By Sharhidd Booley
Widely acknowledged as the primordial seedbed of all that most people know today about psychology, the Greek school of thinking about the mind and the soul fell short on giving answers to the ‘why ’ or ‘where from’ or ‘how to behave’ or such-like vexations about our existence in this world 1. When, in 1547, psychology was first formalised in the West, it was naively considered as a new dawn of enlightened intellect and academic pursuit yet able to do no more than recalibrating the embryos of Grecian thought 2. It was, and is still not, expected to give answers to those questions, like all other pursuits by others in the archipelago of major disciplines.
From the outset, psychology has indeed offered up umpteen new descriptive theories about mind, thinking, the self, behaviour, emotion, and all that is regarded as our states of consciousness 3. After all, that was what “-ologies” do. No more. For this short thesis, I firstly draw freely on the commonest and contemporary psychological concepts or theories on the ‘self’, and subsequently, argue as to how they might be seen against the divinely inspired substance of a pristine Islam 4.
Whenever I am thinking, and whatever I may be thinking of, I am simultaneously, and to some extent aware of, myself as a person that exists (cf. Descartes’s “I think, therefore I am” thesis 5). The total self of me has two parts, one the known object as Me, and the other the knower subject as I. In more specific terms, my M’ness denotes the empirical side of my being, whereas my I’ness is pure ego 6.
The dividing line between what one calls Me and what one simply calls mine is not easy to determine. I, for example, feel and act about things that I possess in the way that I feel and act about myself. My repute, my children, my labour may be as precious to me as my body is or arouse similar feelings and similar retaliation when assaulted 7. This begs the question about my body itself: does it belong to Me, or is it Me? History tells us that man has on occasion been shown to be willing to relinquish their very bodies as the mere outer garb of inner being-ness, or as paper prisons from which they might easily escape at some later time in their lives 8: could I incline to this state?
These fluctuations in my existence show that, all at once, I am I, Me, and have what is mine, but that what is mine is really not mine at all. Still, my Me is nonetheless the sum of all that I CAN call mine, not only my body and my inner being, but all my material possessions, next-of-kin, social relations, spirituality, beliefs, and so on. All of these arouse my emotions to various degrees. When they thrive and flourish, I feel joyous; if they waver and diminish, I feel down and done in.
I would, therefore, have different Me’s, that is, material, social, spiritual, all of which would reflect within them my emotions of self-appreciation or its antonym; prompt within my being the need to look within myself for that which makes Me what I am, as well as look for ways to preserve myself 8.
The material Me includes my body, my garments, my family, my property. The social Me recognises what I might gain from my relations with others and how they perceive and relate to me.
The spiritual Me is the full collection of my states of consciousness represented in my material, social, and spiritual selves including my psychic faculties 9. It is the one Me that is displayed in how active my feelings of consciousness are. I regard this as the revelation of the living evidence of my soul, that metaphysical entity that supersedes all of what constitutes my entire existence and all of its components or states of consciousness. All three of these states of consciousness, however, conflict and rival one another, often involuntarily yet at other times with conscious motivation on my part.
Some theories of psychology place these three major states of consciousness in a hierarchy of material at the lower end, followed by the social, and the spiritual as the pinnacle 10. If I were to be caught in the cocoon of psychology, I would ask: Do I really have direct knowledge of the existence of my states of consciousness? Are the latter perhaps no more than states of mind or passing thoughts? Is the idea of states of mind, not simply a crude hypothesis? Is it verifiable? Is there interdependence between an external, metaphysical, transcendental Knower or Spirit of the World and my states of consciousness, which uses me as a conduit for mental processes that are intangible thoughts that emanate from a different, unique plane of existence, quite different to that on my own? These are questions which the inadequacy of psychology has yet to answer.
Psychology, in all its popularity and professional ostentation, would claim to have originality in theories of the self, the I, the Me, the mind, thinking, behaviour, and all that are ‘states of consciousness’. But, it is oblivious to the fact that, more than 1,000 years before its formalisation in 1547, Islam had offered the answers to the many issues that these questions represent 11. Their absence would have been a vexation to my being a Muslim. They embody a code of life, Islam, uniquely couched 12 in the inviolable receptacle of the Qur’an, and the immaculate biography of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) 13, the primary practitioner of that code.
