Book Introduction - Chapter 4


strong>Chapter 4:
An Elementary Study on the Principles of Individual and Group Psychotherapy and Mental Health in Islam

• Mr. Chairman, Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen
What I am going to present today is not my personal point of view, rather, it is my recollections and close observations into the Islamic viewpoints to underline the fundamentals of psychology, psychotherapy and mental health. Islam, though emphasizing the genuineness of psyche, and treating man as a combination of chemical agents and a non-chemical factor, defined as “psyche”, that which is responsible for the coordination of chemical agents and gives life to his total organism; considers the brain as the center of reasoning. Through Islamic points of view we can interpret both human dimensions i.e. physiological aspects and psychological processes as well. (7)
According to Islamic Psychology there are two different and opposite psychic processes in mankind--namely conscience and passion---which are inherent and not acquired. The first one has an evolutionary and developmental nature; and the second is instinctual motives. Man’s reasoning ability as realized in his free will, however, help him to activate the former and control the latter accordingly or vice versa. Conscience, like any other psychological terminology, has a slightly different definition in Islam. Here are some characteristics attributed to conscience according to our understanding of Islam.

Characteristics of Conscience
1. Potential to differentiate between man’s benefits and his harm.
2. Inherent, constitutional and not acquired.
3. Constant in the lives of every one (but it may be weakened or strengthened).
4. Exists in all human beings.
5. Acts as a judge whose judgments are respected by others.
6. Universally it accepts some subjects and judgments as quite obvious, such as telling lies is bad, committing murder is illegal, etc.
7. Potential to accept truth and the existence of God.
8. It blames the self when it commits wrong-doing.
9. It is quite conscious.
10.It acts like a compass.
The process of conscience has been presented as a firm and unchangeable common-principle for all mankind--which is the part of his personality which enables him to fulfill his needs and differentiate between his benefits and detriment and, like a compass, directs him to move straight forward towards developmental aims.
The unchanging nature of conscience in mankind during his life and history has been confirmed in the Qur’an:
So set they purpose (O, Mohammad) for religion as a man by nature upright the nature (framed) of Allah, in which He hath created man. There is no altering the laws of Allah’s creation. That is the right religion, but most know not. (Rome: 30)
Islamic scholars such as Ayatollah Tabatabai and Martyr Mortaza Motahari have come to believe under the light of the verse above that conscience, like instincts, has an inherent basis; in other words it is not acquired. They believe that the conscience process is conscious contrary to instincts which are unconscious. (7, 12)
We should not only familiarize ourselves with the characteristics of conscience mentioned above, but also try to use them in the methods of education, psychotherapy and mental health. We should know that some beliefs and judgments have been naturally accepted by the conscience which we can use for inter-individual relationship and any other related humanistic aspects. Acceptance of truth in general and the existence of God in particular are only two of the potentialities of conscience.
Moreover, the Islamic laws taught by God are in accordance with man’s conscience, and they should be considered as a model for the developmental movements of man and to prevent any lapse in conduct.
It has been emphasized that every law or item of education mentioned in the Qur’an has potentiality to fulfill the real needs of mankind. By accepting these laws, and acting accordingly, there would be an opportunity for the development and richness of man’s conscience, and the individual will have a very extended psychic capacity. Otherwise, his psychic capacity will be very restricted; and therefore, his life would be meaningless and intolerable. According to the Qur’an:
Whomsoever God desires to guide, he expands his breast to Islam; whosoever He desires to lead astray, He makes his breast narrow, tight as if he were climbing to heaven .So God lays abomination upon those he believes not. This is the path of thy Lord; straight; we have distinguished the signs to a people who remember. Theirs is the abode of peace with their Lord, and He is their protector for that they were doing.
(The Cattle: Chapter 6, verse 126)
Translation from Arthur J. Arberry And once more:
But whosoever turns away from my remembrance, his shall be a life of narrowness and on Resurrection Day we shall raise him blind. He shall say, O my Lord, why hast thou raised me blind, and I was wont to see. God shall say, even so it is. Our signs come unto thee and thou didst forget them, and so today thou art forgotten. (Taha: 124).
Translation from Arthur J. Arberry
For the improvement of cases with restricted psychic capacity, usually manifested by reactive psychiatric symptoms, the psychotherapist should try to help the referral be reconciled with his conscience and strengthen it by more acceptance of the Divine laws and to act accordingly. However, as mentioned above, man’s reasoning ability as realized in his free will helps him to activate the conscience and control the passions or vice versa. In the first case, instinctual powers are under the supervision of conscience and facilitate his developmental movement. In the second case (weakened conscience), instinctual powers supervise the whole personality, and the individual will lapse in conduct.
According to Islam, conscience and the Divine laws fortify each other, and man has to accept and use these laws if he is interested in developing his personality.

