Islamic Psychology: An Introduction

Religious beliefs have a great impact on human psychology and play a vital role in mental, physical and spiritual well-being of an individual
"To know the true nature of man, many attempts are made by saints, philosophers, scientists and researchers throughout the ages."
"To know the true nature of man, many attempts are made by saints, philosophers, scientists and researchers throughout the ages."Special arrangement

“We have indeed created humankind in the best of the moulds.” (al- Quran 95:4)

The man is bestowed with different and unique qualities like reasoning, thinking power, language and free will. These distinguish him from the rest of the creations and make him the noblest and the most marvellous creation (Ashraf al Makhluqat).

Humans are innately curious creatures. The above mentioned verse of the Quran increases the curiosity to know the best design of man.

To know the true nature of man, many attempts are made by saints, philosophers, scientists and researchers throughout the ages.

Firstly, we will discuss the subject of psychology. Etymologically, the word psychology derives from the Greek word ‘psyche’ meaning ‘soul’ and ‘logos’ meaning ‘the study of the subject’. Therefore, the term psychology means the study of the soul.

The history of psychology dates back to ancient Greek philosophy. Plato (424 BC-348 BC) emphasised the role of mind in moulding human behaviour. Aristotle (384 BC-322 BC) wrote on the philosophy of mind and the properties of soul in his treatise de anima (On the Soul). In 16th century psychology became famous as a study of soul among theologians. The most influential figure in the history of Psychology is Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920 AC), the father of Psychology who established Psychology as an independent science.

In 19th century, the term was defined as the science of mental life. Later on, the term was again changed and was referred to the study of behaviour. In the later part of 19th century, Austrian Psychiatrist Sigmund Freud (1856-1939AC) proposed the theory of psychoanalysis -a method of studying the mind and treating Psychiatric and emotional disorders based on revealing and investigating the role of the unconscious mind.

At present Psychology is defined as the branch of knowledge which deals with the human mind; that knowledge of mind which we derive from a careful examination of the facts of consciousness and behavior (Grolier, Webster Dictionary).

Religion and psychology has a positive link. Religious beliefs have a great impact on human psychology and play a vital role in mental, physical and spiritual well-being of an individual.

Quran has explained the three types of nafs (human psyche) that is Nafs e Muṭmainah -tranquil soul (al Quran 89:27), Nafs e Lawwāmah -blaming soul (al Quran 75:2) and Nafs e Ammārah -commanding soul (al Quran 12:53). The central theme of the Quranic discourse is about man and addreses to the inner nature of the man, the social, moral, and spiritual aspects. Therefore man has a special position in the universe.

Islamic perspective to Psychology is based on the knowledge of Islam. The word Islam is derived from an Arabic world “Salama’ meaning ‘peace.’ It is also derived from a root word ‘slm’ meaning peace acquired by submitting one’s will to Allah and the one who submits or surrender to Allah is known as Muslim. The history of Islamic Psychology dates back to the history of mankind. Allah says in the Quran

“And when your Lord said to the angels, indeed I will make upon the earth as successive authority.” (al Quran 2:30).

As per Islamic perspective, human beings are Allah’s Khalifa (Vicegerent) on earth. They have been created under the divine scheme of Allah for a fixed time period to worship Allah alone. To live a successful life, worship is mandatory for a believer.

In the early Muslim writings scholars used the term nafs (self/psyche) to describe an individual’s personality and the Fitrah (purity) for human nature. Islamic Psychology discusses the concepts like Qalb (Heart), Ruh (Soul), nafs (Psyche), Aql (Intellect) and Iradah (Will).

In the medieval times, philosophers like Al-Kindi (801-873 AC), discussed the functions of the soul and intellectual aspirations of man in his work On Sleep and Dream and First Philosophy. Abu Zayd al Balkhi (850-935 AC) in his book The Sustenance of the Body and the Soul has discussed physical and psychological disorders.

He was the first Muslim psychologist who separated physical illness from psychological disorders. Al-Farabi (870-950 AC) conducted special studies in social psychology. Ibn-Sina (980-1037 AC) in his book Kitab al Shifa he discusses the various aspects of human psychology, including mind-body relationships, sense perception, and related cognitive aspects. Al-Ghazali (1058-1111AC) has played a significant role in psychology.

His magnum opus The Revival of the Religious Sciences is considered as one of the most important books within the Islamic scholarship .This work provides deep insights about the psychological developments of man. In many cases the works of these scholars seems to be the original ideas for many modern psychological theories and practices.

International Association of Islamic Psychology defines Islamic psychology, a holistic understanding of the human being that is grounded in the knowledge of the soul from the Islamic tradition and focuses on the heart as the center of the self rather than the mind.

Islamic Psychology as a growing discipline in the contemporary world has made a unique image from the consistent growth of publications since decades. Although in a developing stage, Islamic Psychology has provided more advanced and holistic approach to understand the human nature and development. Islamic Psychology is one of the religion-based perspective which acknowledges it. The main attribute of Islamic Psychology is the spiritual dimension and focuses the importance of religion in the lives of people. It is interesting to note that Islamic Psychology starts with a belief in the existence of Allah, the spiritual nature of humans and the teachings and guidance of Islamic sources (Qur’an and Hadith) which provides comprehensive and up to date approach to explain human thoughts and behaviour.

“And We are closer to him than his Jugular Vein.” (al- Quran 50:16)

Allah is closer to a human being from their jugular vein although we have a separate existence from Allah but still we are connected to Him. The above verse clearly shows that human nature and behavior cannot be understood fully without the connection with Allah. This connection with Allah influences one’s thoughts and behavior. In contrary to this modern Psychology do not accept the connection of God with man nor God’s influence on the thoughts, feelings and behavior of human beings. No theory of Psychology, nor any psychological method can recognize and study it. The main reason is that the modern Psychology disregards the soul and views human being as a physical entity and a materialistic being. They do not explain human behaviour completely.

In the contemporary times, research says that religion influences human behavior and improves physical, mental and spiritual health. Researchers have also suggested that total denial of spirituality has undesirable results. American Psychological Association (APA) has given the importance to Psychological dimensions of religion and spirituality in Division 36.

The importance of understanding and developing psychology from an Islamic point of view aims to make psychology spiritually relevant. It is apparent from several studies that unification of Religious concepts into the process of Psychological counselling or Psychotherapy has positive effect on mental, physical and psychological condition of an individual. Several platforms have come up for the development of Islamic psychology. For example, Indian Council on the Islamic Perspective in Psychology (ICIPP) was established in 2016 in India. Besides, there is an International Association of Islamic Psychology (IAIP) which was founded in 2017 by Malik Badri – founder of Islamic Psychology.

From the above discussion, it is clear that Islamic Psychology is a holistic understanding of the human being that is grounded in the knowledge of the soul from the Islamic tradition and focuses on the heart as the center of the self rather than the mind. Spirituality is an essential part of the human psyche and rejection of it will lead to the increased mental, physical and psychological issues like stress, anxiety, depression etc. Globally we are at risk in facing mental and psychological problems and these issues have to be addressed and treated in an advanced and integrated way which has already been mentioned in Islamic Psychology.

Ambreen Reyaz, Ph.D. Scholar, Department of Religious Studies Central University of Kashmir

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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