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The Human Soul between two Paths

The youth hostel in which Yousef and Michael stayed was a great place for them. In addition to the inexpensive accommodation, it also contained gardens, gyms and places of recreation, such as entertainment and communication facilities, and most important of all, a large number of guests of similar age and cultural interests.

Michael and Yousef settled at one of the tables in a meeting hall and each of them ordered their favorite drink, then Michael spoke.

Michael: Let’s begin where we left off in the previous dialogue with that issue concerning what that scholar you mentioned, the one from your religion, said and whether it agrees with or opposes what we were discussing.

Yousef: The issue here is not whether it agrees with it or not. Islam is an integrated, unique and completely independent system, based on clear foundations, but I won't elaborate on clarifying that for you. The name of that scholar is Ibnul-Qayyim. He spoke in his books about the relationship between the heart, the nafs (the spirit or the self), and the mind. I would like, however, to point out first that what he said was part of the system of values and concepts that are consistent with the foundations on which the Islamic civilization was constructed. With that in mind, I shall continue with what I previously said and add a clarification of the difference between this system and the implications of Freud's theory that formed a large part of the reality of Western society and its ethics.

Michael: In order to gain time, let me briefly explain the last part of what you said and please correct me if I say anything that you disagree with.

Yousef: Be my guest.

Michael: Several models of personality have been deducted from Freud's theory. They are as follows:

If primitive or animalistic instincts and desires, referred to as the Id, overpower the personality (the ego), the type of personality that will result is a selfish or wicked one which violates other's rights and which seeks only to satisfy its own instincts and to fulfill their animalistic wishes, crushing in its path values, customs and the sacred superego.

If values, customs and the superego overpower the personality (the ego), the personality of the unrealistic monk and an impractical ideal results, crushing in its path primitive instincts and desires.

The healthy, stable or reassuring personality exists when there is a balance and harmony between desires and instincts on the one hand, and values and external constraints on the other. This happens by suppressing some of these instincts in some situations or transgressing limits and values in others, depending on the situation itself.

Yousef: Perfect! We have come to the difference between this theory and Western civilization, a theory which the Western civilization socially embodies, on the one hand, and the Islamic system on the other... This difference can ultimately be seen in the state of rivalry and conflict between the Id and the superego, with neither of them giving in to the other, which affects the intricate balance and complete integration of all dimensions of man, in all spheres of life. The secret of the solution to this lies in implementing what I call "forbidding the tyranny of rights."

Michael: This is the first time I have heard about this "tyranny of rights," and I would like to hear from you how a right can be tyrannical, but let me first tell you that your words acknowledge the idea of the components of the psychic apparatus.

Yousef: The idea of the components of the psychic apparatus is what I referred to earlier, that one of the Muslim scholars, in fact several Muslim scholars, mentioned something similar to it hundreds of years ago. Look at what one of these scholars says in one of his books.

Yousef took out a book and started reading.

Yousef: "Matters are four: A disliked matter that leads to another disliked matter; a disliked matter that leads to a liked matter, a liked matter that leads to another liked matter; and finally a liked matter that leads to a disliked matter. The liked matter that leads to another liked matter comprises two reasons that motivate one to perform it. On the other hand, the disliked matter that leads to another disliked matter comprises two reasons that motivate one to abandon it.

The remaining sections are pulled back and forth between the two conditions: [The condition of performing and that of abandoning] – which are the realms of trials and tests; for the nafs, that is the self, prefers that condition from these two that is closer to it, in other words which can be reached sooner. Reason and belief, however, prefer what is of more benefit and more lasting. The heart is in between these two conditions. It inclines to one condition one time and the next another time."

Muslim scholars have mentioned, deducting texts from the Qur'an and Prophetic Hadeeth, which are sayings of our Prophet Muhammed (may Allah’s mercy and blessings be upon him), that when the mind, (the superego), is inactive, the desires of the Id are active, without having any control or supervision.

Do you not see similarities in the function of the self and the Freudian Id, and reason and belief and the superego, and the heart and the ego?

Michael: Then what they say is similar to great extent.

Yousef: There is a considerable and decisive difference between this explanation and the other. It is a difference which distinguishes this system from that. This difference lies in the words of Ibnul-Qayyim: "...they are the realm of trials and tests..." For while the Freudian view is that the health of the personality (the ego), the heart according to Ibnul-Qayyim, lies in its response to the instincts of the Id (the nafs), and its desires, the Islamic system views the appeals of these instincts and desires in the Id (the nafs), and the need to fulfill them as being, in reality, a test and a trial from God that should not be blindly fulfilled to satisfy the Id (the self). And it should neither be subdued nor confiscated for the sake of the superego (reason and belief), as the case is in monasticism.

