Islam Under Scrutiny by Ex-Muslims

Psychotherapy a la Qur’anic Verses

[A note to the readers: All Qur’an translations are by Abdullah Yusuf Ali and are extracted from this website.]

A few weeks ago, I read quite an entertaining essay written by Prof. Manzurul Huq of Dhaka University and published in The Independent on September 10, 2003 as an Op-Ed article. In this essay (read Prof. Manzurul Huq’s article at the end of this rebuttal), Prof. Huq mentioned about his novel idea of using the Holy Qur’an as a tool of Psychotherapy. I would have ignored such a piece of information had it been written by an ordinary Islamist folk; but such a ‘great discovery’ from a Prof. of Psychology (my guess) cannot be simply dismissed as wild imaginations of a Madrassa educated Mullah. I read Prof. Huq’s article intently and I especially scrutinized all the Qur’anic verses he mentioned in his essay. It was quite fascinating to note that Prof. Huq blithely mentioned certain selective verses from the Qur’an without quoting them in full or providing any references in his quibbling essay. 

To satisfy my query, I searched the Qur’an exhaustively and was deeply disturbed at the ruse of Prof. Huq to mislead the uninformed and/or gullible readers by his pedantry and apparent lack of explanation of those selective Qur’anic verses.  Islamists often accuse us of misquoting/misusing/distorting the Qur’anic verses out of context.  When I read Prof. Huq’s article, I had a good chuckle. You will surely discover the compelling reason of my smile when you read the following paragraphs. After reading this rebuttal you will certainly learn for yourself, who are more adept in quoting the Qur’anic verses out of context.  His article made me very confident that in none of our articles we ever misquoted Qur’an out of context. 

Here are the Qur’anic verses that Prof. Huq mentioned but never quoted fully/discussed about its true content. 

Verse 2:30 

This verse cannot be read alone; we need to refer to 2:29-31 to get the complete meaning of this part of Sura al-Baqara (Sura 2). Let us peruse these verses: 

002.029  It is He Who hath created for you all things that are on earth; Moreover His design comprehended the heavens, for He gave order and perfection to the seven firmaments; and of all things He hath perfect knowledge.
002.030  Behold, thy Lord said to the angels: "I will create a vicegerent on earth." They said: "Wilt Thou place therein one who will make mischief therein and shed blood?- whilst we do celebrate Thy praises and glorify Thy holy (name)?" He said: "I know what ye know not."
002.031  And He taught Adam the names of all things; then He placed them before the angels, and said: "Tell me the names of these if ye are right."

It is true that in these verses Allah informs the angels of His intention of creating a human being in the nature (or image) of Allah.  However, the angels were apprehensive that this new creation of Allah would make mischief on earth.  How could the angels foretell the wicked nature of humankind even before Allah had created him (Adam) is totally unknown?  Won’t this tell us that Allah’s angels are a tad smart than the Creator?  Furthermore, if the human created in the ‘spirit’ of Allah could be wicked, then it follows logically that Allah surely has those traits of wickedness in Him as well; because, human beings are truly the reflection of the nature of Allah.  Of course, many exegetes of the Qur’an insist that the angels had no will power of their own, whereas Allah bestowed to human being some limited will power. Even if we accept this crude explanation as palpable, I find no trace of any concept of modern Psychotherapy/Psychology and ‘mind science’ in those verses.  It is a small wonder to me as to how could a professor of modern Psychotherapy/Psychology passes up those antiquated, questionable verses as reflecting the theories of contemporary Psychology?

Verse 15:26-29 

015.026 We created man from sounding clay, from mud moulded into shape;
015.027 And the Jinn race, We had created before, from the fire of a scorching wind.
015.028 Behold! thy Lord said to the angels: "I am about to create man, from sounding clay from mud moulded into shape;
015.029 "When I have fashioned him (in due proportion) and breathed into him of My spirit, fall ye down in obeisance unto him."

Isn’t it funny to discover the laws of Psychotherapy/Psychology in these verses? These four verses talk of how Allah created a human being out of burnt clay and then gave it life by breathing into it His spirit. Any person with the slightest knowledge of science, nature, and the evolutionary concept will find these verses to be totally unscientific and devoid of any erudition of Psychology/Psychotherapy.

Verse 39:53 

039.053 Say: "O my Servants who have transgressed against their souls! Despair not of the Mercy of Allah: for Allah forgives all sins: for He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. 

