah resembles the environment with the land, “The fertile land produces abundantly by the Will of its Lord, whereas the infertile land hardly produces anything. This is how We vary Our lessons to those who are thankful.” [7:58]
Similarly, a good social environment will produce a good individual while from an evil and bad one we cannot expect to get except bad and evil people.
Another powerful example in the Quran which is related exactly to this topic is the story of the Prophet Moses and his people, i.e., the Children of Israel.
Moses was sent by God to Egypt to save the Children of Israel who were enslaved by Pharaoh. Not only were they enslaved, but also oppressed, persecuted, humiliated and killed. In fact, once Pharaoh foresaw that a great prophet was going to come and threaten his power, he started to kill all new born boys from the Children of Israel. It was a great suffering.
Nevertheless, Moses was born and miraculously was not killed. Ironically, he ended up to the palace of Pharaoh himself. He grew up and became a prophet. As such, he saved the Children of Israel from this tribulation. God even split the sea for them to escape while drowning Pharaoh and his army.
So, those people who were saved by Moses, who had experienced oppression and cruelty from Pharaoh, who had witnesses great miracles from God, yet when they passes by a village whose residents used to worship idols, they asked Moses – a prophet who was sent by God to save them from cruelty and idol worshipping, to make an idol for them like those people.
“We brought the Children of Israel across the sea and they came upon a people devoted to idols. They demanded, “O Moses! Make for us a god like their gods.” He replied, “Indeed, you are a people acting ignorantly!” [7:138]
This shows how powerful the environment is. It can affect even people who you expect the least to be affected, such as those who were saved by Moses.
Indeed, environment and what we are exposed to, such as schools and propaganda and the media, are determinant of who we are and how we behave and what we think.