Islamic Psychology – Introduction
Khurshid Ahmad gives us a great summary related to Islamic psychology: “He [God] created man and appointed for each human being a fixed period of life which he is to spend upon the earth. Allah has prescribed a certain code of life as the correct one for him, but has at the same time conferred on man freedom of choice as to whether or not he adopts this code as the actual basis of his life. One who chooses to follow the code revealed by God becomes a Muslim (believer) and one who refuses to follow it becomes a Kafir (non-believer).”1
The teachings of Islamic psychology regarding human nature, sin, and salvation may at times seem similar to the Biblical Christian worldview, but in reality they stand in very sharp distinction from it. While Islam affirms that human beings exist beyond the death of the body—thus affirming some form of psychological dualism—its view of human nature diverges from biblical teaching in the most fundamental ways.
“Islam is an Arabic word and denotes submission, surrender and obedience. As a religion, Islam stands for complete submission and obedience to Allah—that is why it is called Islam... Such a life of obedience brings peace of the heart and establishes real peace in society at large,” writes Khurshid Ahmad. The Qur’an states: “Those who believe, and whose hearts find satisfaction in the remembrance of God: for without doubt in the remembrance of God do hearts find satisfaction. For those who believe and work righteousness, is (every) blessedness, and a beautiful place of (final) return” (13:28–29).
Islamic Psychology – Mankind and the Image of God
The biblical message is that we are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26–27) and that despite the Fall we continue to bear that image (James 3:9). This feature distinguishes us from all other creatures, for not even angels were created in the image of God. The Islamic perspective differs. “The Christian witness, that man is created in the ‘image and likeness of God,’ is not the same as the Muslim witness. Although God breathed into man His spirit, as both Christians and Muslims believe, for Islam the only divine qualities entrusted to humans as a result of God’s breath were those of knowledge, will, and power of action. If people use these divine qualities rightly in understanding God and following His law strictly, then he has nothing to fear in the present or the future, and no sorrow for the past.2
Muslims acknowledge that we are God’s vice regents on earth but reject the idea that we are made in God’s image. Muslims see us as slaves of God. Indeed, while Jesus deemed to call Christians His siblings rather than mere slaves, Islam denies that we should be called “sons and daughters of God.”
Islamic Psychology – Human Nature
Islamic psychology is grounded in the belief that the original religion of humanity is Islam (Qur’an 7:172) and thus that every human being is born a Muslim (30:30). As stated in the Hadith, “Allah’s Apostle said, ‘Every child is born with a true faith of Islam (i.e. to worship none but Allah Alone) but his parents convert him to Judaism, Christianity or Magainism…”3 Thus, in contrast to the biblical perspective of original sin, “[t]he true Muslim believes that every person is born free from sin,” writes Abdalati.4 “The idea of Original Sin or hereditary criminality5 has no room in the teachings of Islam. Man, according to the Qur’an (30:30) and the Prophet, is born in a natural state of purity or fitrah, that is, Islam or submission to the law of God. Whatever becomes of man after birth is the result of external influence and intruding factors.”6
In believing that we are born sinless, Islam harmonizes with Secular Humanism, Marxism, Postmodernism, and even Mormonism7 and clashes with the biblical teaching that we are born with a sinful nature.
Islamic Psychology – Free Will
Throughout Islamic history (as throughout the history of Judaism and Christianity) both God’s sovereignty and our responsibility have been affirmed. In denying that we are born with a sinful nature, the Islamic view of the human will differs from the Christian view (which affirms that we have a real will capable of choosing good and evil, and are responsible for our thoughts and actions).
