The Importance of Self Care

By Dr. Sarah Syed

“My kids come first, my family comes first, my job is too busy, I can’t afford it, I don’t have the time.” These are the most common responses heard when someone is recommended to take time for self-care. Many seem to think self-care implies spending money on spa services such as massages or a manicure or an expensive trip somewhere out of town. The truth is that self-care can be anything that helps a person to relax, do something they enjoy, and actually take care of themselves. When we make caring for others a priority over our own health, eventually we inevitably reach a point where we can no longer do well for whatever it is we prioritize.

On an airplane, the safety message reminds you to first put on your own oxygen mask before helping others with theirs. This is an example of self-care. According to clinical psychologist Roberto Olivardia, PhD, self-care is essential for achieving goals such as being present for family, engaging fully and empathically with others and staying healthy. Registered nurse Ingrid Kollack wrote in her 2006 publication, “The Concept of Self-Care,” that self care is considered a “primary form of care for patients with chronic conditions who make many day-to-day decisions, or self-manage, their illness.” Kollack believes self care is a partial solution to the global rise in health care costs placed on governments and is a fundamental pillar of health and social care means it is an essential component of a modern health care system governed by bureaucracy and legislation.

Self-care is individual and personal. It is different for everyone but necessary in order to maintain good health. For some, it may be playing with their kids or spending time with friends. For others it could be exercising, gardening, cooking, or painting. Whatever activity is chosen, it needs to be regular and something that is part of your routine, not earned or used as a reward. For Olivardia, self-care is anything “that affirms and strengthens my physical, psychological, relational, emotional, and spiritual well-being.” Something as simple as coloring can be relaxing and give you time to escape your routine. The growing popularity of adult coloring books and mandalas is testament to the increased awareness about the importance of self care. Along with regular daily prayers and reading the Quran, Dhikr is another excellent form of self-care. We know from the Quran that “verily in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find ease.” Making time for yourself on a routine basis to spend in quiet meditation or reflection can bring you closer to the Almighty and bring peace to your life.

Ultimately, our bodies have rights over us and our health is a trust, an amanah from our Creator. As Muslims, we know we have a duty to be healthy and not consciously do anything that can hurt ourselves or be detrimental. Not taking time to routinely prioritize your health and well-being causes you to not be able to do your best for yourself or others. Self-care allows you to refuel, essentially to refill your own cup so you can pour from it for others. You can’t pour from an empty cup.

Exercise and Mental Health: A Brief Introduction to the Impact of Exercise Has On Our Minds

Exercise and Mental Health: A Brief Introduction to the Impact of Exercise Has On Our Minds
By Sabaahath Latifi

When we hear terms such as: exercise, gym, or workout, our minds tend to automatically think “thin, size 0, flat tummies, two hours at the gym, etc…” We stress out about how much weight we need to lose to “look good”, which paradoxically enough, could actually lead to an increase in unhealthy behaviors such as avoiding exercise and overeating. When did physical activity become all about our outer self-image?

The way we look can definitely impact the way we feel. When we believe we look “good” our mood is uplifted and we feel confident and happy. But there are so many more benefits of physical activity that seem to have lost value overtime. It is important to remember, that in our fast paced and hectic lives, exercise can be a powerful tool to protect BOTH our physical and mental health.

There is a wealth of research that shows the connection between exercise/increased physical activity, and positive mental health. Several studies have been conducted in which exercise was a component of treatment for depression. These studies yielded positive results; while exercise was not the sole cure for depression, it did help in alleviating depressive symptoms and increasing motivation.

The science behind it:

To keep it very simple: Exercise releases endorphins. This chemical decreases the perception pain, increases positive emotions such as happiness, and produces a “euphoric” feeling which leads to increased motivation and energy.

A Prophetic tradition in Islam reports that:
“No one will be allowed to move from his position on the Day of Judgement until he has been asked how he spent his life, how he used his knowledge, how he earnt and spent his money and in what pursuits he used his health”
Related in Tirmidhi

The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) encouraged a healthy lifestyle as well. A few popular activities mentioned in the stories from the time of our prophet (SAW) are: swimming, archery, and horseback riding.

These are just a couple of examples that highlight the importance of your overall health, both mental and physical. As Muslims, we believe that our bodies have a right over us. It is in fact an trust (amanah) from Allah. We are responsible to keep ourselves healthy, both physically and emotionally. In fact, these hadiths mention that we are even accountable to Allah for what we do with our health!

What is considered exercise?
The following activities are just a few examples:
– Walking
– Running/jogging
– Any sport
– House cleaning (especially vacuuming and sweeping)
– Bike riding
– Exercise machines (going to the gym, etc…)
– What are some you can think of that are fun, creative, and doable for you?

Basic tips:
– Make exercise a family or group activity: take a buddy with you for your walks or to the gym. Or make it a family activity that you can do with your spouse/kids/siblings, etc…
– Choose an activity you enjoy and that is challenging: Exercise does not have to be tedious! You can be creative with it and make it enjoyable for you.
– Choose something that fits your schedule: Exercise does not have to be time consuming. 20-30 minutes a day can be sufficient.
– Be realistic: listen to your body, go at your pace, and come up a with a plan that can realistically become a daily routine for you.
– Take small steps and increase activity with time. For some people, jumping, head first, into exercise can be detrimental. It can also decrease motivation about working out. Take it slow and increase your activity with time to give your mind, body, and daily schedules the necessary time to adjust.

San Bernardino & Paris Attacks: The Psychology of Fear and its Influence on Social Behavior.

Written By:  Hooman Keshavarzi,  Licensed Psychotherapist and Adjunct Professor of Psychology

Fear is an incredibly powerful emotion.  Fear is really what we are referring to when we say the words stress and anxiety. According to emotion theory, fear contains both functional and dysfunctional expressions just like in all other emotions.  The functional needs of emotions are designed to serve a specific goal that is demanded through the activation of that emotion.  The need fear demands is safety.  Keep this in mind! Safety. When individuals are scared, they respond with either FIGHT or FLIGHT in order to attain safety.  For example, if you encounter a wild animal in a forest, you will likely run away, for your own protection.  If you are attacked, and your safety is jeopardized, then you will FIGHT.  These are primitive instincts that we are programmed to respond with.  In fact, we experience a state of physiological arousal that activates the sympathetic nervous system and increases the production of energy to tackle such stressful situations.  However, there can be a number of limitations of these very useful instinctual needs in modern social settings.

Most importantly, our physiological stress activation responses are designed to overcome more simple and temporary stressors.  However, modern human social interaction has become much more complex.  Over-reliance on primitive instincts can cause us to respond to fearful situations in a maladaptive or unhealthy way.  For example, if a student is asked to give a public presentation in school, then he may fear that his self-concept/self-esteem is in jeopardy.  His fear of negative social evaluation may cause him to either avoid (flight) the presentation by never participating or having a hyper-vigilant (fight) response when forced to present causing him to be too physiologically aroused to adequately deliver his performance.  This is characterized by his trembling, stuttering and having a difficult time articulating himself, due to an elevated heart rate, hyper-ventilation, rush of adrenaline, increased energy, etc.