Chapter 103 of the Qur’an holds that:
Lo! Man is in a state of loss, save those who believe and do good works, and counsel one another to truth and counsel one another’s endurance…

The criteria of psychic development which have been pointed out in these verses are as follows:
1. Belief in God and other truths
2. To act according to one’s faith and belief
3. To try to generalize the truth as far as possible
4. To tolerate difficulties in the way of the generalization of the truth and to counsel one another to do the same .The negative aspects of the above criteria are the bases of psychic loss.

Diagram 5:
Different forms of movements throughout developmental direction and loss


On these bases, according to Islam, the whole education of the Qur’an can help man to develop himself and prevent loss, and the way of development is exactly monopolistic to the Divine laws.
Diagram 7 indicates that there is only one way for psychic development, and other ways will end astray. The way of development is exactly monopolistic.

Straight path according to Islam's prophet (PBUH)
One day when the followers of the prophet (PBUH) were around him, he educated them by this picture. He drew a straight line on the ground by a little stone and said:" this is the straight path to God." Then he drew many lines in different directions, and said: "These are deviate paths."

It shows that the prophet used visual training with his simple instruments (i.e. Ground and Stone).
Diagram 7:
The way of development is exactly monopolistic

According to the Islamic educations , when one is going through a wrong pathway, further movement will take him even further from his aim. (Diag. 8)
The Islamic principles which seem vital for the development of mankind can be used in the areas of psychotherapy, mental health and other related subjects. I have elicited 40 principles by this approach, some of them are mentioned below:

Imam Ali (PBUH):
Left and right (paths) are misdirection. The middle one is the main path.
Diagram 8:
Deviation from the straight pathway to the right or left

The First principle: the unity of God. According to this principle, programming in individual, social, familial, scientific, economical and political affairs should be in accordance to the Divine laws.
We can divide routine work and relationships of each person into the following seven basic circles (system):
1. The circle (system) of relationship of man with himself.
2. Family circle (system).
3. Significant peer group and friendly circle (system).
4. Occupational circle (system).
5. Scientific circle (system).
6. The circle (system) of the relationship between man and the nature.
7. Political circle (system).
According to Islam all basic circles should be surrounded by a greater one, which is the circle (system) of the relationship between man and his Creator (Divine circle). (Diag. 2)
If the individual does not go in this direction, he will be on the wrong path and lose. According to the Qur’an:
Those who judge not according to what God has sent down , are unbelievers. Those who judge not according to what God has sent down are evil doers. Who so ever judges not according to what God has sent down, are the ungodly?
(The Table: 44, 45, 47)
This approach seems quite reasonable because, whenever you buy a mechanical set, you immediately ask for its catalogue. Then why do we not ask for the effective factors of development and loss of man’s complex bio-psychosocial system from his Creator, God?

The Second principle: The necessity of judgment on the basis of awareness and knowledge, and invalidity of judgment according to surmise. According to the Qur’an:
And pursue not that thou has no knowledge of, the hearing, the sight, the heart. All of those shall be questioned of, and most of them follow only surmise and surmise avail naught against truth.
(The Night Journey: 36 - Jonah: 36)
So judgment and programming for a healthy community should be according to knowledge, awareness, and reasoning.

The Third principle: Meaningfulness of life, with an emphasis on maturity and the evolution of man’s conscience, so as to win God’s favor.
According to the Qur’an:
We created not the heavens and earth and all that between them is, in play, most of them know it not. (Smoke: 28-29)
The Qur’an teaches men to have continuous movement in the direction of maturity and development and to follow the straight pathway.
Every Muslim asks God ten times per day in his prayers to guide him on the straight pathway. The Qur’an tells us:
All have degrees according to what they have done. (Cattle: 132)
So, in order to gain higher degrees of evolution one should do his best. According to the Qur’an, every person has his special goal for which he works according to his own manner.
And each one hath a goal towards which he turneth, so vie with one another in good works. Whosesoever may be, Allah will bring you all together. Lo! Allah is able to do all things. (The Cow: 148)
Glorify the name of your Lord, the most High, who makes (things) according to a measure, then guides (them to their goal). (The Most High: 1-2)
Say every man works according to his own manner; but your Lord knows very well what man is best guided as to the way. (The Night Journey: 84)
The contemporary interpreter of the Qur’an, Ayatollah Tabatabai, when explaining these verses says:
Every creature has been guided to reach its highest degree of accomplishment. This general rule is quite valid in man, too.
In order to gain the highest degrees of development, one should continue the Divine laws. In this case his behavior would be colored by the Divine colors and every acceptable action in his daily life will make him nearer to God. (Ref. Diag. 9) The degree of his accomplishment is infinite and beyond human perception.
(We take our) color from Allah, and who is better than Allah in coloring? (The Cow : 138)

