Islamic Psychology Prevention and Therapy in a Cognitive ...

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Islamic Psychology Prevention and Therapy in a Cognitive Behavioral Model


Sarah Farah

"By the Soul, and the proportion and order given to it; And its enlightenment as to its wrong and its right; Truly he succeeds that purifies it, And he fails that corrupts it!" [Qur'an 91:7-10].

"Wisdom is the lost property of the believer; he takes it from wherever he finds". Prophet Muhammad. (Narrated by at-Tirmidhi).

"When the past no longer illuminates the future, the spirit walks in darkness." Alexis de Tocqueville.

Back to Religion?

The Western world witnessed the divorce between science and religion centuries ago. Yet, religion was not replaced by a soothing alternative. Denis Diderot the French materialist philosopher wrote:

"I am maddened at being entangled in a devilish philosophy that my mind can't help approving and my heart refuting"[i].

It seemed like the materialist philosophers themselves were not satisfied with that ‘divorce’. The Western world was deprived from a binding system of morality, puzzled by nihilism and the uncertainty concerning the meaning of life. The prevalence of skepticism left the intellects as well as the masses standing on shaky grounds. Le Mettrie, the famous extremist of materialism claimed:

"Who can be sure that the reason for man's existence is not simply the fact that he exists? ... Perhaps he was thrown by chance on some spot on the earth's surface, nobody knows how and why, simply that he must live and die…"[ii]

The malaise that resulted from skepticism and materialistic ideologies was also displayed in the twentieth century by Erich Fromm, regardless to what he believed, said:

"I believe that neither Western capitalism nor Soviet or Chinese communism can solve the problem of the future. They both create bureaucracies which transform man into a thing."

He added:

"I believe that reason cannot be effective unless man has hope and belief. Goethe was right when he said that the deepest distinction between various historical periods is that between belief and disbelief, and when he added that all epochs in which belief dominates are brilliant, uplifting and fruitful, while those in which disbelief dominates vanish because nobody cares to devote himself to the unfruitful… I am offered that the Western world in twentieth century deceives itself about the fact that it has lost hope and belief."[iii]

Samuel Huntigton in his controversial book "The Clash of Civilizations", stated that problems of moral decline, cultural suicides and political disunity are far more significant than economics and demography. Such problems are; increases in antisocial behavior, such as crime, drug use and violence, family decay including increased rates of divorce, illegitimacy, teen-age pregnancy and single parents' families. A decline in “social capital”, that is membership in voluntary associations and their interpersonal trust associated with such membership and general weakening of the “work ethic” and rise of a cult of personal indulgence. Decreasing commitment to learning and intellectual activity manifested in the United States in lower levels of scholastic achievement.[iv]

Such problems seem to emerge almost all around the world as a consequence of globalization. Nevertheless, some resistance still exists, especially among those who are still living up to their belief system, along with their awareness about the consequences of imitating the Western way of life.

The monster of science is no longer regulated and domesticated by ethics. Labs produce medicines as well as chemical weapons. The values of the modern world developed from the principle of utility –Bentham and Mill's Utilitarianism– and Machiavelli's "the end justifies the mean". This divorce (that of science and religion) could be analyzed as a reaction to the oppression displayed by the church in opposition to scientists. Clergymen were intolerant of scientific explanations that were not restricted to their scriptural interpretations and they sought domination over all the fields of life including science. A great number of confrontations took place during the church's domination. Scientists like Galileo, Giordano Bruno and Copernicus were excommunicated and declared as heretics (although most of these scientists were believers). Galileo himself said that:

"…nature was simply another book written by God… the truths of science and the truths of faith cannot impugn one another since God is the author of all truth."[v]

Believing scientists continued to exist until our modern age. Einstein himself admitted the importance of religion as a guide to science. He said:

"I cannot conceive of a genuine scientist without that profound faith. The situation may be expressed by an image: science without religion is lame."[vi]

In his book, "God: The Evidence, The Reconciliation of Faith and Reason in a Postsecular World", the ex-atheist American scholar Patrick Glynn from George Washington University writes:

"The past two decades of research have overturned nearly all the important assumptions and predictions of an earlier generation of modern secular and atheist thinkers relating to the issue of God. Modern thinkers assumed that science would reveal the universe to be ever more random and mechanical; instead it has discovered unexpected new layers of intricate order that bespeak an almost unimaginably vast master design."[vii]

Glynn also said that

"over the past twenty years, a significant body of evidence has emerged, shattering the foundations of the long-dominant modern secular worldview."[viii]

Why Islam?