Now that we understand the basic fundamentals of the emotion of fear, let us examine its role in influencing human psychology in the context of helping us shed some light on the recent social unrest that has been produced by San Bernardino and the Paris tragedies.

First off, it goes without saying that the credible scholars of the Islamic tradition have unanimously rejected any room for the justification of attacks on innocent civilian life.  So then what causes individuals to categorize all Muslims in with the Radicals?  One of the principles to consider is that during times of fear and anxiety, characterized by heightened physiological arousal, there is a greater likelihood of producing false positives in identifying something threatening that may not really be all that threatening.  This false identification combined with the mental/cognitive category of ‘Muslim = dangerous extremist’ is more likely in a state of fear.  Why do we do this?  The answer is that it is a safety response, whereby we are instinctively programmed to err on the side of caution and to respond to situations that could POSSIBLY be threatening, particularly if we have been trained to cognitively believe those items to be dangerous (this is how phobias are formed). For example, if you are in a jungle and you think you see a shape of a lion behind a tree, you are likely to be alarmed, even if you were to later realize that they were just two portions of branches behind the tree that created this false impression.  In fact, you may be alarmed by any movements of the trees.  This is an example of false identification of a threat due to the activation of both the cognitive category of lion and the emotion of intense fear that lead to the misperception of your environment. Therefore, in the lion example we are likely to flee (or make it flee from us: hence modern refugee policies) as we perceive it to be threatening when there is no actual threat like the branches behind the tree. Similarly, we see the strategic overemphasis on the psychological associations of Islam and extremism coupled with the activation of fear.  These are likely to produce false positives thereby increasing generalizations that equate the presence of some threatening Muslims to err on the side of caution and equate all Muslims as potentially dangerous.  This is a useful survival mechanism in primitive settings, as it would be ludicrous to assume an individual lion does not represent the whole genus of lions.  However, when this overgeneralizing tendency is applied to human behavior, it presents itself as a liability.  Of course, lions all behave alike and our cognitive category for lions as threatening is pretty useful.  But, human beings do not all behave similarly and therefore we are prone to lumping people into groups altogether particularly during times of fear.

Additionally, political and social policies tend to capitalize on this emotional vulnerability.  Human beings are more likely to support the infringement upon the human rights of others in the form of attacks, detainment, torture, collective punishment (fight) upon individuals they perceive to be in a threatening category when the emotion of fear is activated.   This is the same rhetoric that allowed the invasion of Iraq, Afghanistan, establishment of Guantanamo bay and the list can go on.  Focusing back on the present, one may notice a spike in public support for Donald Trump’s racist, categorical attitudes especially after San Bernardino.  Remember I stated above, our primitive instinctual reactions to fear are designed to alleviate a temporary stressor.  Whereas, human groups don’t just disappear.  So human differences are not temporary, rather they are permanent.  Therefore, deporting, murdering or expelling a group of individuals can have a temporary psychological relief; however, dividing human beings actually causes a greater actual threat in the long-term.  That’s because we never actually dealt with the underlying problems. Such is the prevalent attitudes of people today where we see even on a micro level the spike in divorce rates, because people are not invested in solving real human problems.  It’s easier to villianize, avoid or get rid of people.  Such an underlying problem we face today is an absence of appreciating differences in other groups that is not based upon black and white or categorical thinking.

Donald Trump and members of radical Islamist groups have somethings in common.  Among them is that they both preach hate for their counterpart and categorize their foes as enemies belonging to a single unitary category.  When we categorize or label individuals as evil, known as the ‘just world phenomenon’ in psychology, this gives us permission to commit crimes against them because we have degraded them to a lower form of humanity. Where radical Islamists utilize rational gymnastics in justifying the killings of innocent humans despite it being clearly a violation of core Islamic principles, Trump justifies racial discrimination even when it is against the values of American society. The justification of their murder is acceptable as human beings can use this rhetoric to diminish the stress (fear) of guilt that exists in their minds in exchange for perceived ‘righteousness’.  Irrespective of whether the person who is categorizing others be a radical preaching the death of all Americans or Europeans OR Donald Trump calling for forbidding entry of Muslims into the US or proposing discriminant policy of requiring ID badges for Muslims as Hitler did of the Jews in WWII.

Activating fear in a society may allow for public support of reducing civil liberties and increasing governmental power.  Just as a child who is scared of a bully is likely to hand over responsibility of dealing with that bully to their older sibling, the public is likely to hand over responsibility of dealing with Muslims to their governments.  The long term effects of this, is that it creates a vicious cycle, whereby Muslims are marginalized, victimized and therefore more likely to become aggressive towards their perceived oppressors playing right into the hands of the radicals and reinforcing extremist thinking.

I want to re-highlight a point made above.  During times of fear, individuals are likely to have tunnel vision. This is also due to the activation of the sympathetic nervous system.  They are only likely to see the immediate cause of the fear and unlikely to examine its origins.  Therefore, when fear is aroused in a nation, they are likely to blame ‘those bad Muslims or radicals’, but unlikely to ask the question of what produced those individuals.  This is known as scapegoating theory, whereby a single group in that society can be blamed, making it more comfortable for society to have a simple explanation for their problems.  It allows individuals to displace their emotions upon a ‘common enemy’.  Ironic is the case that other ethnic minorities jump on the bandwagon of Muslim bashing; we need to look no further than Ben Carson.  Individuals ignore the fact that there are some systematic set of foreign policies and a history that has marginalized certain groups of peoples across the world, engendering intense anger.  The radicals have been effective in helping recruit other radicals by displacing that anger on scapegoating all Americans.  This reality is harder to make sense of, as it requires us to examine our own deficiencies and faults.  This is also harder to reform.  Therefore, the easier solution is to create an oversimplified version of what is going on, that is easily swallowed by a public who is intensely afraid, thereby deferring political and social policy judgments to individuals in positions of power undermining the very essence of a democracy.

On the other hand, American Muslims play into this by attempting to disassociate themselves from religious symbols thereby reinforcing and strengthening the associations between symbols of Islam and extremism.  Again, this produces temporary relief in an effort to avoid being targeted, and creating long-term harm by reinforcing stereotypes.