Who can figure out current Psychology in this verse? I am stupefied that an eminent Professor of Psychology would try to pass up this verse as a tool for Psychotherapy. This verse clearly mentions of the time when Muhammad was weak and Allah asked him to be gentle and patience while preaching to the infidels, for, Allah guarantees His succour to Muhammad. Of course, many Islamists use this verse to soft-sell Islam to the gullible infidels who are completely un-aware of the existence of frightening and fearful verses of the Qur’an that offer them the severest punishment if they do not accept Islam. Even the celebrated translator and the commentator of the Qur’an, Abdullah Yusuf Ali could not discover an iota of Psychological knowledge in this verse.  In his Tafsir (commentary #3485 [i] ) on this verse, he writes: 

“The rejecters of Faith throw out a challenge out of bravado: ‘Let us see if you can hasten the punishment on us!’ this is a vain taunt. God’s Plan will take its course, and can neither be delayed nor hastened, it is out of His Mercy that He gave respite to sinners,-- in order that they may have a chance of repentance. If they do not repent, the Punishment must certainly come to them—and all on a sudden, before they perceive that it is coming! And then it will be too late for repentance.” 

What do we read in the above commentary? We surely notice the vengeful nature of Allah.  Muslim’s Allah is such a spiteful tormentor that He will surely punish those who do not repent their past deeds. Why should a person repent? What wrong has he done? Is it because he worshipped some idols for which Allah must mete out a terrible punishment to him? Is this the Psychology of Allah?  Even an arrant fool won’t be able to find any ingredients of Psychotherapy in those verses, I am really wondering. 

Verse 22:116 (?) 

There is no such verse in the Qur’an, or, at least I could not find it in any version of the Qur’an. In fact, Sura 22 has just 78 verses in it. I guess it is a genuine mistake on the part of the author; an explanation from the author would be appreciative, though.

Verse 49:13 

049.013 O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things). 

Here is another verse that the author uses very cleverly to soft-sell Islam. There are a few ‘good’ words from Allah in this verse. Nevertheless, at first, we must understand why Allah released this Sura. This Sura is connected to a deputation that came to Medina to profess allegiance to Muhammad. It deals with manners and behaviour towards the prophet, because many of those seeking audience with Muhammad were uncivilized, rowdy and ill-mannered Bedouin Arabs. 

That is it.  Now, you know why Muhammad had to tone down his belligerency towards the unruly Bedouins. He wanted to have some peace with these un-civilized desert dwellers and so he posed himself as a very peaceful man to these people. What connection this verse has with Psychotherapy? What Muhammad did was simply what any person would have done. One does not need to have a doctorate in Psychology to espouse this basic instinctive nature of all creatures.

Verse 2:280 

002.280 If the debtor is in a difficulty, grant him time Till it is easy for him to repay. But if ye remit it by way of charity, that is best for you if ye only knew.

This verse says it all. It simply talks of debt write-off. Which branch of Psychology this verse is talking about?  May I ask such a simple question to the author? 

Verse 16:125

016.125 Invite (all) to the Way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for thy Lord knoweth best, who have strayed from His Path, and who receive guidance. 

This Meccan Sura is simply Allah’s advice to Muhammad in preaching his new brand of religion (Islam). Of course, this verse sounds very peaceful and attractive, because Muhammad was very weak during this nascent stage of his proselytising. During this period, he had very little choice but to be gracious, peaceful and accommodative towards his opponents. Abdullah Yusuf Ali, in his commentary (commentary #2162 [ii]) on this verse writes: 

“It may be that the Preacher sometimes says to himself “What is the use of teaching those people? They have made up their minds, or they are obstinate or they are only trying to catch me out.” Let him not yield to such a thought. Who knows how the seed of the Word of God may germinate in people’s minds? It is not for man to look for results. Man’s inner thoughts are known best to God.” 

Why did a learned person such as Abdullah Yusuf Ali fail to note any theory of contemporary Psychology/Psychotherapy in this verse? 

Verse 41:34 

041.034 Nor can goodness and Evil be equal. Repel (Evil) with what is better: Then will he between whom and thee was hatred become as it were thy friend and intimate! 

