Dealing with Psychosocial Problems: Islamic Perspectives

Dealing with Psychosocial Problems: Islamic Perspectives

Dealing with Psychosocial Problems:

Application of the Islamization of Social Science Methodology


Ibrahim A. Ragab 

Professor, Department of Sociology & Anthropology 

Kulliyyah of Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences, International Islamic University Malaysia 



This is a modified version of a paper submitted to the Second Integration Workshop, Organized by the Kulliyyah of Islamic Revealed Knowledge & Human Sciences, September 1997.

[Psychosocial Problems - Social Work - Islamization Of Knowledge – Spirituality – Assessment- Intervention - Islamization of Social Science – Islamic Perspectives – Ibrahim Ragab]

Dealing with Psychosocial Problems : A Partial Attempt at

The Application of the Islamization of Social Science Methodology

I- Introduction

The Islamization of Knowledge (IOK) project is now almost twenty years old, but is it coming of age yet? There are those who maintain that the movement is still in its infancy, and that we should not expect much of it as yet. Others feel that the project could have done much better, given the fact that it did start with an exceptionally clear idea of its goals, and with a well-designed program to achieve them in the form of a detailed Workplan. The truth seems to reside somewhere in between these two positions. On the one hand, a lot has been indeed accomplished in terms of bringing the idea to the attention of untold numbers of scholars across the World of Islam. The IOK idea is increasingly gaining adherents, as it is gaining in the clarity of its core concepts. It is becoming clear that it could be approached through two pathways, which should converge in the long run, i.e. the Islamization of the social sciences (ISSc), and the reform of Islamic (Sharia) sciences. Fortunately, the contours of the methodology for the Islamization of the social sciences seem to be fast taking shape. However, we have to admit that work done until now still leaves a lot to be desired. Most contributions are still too general and too abstract. Many participants in the project do not feel comfortable with mere general descriptions of the methodology. Unless they see specific examples of applications of the Islamization of social sciences methodology, a cloud of vagueness would still shroud the project.

But to attempt to apply the Islamization of social science methodology to a specific subject or to an area of specialized content at this point in time should-as a matter of principle-be out of question, for very obvious reasons. The methodology of (ISSc) is a complex, two-tiered process. It could never be conceived of as a one-shot effort, to be completed by a single individual or organization, at a single point in time. As will be discussed below, that methodology consists of two distinct but closely linked phases: 1) integral theorizing and, 2) validation through research. Each phase by its nature assumes an extended time frame, requires certain sequencing with the other one, and each is obviously based in interdisciplinary collaborative efforts. Each by itself is extremely demanding. What is being attempted does not follow clear precedent as much as exploring uncharted terrain. This is a drastically different situation from what you would expect in the more routine, "normal" science, theory-building and research. 

However, recognizing the need to counteract what looks like a creeping sense of disillusionment about the practicality even of the concept of Islamization of Knowledge itself, it may be justifiable to provide at least a partial attempt at the application of the (ISSc) methodology to a specific area. The only condition, however, is that the attempt – as premature as it may be- should not compromise what is methodologically sound. It should be indicative of the possibilities without attempting the methodologically unattainable. This indeed is the only justification of attempting something like the current exercise, which consciously strives to abide by these conditions. To explain what is meant here, let me lay out the strategy adopted in the current work:

1) An attempt will be made at the "partial" application of only “the first phase” of the Islamization of social science methodology (integral theorizing) to a specific, concrete subject, i.e. the etiology and treatment of psychosocial problems.

2) The second phase of the methodology, while not attempted at all, will only be tangentially approached, that is, by suggesting examples of possible research problems - directly derived from the outcome of phase one (integral theorizing) - for testing in future research or professional practice. 

It is hoped that this strategy would adequately address the limited purpose of the exercise, i.e. to demonstrate the mechanics involved in the task of "integration" of Islamic revealed knowledge with the relevant social science scholarship. It should be made clear at this point that even under the best of circumstances, this exercise does not by itself constitute an Islamization of the selected subject… only the first phase thereof. By pointing out propositions derived from the integrated theoretical framework, it is hoped that researchers would be sensitized to the still-unfinished task of the second requirement of Islamization methodology i.e. validating any theoretical insights through rigorous research and professional practice.

In the first part of this paper, a preliminary statement will be made on the basic assumptions regarding the concept of (ISSc) and the major components of its methodology. In the second part, a brief account of the Islamic perspective on human nature is introduced, which shows its distinctiveness as contrasted with the prevailing positivist/ empiricist paradigm. On the basis of the discussion of human nature, we move in the third part to discuss the nature of personal, psychosocial problems and their etiology from an Islamic perspective. An attempt is then made in the fourth part to describe the basic components of interventions that may help alleviate such problems on the basis of the analyses introduced in the previous parts of the paper. 

As far as the treatment of the subject and the presentation of the material are concerned, certain restrictions are unavoidable. The subject of this paper is evidently so broad that it could only be attempted in book-length work. Selection of relevant material is determined by the purpose of the exercise, i.e. to provide an example of the application of the methodology of the Islamization of the social sciences. Limitations of space would not allow for full systematic documentation of the vast Arabic material on which the paper is based. Only a few most essential verses from the Quran (out of the –literally- hundreds of verses relevant to the subject) are included. No attempt is made at exhaustiveness or representativeness of all views on the subject neither in modern social sciences nor in Islamic revealed knowledge. A long article on the subject - in Arabic - will be published soon which is includes significant Arabic quotations, more documentation, and more details.

