Islamic Garden

Islamic Garden
Islamic Garden in Lausanne, Switzerland

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Satanic Verses and the Cultural Complex

     Some thirteen hundred and fifty years after the fact, a single moment in the Prophet’s career was fictionalized in 1988, by Salman Rushdie, the contemporary Kashmiri-British novelist, in his controversial novel Satanic Verses. This fantasy novel, in the genre of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, was at the epicenter of a major controversy, drawing angry protests from Muslims in several countries in Dar al–Islam. Some of these protests turned violent. Death threats were issued to Rushdie, including a fatwa declared against him by Ayatollah Khomeini, the Supreme Leader of Iran, on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 1989. As was mentioned in the last chapter, the fatwa may itself have violated shari’a law.
     The original controversy surrounded the fact that the Prophet of Islam unconsciously mistook the words he had recited to a group of pagans for the words of God. These words were music to the ears of his audience. They had all heard the Prophet recite the names of three imaginal feminine figures, Al–Lat, Al–Uzza, and Manat, who were, according to the footnotes in Muhammad Asad’s translation of Q 53:19–20, the three Goddesses, considered in the pagan pantheon as the daughters of Allah. French scholar of Islam Maxime Rodinson makes the point in his critical biography, Muhammad, that this was the unconscious at play:
Obviously (Tabari’s account as good as says so in fairly clear words) Muhammad’s unconscious had suggested to him a formula which provided a practical road to unanimity. It did not appear to conflict with his henotheism, since these ‘great birds’ were, like angels and jinns, conceived of as subordinate to Allah. Elsewhere they were called the ‘daughters of Allah’. On the other hand this provided a clear indication that the new sect honoured the city’s divinities, respected their shrines and recognized their cult as a legitimate one. (2002, p. 107)     

   Both these events, the cultural unconscious of the Prophet of Islam and the declaration of the fatwa by the Supreme Leader of Iran, are the perfect doorway into the Garden of Paradise fed by the river of honey. From an integral perspective, this Garden is in the lower–left quadrant, the domain of the Cultural Psychology of Islam, as Wilber defines it in Integral Psychology: “The Lower Left represents the inside of the collective, or the values, meanings, world–views, and ethics that are shared by any group of individuals” (2000, p. 63). It is also the domain of the collective unconscious.
     It is not astonishing at all to accept that the Prophet expressed himself in a way that reflected the consciousness of his pagan audience, if we fully appreciate the premise of the cultural complex proposed by Singer and Kimbles in The Cultural Complex:
As personal complexes emerge out of the level of the personal unconscious in their interaction with deeper levels of the psyche and early parental/familial relationships, cultural complexes can be thought of arising out [of] the cultural unconscious as it interacts with both the archetypal and personal realms of the psyche and the broader outer world arena of schools, communities, media, and all the other forms of cultural and group life. (2004, p. 4) 

     The premodern perspective was that Satan had spoken these words through the Prophet; words that the Angel Gabriel later advised him he would have to retract and rectify. The notion that these words could have come from the cultural complex constellated by the Prophet’s encounter with his pagan audience would have been a complex idea to understand in his day. Satan was an easier figure to grasp for the evolving umma. What it does tell us is that the cultural or collective unconscious is perhaps a more powerful force than the Prophet himself could have realized. For a moment, his personal consciousness was swallowed up by the collective unconscious.
     What was even more astounding was the emotional reaction of the Ayatollah Khomeini to the publication of the novel and the violent protests which it brought in its wake. In The New Orientalists: Postmodern Representations of Islam from Foucault to Baudrillard, Ian Almond’s essay titled “The Many Islams of Salman Rushdie” well summarizes Rushdie’s consistent critique of Islam: “Islam, in other words, is old: its built–in obsolescence stifles the new and attempts to halt and even reverse history” (2007, p. 98). Khomeini’s declaration of capital punishment for blasphemy and apostasy, without a trial, only reinforced the very archaic reality about the limits on literary license that a novelist could ever hope to take in the new Islamic era that Khomeini was ushering in. Khomeini’s own cultural complex prevented him from examining the validity of the spontaneous extension of his own powers, while violating the very shari’a laws he was duty bound to protect as the Supreme Leader. On the contrary, he only helped to make the point that Rushdie was articulating through his fiction: Islam is old and obsolete. There was zero tolerance for literary license almost ten years into the Islamic revolution in Iran. But what is less well known was reported by Afary and Anderson in Foucault and the Iranian Revolution:
Within weeks, Abdullah al–Ahdal, a Muslim cleric in Belgium who had opposed Khomeini’s fatwa as inapplicable outside the Islamic world, was shot to death. Then, in July 1991, Hitoshi Igarashi, who had translated The Satanic Verses into Japanese, was stabbed to death. (Afary, Anderson, & Foucault, 2005, p. 164)

It turns out that the book’s Italian translator also survived a similar attack the same month. The culture of violence, which was so much a part of early Islam during the defensive wars fought by the Prophet and the martyrs who fell by his side, is still with us to this day. These forms of cultural branding seem incontrovertible, to the point that even if you could make the case that Islam is essentially a peaceful religion, that position would be turned on its head by the reality of the collective unconscious. The same can be said for the martyr complex and martyrdom operations in Dar al–Islam.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Who is a Muslim?