Abdalati explains the Islamic view of our free will: “Man is a free agent endowed with a free will. This is the essence of his humanity and the basis of his responsibility to his Creator. Without man’s relative free will life would be meaningless and God’s covenant with man would be in vain. Without human free will, God would be defeating His own purpose and man would be completely incapable of bearing any responsibility.”8
Abdalati goes on to explain our responsibility for our own choices: “Man is a responsible agent. But responsibility for sin is borne by the actual offender alone. Sin is not hereditary, transferable, or communal in nature. Every individual is responsible for his own deeds. And while man is susceptible to corruption, he is also capable of redemption and reform. This does not mean that Islam prefers the individual to the group. Individualism means little or nothing when severed from social context. What it means is that the individual has different sets of roles to play. He must play them in such a way as to guard his moral integrity, preserve his identity, observe the rights of God, and fulfill his social obligations.”9
Islamic Psychology – The Fall
Geisler and Saleeb explain how Islamic psychology and its view of the Fall differs from biblical teaching: “Despite some general similarities to the biblical version of man’s fall, there are radical differences between the Christian and the Islamic interpretations of Adam’s transgression. Whereas in Christian theology man’s disobedience is viewed as a fundamental turning point in his relationship to God, according to the Muslim perspective this was only a single slip on Adam and Eve’s part that was completely forgiven after their repentance. It had no further effect on the nature of man and the rest of creation. Neither does the fact that man was expelled from Paradise to earth (as a direct result of this transgression of divine command) play a significant role in the Islamic anthropology or soteriology.”10
Kateregga, a Muslim scholar, further explains the differences between the Christian and Islamic view of the fall: “The Christian witness that the rebellion by our first parents has tragically distorted man, and that sinfulness pervades us individually and collectively, is very much contrary to Islamic witness. Islam teaches that the first phase of life on earth did not begin in sin and rebellion against Allah. Although Adam disobeyed Allah, he repented and was forgiven and even given guidance for mankind. Man is not born a sinner and the doctrine of the sinfulness of man has no basis in Islam.”11
Islamic Psychology – Salvation
Islamic psychology rejects not only the atoning work of Jesus on the cross, but also that Jesus died on a cross. As Abdalati asserts, “the Muslim cannot entertain the dramatic story of Jesus’ death upon the cross just to do away with all human sins once and for all.” Abdalati explains why Muslims cannot accept the truth of Jesus’ sacrifice for us: “The Muslim does not believe in the crucifixion of Jesus by his enemies because the basis of this doctrine of crucifixion is contrary to Divine mercy and justice as much as it is to human logic and dignity. Such a disbelief in the doctrine does not in any way lessen the Muslim’s belief in Jesus as a distinguished prophet of God. On the contrary, by rejecting this doctrine the Muslim accepts Jesus but only with more esteem and higher respect, and looks upon his original message as an essential part of Islam.”12
If there is no Savior to deal with our sin, then we are left to our own devices to seek salvation. Abdalati says in this regard, “Each person must bear his own burden and be responsible for his own actions, because no one can expiate for another's sin.”13
From a Christian perspective, if we do not see human nature as fundamentally flawed and inherently sinful, then such a misdiagnosis of our plight naturally results in a misconstrued understanding of our salvation. If the diagnosis is mistaken, then the cure will be too.
Islamic Psychology – Conclusion
Clearly, to deny Jesus’ death on the cross is to renounce the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is at the core of the Christian faith. In that light, Islam offers no meaningful claim that it confirms the Christian faith or the gospel. In reality, Islam does not fulfill the Christian faith—it replaces it.
Muslims would disagree with the Christian belief that Islam cannot be a continuation or fulfillment of Christianity for the reasons stated above. One argument Muslims could make against the Christian view is that in the very same way Christianity is not a continuation or fulfillment of Judaism. All this argument would show (if it were true) is that both Islam and Christianity are false religions. Christians, however, could dispute this Muslim argument on several significant grounds.
A second argument Muslims could raise against Christian claims that Islam is not a continuation of Christianity is that this is just what should be expected because the biblical texts have been corrupted over time. In other words, the force of the argument is turned back on Christianity, charging Christianity with having distorted the biblical texts to the extent that they are now doctrinally and historically corrupted. Muslims have yet to provide justification for this position.