Anxiety treatments in general work on the principle of engagement or facing the very feared stimulus.  Racism and categorical thinking is also demonstrated to be avoided through contact (known as contact theory), whereby there is non-superficial contact/engagement with the ‘other’ (unlike the typical saying, ‘I have a Muslim friend).  This is true at a micro level and at a macro level.  Therefore, temporary relief needs to be avoided in the interest of long standing solutions.  This means embracing the discomfort and leaning into the anxiety produced by engagement with the Muslim community, instead of marginalizing them, banning their entry (Flight) or fighting them.  The answer for American Muslims is to embrace religious symbols not handing them off to radicals to misrepresent or apologizing for all the crimes that they did not commit.  The reality is, individuals who hate, sacrifice a lot for it.  They are willing to die for hate and their twisted version of truth.  They have allowed their skewed morality and ethics to lean into the discomfort and literally sacrifice their lives for it.  The question remains: What are those who stand for truth and justice willing to give for it?  Until morally upright individuals will be brave enough to sacrifice at least half of the investment of the radicals, hate will prevail and will be continually reinforced in the masses through the propaganda of fear.  We have seen this historically, while different scapegoated groups in our history take turns being the collective whipping board for the problems of a society not ready to take accountability or make significant reforms in policy designed to address the roots of our problems.  The responsibility of leaning into this anxiety rests with each person as they make a choice in deciding whether their higher order morals and humanity will dictate the establishment of their attitudes.  Whether they will enact re-form, or be-formed by fear inducing messages of marginalization that lead to the collective isolation of those whom we don’t quite understand.

Art Therapy in the Muslim Community

Art Therapy in the Muslim Community

By:  Jasiah Latifi

Art therapy has been proven to be effective in reducing stressors, increasing physical and psychological wellness. For those who are facing fatal illness, art therapy has been utilized to help them cope, psychologically and improve their physiology, “there is evidence that art-based interventions are effective in reducing adverse physiological and psychological outcomes… in all 4 areas of creative artistic expression reviewed here, there are clear indications that artistic engagement has significantly positive effects on health.” (Stuckey, Nobel, 2010).  For those who are fated to live their life with a medical or mental illness, art therapy has been around to help them maintain themselves, “…People with cancer maintain a positive identity through engaging in art…” (Reynolds and Prior, 2006), and help them remain members of their communities. Kennett reported that a hospice center in London commissioned art murals to the residents of their facility as a method to integrate their residents as healthy enough to be back into society (Kennett, 2000), a method known to be a part of palliative care, an approach that is designed to help reduce pain, symptoms, and stresses such as physical and mental, in patients diagnosed with a serious illness. People who are diagnosed with an illness, whether it be mental or medical, may find it hard to communicate with those who come to visit them, or it could just as easily be the other way around, where people who come to visit the ill are unable to speak to them. Art helps bridge the gap between these people and help them overcome their inability to converse with one another. To have a conversation, words are just an option, a person can tell their loved ones how much they’re hurting through a picture, just like they could with words, but with art, it may be easier to send the message across, and it may be easier for others to receive the message. Communication is important to be a part of a society, or even a smaller-scale group like family and friends, and whatever words a person is struggling to get out, they can definitely utilize art therapy, and art in general, to speak volumes.

These methods of art therapy have been available to Muslims through artistic expressions that have come to be symbolic of Islamic history. The Muslim Community, for generations have found artistic expressions of their faith to have immense healing properties. It doesn’t just have to be a diagnosable disease or even a calamity that you are in need to work through, but rather to help yourself internally and to expand your spiritual wellness.  Art has been used traditionally in Islamic history as a method of cathartic processing.  It can also be a mode to allow one’s spirit, which contains inherent creativity, to be a mode of inspiration.  To date, calligraphists of the Muslim world sit around with their pupils allowing their spirits to radiate inspiration through the choice of Qur’anic scriptures they compose on paper.  These selections inspire the writer to approach life through a new lens.  The lens that is contained within the messages of the scriptures their hearts select.  Incorporating spirituality further into art therapy, can also further our interest in our religion through this process.  Inspiring greater adherence to the very spiritual codes that we hold dear to us by internalization of that which we compose.  In the book, Using Art Therapy with Diverse Populations, art therapy includes, but isn’t limited to: writing out Quran verses in calligraphy, or creating art of the Ka’ba. The book also mentions that art therapy sessions with members of the Muslim community often include images of the desert, camels, and even dates, all of which we find significant meaning in the stories of Islam, and our experiences with our religion (Prasad, Howie, Kristel, and Kingsley, 2013).

We can take this process of art therapy and help those ourselves and members of our community, by showing them that art isn’t just drawing rainbows and puppies, but rather by incorporating our deen into a process that can be a source of lowering ones inhibitions and anxieties. If conducted according to psychological bases, art therapy can be useful for many who struggle with the challenges of indecision and worries of life.  Through their art, one can learn to let one’s spirit, which has a capacity for divine intuition, lead.  For the Prophet (saaw) said, “be mindful of the believer, for verily he sees with the Light of God.”  Those who are suffering from either physical or psychological stress in the Muslim community can be reintegrated into the community by doing as those mentioned in the hospice center in London. However, for the Muslim there is a focus on creating art surrounding the history of their Muslim predecessors, or creating pieces that revolve around Quranic verses. Those who struggle with worldly troubles can pick up a their wooden piece, soak it up with ink and find an ayah or a hadith that speaks to them thereby putting their inner being onto a sheet of paper. Art Therapy is more than just about finding out what is wrong from a picture that you drew. The actual process of creating a piece of art in itself is therapeutic, and by incorporating our religion and spirituality into our pieces we can develop ourselves to become better Muslims, and improve our spirituality.


Social Phobia – Fear of Judgement?

Social Phobia

By: Fahad Khan

Also known as Social Anxiety Disorder, it is characterized by strong feelings of being judged by others and being embarrassed.

Wait… I have these feelings all the time. Do I have this disorder?

Having feelings of being judged or being embarrassed is normal to everyone, especially Muslims. Every time we go out in public, or in specific areas (airports), we feel as if we are constantly being judged and we feel embarrassed. However, it is considered a disorder when these feelings become disruptive to our daily functioning and are caused by uncommon issues. For example, if you are afraid of wiping your nose in public, and you let it run after sneezing, that’s not normal. Being a Muslim and having anxiety over going in an airport or an airplane is normal and understandable due to societal stigmas. If you are at a point where you avoid going to these places and it disrupts your other areas of life, then you may be suffering with the disorder.

What are some symptoms of Social Phobia?

Some of the more common symptoms of Social Phobia include:

  • Anxiety over being with others and having a hard time talking to them
  • Being very self-conscious in front of others
  • Feelings of embarrassment
  • Afraid of being judged by others
  • Excessive worry about events with other people
  • Staying away from public places
  • Difficulty making and keeping friends
  • Experiencing physical and/or physiological symptoms around others (blushing, sweating, nausea, and raised heart rate etc.)

What causes Social Phobia?

Although the exact source of this problem has not been discovered, it may occur due to several factors. Social Anxiety Disorder can run in families giving it a genetic cause. It can also be prevalent in certain types of personalities. Lastly, it can occur due to past or current events. For Muslims, 9/11 can be attributed to Social Phobia.

Can it be treated?

Yes. The symptoms of Social Phobia can be managed with medications. Furthermore, psychotherapy can be most helpful in finding the origin of the problem and dealing with symptoms caused through the usage of exposure. Exposure is gradual in the context of uncovering the underlying origins and helping affirm positive opposite behaviors.  In any case, contact a professional if you believe that you have this problem.

What is the Islamic perspective on this issue?

