Amber Haque in her paper “Contemporary western psychology and the dilemma of muslim psychologists” has provided a good survey or outline for this question.
The written accounts on the description of self and human nature given by early Muslim scholars can be found from as early as 800 AD until year 1100 AD.
Al-Ash’ath Bin Qais Al-Kindi (801–866)
Al-Kindi (Latin, Alchendius) from Baghdad is considered as the first Muslim philosopher. He wrote more than 239 titles including books and short treatises. Those related to psychology are: On Sleep and Dreams, First Philosophy, and the Eradication of Sorrow. Kindi explained ‘‘Sorrow’’ as ‘‘a spiritual (Nafsani) grief caused by loss of loved ones or personal belongings, or by failure in obtaining what one lusts after.’’ He then added, ‘‘If causes of pain are discernible, the cures can be found.’’
Kindi recommended that if we do not tolerate losing or dislike being deprived of what is dear to us, then we should seek after riches in the world of the intellect. In it we should treasure our precious and cherished gains where they can never be dispossessed…for that which is owned by our senses could easily be taken away from us.’’ He said that sorrow is not within us we bring it upon ourselves. He used cognitive strategies to combat depression and discussed functions of the soul and intellectual operations in human beings. He reminded that the souls through the act of the will develop a good constitution.
Commentators of Kindi’s works have indicated that he drew his observations and writings partly from Aristotle. Kindi writes in his epistle On the Soul that it is basically a synopsis of the larger works of both Aristotle and Plato. He also distinguished between the upper and the lower worlds. While the upper world consists of uncreated beings like the intellect, nature and the soul, the lower world comprises of created beings like Body, Creation, matter and Form that are finite. He mentioned that God cannot be understood by intellect that actually led to ‘‘negative theology’’.
Ali Ibn Sahl Rabban At-Tabari (838–870)
At-Tabari, a Persian and a Muslim convert, was a pioneer in the field of child development, which he elucidated in his book Firdaus al Hikmah. Firdaus is basically a medical text that is divided into 7 sections and 30 treatises (360 chapters).
Tabari discusses ancient Indian texts in this book and refers to the contributions of Sushtra and Chanakya in relation to medicine including psychotherapy (Hamarnah, 1984). He also emphasized the need for psychotherapy and urged the physicians to be smart and witty to make their patients feel better. People frequently feel sick due to delusive imagination, at-Tabari explained, but the competent doctor can treat them by ‘‘wise counseling’’. He relates the story of a practitioner who would ask his patient ‘‘did you eat grapes or watermelon’’ during the season of such fruits. Such intuitive questions would win the rapport and confidence of the patient and would lead to a positive therapeutic outcome. At-Tabari emphasized strong ties between psychology and medicine.
Abu Zaid Al-Balkhi (850–934)
Abu Zaid al-Balkhi is probably the first cognitive and medical psychologist who was able to clearly differentiate between neuroses and psychoses, to classify neurotic disorders, and to show in detail how rational and spiritual cognitive therapies can be used to treat each one of his classified disorders. Al-Balkhi classified neuroses into four emotional disorders: fear and anxiety, anger and aggression, sadness and depression, and obsessions. He also compares physical with psychological disorders and showed their interaction in causing psychosomatic disorders. He suggested that just as a healthy person keeps some drugs and First Aid medicines nearby for unexpected physical emergencies, he should also keep healthy thoughts and feelings in his mind for unexpected emotional outbursts.
Al-Balkhi said that it is the balance between the mind and body that brings about health and the imbalance will cause sickness. Furthermore, al-Balkhi said that the treatment of a body follows opposite and reciprocal approaches with respect to the imbalance, e.g., fever—cold surface, chill—heat. This approach is called ‘‘al-ilaj bi al-did’’ which is similar to the term ‘‘reciprocal inhibition’’ introduced by Joseph Wolpe in 1969. Al-Balkhi classified depression into three kinds: everyday normal huzn or sadness, which is today known as normal depression, endogenous depression and reactive depression. Endogenous depression originated within the body while reactive depression originated outside the body.