Muhammad received this Sura from his Allah while he was at Mecca. In the beginning, when he started preaching, he was quite peaceful and accommodating to the pagans. As he was too weak to face the pagans forcefully, he applied this selling-trick of pleasing his tribal people with sugarcoated words. Note that many verses during this period were actually borrowed from the Gospel. Therefore, if one, at all, finds some rules of Psychotherapy, then the credit should go to the Gospel and not to the Qur’an. I wonder why did not the writer mention many ‘Slokas’ that the Buddhists chant for peace and happiness of mankind. In reality, if one really wants to find Psychotherapy in any religious book then the Buddhists meditation techniques and their chanting of‘ ’mantras’ could be the prime examples to find spiritual upliftment and ‘inner’ peace. 

Verse 20:44

020.044 "But speak to him mildly; perchance he may take warning or fear (Allah)." 

This early Meccan Sura narrates the story of Moses and Pharaoh. When Moses became a fugitive after killing an Egyptian, Allah commanded him to meet the mighty Pharaoh. But Moses was very scared that once Pharaoh gets hold of him, he would put Moses on trial for murder and would punish him accordingly. Therefore, Allah asked Moses to be nice to Pharaoh and to speak with this strong ruler gently. One may genuinely doubt the immense power of Allah in this case. Why did Allah have to take the help of Moses to bring back an errand Pharaoh to the ‘Straight Path’? Where is ‘Psychotherapy’ in this verse? In fact, this verse advocates the use of fear to guide one to Allah. Does the modern Psychotherapy use fear (read terror) tactic to the mentally disturbed patients? Is the author suggesting that ‘Islamic terrorism’ is a scientifically proven method to apply Psychotherapy? 

Verse 9:119

009.119 O ye who believe! Fear Allah and be with those who are true (in word and deed). 

This verse is really unabashed in declaring that fear is definitely an effective means to bring people to faith (read Islam). If anyone still doubted the Islamic terror being applied to control the Psychological well being of a person, then this verse will be clear enough. Please re-read the previous explanation (verse 20:44) regarding the use of fear (or terror) to apply Islamic Psychotherapy. 

Verse 29:45

029.045  Recite what is sent of the Book by inspiration to thee, and establish regular Prayer: for Prayer restrains from shameful and unjust deeds; and remembrance of Allah is the greatest (thing in life) without doubt. And Allah knows the (deeds) that ye do.

This verse merely exhorts the believers to offer regular prayers to restrain themselves from some shameful deeds, without specifying what those shameful deeds are. This is done, once again, to instill fear in believer’s mind by reminding the faithful the awesome might of Allah. Shall we not consider this verse to be nothing but a form of coercion to subjugate believers to a questionable Allah and His supreme power? 

It is quite hilarious to read essays from erudite Islamic scholars who discover science, technology, medicine, biology (embryology), botany………etc. in the Qur’an.   Muslims have the fascination for the field of embryology.  Because it deals with human reproduction.  However, Muslims shy away from talking about Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.  Gene cloning, recombinant DNA technology, etc., are taboo subjects too!  And now it is even more amusing when we note that impeccably qualified academics find tools of Psychotherapy in the Qur’an.  Austrian psychotherapist Sigmund Freud must be rolling in his grave hearing that a pedagogue from Dhaka’s Psychology department had found Qur’anic instruction through which one can do psychotherapy.  I wonder which Psychiatrist/clinic/hospital/therapist will concur with the findings of Prof. Manzurul Huq’s latest discovery?  Any guess?  I am anxious to hear from Prof. Huq.  Hello, Prof. Huq, do you hear me?        

[i] Ali, A. Yusuf, The Holy Quran, Translation and commentary, Amana Corp. (1983); 4411  41st St. Brentwood, Maryland 20722, p.1044 

[ii] Ibid,  p.690  

Here I include the seminal findings of Prof. Manzurul Huq as published in Dhaka’s Daily Independent on September 10, 2003:  

Quranic approach to psychotherapy

Psychotherapeutic measures as involved in the Quranic program of healthy personality development, are directed towards the achievement of fullest development of innate divine potentialities of human beings and helping them to overcome obstacles to be encountered in the course of such development.