Diagram 9 :
Every acceptable action is a step of development during life

The Fourth principle: The belief in the supervision of God on humanity, his intervention in their every day activities and denial of casualty. According to the Qur’an:
No affliction befalls except it be by the leave of God. Whosoever believes in God, He will guide his heart. And God has knowledge of everything.
(Mutual Fraud: 11, 15)
Your wealth and your children are only a trial.
And again:
Blessed be He in whose hand is the Kingdom. He is powerful over everything who created death and life, that might try you which of you is the fairest in works, and He is the Almighty, the All-forgiving.
(The kingdom: 1-2)
And surely we shall try you with something of fear and hunger, and loss of wealth and lives and crops; but give glad tidings unto the patient who say, When a misfortune striketh them: Lo! we are Allah’s and Lo! unto Him we are returning.
(The Cow: 155-156)
He is with you wherever you are; and God sees the things you do. Hast thou not seen that God knows whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth? Three men conspire not secretly together, but He is the fourth of them, neither five men, but He is the sixth of them, neither fewer than that, neither more, but He is with them wherever they may be. Then He shall tell them what they have done on the day of Resurrection. Surely God has knowledge of everything. (The Pen: 7)
We indeed created man, and we know what his soul whispers within him, and we are nearer to him than the jugular vein. (The Moon: 16)
By accepting this education and approach, accidents and stresses have less harmful effects upon the life of a believer in God, because he considers accidents as trials. Thus he is cautious not to be irritable, and he tries his best to be patient. Through all these procedures he hopes to reap inconceivable rewards that have been promised by God. This individual, with his very extended psychic capacity, believes in God as his strongest support.
According to what has already been presented, man is not only able to schedule his every day life, but he can also use these instructions in individual and group psychotherapy and open a new door to a better mental health approach. We can help those cases whose chief complaint is a feeling of hindrance in front of their path to go straight by removing the obstacles and helping them to go ahead. This principle is also of choice in the cases which Victor Frankle calls “noogenic neurosis” (lack of meaning of life). That is, if one has a dynamic movement through the straight way, in the direction of maturity and development he is healthy because his life is meaningful; but if he has no aim in his life or he has stopped or regressed to an animal stage, then he is ill, and he needs aimed psychotherapy.
Discovering the practical role of religion in psychotherapy and mental health will fill the gap that already exists in our every day practice in these fields, and some contemporary psychologists and psychiatrists such as Alport and Albee have noted it.
Alport says: Psychology initially separated itself sharply from religion." Psychology without a soul became its badge of distinction and of pride"
He mentions again:
"Since the progress and prestige of psychology depends upon its preserving a strictly scientific orientation, there is no prospect unless an authoritarian darkness should engulf the world that the historical separation of inductive psychology from deductive ideology whether philosophical, political or religious will end."
In the next place he says:" There is inherent absurdity in supposing that psychology and religion, of man’s mind, must be permanently and hopelessly at odds. As different as the science and art in their axioms and methods, they have learned to cooperate in a thousand ways in production of finer dwelling, music, clothing, and dressing. Why should not science and religion, likewise differing in axioms and methods, yet cooperate in the production of an improved human character, without which all other human gains are tragic loss? From many sides today comes the demand that religion and psychology busy themselves in finding a common ground for unifying their efforts for human welfare. "
Alport finally resolves:" Those who are interested in both psychological science and religion are quite naturally asking what the two subjects have to do with each other. Both seem so intimate to the future destiny of the human race."
Albee, too, pinpointing the social problems, emphasizes the life style as follows:
"It is increasingly recognized that reactive disorders, drug addictions, alcoholism, sexual deviations and antisocial behaviors reflect the life style of populations, and that changes in these circumstances are probably as important as anything else in significantly reducing their prevalence."
He continues:
"If professional psychologists were truly concerned with human welfare, we would forget psychiatric patients for a century and turn our attention to the psychological causes of racism, sexism and that of the profit motive as sources of danger to human life."
According to Albee again:
"Everything aimed at improving the human condition of making life more fulfilling and meaningful may be considered part of the primary prevention of mental and emotional disturbance."
Now, can we not consider the Divine education as the vital support in this way?


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12. Tabatabai, Ayatollah. Tafsir Almizan, Trans. by Moosavi, vol. 11,pp. 303-328, vol. 40, p. 373.

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