Abu Bakr Mohammad Ibn Zakariya Al-Razi (864–932)
A Persian known as Rhazes in the West, Al-Razi promoted psychotherapy, just like his mentor, al-Tabari. He pointed out that hopeful comments from doctors encouraged patients, made them feel better, and promoted speedier recovery. Al-Razi believed that an unexpected high emotional outburst has a quick curative effect on psychological, psychosomatic and organic disorders.
He was a master of prognosis and psychosomatic medicine and also anatomy. Al-Razi wrote a treatise on how to measure intelligence, although English translation of this work could not be found. His Kitab al-Hawi or alHawi fit-Tibb is the longest work ever written in Islamic medicine and he was recognized as a medical authority in the West up to the 18th century. In this compendium, Razi compares medical opinions of Greek and Arab scholars with his own and unlike certain other scholars of his time he criticized the works of Hippocrates and Galen, the celebrated Greek scholars. Some of the other works of al-Razi include Mujarabbat, a book on hospital experiences, al-Tibb al-Mansuri, a book on medicinal healing art, and al-Tibb al-Ruhani, where he discusses ways to treat the moral and psychological ills of the human spirit. He wrote that sound medical practice depends on independent thinking and treated soul as a substance and the brain as its instrument. He also wrote that religious compulsions can be overcome by reason for better mental health.
Abu Nasr Mohammad Ibn Al-Farakh (Al-Farabi) (870–950)
Al-Farabi, also known as Alpharabius, Avenasser, or Abynazar was Turkish. He wrote his treatise on Social Psychology, most renowned of which is his Model City. Al-Farabi stated that an isolated individual could not achieve all the perfections by himself, without the aid of other individuals. It is the innate disposition of every man to join another human being or other men in the labor he ought to perform. Therefore, to achieve what he can of that perfection, every man needs to stay in the neighborhood of others and associate with them. He also wrote On the Cause of Dreams—Chapter 24 in the Book of Opinions of the people of the Ideal City and made distinction between dream interpretation and the nature and causes of dreams.
Al-Farabi also wrote a treatise on the Meanings of the Intellect and the therapeutic effects of music on the soul. Like other Muslim philosophers of his time, al-Farabi wrote commentaries on the Greeks, independent treatises, and refutations on the works of both philosophers and theologians. Many of his treatises on metaphysics are considered the crown of his intellectual works, e.g., Treatise on the Aims of Aristotle’s Metaphysics, Bezels of Wisdom, The Book on the One and the Unity, Explanatory remarks on Wisdom, etc.
Abul Hasan Ali Abbas Al-majusi (D. 995)
Al-Majusi known in Europe, as ‘‘Haly Abbas’’ was Persian. His ancestors followed the Zoroastrian religion (majus) and star worship during the early Islamic period. He wrote Al-Kitab Al-Malaki (al-Kamil) or ‘‘The Royal Notebook,’’ which is one of the great classical works of Islamic medicine and has been able to maintain its frame alongside The Canon of Avicenna right through the Middle Ages and into modern times. He was an appointed physician of King Adud-ad-Dawlah when he wrote this book. In this book that was translated into Latin twice and called Liber Regius (later called ‘‘The Complete Art of Medicine’’), Majusi writes about the entire health field including mental diseases and the brain.
Majusi described the anatomy, physiology and diseases of the brain including sleeping sickness, loss of memory, hypochondria, coma, hot and cold meningitis, vertigo epilepsy, love sickness, and hemiplegia. He emphasized preserving health by preventing diseases and natural healing rather than medical treatment or drugs that should come as a last resort. The book comprises of 20 treatises covering entire field of medicine. Majusi’s true belief in Allah is evident in the worship and styles of expression throughout this compendium. A lot is also covered on doctor–patient relationship, especially the moral aspects of the medical professional. It is also interesting to note the details and importance of research methodology for any good book which is not much different to the modern-day research in the West.
Abu Ali Ahmad B. Muhammad B. Ya’kub Ibn Miskawayh (941–1030)
Ibn Miskawayh was a thinker who wrote on a wide variety of topics including psychology. However, he is well-known for his works on a system of ethics, especially, the Taharat al-araq (‘‘Purity of Dispositions’’) also known as Tahdhib al-Akhlaq (‘‘Cultivation of Morals’’).
