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Human Psyche from the Islamic Perspective

13 July, 2018
Q Dear counselor, I would like to understand the basics of human psyche. How does the Sigmund Freud’s model of psyche differ from the Islamic understanding of psyche? Kindly let me know. Also, is there any alternative medicine or non-pharmacological treatment for mood disorders? Can we consult an Unani physician? Thank you.


In this counseling answer:

“The three main stages of nafs described in the Qur’an are the Nafs al`Ammara (The nafs that urges evil), Nafs al`Lawwama (the nafs that blames), and Nafs al`Mutma`inna (The nafs at peace). Similarly, Feud describes three components of the personality: the id, the ego and the superego.”

As-Salamu ‘Alaikum,

To answer the first part of your query, the Islamic understanding of the psyche and Freud’s model of the psyche are commonly compared with regards to the stages of nafs (self) in Islam and the stages of the id, ego, and the superego in Freud’s model. There is a large overlap between these two theories and whilst they are different to some extent, the basic concepts are very similar.

The three main stages of nafs described in the Qur’an are the Nafs al`Ammara (The nafs that urges evil), Nafs al`Lawwama (the nafs that blames), and Nafs al`Mutma`inna (The nafs at peace). Similarly, Feud describes three components of the personality: the id, the ego and the superego.

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The Nafs al-‘Ammara is usually compared to the id. In both the Islamic concept of the psyche and the Freudian model, this stage is the selfish stage where people act solely on their desires with no considerations for anyone or anything else.

“And I do not acquit myself. Indeed, the soul is a persistent enjoiner of evil,
except those upon which my Lord has mercy. Indeed, my Lord is Forgiving and Merciful.” (Qur’an 12:53)

The Nafs al`Lawwama can be compared to the ego and superego in the Freudian model. During this phase, in both models, the person considers right and wrong. Specifically, in the Freudian model, the superego only focusses on what is correct, rejecting what is bad without consideration of things like the ethical consequences of such an action. The ego takes these things into consideration when deciding between right and wrong. 

‘‘And I swear by the reproaching soul [to the certainty of resurrection].’’ (Qur’an 75:2)

Nafs al`Mutma`inna, however, is less comparable to the Freudian model as at this stage people are no longer driven by their desires. They are entirely content and have no battle between aspects of the personality. Good and bad take place as the person is at peace.

[To the righteous it will be said], “O reassured soul, Return to your Lord, well-pleased and pleasing [to Him], And enter among My [righteous] servants And enter My Paradise.” (Qur’an 89: 27-30)

Another difference between the two models is that the nafs in Islam is a single dimension in which a person can change from one level to the next whereas under the Freudian model, all aspects of the id, ego, or superego are present within a person, but their actions appeared to be governed more by a particular aspect of the psyche.

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In response to the second part of your question, there are a number of alternative non-pharmacological treatments available if you are not happy to engage in pharmaceutical intervention. Improving physical health can be a great way to intervene in the case of a mood disorder, and there are several things in particular that can be especially useful:

  • Exercise – releases chemicals into the bloodstream that are natural mood boosters.
  • Sleep well – poor sleep patterns can inevitability result in poor mood and irritability.
  • Cut back on caffeine – this will naturally interrupt a healthy sleep pattern.
  • Eating well – a healthy diet as with exercise can act as natural mood boosters.
  • Taking supplements is an option here with fish oil commonly cited as it’s especially useful in improving mood. Black seed oil and apple cider vinegar are recommended in Islam and can be obtained in natural or capsule form.
  • Consider following a Prophetic diet which stipulates the types of food the Prophet (saw) ate and how much he ate the food he did.
  • Hijamah – commonly known as cupping; an alternative therapy that has been found to beneficial for many ailments.

As for the psychological aspect, there are a number of other additional non-pharmaceutical options available:

  • Counseling – There are many types of counseling available that can help you in a number of ways from simply talking about the problems you face to identifying any potential cause, and identifying and modifying any unhelpful patterns of thoughts and behavior that may result in exacerbations of poor mood.
  • Mindfulness meditation – This is a new psychological technique that works on awareness and acceptance of thoughts and feelings at the moment without judgment.
  • Relaxation techniques – such as progressive muscle relaxation. Changes in mood can lead to bodily reactions similar to that of stress resulting in physical tension without even realizing at times. Relaxation techniques can help to calm this tension and have a subsequent positive effect on mood.
  • Rest – Always remember to schedule time daily to relax and rest. Without this time we will ultimately face a dip in mood as we become overburdened and stressed, so it is important to incorporate rest into our self-care routine.

May Allah (swt) grant you good health and bring you happiness and contentment in this life and the next.



Disclaimer: The conceptualization and recommendations stated in this response are very general and purely based on the limited information provided in the question. In no event shall AboutIslam, its counselors or employees be held liable for any damages that may arise from your decision in the use of our services.


About Hannah Morris
Hannah Morris is a mum of 4 and she currently works as Counsellor and Instructor of BSc. Psychology at the Islamic Online University (IOU). She obtained her MA degree in Psychology and has over 10 years of experience working in health and social care settings in the UK, USA, and Ireland. Check out her personal Facebook page, ActiveMindCare, that promotes psychological well-being in the Ummah. (www.facebook.com/activemindcare)