Modern Psychology in the Qur’an: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Written by: Agha Shabbir Abbas

It is most certain that the majority of readers have taken a course in Psychology, either in high school or in university studies. In this field of psychology, there is a huge study called personality and behavioral psychology.  Within this study, a major focal point is the concept of the human ‘ego’. This ‘ego’ as defined by the academics, is the view of oneself, the thing that distinguishes oneself from the other selves, self-importance. This ego is a major cause of concern because of the negative aspects it produces: pride, arrogance, anger, hatred, jealousy, revenge, etc…  The ego is an issue that all people face but yet it is one of the hardest to distinguish.  For example if one is an alcoholic, it is visible & self-evident to everyone.  But, issues with the ego are internal and cannot be quantified. Just as  alcoholism ruins lives, similarly the ego ruins lives. There is much research and discussion on the issue academically and within secular sciences, but the true answer to this dilemma is found within the religion of Islam.

Before delving into the Islamic aspects, let’s first quickly glance at one psychological theory on the ego. Abraham Maslow, a 20th century psychologist, through his extensive research proposed a “Theory of Human Motivation”, now known as “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs”. His theory is presented in the shape of a 5-layered pyramid. The lowest two layers are the physiological and safety needs, the middle two layers are love/respect esteem, and the highest layer is self-actualization.



Now let us diverge our attention to the Qur’an. Allah SWT says in Surat al-Ana’am:

مَّا فَرَّطْنَا فِي الكِتَابِ مِن شَيْءٍ

“We have not neglected anything in this book” (6:38)

Thus Allah SWT is asserting that all knowledge can be found in the Qur’an. This is the beauty in the religion, the concept that Abraham Maslow prepared after intense research was already told in the Qur’an fourteen hundred years prior.

This ego in the Qur’an is analogous to the term ‘nafs’. Allah SWT in the Qur’an states that there are three stages of the nafs. The first is called the “nafs ammara” in Surah Yusuf:

إِنَّ النَّفْسَ لأَمَّارَةٌ بِالسُّوءِ

“The self is inclined towards evil” (12:53)

This is the most basic level, equivalent with the bottom two layers in Maslow’s theory.  It is the basic animal-like instincts of a human which lead one to only worry about oneself. The second is called the “nafs al lawwama” in Surat al-Qiyamah:

وَلَا أُقْسِمُ بِالنَّفْسِ اللَّوَّامَةِ

“But nay! I call to witness the accusing voice of man’s own conscience!” (75:2)

This is equivalent to the two middle layers in Maslow’s theory.  This state of the nafs is where one begins to gain consciousness and realize personal errors and weaknesses. The third and highest state is the “nafs al Mutmainna” in Surat al-Fajr:

يَا أَيَّتُهَا النَّفْسُ الْمُطْمَئِنَّةُ

“O thou human being that hast attained to inner peace/tranquility!” (89:27)

The nafs al mutmainna is equivalent to the layer of self actualization; the state when the ego is totally killed and the individual understands their true purpose in life. This is the state where one should attempt to reach. And to achieve this state of tranquility Allah SWT says in Surat al-Ra’ad:

الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ وَتَطْمَئِنُّ قُلُوبُهُم بِذِكْرِ اللّهِ أَلاَ بِذِكْرِ اللّهِ تَطْمَئِنُّ الْقُلُوبُ

“…those who believe, and whose hearts find their tranquility in the remembrance of God – for, verily, in the remembrance of God [men’s] hearts do find their tranquility” (13:28)

Thus to quell the negative forces of our ‘ego’ we must have constant remembrance of Allah SWT, in essence being humble in every act we do, inwardly and outwardly.

This trait of being humble, having humility is the one of the main reasons for the chain of Risalat, the Prophets came to teach us this trait. Allah SWT says in Surat al-A’raf:

وَمَا أَرْسَلْنَا فِي قَرْيَةٍ مِّن نَّبِيٍّ إِلاَّ أَخَذْنَا أَهْلَهَا بِالْبَأْسَاء وَالضَّرَّاء لَعَلَّهُمْ يَضَّرَّعُونَ

“Whenever We sent a prophet to a town, We took up its people in suffering and adversity, in order that they might learn humility.” (7:94)

Thus if we take a glance at history we have a model in one person who was at such a state of humility that he was given the title “nafs al mutmainna” because he gave everything away in the love of Allah SWT, this was Imam Hussain (AS).  He did not hesitate at the size of his opposition. Allama Iqbal in his Rumuz e Bekhudi, the Secrets of Selflessness says:

Mudda ā yash saltanat boody agar

Khud na hardy bā chunin sāmmāne safar

If Imam Hussain (AS) had an ambition to rule,

 he would have made preparations to face his enemy,

instead he was ready for the ultimate sacrifice.

The extreme opposite of ‘nafs al-mutmainna’, one of the most animalistic individuals in history was Yazid(la).  The Qur’an further tells us what happens to those who follow their ego and have no humbleness no humility.

لَـكِن قَسَتْ قُلُوبُهُمْ وَزَيَّنَ لَهُمُ الشَّيْطَانُ مَا كَانُواْ يَعْمَلُونَ

“They did not humble themselves, but rather their hearts grew hard, for Satan had made all their doings seem goodly to them.” (6:43)


People who follow their egos, their hearts have become hardened, whilst they enjoy life. Albeit this enjoyment is a false enjoyment, it is just an illusion, whereas real enjoyment is at the stage of self-actualization, where ego is erased and man reaches his greatest potential.

Taqwá Al-Qulūbi

Written by: Agha Shabbir Abbas

bismi-llāhi r-raḥmāni r-raḥīm

In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.

