Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Classics in Psychology

I have been teaching the course History and Philosophy of Psychology at the university for the last three semesters. Although I can never claim to be an authority on the subject, many of the issues covered are of great interest to my academic inquiry and personal curiosity. Most importantly, having spent many hours reading classical works in psychology; books written by Freud, Jung, James, Skinner, Maslow, Rogers, and Frankl, during my undergraduate years, I realised how important it is to read the original works of these luminous figures to have a better grasp of their scholarly ideas and thoughts. Textbooks attempt to compress and summarise thus what we often get are simplistic views that do not do justice to the complexity and sheer enormity of the thoughts of these great thinkers.

Take Freud for example; a man whose colourful background is matched only by his colourful ideas. In an earlier posting, I gave my views on why Freud will always be an important component in any psychology syllabus. That had to be argued because Freud is by far the most vilified figure in critical psychology. It’s fine to argue against his ideas but I certainly find personal attacks against him (drug addict, sex-maniac etc) distasteful. And I’m very sure anyone who has read any of Freud’s original work, though may still disagree with his ideas thereafter, would at least appreciate his detailed and sophisticated arguments.

In teaching History and Philosophy of Psychology, I have asked my students to read the classical works in psychology and compare their impression and understanding upon reading these primary sources with what they have understood about the same issues from their readings of contemporary textbooks. I am happy to note that some of the reviews and analyses produced were quite impressive. Most notably are the more fair and mature analyses from the Islamic perspective. Rather than cliché statements that these ‘Western’ psychologists are secular, atheist, anti-religion etc without ever trying to understand what they meant in the first place, I was very happy to note that some students were able to express intellectual arguments and even concede that some of these ‘Western’ psychological ideas are in fact Islamic.

Islamization of knowledge as propounded by both Al-Attas and al-Faruqi was never about labelling knowledge as Islamic or un-Islamic. It is a meticulous process of understanding and mastering a particular field of study as prerequisite before any attempt to criticise and challenge it. One cannot criticise something that one does not understand. The great Muslim scholar Al-Ghazali was a strong critic of Greek philosophy and he was able to do that with credibility due to his undisputed knowledge of philosophy. That therefore is the standard that we should aspire to achieve.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Different Approaches of Islamization of Knowledge

(Below is an excerpt from my paper 'Islamization of Knowledge: Current Development and Future Trends' presented in a Seminar on Philosophy of Science in 2001)

To indulge on the issue of the origin and originator of the Islamization concept is to indulge into a meaningless argument which reaches to no end. It is meaningless because it does not serve any great significance. Sufficient to say, the idea, or in this case the movement, was given the limelight it deserves in 1982 with the publication of the book Islamization of Knowledge: General Principles and Work Plan, written by Isma’il al Faruqi. This work provoked critical responses from scholars, both Western and Muslims, and has resulted in a series of conferences, research, books, and to a large extent the formation of the first international Islamic university in Malaysia.

Not everyone however, shared al Faruqi’s approach towards Islamization. Agreements varied and this ultimately resulted into several other approaches. Christopher Furlow, from the Department Anthropology, University of Florida, in his article ‘The Islamization of Knowledge: Philosophy, Legitimation, and Politics’, published in the journal Social Epistemology (Vol.10, 3, 1996) has categorized these different approaches into three major groups: modernization, indigenization and nativization. The following are summaries of each approach.

1. Modernization

The advocates of this modernist approach hold that "science is value free, neutral and objective." Any values that surround science are "primarily personal in nature and therefore do not effect the content of science." Knowledge is considered universal. What makes it different or in this case Islamic or un-Islamic is the application. Application in this case covers both intention and action. Two major figures in this approach are physicists Muhammad Abdus Salam and Jamal Mimoumi. Both view modern science as a Graeco-Islamic legacy and state that "natural sciences are as Islamic as nature could be." There is no need then to Islamize science and knowledge. Knowledge should be pursued no matter from where or whom the source is. Knowledge is Islamic or Islamized if and when it is used in the path of Allah and towards the betterment of mankind.

