ISLAMIC PSYCHOTHERAPY ONLINE
Volume 13, January 2010
Editor: Hajji Mohamed Ziauddin
IN THE NAME OF ALLAH, THE MOST BENEFICENT AND THE MOST MERCIFUL
SPOTLIGHT OF THE WEEK:
ANALYSIS OF THE SUICIDE BOMBER:
A CLINICAL-PSYCHO-SOCIAL PERSPECTIVE
ISLAMIC INHIBITORS AND MORAL SPEEDBRAKERS
Generally speaking, killing another human being requires both a psychological and physical act. Such a lovely religion as Islam already has in place ISLAMIC INHIBITORS through its gems of HolyQuran and Hadith that repeatedly emphasize the virtues of practicing Compassion, Empathy, Forgiveness, Peace, Universal Brotherhood, Love et.c.
Feelings of guilt and fear of being prosecuted if the destructive plan fails and the individual is caught are additional inhibitors. It behooves us to note that for a suicide bomber, his primary, secondary and tertiary motivators to cause destruction are far greater and easily overcomes above Islamic inhibitors. How does one explain such behavior from a practicing Muslim who literally throws all above ISLAMIC INHIBITORS ASIDE and rushes to kill self and others including innocents around him? If this is NOT A PERVERTED AND DISTORTED MOTIVATOR AGAINST THE PEACE LOVING PRINCIPLES OF ISLAM, THEN WHAT ELSE IS?
HISTORICAL SNAPSHOT OF PSYCHOLOGY’S NEGATIVITY TOWARDS RELIGION – Eg. Christianity.
According to Psychologist Dan Carpenter in his article: “Ethical Considerations in Working with Religious Clients”, he stated:
“The culture of Christianity has been influenced by a history of dissatisfaction with psychology. Part of the responsibility for this turbulent past rests with therapists who condemned religiosity as pathological.
Contemporary insensitivity toward religious belief was preceded in the field by early comments on the part of several prominent members of the psychological community.Warnock captured the essence of the "anti-religious" spectrum of psychology:
Through the years, religion has been viewed by psychologists and those in related professions in many ways: by Freud as an illusion, an obsession and a fulfillment of infantile wishes; by Jung as an Archetype; by Fromm as human love; by Erikson as an epigenetic virtue; by James as an intensely personal experience, by Sargant as a matter of classical conditioning; by Skinner as a matter of operant conditioning; by Allport as a matter of personal becoming; [and] by Maslow as a quest for man's higher nature...(Warnock, 1989, p. 263)
Fritz Perls viewed theology as projection, the attribution of characteristics to the universe, and he admired those ministers who shifted from belief in a personalized God to embrace "...the basic creative energy of the universe." (Walker, p. 188-89)
Perhaps one of the most famous quotes capturing the anti-religion bias in psychology was made by Albert Ellis (1962) who said "...And because any deity-positing religion almost by necessity involves endowing those members who violate the laws of its gods with a distinct concept of blameworthiness or sinfulness, I am inclined to reverse Voltaire's famous dictum and to say that, from a mental health standpoint, if there were a God it would be necessary to uninvent Him"(p. 142)
Reasons for an often-negative view of religion from psychologists vary from an unthinking acceptance of the "traditional" depreciating views espoused above, which portray religious belief as detrimental to mental health, to more personal issues such as past experience of the therapist.
Why is it that "compared with the public at large, secular psychotherapists are less likely to affiliate or participate in organized religion and are more likely to express their spiritual interests in nontraditional ways"? (Genia, 1994, p. 395). Lovinger (1984) posited that training in the sciences (such as psychology, psychiatry and nursing) "is at odds with the religious orientation and background of many Americans" (p. 1). He also stated that the humanist orientation and liberal political outlook of training institutions tends to complement a worldview which is essentially nonreligious, if not anti-religious (p. 2).”
From the above views of Dr. Dan Carpenter, how could we translate it to the historical perspective of psychologists towards the religion of Islam? To analyze further, with the mainstream media’s general negative attitude towards Islam and the real life suicidal, homicidal and destructive actions of a minority of misguided Muslim suicide bombers, how is Islam being perceived in the world of Psychologists and Psychotherapists? In what ways can practicing Muslim Psychologists and Psychotherapists contribute their valuable input in this behavioral field and make the much needed positive difference?
The writer strongly believes that the emphasis on SEEKING KNOWLEDGE both in the Holy Quran and Hadith was meant to be the building blocks to be built over the foundation of above two gems tailored to the contemporary period of human existence. For example the average Muslim’s perception of the Quranic verse “MANKIND IS BUT ONE COMMUNITY” in the 7 th century would be totally different than the perception of the same verse today, when we have phone, internet, fax, satellite TV et.c.