As potential Khalifa or vicegerent of Allah Subhanahu Wa Ta'ala (Al-Quran, 2:30), each human being possesses an unbounded reserve of resources consisting of nascent divine traits representing the Attributes of Allah (SWT) in finite forms. Being Divine vicegerent, the core entity of human being is essentially spiritual in nature. However this spiritual entity has been infused in an animal structure of man (Al-Quran, 15:26-29). This interaction of spirit with an animal body has provided man with immense developmental promises as well as special vulnerabilities for personality development. In realizing the spiritual promises individuals are required to successfully overcome these inherent vulnerabilities as well as get through the hurdles and obstacles stemming from their socio-physical environment. 

Qalb (Heart), the Key Entity in Regulating Behaviour and Shaping Personality: In the interactive functions between the spiritual entity and the physical body Islamic tradition identifies qalb or heart to be playing the key role. This Qalb is not synonymous with the physical heart. It is a transcendental supra-sensuous entity that, however, is functionally and inextricably related to physical heart, The transcendental heart holds the reins of human personality. It regulates all sorts of behavioural functions and drives and steers personality through the entire course of its development. The Holy Quran has therefore made qalb the prime target of its developmental program. Heart (Qalb) operating in combination with aql (intellect) and irada (will), two innate properties of heart, constructs a cognitive map- a cognitive frame of reference - as well as generates and adopts appropriate plan of actions to traverse through this cognitive map to attain the life-goals. Thus the whole behaviour pattern and the total human personality are inextricably anchored to heart. States and Phases of Personality Development: Opposed to aql (intellect), there is another element related to Qalb called shailaniyya (demonic element) that represents destructive force in human self. Both intellect and demonic element struggle to get hold of shahwa (appetite) and gadhab (anger), two animal drives related to self, to use them as tools for their respective purposes. Aql employs these drives for the growth and development of self by diverting them to constructive channels. If it succeeds in subordinating them to make them useful to self. The devil in him also becomes subdued and its malignant influences also become ineffective. Once the mischievous tendency of devilish element has been neutralized and the animal drives are made to work in harmony with Aql the conflict of the opposing forces comes to an end and a state of harmony and balance prevails in personality. This state of peace is referred to in Al-Quran as al nafs-al-mutmainnah or the tranquil soul. With the internal harmony achieved through the ascendancy of heart's divine property of aql, self also gets fully attuned to the Divine design and guidance that enables it to make unimpeded progress towards actualizing its innate divine potentialities leading towards the goal --state of Divine vicegerency. 

At the opposite pole of development when the animal forces overpower the divine element at the instigation of 'shaitaniyya', evil tendencies dominate and reign over self. Aql gets weakened and its functions are blocked and paralyzed. As a result all other faculties of self become subservient to animal forces and eventually aql may also become their captive. All these faculties are then used to fulfil the impulses of passion, anger, and lust and finally reason is also made to serve them by making plans and schemes for the gratification of these impulses. 

Intervening between the above two phases there is an intermediate state. Self in this state is characterized by constant vigilance and self-awareness. It strives continuously to get rid of lower passions and desires through self-criticism, scrutinizing its actions in the light of reasoning and reflection. The Holy Quran has termed this state as al-nafs-allawwamah i.e, the reproaching self. If nurtured to its maturity this state may become a prelude to the final state of tranquil soul. Therapeutic processes as involved Al-Quran, therefore, consists of measures for guiding individuals to a transition through the lower personality phases to the final state of tranquil soul. 

Faith and Cognition of Tawheed is the Vital Force Liberating Human Being: To liberate human souls from the overriding influences of animal and demonic elements as well as from other alien forces of world and universe, Al-Quran has followed a program of implanting an all-encompassing faith and cognition of Tawheed, the faith and realization of the Omnipotence and Absolute Sovereignty of Allah (SWT), in the hearts of the people. To assimilate the faith and cognition of Tawheed in all its purity, the heartbeds of the believers were also being weeded out of all bases and sources of false perceptions and assumptions about life and reality i.e., all kinds -of false deities be they gods or their images, and any other things, such as people and societies, wealth, power or positions, assumed to have independent capacities to influence human life and destiny besides the Being of Allah (SWT). 

This triggered the process of surging up the divine reserves of human hearts and souls and consequent emergence of a growing all-encompassing conscience that enabled the believing individuals gradually to get rid of their vicious behavioural practices and shape their personalities into positive moulds of Divine vicegerency by stages, keeping pace with the growing levels of maturity of hearts' Tawheed-based cognitive structure.  