II- Basic Assumptions

Islamization Of Knowledge And Islamization Of The Social Sciences :

The classical definition and the elucidation of the concept of Islamization of Knowledge introduced by the late Ismael Al-Faruki in his seminal paper in 1982 still captures the essence of that process, especially from the standpoint of those currently involved in the Islamization of the social sciences. To Islamize, to him, is to "recast knowledge as Islam relates to it.. i.e. to redefine and reorder the data, to rethink the reasoning and relating of the data, to reevaluate the conclusions, to reproject the goals - and to do so in such a way as to make the disciplines enrich the vision and serve the cause of Islam" (p.15). As he elaborates on the process through which these objectives could be attained, he describes the "necessary steps [which] must be taken, their logical order defines the order of priority belonging to each..". The three main components of the IOK process could be simply paraphrased as follows:

1- Mastery of modern disciplines, and the critical assessment of their methodologies, research findings, and theories from the vantage point of the Islamic perspective. 

2 - Mastery of the Islamic legacy, and the critical assessment of Islamic scholarship against a) a pristine Revelational perspective b) current needs of the Ummah, and c) modern advances in human knowledge.

3- Creative synthesis of the Islamic legacy and modern knowledge; a creative leap "to bridge over the gap of centuries of non-development". (p.p. 38-45).

This conceptualization of IOK is very readily applicable to the Islamization of the social sciences, i.e. the first pathway to the Islamization of Knowledge. It will be used as our guide to the methodology of the social sciences and to its attempted application. As far as the second pathway is concerned those currently engaged in Islamic “Sharia” sciences should be expected to start with a focus on task 2 above looking into ways of reforming their specialization, moving in the direction of integration with modern social sciences. But in the long run, both pathways are expected to merge into one unified Islamic-oriented science. 

A Methodology for Islamization of the Social Sciences:

Even the cursory examination of the foregoing conceptualization of Islamization of Knowledge shows it to be a straightforward, almost intuitive process. The conceptualization, however, is too general. The third component in particular, i.e. the "creative synthesis" of the Islamic legacy and modern knowledge, admittedly the most crucial task, is also the most difficult one to deal with. We are left here without specific guidelines as to how this feat could be achieved. That task is understandably very demanding, but it is not as hopeless or forbidding as it initially appears. How can we reconcile the two divergent realms of knowledge, Islamic revealed knowledge and the social sciences? How can we combine their respective methodologies into one unified scheme of scientific investigation - without infringing on any intrinsic, inviolable characteristics of either one? 

The solution seems to lie squarely in the familiar formula for the dialectical relationship of theory and research. [For a detailed discussion, see e.g. Ragab, 1993). The methodology for achieving that synthesis of Islamic revealed knowledge and the social sciences could be attempted basically in two distinct but closely related phases. In the first phase, insights from both sources of knowledge are integrated into a unified or integral "theoretical framework". In the second phase, hypotheses derived from that theoretical framework are to be validated in well-designed research and practice efforts. A brief description of the specific steps of that model for Islamizing any particular social science subject is summarized below.

Phase I : Integral Theorizing:

(1) Survey, and rigorous assessment, of relevant social science contributions dealing with the subject under study. This would be carried out as follows:

1. Identification of all conceptual frameworks and research findings that pertain to the subject studied - both within the generally accepted "normal" science sources and the marginal, dissenting views in the concerned discipline.

2. Rigorous critique of both types of contributions (normal and critical) from the vantage point of the Islamic perspective (that is, the distinctive Islamic epistemology and ontology especially as it relates to God, man, and society). 

3. Sifting out concepts, empirical generalizations, and observations which stood the test of that rigorous critique, from those which failed the test (normally this will be found in the form of theoretical frameworks steeped in a warped, incomplete, limited and/or limiting philosophy of science).

(2) Survey, and rigorous assessment, of relevant Islamic revealed knowledge material, which deal with the subject under study. This would be carried out as follows:

1. Identification of all verses of the Noble Quran and the Sayings of the Prophet (PBUH) which pertain to the subject. Search of standard exegeses for acceptable interpretations of these verses and of the selected Hadiths.

2. Searching the works of prominent Muslim scholars-past and present-which dealt directly or indirectly with the subject. Such contributions should also be assessed to determine whether they indeed have any intrinsic value of their own that transcends their specific time and space.

3. The combination of insights gained from the Quran and Sunnah and appropriate Islamic scholarship into one theoretical framework, which may represent the Islamic perspective on the subject.

(3) Development of the unified "integral" theoretical framework, which combines insights from both Islamic, revealed knowledge sources and valid human experience as follows:

1. Rearrangement of all valid research findings and social science concepts, which withstood the verification and assessment process; and the reinterpretation of these findings, utilizing the theoretical insights gained through steps (1) and (2) above.

2. Statement of the results of such a synthesis in the form of clear, formal propositions, which would constitute the building blocks of a coherent deductive system that lends itself to the process of deriving hypotheses for testing in research and practice in Phase II.

Phase II : Validation of the integral theoretical framework through rigorous research and practice:

(1) Hypotheses generated from the integral theoretical framework should be tested in "total reality" which includes both the empirical and the nonempirical aspects of the world. Testing and validation could take place a) in well-designed pieces of research, and b) in controlled practice episodes within the helping professions (such as social work and counseling).

(2) If hypotheses derived from the integral theoretical framework are confirmed, our confidence in that framework increases. This would lead to further development and internal differentiation of our integral theory…as is the case with normal science activities.

(3) If the hypotheses were rejected, that means either a) that our research methods and our practice procedures are wanting; or b) that our understanding or interpretation of revelation included in Phase I is incorrect and needs reformulation. Corrective action should be taken either way. 