As Muslim, I derive from Islam all that I need to find a purpose beyond merely knowing how my being functions. It acknowledges that as ‘I’, the knower, I must seek ‘to know’ and believe 14 in unison with my fellow Muslims, that: that transcendental, metaphysical Reality and Originator of all things is ‘Allah’; permeated with His supreme Mercy and Compassion. All actions of our states of consciousness are owned by Him; there is an afterlife far superior to this one, entry to which will be judged by Him, for both good-doers and transgressors of this life; He is the only One Whom we should worship and from Whom to seek help. We are in a world that is only one of many under his aegis; the Qur’an is an unrivalled, straight way and guidance for an Allah-conscious life here, but only for those of us who live by it, who do not walk in the darkness of His wrath and displeasure, or do not stray from its path 15. Allah Alone – and my empirical ‘Me’, the known, – would testify to how much of this knowledge and belief is well earned or true; how sincere I am in obeying, and submitting and surrendering to, Him; whether I deserve the peace for which I, and all of his creation, was meant to enjoy 16.
Without the Qur’an and all of its many similes, metaphors, parables, and analogies 17, the thinking, living, Muslim I and my Me would have been left spiritually, mentally, psychologically, and socially stripped of the coolness of Allah’s transcendental, metaphysical succour so vital for a peaceful life.
With it, I get to be, think, live, as I and become known as Me according to Allah’s Way. This is all I need in this temporal world and for the journey ahead, the outcome of which only He Knows.
Professor Sharhidd Booley has a PhD in (Social Science); MEd (Adult Education); MSc (Social Research); Certificate in Spoken Arabic (UWC); International Consultant for Postgraduate Research; former lecturer of social science, psychology, social work; author of several academic and professional pieces; former Director of SANZAF and Project Designer for IDM; 20 years experience in Family and Child Care (South Africa and United Kingdom). Professor Booley’s Red Kufi Books column ‘AS I SEE IT’ will be featured monthly at redkufi.com
1 Green, C D & Groff, P R 2003, Early psychological thought: Ancient accounts of mind and soul. Praeger: Westport, Connecticut.
2 Benjamin, L T & Baker, D B 2012, “The Internationalisation of Psychology: A History”, in David B Baker (ed.), Oxford Handbook of the History of Psychology . Oxford University Press, Oxford.
3 Benjamin, L T & Baker, D B 2012, op.cit.
4 Abdel Haleem, M A S 2001, Understanding the Qur’an: Themes and Style. I B Taurus: London.
5 Clark, D 2003, Descartes’s Theory of Mind, Oxford University Press: Oxford.
6 O’Neil, H F 2008, Introduction to psychology: Gateways to mind and behaviour. Cengage Learning: Stamford, CT.
7 Benjamin, L T & Baker, D B 2012, “The Internationalisation of Psychology: A History”, in David B Baker (ed.), Oxford Handbook of the History of Psychology. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
8 Green, C D & Groff, P R 2003, op.cit.
9 O’Neil, H F 2008, op.cit.
10 Benson, N C 2007, Psychology. A Graphic Guide to your Mind and Behaviour. Allen and Unwin: Crwos Nest, NSW.
11 Abdel Haleem, M A S 2010, op.cit.
12 Hamid, S 2016, ‘How Islam is different from other religions’, Time, June 13: p23.
13 Guillaume, A 2002, The Life of Muhammad. Oxford University Press: Oxford.
14 Ali, A Y 2010, English Translation of the Holy Qur’an. Islamic Propagation Centre International, Durban: IPCI.
15 Al Qur’an, Al Fatiha, Surah 1: 1-7.
16 Motzki, H 2001, ‘The Collection of the Qur’an: A Reconsideration of Western Views in Light of Recent Methodological Developments, Der Islam, pp 2-34.
17 McAuliffe, J D (ed.) 2001, Encyclopaedia of the Qur’an. E J Brill: Leiden.