This is an important question, excerpted from my doctoral dissertation. 
     Who is a Muslim? Islam, as has been amply demonstrated in chapter 8, is not a monolith. The diversity of Islam is represented by many different communities of interpretation, with unique cultural overlays. From the Qur’anic perspective, Abraham was considered to be the first Muslim, because he surrendered fully to the Transpersonal Will. Other sources claim that Adam was the first Muslim. Yet others who do not restrict the state of surrender merely to the human species may make a perfectly valid interpretive claim that the first Muslims were really the angels in the creation myth of Islam, because it was the first order of creation that surrendered to the Divine Will and prostrated before Adam.
     Hence Islam is the religion of fitra, the primordial religion. Therefore, the definition of a Muslim is a being or creature who has surrendered to the Will of God. In order to affiliate with Islam specifically as a faith tradition, one is required to accept that there is only One God and that Muhammad was the final prophet. However, as is the principle for a culturally competent approach to psychotherapy, the effective and preferred recommendation is to defer to the client in terms of whether he or she self–identifies as a Muslim. As we have noted, there are Muslims who self–identify as Muslims but who are often not considered Muslims by the dominant forms of Islam, and this causes its own identity problems. The followers of Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam, for example, self–identified as black Muslims. But not until quite recently when Elijah’s son, and now Louis Farrakhan, started adopting the nonracist egalitarian principles of Islam and some ethnocentric customs of the dominant form of Islam, were they considered Muslims by mainstream orthodoxy. There are also Muslims who self–identify as secular Muslims. This is to say that they have adopted modern secular values but are still attached to the essential monotheistic principles of Islam, without conforming to the demands of the shari’a and orthopraxis.
     In an ever–increasing globalized world, it is becoming abundantly clear that there is no place for any stereotype of a Muslim. In Love, InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women, an anthology of essays edited by Mattu and Maznavi, an essay titled “Punk–Drunk Love” by Tanzila Ahmed helped to shatter any vestige of stereotyping in Islam that I myself might have been holding on to:
My parents had never understood why the intersection of being Muslim, activist, and a punk was so important to me. Growing up, I led a life of duality—the secret life of a punk–rocking activist combined with the home life of a pious Muslim daughter. As the oldest of three daughters to Bangladeshi immigrants, I was the guinea pig who wasn’t allowed to do anything. Sleepovers were out of the question, and when I became a teenager, the only way I was allowed to go to a punk show was if my mother waited in the parking lot while I was in the pit. And Allah forbid that my dad ever found out about it—I would have been kicked out of the house had he known I was crowd–surfing, with the hands of boys holding my body up. (2012, pp. 63–64)

     Ahmed courageously recounts a romantic affair she had as a 30–something West Coast South–Asian American journalist with a Muslim punk rock artist, knowing full well that he had a serious girlfriend who lived close to him on the East Coast. So, to assume that a Muslim woman is incapable of liberating herself from the shackles of a patriarchal religion and culture is very far from the truth. But this is also not to say that her liberation was devoid of any psychological struggle, which is not specifically addressed in this descriptively brief essay. More importantly, what is true about Ahmed is that she self–identifies as a Muslim, even though her ethical and moral stance around female sexuality may not be considered by patriarchal orthodoxy as appropriate for or worthy of a well–adapted Muslim woman.

     It is also important, in the context of psychotherapy, to make a distinction between the religious identity of the client and the religious experience of the client, especially if the religious identity of being a Muslim is confined to the notion of praxis. Is it possible for a Muslim to be a Muslim without strict attachment to the mainstream’s notion of the five pillars of Islam: One might ask, for example, is the Naqshbandi Sufi teacher Lewellyn Vaughan–Lee a Muslim? Perhaps he does not feel the need to be identified with the faith as a religious identity, because he has transcended the religious or transpersonal subpersonality and is focused, in the process of self–integration, on the religious experience as a Sufi, in pursuit of and in surrender to an ontological reality. In this case, the question itself − of who is a Muslim − by those who claim to speak for religious orthodoxy in mainstream Islam is reduced or limited to one of religious identity.  

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Unpacking Shari'a toward an Islamic Reformation

     Ibn Khaldun (1332 – 1406 CE) the great Tunisian historian, widely recognized even today as the founder of ilm al-umran, the science of social organization or sociology, is renowned for The Muqaddimah, an introduction to a comprehensive history of the world. He is also acknowledged for his examination of leadership and group dynamics and the need for asabiyya, variously translated as social cohesion, social solidarity, and esprit de corps for the success of a tribe, social group, or a state. The goal of Ibn Khaldun’s ilm al-umran according to sociologist, Fuad Baali in State, Society, and Urbanism: Ibn Khaldun’s Sociological Thought, “is to formulate accurate laws of society and social change” (1988, p. 15). These laws, although they may not necessarily be rigid, are designed to create the stability to manage social events to follow consistent, well-defined patterns and sequences.
     In the translation from the Arabic of The Muqaddimah by Franz Rosenthal, Ibn Khaldun identifies three kinds of human souls. There are those with limited faculties of spiritual perception who rely on their senses, imagination, and memory to achieve their life’s purposes. There are others who are introspective and intuitive, relying on the faculty of spiritual intellection, such as the saints. Finally, there are the prophets who rise above corporeal and spiritual humanity to the angelic realms. They have the faculty to listen to Divine speech:
God freed them from the lets and hindrances of the body, by which they were afflicted as human beings. He did this by means of ‘ismah (infallibility) and straightforwardness, which He implanted in them and which gave them that particular outlook, and by means of a desire for divine worship which He centred in them and which converges from all sides towards that goal. They thus move toward the angelic, sloughing off humanity at will, by virtue of their natural constitution, and not with the help of any acquired faculty or craft. (Ibn, Khaldun., Rosenthal & Dawood, 1978, p. 78)
     In order to understand the powerful influence of the Prophet of Islam, his traditions and the Qur’anic laws which were revealed through him, it is essential to understand this high spiritual station in the imaginal realms. The Prophet himself always claimed he was just a man, but his words and actions were not always his own. Hence, when we discuss the sacred laws, the shari’a and the prophetic traditions, the sunna, it is important to bear in mind how Muslims respond to ideas that might seem to challenge these established sources for their weltanschauung. This is especially significant because the shari’a as a religious law is understood by many Muslims as not confined to matters of this world, as Ibn Khaldun explains:
Political laws consider only worldly interests. On the other hand, the intention the Lawgiver has concerning mankind is their welfare in the other world. Therefore, it is necessary, as required by the religious law, to cause the mass to act in accordance with the religious laws in all their affairs touching both this world and the other world. The authority to do so was possessed by the representatives of the religious law, the prophets; then by those who took their place, the caliphs. (Ibn, Khaldun., Rosenthal & Dawood, 1978, p. 155)