III- Human Nature in the Islamic Perspective 

It would be inconceivable to study the dynamics of why human beings suffer psychosocial problems without basing the study on a clear understanding of what exactly constitutes this “human being”. There is no question that all theorizing in the social sciences do rest on assumptions about human nature. However, such assumptions are rarely put forward explicitly, let alone being critically examined. They are taken for granted - a matter of faith …almost ! Which is a disservice to science. It flies in the face of the spirit of honest and impartial scientific investigation. When we examine such assumptions, it becomes immediately clear to us that social scientists generally embrace the specific Western civilizational worldview, and use its tenets as their working ontological and epistemological assumptions underlying all theory building. Even when we have apparently very different schools of thought in the social sciences, the proponents of each generally still operate within the parameters of their all-embracing cultural constellation.

Augros and Stancieu, in an interesting chapter in their 1984 book on "The New Story of Science", spared us the need for detailed documentation of the positions taken by different schools of thought in modern Western scholarship regarding human nature. They critically reviewed the ontological and the epistemological assumptions upon which Western thinkers and particularly behavioral scientists have based their understanding of the nature of the human being. They paid special attention to contrasting the views held by the major leading figures in the different schools of psychology. 

Psychoanalysts especially Freud, according to them, do not see in the human being anything but his material body, driven by instincts or drives, and hopelessly a prisoner of his past. The behaviorists, especially Watson, were even more materialistic and more mechanistic to the extent of denying any role for a human mind. In contrast, the Humanists and the Cognitive/ Mentalists went so far as to recognize a role for the mind, awareness, and intentionality of human behavior. However, when a leading humanist, Abraham Maslow (1971), went as far as admitting a role for a “spiritual life” for certain “evolved” human beings, he hastened to declare that this spiritual life is instinctoid, species-wide, but has to be conceived of only as an aspect of human biology. “It is a kind of ‘higher’ animality…”(p.p. 313-315). It goes without saying that all the mainstream schools of thought in the social sciences, past and present, were concerned in their explorations only with life in “this” world, nothing beyond. There is no role for a transcendent spirit or soul. No role for God, except when seen as a human invention. Bergin (1980) testifies that "an examination of 30 introductory psychology texts turned up no references to the possible reality of spiritual factors. Most did not have the words God or religion in their indexes".

Islamic revealed knowledge, in contrast, provides us with a radically different view of human nature, which do - at the same time - encompass whatever seems essential in social science scholarship. An integral theoretical framework informed by the Islamic perspective may tentatively be stated briefly in something like the following propositions:

(1) Human beings are unique, dignified creatures, created by The One God (in Arabic, Allah): the omnipotent, omniscient, most merciful; who is in complete control over the whole universe, which in its entirety was created by Him -unaided and without any partners or intermediaries.

(2) Human beings were created with a purpose, that is, to worship God (ibadah) -which includes the following:

a. Knowing God, identifying his unmatchable Noble Attributes,

b. Feeling the awesomeness of His power and infinite mercy, with the result of being filled with unbounded reverence and love to Him. 

c. Acting according to His commands, as they settle on earth and take charge of their duties of utilizing its resources and caring for it (imarah & istikhlaf).

(3) A human being is made up basically of two components: a material body and a transcendent, non-material spirit or soul. The unity of the two components brings into existence a new composite that may be thought of as the psyche (nafs), the behavior of which is observable, with its functions discernible. This emergent aspect of human existence is what we normally think of when we refer to "a person". It is incessantly concerned with the "survival" of the human being. It represents the arena where the dynamic interaction and negotiation between the two basic constituents, body and soul perpetually goes on (compare: ego functions).

(4) Human behavior is the resultant of the dynamic interplay between these two forces as refereed, coordinated, and controlled by the human psyche, as reflected in the stream of consciousness. Man cannot be understood when reduced to either one of these components to the exclusion of the other, or when the dynamic "interaction" between the two components is ignored.

(5) Because of the very nature of the body and its strong, persistent, unremitting, and continuous need for material gratification, it tends to more readily get the attention of the total person. Maslow comes very close to realizing this, when his empirical observations lead him to conclude that our animal, material, "lower" needs are prepotent to our spiritual, "higher" needs, which are in comparison… "timid and weak, and so easily lost.." (p. 315).

(6) As the "person” is perennially preoccupied with his survival (staying as one unity) he tends to go to excesses - overstepping his bounds - in his single-minded devotion to ministering to his bodily needs. This naturally leads to certain behaviors characteristic of those who are obsessed with the pursuance of bodily, material gratifications. The Noble Quran provides us with certain details on many of these unflattering tendencies as characteristic of al-Insan "the human being" who indulges for example in: 

a) hoarding and accumulating of worldly possessions,

b) holding tight (with miserliness) to what material amenities he accumulates,

c) becomes overly frustrated if he looses some, and 

d) becomes overly vain when he has more than what he needs. 

A person who only succumbs to such human tendencies (which means that he has become forgetful of his spiritual calling), surrendering himself to such types of indulgent behavior, invariably leads a bungled life of perpetual worry and recurrent dissatisfaction and frustration. The Holy Quran tells us: “Truly man was created very impatient (19) Fretful when evil touches him (20) And niggardly when good reaches him (21) Not so those devoted to Prayer (22) Those who remain steadfast to their prayer (23) And those in whose wealth is a recognized right (24) For the (needy) who asks and him who is prevented (for some reason from asking)(25) And those who hold to the truth of the Day of Judgment (26) And those who fear the displeasure of their Lord (27)” [Al-Ma’rij].