This moderation and balance you will not be able to find except in Islam; the control of the desires and instincts and, at the same time, satisfaction of the needs of human instincts without causing any clash between reason and belief, and without any "tyranny of rights."

Michael: What do you mean then by "tyranny of rights"?

Yousef: What I mean is that the upper values and virtuous ethics have rights. But also desires and instincts have rights too. Islam prohibits that one of the values, ethics, desires or instincts impinges upon the other, claiming that it is a higher value or that the need for it is overwhelming. To make it clearer to you, I will mention a Hadeeth of the Prophet of Islam. A group of three men came to the homes of the Prophet, asking about how he used to carry out his acts of worship. When they heard the reply they were under the impression that his acts of worship were few. But they thought that this was the case because the Prophet had an advantage over them, so they came to the conclusion that because they had more sins, they would have to considerably increase their acts of worship to the extent that would affect their natural needs. One of them said: "I will pray all through the night and I will not sleep." Another said: "I will fast (abstain from food, drink and having intercourse from dawn to sunset) everyday and will not break my fast." And a third said: "I will keep away from women and never marry." Then the Messenger of Allah came to them and said: "Are you the ones who said such and such? By Allah! I'm the most fearing among you of Allah and the most pious, yet I fast and break my fast, and pray and sleep, and I marry women. He who turns away from my sunnah (example) is not of me." These men laid down extra religious acts stemming from the superego, which were essentially virtues, rights and desirable, but that was at the expense of other rights, even if these rights are for the nafs (the Id). In another Hadeeth, this principle is clear: "... Your Lord, Allah, has a right over you, and your nafs has a right over you, and your family has a right over you, so give each their due right..." In the Qur’an there are several Ayas, that is verses, which indicate this principle, including: (But seek, through that which Allah has given you, the home of the Hereafter; and [yet], do not forget your share of the world. And do good as Allah has done good to you. And desire not corruption in the land. Indeed, Allah does not like corrupters.") (Surat Al-Qassas: 77). Allah also says: (And do not make your hand [as] chained to your neck or extend it completely and [thereby] become blamed and insolvent.) (Surat Isra: 29). Perhaps you might know, my friend, that Islam has forbidden monasticism.

For according to Islam, a human should satisfy his mind and conscience, fulfill the commands of his religion, and satisfy his natural needs, without any conflict, collision or confusion.

While Yousef and Michael were deep in their discussion, a young man, who had been sitting at a table near them listening to them, approached and stood in front of them and asked.

The young man: Do you mind if I join you?

Michael and Yousef: Gladly, please do.

The young man: Actually I have been attracted by your dialogue and would be grateful if we could become acquainted and if you would allow me to join the discussion.

Michael: I have no objection.

Yousef: Welcome, Welcome. This is my friend Michael. He's from Britain and works as a teacher. I'm Yousef from Egypt. I work as a writer and journalist.

The young man: Pleased to meet you both. Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Rajiv from India. I'm studying engineering in Germany and I'm here in Paris to visit some of my friends.

Michael and Yousef: It's a pleasure to meet you, Rajiv.

Yousef continues with the discussion.

Yousef: So we see that Western psychologists do not view the self except through defects, diseases, illnesses and defaults. In Islam, however, the self carries with it both good and evil, and it is possible to alter the condition of the self and to change it fundamentally, taking it out of the darkness of animality to the peak of moral perfection, without colliding with human nature or belittling its needs.

Rajiv: I deduce from your dialogue that if pent-up desires are always searching for satisfaction, which they achieve either directly or indirectly, then that leads to the view that a civilization which is based on principles, ideals and values is one which is an outcome of repression, according to Freudian concepts.

And that the European civilization, when producing moral values, does so only through the predominance of the concept of the universe, giving priority to the human being as the master of this universe; all of which originated from the idea of removing the idea of God from culture. In the Islamic civilization, however, the concept of God prevails, though it does not crush the entity of the human being.

Yousef: This is conclusive evidence that the source of morality in human societies has to be revelation, and not the mind, as if the mind is used alone, it will definitely deviate. If, however, the mind works in the framework of revelation, then the ethics produced are the correct ones.

Michael: Your presence Rajiv will enrich our conversations. I think that we should meet tomorrow at the same time and in the same place to start a new dialogue, is that alright for both of you?

Rajiv: Yes, that'll suit me fine.

Yousef: Please accept my invitation to both of you to have lunch together at the same time, in honor of our new friend, Rajiv.

Michael and Rajiv: Gladly.