Islamic Psychology Prevention and Therapy in a Cognitive Behavioral Model

Islamic Psychology Prevention and Therapy in a Cognitive Behavioral Model

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"[1].

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…"[2]

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."[3]

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.[4]

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."[5]

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."[6]

In his book, "God: The Evidence, The Reconciliation of Faith and Reason in a Postsecular World", the ex-atheist American scholar Patrick Glynn from GeorgeWashingtonUniversity 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."[7]

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."[8]

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."[9]

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).[10]

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."[11]

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.[12]

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."[13]

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.”[14]

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)[15] 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.)[16] 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.”[17]

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."[18]

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.