The bigotry of the Catholic Church had nothing to do with faith. A good example is that scientists like Galileo, who were persecuted by the Church, were actually devout people. This example shows once more that the pressure the religious establishment brought upon science is not a consequence of faith, but the distortion of religion. This claim is well supported by the fact of encouragement and motivation Islam gave to science. Science was flourishing in the Muslim world centuries before any serious scientific movement in Europe:

"Muslim physicians did not specialize in a single subject, but conducted studies in a wide range of fields, including pharmacology, surgery, ophthalmology, gynecology, physiology, bacteriology and hygiene. One of the most noted Andalusian physicians was Ibn Juljul (?-992), who conducted extensive studies on medical herbs, and produced works on the history of medicine and medical herbs. Another distinguished physician of the time was Abu Ja'far Ibn al-Jazzar (?-1009) from Tunisia, who mastered the science of drug therapy for the treatment of specific symptoms and diseases, and authored more than 30 books. Abd al-Latif al-Baghdadi (1162-1231) is known for his studies in anatomy. He corrected the mistakes made in the past in anatomical studies of many bones of the body, such as the jaw and chest bone. Baghdadi's book, Al-Ifade ve'l Itibar, was re-published in 1788, and translated into Latin, German and French. His book Makalatun fi'l Havas covered the five senses. Muslim anatomists determined the number of bones in the human skull correctly, and discovered the existence of three ossicles in the ear. One of the leading Muslim scientists working in anatomy was Ibn Sina (980-1037), known as Avicenna in the West. Instructed in literature, mathematics, geometry, physics, natural sciences, philosophy and logic, in his early years, Ibn Sina was not only widely known in the East, but also in the West. His most popular work, al-Qanun fi al-Tibb, known as the 'Canon' in the West, was written in Arabic, and after its translation into Latin in the 12th century, became the textbook of the schools of Europe until the 17th century. The Canon deals with diseases and drugs in a systematic manner. Apart from this, he wrote more than 100 books on philosophy and natural sciences. A significant portion of the medical knowledge included in the Canon is still accepted today. The works in anatomy of Zakariya Qazwini, Hamdullah al-Mustaufi al-Qazwini (1281-1350), and Ibn al-Nafis, laid the foundation of modern medicine. These scientists demonstrated, as early as the 13th and 14th centuries, the connections between the heart and the lungs, that the arteries carry oxygenated blood, and the veins carry deoxygenated blood, that the blood is oxygenated in the lungs, and that the oxygenated blood that returns to the heart is carried to the brain and other organs of the body via the aorta. There were also many Muslim scientists who made great contributions to various disciplines other than medicine and anatomy. For instance, Al-Biruni knew that the earth rotates about its own axis, some 600 years prior to Galileo, and determined the earth's circumference some 700 years prior to Newton. Ali Kushchu, a 15th century scientist, was the first to make a map of the moon, and a region of the moon has been named after him. Thabit ibn Qurrah (Thebit), who lived in the 9th century, invented differential calculus centuries before Newton. Battani, a 10th century scientist, is the first developer of trigonometry. Abul Wafa Muhammad al-Buzjani introduced the "tangent-cotangent, secant-cosecant" to trigonometry for the first time. Al-Khwarizmi wrote the first book on algebra in the 9th century. Al-Maghribi invented the equation known today as the Pascal triangle, some 600 years prior to Pascal. Ibn al-Haitham (Alhazen), who lived in the 11th century, was the founder of optics. Roger Bacon and Kepler made use of his works, and Galileo invented the telescope by referring to them. Al-Kindi (Alkindus) introduced relative physics and the theory of relativity some 1100 years prior to Einstein. Shams al-din, who lived some 400 years prior to Pasteur, was the first to discover the existence of germs. Ali ibn al-Abbas lived in the 10th century and was the first to perform cancer surgery. In the same century, Ibn el Jessar introduced the reasons and treatment methods of leprosy. These Muslim scientists, only some of whom are mentioned here, have made important discoveries that laid the foundation for modern science."[ix]

This is more than enough to make modern scientists study about Islam. Throughout the Islamic history, there was no conflict between science and faith. Moreover, science was encouraged and fueled by faith. The revelation of the Qur'an –Arabic for: that which is recited–, the Holy book of Muslims that is believed to be the word of God, began with the word Iqra` (Recite). The Qur'an is full of verses that motivate men to reflect, ponder upon creation, and seek knowledge:

"Behold! in the creation of the heavens and the earth; in the alternation of the night and the day; in the sailing of the ships through the ocean for the profit of mankind; in the rain which Allah Sends down from the skies, and the life which He gives therewith to an earth that is dead; in the beasts of all kinds that He scatters through the earth; in the change of the winds, and the clouds which they Trail like their slaves between the sky and the earth;- (Here) indeed are Signs for a people that are wise." [Qur'an 2:164].

"…say, 'O my Lord! advance me in knowledge'." [Qur'an 20:114], "Those truly fear Allah, among His Servants, who have knowledge: for Allah is Exalted in Might, Oft-Forgiving." [Qur'an 35:28].

"… Say: 'Are those equal, those who know and those who do not know?' It is those who are endued with understanding that receive admonition." [Qur'an 39:9].