Although during the first phase of Islamic period the emphasis on SEEKING KNOWLEDGE was given lot of attention, unfortunately its emphasis significantly reduced in the subsequent centuries and sadly continues to this day. If Muslims are one-fifth of the world’s population, what percent of the worlds Nobel laureates, leading scientists and researchers are Muslims? Lack of emphasis of seeking such contemporary knowledge was a blow to the Ummah’s ability to effectively deal with its contemporary conflicts on psychological, social, political level.
This easily led to some misguided Islamic leaders being able to win over certain vulnerable Muslims who were initially innocent, sincere and deeply religious but inadvertently fell into their trap by believing the distorted interpretation of Islam. Such misguided leaders fully exploited the weakness of the vulnerable Muslims and ultimately forced them through their own voluntary actions to DESTROY THEIR OWN LIVES.
Islamic Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a vast ocean of specialized knowledge integrating the gems of Holy Quran, Hadith and Contemporary Psychology. Below focus on the aspect of “EMOTION” is but one spec in the cosmos of such knowledge. Due to the limited space assigned for each of these weekly issues, even this single aspect of “EMOTIONS” really does not do justice to this issue and is just a snapshot at best.
A PRACTICING MUSLIM SEES THE WORLD AROUND HIM THROUGH THE TWO SYMBOLIC EYES OF HOLY QURAN AND HADITH. As long as the information obtained through the various senses – visual (reading Islamic literature et.c) and auditory (hearing Islamic speeches et.c) and subsequent cognition of it are interpreted in the appropriate way, then there are multiple benefits through which both the individual Muslim and the global UMMAH can enjoy their quality of life from practicing Islam. Further the individual would receive the rewards both in this world and in the world hereafter.
HOWEVER, IF THE INFORMATION OBTAINED THROUGH THE VARIOUS SENSES are misinterpreted in an inappropriate, twisted and deviant way then there is bound to be COGNITIVE DISTORTION, which would ultimately lead to multiple problems not only to the individual (as the suicide bomber who self-destructs himself) but also on others too (innocent victims including women and children around the suicide bomber).
In her book, “HELP FOR EMOTIONS”, Dr. Lynn Clark Ph.D indicates that our emotions are to a great extent controlled by our beliefs, the way we think about the problems we encounter and our silent self-talk.
Interpreting the above from an Islamic perspective, when a small but dangerous group of leaders misinterpret the peaceful gems of Islam to the most vulnerable group of desperate people, the consequences could be DEADLY, to say the least. Such leaders through their misguidance; influence to a significant extent the beliefs and in the process the aspect of “self-talk” of the suicide bombers.
Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and manage one’s emotions (Goleman, 1995). Dr. Lynn Clark states that emotional intelligence consists of five abilities:
- Being aware of our emotions.
- Managing our emotions.
- Motivating ourselves to achieve our goals.
- Recognizing emotions in others.
- Managing relationships with others.
Above Editor believes that very likely the emotional intelligence of a suicide bomber is low. (Similar is the case with his social intelligence, which consists of understanding one’s emotions and behavior, understanding other’s emotions and behavior, and managing relationships).
From a clinical perspective, since emotional intelligence is learned rather than inherited, it can be improved. This is an important aspect to be considered in the treatment milieu while working with not only potential suicidal bombers but also in developing a plan to minimize if not eliminate the growth of a new generation of misguided suicide bombers.
(1) SUICIDE BOMBERS’S AWARENESS OF HIS EMOTIONS:
A suicide bomber is not conscious of his silent self-talk statements and automatic thoughts accompanying his emotions and moods. For a suicide bomber, self-talk statements include distorted teachings and twisted interpretations from the Holy Quran and Hadith . Such distorted beliefs are unfortunately further reinforced by genuine Islamic practice, in terms of continuing to do prayers and Zikr. If the gems (prayers and Zikr ) are covered by poison (distorted beliefs glorifying death, destruction and mayhem), no doubt the gem loses its originality and genuine purpose (of working towards peace both within one’s self and towards the outer environment). The suicide bomber has no clue about above distortion and wrongly assumes that he is a martyr of Islam. UNFORTUNATELY THOSE AROUND HIM WHO ALSO HAVE SIMILAR DISTORTED VIEWS, CONTINUE TO ENCOURAGE AND REINFORCE HIS DISTORTED BELIEFS.
Among the four core emotions of contentment, anxiety, anger and depression, the suicide bomber is high on anxiety and anger.