     It is important to note here, that there were no codified shari’a laws from the early days of the Medina of the Prophet in 622 CE to the final days of the Caliphate of Ali in 661 CE. Decisions were made based on the Qur’an and the judgment of the Prophet and his closest companions, and then by the four rightly-guided Caliphs. Does this mean then that the Islam of the Prophet and the Caliphate of the four rightly guided Caliphs did not have a body of shari’a laws? That is historically accurate, which is why a return to the Caliphate is both an illusion and delusional. Shari’a laws were a formulation that evolved over a period of two hundred years after the umma was orphaned by the Prophet in 632 CE and his four immediate successors. The four Sunni schools of law evolved from approximately 765 CE to 855 CE. Shi’a Muslims claim that their Imams were always their absolute lawgivers but the Ja‘fari school was founded by the Shi’a Imam Jafar al-Sadiq (699 - 765 CE). Two of the founders of the Sunni school of law, Abu Hanifa and Malik ibn Anas, were students of Jafar al-Sadiq.
     Shari’a itself comprises two components: the acts of worship (‘ibadat), which include the five pillars of Islam and religious rituals such as purification, wu’du, and funeral rites etc.), and the laws governing human relationships (mu’amalat) which include marriage, divorce, inheritance, commerce, taxation, and war. In an illuminating text edited by Amanat and Griffel titled Sharia: Islamic Law in the Contemporary Context, Griffel expounds on the wider parameters of shari’a:
However, Shari’a goes beyond what in the West would be considered legal discourse, for it extends to matters concerning proprieties of clothing, conduct between spouses, filial piety, behavior at funerals, and other questions that Westerners would treat not as legal, but as moral issues or mere etiquette. At the same time, Shari’a also provides answers to the most vital moral questions of the contemporary world, such as the legitimacy of violence or torture, just war, suicide and self-sacrifice, or the means of combating justice. (2007, p. 1) 

     Shari’a in Arabic translates as the path to the watering hole. As with the word fitra, it appears only once in the Qur’an in Q 45:18: “[O Muhammad,] We have set thee on a way [shari’a] by which the purpose [of faith] may be fulfilled.”  Its formulation was based on four sources of jurisprudence: (1) The Qur’an; (2) the Sunna or practices and traditions of the Prophet based on the corpus of hadiths; (3) qiyas which is a hermeneutic method done by legal analogy; and (4) ijma or the consensus of legal scholars. So, with the Qur’an we have the presence of nur, Light; with the sunna we have the principle of emulation, taqlid; and with qiyas we rely on the intellect ‘aql. We might argue that with the notion of ijma, consensus, we also have a collective form of khalifa, collective responsibility or guardianship for the collective imaginal realm. In fact, an essential aspect of the legal analogy and consensus decision was to determine what laws were for the public welfare or public interest, maslaha, the plural for the word masalih. Bernard Weiss explains in The Spirit of Islamic Law how the jurists determined and identified the purpose of specific laws:
The purposes of the law in the light of which causes were thus identified related to vital human interests (masalih). Human beings, it was thought, know very well what these human interests are. It is a knowledge that arises out of experience and reflection upon the human condition. Five interests are paramount and universal: religion, life, offspring (lineage), property and rationality. Through experience humans discover that when these interests are well served they enjoy maximal happiness; otherwise, unhappiness and hardship follow. (1998, p. 78)   