Muhammad, who is believed to be the seal of the prophets, encouraged Muslims to seek knowledge and to teach as well. A literate captive taken from a battle could be granted his freedom simply after teaching ten Muslims how to read and write! In a Hadith (saying of the Prophet Muhammad), the prophet said:

"a believer never stops seeking knowledge until he enters Paradise." (Narrated by at-Tirmidhi)

In another Hadith:

"… Allah bestows blessings upon those who instruct other people in beneficial knowledge…" (Narrated by at-Tirmidhi).[x]

As a result of the Islamic teachings, the Arabs who were a community of ignorant, superstitious tribes were rescued from superstition and began to follow the path of reason in the light of the Qur'an. This phenomenon amazed Thomas Carlyle:

"A poor shepherd people, roaming unnoticed in its deserts since the creation of the world: a hero prophet was sent down to them with a word they could believe: see the unnoticed becomes world notable… within one century afterwards, Arabia is at Grenada on this hand, at Delhi on that."[xi]

A large number of Western thinkers and philosophers had a high regard for Islam and wrote about it in awe. Frederick Nietzsche, despite his madness, said that Europe holds the Muslim world in contempt, but it is a world that "in its golden age made even our nineteenth century look very late indeed." He recognized a certain quality in Muslims, he said that they are a chivalrous people that did not have a slave mentality, and they do not have resentment in their hearts.[xii]

Goethe in one of his poems said:

"If Islam is submission to God, hence we all live and die in Islam." (Quoted from Anna Maria Shmell, 1991.)

Georges Bernard Shaw said:

"It is also the only religion which is in harmony with all the various stages of life. I view that Muhammad should be named the rescuer of humanity. If a man like Muhammad ruled the world, he would solve its problems."[xiii]

The American writer Michael H. Hart in his book on rating of who contributed towards the benefit and upliftment of mankind writes:

“My choice of Muhammad to lead the list of the world’s most influential persons may surprise some readers and may be questioned by others, but he was the only man in history who was supremely successful on both the religious and secular levels.”[xiv]

Islamic Epistemology: God, Man, and the World.

The Islamic religion is holistic. It is not solely concerned with prayer and religious rituals. It also includes a complete way of life, a political system, an educational program, and a scientific paradigm. Leopold Weiss (now Mohammad Asad)[xv] stated that:

"Islam appears to me like a perfect work of Architecture. All its parts are harmoniously conceived to complement and support each other. Nothing is superfluous and nothing lacking, with the result of an absolute balance and solid composure."

Islam means literally submission to God:

"Do they seek for other than the Religion of Allah.-while all creatures in the heavens and on earth have, willing or unwilling, bowed to His Will (in submission, Islam), and to Him shall they all be brought back." [Qur'an 3:83].

Etymologically, Islam comes from the Arabic root word Salama, which means being in peace. It is also explained as being in peace with God, the universe, the society, and yourself. In other words, peace can be achieved through submission to God.

"…whosoever follows My guidance, on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve." [Qur'an 2:38].

God is known through the universe, revelation, and fitrah (the inborn state of being.)[xvi] It is totally ridiculous for Muslims to claim that the world is a result of chance. All observations and experiments showed that it was, in a nutshell, impossible for a living cell to arise within inanimate matter by random chemical reactions. Even the English atheist Nobel Prize-winner Fred Hoyle expressed that such a scenario:

"is comparable with the chance that a tornado sweeping through a junk-yard might assemble a Boeing 747 from the materials therein.”[xvii]

Aristotle's concept of "unmoved Mover" is Islamically interpreted as the "uncreated Creator". God is the creator of everything:

"Allah is the Creator of all things, and He is the Guardian and Disposer of all affairs." [Qur'an 39:62].

Moreover, the creation is ever-continuous: everything in existence is dependent upon God. Knowledge of the world is possible. Furthermore, Muslims are invited by God and his Messenger to reflect, study, and investigate the world.

The scientific paradigm in Islam is therefore:

A search for the discovery and definition of the great design and harmony in the

Esposito emphasizes that:

"Muslim scientists, who were often philosophers of mystics as well, viewed physical universe from within their Islamic worldview and context as a manifestation of the presence of God, the Creator and the source and unity and harmony in nature."[xviii]

With the fundamentals being set by the Creator, the work of science was left for man to undertake. Human intelligence can freely investigate and experiment starting from the Divine motivation, and residing within the ethical boundaries of Islam. The boundaries were much wider than those set by the Catholic Church in the middle ages. Besides, crossing these boundaries was tolerated by the Islamic authority; there were no "scientists barbequed on a stick" or even persecuted for apostasy or heresy. Deviating scientists received letters of rectification from the ruling authority or even other orthodox Muslim scholars, or were even invited into a debate.

"Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold that never breaks. And Allah heareth and knoweth all things." [Qur'an 2:256].

Abu Hanifah, the well known Muslim scholar and the founder of a school of Islamic jurisprudence used to invite or yet visit atheists to debate with them saying: "so, tell us what you have…"

Islam and Psychology: 'Ilm un-Nafs.

