The Quran and Freud:  Complementary Perspectives on Personality

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The Quran and Freud: Complementary Perspectives on Personality

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The study of the mind and behavior is called psychology. With its bifurcations in biology and philosophy, psychology has many different schools of thought and subcategories. Personality psychology is a branch of psychology that emphasizes understanding each person’s unique psychological construct. This article examines how Freud’s personality theory progressed and how it influenced other prominent psychoanalytic psychologists, including Anna Freud, Carl Jung, and Otto Rank [1].

Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud, a renowned psychiatric and psychoanalysis expert, was born in 1856 in Moravia, Czech Republic, to a Jewish family. He studied neurology and later moved to Leipzig and Vienna [2].

Freud’s Personality Theory
Freud’s theory of personality consists of three components: id, ego, and superego. The id, unconscious but driving fundamental impulses like sexual desire and violent desires, is motivated by the pleasure principle. The superego represents morality and obligations, while the ego is based on the reality principle, guiding us to fulfill our core urges. The id drives us to engage in harmful habits, while the superego aspires to perfection. The ego acts as a bridge between the id and superego, controlling our actions [3].

Qur’an’s proposition to personality theory
The Qur’an, the sacred scripture of Muslims, was revealed to Prophet Mohammad in 610 CE. It contains 114 chapters and 6236 verses. The term “nafs” refers to our inner self, our cravings, passions, consciousness of right and wrong, and our capacity to reach inner peace through restraint of selfish desires. An illustration of this is when Allah Almighty states in the Qur’an:

Wazkur Rabbaka Fee Nafsika – Transliteration
“And remember your Lord inside yourself.” [4].

The Qur’an commonly uses the term nafs to refer to a part of our self with cravings, appetite, wrath, passion, and lust, also known as the ego or carnal soul.

With reference to personality, the Qur’an mentions three of its type, in the Arabic language, al-nafs; nafs-e-ammārah, nafs-e-lawwāmah, and nafs-e-mutma’inna. Al Ghazali, who was a notable Islamic scholar, studied these types extensively. In various works, he mentions these nufus (plural of nafs) constitute human personality [5].

Nafs-e-ammārah: This type of nafs commands us and dictates our actions. Therefore, it is termed as the ‘soul that enjoys evil’. This nafs subjugates us, leading us to follow its decrees and desires, paralyzing our cognitive process and committing blatant sin, often resulting in our surrender. The Qur’an talks about this as:
innan nafsa la ammaaratum bissooo’i- Transliteration
“Indeed the nafs that overwhelmingly commands a person to do sin.” [6].

Nafs-e-lawwāmah: This nafs brings a person to commit sin, but then that nafs self-implicates itself, it reproaches itself, it feels bad, it feels remorseful. The person determines that they are not going to commit it again because they feel guilty. People with such nafs may struggle with this guilt, wishing they could take back their sins and never commit them again. This battle with their nafs can result in both sin and avoiding it [8, 10]. The Qur’an states about it:

Wa laaa uqsimu bin nafsil lawwaamah- Transliteration
“And I swear by the reproaching soul.” [7].

Nafs-e-mutma’inna: The nafs al-mutma’inna, or those who are content with Allah Almighty’s ḥukm (order or decree), are those who have been moulded, trained, and disciplined to be content with what Allah Almighty is pleased with. This contentment lies in what Allah Almighty is happy and pleased with. The nafs also reaches a state of serenity, where they have aman (safety) and iṭmiʾnān (contentment) from doing sin and desiring sin. This signifies that they are content with what Allah Almighty has bestowed upon them and desire no lustful or evil activities [8]. Allah Almighty mentioned it in the Qur’an:

Yaaa ayyatuhan nafsul mutma ‘innah
Irji’eee ilaa Rabbiki raadiyatam mardiyyah – Transliteration
To the righteous, it will be said, “Oh reassured soul, return to your Lord well pleased, and pleasing to Him.” [9].

Similarities and Limitations between The Quran’s and Freud’s theory of personality
As Freud described the components of personality, The Qur’an depicts them in its own way. Id, the pleasure principle, in the Qur’an is discussed as nafs-e-ammārah, whereas ego is described as Nafs-e- lawwāma, and super-ego is defined as nafs-e-mutma’inna. All three components hold significance to the development of an individual’s personality.

Id encourages human indulgence in lustful activities and carnal desires, as discussed in the Qur’an’s case of nafs-e-ammārah. The ego, responsible for regulating the id’s desire to the reality principle, is referred to as nafs-e-lawwāmah in the Qur’anic context. Freud’s Ego, however, lacks a moral sensibility [5]. The ego emphasizes the importance of avoiding sins, focusing on the potential consequences of actions rather than the guilt associated with them. The last component, that is, super-ego, is characterized as nafs-e-mutma’inna. This, according to Freud, is based on the morality principle [10]. Though Freud’s superego concept states about morality principle, it does not achieve contentment. This is contrary to the teachings of the Qur’an because in nafs-e-mutma’inna a person who achieves this stage feels content with Allah Almighty’s decree and keeps themself away from lustful desires and worldly gains.

The main aim of the article was to analyze the different perspectives on personality, specifically referencing the Qur’an and Freud’s theory. Throughout the article, I refrained from making any generalizations about concepts or theories. This is because it would be audacious to discuss contradictions, as Freud’s perspective is purely theoretical and not based on factual evidence. On the other hand, the Qur’anic standpoint is approached from a spiritual and philosophical perspective. In the field of psychology, both perspectives are vital, regardless of what they teach or what we can learn from them. It is important that they do not hinder our ability to excel and learn from each other.