(2) SUICIDE BOMBER’S MANAGING HIS EMOTIONS:
A suicide bomber is very poor in this area. Managing one’s emotions is directly contingent upon being aware of one’s emotions. Due to the distortion in his automatic thoughts and silent self-talk statements alluded to in above paragraph; he is unable to manage his emotions. If anything, he tends tomaladapt in this issue by becoming increasingly detached to his historical worldly likes and dislikes, materialistic anchors, family obligations etc and moves towards being obsessed with taking revenge and thereby falsely assuming that he is becoming a martyr.
This tends to increase and remain for prolonged periods. Not surprisingly he tends to have a flat affect to environmental stimuli around him. IN SUCH A PROCESS HE ALSO TENDS TO DEVALUE HIMSELF and sees himself as a means (to use his body as a vehicle to harm the enemy by destruction to self and others) to an end (and supposedly be rewarded by going directly to
(3) SUICIDE BOMBER’S MOTIVATION TO ACHIEVE ATTAINABLE GOALS:
Due to his misguidance by unscrupulous extremist elements, his obsession tends to zero in on one single attainable (and graphically destructive) goal – to punish his enemies in the worst possible way by bombing self and others around him. His anger is so intense; that he cares less if there happens to be innocent men, women and children around. SOMEHOW HE HARBORS A DISTORTED BELIEF THAT ALLAH WILL FORGIVE HIM FOR KILLING THE INNOCENTS AROUND HIM AND AWARD HIM DIRECT ACCESS TO
(4) SUICIDE BOMBER’S ABILITY TO RECOGNIZE EMOTIONS IN OTHERS:
A suicide bomber's ability in this area gets significantly reduced. Before destructing himself, he mentally prepares to disconnect himself from the world. It begins with his immediate family, relatives and friends. He also tends to withdraw from others while continuing to obsess over his one and only single goal.
(5) SUICIDE BOMBER’S ABILITY TO MANAGE RELATIONSHIPS WITH OTHERS:
Even in this area, his ability gets significantly reduced. The only social reinforcements that he receives are from his misguided leaders and a small circle of secretive friends of the same group. To them he opens up socially. Unfortunately, they become the fuel and continued reinforcement (in terms of repeatedly reinforcing to him the distorted view of Islam) which helps motivate him to ultimately accomplish his destructive actions.
SUICIDE BOMBERS IRRATIONAL BELIEFS:
- He has complete support from the Ummah and is doing the highest sacrifice possible for the Ummah.
- He will be remembered by the Ummah as a true martyr.
- Taking heroic burden upon himself by sacrificing his worldly desires of being with family et.c.
- Dying for the cause of Islam.
(ED NOTE: Why don’t Imams and Religious Scholars assertively express their view on this issue? If the majority feels above is wrong then why don’t they assertively say so? What about the Ummah in general? Why don’t the majority of the Ummah assertively speak up on this issue?)
Absence of contemporary knowledge (in this context), absence of learning alternative coping skills with the stressors that the suicide bomber is facing – occupation, revenge attacks based on tribe or conflict between religious sects et.c. Absence of peace loving spiritual support groups to calm and fan down the heated anger, frustration and sense of desperation and helplessness. Absence of Muslim professionals from Behavioral Medicine including Psychotherapists to offer such a desperate group ways to learn alternative peaceful strategies.
SUICIDE BOMBERS ARE LIKE A CANCEROUS CELL, WHICH IS GROWING IN NUMBER AND BY THEIR VIOLENT ATTACKS ESPECIALLY AGAINST INNOCENT MEN, WOMEN AND CHILDREN ARE DAMAGING THE WHOLE BODY OF THE GLOBAL UMMAH.
WHY IS IT EMPHASIZED IN ISLAM THAT: “THE INK OF A SCHOLARS PEN IS MORE PRECIOUS THAN THE BLOOD OF THE MARTYR”?
It is a no brainer, that DEVELOPING PEACEFUL ALTERNATIVES TOWARDS CONFLICT RESOLUTION involving the UMMAH, comes not by suicide bombers or an aggressive State’s acts of death and destruction, but by contributions of Imams/Islamic Scholars and Specialists from the Psychology related disciplines. The priority and importance given to the ‘INK OF A SCHOLARS PEN” could be better understood from above.
Did our loving Prophet Mohamed (SAW) foresee blood shed because of Ummah’s exclusive focus on history and becoming disconnected from the contemporary realities?
Does Islam value the power of intellectuals more than soldiers who engage in military combat involving blood shed?
What are the Islamic intellectuals doing at the present time, when such a minority of suicide bombers continues to create mayhem and destruction all in the name of ISLAM?
