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Role of Psychology in Muslim Eyes

Psychology is the study of behavior and mind, embracing all aspects of human experience. It’s an academic discipline and an applied science. It seeks to understand individuals and groups by establishing general principles and researching specific cases.

A psychologist and can be a social, behavioral, or cognitive scientist. Psychologists attempt to understand the role of mental functions in individual and social behavior. They also explore the physiological and biological processes that underlie cognitive functions and behaviors.

They explore concepts such as perception, cognition, attention, emotion, intelligence, phenomenology, motivation, brain functioning, personality, behavior, and interpersonal relationships. That’s in addition to psychological resilience, family resilience, and other areas. Psychologists of diverse orientations also consider the unconscious mind. Psychologists employ empirical methods to infer causal and correlational relationships between psychosocial variables.

In addition, or in opposition, to employing empirical and deductive methods, some—especially clinical and counseling psychologists—at times rely upon symbolic interpretation and other inductive techniques. Psychology is a “hub science”; psychological findings link to research and perspectives from the social sciences, natural sciences, medicine, humanities, and philosophy.

While psychological knowledge is often applied to the assessment and treatment of mental health problems, it is also directed towards understanding and solving problems in several spheres of human activity. By many accounts psychology ultimately aims to benefit society.

The majority of psychologists play a therapeutic role, practicing in clinical, counseling, or school settings. Many do scientific research on a wide range of topics related to mental processes and behavior. They typically work in university psychology departments or teach in other academic settings (e.g., medical schools, hospitals).

Some work in industrial and organizational settings, or in other areas such as human development and aging, sports, health, and the media, as well as in forensic investigation and other aspects of law.

Medieval Muslim physicians developed practices to treat patients suffering from a variety of “diseases of the mind”. For instance, Ahmed ibn Sahl al-Balkhi (850–934) was among the first, in this tradition, to discuss disorders related to both the body and the mind, arguing that “if the nafs [psyche] gets sick, the body may also find no joy in life and may eventually develop a physical illness.”

Al-Balkhi recognized that the body and the soul can be healthy or sick. He wrote that imbalance of the body can result in fever, headaches and other bodily illnesses. That’s while imbalance of the soul can result in anger, anxiety, sadness and other nafs-related symptoms.

He recognized two types of what we now call depression: one caused by known reasons such as loss or failure, which can be treated psychologically; and the other caused by unknown reasons possibly caused by physiological reasons, which can be treated through physical medicine.

The polymath Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen) carried out experiments in visual perception and the other senses, including variations in sensitivity, sensation of touch, perception of colors, perception of darkness, the psychological explanation of the moon illusion, and binocular vision.

Al-Biruni also employed such experimental methods in examining reaction time. Avicenna, similarly, did early work in the treatment of nafs-related illnesses, and developed a system for associating changes in the pulse rate with inner feelings. Avicenna also described phenomena we now recognize as neuropsychiatric conditions, including hallucination, insomnia, mania, nightmare, melancholia, dementia, epilepsy, paralysis, stroke, vertigo and tremor.

Other medieval Muslim thinkers who discussed issues related to psychology included: Ibn Sirin who wrote a book on dreams and dream interpretation. Al-Kindi (Alkindus) has also developed forms of music therapy.

Ali ibn Sahl Rabban al-Tabari developed al-‘ilaj al-nafs (sometimes translated as “psychotherapy”), while Al-Farabi (Alpharabius) discussed subjects related to social psychology and consciousness studies.

Ali ibn Abbas al-Majusi (Haly Abbas) described neuroanatomy and neurophysiology, and Abu al-Qasim al-Zahrawi (Abulcasis) described neurosurgery. On his behalf, Abu Rayhan al-Biruni described reaction time; and Ibn Tufail anticipated the tabula rasa argument and nature versus nurture debate.

Ibn Zuhr (Avenzoar) described disorders similar to meningitis, intracranial thrombophlebitis, and mediastinal germ cell tumors; while Averroes attributed photoreceptor properties to the retina. And Maimonides described rabies and belladonna intoxication.

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What role does Psychology play when it comes to dealing with challenges from an Islamic perspective? We had the pleasure of interviewing Haleh Banani.

She has a Masters of Clinical Psychology with 20 years of experience within the field of Islam and Psychology. Banani is also the host of her own TV show, “With Haleh”. There, she combines principles of psychology and Islam to help people reach their potential.


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