     World-renowned Professor of Islamic Law at McGill University, Wael B. Hallaq closely echoes this understanding of the five underlying universal principles of shari’a in An Introduction to Islamic Law: “If the feature of public interest in a case can be shown to be indubitably connected with the five universals, then reasoning must proceed in accordance with maslaha. The condition of universality is also intended to ensure that human interests of the Muslim community at large are served” (2009, p. 27). But in today’s pluralistic context, we struggle with the relevance and application of shari’a laws to the postcolonial Diaspora of Muslims worldwide, which has caused and continues to create much consternation in Europe and Canada. There are some very apparent conflicts between the contrasting public interests served, the most notable being the one between the principle of the freedom of religion and the specific laws that pertain to the expression of that faith, shari’a, and the laws of the state.
     The significance of the lack of a codified shari’a in the early days of Islam is captured in, what are − especially for the postmodern mind − two very disturbing events, whose historicity may now be difficult to ascertain in their exactitude. The first one is reported as a Prophetic hadith in a text titled Islamic Law: The Sharia from Muhammad’s Time to the Present by Janin and Kahlmeyer. It addresses the question of illicit sexual relations by a married man. This “hadith tells us that a man named Ma’iz confessed four times to Muhammad that he had had illegal sex. Rather simply condemning Ma’iz to be stoned to death, Muhammad patiently questioned him and suggested various legal defenses he could use to save his life” (2007, p. 45). The Prophet clarified whether Ma’iz was insane or drunk and then assessed whether Ma’iz had had full sexual intercourse with the woman. In each instance, Ma’iz confessed that he had knowingly had illicit sexual intercourse with her. The authors cite part of the hadith: “Then the Prophet asked, ‘What do you intend with these words?’  He answered, ‘That you purify me.’ Then [Muhammad] ordered him to be stoned” (p. 45).  Did this hadith establish the precedent for stoning in Dar al-Islam? Was a precedent also established for an insanity plea? If so, how would a person know if he or she were in fact insane? Would another prophet, Jesus or for that matter, David, have forgiven him and asked him to sin no more? Was he hoping for absolution with his open confession to the Prophet? 
     The other equally disturbing account, again specifically for the postmodern mind, is reported by Scott Kugle in Homosexuality in Islam. It appears that after the Prophet departed for the Gardens of Paradise and beyond, the renowned commander, Khalid ibn al-Walid wrote to the Caliph Abu Bakr in Medina,
announcing ‘that he had found a man in some outlying region who does the deed of the Tribe of Lot.’ Abu Bakr gathered the leading companions of the Prophet. They debated the issue, because none of them knew of a precedent for such a phenomenon. The Prophet had left no example to follow, and none of them quoted any hadith transmitting the Prophet’s teaching or advice. (2010, p. 99)

‘Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet and the first Imam of the Shi’a, asserted that the Qur’anic story of the raining down of burning stones on the people of Lot meant that an appropriate consequence for such conduct was to punish the man by burning him. A consensus, ijma, was reached and the punishment was executed. As an authenticated historical report, capital punishment for homosexual conduct is now being used as legal precedent in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Kugle confirms this in one of his footnotes:
Since the Islamic Revolution in 1978, Iran has had a state policy of executing gay men, which its jurist rulers justify through the Ja‘fari legal school. Though Shi’i Iranians are usually quick to distinguish themselves from their Sunni neighbors, in the case of execution of gay men the Iranian legal requirements parallel the Hanbali legal school’s. (2010, p. 296)

     It is not at all clear from these two accounts whether there was any consensual sex involved. The Prophet did not clarify with the man who confessed his deed of zina (fornication, extramarital sex) whether he had been coercive or physically aggressive, or what motivated his action. It is also unclear that the homosexual acts which were reported to Abu Bakr were consensual. Both incidents could well have been serious acts of rape. Nevertheless, these kinds of fatal consequences for the sexual impulses, often pathological, of the human species seem to be beyond the pale in the postmodern period, but the jurists of the classical age of Islam would have drawn on them for precedent. They are still very much a part of the moral and legal landscape in the Dar al-Islam of today.  We can well imagine the neurosis, guilt, and shame that result from illicit sexual contact in societies where gender segregation is designed to prevent such activities. But it is precisely this gender segregation that is also often the cause for illicit homosexual activity between heterosexual men or worse still, sexual abuse of women by men.
     This brings us then to the question of the intention, niyya, of the shari’a and the niyya of those who are subject to or feel oppressed by shari’a laws and obligations. Since these include acts of worship, no Muslim is really immune from the shari’a. What is important to appreciate psychologically is that the intention of shari’a for the medieval jurists was to formulate a body of laws and principles that reflected the human expression of the Divine Will for the umma. Paul Powers expounds on the notion of intent exceptionally well in an edited publication of his doctoral dissertation at the Divinity School at the University of Chicago, Intent in Islamic Law: Motive and Meaning in Medieval Sunnī Fiqh:
Because Islamic law is, theoretically speaking, primarily a hermeneutic enterprise devoted to understanding and applying the meaning of a revealed text - or, more accurately, two revealed ‘texts’, the Qur’an and the Prophet’s sunna - the work of the jurists involved a search for the authorial intent of God in producing those texts. While it was certain from the start that God had revealed His will regarding the detailed behavior of humans in these texts, their exact meaning was not always obvious. The task, then, was to search diligently for those meanings. Jurists described their work not as legislation but as ‘discovery’ (kashf or iktishaf). (2006, pp. 12-13)