2. Indigenization

The indigenists’ goal is "the production of knowledge relevant to the specific problems of Islamic countries." While they argue that Western philosophy should not be adopted in its totality in an Islamic education system, they are none-the-less unwilling to discard the whole enterprise altogether. The goal then is an integration of Western sciences and Islamic revealed knowledge. For this to be achieved, the Muslim world will have to produce scholars who are endowed with both Western modern disciplines and Islamic revealed knowledge. This is the approach championed by the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), and the Association of Muslim Social Scientists (AMSS). And among its major proponents are almarhum Isma'il al Faruqi, Sheikh Waqar Husaini and Sheikh Taha Jabir al-Alwani. How this integration is to be achieved is firmly outlined in the 12 steps of the Islamization of Knowledge Work Plan of al Faruqi.

3. Nativization

If the modernists argue science should be approached as it is, and for the indigenists, an integration of Western modern sciences and Islamic revealed knowledge and heritage, the nativists propose the creation of a completely new Islamic science. For them, Islamic science should not be an adaptation of the modernist model of science, rather it is a new and different science that must be built upon the foundations of Islamic epistemology. Two main models of this approach are the Ijmali’s model, led by Ziauddin Sardar, Parvez Manzoor and Munawar Anees, and the model of Seyyed Hoessein Nasr. The Ijmalis' ultimate aim is to apply universal Islamic concepts to contemporary situation "... and (to) address the issues of modern Islamic civilization from within its own worldview." For Hoessein Nasr, the goal of this new Islamic science is "the demonstration of the interrelatedness of all things." And to achieve this, knowledge should be pursued from a Tawhidic perspective whose pre requisites include total rejection of Western philosophy and science.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

My Ambition... (Cita-Cita Saya...)

In reflection of my nostalgic childhood ambition to become a poet (sasterawan), I wish to share the very piece that inspired me then to have that dream. I would like to cling on to that dream and would perhaps one day attempt to revive whatever talents I may have in writing poetry.



Kalau sampai waktuku
'Ku mau tak seorang kan merayu
Tidak juga kau

Tak perlu sedu sedan itu

Aku ini binatang jalang
Dari kumpulannya terbuang

Biar peluru menembus kulitku
Aku tetap meradang menerjang

Luka dan bisa kubawa berlari
Hingga hilang pedih peri

Dan aku akan lebih tidak perduli
Aku mau hidup seribu tahun lagi

- Chairil Anwar, Maret 1943 -


(English translation)


If my time should come
I’d like no one to entice me
Not even you

No need for those sobs and cries
I am but a wild animal
Cut from its kind
Though bullets should pierce my skin
I shall still strike and march forth

Wounds and poison shall I take aflee
‘Til the pain and pang should disappear

And I should care even less
I want to live for another thousand years

- Chairil Anwar, March 1943 -

Friday, 10 October 2008

Why We Still Study Freud...

One of my dilemmas as a Muslim teacher of psychology is whether I should or should not teach Freudian psychology. As a person, my religion, Islam, is what defines me first-and-foremost. That I am bounded by the standards of professionalism as a teacher, though of paramount importance, to me does not supersede my religious values and obligations. With that in mind, how then can I justify teaching my students that during their pre-school years they all had romantic feelings towards their parents, that when they were infants they all obtained sexual pleasure when breast-fed by their mothers, that young girls are envious of boys for their genitals and young boys envious of girls for having a womb, that religions are nothing but illusions and neurotic compulsions etc. All these, very obviously are NOT Islamic, hence the argument for Islamization of knowledge. Even then, rather than Islamizing Freud, why not discard totally Freud and psychoanalysis from our syllabus?