(7) But the "spiritual aspect" of human existence [note verses 22-27 above and subsequent verses in the same Surah] helps counteract these overindulgent tendencies. In a way, it is the only antidote for these potentially destructive tendencies. Spiritual aspects refer basically to the special link between the human being and his Creator. These “spiritual factors” exert their influence on the basis of the following principles:

a. Before human beings came to be into this worldly existence, God summoned all human souls (in a state as if like atoms) to an audience where He acquainted them with His attributes, and they all were asked to declare that they bear witness (ish’had), and do consent to a covenant that He is their Lord. “When thy Lord drew forth from the Children of Adam from their loins, their descendants, and made them testify concerning themselves, (saying): "Am I not your Lord (Who cherishes and sustains you)?" They said: "Yea! We do testify!" (This), lest ye should say on the Day of Judgment: "Of this we were never mindful." Or lest ye should say: "Our fathers before us may have taken false gods, but we are (their) descendants after them: wilt Thou then destroy us because of the deeds of men who were futile?" [Al-A’raf : 172-173]. All human souls came to experience first-hand the awesomeness of God’s power and His infinite mercy. At once they were filled with feelings of love and awe, and knew that they have no “life” in any real sense except through their intimate closeness to Him. This is an expression of the innate, primordial state that may be called (Fitrah).

b. After humans are born and as they gain awareness of their existence, they become open to environmental influences through socialization processes. They need “reminders” of the covenant, which brings us to the significance of the role of the Messengers of God, who transmit Revelation containing the same terms of the covenant, that is (Tawhid). So, whoever has kept his innate fitrah intact will immediately see the truth in "true" revelation once he sees one. But those who have sullied their fitrah would resist the acknowledgement of the truth, and may ignore or even deny God’s message. 

c. God has ordained that whoever sincerely responds to the call of his pristine fitrah (thus becomes among the faithful, and consequently heeds God’s commandments) will invariably lead a good life in this world and will be rewarded with nothing less than the ultimate success (falah) in the hereafter. And for those who have spoiled their fitrah (becoming disbelievers or going astray) their lot will be misery in this life and in the hereafter as well. The concept of an afterlife is pivotal for the Islamic perspective, because it is at the day of final reckoning that all accounts will ultimately be settled, and the final abode in an immortal life of bliss or otherwise is decided. 

d. A person’s heart or (al-qualb) in Islamic usage - not necessarily the physical heart - represents the emotive link between the cognitive and the volitional. Its directive role and its influence over human behavior is pronounced. Al-Ghazalli gives the concept of (al-qualb) an overarching position that overlaps with the whole of the human spirit, that to him is capable of acquiring knowledge, being the locus of fitrah, and being the mainstay of the spiritual functions i.e. link to God. If the heart then is “healthy”, the person would be in a state of continual remembrance of God, behaving only in ways prescribed by Him, and thus living in harmony with himself, with others, and with his Creator. On the other hand, if the heart is “sick”, the spiritual functions are defunct, overindulgence and excessiveness are the rule, behavior is disorderly and erratic, and the quality of total life in general diminishes.

In sum, as the Islamic worldview would have it, human beings are made up of body and soul, born with Tawhid inscribed in their innermost being. Existence in this life is a transient but very significant part of a whole continuum of existence: life- death-resurrection -afterlife. Human beings are accountable to God for everything they do. What is willfully "intended" counts just as do overt actions (concept of Niyyah). How man relates to God is of essence. It determines how man relates to everything in the world around him. Continuous spiritual purification (tazkiyah) affects relationship of man to God and also to fellow man, and it determines -in the last analysis- the quality of human existence. The good life is the balanced life, which takes into consideration both the physical and the spiritual aspects. Success is not to be defined in terms of this-worldly achievements alone, it identifies the hereafter as the "real" state of being that ultimately counts. Its significant place in the scheme of things is highly recognized.

IV - Understanding Psychosocial Problems 

Modern Social Science Perspectives:

The material to be presented in this section is basically meant for the non-specialist who is interested mainly in an example of the application of the methodology of the Islamization of the social sciences. It summarizes very briefly material found in standard textbooks. Modern social scientists agree that human beings are inherently “social” beings. They are driven to live in groups to be able to satisfy their inexhaustible human needs. This leads them to engage in all sorts of “interactions” as they seek gratification of their needs. As interactions are repeated under similar conditions to satisfy similar types of needs, certain patterns of “social relationships” emerge. Certain arrangements and material structures become necessary to serve as loci for such interactions and relationships. A number of “social institutions” such as the family, economic institutions, political institutions emerge as society’s organized way to regulate human interactions as people strive to meet their collective needs. A number of localized norms inform interactions within each institution; and a number of social and religious values inform all interactions in all social institutions. (Olsen, 1968).

Each social institution, then, serves a number of related functions, and is comprised of a number of related social “statuses”, each of which has certain social “roles” prescribed for those who occupy each status. A person is assigned a number of statuses in different social institutions, and is expected to behave in accordance with the socially assigned “role expectations”. In the end, a person would occupy a number of statuses whose more or less clearly identifiable role expectations may or may not be easily reconcilable. Role conflict, in its different forms, presents itself as an imminent possibility, especially in times of rapid social change. In any case, we are told that to the extent that a person behaves in ways that adequately fulfill his role obligations he is said to be socially well-adjusted. When he fails to meet these role obligations, he is said to be socially maladjusted. Maladjustment is accentuated by problems in social relationships, predictably enough, with those involved in the enactment of the social roles concerned. A person would then be said to experience “problems in social functioning”. These problems take place exactly at the "interface" between the psychological aspects of personal coping and social aspects of societal expectations, hence the designation: "psychosocial problems". 

All human beings, then, are prone to experience psychosocial difficulties at one time or another in their lives. The individual tries to tackle these difficulties on his own, or with the help of others in his close natural social network. If such efforts fail and the difficulties become more complicated and emotionally charged, the individual may seek professional help from certain social agencies. Teams of helping professionals (such as social workers, counselors, psychologists and psychotherapists) who man these agencies provide their services to such individuals (normally referred to as clients). On the basis of a thorough investigation of each individual case, they reach a specific diagnosis, and put together a treatment plan with the full involvement of the client. Examples of such problems may include marital problems, child abuse, truancy, drug abuse, juvenile delinquency, absenteeism in the workplace.. etc. as the case may be.