Since I’m not an Islamic scholar, I can only present my professional opinion as Muslim therapist accustomed to utilizing Islamic concepts in therapeutic settings (Khalil Center). Social Phobia develops due to personal beliefs and practices formed over time. Working on it at a personal level can cure it. For instance, if you are suffering with Social Phobia, YOU have feelings of being judged by others, YOU are embarrassed of others, and YOU keep away from others etc. Increased self-awareness and mindfulness can EMPOWER YOU to become more aware of yourself and deal better with these symptoms.  Increased self-awareness can also allow you to understand the origin of some of your thought patterns and how they MAY or MAY NOT be conducive to your current level of functioning.  Awareness is the first pathway toward relief and change.

As Muslims, our belief is that Allah (SWT) is the one who will judge us. Muslims are encouraged not to judge others in any way, shape, or form. On the other hand, Islam is a collectivistic tradition and does emphasize the development of communal social norms.  As human beings, we are social animals and this element of being social, allows us to follow rules, establish order and avoid anarchy.  If people never worried about others appraisals of them, this would create chaos for humanity.  Some may say, ‘well others shouldn’t judge’, but the reality is:  as human beings it can be hard to be mindful of Allah’s presence at all times, therefore, social norms/company and the fear of their evaluation of you can be reinforcer for change.  It might not be a bad thing to change DUE to other’s evaluations, IF, you also subscribe to that belief/value yourself as a Muslim. For example, some Muslims are afraid of drinking alcohol in public due to fears of being judged. Well, this Muslim may think twice  before indulging in an impulsive desire in the moment if they live in a community where that is not socially acceptable.

HOWEVER: you may do something, which is lawful in Islam but may still feel the anxiety in public. This is a case where the public norm has been corrupted and is against the fitrah (natural human norms).  This is where the FEAR of others, although a healthy concept in its appropriate context can become maladaptive OR disorderly.

In that case, you have no other recourse but to firmly put your trust in only being judged by Allah (SWT) and no one else. This can help tip the balance back toward a healthy degree.  Certainly, social support in the form of good Muslim company who can reinforce and strengthen your resolve can help.  For example, if a Muslim is afraid of expressing necessary religious symbols in public where it may not be ‘popular’ to do so,  she/he should affirm her/his belief that she/he is doing so to follow the commandment of Allah (SWT) and that only He alone will judge her/him or reward her/him for their commitment. It is harder said than done but as existential psychologists say, ‘lean into the anxiety’ and face it head on!  This may be the pathway to your wilayah (friendship status with Allah).


**Please be advised that presentation of suggested personal interventions are just used as an example and there are more comprehensive approaches that can offered in the therapeutic context.

**Minor additions were made by Hooman Keshavarzi

The Protective Factors of Religion and Spirituality in Substance Abuse: A Brief Review of Research

Author: Hooman Keshavarzi

The issue of substance abuse is a major concern in the United States of America.  Incidence of substance abuse has been increasing in the past decade.  This is especially a concern and problematic for adolescents as many start to experiment with drugs and alcohol around this time.  Adolescents begin searching for an identity and purpose (Dew et al., 2008).  Initiation in substance use at this age is even more important now because of how early drug use places an individual at greater risk for later use (Miller, Alberts, Hecht, Trost, & Krizek, 2000).  There has been a lot of research that has found religion as a protective factor in the initiation of substance use (Adamcyzk and Palmer, 2008; Chitwood, Weiss, Leukefeld, 2008).  In fact there is an inverse relationship between religiousness and substance use (Chitwood, Weiss and Leukefeld 2008; Gorusch, 1995; Marsiglia, Kulis, Nieri, & Parsai, 2005; Sanchez, Oliveira and Nappo, 2008; Stewart, 2008;).  Religious activity at one point in time predicts substance non-abuse at later points in time (Gorusch, 1995).  Religious adolescents in particular have been found to be less likely to use alcohol or marijuana in relation to their less irreligious counterparts (Adamczyk & Palmer, 2008).  This is important for clinicians as treatment and preventative efforts may be informed by this information.  Despite the strength of religion, research on the role of religion in drug use is relatively small in comparison to genetic, neurotransmission, personality disorder, parent and peer relationships, SES and subcultural factors (Chitwood, Weiss,  & Leukefeld, 2008).  This may be possibly due to the influence of modern scholars secular attitudes towards the role of religion in healthcare, thus minimizing or overlooking the influence of religion in modern society.  This review brings together research focusing on religion and spirituality as protective factors in substance use and synthesizes this information in an attempt to stimulate treatment that is congruent with the literature.

Protective Factors


Aspects of religion that function as a protective influence vary.  It is not clear the strength of each of these variables.  Research has produced a number of aspects of religion that reduce rates of substance abuse in religious populations who sanction its usage.  It is clear that participation in religious activities creates a positive peer group that shares beliefs and discourages substance use (Hodge, Cardenas, & Montoya, 2001).  These shared beliefs work to moderate the normative influence of societal views on alcohol and tobacco.  In fact social support through religious peers leads to offsetting negative peer pressure in preventing initiation of use (Gorusch, 1995, Sanchez, De Oliveria, Nappo, 2008).  In addition, having religious peers reduces the opportunity of access, due to the restricted access by religious friends (Adamcyzk & Palmer, 2008).  Nurturing and supportive modeling decreases the likelihood of future use.  It must be kept in mind that a restrictive religious orientation and restrictive religious parenting leads to negative religious coping and contributes to an increase in usage and poor psychological adjustment (Dew et al., 2008; Gorusch, 1995).  This is important, as being religious in and of itself may not act as a protector, but rather having a positive religious orientation is characteristic of the research that suggests positive outcomes.  However, the consequences and fears of being ostracized by one’s religious community also acts as a deterrent.  This is a form of social control that keeps religious individuals from entertaining the idea of using substances (Adamcyzk & Palmer, 2008).  There have been a lot of preventative efforts by various organizations to educate adolescents in schools and communities to minimize usage.  On the surface it may seem counterintuitive that religious people don’t spend too much time educating or teaching substance non-abuse (Gorusch, 1995) and yet their rates of abuse are significantly less than the general population.  However, instead of educating, religion functions to create an internalization of anti-abuse norms and a lifestyle of impulse control.  This is done through instruction by parents, religious authority figures and peers that serve to model and reinforce anti-abuse norms (Gorusch, 1995).  Religion provides learning experiences that afford them the opportunity to form leadership skills, coping mechanisms, cultural knowledge and lifestyle/identity development for adolescents (Dew et al. 2008)


The most significant aspect of spirituality is that it counteracts self-rejection and derogation, creating a positive sense of self.  It permits creating personal norms that decrease or inhibit substance use (Hodge, Cardenas, & Montoya, 2001).  Individuals that identify as spiritual often spend a lot of time restricting their impulses, almost as training that allows them to overcome the temptations of peer pressure.  Coping mechanisms are developed through a spiritual worldview and a comfort with the self and their identity.

