Islamic counseling and psychotherapy is a discipline that is vaguely defined. Information that is available on this topic is often limited in quantity and perspective to form the theoretical basis necessary to constitute a model of intervention for Islamic Counseling. Indeed in discussions with social service practitioners this lack of a coherent Islamic counseling methodology is frequently expressed. It is not unusual to find that counseling professionals find themselves at a loss to intervene effectively with clients who adhere to an Islamic value system especially when it is at variance with their own. For the client this situation is commonly experienced as an inability on the side of the practitioner to fully understand him/her. Given that Islamic counseling is not yet in a form where its actual implementation can be monitored, it first requires guidelines that can be integrated into a theoretical framework, a purpose to which this article is directed.
Islamic counseling is not a new concept. When studying its historical location, a distinction may be made between cultural and professional modes of Islamic counseling. In the former, counseling is not an explicit exercise, but alluded to in the religio-cultural rituals of Muslim communities. In the case of the latter, we set Islamic counseling as a formal discourse, comparable with mainstream, predominantly western counseling paradigms.
If counseling is to be equated with giving advice and guidance then it dates back to the beginning of time, having an array of practitioners including shamans and sangomas, friends and family, prophets, priests and soothsayers. Islamic counseling in a cultural mode is not an explicit process. It manifests as part of ritual healing practices. While these practices do not constitute formal counseling, it has been shown to hold the same therapeutic value as mainstream counseling approaches. This has been attested to by case studies drawn from the Negev, India and Morocco all in the psychotherapeutic validity and healing capacity of such practices.1
Islamic counseling and psychotherapy from a professional perspective is of recent origin. Few scholars have addressed this area of study in a significant way, beyond assertions that Islamic counseling needs to be developed into a well structured discourse that captures the breath and spirit of Islam in helping people. These contributions are usually directed at the presence of mainstream western counseling paradigms as a dominant force in counseling and social intervention.
Professional counseling and psychotherapy are two separate but closely linked disciplines that are for most part treated equivalently. They are generally understood as disciplines that involve help and healing, and by which counselors interact with clients to assist them to learn about themselves, deal with their environments, and understand the roles and responsibilities inherent in these relations. The role of emotions in causing psychological and emotional disturbances is central to understanding and helping clients. Individuals are thus aided to recognize their potential, learn how to utilize this potential, and work towards removing obstacles that block full realization of their capabilities.
In professional terms, Islamic counseling would be a confluence of counseling and psychotherapy with the central tenets of Islam. This is acceptable in as far as it provides a broad purpose for Islamic counseling by linking it with an overarching intent of helping clients attain positive change in their lives. However, as counseling theories take on various philosophical positions such an analysis can become quite problematic. This is especially so given the nature and scope of Islam as a religious worldview, and debates on Islamic counseling that call for the rejection of western counseling theories. Application of Islamic principles to theories outside the realm of Islam or using concepts from mainstream counseling to inform an Islamic approach is therefore discouraged.
In such arguments it is often asserted that Western psychology is devoid of religion and foster distorted concepts of humankind that are rooted in materialism. Counseling that is based on Islam is then forwarded as a feasible alternative. Writers of such positions do simultaneously concede that western psychotherapy and psychiatry has its merits in dealing with psychological suffering and behavior modification. What is proposed then is that Muslims use the positive aspects of western counseling, integrate it with the spiritual, and develop Islamic psycho-spiritual counseling methodologies that would facilitate positive change in Muslim clients.
Exploring the Qur’an, the Sirah of the Prophet and his traditions, as well as the biographies of the Prophet’s companions, will provide detailed instructions for implementing successful therapy. In the main, though, it is Sufism (tasawwuf), the mystical tradition of Islam, which is credited with providing the basis for Islamic psychology. It is forwarded as the main frame of reference from which to develop a professional Islamic counseling approach.
This article was written by Somayya Abdullah.
Al-Krenawi, A & Graham J. “Spirit possession and exorcism in the treatment of a Bedouin Psychiatric Patient”. Clinical Social Work Journal, 25 (Summer 1997), 211-222.
Smith, Michael C. Psychotherapy and the Sacred. Religious experience and Religious Resources in Psychotherapy. Centre for the Scientific Study of Religion. 1995.
Crapanzano, Vincent. The Hamadsha. A study in Moroccan Ethnopsychiatry. University of California Press. Berkley. 1973.
Carson, AD and Altai, NM. “1000 Years before Parsons: Vocational Psychology in Classical Islam” Career Development Quarterly, 43 (1994), 197-206.