SUICIDE BOMBER’S DYSFUNCTIONAL & DISTORTED THINKING & SELF TALK:
Despite what we see as graphic violence and destruction in the act of the suicide bomber, in his mind, it is the ULTIMATE LOVE for Allah and the supreme sacrifice of his personal materialistic life for the cause of ISLAM. As a Muslim Psychotherapist, the above Editor argues that above spiritual thinking is not based on facts but by a DISTORTED AND DYSFUNCTIONAL THINKING PATTERN.
Obviously the next question arises as to THE ORIGINAL SOURCE of such information that got disseminated and percolated down to the suicide bomber and his destructive invisible “team”. The above Editor argues that certain extremist elements within the Islamic community have perverted the peaceful and noble teachings of the Holy Quran and Hadith to bring in the component of self-destruction and destruction of innocents around them for what ever cause it may be. Most of the IMAMS of the global UMMAH are a peaceful group of religious leaders and are against their followers to resort to suicide bombing. Most of the Imams liberally utilize the gems from Holy Quran and Hadith to guide their community towards the peaceful path. Several examples of such gems advocating patience and perseverance, non-violence, peace, love and universal brotherhood were mentioned in the past three prior weekly issues. But there are definitely a minority of Muslim religious leaders who have twisted and misinterpreted the gems of Holy Quran and encouraged violence, destruction and mayhem among their very desperate, vulnerable and helpless followers.
The Ummah through the WORLD MUSLIM LEAGUE should seriously address this growing cancerous issue of suicide bombing and while there is no magic wand to immediately end above anti-Islamic practice, focus must be given to find peaceful alternatives to deal with conflict with a goal and long term time frame to work hard on eliminating such destructive violence of suicide bombing.
Regardless of involvement of above Ummah’s world body, all Muslims including Islamic organizations both at the grass roots level and national level should address this hot issue and find alternative ways of responding to conflict and oppression.
THE THREE KEY PLAYERS TO FACILITATE THE END TO ABOVE HORRIBLE DESTRUCTIVE PRACTICE ARE:
(a) IMAMS AND ISLAMIC LEADERS:
Imams and Islamic leaders are encouraged to not just guide and assist in the proper interpretation of the Holy Quran but also to be in SYNC with contemporary times and work towards integrating the gems of Holy Quran with Alternative peaceful strategies based on contemporary knowledge. They are requested to regularly address this issue in their Friday prayers and have the COURAGE to speak out against it. Many Imams shy away from outright condemning such barbaric acts. They are encouraged to highlight various gems from Holy Quran and Hadith emphasizing the importance of patience, perseverance and working towards peace with all including neighbors, non-Muslims and the world at large. For those Imams in the western world, they need to be given all the more support to be more active in INTERFAITH ACTIVITIES.
(b) MUSLIM PSYCHOTHERAPISTS
(From various disciplines – Psychiatry, Psychology, Social Work etc) & COMMUNICATION EXPERTS:
They are encouraged to do more research in the application of the Islamic gems of Holy Quran and Hadith towards resolving current problems including conflict.
THE PRACTICE OF SOME MUSLIMS SHYING AWAY FROM ISLAM AND BEING SECULAR IS NOT WORKING, WE ARE ALREADY SEEING IT.
Muslim professionals from the HEALING ARTS should be assertive enough to identify specific aspects on how the misguided leaders are misinterpreting Islamic gems and exploiting our young Muslims to become human fodder of pieces of bones and flesh, while the so-called martyrs could have TRULY CONTRIBUTED IN A MUCH MORE EFFECTIVE WAY FOR THE CAUSE OF ISLAM BY VOLUNTEERING AND WORKING ON HUNDREDS OF PROJECTS THAT COULD HAVE OTHERWISE HELPED THE MUSLIMS IMMENSELY.
Due to such misguided leaders and deaths of the suicide bombers, UMMAH has lost millions of hours of manpower that could have been positively contributed not only for the welfare and benefit of suicide bomber’s immediate family but the local Muslim community at large.
(c) GOVERNMENT ENTITIES:
They also play an extremely important role to help in ending these horrible destructive suicidal, homicidal and destructive acts. They can in so many ways including providing logistic support assist both the IMAMS and the MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS FROM THE HEALING ARTS to eventually eliminate such destructive practice. Ultimately it is not just an individual but also the whole world that wants LASTING PEACE and Inshallah let us all work towards it.
One of the purpose of writing above article is not only to blend in concepts from the gems of Islam with Psychology but also to encourage the Ummah to begin a serious discussion on this issue especially eliciting feedback from the reluctant but respectable Imams and Muslims from the Healing Arts profession. All opinions are welcome including angrily worded hate e-mails.