The specific assessment and subsequent intervention by the helping professional rest on the general “practice theory” he subscribes to. Unfortunately, the helping professions faithfully follow the views we summarized in our discussion on human nature outlined above. Psychosocial problems are understood in psychological terms as manifestations of certain intra-psychic conflicts or as learned behavior. In sociology-oriented textbooks they are seen as localized manifestations of social problems, which in their turn are either characterized as being aspects of the process of social disorganization or as deviant behavior. Social disorganization is expected - like fate – to be a natural, unavoidable consequence of rapid social change. Deviant behavior occurs as a result of the always-present discontinuities in socialization processes. Different theorists emphasize different aspects of these processes such as those emphasized by the deviant subculture, reference group, or anomie approaches, among others (Rubington and Weinberg, 1995).

A fair assessment of the above shows clearly that modern social science indeed provide us with at least a number of very useful concepts, which capture the essence of certain social regularities, patterns of behavior which recur over time. Note in particular the concepts in parentheses above. Social interaction, social relationships, social norms, social values, social institutions, social statuses, social roles, role expectations, role conflict… etc. The way in which these concepts (and many others) are linked together to provide a general analytical framework that applies to most (if not all) organized human aggregations. However, once we move beyond the mechanics of the processes of social organization, social disorganization, and social reorganization, we are entering a different terrain. As will be evident in the following discussion, the substantive theories used to fill these analytical frameworks, and the weight provided each group of factors within each configuration differ drastically from what is postulated by the Islamic perspective. 

We have seen above that the explanations found in social science literature, both in their psychological or sociological versions, tend to limit themselves to factors which are this-worldly, which are material and non-spiritual. They have no room for God or the Day of Judgement in their explanations. Theorists tend to emphasize certain relentless social processes and psychological dynamics, which invariably lead to personal and social suffering as part and parcel of social living. The helping professions follow the leads provided by social science theories and do their best to integrate psychological with sociological concepts. Social work literature for example (with some risk of oversimplification) seems to basically understand psychosocial problems to be caused by the following (cf.: Northen, 1987:173):

a. Failure to satisfy human needs, and the resulting frustration and aggression.

b. Disturbed social relationships issuing from the above, with accompanying maladjustment, and problems in social functioning.

c. The effects of broader social processes, such as rapid social change and social disorganization, which translates into the failure of social institutions to effectively perform their functions.

Once again it is the same old story of human beings left for themselves, in an arid, tortured, meaningless, and then terminal life. However, we are not saying that the social sciences are monolithic, or that there are no dissident views. Indeed some of the best minds in the social sciences have tended to call attention to the transcendent aspects of being, but those are still in the minority, and most of them could hardly break loose completely from the prevailing cultural influences.

Integral Islamic Perspective:

From an Islamic perspective, worldly needs (i.e. physiological needs, safety needs, love needs, esteem needs, and need for self-actualization in the early Maslow conceptualization), play an important part in human life. The idea of a hierarchy of prepotency, however, may be questioned. Even the later Maslow’s brilliant "Theory of Metamotivation” falls short of settling the issue of human needs at a level on par with that of the Islamic worldview, as he actively - and one may say arrogantly - denies any role for the transcendent (Maslow, 1971:321-322).

Referring back to the Islamic understanding of human nature, we have to remember that the essence of man, his defining characteristic, is the spiritual aspects - the human being’s quality of relationship with his Creator, on whom the gratification of all human needs (in this life and in the hereafter) depends. We may then legitimately assume that human needs within the Islamic perspective fall into two basic categories:

1) Iftiquar to Allah (swt): that is complete and immutable need for intimate closeness to God and need for attaining His pleasure or approbation (ridwan), thus keeping a sound spiritual life, and a serene, healthy “total” life. “O ye men! It is ye that have [ultimate] need of Allah: but Allah is the One Free of all wants, worthy of all praise”. [Fatir: 1]

2) Worldly Needs: Physiological, psychological and social needs as described above. 

On the basis of this understanding of the nature of human beings and their basic needs, the following propositions may represent how Muslim social scientists may understand personal or psychosocial problems:

Proposition I : Failure to attain and/or to sustain a sound and profound spiritual sense of relatedness to Allah (THE ONE GOD) is a necessary and sufficient cause for incidence of personal, psychosocial problems in this life; and for a ruinous fate in the hereafter, irrespective of a person’s level of attained material, worldly gratification.

This proposition is based on the following basic notions supported by a large number of verses from the Quran and valid Hadiths. Suffice it here to qoute the following verses from Surat Ta-Ha (123-127). “He said: "Get ye down, both of you, all together, from the Garden, with enmity one to another: but if, as is sure, there comes to you guidance from Me, whosoever follows My guidance, will not lose his way, nor fall into misery. But whosoever turns away from My Message, verily for him is a life narrowed down, and We shall raise him up blind on the Day of Judgment. (Allah) will say: "Thus didst thou, when Our Signs came unto thee, disregard them: so wilt thou, this day, be disregarded. And thus do We recompense him who transgresses beyond bounds and believes not in the Signs of His Lord: and the Penalty of the Hereafter is far more grievous and more enduring."