Spirituality and Religion

The combined effect of religion and spirituality appears to be the strongest predictor of non-abuse.  Spirituality may not have as much of an effect in when used isolation, since spirituality does not have specific rules sanctioning or discouraging substance use due to the personal and experiential nature of the construct (Hodge, Andereck, & Montoya, 2007).  This opens oneself up to modifying their beliefs when it may seem too daunting to resist peer pressure.  Rather, aspects of the combined approach permits each of them to reinforce one another.  Spirituality may increase faith, the experiential part of their religion and adherence to religious laws for a religious person.  Religion may provide parameters for spiritual individuals.  Both have more stress outlets through prayer, friends and positive religious beliefs.  Some aspects of spirituality that are helpful may not be exclusively spiritual aspects but overlaps with religious communal support.  Thus, other studies have included them in religion and the two together reinforces the social aspects of belief.  For example, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) tends to emphasize a spiritual connection with a higher power and upholds non-denominationality.  This spirituality has been linked with positive outcomes.  Some have even stated that the belief in a higher power is directly linked to successful cessation (Schaler, 1997). 

An Unequal Exchange.

Imagine the following scenario. Imagine you had a friend whom you cared for very deeply. However, that friend did not seem to feel the same way. Imagine this friend rarely ever picked up your phone calls. He or she never responded to your text messages. This friend never wanted to make plans to see you, and if you were to have an unexpected encounter, he or she may or may not briefly acknowledge your presence, but will then continue on with his or her day  as though the encounter had never taken place. How long do you think this friendship will last? Eventually you will not be interested in this friend, and if he or she is ever in a desperate situation and asks you for a favor, what is the likelihood of you helping? For most of us, the answer is simple: we would not help this friend, and eventually we would want nothing to do with him or her. After all, he or she never acknowledged us previous to his or her state of desperation. Without even realizing it, this is exactly what some of us are doing. However, in our daily situations, we are the ones doing the ignoring, except instead of ignoring our friends, we are ignoring our Creator.

Our connection with Allah (swt) should be strong and firm. He should be someone we love, who is always on our mind, close to our heart, and someone we are constantly striving to please. Yet the reality does not always prove to be this way. A lot of times we find ourselves substituting His love for the love of worldly things, we keep our friends closer to our hearts than Him, and when it comes to pleasing others, society is at the top of our list. We cannot expect the mercy of the Most Merciful if we do nothing to deserve it. In Surat Al-Ma’arij, after Allah (swt) lists the characteristics and lifestyle of those who will enter His paradise, He moves on to talking about those who will not. When talking about the people who did not strive for His sake, Allah (swt) asks a rhetorical question, He says, “Does every person among them hope to enter a Paradise of pleasure?” [70:38]. We cannot be a people who does little but asks for much in return.

May Allah (swt) give us all the strength and will power we need to strive for His sake in our every waking moment. May He give us the power we need to overcome our evil inclinations and may all of our efforts be for Him and Him alone. May He bless us with His eternal Mercy and make us of those that live the lifestyle of true Muslims and have the characteristics of our beloved prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

Lowering the Gaze & Managing Pornography Addiction

By: Hooman Keshavarzi

One of the greatest struggles of life, especially for men has been the challenge of desisting from unlawful interactions with the opposite gender.  This is especially difficult on account of this desire being a natural human inclination that is universal to all human beings. Allah (SWT) has made human beings with a natural attraction for the opposite gender in order to gratify their desires (in lawful relationships, i.e. marriage), to increase closeness between couples and for procreation.  Though a very natural inclination, sexual appetite, like all other natural impulses that drive human beings, when exceeding the bounds of normality as defined by religious ethics is unhealthy and blameworthy.

The Qur’an exhorts human beings by saying, “Tell the believing men to lower their gaze and be modest. That is purer for them. Lo! Allah is aware of what they do.  And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and be modest, and to display of their adornment only that which is apparent, and to draw their veils over their bosoms, and not to reveal their adornment save to their own husbands” (24:30-31).

Also, it is understood that the fornication of the eyes can diminish one’s spirituality as it blackens the heart.  For Imam Al-Shafi one time complained to his teacher Waki of his weak ability to memorize sacred knowledge (thought to be not only stored in the mind solely but also resting in the heart).  His teacher advised him to leave the disobedience of Allah, and said, “sacred knowledge is a light from God and the Light of God cannot dwell in the heart of a sinner”.  The mistake Imam Shafi had made was to look at the exposed shin of a woman on route to one of his destinations.  So many people may negate their spirituality through the fornication of the eyes.

Gender Difference in the Struggle

There is a slight difference between the experiences of sexual gratification as experienced during a climax (orgasm) between the genders.  For men, the climactic experience is heightened and its means to climax are predominantly centered in the visual cortex.  Therefore, men tend to experience sexual gratification and pleasure through seeing a woman whom they deem to be attractive.   The extent to which she is beautified (based upon his sexual appetite) will determine his inclination and the joy that he experiences in advancing toward her.  In contrast, women tend to respond more to emotion and a feeling of psychological closeness between her and her lover.  During orgasm, a hormone known as oxytocin is released and this hormone is predominantly linked to social bonding.  This is also known as the milk-let down release which is triggered when her baby suckles her.  Although this may be difficult for some readers to digest, this is why some women report experiencing orgasm when nursing their babies.  Nonetheless, women tend to feel a heightened sense of satisfaction during sexual intimacy when she has intense feelings for her lover and makes a deep connection with him.

What can be deduced from the above is that generally, while it is equally important for women to lower their gaze, men will have a more difficult time controlling their eyes as this is a gateway to their sexual desires.  Hence the Prophetic tradition, The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, “I have not left behind any fitnah (trial/difficult test) more harmful to men than women” (Bukhari).  Generally, men are the highest consumers of pornography and the pornography industry generally targets men for this very reason.  Therefore, it is more important for men to be aware of this weakness and to work harder at controlling this desire.  In contrast, since women draw pleasure through social bonding, it is more important for a woman to mind her modesty by closing channels of communication that could lead to her becoming fond of a man.

Pornography Crisis

After an analysis of 400 million web searches, researchers concluded that 1 in 8 of all searches online are for erotic content (Covenant Eyes).  Pornography has become more readily accessible and is easier to obtain since its inception.  More than half of boys and nearly a third of girls see their first pornographic images before they turn 13 (Covenant Eyes).

Porn Addiction

Given the accessibility of pornography and widespread consumption, it has the potential to be very addictive.  In fact, 64-68% of young adult men and about 18% of women use porn at least once every week (Covenant Eyes).  This kind of addiction can have devastating effects on people’s lives and relationships.  The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers reports that 56% of divorce cases involve one party having “an obsessive interest in pornographic websites.”

