18 May, 2011

Ibrahim’s (عليه السلام) Hierarchy of Needs

There have been people, who’ve been forced to re-think their beliefs because their treasure of money, fame, power didn’t repel the thought of something missing. And there have been others, who directed their hunt to the correct high-way when sufferings attacked them i.e. the scarcity of the so-called basic needs.

Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs is a theory in Psychology that is taught in universities to students studying behavioral sciences. It is also taught to Marketing Students to understand basic needs of Consumers. In his study of the theory, Maslow, studied the lives of what he called as ‘exemplary’ people like Albert Einstein, whom he thought to be ‘complete’ in contrast to people who had some mental or psychological illness. Abraham Maslow is considered to be one of the founders of Humanistic Psychology, and his theory is rather a ‘humanistic approach to self-actualization’. This theory was fully elaborated in his book Motivation and Personality.
His theory is well-understood in form of a pyramid with the most basic need at the bottom:
Maslow suggests that the most basic needs must be met before the need of going to the next level if strongly felt. Critics have argued that Maslow’s theory is influenced by his ethnic background. Others have argued that his theory is a strictly individualistic approach to needs. His humanistic views seem to have deeply influenced the theory as well which is evident in the use of word ‘esteem’ instead of religion. So, there are disagreements on either the correct hierarchy of needs, or whether there is any such generic hierarchy at all.
Any study on the hierarchy of human needs, with religious doctrines as the founding principles will deeply change Maslow’s theory because:
[1] The invisible self (spirit, روح) has been ignored by humanist psychologist. A comprehensive understanding of human needs, involves the understanding the needs of the human animalistic self, and the meta-physical self, and the results of their fusion.
[2] The belief that God, as creator, understands humans more than they do themselves. The guidance manual revealed by God tells us much more accurately how to classify and arrange human needs.
[3] The belief in the here-after, changes the line of action and life-styles and divides needs into worldly needs and eternal needs. The belief that the life in this world, is like a day spend in a hotel, and the real destination is yet to come. It also gives rise to the concept of ‘ultimate need’ or ‘ultimate success’.
[4] Humans are born on the true-faith, but as they grow up, their understanding of needs is highly influenced by what is taught to them, and the life-style they are made to idealize.
[5] Prophets were complete humans sent by Allah, so, a religious study of hierarchy of needs would study the lives of Prophets and not those considered to be complete by humans today by using material or normative standards of excellence.
Ibrahim (Peace be upon him) left his wife Hajirah (Peace be upon her) and his child Ismael (Peace be upon him) in Makkah, when it was a completely deserted. There was no source of food or water around. As a man who understood the reality of this world, and the exact hierarchy of needs, this is what Ibrahim prayed for his wife and son:

رَّبَّنَا إِنِّي أَسْكَنتُ مِن ذُرِّيَّتِي بِوَادٍ غَيْرِ ذِي زَرْعٍ عِندَ بَيْتِكَ الْمُحَرَّمِ رَبَّنَا لِيُقِيمُوا الصَّلَاةَ فَاجْعَلْ أَفْئِدَةً مِّنَ النَّاسِ تَهْوِي إِلَيْهِمْ وَارْزُقْهُم مِّنَ الثَّمَرَاتِ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَشْكُرُونَ 
O our Lord! Surely I have settled a part of my offspring in a valley unproductive of fruit near Thy Sacred House, our Lord! That they may keep up prayer; therefore make the hearts of some people yearn towards them and provide them with fruits; haply they may be grateful. (Surah Ibrahim 14:38)
[1] Many Prophet’s went through a training period in isolation, away from the World. Musa (Peace be upon him) spent forty days at the Mount of Tur and Muhammad (Peace be upon him) went to the Cave of Hira. Similarly, the isolation in the desert will force Hajirah to ask the most basic questions, and convince her on the invisible realities. The belief that the invisible realities are more real than the visible one, is the ‘self-actualization’ in Islam. This is from where the journey starts. If you haven’t understood your correct composition, you might be correctly fulfilling the needs of your visible self, but you might be totally ignoring the invisible self.
[2] Having understood that there is an invisible self in you and that is continually hoping to connect to his Lord (Allah), now you need to know the means and way to connect to your Lord. That is why Ibrahim prayed to Allah to guide them to Salah (prayer).
[3] Next, he asked Allah to bend people’s heart’s towards them, that is some-what similar to love/belonging need in Maslow’s hierarchy.
[4] In the end, he did d’ua for their physiological needs that is represented by food in Ibrahim’s prayer.
Regarding security, he took the ‘risk’ of leaving his family in the middle of the desert, because he had left them under the protection of Allah. There is no ‘limit’ to the extent one can go to safeguard his resources, employment, health etc. With the belief in ultimate protector (God), you need not worry too much, because you believe in his distribution, and you believe that this life is not where you are going to get everything.
The concept of Shukar (being grateful) mentioned in the end of the above Ayah, is of core importance. Thanking Allah, whether or not you have variety of food around you to choose from, or diverse range of clothes to select from, is a manifestation of Shukar. You thank Allah for blessing you with the most important and the most basic need, the faith, which in essence is related directly with self-actualization.
Everyone in this world is on an intentional or unintentional hunt for inner gratification. The paths adopted for that inner bliss are fairly diverse, and one can go on trying to earn it in fulfilling the desires and ‘basics’ needs, but it would all end up in a failure, because of the forgotten ‘basic’ need of the invisible self. So, you can have the sense of ‘all-needs’ fulfilled through inner-gratification, whereas you might be struggling to make both ends meet, and as per Maslow you are still at the bottom of the pyramid.
So, the root-need is self-gratification, and that is only possible through the path laid down by Allah. Everyone is born already self-actualized, that is on fitrah, and his upbringing might disrupt how he perceives the ‘realities’ once he’s ‘mature’. He might have to rediscover or refresh the reality. And when he knows that the reality is beyond the evident, he’d look for the divine guidance, and revealed steps to reach self-gratification through them. Then he feeds his soul through the revealed guidance, and feels a strong connection with his Lord, and a time comes when even his wishes become according to what Allah wishes. And, hence, the progress in the right direction increases his inner bliss.
The physiological needs, Safety and Love/belonging etc. are just means a fuel for life. They are not an end-goal in themselves or the primary needs. In general, they are ‘necessary’ in pursuing the path to self-gratification, but there can be exceptions to that even. There example of the physiological issues faced by Prophet Ayub (Peace be upon him) is of great importance, and also the social loneliness of Prophet Nuh.
After the definition of the ultimate-need as the gratification of the inner-self in this dunyah (world) and Jannah (paradise) in the next, we’ve seen that people have adopted different paths reaching the ultimate-need. There have been people, who’ve been forced to re-think their beliefs because their treasure of money, fame, power didn’t repel the thought of something ‘missing’. And there have been others, who directed their hunt to the correct high-way when sufferings attacked them i.e. the scarcity of the so-called basic needs.
The Maslow’s hierarchy is therefore biased and flawed, and it’s almost impossible to establish such a generic hierarchy. The theory gives people an impression, that gratification of the inner self is the stage that comes at the very end, where in-fact, it should be the very-root of life, and that is the only real-need in this worldly life. Maslow’s hierarchy gives a false impression that physiological needs are the most important one, and that’s because he selected the wrong people to base his research on. Ideal understanding of the needs, would be understood be taking the lives of ideals (i.e. Prophets) as test-cases. Finally, an inverted and slightly customized pyramid would be more accurate than the real Maslow’s pyramid.
Author: Mohammad Awais Tahir

The author may or may not have the same views on the topic and would not like to be quoted on what has been said above. The author, however, deems nothing wrong with changing opinions, hence, he does not wish to amend/remove posts that do not resonate with his current thinking. 
“Those who never retract their opinions love themselves more than they love truth.”
Please see : http://exploringpsyche.com/one-grand-retraction/
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  1. Excellent awakening piece of work. I like the way you have compared the two concepts. Keep up the good work. May Allah reward you for your efforts inshaallah.

  2. Assalamu Alaikum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuhu.
    I find this work very inspiring. I will share it with my students soon (I give a course in Child Psychology), and refer back to this article.

  3. assalamu 3alaykom,
    i would just add that in surat Quraish, Maslow's hierarchy is stated in the precedence of feeding Quraish before giving them safety and security and so they were asked to worship Allah. Worship here can be regarded as a consequence of the stated states or as a cycle-like cause of their sustainability.