Some Therapeutic Impacts of Quranic-World View: The Holy Quran presents Allah (SWT) as the All-Powerful, All-Wise, Omniscient Creator, Sustainer and Provider as well as the Most Merciful, Beneficent Oft-Forgiving Being. The totality of creation is also stated in Al-Quran as a Divinely ordered purposive system. Belief and cognition of such Divine Attributes would generate most salubrious kind of optimism in the hearts of the believers and provide them with constant drive for continuous forward thrust in their personality strivings and enable them to face all challenges of lives with vigour and zest.

Annoying effects of sustained self-reproaches and guilt-feelings, that often plague human psyche, are successfully overcome by adherents to Quranic belief in the Merciful and Forgiving Divine Being. Such a person can always resume his efforts to rebuild his personality in response to the Divine call of total forgiveness even after being totally wrecked ( Al-Quran, 39:53). 

Harmful effects of worrying and lamenting over untoward occurrences in life, that often results in eating up our vigour and strength, can be effectively prevented and reverted by a trust in the Absolute Wisdom of Divine Design and Providence ( 22:116).

Even persons who are mentally retarded or physically handicapped or have inferior social status by birth, should not feel crippled and barred from attaining success in life. Because, honour in the eyes of Allah (SWT), the real measure of genuine success, lies in Taqwa, i.e., piety and God-fearingness, and not in any condition beyond one's voluntary control (49:13; 2:280). In sum, the total harmonious Quranic world-view with a definite Divine design, would replace the perception of a random chaotic and purposeless universe with the cognition of a profoundly meaningful, superbly ordered, adequately predictable system of life and universe, where man as the most resourceful Divine agent has been assigned a central and most dignified role to play. Such a view of life and universe would salvage modem man from all bewildering and crippling perplexities of meaninglessness in life. 

Some Quranic Principles and Etiquettes Involved in the Practice of Counselling and Behaviour Modification: Al-Quran has laid pivotal importance on the sincerity and purity of motivation for the acts of persuasion and counselling. The Holy Quran says that the sole motive of all the prophets for counselling people was to gain return from Allah alone (26:164, 180). However, attaining Divine pleasure was the highest form of return for them. 

Two basic features characterizing the mission of the Divine apostles were genuine love and positive regard for the fellow human beings. These two qualities have special bearing on the practice of counselling and psychotherapy as they are essential requirements for establishing effective rapport with clients and patients and for gaining their trust and confidence. Besides love and positive regard, Allah (SWT) also exhorts prophets to deal softly and to employ wisdom in their acts of persuasion and counselling (20:44; 16:125).

A supremely generous and extremely effective principle stated in Al-Quran for bringing change in attitude and behaviour of others is to counter evil with good (41:34). Al-Quran also counsels the believers to remain with the truthful people (9:119). The people can be immensely benefited by such practice from the group norm of righteous persons.

Therapeutic Impacts of Regular Practice of Salaat (Ritual Prayer), And Zikr (Remembrance of Allah). 

Therapeutic impacts of the above practices lie, among other things, in activating the transcendental dimension of human self through exclusive absorption in the perceptual presence of Allah (SWT) and intimate communion with Him. With the ascendancy of transcendental dimension in personality through the practice of regular salaat and abundance of Zikr, individuals gain control over their animal instincts and get rid of all kind of immodest and unjust behaviour (29:45). They also play significant roles in removing worries of life and multiple dispersions of personality.

Some Relevant Contributions of Early Muslim Scholars: In the end, some references have been made to some highly effective therapeutic principles and methods that were devised and practiced by some great Muslim philosopher-psychologists and physicians centuries earlier than their discoveries by modem psychologists. These therapeutic principles and devices were largely derived from their understanding of the Quranic concepts of human nature and personality. 

[The writer is Professor, Department of Psychology; Dhaka University. This article is an abridged version of his paper presented as Professor Mofassil Uddin Ahmed Trust Fund Lecture 2003 recently.]

Abul Kasem is an Bengali ex-Muslim and academic. He has contributed in Leaving Islam - Apostates Speak Out and Beyond Jihad - Critical Voices from Inside and Why We Left Islam.. He has also written extensively on Islam in various websites and is the author of five e-Books: A Complete Guide to Allah, Root of Terrorism ala Islamic Style, Sex and Sexuality in Islam, Who Authored the Quran? and Women in Islam. Mr. Kasem leaves in Sydney, Australia. He can be contacted at