   As we have noted there were many references in the Qur’an to past societies and civilizations, or umam, that had been destroyed because they had failed in one way or another to live in alignment with the Will of Allah. A structure of laws and principles was formulated to prevent or avoid such destruction. This ideal societal structure identified several sets of Divine categorizations of human acts. One of these sets comprises the following five categories: (1) obligatory acts such as the five pillars of Islam; (2) recommended acts such as providing for self and the family or service to others; (3) neutral acts such as art, music and creative self-expression; (4) disapproved acts such as neglecting our parents; and (5) forbidden acts such as theft and premarital or extramarital sex. A second set of categories has to do with validity and invalidity. For example, no prayer in Islam is considered valid or performed correctly without a recitation of al-Fatiha. Who can claim the religious authority to invalidate the prayers of another human soul?  We saw in the last chapter, how according to Rumi’s poem about the Shepherd in prayer, Moses was berated by the One for creating separation. Invalidating the prayer of another Muslim, or even non-Muslim, for that matter, is clearly an example of the violation of personal spiritual boundaries by a jurist, not to mention the human rights of the “Other”.
     Another example of an invalid act is described by Weiss in The Spirit of Islamic Law: “Or if a man and a woman enter into a marriage in a manner that does not conform to the basic requirements of a marriage contract, the couple may not be considered to be truly married, and sexual intercourse between them will be illicit” (1998, p. 22). So if there was some technical violation or noncompliance in the above marriage contract, sexual intercourse would be deemed an act of disobedience toward God and hence a sin. There have been cases with Muslims in France and elsewhere where women have had hymen-replacement surgery and these marriages were considered invalid because, on discovery, the women had misrepresented themselves as virgins. Sexual intercourse during such invalid marriages is hence considered sinful.  Sin, from the perspective of orthodox Sunni Islam, then becomes a violation of the moral code in a society founded upon a moral absolutism reflecting the Transpersonal Will. But the intent of this moral code has always been to be faithful to the words of the revelation in Q 7:157, per Asad:

those who shall follow the [last] Apostle, the unlettered Prophet whom they shall find described in the Torah that is with them, and [later on] in the Gospel: [the Prophet] who will enjoin upon them the doing of what is right and forbid them the doing of what is wrong, and make lawful to them the good things of life and forbid them the bad things, and lift from them their burdens and the shackles that were upon them [aforetime]. Those, therefore who shall believe in him, and honour him, and succour him, and follow the light that has been bestowed from on high through him - it is they that shall attain to a happy state. (Asad & Moustafa, 2003, pp. 257-258) 

~ Excerpted from the doctoral dissertation of Jalaledin Ebrahim, LMFT, PhD.
You can read or download the entire chapter on Shari'a and the Social & Political Psychology of Islam at

Sunday, August 18, 2013

William James on Islam

If Freud was the father of psychology, then William James (1842-1910 CE) was clearly the father of the psychology of religion. His first foray into the psychology of religion was a lecture on “The Will to Believe” to the Philosophical Clubs of Yale and Brown Universities, published in 1896, in which he makes the argument that the first step in the faith journey is the willingness to believe because we want to believe. Andrew Fuller summarizes James’ concept in Psychology and Religion: “We believe in truth not because of any defensible intellectual insight we might have into its discoverability, but because we want it with a passion, because we want to believe that our investigations must continually advance us toward truth” (1994, p. 3).  In a sense, it is this will to believe that captures the first religious impulse of a Muslim in reciting the shahada or in taking the hand of a Sufi teacher.
     In the Gifford lectures delivered in Edinburgh in 1901-2, published as his seminal work, The Varieties of Religious Experience, James provides a phenomenological study of religious experience. He defines religion as “the feelings, acts, and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider divine “ (1958, p. 42). He makes the case that institutional religion is fundamentally an attempt to emulate and learn from the personal religious experiences of an individual. James focuses his research on personal religion and identifies the full range of states and stages of consciousness which derive from the religious experience. James differentiates between the states of the “blue-sky healthy-minded moralist” and the anhedonia and melancholy of the sick soul, and the four characteristics of the mystical experience such as its 1) ineffability, 2) the noetic quality with is concomitant states of knowledge, 3) the transiency, recurrence and sometimes sustained development of these states and finally, 4) the passivity of these states when “the  mystic feels as if his own will were in abeyance, and indeed sometimes as if he were grasped and held by a superior power” (1958, pp. 319-320).
     In his chapter on mysticism, he draws on a translation of an autobiography of Al-Ghazali (1058-1111 CE), citing how this former jurist-theologian tested the claims of the Sufis by pursuing an ascetic retreat for five years after he left Baghdad in 1095 CE:

"During this solitary state, things were revealed to me, which it is impossible either to describe or to point out. I recognized for certain that the Sufis are assuredly walking in the path of God. Both in their acts and in their inaction, whether internal or external, they are illumined by the light which proceeds from the prophetic source. The first condition for a Sufi is to purge his heart entirely of all that is not God. The next key of the contemplative life consists in the humble prayers which escape from the fervent soul, and in the meditations on God in which the heart is swallowed up entirely. But in reality, that is only the beginning of the Sufi life, the end of Sufism being total absorption in God. The intuitions and all that precede are, so to speak, only the threshold for those who enter. From the beginning, revelations take place in so flagrant a shape that the Sufis see before them, whilst wide awake, the angels and the souls of the prophets. They hear their voices and obtain their favors. Then the transport rises from the perception of forms and figures to a degree which escapes all expression, and which no man may seek to give account of without his words involving sin." (1958, p. 338).