It is clear from the above (and many other verses) that lack of, or indifference in relating to Allah the Almighty, the Creator, and Sustainer means that the first type of needs, the innate (intrinsic, species-wide for Maslow) spiritual needs of the human being are not gratified. The soul, which innately "knows", and "yearns" for such an affinity with God, a connectedness (for lack of better words) with the divine becomes impoverished, and the “total” human being satisfaction with life diminishes as he misses his vital Divine life-supports. Life becomes a terrible burden indeed, with disease, loss of property, loss of loved ones always probable; and finally with death ominously looming around unpredictably. Existential philosophies, with their accentuation of deep-seated feelings of futility and absurdity, and ultimately suicide, are understandable human reactions under such circumstances. Maslow calls the state resulting from spiritual (in his usage of the term) deprivation "metapathology", which according to him, diminishes our "humanity". On the basis of his vast observations, he lists 28 such “disturbances, diminutions”, salient among which are the following: existential vacuum, meaninglessness, dryness, aridness, futility, cynicism, despair, insecurity, and deadness. It should be remembered here that he was describing the metapathologies of the affluent, who are “already-lower-need-gratified” (Maslow, 1971: 307-309). One may add at this point that contributions such as Maslow’s, as far as they can go, may be useful as beginnings in constructing typologies that could be used in systematic research. The basic determinants of the model, however, as we have seen have to be solidly rooted in Islamic revealed knowledge. 

On the other hand, with the "spiritual" needs gratified, a person deeply feels connected to the ultimate source of all good in this life and beyond. In times of crisis or loss, he knows that everything is destined by The Almighty, who is worthy of all trust. Because it may be a test of faith in Him, any difficulties the human being faces are tackled by the person, at once forcefully and in all serenity. This is to be explained by the fact that the person would be looking forward for either the prompt alleviation of the difficulty by the mercy of Allah, or be looking forward to compensation and reward from Him in the aftermath, or indeed for both. On the other hand, in times of smooth sailing, affluence and control over one's life, a “connected” person cannot be proud or vain or destructive, neither would he even desire to transgress his bounds. He deeply knows that it is all God’s bounty that should be used in the correct ways prescribed by Him. Even more importantly, he fully knows that he is accountable for his ways of utilization of these bounties in the Day of Judgement. In both cases, then, a person should be expected to be leading a good, balanced life which is meaningful and gratifying for himself as well as productive and peaceable for others.

Proposition II: Deprivation of worldly needs (physiological, psychological or social) is a necessary but not sufficient cause for personal, psychosocial problems. 

That gratification of “basic” human needs is necessary “to avoid illness, to avoid diminution of humanness”, as Maslow puts it, has indeed been a dictum of modern social sciences since he wrote the original treatise on “A Theory of Human Motivation” in 1943 (which has been reprinted more than 20 times in different texts all the way to 1969). That dictum could be accepted within the general framework of the Islamic worldview (while not stopping at that). Deprivation of these “lower”, worldly needs results in disruptions in the fulfillment of certain life-supporting or life-enhancing processes. But the extent to which a person is affected or injured by such deprivation differs widely, because other significant factors are certainly involved. In the Islamic perspective, the most potent factor involved here, which is capable of superceding the effects of basic-need-deprivation, once again, is the quality of spiritual life, or degree of closeness to God. For those who are spiritually developed, frustration thresholds are so high that loss or even calamity is tolerated with patience, perseverance and hope - all resulting from deep trust in Allah, the Almighty. The correlation between a person’s feeling of closeness to God and his ability to cope with life vicissitudes is a dictum of the Islamic perspective. Even at the most extreme levels of deprivation, or the ultimate pending loss of life itself for good cause (istish’had), the same principle applies.

V - Professional Interventions in Psychosocial Problems

Helping individuals cope with their psychosocial problems is achieved through two complementary professional activities: assessment and intervention (Anderson, 1981: 134-138). Assessment is an activity directed towards understanding the client and his problem, and then, developing a plan of action. Detailed information about the “client-problem-environment” triad should lead to the establishment of interventive goals, strategy and techniques. The goal of professional intervention, which is based on the results of assessment, is to help effect specific changes in the client and/or the social environment (Anderson & Carter, 1974). This model describes a straightforward "problem-solving" approach, as applied within a "planned change" perspective that we can hardly disagree with, that is, in general. It could be applied across a wide variety of situations and cultural backgrounds. The general structure of the model allows it to be filled in with the theoretical "content' of choice. Hence its usefulness by way of its generality. This should lead us to examine and contrast the "content" usually employed in the Western context with what may be appropriate in an Islamic context.

Social Assessment :

As discussed earlier, clients are assessed in terms of their social functioning, role performance, social relationships, and external difficulties. Social workers would be looking for evidence of lack of material resources, lack of personal capabilities, lack of knowledge or lack of training. They would be looking for evidence of intra-personal or inter-personal conflicts, role conflicts, inability to make vital decisions.. etc. In the final analysis, it is again the lack of worldly need gratification or the complications of deprivation. Intervention to help clients deal with their personal problems would be directed towards achieving two related goals:

(1) Helping clients achieve better levels of gratification of their worldly needs.

(2) Helping them cope with the complications and aggravations of past deprivations of these needs in their intrapsychic, interpersonal, or social environmental manifestations.

From an Islamic perspective, such needs and their gratification, and the need for dealing with the impact of their deprivation is all understandable. But this approach to solving personal problems is seen as very limited in scope besides being out of alignment with the real dimensions of human existence. Even the effectiveness of professional interventions based on such conceptualizations of psychosocial problems is questioned. Neglecting the vital role played by spiritual factors a) as causal agents (when stunted) and b) as significant factors in the treatment of these problems may indeed lead to ridiculously lopsided and unnecessarily misguided practices. Evaluative studies of practice effectiveness of social work in the past have generally produced discouraging results (Fischer, 1973), despite some alleged "grounds for optimism" (Reid & Hanrahan, 1982) or declarations that "something works" (Thomlinson, 1984). Some consolation indeed! But the problem is even more exacerbated when we look beyond this life as well. What is meant here is that the effectiveness of our interventions even in this-world will be very limited, because we are not taking our clients' spiritual needs (in this life) into consideration. But more importantly, we would neither be helping them achieve (falah) in the hereafter.

