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Islam and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs

Questioner

Anonymous

Reply Date

Sep 09, 2017

Question

Many of the Muslims in my life seem to act as if nothing in this world matters, as if we should only care about the Hereafter. But psychology teaches us that humans have a sort of hierarchy of human needs. In other words, if one's basic needs are not met, one simply doesn't have the brain power to concern themselves with higher things, like God. What is Islam's teaching on this?

Consultant

Answer


Islam human needs

Peace be with you,

Thank you for sending your question to Ask About Islam.

The reality is that, unfortunately, it seems many Muslims are not informed of basic, common knowledge about psychology.

But the reality is that being Muslim does not protect someone from pain or keep someone from needing what a normal human needs.

No “Prosperity Gospel” in Islam

Islam is simply a codified way of life, given to us from God, and if we follow the rulings, we will have inner peace.

But that’s it. That is the only promise we have from God.

There is no promise anywhere in any of the sources of Islam to say that if we practice Islam to the “T”, we won’t face troubles or hardship or pain.

That is what one calls “The Prosperity Gospel”, and it has no place in Islam.

The greatest Muslims who ever lived, The Prophets and Messengers, suffered some of the most painful lives, and that is the best example we have.

We are absolutely subject to the same needs as everyone else on earth.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs

Abraham Maslow, proposed in 1943 that:

For the man who is extremely and dangerously hungry, no other interests exist but food…Life itself tends to be defined in terms of eating. Anything else will be defined as unimportant. Freedom, love, community feeling, respect, philosophy, may all be waved aside as fripperies which are useless since they fail to fill the stomach. Such a man may fairly be said to live by bread alone…

But what happens to man’s desires when there is plenty of bread and when his belly is chronically filled?

At once other (and ‘higher’) needs emerge and these, rather than physiological hungers, dominate the organism. And when these in turn are satisfied, again new (and still ‘higher’) needs emerge and so on. This is what we mean by saying that the basic human needs are organized into a hierarchy of relative prepotency.

In other words, one must satisfy his or her lowest needs—food, shelter, water, then safety—to have any energy to motivate them to seek out higher things, like hope.

But, when a need has been satisfied, it will cease being a need and our energies will direct themselves towards meeting the next set of needs that we have yet to satisfy.

In that way, yes, if a man doesn’t have the most basic needs met, he will not be physiologically able to concern himself with the Afterlife, or even the next moment.

There are some who argue that these needs and our spiritual needs are on totally different hierarchies, and others who argue that the need for spiritual well-being is at the height of the pyramid, beyond self-actualization.

Either way, none of us, regardless of our religion, has the magical ability to overcome such a basic need as true and real hunger.

No amount of faith can make a man stop needing food.

Allah Wants to Meet Our Needs

The fact is that our needs matter, we cannot act like they don’t matter, and only Allah can give us what we need.

It is Allah who gives us the ability to work for money to buy what we need.

Allah gives us the mind and body to create what we need, to farm the land for our food, and to seek out ways to improve our lives.

All of the many blessings we enjoy in this life are gifts from Allah, and we should seek both our physiological needs and our spiritual needs in the permitted ways (halal).

After all, Allah reminds us not to forget that all our blessings are direct gifts from Him:

So which of the favors of your Lord would you deny? (Quran 55)

Here-and-Now and The Hereafter

You are right to say that this is a common belief among Muslims, and it stems from some misunderstandings about Quranic teachings, as well as teachings of Prophet Muhammad.

For example, Allah said in multiple places throughout the Quran that this life is nothing compared to the Hereafter:

…As compared with the life of the hereafter, the life of this world is nothing but a brief passing enjoyment. (Quran 13:26)

And the life of this world is nothing but play and amusement. But far better is the house in the hereafter for those who are Al-Muttaqun (the pious). Will you not then understand? (Quran 6:32)

Prophet Muhammad also said as much:

(The significance of) this world (in comparison) to the hereafter is similar to one of you dipping his finger in the ocean and then seeing (the amount of water that) has stuck to it. (Muslim)

However, one should not neglect the one for the other.

Allah instructed us to pray for both a good life, here and now, and a good life in the Hereafter:

And among the people is he who says, “Our Lord, give us in this world,” and he will have in the Hereafter no share. But among them is he who says, “Our Lord, give us goodness in this life and goodness in the Hereafter and save us from the punishment of the Hellfire. Those will have a share of what they have earned, and Allah is swift in account. (Quran 2:200-202)

Prophet Muhammad warned us not to neglect our bodies’ needs. He asked a companion:

“(Is it true) that you fast all day and stand in prayer all night?”

The companion replied that the report was indeed true.

The Prophet then said: “Do not do that! Observe the fast sometimes and also leave (it) at other times. Stand up for prayer at night and also sleep at night. Your body has a right over you, your eyes have a right over you and your wife has a right over you.” (Al-Bukhari)

So, you see, both physiological needs and spiritual satisfaction are important.

We must not behave as if Islam protects us from needs. We are not Angels who do not need food, do not crave companionship, and do not need sleep.

I hope this answers your question.


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About Kaighla Um Dayo

Kaighla Um Dayo is the Ask About Islam editor. She is also a regular contributor at islamwich.com, where she ruminates on life as a Muslim American. Her favorite things are meditation, painting, drinking tea, and being outside in nature.

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