“And indeed We[xix] have created man, and We know, what his nafs (soul/self) whispers to him; and We are nearer to him [by knowledge] than [his] jugular vein.” [Qur’an 50:16]

When someone buys a Compaq laptop computer, he must certainly be computer literate. In addition, he must get an instruction manual from the Compaq company (this is not an advertisement), in order to properly operate the laptop. Hence, our friend will be using the manual, his computer knowledge that he acquired at college, and his intellect. This parable obviously explains the interaction between: 1- Revelation 2- Acquired knowledge (academically and experimentally) 3- Intellect (exploration and innovation). The human entity or the nafs in Islam has a Creator (likewise, the laptop was produced by a company). This Creator is the most knowledgeable about the creature (incomparable to Compaq that might have at least some minute gaps in their products, nevertheless, they still know best about their products). In order to instruct humans about themselves and their relation to the world, God revealed scriptures to men, through chosen messengers who were the elect among man, and supposed to be role-models. (Compaq would make a manual and would assign representatives –decent, polite, knowledgeable and good looking– in order to instruct and guide the customers.) The costumer will succeed in operating the laptop without many problems as long as he is adhering to the manual (Divine revelation), using the laptop within its capacities, following the footsteps of the Compaq representative (prophets and messengers), and rightly applying his knowledge. This will not forbid him from using his intellect, within the mentioned boundaries, and innovatively operating the laptop. The same is applied to the human spirit. The Creator has revealed rules and regulations related to what is useful and what is harmful to one's self, the meaning of life, the relation with God and other humans, and ethics related to everyday life.

The psychological health of the individual is very important in Islam. It is dealt with on a daily basis. A large number of Muslim scholars specialized in the field of 'Ilm un-nafs (psychology), although it was not known by that name. It had other names such as tazkiat un-nafs (purification of the soul[xx]) or tahdhib un-nafs (refinement of the soul). The Islamic explanation of man is dualistic: man is made up of body and soul. Professor Mohammed Osman Najaty from Kuwait offers a modern orthodox interpretation of dualism in Islam:

"... Each of these two components of man (body and soul) has its inmate needs. The body has its inmate needs that must be satisfied in order that the individual can live and the human species can survive. The soul also has its inmate needs that express themselves in man's spiritual longing for knowing God, belief in Him and worshiping Him. Satisfaction of these spiritual needs determines man's feeling of security and happiness. Conflict arises between these two components of man. This conflict is, in fact, the basic psychological conflict that man suffers in his life… Those who really succeed in this test are those who can reconcile the material and the spiritual components of their personalities, and can establish the greatest amount of equilibrium between them. Therefore, they deserve the reward of being happy in this world and also in the later eternal life. Islam follows in educating people a purposeful method that can establish equilibrium between the material and the spiritual components of their personalities… Islam's method of education has two approaches. One is to strengthen the spiritual component in man by inviting him to believe in the only one God and to worship Him. The other approach is to ask man to dominate his material component by controlling his drives emotions and sensual desires."[xxi]

The spirit (ar-rûh) is connected to the body in five different ways, to which different rules apply: 1. Its connection to the body as a fetus in his mother’s womb. 2. Its connection to the body after a person is born. 3. Its connection to the body when a person is asleep, when the spirit is connected in one way and separated from it in another way.[xxii] 4. Its connection to the body in al-Barzakh (the period between a person’s death and the Day of Resurrection), when it has departed from the body and separated from it, but is not separated completely in such a way that there is no connection at all. We have mentioned at the beginning of this reply that there are ahâdîth and reports which indicate that the spirit is returned to the body when somebody sends the greeting of salâm to a deceased person. This returning is of a special nature which does not mean that the life is restored to the body before the Day of Resurrection. 5. Its connection to the body on the Day when bodies will be resurrected. This is the most perfect type of connection to the body, and has no comparison to the previous types, because after that the body will never die, sleep or have anything wrong with it. When a person is asleep, his spirit is in his body and he is alive, although his being alive is not the same as that of a person who is awake, for sleep is comparable to death.

"It is Allah that takes the souls (of men) at death; and those that die not (He takes) during their sleep: those on whom He has passed the decree of death, He keeps back (from returning to life), but the rest He sends (to their bodies) for a term appointed verily in this are Signs for those who reflect." [Qur'an 39:42].

Similarly, when a dead person’s spirit is returned to his body (when the greeting is sent upon him), he is in a state between one who is alive and one who is dead, whose spirit is not restored to his body. This is like the case of a sleeping person who is in a state between life and death.[xxiii]

The Islamic treatment and prevention dimensions are similar to the cognitive-behavioral approach. It is cognitive for including a creed that has a psychodynamic framework (explained later). As Lazarus identifies cognition as the key to functioning and change and notes that

"it provides motivational direction, emotional significance and the justification of action, and it connects action to the environmental context by the principle of feedback"[xxiv].