In his book al-Fauz al-Asgar (‘‘The Lesser Victory’’), Ibn Miskawayh talked about the proof of the existence of God, of prophethood and of the soul. Regarding development of virtues, he combined Platonic and Aristotelian ideas with a touch of Sufism and considered virtue as perfecting the aspect of soul representing humanity, i.e. reason that distinguishes humans from animals. He suggests that we need to control our emotions and develop traits to restraint ourselves from faults. His arguments on the futility of the fear of death is interesting, as he reminds that like reason itself the soul and morality cannot be taken away.
The concept of morality preached by Ibn Miskawayh was closely related to problems with the soul. Ibn Miskawayh introduced what is now known as ‘‘self reinforcement’’ and response cost. Ibn Miskawayh narrated that a Muslim, who feels guilty about doing something pleasurable to his al-nafs al-ammarah, should learn to punish himself by psychological, physical or spiritual ways such as paying money to the poor, fasting, etc.
Abu ‘Ali Al-Husayn B. ‘Abd Allah Ibn Sina (980–1037)
Ibn Sina, known as Avecenna in the West was from Bukhara. He was known primarily as a philosopher and a physician, but he also contributed in the advancement of all sciences in his time. In the field of psychology, Ibn Sina wrote about mind, its existence, the mind–body relationship, sensation, perception, etc. in his famous book ash Shifa (Healing).
At the most common level, the influence of the mind on the body can be seen in voluntary movements, i.e., whenever the mind wishes to move the body, the body obeys. The second level of the influence of mind on the body is from emotions and the will. Say for instance, if a plank of wood is placed as a bridge over a chasm, one can hardly creep over it without falling because one only pictures oneself in a possible fall so vividly that the ‘‘natural power of limbs accord with it.’’ Strong emotions can actually destroy the temperament of the individual and lead to death by influencing vegetative functions. On the other hand, a strong soul could create conditions in another person as well—based on this phenomenon, he accepts the reality of hypnosis (al Wahm al-Amil).
He divided human perceptions into the five external and five internal senses:
(a) sensus communis or the seat of all senses that integrates sense data into percepts,
(b) the imaginative faculty which conserves the perceptual images,
(c) the sense of imagination, which acts upon these images by combining and separating them (by intellect in humans) and is therefore the seat of practical intellect,
(d) Wahm or instinct that perceives qualities like good and bad, love and hate, etc. and it forms the basis of one’s character whether or not influenced by reason,
(e) intentions (ma’ni) that conserves in memory all these notions.
He wrote about the potential intellect (within man) and active intellect (outside man) and that cognition cannot be mechanically produced but involves intuition at every stage. According to him, ordinary human mind is like a mirror upon which a succession of ideas reflects from the active intellect. Before the acquisition of knowledge that emanates from the active intellect the mirror was rusty but when we think, the mirror is polished and it remains to direct it to the sun (active intellect) so that it could readily reflect light. Ibn Sina also gave psychological explanations of certain somatic illnesses. He considered philosophizing as a way of making ‘‘the soul reach perfection’’.
Ibn Sina always linked the physical and psychological illnesses together. He called melancholia (depression) a type of mood disorder in which the person may become suspicious and develop certain types of phobias. Anger he said heralded the transition of melancholia to mania. He explained that humidity inside the head can contribute to mood disorders. This happens when the amount of breath changes. Happiness increases the breath, which leads to increased moisture inside the brain but if this moisture goes beyond its limits the brain will lose control over its rational thought leading to mental disorders. He also used psychological methods to treat his patients. Ibn Sina also wrote about symptoms and treatment of love sickness (Ishq), nightmare, epilepsy, and weak memory.
Abu Hamid Muhammad Al-Ghazali (1058–1111)
Al-Ghazali was born in Tus, Khurasan, and later died in the same place. He was a philosopher, theologian, jurist, and mystic. While he was a renowned scholar and achieved great respect in Baghdad, he left Baghdad and retired in Damascus. Ghazali travelled in the holy lands and questioned his senses knowing that they could deceive. He is considered the architect of the latter development of Islam.
Some of his great works include, Ihya Ulum ad Din (Revival of the Religious Sciences), AlMunqid min ad-Dalal (the Savior from Error), Tahafut al-Fhalasifa (Destruction of the Philosophy), Kimiya as-Saadah (Alchemy of Felicity), Ya Ayyuhal walad (O Young Man), Mishkat al-Anwar (the Niche of the Lights). In all, he wrote about 70 books.