     James does not consider the social implications that flow from these kinds of unitive transpersonal experiences such as the cultivation of social conscience or the needs of the novice to create a social support system in the quest for the religious experience, as is the case with the Sufi orders and brotherhoods, where service to humanity is an essential aspect of spiritual practice. Nor does James examine the efficacy and enhanced power of spiritual practices within a group, such as congregational prayer and meditation, to foster profound religious experiences. He does assert a depth psychological dimension to the revelatory experiences of the Prophet of Islam: “If we turn to Islam, we find that Muhammad’s revelations all came from the subconscious sphere” (1958, p. 398) but he does not touch on the full significance of the social or civilizational mission of the Prophet of Islam as an aspect of his religious experiences – the revelatory experiences as well as his ascension, mi’raj, circa 620 CE – all of which had far-reaching consequences for the moral, social, cultural and political order of humanity. As we will recall, the mi’raj itself included encounters with the angel Gabriel, the mythic white steed, the prior prophets from Adam and Abraham to Jesus, and a mission to bring to the awareness of humankind the ontological reality of the life within, and the life beyond this existence.

     In summing up his conclusions to a series of twenty lectures in his seminal work, James identified five characteristics of the religious life, one of which bears repeating because it includes the notion “that prayer or inner communion with the spirit thereof – be that spirit of ‘God’ or ‘law’ – is a process wherein work is really done, and spiritual energy flows in and produces effects, psychological or material, within the phenomenal world” (1936, p. 401). This finding serves as a premise for this inquiry into the psychological implications of Islam’s daily ritual prayer, considered as one of its five pillars.
~ Excerpted from  the doctoral dissertation by Jalaledin Ebrahim, Ph.D

Sunday, June 30, 2013



Eid Mubarak! As Muslims celebrate the end of Ramadan, almost a billion people will remain hungry. If fasting is a way to cultivate empathy for those that go hungry, then we need to both understand and respond to the plight of the ultra-poor - it is a matter of life and death:

Facts about Hunger
925 million people suffer from hunger and malnutrition around the world. 
Malnutrition affects 32.5% of children in developing countries.
1 out of every 6 infants are born with low birth weight due to undernutrition among pregnant women in developing countries.
1 out of every 3 people in developing countries are affected by vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
Hunger is number one on the list of the world's top 10 health risks. It kills more people every year than AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined.

You can take action now! Just click on the link below to take a stand against hunger and death by malnutrition. Love, light and shadow, Jalaledin

If you chose not to fast this Ramadan, or to interrupt your fast, for whatever reason, (Q 2:256 There is no compulsion in religion)  please join my team at Action against Hunger to raise funds to alleviate world hunger. My team is called SACRED MONTH OF RAMADAN. No donation is too big or too small but human life is hanging in the balance!  

"But whoever of you is ill, or on a journey, (shall fast instead for the same) number of other days;  and (in such cases) it is incumbent upon those who can afford it to make sacrifice by feeding a needy person.... God wills that you shall have ease and does not will you to suffer hardship...." 
Q 2:184-185 (Muhammad Asad translation)


Love, light and shadow, Dr. Jalaledin Ebrahim
Your action is only a mouse click away. Thanks for your generosity of spirit! Thus far we were able to raise
more than 80% of our goal by Eid al-Fitr. Alhamdulillah!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Islam is a surrendered state of consciousness


Who is a Muslim? Scholar of Islamic Law, Prof. An-Naim has this to propose:

In my view, Islam is a surrendered state of consciousness and not a set of practices. Anyone who thinks they are qualified to judge another person's Muslim-ness is not in a state of Islam but is entrapped in contested notions of religious identity, which itself is another aspect of idolatry. The 5 pillars of Islam are a human construct based on a doctrinal interpretation of the Divine revelation. As we approach the holy month of Ramadan, perhaps we need to be more focused on the state of consciousness that the practices of the Prophet truly aspired to achieve. Does this state of consciousness include - in the spirit of Tawhid - an embrace of all of Allah's Creation, human and non-human, sentient and inanimate? Does this state of consciousness inspire peace-making, the cultivation of social conscience and social justice, artistic and technological creativity, and a committment to the evolution of global human development? Can we begin to see the coming holy month as an opportunity to make the world whole? Can we begin to think about alleviating world hunger and helping those who are deprived of the basic essentials of life?  Can we focus on sharing life's abundance instead of sharing the experience of self-deprivation? Can we extend the love for family to include those who do not look like us or speak like us or think like us? Can we invite the stranger, the poor and the underprivileged to the banquet of love? I bid you all a very happy Solstice and Ramadan Karim!  Love, light and shadow, Jalaledin

Monday, May 27, 2013

A contemporary translation of al-Fatiha

In the name of the Beloved One,

The Infinitely Compassionate, the Infinitely Merciful.

All praise is due to Allah, the Sustainer of all the Worlds,

The Infinitely Compassionate, the Infinitely Merciful,

The Sovereign of the Day of Resurrection.

Thee alone we worship and to Thee alone we pray.

Guide us to the Straight Path
of self-cultivation to the Gardens of Paradise,

the path of those upon whom
Thou hast bestowed blessings, favors and Grace,

not of those who are consciously or unconsciously immersed in Sacred Chaos,

Nor of those of who have lost their way.

