18 February, 2013

Meditation and Islam - II

[ I received some of questions from a non-Muslim Psychology Student in US; here are my replies]


Next set of questions for you.  What are your feelings about the idea of the Jungian shadow (the idea of opposition in your actions)? Do you feel that the Muslim people put on a persona ( or a mask) at worship services or do you feel that they show their true selves? In our discussion in class we spoke on how we feel that members of our faith would sometimes put on a "mask" at church and try to show their best selves which Jung believed would strengthen their shadow, because if one gets enforced so will the other. His idea was all about recognizing the good and bad in order to be balanced (or walk the middle way which is a Hindu belief). Are there members of your faith that set themselves a part from society? For example Catholic Priests dedicate their lives to the Priesthood and take vows of celibacy and of poverty, Hindu monks might take a vow of silence.

Once again I wanted to thank you for your help in answering my questions, you have been very helpful and timely in your answers and I thank you for taking time to help me.

Dear XXX,

I'm glad that my answers were helpful to an academic audience.

[1] My views on Jungian Shadow. I find the idea of Jungian shadow quite interesting. The fact that everyone holds negative and positive aspects of his/her personality, of which one is not fully conscious, to me seems quite rational and intriguing. However, I would like to say that Jung was not the first one to present such a concept. Islamic scholars who have studied metaphysical verses of Qur'an in detail have pointed out similar concepts centuries ago. Qur'an speaks of various elements of which a human is made. Of which the physical body with its animalistic instincts is one. Another aspect is the soul with its kind of angelic instincts. Furthermore, the soul with itself brings a 'hard-wired' (burnt in/innate) knowledge/set of moral code that is similar to the concept of 'moral law with-in' given by Immanuel Kant in his Critique of practical reasons. Qur'an calls that set of innate knowledge as Fitrah, and Qur'an also points out the knowledge that some animals 'bring into' this world even when they are born. The babies of animals and birds are not as 'handicapped' at birth as human babies are. So, this embedded knowledge is also important in analyzing what a person's personality is made of. There are external influences like demonic possessions or interventions or ESPs which Islam recognizes as well. Anyways, I admire the academic value of Jung's concepts, and the way he has dealt with soul and unconscious aspects of humans in great deal. His work is highly important in the world of today, where some consider human to be "programmable robots", and believe that any "set of experiences" when "inserted" into any "human" will bring out the same "personality".

[2] As you would be well-aware, the concept of Jungian shadow involves a wide-range of understandings. The way you have framed your question it seems you are referring to the 'dark side' of personality.
- To being with I would like to say, like in all other religions, its not possible to paint all muslims with the same brush.
- Yes, I believe that some Muslims don't put on a persona (mask) during worship services and I also believe that many muslims do not put on a persona (mask) during worship services.
- There are wide range of Muslims out there, there are those for whom worship is a time for 'free-association' a time to vent out their thoughts and feelings in front of someone who understands them inside out, and there are those who join with others in worship just to avoid social pressure. There are those who understand the spirit behind worship, and there are those who take worship as a mere mechanical exercise. So, its a broad continuum, with people quite spread out throughout the spectrum.

[3] Qur'an calls the Muslims as the 'nation on the middle-way'. Islamic teaching state unequivocally that no one is free from sinning, and one will commit mistakes. The point is to learn from those mistakes. And Islamic poet (Iqbal) went out of the way and spoke about the 'academic value of sin'. and those who try to put on a mask of piety all the time tend to be 'irrational'. So, islam highly stresses on finding the balance. And, yes, I agree the more you try to put on a 'mask' the more will even you forget the existence of the shadow. 'Knowing your self' would be important to find that balance. And that self , which Qur'an calls as the 'Nafs', includes recognizing various physical and extra dimensional entities that make a human. If there are aspects of your personality that you are completely unaware, in the background, they will become prominent , and quite often they will be negative. Hence, to find the balance, you must first acknowledge the existence of the shadow.

[4] In Islam, monasticism is prohibited, generally. As, I mentioned above, Islam stressed a lot on striking the balance. It also stressed on striking the balance between religious and worldly duties. One cannot set himself aside from his worldly duties and dedicate just to worship or meditation.Taking lengthy vows of poverty etc are considered as 'self-harm' which are also prohibited in Islam. We have to strive to strengthen our relation with God, and try not to make material gains make our primary goal, but we have to do what while doing our other duties. In-fact, striving to work for a socio, economic and political system that ensures rights of every individual is a must for all muslims. Similarly, enjoining good and forbinning bad, is a basic duty of all muslims. Hence, one cannot practice monasticism and islam at the same time. They appear some-what contradictory. To practice Islam fully, you have to engage in the real struggle that forces you to get out of your comfort zone and work for humanity.

Having said, all that, I would like to say that there are people who still do practice their lives in a way that is close to monasticism. That way is not according to the Islamic teachings or spirit. On the other hand, we also have those who have completed devoted themselves in the struggle for material gains; all their efforts are in collecting wealth, fame etc. Both these ways are 'not balanced'. 

Best Regards,
Muhammad Awais Tahir

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