Ghazali’s description of human nature centered on discovering the ‘‘self’’, its ultimate purpose, and causes of its misery and happiness. He described the concept of self by four terms: Qalb, Ruh, Nafs, and Aql, which all signify a spiritual entity.
He prefers the term Qalb for self in all his writings. Self has an inherent yearning for an ideal, which it strives to realize and it is endowed with qualities to help realize it.
For fulfilling bodily needs the self has motor and sensory motives. Motor motives comprise of propensities and impulses. Propensities are of two types, appetite and anger. Appetite urges hunger, thirst and sexual craving. Anger takes form in rage, indignation, and revenge. Impulse resides in the muscles, nerves and tissues and moves the organs to fulfil the propensities.
Sensory motives (apprehension) include five external, i.e., sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch and five internal motives:
The internal senses have no special organs but are located in the different regions of the brain. These inner senses help the person to learn from past experiences and foresee future situations.
The self carries two additional qualities, which distinguishes man from animals enabling man to attain spiritual perfection. These qualities are Aql (intellect) and Irada (will). Intellect is the fundamental rational faculty, which enables man to generalize and form concepts and gain knowledge. Will in man is different from animal. In man, the will is conditioned by the intellect while in animal; it is conditioned by anger and appetite. All these powers control and regulate the body.
The Qalb (heart) controls and rules over them. The heart has six powers: appetite, anger, impulse, apprehension, intellect, and will. The last three depends on the other three and differentiates humans from animals. Only humans have all six, animals have first three.
According to Ghazali, knowledge is either innate or acquired. Acquired knowledge is of two kinds: phenomenal (material world) and spiritual (God, soul, etc.). Knowledge can be acquired through imitation, logical reasoning, contemplation and/or intuition. There are four elements in man’s nature: The sage (intellect and reason), the pig (lust and gluttony), the dog (anger) and the devil (brute character). The last three rebels against the first and consequently different people have such powers in different proportions. Ghazali divides Nafs into three categories based on the Qur’an:
The soul in the body is compared to the king in his kingdom. The members of one’s body and faculties are like the artisans and workers and intellect is like a wise vizier, while desire is a wicked servant, and anger like the police in the city. If the king avails himself of his vizier in his Amber Haque 367 administration and turns away from the counsel of wicked servant and keeps the servant and the police in their proper places then the affairs of the state are set right. Similarly, the powers of the soul become balanced if it keeps anger under control and makes the intellect dominate desire. A perfect soul has to pass through several stages, i.e., sensuous (man is like a moth, has no memory and beats again and again the candle), imaginative (lower animal), instinctive (higher animal), rational (transcends animal stage and apprehends objects beyond the scope of his senses) and divine (that apprehends reality of spiritual things). He explained that diseases are of two kinds, physical and spiritual. Spiritual diseases are more dangerous and result from ignorance and deviation from God. The different spiritual diseases are: self-centeredness, addiction to wealth, fame and status, ignorance, cowardice, cruelty, lust, doubt (waswas), malevolence, calumny, envy, deceit, avarice.
Ghazali used the therapy of opposites, i.e., use of imagination in pursuing the opposite, e.g., ignorance/ learning, hate/love, etc. He described personality as an integration of spiritual and bodily forces. Ghazali believed that closeness to God is equivalent to normality whereas distance from God leads to abnormality. For Ghazali, man occupies a position midway between animals and angels and his distinguishing quality is knowledge. He can either rise of the level of the angels with the help of knowledge or fall to the levels of animals by letting his anger and lust dominate him. He also emphasized that knowledge of Ilm al Batin is Fard kifayah or incumbent on every person and asked people to do Tazkiya Nafs or purification of self. Good conduct can only develop from within and does not need total destruction of natural propensities.
Abu Bakr Mohammed Bin Yahya Al-Saigh Ibn Bajjah (1095–1138)
Ibn Bajjah or Avempace was from Spain. He based his psychological studies on physics. In his essay on Recognition of the Active Intelligence he explained that it is the most important ability of man and wrote many essays on sensations and imaginations. However, he concluded that knowledge cannot be acquired by senses alone but by Active Intelligence, which is the governing intelligence of nature.