In the same manner, a believer is motivated, guided and driven by his creedal conviction. A Muslim establishes a firm belief in God that is not mixed with uncertainty. One of the good classical examples for that kind of belief is exemplified in the wisdom of Ibrahim ibn Adham, when a man complained to him about his inability to control his desires. He asked him to give him something to help him with it. In other words, he wanted a permit to disobey God and unleash his desires. Ibrahim replied: "If you accept five conditions," said Ibrahim (also known as Abu Ishaq), "and are able to put them into practice, your disobedience will not cause you any problem." "Just tell me what they are, Abu Ishaq!" the man said. "The first is that when you want to disobey Allah you do not eat anything He provides." "Then how will I get anything to eat? Everything on the earth is from Him!" "So is it right to eat His provision and disobey Him at the same time?" replied Ibrahim. "No, it is not. What is the second condition?" "When you want to disobey him, move off His land." "That is even more difficult!" exclaimed the man. "In that case where will I live?" "Is it right to eat his provision and live on His land and then to disobey Him?" asked Ibrahim. "No, it is not. What is the third condition?" "When you want to disobey Him in spite of eating His provision and living on His land, find a place where He will not see you and disobey Him there." "What do you mean, Ibrahim? He knows everything that happens even in the most hidden places!" "So is it right to disobey Him when you eat His provision and live on His land and when you know that He can see everything you do?" "It certainly is not!" the man replied. "Tell me the fourth condition." "That when the Angel of Death arrives to take your soul, you say to him, 'Give me a reprieve so that I can repent and act righteously for Allah.'" "But he won’t listen to me!" "Then if you cannot ward off death long enough to give yourself time to repent, and you know that when it comes there will be no reprieve, how can you hope to be saved?" "What is the fifth?" "That when the angels of the Fire come to you to take you to the Fire, you do not go with them." "They will take me whether I like it or not!" exclaimed the man. "So how can you hope to be saved?" "Enough, enough, Ibrahim! I ask Allah's forgiveness and I turn to Him!" The man’s repentance was sincere and from that time on he was assiduous in his worship and avoided acts of disobedience until the day he died.[xxv] Consciousness is highly important in Islam. One should be constantly aware of being in the Divine presence, for God is omniscient and omnipresent. However, man would occasionally fall into heedlessness (ghafla) and then fall into sin. This is not the end of the world for a Muslim; there is always room for rectification and repentance (as long as he lives)

"Say: "O my Servants who have transgressed against their souls! Despair not of the Mercy of Allah. for Allah forgives all sins: for He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful" [Qur'an 39:53].

Through a Muslim lens, this life is seen like a college in which one would learn and have exams. Being at a college is not absurd. In addition, we don't go to college with a will to stay there (God forbids). A student works for a successful graduation, and looks forward for post-graduation life. On a larger scale, this life is not lived for its own sake; it is a period of continuous testing. The excitement about this life is that no one knows when his graduation is (unless he would drop out from life by committing suicide!). Graduation in this parable is Judgment day, and post-graduation life is the hereafter, with a major difference that after graduation there is work to be done, whereas Paradise is the abode of eternal rest and happiness, in measures that are beyond our perception. What if there is nothing after death? A skeptic might ask. Well, if there is something after death, and we have an atheist who didn't care about it, and a believer who worked for it, who would be the loser? The atheist. And if it was the other way around, who would lose? Still the atheist! For the believer at least enjoyed the process of attaining the elevated degrees of spirituality during his life. At any rate, Muslims believe in the hereafter with certainty, not like a gambler would believe (the fore-mentioned example). This doctrinal framework about life and death seems to be working. Where religious sanctions against suicide are absent or weaker, as in Scandinavian countries, in former Czechoslovakia, and in Hungary, higher suicide rates are observed. Hungary has the highest recorded rate of suicide (40.7 per 100,000). On the other hand, the suicide rates in Islamic countries are correspondingly low.[xxvi]

The behavioral dimension includes active forms of worship such as prayer and emulating the moral characteristics of the prophet. Prayer is the most important act of worship in Islam. The prayer of Muslims was admired by Western thinkers such as Renan and Thomas Arnold. Many of those who embraced Islam were attracted by the prayer. Five times a day, a Muslim would perform wudu` (ablution) which is refreshing and hygienic, and then go to the mosque to pray, or at home, office or school. Prayer means salat in Arabic which comes from the world sila which means link or connection. A Muslim has a direct relation with his Creator. This relation is important to the human being in many dimensions especially from that of self worth. Being connected to the Almighty Being, Creator of the universe is of a high relevance. Just imagine if a basketball fan is invited by Michael Jordan, or a computer whiz that has an interview with Bill Gates! How would it be then if someone is invited to a daily meeting with God? This would certainly increase the sense of self worth of the believer and would constantly revitalize him and keep him away from destructive or delinquent behaviors. The mere remembrance of God would shield the Muslim from sinning; cognitively it is like: "how can I disobey God while He sees me?" in addition to a deep feeling of gratefulness one would have to the Creator. Speaking on the aspect of equality before God in Islam, the famous poetess of India, Sarojini Naidu says:

"It was the first religion that preached and practiced democracy for, in the mosque, when the call for prayer is sounded and worshippers are gathered together, the democracy of Islam is embodied five times a day when the peasant and king kneel side by side and proclaim: ‘God Alone is Great’… I have been struck over and over again by the indivisible unity of Islam that makes man instinctively a brother."[xxvii]

This brotherhood in practice would reinforce one's feeling of security and thus eliminate loneliness and the feeling of being rejected or social isolation.

As for worship and obedience, it protects men from compartmentalizing his "self", or in other words; developing multiple personality disorders. He will be consistent in his behavior (rather than being a chameleon), for God is with him in knowledge wherever he is. Besides, it is healthier to have one leader than many leaders at the same time:

"Allah puts forth a Parable a man belonging to many partners at variance with each other, and a man belonging entirely to one master: are those two equal in comparison? Praise be to Allah. but most of them have no knowledge." [Qur'an 39:29].