The alternative assessment -from an Islamic perspective- would focus on both the worldly and the spiritual aspects of living. It should be clear from our discussion thus far that the helping professional should direct a lot of attention to the assessment of the client's status in terms of his degree of spiritual development, that is, the quality of his connectedness to his Creator -- without ignoring his worldly needs in the traditional fashion. Such assessment would cover not only the cognitive aspects (belief system), but also the emotive (love and healthy fear of God) and the volitional and behavioral (acts of worship; good deeds) aspects as well. In what follows, we will focus on the spiritual aspects of assessment rather than on the other aspects related to the so-called basic needs, which are extensively covered in the traditional social work literature.

In terms of spiritual development, we would expect to find three basic types of clients. These, however, should be understood as ideal types, arranged across a continuum, rather than representing discrete entities:

Type I. Client with a Sound “Belief” System that Commands a Living “Heart”:

The client, in this case, has a sound Tawhidi belief system, which is so deeply held that it totally controls his "heart" and directs his emotional life, hence, his behavior comes out naturally commensurate with the sharia injunctions - doing basically what pleases Allah (swt). Such a person would be assessed as "spiritually developed". His life is generally serene, i.e. in times of loss and bereavement he would be patient and persevering, trusting in Allah; and in times of plentifulness and abundance he would be the giving type, without being vain or even proud (in the negative sense). It is interesting to compare these characteristics with those empirically catalogued by Maslow for the characteristics of the already-self-actualized persons (1971: 298-199).

Type II. Client with a Sound Belief that Fails to Reach the Heart: 

The client here also has a sound Tawhidi belief system, but this cognitive belief does not have a total command over his heart. A certain degree of detachment between words and deeds exists. He believes in God and talks a lot about it, but his behavior is no proof that trust in God is a vital force in the determination of courses of action he opts for. His emotional life has an inconsistent quality to it, or may in extreme cases show symptoms of emotional disturbance. As a result, behavior is erratic, as a general rule. At times it reflects his sound belief, but at others it is misguided and unproductive (in the Islamic usage).

Type III. Client Has a Distorted Belief System:

The client, in this case, has a mangled or distorted belief system. His Tawhid is impure. It is mixed up with certain false beliefs that sway him away from complete trust in his creator. Holding to such false beliefs (e.g. that certain saints - dead or alive - could indeed change his lot), or being prone to all sorts of doubts or to ignorantly following every caller to a divergent, humanly invented belief have far-reaching existential consequences. The result is a heart, which is torn into pieces, a human being pathetically stranded in life, left to his own finite resources. Both in times of need and/or of plenty, his behavior tends to betray the same pattern described under overindulgence and excessiveness above.

Interventive Strategies And Techniques:

With some oversimplification, it could be said that the traditional interventive approaches to helping clients cope with their personal, psychosocial problems would take the following form:

a. Rectification of the adverse conditions which caused the difficulties, 

b. Alteration of the states of being resulting from the difficulties, and

c. Capacity-building to help prevent future incidence of problems.

In a nutshell, this means the provision of needed resources, repairing strained or broken relationships with significant others, helping with role performance, and provision of emotional support throughout.

The "professional relationship" between the worker and the client has an important strategic role to play in the overall achievement of the desired outcomes. It could be seen as the bridge upon which the services are provided and client acceptance and cooperation are gained. Interviewing skills are paramount in this context, whether used with clients or with others involved in the problematic situation. Techniques employed include obtaining information, verbal and nonverbal communication, active listening, observation, empathizing, encouraging, supporting, reassurance, clarification, education, understanding feelings, and confrontation. Workers also utilize broader techniques necessary to effect change such as advocacy, brokerage, negotiation, planning, evaluation, and resource mobilization (Sheafor, et al. 1988; Ho,1980).

Once gain, professional intervention along these traditional lines should have salutary effects in many respects. However, it should be clear by now that the Islamic perspective would be looking far beyond this limited and limiting conceptualization. Intervention along these lines may indeed help alleviate certain symptoms of problematic situations. It may go as far as significantly modifying certain noxious social environmental influences affecting clients' lives. But how far can such improvements go in terms of improving the "totality" of people's lives in this world and beyond? Professional intervention from an Islamic perspective would definitely attempt to address these broader concerns. The cornerstone of such interventions, naturally, revolves around the concept of "spiritual development". This, then, sets the stage and the tone for the utilization of any number of the techniques and tools of trade referred to above.

Professional intervention from an Islamic perspective would naturally has as its point of departure the results of social assessment. Space would not allow a detailed treatment of issues involved on selection of strategies and techniques to be employed with each of the three types of clients that we expect to encounter on the basis of assessment of level of spiritual development. Suffice it to say here that type I clients would not present the worker with really serious challenges. Their high level of spiritual development means that their difficulties would normally be a result of lack of certain material provisions, uncomplicated with emotional overtones. They may also lack certain social skills that would otherwise have helped them achieve better role performance. They may have trouble dealing with certain formal organizations and therefore need help in the form of advocacy, brokerage or negotiation. On the other extreme, type III clients will need all services that type II clients would need, in addition to a special corrective type of help with their botched beliefs (referred to sometimes as "ontological therapy" by some Western writers). So we do not need to dwell too much on intervention with these two types. Our focus will be, then, on how to deal with Type II clients.

Type II clients do indeed present the worker with real professional challenges on account of two factors:

1. Intractability: Cases falling under this category are inherently complicated. The interaction of worldly troubles with the underlying spiritual shortcomings aggravates the symptoms. Superficial treatment (that excludes the spiritual factors) would hardly be very effective. The client resists attempts at in-depth interventions. Which makes working with such cases a real challenge. Clients would not easily admit -even to themselves- that their problems are partially caused by certain spiritual weaknesses. Such admission would fly in the face of their self-concept as good believers, leading to loss of balance. Cases are thus complicated, and fraught with resistance.