He begins his discussion of the soul with the definition that bodies are composed of matter and form and intelligence is the most important part of man—sound knowledge is obtained through intelligence, which alone enables one to attain prosperity and build character. He writes on the unity of the rational soul as the principle of the individual identity, yet, by virtue of its contact with the Active Intelligence ‘‘becomes one of those lights that gives glory to God.’’ His definition of freedom is that when one can think and act rationally and the aim of life should be to seek spiritual knowledge and contact Active Intelligence and thus with the Divine.
Ibn Al-Ayn Zarbi (D. 1153)
Born in Ayn Zarbi (Anazarbos), a city southeast of Sicilia, Zarbi moved to Baghdad for education where he was recognized for his healing art. In addition to being a physician, he was also acknowledged in astronomy, astrology, logic, mathematics and natural sciences.
Ibn Zarbi wrote seven treatises of which only two are extant. His book on healing art al-Kafi fit-Tibb he describes physical and mental illnesses and their treatments. On his chapter on brain and mental infirmities the author describes physical basis for intellectual loss, mental confusion, amnesia, restlessness, lethargy, epilepsy, etc. It is important to note that he never referred to influences of evil spirits in his discussions of mental illness—his approach remained objective and free of cultural influences of the time.
Abu Bakar Muhammad Bin Abdul Malik Ibn Tufayl (1110–1185)
Ibn Tufayl or Abubacer came from Spain, served as a court physician and qazi to the Almohad Caliph Abu Yaqub Yusuf who took pride in assembling more scholars and thinkers than any other monarch in the Muslim West. Ibn Tufayl wrote two medical treatises and several works on natural philosophy including Treatment of the Soul. His philosophical tale gave a unique concept of man as Hayy bin Yaqzam (The Living, Son of the Awake), which shows that an individual has enough mystic and philosophical powers, even if he lived on an island, to reach the ultimate truth provided he has the desired aptitude to do so. This book was translated into Latin by Pococke as Philosophicus Autodidactus that inspired Daniel Defoe to write Robinson Crusoe.
The allegory by Ibn Tufayl is actually based on the ‘‘Floating Man’’ thought experiment written by Ibn Sina while he was prisoned in the castle of Fardajan (near Hamadhan) and refers to the Active Intellect through which God communicated His Truth to human beings. In his allegory, Ibn Tufayl tries to show that not only language, culture and even religion may be unnecessary for the development of a perfect mind—they may even cause hindrance in such development. He distinguishes between philosophy and religion by saying that although they take to the same truth, philosophy is not meant for everybody. Religion on the other hand, takes an exoteric approach to understand the existence of God through symbols and the transgressing of religion and philosophy into each other is bound to fail. This argument of course, will not be acceptable to many scholars.
Abu’l Walid Muhamad Bin Ahmad Ibn Rushd (1126–1198)
Ibn Rushd or Averroes was from Spain but established himself in Morocco. He maintained thought is passive and abstraction is active. There is existence of faculty of the mind, which is designed to receive intelligible forms, from the active intellect. This faculty or disposition is referred to as the passive intellect or the imagination, and since it is partially constituted by the body, it perishes with it.
For Ibn Rushd, if an individual is to understand something, the active intellect must be connected with his mind in some way. The active intellect is the efficient cause of the forms in the imagination, and is the form of human beings in that it specifies for them as their proper function and production of abstract idea and contemplation. He argues that there are three types of intellect. They are the receiving intellect, the producing intellect, and the produced intellect. The first two of these intellects are eternal, but the third is generable and corruptible in one sense, and eternal in another sense. He believed that we cannot use sensation alone as the object of our thought, but must also employ imagination to detach us sufficiently from the sense data, for objectivity to be possible.
In Fasl al Maqal (The Decisive Treatise) Ibn Rushd described three-fold hierarchy of learning. The nature of man is on different levels with respect to their path to assent. One of them comes to assent through dialectical argument (Jadali). Another comes to assent through demonstration (Burhan). The third comes to assent through rhetorical argument (Khatabi). He believes that the reason why we received a scripture with both apparent (zahir) meaning and the inner meaning (Batin) lies in the diversity of peoples’ natural capacities and the difference of their innate predisposition with regard to assent. The reason why we have received in scripture texts whose apparent meaning contradict each other is to draw attention of those who are well grounded in science to the interpretation, which reconciles them.