Well, the reason why we don’t do this is because, although Freud was not right on many issues, he was also not totally wrong. There are two books that I often refer to for an in-depth scholarly critic against Freudian psychology: ‘Decline and Fall of the Freudian Empire’ by Hans Eysenck, and ‘Freudian Fraud: The Malignant Effect of Freud’s Theory’ by E. Fuller Torrey. Both, though highly commendable work, contain some very cruelly unfair and negative remarks against Freud and his ideas.

I was an undergraduate student when I first read both books. I was a psychology major but was (maybe am still) suffering from an acute intellectual identity crisis. Reading these two books didn’t help much to resolve the conflict. In fact, it made me feel even more confused and disillusioned to the extent that at one point I even considered quitting psychology and reinvent myself with studies of religions, spirituality, mysticism and philosophy (in addition to my ever burning interest in politics and history).

Now, with almost five years of experience teaching psychology, I like to believe that my level of understanding of psychological theories has grown more sophisticated. In the case of Freud and his psychoanalytic school, having read some of the primary sources in the last few years, I believe I can now understand and appreciate better Freud’s ideas. I can only claim to have read three books authored by Freud himself: ‘Totem & Taboo’, ‘The Future of an Illusion’, and ‘Civilization and Its Discontents’. But even from reading these three books, it was very clear to me that Freud has not always been fairly depicted in contemporary psychology text books.

I certainly believe Freud was quite right to say that the unconscious is the key to understand one’s personality. And his deliberation on the id, ego and superego to me was a fair reflection of man’s constant battles against his own whims and desires. Of course, I won’t go as far to say that it is exactly the same with the Quranic depiction on the nafs (mutmainnah, al-ammarah, al-lawwamah). There are indeed some fundamental differences between them both philosophically and operationally.

One of Freud’s most brilliant assertions was his defence mechanisms. I do not think that there is any doubt that all of us do try to repress (if not forget) painful and embarrassing memories, we do sometimes project our anger not to the person we are angry with but to others weaker and more vulnerable, and we do to sometimes quite strangely embrace the very habit and behaviours that we openly denounce as immoral and unacceptable.

Some things are just so eerily true, which, in the case of Freud’s views on war and aggression, even Albert Einstein was greatly impressed. Below is an excerpt from Freud’s famous letter to Einstein:

Conflicts of interest between man and man are resolved, in principle, by the recourse to violence. It is the same in the animal kingdom, from which man cannot claim exclusion; nevertheless, men are also prone to conflicts of opinion, touching, on occasion, the loftiest peaks of abstract thought, which seem to call for settlement by quite another method. This refinement is, however, a late development. To start with, group force was the factor which, in small communities, decided points of ownership and the question which man's will was to prevail. Very soon physical force was implemented, then replaced, by the use of various adjuncts; he proved the victor whose weapon was the better, or handled the more skillfully. Now, for the first time, with the coming of weapons, superior brains began to oust brute force, but the object of the conflict remained the same: one party was to be constrained, by the injury done him or impairment of his strength, to retract a claim or a refusal. This end is most effectively gained when the opponent is definitely put out of action--in other words, is killed.

(Sigmund Freud’s letter to Albert Einstein dated September 1932. Click here to read the entire Einstein-Freud correspondence)

So, where was Freud wrong? The mistakes Freud made are in fact the same mistakes made by many others who came after him; the mistake of overemphasizing and overgeneralizing his claims. Yes, he was wrong to overemphasize on human sexuality, and he was wrong to present his theories as a universal theory despite the very small number of case studies from which he derived almost all his ideas from. But then, didn’t Skinner overemphasize on learning factors (hence largely ignoring biological and genetic factors), Hull on drive-reduction as the basis of all reinforcements, and Maslow on self-actualisation and peak experiences? They were all scholars who promoted their own theories and approaches and all of them believed theirs were without flaws and most superior.

Why then that Freud continues to be the most convenient target of criticism? His ideas I guess were just too explicit and radical. Be-as-that-may, I am quite sure Freud will forever remain an important part of any psychology syllabus.