2. Prevalence: The number of people prone to type II difficulties is immense indeed contrasted to the other two types. This means that the helping professions should divert enough resources to deal with this category of clients in particular.

We proceed now to describe, in brief, the general outline of the strategies to be adopted in working with this particular type of client, that is, type II. We have to remember that such a person displays a noticeable degree of inconsistency. His emotional allegiance (his heart) is divided. At times, as said before, his behavior reflects his correct belief system. Other times, he acts as if he is completely on his own - bereft of any support beyond his own (or his social network) cunning – as if there is virtually no divine intervention in human affairs. A certain type of "false" trust in himself robs him of the natural serenity (which comes with trust in God) when he faces difficult times. This false confidence in self unleashes unbridled indulgence at time of plentifulness. The result is a turbulent, or at extremes, chaotic life. Material and this-worldly needs are overly and easily tended to, but it becomes harder and harder for him to cater for his crying spiritual needs. His total being suffers as a result.

The basic strategy for working with Type II cases would accordingly focus on enhancing the client's spiritual development through due restoration of balance between bodily needs and spiritual needs. In this case, where the body gets most of the attention, this translates into helping the client gradually push aside his customary preoccupation with the material (or the worldly in general) to give leeway for the spiritual. This is only a reflection of the Islamic worldview that emphasizes moderation and the keeping of balance between the two. 

The specific interventions designed to achieve such goal in such cases may consist of the following:

(1) Establishing a special type of professional relationship based on affinity in God:

Traditional conceptualizations of professional relationships are inadequate in as much as they are interested only in gaining client cooperation and compliance, within the limited expectations of the agency - rather than the expanded perspective of caring for the client-as-brother in terms of his commitment to his Creator. In the Islamic perspective, relationship is a lot deeper - exploring and enhancing spiritual attachment to God. Consequently it is more difficult to establish and to sustain. Clients will normally resist engaging in such explorations, which should be understood and duly dealt with by the worker.

(2) Helping the client accept the fact that he has a problem that he cannot handle himself; and that he needs professional help of a more than superficial nature. This acknowledgement is necessary if the client is to commit himself to an often painful therapeutic process. Painful decisions has to be made and abided with. Without such acceptance, he can hardly be expected to cooperate in making the life changes he needs to commit himself, for him to be able to tackle his current and future problems. Normally, as the client feels the painfulness of the current problem, he may be ready to consider alternatives. The pressures of especially acute situations may help shake his false pride, thus opening the door for improvement.

(3) Provision of material resources and other services to satisfy the worldly needs, which the client may be looking for. This sends a message to the client that the worker is interested in helping him in ways he can understand. Otherwise clients may think that accepting the Islamic framework for help means something like paying lip service and indulging in sensitive discussions in lieu of concrete results.

(4) Helping the client review his life situation as is reflected in the current difficulty. The most important goal here is to help the client make the connection between his suffering and the way he leads his life away from trust in Allah. Clarification of the consequences of false dependence on self in contrast with vigorous action coupled with dependence on Allah is pivotal at this stage.

(5) Starting of the progressive program of spiritual development with those clients who have shown interest in finding their way for spiritual betterment. This program should basically consist of the selection of calculated amounts of acts of worship and of good deeds for the client to perform regularly. These may include progressing from the obligatory to the optional prayers, fasting, and zakah (in that case sadakah). They may on the other hand include services to needy relatives or neighbors, or volunteering time advocating the cause of the disadvantaged for the sake of Allah. These measures should invariably include continuous remembrance of Allah (Zikr) and dedication of special times for contemplation of parts of the Noble Quran.

(6) Reconsideration of the original problem, and of the whole life situation in light of the newly acquired insights, capacities, and strengths by virtue of going through the whole experience, especially what transpired during the helping episode. For those Allah has destined to be among the successful, this would be the beginning of a new life at a higher level of existence than they have ever hoped to be possible. For others who were less fortunate, they would emerge from the experience satisfied that they have received the goods and services that they expected to get. If the worker was competent enough to reach an accurate assessment as to sift out those who would positively respond to his offer of help at the deeper level from those who would not, there would be no problem of such clients feeling otherwise. And if the worker was sensitive enough not to be bitter about these clients declining his offer of spiritual help, the client will emerge with a pleasant memory of the encounter, which strangely enough may positively work on its own on his consciousness, if Gods wills it.

(7) Reinforcement: It should be remembered at all times that the achievement of a higher level of spiritual development at any point in time is no guarantee that the human being stays there. The dynamic forces in perpetual interaction in the human psyche are always vying for position. Unless the person persistently and diligently continues the task of purification (tazkiyah) he is prone to slide back to giving up and surrendering his gains, or worse. The worker has to help his clients understand these facts of life, and has to help them learn how to always keep on top of things so that they may avoid that fate.

Vi - Conclusion

As was alluded to earlier, the current attempt at “integral theorizing” cannot be accepted at face value, notwithstanding the amount of documentation even from Quranic verses we may choose, and references that we can compile in its support. This only represents the first phase of the application of the Islamization of social science methodology. The next step is to derive hypotheses from the propositions presented above, and to test these hypotheses in the real world. It is only on the basis of such “rigorous testing” that the validity of these theoretical constructs could be judged. To the extent that research findings and practice tests support this rendition of the Islamic perspective on psychosocial problems, their robustness as valid interpretations of the realities they claim to explain would be attested to. If, on the other hand, they did not withstand the rigors of testing, then they have to be modified or even discarded – for they reflect a humble human rendition of what may represent the Islamic perspective on the subject. And better explanatory schemes that reflect the true Islamic perspective, (which are commensurate with Allah's observable Sunan in human behavior and social relationships) should be found. 

A few examples of such "research problems and hypotheses" amenable to testing are presented here for the purpose of illustration:

1) Is there really any relationship between the a person’s level o