Fakhr Al-Din Muhammad Umar Al Razi (1149/50–1209)
Al-Razi was from Persia. According to him, human soul differs in nature; some are noble, some are mean and debased. Some are kind and tender and some despotic, dominating; some do not like the body and some desire to rule and achieve position. They never deviate from their nature and disposition but by training and caution they may change their manners and habits.
Al-Razi in his book, Kitab al Nafs Wa’l Ruh analyzes the different types of pleasures as sensuous and intellectual and explains their comparative relations with each other. The nature of sensuous pleasure for both man and animals does not constitute the distinctive goal of human bliss of perfection. In fact, al Razi asserts that a careful scrutiny of pleasure would reveal that it consists essentially in the elimination of pain. For instance, the hungrier a man is, the greater is his enjoyment of pleasure of eating. Moreover, the gratification of pleasure is proportionate to the need or desire of the animal. When these needs are satisfied or desires fulfilled, the pleasure actually turns into revulsion, excess of food or sex results not in more pleasure, but in pain. In addition, the excessive quest for bodily pleasure amount to a repudiation of humanity. Man is not created in order to occupy himself with the satisfaction of his bodily pleasures, but rather to achieve intellectual apprehensions and contemplate the Divine Presence and gaze on the Divine Lights. Human needs and desires are endless, and according to Al-Razi, their satisfaction is by definition impossible.
Thus, the important matter of this world is not accomplished through constant improvement and fulfilment but rather through abandoning and avoiding them. He concludes that the mental pleasure is noble and perfect than the sensual pleasure and suggests that the excellence and perfection of a man is only realized by means of the science, knowledge, and excellent manners and not by eating, drinking, and mating.
Muhyid-Din Muhammad Ibn Ali (Ibn Arabi) (1164–1240)
Ibn Arabi was born in Murcia (Spain), studied in Lisbob and then moved to Seville where he met his early spiritual masters. He wrote a lot but only about 150 of his works are extant. There seems to be an uncertainty on the exact number of treatises he wrote. It is believed that most of his works were written while he was in Mecca and in Damascus—his style is known to be difficult and ambiguous.
In the area of psychology, Ibn Arabi wrote on the theory of soul, perception, the nature of desire, imaginations and dreams. His Sufi interpretation of the heart is that it is an instrument where esoteric knowledge is revealed. Heart is not eh cone-shaped piece of flesh in the chest but it is ‘‘connected with it physically as well as spiritually but also different from it.’’ Heart is the symbol for the rational aspect of Man but not same as intellect—it is part of the ‘‘Universal Reason.’’ The heart has an ‘‘inner eye’’ that can perceive Reality. However, the evil thoughts of the animal soul and needs of the material world can easily blind this ‘‘inner eye.’’
Like Aristotle, Ibn Arabi recognized three elements in Man—body, soul, and the spirit and classified the human soul into three aspects, vegetative, animal, and rational. However, he did not equate the rational soul with the intellect. Human soul for him is a mode of the Universal Soul and spirit a mode of Universal Reason. The spirit is also the rational principle meant for seeking true knowledge. While the vegetative soul seeks food for the organism, the animal soul is a subtle vapor in the physical heart. The rational souls which is eternal is a pure spirit born free of sins but sins accumulate as a result of conflict between rational and animal soul. Intellect is one of the powers of the rational soul that functions during its association with the body. The rational soul is absolutely independent of the body and can exist independently as it did before joining it and will exist after leaving it as in death.
He explains that Khayal or imagination is always active, even in sleep resulting in dreams that are an association of images desired by the individual. However, the individual soul may also reveal itself in dreams, although the symbols that must be interpreted correctly.
Great answers start with great insights. Content becomes intriguing when it is voted up or down - ensuring the best answers are always at the top.
Questions are answered by people with a deep interest in the subject. People from around the world review questions, post answers and add comments.
Be part of and influence the most important global discussion that is defining our generation and generations to come