~ Rendered by Dr. Jalaledin Ebrahim

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Finding the Love in Islam

I often wondered, sometimes with anguish, where the place of Love was in Islam. Not finding many references to the word in the Qur'an, it was illuminating to discover the implicit meaning of Love found in al-Fatiha. Here is an excerpt from the literature review in my doctoral dissertation:   
"The fifth and final monograph is a mainstream Shia exegesis which includes a tawil approach by Reza Shah-Kazemi, a contemporary scholar at the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London, England. He devotes considerable attention to al-Fatiha in Spiritual Quest – Reflections on Qur’anic Prayer according to the Teachings of Imam ‘Ali. He describes a number of epithets used for al-Fatiha which “express its crucial status as embodying the quintessence of the Qur’anic Revelation” (2011, p. 15). These epithets include “the Mother of the Book,” “the Healing,” “the Foundation,” “the Prayer,” “the Sufficient,” “the Treasure,” and “the Light.”  Shah-Kazemi examines the structure of the seven sacred verses and imagines these as “so many rungs in a ladder descending from the divine to the human” (p. 16). In analysing Imam ‘Ali’s claim that everything in the Qur’an is contained in al-Fatiha, he suggests that the seven verses are a synthesis of the Qur’an and that “the Qur’an is the Fatiha exteriorized, the Fatiha is the Qur’an interiorized. For the Muslim who is attuned to the totality of the Qur’an, therefore, each recitation of the Fatiha renders present -- potentially, virtually or actually – the quintessence of everything that the Qur’an teaches by way of revealed truth, and everything that it constitutes by way of sacred presence” (p. 17). This clearly attests to the foundational nature of al-Fatiha to a formulation of a psychology of Islam.
     Shah-Kazemi interprets the first three verses within the context of a shift between the theological tawhid (al-tawhid al-uluhi) confessed by the ‘folk of the outward’ ( ahl al-zahir) and the ontological tawhid apprehended by the ‘folk of the inward’ (ahl al-batin), who “see through the multiplicity of created entities and affirm the sole reality of God whose oneness is not of the numerical order, but of an ontological nature” (p.21). There is nothing that is not contained in the transcendent and immanent divine principle. Shah-Kazemi then returns to the first verse, the Basmala and reminds us that the principles of mercy and compassion are integral to the absolute reality of God. Both principles are identified with the quality of love: “Now, the Rahma of God is here defined by reference to a quality which all can recognise immediately as love, rather than simply compassion or mercy, “(p. 21) such that the essential nature of ultimate Reality is an “overflow of infinite love”.
     Shah-Kazemi uses two metaphors for Rahma: it can be viewed as the water of the spring of the Basmala which becomes the river of al-Fatiha flowing into the ocean of the Qur’an. And it can be thought of as the womb, rahim, of the Mother, “which contains within itself the entire cosmos” (p. 24). Here we begin to glimpse an ecological hermeneutic and the re-emergence of the feminine principle in Islam.
     The eschatology of Islam is explicit in the fourth verse. But Shah-Kazemi’s interpretation is now offered within the context of the loving mercy of the “King of the Day of Judgement” (p. 26) as a forgiving God. His anger, then, “is but a word describing the extrinsic consequence of a lack of receptivity on the part of man to the mercy of God” (p. 29) and, as such, these extrinsic consequences are contingent on human sin and a way to rectify any disequilibrium. It is by virtue of this rectification, and restoration of balance or equilibrium, al-mizan, that the sinner is able to return to God.
     In the fifth verse, the principle of tawhid is expressed in the act of worship such that the experience is one of emptying one’s self through humility in order to acquire the peace of the soul that surpasses understanding, or the soul at peace, al-nafs al-mutma’inna. Those who have achieved this level of spiritual perfection have no need to wait for the Day of Judgement. They no longer seek Paradise nor fear Hell. They pray on account of the plenitude and a celestial degree of serenity with which they have been graced. These are the liberated souls, al-ahrar, and the ones who have understood the ultimate reality of God, the fuqaha. Imam ‘Ali “describes these true fuqaha as being those ‘whose hearts are in the Gardens [of Paradise] while their bodies are at work [in this world]’. The body of the saint ‘works’ in this world according to the disposition of a heart which is inspired not just by its vision of Paradise, but by its presence in Paradise, a spiritual presence which is permanent for the saints...” (pp. 34-35).  
     Based on this level of interpretation and commentary of al-Fatiha, one can expect a more ecumenical approach to the other Abrahamic faiths. Hence guidance upon the Straight Path is not restricted to Muslims but on the contrary includes all those who have walked in faith and virtue, especially those who have been graced with God’s blessings and favours, which refer to their gifted faculties of apperception of the Ultimate Reality. This is not so much the path of straightness and moral virtue but the path of the return straight home. Hence the wrath of God refers to the experience of a lack of receptivity “to the loving mercy which perpetually radiates from the pulsating heart of ultimate Reality” (p. 37). For Shah-Kazemi, those who are led astray reference those who have not exercised human responsibility and free will in alignment with this constant source of Divine radiance.
     In an earlier monograph titled My Mercy Encompasses All, Shah-Kazemi notes that in al-Fatiha “God’s Anger is not specifically mentioned in the last verse; it is those who are the objects of anger, those who elicit anger that are being referred to; the subject of the anger can be either God or the soul or both, the one being an aspect of the other” (2007, p. 9).  In the same text the author acknowledges the limitation of ignoring the severe and wrathful side of the Qur’anic message recognizing that the over-accentuation of “one element to the detriment of the other distorts the integrity of the message and diminishes the psychological impact of the text as a whole upon the soul” (2007, p. 24).  Whether the Wrath of God is an actor in al-Fatiha or whether it is incurred by his creatures, the fact remains that the Wrath of God or Divine Displeasure is present in some grammatical form and must be included in any psychological hermeneutic precisely because it impacts the human psyche.      