The nature of addiction is very real.  Oftentimes, pornography is a gateway toward masturbation.  Masturbation leads to self-induced orgasm.  When an individual experiences orgasm, there are multiple neurotransmitters that are released in the brain.  Some of which include serotonin, dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine.  These neurotransmitters are responsible for the experience of pleasure, energy, motivation, motor control and functioning, euphoria, etc.  It is important to understand that these key neurotransmitters are also the ones that are usually replicated or manipulated in the consumption of illicit drugs.  Such drugs include heroin and cocaine.  Therefore, we must recognize that there is a neurochemical process component to orgasm and that due to the degree of pleasure that is experienced during climax, this causes an addiction similar to the addiction to illicit drugs.  In fact, Al-Ghazali stated that the closest worldly pleasure that remotely resembles the experience of paradise is orgasm.  The only difference is that the neurochemicals are released internally in the brain rather than an external substance putting them there.  So once we understand this as a sexual addiction, we can begin to address it in the same way that we address drug addictions.


1. All addictions have attached triggers.  In the brain, memory, emotion and sensation can all be linked together.  There is a neuropsychological principle, “Neurons that wire together, fire together”.  So when an individual has consumed pornography that leads to orgasmic pleasure, then many of the environmental conditions preceding that experience become cues or triggers stored in the memory and can trigger a craving response when there is exposure to those cues again.  For example, these may include:

–          Being alone in a house
–          Working on a computer
–          Seeing some exposed skin on a woman on the way home from work.
–          The location or room that they usually watch pornography in
–          The time of day
–          Materials in the room (e.g. art, furniture, etc)

All of the above among other things can trigger a craving response.  In order to extinguish the craving response, one must break the association built between those triggers/cues and orgasm/pornography.  Here are some measures that may be taken:

–  If possible, abandon the triggers.  For example, cease the usage of the computer.
–  If the above is not possible, then exposure to the trigger should be coupled with a protective variable.
For example, using a computer while you are in a populated room.
–  Associating other pleasurable activities in that room. For example, turning the room into a play
room such as putting a ping pong table there, etc.

2. Harm reduction principle.  One must take an honest assessment of oneself for this cure.  If you feel a victim to your own addiction and are finding yourself hopeless against going ‘cold turkey’ or abandoning this practice altogether, then one should employ a two-fold strategy designed to eventually eliminate usage altogether.  This strategy entails cutting out the visual stimuli (i.e. pornography) altogether.  The second part of this strategy is to use masturbation as a release without the visual stimuli.  So once a craving is experienced, masturbation can take place without the image.
After doing this, one should focus on reduction of frequency toward the goal of complete abstinence.  So if one was masturbating every other day, then they should reduce it to once a week without the visual stimuli.

3. Seek assistance from Allah – you must come to the recognition that no one can truly help you except Allah.  One can make the dua, “O Allah do not leave me to my nafs even for a blink of an eye”.

4. One should also continuously repent for their sin and ask Allah to accept the efforts you are making toward a cure and let Him know that you want to stop this altogether and would never like to return to it.

5. Enhance lawful relations.  If you are unmarried, then it might be a good idea to begin to speed up your marriage process, but make sure that you are still selecting a spouse that is a good person for you in all senses not just one you are attracted to. If you are already married, then it is time to enhance your relationship.  Oftentimes, many spouses feel shy to express their sexual fantasies to one another.  In Islam, sexual intimacy is not a shameful or bad act.  Rather it is praiseworthy and celebrated.  Therefore, one should be open with their spouse while being sensitive to their potential discomfort with the topic to explore strategies to enhance sex in the relationship.  However, these suggestions should be kept within the bounds of Islamic law.
A great assessment as to whether this is indeed a problem for you or not, is to rate yourself on the following questions on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the most pleasurable):

I.  How much pleasure do I derive from being intimate with my spouse?

II.  How much pleasure do I derive from watching pornography and masturbating?

If your answer to the second question is rated higher than the first, then you MUST enhance your relationship with your spouse, otherwise combating your addiction will be extremely difficult.

6. Parental controls on all computers and devices.  K9 protection is a great parental control tool that can be used to block out illicit content in your web usage.  Have a friend set this up for you, so that you do not know your own password.

7. Putting a punishment on yourself – Make a pact with yourself or a close friend if it is helpful that every time you watch pornography and masturbate, you will give a significant sum of money in charity or fast continuously for a week.  The idea is that, your lower nafs has to make a choice between two pleasurable things: (i) holding onto money or food or (ii) masturbating.  If the punishment is felt harshly enough on the nafs, the nafs will incline toward that which it finds more pleasurable.
The above may also be a display to Allah that you are trying so hard that you may be forgiven for the sin on account of your exertion and He may even empower you to defeat your lower nafs.

8. Fasting – fasting and a reduction of eating has been linked with decreasing one’s sexual appetite.

9. Changing your thinking – Imagine if your sister were an object that other men looked at.   Ask how you would abhor and dislike it for your mother, daughter, sister, and aunt; this was how the Prophet (SAW) put it to a man who came seeking permission for zina.

10. Create disgust.  This is a concept known as aversion therapy.  It may or may not be helpful or advisable to all.  This should be used as a last step.  While you are masturbating and/or looking at pornography, when you are just about ready to climax, look at a very disgusting image that is highly not pleasing.  This will cause a negative item to be associated with the act of masturbating and will begin to diminish the pleasure experienced and reduce its occurrence.


Gilkerson, L. (2003, February 19). Get the latest pornography stats. Covenant Eyes.  Retrieved from:

Managing Your Anger!

Anger Management

Let us begin with a brief discussion of emotions before highlighting the nature of anger and its cures.  According to modern emotion theory, all emotions have both positive and negative manifestations.  They also have fundamental needs that lie beneath the experience of anger.  There are some perceptions that cause particular emotions to emerge, as thoughts are intimately linked to emotions.  It is NOT the case that emotions are all bad, as many people may believe.  You often hear people saying, “he is so emotional” as if to imply that emotions are a bad thing.  Rather, Allah (swt) has given these very humanizing faculties to us and what we do with these tools will either cause us to draw nearer to Him or further away from Him.

After discussing the above, let us examine the nature of anger.  Anger has the fundamental need for justice and having a sense of fairness.  When people feel wronged by others, this will propel them to feel angry.

Anger & Perception

So when one PERCEIVES that they have been wronged, then it is likely for them to react negatively.  The reason why perceived is mentioned, is because this may only be an interpretation of someone else’s behavior as opposed to a reality.  For example, if you are to meet a friend for a meeting and he does not show, one may become upset assuming that he either forgot about you, which means that he does not think you are very important, or he undervalues your time and treats your time as insignificant.  Certainly this kind of thinking can cause one to get upset.  However, if you later found out that he had been in a car accident and his phone was broken in the process, your anger would quickly dissipate.


So now we arrive at cure number 1: husn al-dhan (assuming the best).  In this case, rather then jumping to negative conclusions about others, even if the evidence seems overwhelming in favor of that negative, the Prophetic tradition is to give that individual the benefit of the doubt and create a more positive evaluation of the scenario.

Anger – Positive and negative manifestations

Based upon the fact that anger is driven by a need for fairness and justice, when this is applied to self, it can have both a positive and a negative manifestation.  If the situation is indeed a violation of one’s basic rights or the rights of one’s family, they must take some recourse so to prevent this situation from recurring and for one to resist oppression.  For example: If you are being falsely arrested while you are innocent or if someone attacks your family.  In these instances it is very appropriate for you to feel angry about the situation and take some recourse to rectify the matter.  There can be two ways of responding: Assertively vs aggressively.  Responding aggressively can be counter-productive.  In the example of being arrested, if you respond by yelling, shouting or abusing the arresting officer then you will indeed worsen the matter.

