What history do we have in regards to the mind? In order to explore this part of our rich past, we must first understand exactly what it is that these brilliant Muslim’s contributed to.
What is Psychology?
In Latin, “Psych” is mind and “Ology” is knowledge.
The scientific study of the human mind and its functions, especially those affecting behaviour in a given context. The mental characteristics or attitude of a person or a group.
What is Ilm ul Nafs?
In Arabic, “Ilm” is knowledge, “ul” is the, “Nafs” is soul.
The science of the self or psyche, which refers to the medical and philosophical study of the psyche/mind from an Islamic perspective. AKA psychology in the light of the Quran, Sunnah and Islamic tradition.
Some may assume that it is just Islamic concepts applied to the science, however it is not as simple as that. It is more about the psychological concepts that are embedded within this religion that have been extracted and nurtured by knowledgeable and noble people of our history. It is not just about name faming and highlighting what only muslims have contributed, rather it is about discovering and unveiling the lost and forgotten tradition that could perhaps renew and replenish the current status of psychology and mental health of today.
If there are any students of psychology or medicine reading this, perhaps you remember a time you came across something in your lectures or reading where you have thought, “hang on a second, that sounds really Islamic.” or “wait, the Quran and Sunnah already encourage that”. From embryology, to attachment, from social learning to developmental psychology, from wellbeing to brain structures, it was all there from the beginning of Islam.
Without a doubt it is all compatible with the fitrah (disposition / natural inclination that everyone is born with) and perhaps some that are not. However today there is a study which would be appropriate to discuss in light of this month’s theme. Have you heard of the “God-brain?” A study conducted by Dr Andrew Newburg (director of Research at the Myrna Brind Center for Integrative Medicine and a pioneer in the field of neurotheology) which included an observation of brain scans and blood circulation showed that religious thinking / acts activated certain areas of the brain that we use in daily life, such as abstract thinking and understanding the emotions of others. Although Newburg concluded that this does not indicate it is natural to follow a religion as it is related to everyday “normal” functions, others have concluded that our brains are hardwired to believe in God because it fits with our very nature.
Newburg also suggested that this activity of the brain that correlates with strong feelings experienced during religious acts is simply because of repetition and strengthening connections and acts such as simple breathing exercises can improve mental health regardless of whether there is a divine belief underlying it. However is it that simple if we view it from an Islamic perspective? Allah has said that if you come seeking His help, or on His path, or for seeking knowledge, then He will make it easy for you. Islam teaches patience, consistency and strengthening of faith in many ways, and perhaps whilst this study’s conclusion does not directly fit with Islam’s fundamental views, this could be an opening for many more studies and experiments that may slowly reveal the haqq (truth) of Islam.
On another note, if so many Muslim’s contributed and may have even pioneered certain concepts of the Psychology we hear and see about today, why do we not know about them? For that answer, and many more discoveries, tune into this month’s podcast: A Brief History of Islamic Psychology: A Discussion with Dr Rani and embrace your intellectual Islamic history with honour!