Counseling & Psychotherapy from Islamic Perspective

Various counseling and therapeutic practices developed so far as remedial measures have met only with limited and short-lived success. Difficulty with these practices is not that they are altogether wrong but being based on truncated views of human nature and potentialities, they are highly partials.

In contrast to this situation, is the Islamic world view which contains the totality of human nature and a complete code of human behavior. So, prior to an attempt at appreciating and identifying the principles and methods of Islamic counseling and psychotherapy, we should take into consideration the basic concepts of human nature and potentialities according to the Islamic perspective.

Basic Concepts and Perspectives

According to the Qur’an, man has been sent to this earth as vicegerent of Allah (2.30). This Qur’anic declaration epitomizes man’s nature, status and potentialities. As divine vicegerent, man’s nature is essentially transcendental and spiritual. His soul also, as a divine agent, is purely rational and possesses an unbounded reserve of divine attributes. However, this spiritual entity of man has been infused into an animal structure (15: 28-29). This interaction of soul with animal body has provided man with significant promises as well as special regards for his personality development.

Since man represents the Divine Being, His Fitra, or nature is also good. This is affirmed by the transcendental covenant he made with his lord (7:172). Moreover, as a vicegerent of the absolute sustainer, all the resources of the heavens and the earth have been made subservient to him for his use.

Closely related to the soul, is the spiritual organ, the Qalb or the heart. The Qalb is the supersensory organ responsible for higher cognitive functions, i.e., the realization of the ultimate reality, values, meaning and purpose in life. The Qur’anic verses and Ahadith confirm the cognitive functions of the heart: for the example, “Have they, then, never journeyed about this earth, letting their hearts gain wisdom and causing their ears to hear! Yet verily, it is not their ayes that have become blind, but blind have become their hearts that are in their breasts (Qur’an 22:46).

There are three major stages of personality development: An-nafs al-ammarah bilsu (12:53); An-nafs al lawwamah (75:2). And An-nafs al-mutmainnah (89:72). At the lowest level of an-nafs al ammarah, that is, the impelling self, animal instincts and passions dominate in man. This has a paralyzing effect on higher cognitive processes of the heart. The behavior at this stage of an-nafs al-lawwamah is the reproaching self, characterized by thoughtfulness and self-centeredness. The second stage of an-nafs al-lawwamah is the reproaching self, characterized by constant awareness. The self in this stage is engaged in a continuous striving to get rid of baser desires through constant examination in the light of reasoning. This stage maybe prelude to man’s transition to the final stage of al-nafs al-mutmainnah, the self at peace with the Divine Will; the realization of the Ultimate Reality and freedom from sensuous desires at this stage, emancipates man’s soul from all kinds of influences alien to his nature. Thus, personality is now free to develop and actualize all its latent attributes and potentialities along the line of his natural pattern. However, during this long course of development, man is not left alone in a vacuum of formlessness. Prophet Mohammed provided the perfect example and the concrete empirical norm to be emulated by all potential vicegerents….to be continued.

Dr. Manzurul Haq is Professor of Psychology at Dhaka University, Bangladesh.

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