Cure # 2

Rather in the situation listed above assertiveness is needed.  Assertiveness applied to this situation may be that you ask him to read you your rights, you question the reasoning for your arrest, you hire a lawyer and document every communication you have with the authorities.  It is not praiseworthy in these situations to allow this to occur because you would be fueling oppression and violating the honor/rights that are God-given to the children of Adam.  This example can be generalized to other similar scenarios.

Note: Another positive manifestation of anger is a selfless anger and protective jealousy for the sake of religion.  For example, being angry at an injustice that is done unto Allah (swt).  For the lover of Allah and His religion, when people have ridiculed Him or attempted to destroy His religion, it would only follow from him that he become angry. This is indeed healthy so long as it is channeled into effective assertive action as opposed to aggressive destruction.

Anger, Arrogance & Forgiveness

The above scenario was described as a case where you advocating for yourself and your rights is praiseworthy.  However, there is a very detestable manifestation of applying anger to oneself.  Here we turn to a sense of entitlement.  When individuals feel entitled to particular needs from others and if those needs are violated then they are prone to becoming upset.  This is where individuals feel that others owe them something or that they are deserving of respect.  This flies in the face of the Islamic tradition.  This is due to the fact that respect is to be earned and there shall be no demand for respect from anyone, except in the case of a hierarchical relationship where he/she does it for the rearing of their subject (ex their child) solely for their benefit and not out of a sense of personal honor being violated.  For example, in child-rearing a parent must train a child to learn how to respect those in authority so that they can be successful in showing respect to others when they grow up.  Here the parent shall be assertive but, they shall not become angry out of a sense of personal violation.    If one is to reflect about their disobedience and ingratitude to Allah then he/she will deem himself/herself not worthy of respect and if respect is given to that individual then it is due to Allah’s mercy upon him/her.  There may be an objection by some that some rights are Islamically due to me and within bounds for me to acquire them.  This shall be addressed in the section for the cure.

Cure #3

One must consider their insignificance in relation to Allah and their sinful state.  When you reflect upon this, it will decrease your desire for being honored by others and feel grateful for any honor given to you, because you do not feel violated anymore since you altered your belief that you are inherently deserving of respect.  With regard to the objection of rights afforded to you by Islamic law, one must view this from a different light.  If the right you are demanding is for survival and to meet basic human needs, then one should request this from the other individual.  For example a wife requiring that a husband to spend on her basic needs for survival.  However, if it is not an absolute survival need, then one should forgo this expectation.  One of the highest forms of faith is to expect from Allah, forgoing expectations from others.  Some people see this as a miserable resignation to Allah’s will, but rather one should see this as an opportunity to connect with Allah on a level which they had not been able to do so before.

The spirit of Islam is to be selfless and selfishness is a detestable quality.  Hence, the spirit of Islam is to let go and forgive others for their shortcomings and not make demands.  In fact, one should be very careful to observe and honor the rights of others and forgoing their rights from others.  For if he/she does this, then Allah may lighten the burden of his sins on the day of Judgment.  For he/she may have done numerous wrongs throughout his life and if he/she is very meticulous about counting and asking for those, then this may be the attitude that Allah takes with the individual.  However, if he is forgiving, then he may hope for forgiveness from Allah on account of his good gestures to others.  For the Prophet (saaw) said: whosoever is not merciful to others, he shall not be shown mercy”.

Anger & Interrupting the Process

At times people have become so accustomed to becoming angry that they don’t seem to be able to control this very rapid process.  The cures listed above may be difficult to achieve initially.  So coupled with the cures listed above, cures from the Prophetic tradition shall be listed.  Psychologists say that the best way to stop a habit and angry communication is to be aware of your own internal process.  The quicker you become aware the better.  So if you find yourself becoming angry slowly then you can try to interrupt this process through the following that we shall list.  However, after you have already lost control, the only recourse is to be able to try to regain a little bit of it and pull yourself away from the situation.  The nature of anger is that it causes you to feel inclined to continue to remain in the situation, once you recognize that you don’t want to leave, then this is indication that you have become too physiologically aroused and you need to take a break away from the situation.

1. To say “Audhu billahi minashaytan nirajim.” [Bukhari, Muslim]

2. If he is standing, then he should sit. If the anger fails to subside, then he should lie down. [Abu Dawood]

3. A person should remain silent. [Imam Ahmad]

4. Make wudhu. [Abu Dawood]

5. Make ghusl [Abu Nuaim]

Avicenna’s Influence on Science and Psychology

Much of the focus on the development of modern science and clinical psychology can be historically traced back through the western historical tradition and can be seen as a natural symbiosis of the fields of philosophy and science.  Although, this is a rich legacy that has led us to the present, the traditions present in the Eastern parts of the world should not be neglected.  In many instances, thinkers from the East have had an influence on the development of modern science and psychology, leaving a hole in the historical understanding of the development of modern science.  Additionally, the incorporation of those ideas that have not been well understood or heard may shed some light on potential interventions for present day utility.  Some of these interventions may stand to offer a source of guidance for individuals from diverse backgrounds as we move more towards a global and diverse world.  One of these thinkers who had a tremendous influence on and intellectual achievements in the areas of science, law, music, poetry, mathematics, medicine, philosophy and psychology is Abu Ali al-Husayn Abdullah ibn Sina (know as Avicenna to the West) (Tschanz, 2003).  Avicenna’s influence on psychology will be the focus of this paper and some of his ideas as influenced by the zeitgeist of his time and religious beliefs will be explored.