The terms ‘Qalb’ (s) and ‘Qulūb’ (pl) are used multiple times in the Qur’an by the Almighty, to denote the heart. For the heart is the focal point of the being, physically and metaphorically. In regards to belief the Almighty has given a very important role to the heart. The heart of all humans contains the measurement of one’s intentions; a heart filled with malice and bad intentions is diseased.

Lā Yu’uākhidhukumu Allāhu Bil-Laghwi Fī ‘Aymānikum Wa Lak- inYu’uākhidhukum Bimā Kasabat Qulūbukum Wa Allāhu Ghafūru n Ĥalīmun

Allah will not call you to account for thoughtlessness in your oaths, but for the intention in your hearts; and He is Oft-forgiving, Most Forbearing. (2:225)



Fī Qulūbihim Marađun Fazādahumu Allāhu Marađāan Wa La- hum `Adhābun’Alīmun Bimā Kānū Yakdhibūna

In their hearts is a disease; and Allah has increased their disease: And grievous is the penalty they (incur), because they are false (to themselves). (2:10)

To ensure that the hearts of the believers remain spiritually clean, the Almighty has given us the ‘Taqwa’. The term ‘Taqwa’ means piety, which in the realm of Islam points towards devotion; devotion towards the Almighty and His religion, Islam. The Almighty has stated in the Qur’an how one can attain this piety.

Dhālika Wa Man Yu`ažžim Sha`ā’ira Allāhi Fa’innahā Min Taqwá Al-Qulūbi

That (shall be so); and whoever respects the signs of Allah, most surely is the piety of the heart. (22:32)

The Almighty says to have, ‘Taqwá Al-Qulūbi’, piety of the heart one must respect the ‘signs’ of Allah. The term ‘sign’ is ambigu- ous unless researched. The Almighty uses the Arabic word ‘Sha`ā’ir’ to designate ‘sign’ of the Almighty. To understand what this means one has to look at how this term has been used at other locations in the Qur’an.


‘Inna Aş-Şafā Wa Al-Marwata Min Sha`ā’iri Allāhi Faman Ĥajja Al-Bayta ‘AwA`tamara Falā Junāĥa `Alayhi ‘An Yaţţawwafa Bihimā Wa Man Taţawwa`aKhayrāan Fa’inna Allāha Shākirun `Alīmun

Surely the Safa and the Marwa are among the signs appointed by Allah; so whoever makes a pilgrimage to the House or pays a visit (to it), there is no blame on him if he goes round them both; and whoever does good spontaneously, then surely Allah is Grateful, Knowing. (2:158)

YYā ‘Ayyuhā Al-Ladhīna ‘Āmanū Lā Tuĥillū Sha`ā’ira Allāhi Wa Lā Ash-ShahraAl-Ĥarāma Wa Lā Al-Hadya Wa Lā Al-Qalā’ida Wa Lā ‘Āmmīna Al-Bayta Al-Ĥarāma Yabtaghūna Fađlāan Min Rabbihim Wa Riđwānāan Wa ‘Idhā ĤalaltumFāşţādū Wa Lā Yajrimannakum Shana’ānu Qawmin ‘An Şaddūkum `Ani Al- Masjidi Al-Ĥarāmi ‘An Ta`tadū Wa Ta`āwanū `Alá Al-Birri Wa At -Taqwá Wa Lā Ta`āwanū `Alá Al-‘Ithmi Wa Al-`Udwāni Wa Attaqū Allāha ‘Inna AllāhaShadīdu Al-`Iqābi

O you who believe! do not violate the signs appointed by Allah nor the sacred month, nor (interfere with) the offerings, nor the sacrificial animals with garlands/ropes, nor those going to the sa- cred house seeking the grace and pleasure of their Lord; and when you are free from the obligations of the pilgrimage, then hunt, and let not hatred of a people– because they hindered you from the Sacred Masjid– incite you to exceed the limits, and help one an- other in goodness and piety, and do not help one another in sin and aggression; and be careful of (your duty to) Allah; surely Al- lah is severe in requiting (evil). (5:2)

Therefore it is understood that these ‘signs’ are all in regards to

Hajj, with extreme importance to the sacrificing of animals. The sacrificial animals are themselves ‘signs’ of Allah, including the garlands and ropes that they are tied with. It is remarkable that the garlands and ropes are also ‘signs’ that we must respect. The Qur’an does not limit the ‘signs’ to just these but in fact extends it to all items of remembrance. The reason behind this is that all these items remind us of the sacrifice of Ibrahim (A) and his son Ismael (A). This sacrifice is detailed in the Qur’an.

Wa Fadaynāhu Bidhibĥin `Ažīmin

And We ransomed him[Ismael] with a momentous sacrifice (37:107)

Wa Taraknā `Alayhi Fī Al-‘Ākhirīna

And We left [this blessing] for Ibrahim among his generations [to come] in later times (37:108)

The Almighty has promised that this sacrifice will be repeated by a descendent of Ibrahim. Which, by the Ijmāʿ(consensus) of the scholars it is noted that this sacrifice ‘dhibĥin `Ažīm’ was re- peated as the sacrifice of the family of Muhammad (S) at Karbala, Muhammad (S) being a descendent of Ibrahim (A). At the battle of Karbala the grandson of Muhammad (S), named Hussain (A), sacrificed all that he had in the love of the Almighty. Thus all of the artifacts that create remembrance for this sacrifice are consid- ered ‘Sha`ā’ir’ ‘signs’ of Allah similar to that of Hajj. If sacrifice of Ibrahim (A) and Ismael (A) are remembered annually than Kar- bala too must be remembered annually. If the scanty ropes tied on the necks of sheep are ‘signs’ than the ropes tied on the flags and standards during Ashura processions, too are ‘signs’ of Allah.

Thus it is our duty to honor and respect the artifacts of Azadari lest our hearts become diseased.