The emulation of the prophetic behavior and moral conduct is an example of modeling which is "the most pervasive method for learning for children or adults."[xxviii] The Islamic tradition is rich in models, heroes and examples, both males and females. Volumes of books are written about general and specific personality traits and behaviors of the prophet Muhammad, the prophets who came before him (e.g. Abraham, Moses, Jesus). Thomas Carlyle said about Muhammad:

"He stood there face to face with them; bare. Not enshrined in any mystery visibly clouting his own cloak, cobbling his own shoes; fighting, counseling…no emperor with his tiaras was obeyed as this man in a cloak of his own clouting… they must have seen what kind of a man he was."[xxix]

Today's children are exposed to an average of 25 to 27 acts of violence per children's program, which is made up largely of cartoons. By the age of 18, according to one estimate, a youngster will have seen 200,000 acts of violence on television, including 40,000 murders.[xxx] This is influencing their behavior in a negative way; at least this is what the studies are indicating.[xxxi] The Islamic tradition also contains examples of evil nations and individuals with reference to the consequences that they went through as the harvest of their evildoing. These models are examples to learn from. Man can not experience everything for he can barely handle the consequences of on wrong action. Therefore "The felicitous is he who learns from other people's tribulations"

Al-Ghazali (1058-1111 C.E.): Revival of the Religious Sciences

Al-Ghazali is the best known exponent of traditional psychology. He is considered by many to be the greatest Muslim thinker after the companions of the Prophet Muhammad. His life and thought played a major role in determining the ethical and spiritual values of medieval society and continues to be influential throughout the world today. His method was to motivate believers to action to undertake the greater struggle and morally heal. This Muslim theologian and mystic whose great work, Ihya' 'ulum ad-din (“The Revival of the Religious Sciences”), made Sufism (Islamic mysticism) an acceptable part of orthodox Islam. For Al-Ghazali Meaning of nafs: It has two meanings. First, it means the powers of anger and lust in a human being... and this is the usage mostly found among the [so-called] people of tasawwuf, who take “nafs" as the comprehensive word for all the evil attributes of a person. That is why they say: one must certainly do battle with the soul/self and break it. The second meaning of nafs is the spirit, the human being in reality, his self and his person. However, it is described differently according to its different states. If it assumes calmness under command and has removed from itself the disturbance caused by the onslaught of passion, it is called “the satisfied soul” (al-nafs al-mutma'inna)... In its first meaning the nafs does not envisage its return to God because it has kept itself far from Him: such a nafs is from the party of shaytân (satan, the devil). However, when it does not achieve calmness, yet sets itself against the love of passions and objects to it, it is called “the self-accusing soul” (al-nafs al-lawwama), because it rebukes its owner for his neglect in the worship of his master... If it gives up all protest and surrenders itself in total obedience to the call of passions and shaytân, it is named “the soul that enjoins evil” (al-nafs al-ammara bi al-su’)... which could be taken to refer to the soul/self in its first meaning. The spiritual life in Islam begins with riyadat al-nafs, the inner warfare against the ego. Distracted and polluted by worldliness, the lower self has a tendency to drag the human creature down into arrogance and vice. Only by a powerful effort of will can the sincere worshipper achieve the purity of soul which enables him to attain God's proximity. in The Revival of the Religious Sciences (Ihya’ ‘Ulum al-Din) the sophisticated spiritual techniques adopted by classical Islam are detailed. In the first step, On Disciplining the Soul, which cites copious anecdotes from the Islamic scriptures and biographies of the saints, Ghazali explains how to acquire good character traits, and goes on to describe how the sickness of the heart may be cured. In the second part, Breaking the Two Desires, he focuses on the question of gluttony and sexual desire, concluding, in the words of the Prophet, that 'the best of all matters is the middle way'.

In the Islamic tradition, monasticism is unacceptable. A Muslim is supposed to be involved in worldly affairs. For example, Islam encourages marriage. However, the prophet recommended fasting (from dawn until sunset) for those who can not afford to get married. For Al-Ghazali, gluttony, or shahwat-ul-battn is the key to sexual desire shahwat-ul-farj. If you control the first, you control the second. Moderation is recommended in all circumstances as in these verses:

"O Children of Adam! wear your beautiful apparel at every time and place of prayer: eat and drink: But waste not by excess, for Allah loveth not the wasters." [Qur'an 7:31]

"And render to the kindred their due rights, as (also) to those in want, and to the wayfarer: But squander not (your wealth) in the manner of a spendthrift. Verily spendthrifts are brothers of the Evil Ones; and the Evil One is to his Lord (himself) ungrateful." [Qur'an 17:26, 27].