Life and Times

Abu Ali al-Husayn Abdullah ibn Sina (980-1037 C.E) was born in Afshena, Persia.  He completed the memorization of the Qur’an at age 10 and immediately thereafter went onto study mathematics, physics and philosophy.  He read Aristotle’s metaphysics over 40 times and at age 16 he turned to the study of medicine.  He became such a prominent physician that by the age of 18, he was called to treat the Prince ibn Mansur of the Abbasid Caliphate (the ruling government of the time)(Tschanz, 2003).  The era that Avicenna lived in was a golden time of intellectual growth in the Islamic world.  While Europe was facing an intellectual decline during these dark ages with a halt to the progression of knowledge and philosophical debates since the Hellenistic era, the Muslim world, stretching from North Africa, including Spain all the way across Western Asia and parts of Europe to the borders of China, continued to advance in their intellectual developments and pursuits.  Muslims were flirting with the ideas of Greek philosophy and Aristotelian metaphysics, while attempting to discover how their own Islamic tradition fit in with these ideas.  Avicenna was drawn to these philosophical conversations and consolidated many of his ideas of theology, the nature of the human being, the soul, medicine and science into two prominent works, The Canon of Medicine andThe Book of Healings.  Prior to these works he served as a Vizier (political leadership) in modern day Syria (Hamdhan), but was forced to go into hiding, due to furious intellectual debates that took place between he and others in the court (Goodman, 1992).  People were intimidated by his intellectual capacities and were also troubled by his unorthodox thinking and ideas.  He left the court and produced many works in addition to the two major books he authored.  In fact, evidence of his troubling ideas that did not quite fit very well with the Islamic orthodoxy of the time due to his being heavily influenced  by Aristotelian philosophy became manifest in a rebuttal written by another influential philosopher Abu Hamid al-Ghazali.  Al-Ghazali’s works made salient once again the hierarchy of intellectual worth, being the Qur’an and traditions of the Prophet at its head after the demise of Avicenna (Morowitz, 2005).  Despite Avicenna’s unorthodox views, his influence in the area of medicine and science cannot be disputed and his books continued to be a source of study for five centuries in Europe and even longer in the Islamic world.  During his era, physicians were afforded a high status in Islamic society as it followed from Islamic teachings that sickness was a normal part of life, a spiritual cleansing for the ill, where healers were revered as being able to speed up the recovery.  This is contrary to the prevalent Christian ideas in Europe that sickness was a form of retribution for wrongdoings leaving the sick to be oft-neglected.  In the Muslim world, there were traveling clinics that provided aid to underprivileged in rural areas.  In this climate of receptivity to healers, Avicenna was free to explore his ideas through experimentation.  Avicenna proposed applying logic to the testing of drugs and was permitted to experiment with his ideas in clinical trials (Sajadi, Mansouri & Sajadi, 2009).  This led Avicenna down many paths of scientific inquiry that touched upon his ideas of psychology both from a philosophical and scientific lens.

Ideas on Psychology

Avicenna explored the area of death anxiety and noticed this was a universal fear.  Avicenna stated that there were three cognitive types of causes for death anxiety.  This included the following types of disordered thinking: (a) ignorance as to what death is, (b) uncertainty of what is to follow after death and (c) supposing that after death, the soul may cease to exist.  He stated that the degree of anxiety one experiences is directly related to the level of knowledge one has about the idea of death (Avicenna, 1009).  These ideas are similar to Cognitive-Behavioral theory as pathology is seen as a lack of understanding of the disorder that one has and disordered thinking.  Once cognitive restructuring is underway, the experienced disorder should diminish.  Similarly, Avicenna recommends that religio-education be sought out in order to alleviate these thoughts, thus reducing the experience of death anxiety.

Avicenna also spent a lot of time on the mind-body problem.  Avicenna believed that the human mind is like a mirror and has the ability to reflect knowledge as it utilizes active intelligence (i.e. thinking).  The more we think, the clearer and more polished our mirror gets, directing oneself towards the acquisition of true knowledge.  Furthermore, the mind is in control of the body and there is a direct hierarchical relationship between the two.  Such that, when the mind wants to move the body, it obeys.  The second level of control the mind has on the body is through influencing emotions and will.  Strong emotions can cause self-fulfilling prophecies, if one believes that one is going to fail, the likelihood of failure would increase.  This can also cause a disturbance in health, in that the mind can influence health and impact vegetative functions (Haque, 2004).  This is very similar to present scientific evidence on the influence of stress on the immune system, leading to a possible increase in physical sicknesses.  Avicenna also believed that a strong personality or soul could influence others via hypnosis (called al-wahm al-amil).

Avicenna divided human perceptions into five external and internal senses: (a) Senus communis which integrates sense data into precepts; (b) imaginative faculty that conserves perceptual images; (c) sense of imagination that acts upon the imaginative faculty, producing practical intelligence; (d) moral instinct propelling one to perceive good and bad, love and hate, making up ones character and; (e) intention that conserves all of the above notions in memory and influences behavior (Haque, 2004).

Avicenna talked about psychological disorders and believed that melancholia is a disorder where one becomes suspicious and is usually mixed with certain types of phobias.  He said that anger resulted when one transitioned from melancholia to mania.  He believed the cause for this was an abundance of humidity in the head. Breathing results in moisture getting to the head, but if you have too much moisture in your head, it may develop into a mental disorder (Haque, 2004).  The important thing to consider here is that Avicenna was considering that the causes of mental illnesses as originating in the head well before the emergence of phrenology, which directed Western thought towards modern psychology.  In fact, Avicenna made other hypotheses concerning the neurological origins of various diseases, but due to religious prohibitions of cutting open the head, he was not permitted to experiment in this capacity.  Avicenna also wrote about love sickness/disorder, theorizing that excessive passion was at the root of this disorder.  This is reflective of his religious beliefs regarding Islamic prohibitions of excessive expressions of love towards anything other than God.  This cultural difference is apparent in that modern western culture often sees love and passion as something to be highly sought after.  The DSM in this regard may not necessarily be reflective of additional diagnoses that may exist in Muslim countries.


Avicenna’s influence on science and psychology in the West was certainly of value, but rarely is his name included in the books of history.  He personified the ability to reconcile religion and empiricism/rationalism.  This tremendous influence and task was later taken up by St. Thomas Aquinas to do the same in Europe later leading to the Renaissance and intellectual reawakening in Europe.  Avicenna’s 14 volume text on medicine is still a topic of research in many Muslim countries and has led to numerous investigations into his ideas that guide some current experimentation (Tschanz, 2003).  To a large extent, the field of Islamic psychology is still premature and a lot of the developments of psychology as a field in Muslim countries have been on account of importing the secularly based Western theories rooted in a Eurocentric framework (Haque, 2004).  Though beneficial, Avicenna’s work offers a spiritual framework from which to approach this field based upon this indigenous knowledge and culturally congruent theory for further expansion and application with Muslim populations both in the West and Muslim world.  In fact, the challenging task of bridging both the early intellectual developments of the West and East by Avicenna, despite the absence of technological resources is incredible giving him a well-rounded education and perspective. This is something that is admirable and is absolutely necessary in today’s context, given all the appropriate channels to do so in a globalized world and its growing diversity in thought.


Avicenna. (2005). Metaphysics of The Healing (M. E. Marmura, Trans.).  Provo,UT: Brigham

Young University.  (Original work published 1009 CE).

Goodman, L. E. (1992). Avicenna. New York: Routledge.

Haque, A. (2004). Religion and mental health: The case of American Muslims. Journal of Religion and

Health, 43(1), 45-58.

Haque, A. (2004). Psychology from an Islamic perspective: Contributions of early Muslim scholars

and challenges to contemporary Muslim psychologists. Journal of Religion and Health, 43 (4),

Morowitz, H. (2005). The debate between science and religion: The road less traveled. Zygon: Journal  

of Religion and Science , 40 (1), 51-56.

Sajadi, M. M., Mansouri, D., & Sajadi, M. R. M. (2009). Ibn Sina and the clinical trial. Annals of

Internal Medicine, 150 (9), 640-643.

Tschanz, D. W. (2003). Ibn Sina: “The prince of physicians”. Journal of International Society for the

History of Islamic Medicine, 1, 47-49.