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Illusion of the Golden Age of Islam


It is Freud's birthday today! He gave those of us in the field of psychology many enduring gifts including the connection of our dreams to the Unconscious, the identification of multiple psychological defense mechanisms and the concept of countertransference. Below is an excerpt from the literature review on Freud in my doctoral dissertation:

     In The Future of an Illusion, Freud (1856 – 1939 CE) describes religion as an illusion. He differentiates between an illusion and an error, by noting that what is characteristic of illusions is the move towards human wish fulfillment. He adds, however, that, "illusions need not necessarily be false." (1964, p. 39)  One might ask whether there is a correlation between an illusion, a weltanschauung and an imaginal space, especially for the kind of  Dar al-Islam envisioned by Caliphal Islamists.

     Fethi Benslama, a contemporary Tunisian psychoanalyst who teaches at the University of Paris, discusses the unconscious and stealth nature of Islamism and suggests that the Islamists are haunted by, what he refers to as, “the torment of origins” in Psychoanalysis and the Challenge of Islam, as translated from the French by Robert Bononno: “Its proponents gradually succeeded in attracting the masses through a promise that did not hold any expectations for the future but, rather, incorporated a regression to some distant past, when time was an identical repetition of what had already taken place during Islam’s foundation” (2009, pp. 9-10). The language of al-Fatiha and the project of Monotheism is similarly an invocation of the past, and a focus on the Hereafter. The use of the temporal and spatial past tense, and the vision for a non-terrestrial future, in contrast to the present moment of worship and supplication, needs to receive serious examination.  The significance of Freud’s examination of illusion is that it captures the essence of the longing for a recapitulation of the Golden Age of Islam and a myopic vision of Paradise, which drives those engaged in or celebrating global martyrdom operations. 

     Freud traces the origins of religion to totemism. For Freud, the individual is essentially an enemy of society and has instinctual urges that must be restrained to help society function, because human nature is anti-social, rebellious, and has high sexual and destructive tendencies. The equivalent notion in Islam to these instinctual urges is the nafs ammara, the tyrannical self, about which more will be expounded later in this chapter, within the context of Sufi psychology. So destructive is human nature, Freud claims that "it is only through the influence of individuals who can set an example and whom masses recognize as their leaders that they can be induced to perform the work and undergo the renunciations on which the existence of civilization depends." (1964, p. 8)  How these individuals acquire such qualities of leadership and values is not explained in this text, but Freud clearly sees the need for exemplars and models. Freud comes to terms with the enduring impact of leadership in his final work, Moses and Monotheism. He even proposes that a “great man influences his contemporaries through his personality and through the idea for which he stands” (1967, p. 139). It is unclear how Freud would rationalize the fact that the personality of such a leader can be, and historically has been, inspired, not just by an idea of God, but by an encounter with the numinous manifestation of the Divine. Freud instead argues that religion develops as the emphasis on acquisition of physical objects and the satisfaction of instinctual drives (sex, wealth, glory, happiness, immortality) moves from the material to the mental. As compensation for good behaviors, religion promises a reward. For Freud, there is nothing intrinsic in human nature that would inspire individuals to act with nobility. Nevertheless, Freud does recognize the role for leadership, and al-Fatiha refers to the role of the religious leadership of humankind to set the civilizing example that is called for, even if it, too, may only be a shared human wish by many.

    Religion is rooted in the Oedipus complex, and represents man's helplessness in the world, having to face death and the forces of nature. Freud views God as an infantile longing for a father. In his words "The gods retain the threefold task: they must exorcize the terrors of nature, they must reconcile men to the cruelty of Fate, particularly as it is shown in death, and they must compensate them for the sufferings and privations which a civilized life in common has imposed on them" (1964, p. 19). Islam’s loss of the Prophet as the father and its central authority figure caused much confusion and disruption for the umma, as noted earlier.  The root word for umma is umm, which means Mother. It is the umma, without a father, which is now left to provide the maternal nurturing and nourishment to all those who have been orphaned by the Prophet’s departure. But the umma is, and has always been, in disarray and fragmented. The very unity of the umma, which represents the One Soul from which all humanity continues to be born, is in doubt.

     Freud’s 1929 essay on Civilization and Its Discontents is a penetrating summary of the views on culture from a psychoanalytic perspective. As an atheist, Freud could not have accepted or fully grasped the civilizing mission of religion but he did not fail to see it as a human mission: “I was led to the idea that civilization was a special process which mankind undergoes, and I am still under the influence of that idea. I may now add that civilization is a process in the service of Eros, whose purpose is to combine single human individuals, and after that families, then races, peoples and nations, into one great unity, the unity of mankind. Why this has to happen, we do not know; the work of Eros is precisely this” (1961, pp. 81-82). But it is clearly also the mission of pan-Islamism to unite humanity, although it is founded on a distorted aggressive interpretation of the original message of Islam, which strove for a Pax Islamica in service to Eros. The Eros in Islamism is perverted to a form of religious supremacy.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Opening to the Face of Allah


With a focus on the upper left quadrant of the Transpersonal and Spiritual Psychology of Islam, this link invites you to open to the Face of Allah:!

Love, light and shadow,

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Heart and Soul of Islam


Now that I have completed my doctoral dissertation, this blog will change focus from being an archive for my dissertation research to being a blog which strives to explore the heart and soul of Islam through the lens of an Integral Psychology of Islam.

For those who would like to see more meat on the bones of an Integral Psychology of Islam, I will be uploading several chapters from my dissertation research in the next few months. You can immediately download the synopsis and two chapters of the dissertation at

Love, light and shadow,