Prophet Muhammad made this issue even clearer by saying: "A descendent of Adam can fill no container worse than his own belly. A few small mouthfuls should suffice to keep his back straight; if he cannot keep to this, then let him fill one third (of his belly) with his food, one third with his drink and keep the other for his breath The latter means (to leave one third of the belly empty and thus facilitating respiration)." On fasting, Shah Waliyullah said:

"Since the dominance and power of bestial attributes are caused by eating, drinking and excessive indulgence in lowly desires - the latter playing the dominant role in the assertion of bestial attributes - it is essential to curtail and curb the onslaught of the flesh by a reduction in these factors (eating, drinking and indulgence in desire). Precisely for this reason do we find unanimity among all those who desire the supremacy of the soul and the subjugation of the flesh. All such men are unanimous in their assertion that the method of establishing the supremacy of the soul over the body is to reduce indulgence in eating, drinking and lowly desire. A remarkable fact is that this unanimity exists despite the different religions and lands of these men (i.e. those who desire the supremacy of the soul)."[xxxii]

Other preventive procedures exist in the Islamic system in order to prevent uncontrolled desires and fornication. The most important procedure consists of avoidance of all stimuli that would lead to arousal. Lowering the gaze and dressing decently:

"Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for greater purity for them: And Allah is well acquainted with all that they do. And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband's fathers, their sons, their husbands' sons, their brothers or their brothers' sons, or their sisters' sons, or their women, or the slaves whom their right hands possess, or male servants free of physical needs, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex; and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments. And O ye Believers! turn ye all together towards Allah, that ye may attain Bliss." [Qur'an 24:30, 31].

The system of rating the movies and magazines that are sexually explicit as "for adults only" seems to be bogus. It is obvious that even adults are susceptible to such material. Findings have shown that exposure to erotic films decreases attraction for a less exciting partner.[xxxiii] It also increases acceptance of extramarital sex and women's sexual submission to men[xxxiv] and increases men's perceiving women in sexual terms.[xxxv] In Hawaii, for example, the number of reported rapes have arisen nine fold between 1960 and 1974, dropped when restraints on pornography were temporarily imposed, and rose again when the restraints were lifted.

Al-Ghazali describes the human condition in this parable:

"Know that the body is like a town and the intellect of the mature human being is like a king ruling that town. All the forces of the external and internal senses he can muster are like his soldiers and his aides. The soul/self that enjoins evil (nafs ammarah), that is, lust and anger, is like an enemy that challenges him in his kingdom and strives to slaughter his people. The body thus becomes like a garrison-town or sea-outpost, and the soul like its custodian posted in it. If he fights against his enemies and defeats them and compels them to do what he likes, he will be praised when he returns to God’s presence."[xxxvi]

Islam, Modernity, and Universality

When I started working on this paper, I was asked to be careful about the issue of universality. Psychology recommends a treatment that is not bound to any ethnic or religious groups. The conflict may be unresolved; yet, Islam is a universal religion that is not restricted to nationality or color. The other argument is that Islam is spreading around the world, especially in the western world in a way that no religion has witnessed before:

"Islam is the fastest growing major religion in the world.[xxxvii] Islam is one of the fastest-growing religions in the US. By the year 2010, America's Muslim population is expected to surpass the Jewish population, making Islam the country's second-largest faith after Christianity."[xxxviii]

A large number of intellectual, famous, and even normal people have accepted Islam worldwide. The Islamic way of life seems to be working for those who are accepting it. This satisfaction is witnessed through the writings of new Muslims. Ms. Margaret Marcus (now Maryam Jamilah): American, formerly a Jewess, essayist and an author of many books. She embraced Islam in 1962:

"The authority of Islamic Morals and Laws proceeds from Almighty God. Pleasure and happiness in Islam are but the natural byproducts of emotional satisfaction in one's duties conscientiously performed for the pleasure of God to achieve salvation. In Islam duties are always stressed above rights. Only in Islam was my quest for absolute values satisfied. Only in Islam did I at last find all that was true, good, beautiful and which gives meaning and direction to human life and death."

Cat Stevens (now Yusuf Islam): British; formerly a Christian and a world famous pop singer. He embraced Islam in 1973:

"It will be wrong to judge Islam in the light of the behavior of some bad Muslims who are always shown on the media. It is like judging a car as a bad one if the driver of the car is drunk and he bangs it into the wall. Islam guides all human beings in the daily life; in its spiritual, mental and physical dimensions. But we must find the sources of these instructions, the Qur'an and the example of the Prophet. Then we can see the ideal of Islam."

Wilfried Hofman (now Murad Hofman): Ph.D. in law (Harvard); German social scientist and diplomat; formerly German Ambassador in Algeria. He embraced Islam in 1980:

"For some time now, striving for more and more precision and brevity, I have tried to put on paper, in a systematic way, all philosophical truths, which in my view, can be ascertained beyond reasonable doubt. In the course of this effort it dawned on me that the typical attitude of an agnostic is not an intelligent one; that man simply cannot escape a decision to believe; that the createdness of what exists around us is obvious; that Islam undoubtedly finds itself in the greatest harmony with overall reality. Thus I realize, not without shock, that step by step, in spite of myself and almost unconsciously, in feeling and thinking I have grown into a Muslim. Only one last step remained to be taken: to formalize my conversion. As of today I am a Muslim. I have arrived."

Cassius Clay (now Muhammad Ali): American; three times World Heavyweight Champion, formerly a Christian. He embraced Islam in 1965:

"I have had many nice moments in my life. But the feelings I had while standing on Mount Arafat on the day of Hajj (Muslims' pilgrimage), was the most unique. I felt exalted by the indescribable spiritual atmosphere there as over a million and a half pilgrims invoked God to forgive them of their sins and bestow on them His choicest blessings. It was an exhilarating experience to see people belonging to different colors, races and nationalities, kings, heads of states and ordinary men from very poor countries all clad in two simple white sheets praying to God without any sense of either pride or inferiority. It was a practical manifestation of the concept of equality in Islam."[xxxix]

Charles J. Adams, Mc Gill University, wrote:

"Muslims have turned again to the glories of their past to seek identity and guidance in the modern world... Islam is once more on the rise. The new vitality of Muslims has also led to a religious awakening among them... perhaps the most remarkable thing is the sheer devotion to Islam which 20th century Muslims exhibit at a time when religion generally has declined. Islam has acquired renewed dynamism and is a major force stimulating Muslims to achieve a better place for themselves in the world."[xl]

The topic of Islamic psychology is not fully covered, not even in one aspect of it in this paper. It is only an introduction, a suggestion, an invitation to exploration.

Reference List


[i] Thomas H. Leahy, History to Psychology, 5th edition, p. 188.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Erich Fromm, Beyond the Chains of Illusion, Touchstone, New York, 1962, pp. 180-181.

[iv] Huntington, Samuel P. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. Touchstone, 1998, p. 304.

[v] sciences/enlightened_belief_history.htm

[vi] Science, Philosophy and Religion, A Symposium, published by the Conference on Science, Philosophy and Religion in Their Relation to the Democratic Way of Life, Inc., New York, 1941.

[vii] Patrick Glynn, God: The Evidence, The Reconciliation of Faith and Reason in a Postsecular World, Prima Publishing, California, 1997, p.19.

[viii] Ibid. p. 2.

[ix] Harun Yahya, The Qur'an Leads The Way To Science, Nickleodeon Books, 2002, pp. 69-72.

[x] Dr. Mazhar U. Kazi, A Treasury of Ahadith, Abul-Qasim Publishing House, 1992, pp. 137, 138.

[xi] Thomas Carlyle, On Heroes and Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History, London, 1959.

[xii] Frederick Nietzsche, The Antichrist, ch. 59, 60.

[xiii] George Bernard Shaw, The Genuine Islam.

[xiv] Michael H. Hart, The 100: a Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History, New York, 1987, p. 33.

[xv] Austrian statesman, journalist, former foreign correspondent for the Frankfuerter Zeitung; author of Islam at The Crossroads and Road to Mecca and translator of the Qur'an. He embraced Islam in 1926.

[xvi] Islam rejects the idea of original sin. Man is born sinless and is held responsible for his own deeds. "…No bearer of burdens can bear the burden of another..." [Qur'an 39:7].

[xvii] "Hoyle on Evolution", Nature, vol. 294, November 12, 1981, p. 105.

[xviii] John L. Esposito, Islam: The Straight Path, s. 54.

[xix] We: plural of majesty, not that of number, referring to God.

[xx] Nafs in Arabic also refers to the self or the ego, the human individual entity.

[xxi] The Concept of Mental Health in the Holy Qur'an and the Hadeeth, Prof. Mohammed Osman Najaty, Kuwait.

[xxii] (in other words like the astronaut is connected to the space shuttle while walking in space)

[xxiii] The Connection of the Spirit to the Body, By Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyyah (1292-1350 C.E.), Taken from his book, ‘Kitâbur-Rûh’ (‘Book of Spirit’), p. 44.

[xxiv] Lazarus, R. S. (1989). Constructs of the mind in mental health and psychotherapy. In A. Freeman, K. M. Simon, L. E. Buetler, and H. Arkowitz (Eds.), Comprehensive handbook of cognitive therapy. New York: Plenum, p. 99.

[xxv] Extracted with slight modifications from: “The Day of Rising”, Laila Mabruk, Published by Dar al-Taqwa Ltd, 1997.

[xxvi] Understanding Abnormal Behavior, 6th ed., Sue Sue & Sue, Houghton Mufflin Company, 2000, p.369.

[xxvii] S. Naidu, ideals of Islam, vides speeches & writings, Madras, 1918, p. 169.

[xxviii] Cognitive and Behavioral Treatment, Methods and Applications. Edited by Donald K. Granvold, University of Texas, Arlington, Brooks/ Cole Publishing Company, 1994. pp. 51, 67.

[xxix] Thomas Carlyle, On Heroes and Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History, London, 1959.

[xxx] Daily Sundial Online, Children trained to be killers,

[xxxi] Murray, J. P. (1997). Impact of Televised Violence. [1997, March 7].

[xxxii] Fasting Establishes Supremacy of The Soul By Muhaddith Shah Waliyullâh

[xxxiii] Zillman, D. (1989). Agression and sex; Independent and joint operations.

[xxxiv] Ibid.

[xxxv] Frable and others, 1994; Hansen & Hansen 1989;1990.

[xxxvi] Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali, Revival of the Religious Sciences, translated by T.J.Winter (Abdul Hakim Murad).



[xxxix] Speaking to the daily "Al-Madinah," Jeddah, 15 July, 1989.

[xl] Encyclopedia Americana, International Edition, volume 15, 1999, Grolier Incorporated.

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