I was reviewing my notes on personality, and I began to wonder if the Qur’an addresses this topic. I had no idea how to approach this task because, at that time, I relied more on academic books than on my own sacred scripture. Though academic books are a good way to expand our knowledge in our chosen area of interest, holy scriptures provide a moral framework to define its practicality.

After reading the Qur’an, although not thoroughly as I still seek guidance from scholars regarding tangible concepts, I have discovered that the Qur’an discusses personality in a logical yet moral manner.

As the following section of this article unfolds, I will delve into the realm of the Qur’an and its teachings on personality, specifically in relation to Sigmund Freud’s theory of personality.

Though prominent scholars and psychologists have made substantial contributions to the field of personality psychology, this article will specifically focus on the works and involvements of Sigmund Freud.

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The purpose of this article is to provide insights into personality from two distinct perspectives. I will strive to make this article concise and accessible to readers who are unfamiliar with the Qur’an or psychology.

Introduction

The study of the mind and behavior is called psychology. With its bifurcations in biology and philosophy, psychology has many different schools of thought and subcategories. Personality psychology is a branch of psychology that emphasizes understanding each person’s unique psychological construct. This article examines how Freud’s personality theory progressed and how it influenced other prominent psychoanalytic psychologists, including Anna Freud, Carl Jung, and Otto Rank [1].

Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud, best known for his work in psychiatry and psychoanalysis, began his career in medicine in the field of neurology [2]. On May 6, 1856, Sigismund Schlomo Freud was born in Freiberg, a small town in Moravia (currently known as Pbor, Czech Republic). Freud was a Jew from a working-class family of wool merchants. The Freud family relocated from Freiberg to Leipzig and then to Vienna between 1859 and 1860, where Freud lived for most of his life [2, 3, 4].

Freud’s Personality Theory

Freud’s theory of personality comprises three components: id, ego, and superego [5, 6].

According to Freud, the id is the component of personality that provides the basis of our most fundamental impulses. The id is essentially unconscious, yet it drives our most important motives, including the sexual desire (libido) and the violent or destructive drive (Thanatos). According to Freud, the id is motivated by the pleasure principle – the need for rapid fulfillment of our sexual and violent desires. The id is why we smoke cigarettes, consume alcohol, see pornography, tell nasty jokes about others, and indulge in other pleasurable or hazardous habits, frequently at the cost of completing more useful things.

In precise contrast to the id, the superego represents our sense of morality and oughts. The superego tells us all the things that we should not do or the duties and obligations of society. The superego aspires to perfection, and when we fail to live up to its standards, we feel guilty.

In dissimilitude to the id, which is about the pleasure principle, the function of the ego is founded on the reality principle — the concept that we must wait for the fulfillment of our core urges until the proper moment with the suitable outlet. The ego acts as a bridge between the id and the superego and is the most conscious controller or decision-maker of personality. We may desire to shout, yell, or hit, and yet our ego generally advises us to pause, consider, and pick a more acceptable reaction [7].

The Qur’an’s Proposition to Personality Theory

In the year 610 Common Era (CE), The Qur’an, the sacred scripture of the Muslims, was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) through the angel Gabrie,(Jibreel) [8]. The Qur’an has 114 chapters with 6236 verses [9].

The word “nafs” in the Quran alludes to our inner self or personality, the source of our cravings, passions, and consciousness of right and wrong, as well as our awareness and the capacity to reach inner peace and contentment through restraint of our selfish desires.

In the Noble Qur’an, there are two ways the concept of nafs can be defined. The first way in which the term nafs is used is to indicate our own self. Some people would interpret it in English as “self,” and some people would translate it in English as “soul.” An illustration of this is when Allah Almighty states in the Qur’an:

“And remember your Lord inside your self (nafs).” [10].

The second way the term nafs has been used in the Qur’an, which is rather common, is that to refer to a certain portion of our self, and it is that part of our self that has cravings, appetite, wrath, passion, lust, etc.; it has all these things. Some people call it the “ego.” Some individuals may even call it “the carnal self” or “the carnal soul.”

With reference to personality, the Qur’an mentions three of its type, in the Arabic language, al-nafs; nafs-e-ammārahnafs-e-lawwāmah, and nafs-e-muṭmaʾinna. Al Ghazali, a notable Islamic scholar, studied these types extensively. In various works, he mentions that these nufus (plural of nafs) constitute the human personality [11].

Nafs-e-ammārah: This type of nafs commands and dictates our actions. Therefore, it is termed as the ‘soul that enjoys evil’. This sovereign nafs subjugates us, causing us to follow its decrees and desires. The main effect of the nafs al-ammārah is to paralyze the cognitive process [12, 13]. This type of nafs is marked by willful and blatant sin. This concept can readily be understood when we say things like, “Do whatever makes you happy,” “Do that which pleases you”. This nafs takes control of us and we often surrender to it by following our passions and lustful desires [14, 15]. The Qur’an talks about this:

 

“Indeed the nafs that overwhelmingly commands a person to do sin.” [16].

Nafs-e-lawwāmah: This nafs brings a person to commit sin, but then it self-implicates itself, it reproaches itself, it feels bad, it feels remorseful. The person determines that they are not going to commit it again because they feel guilty. People with such nafs may struggle with this guilt, wishing they could take back their sins and never commit them again. This battle with their nafs can result in both sin and avoiding it [14, 15]. The Qur’an states about it:

“And I swear by the reproaching soul.” [17].

Nafs-e-muṭmaʾinna: The nafs al-muṭmaʾinna, or those who are content with Allah Almighty’s ḥukm (order or decree), are those who have been molded, trained, and disciplined to be content with what Allah Almighty is pleased with. This contentment lies in what Allah Almighty is happy and pleased with. The nafs also reach a state of serenity, where it has aman (safety) and iṭmiʾnān (contentment) from doing sin and desiring sin. They have desires, but only those that Allah Almighty views as desirable, and they no longer desire sin. This signifies that they are content with what Allah Almighty has bestowed upon them and desire no lustful or evil activities [14, 15]. Allah Almighty mentioned about it in the Qur’an:

To the righteous, it will be said, “Oh reassured soul, return to your Lord well pleased, and pleasing to Him.” [18].

Similarities and Limitations Between Freud’s Theory of Personality and the Qur’an

As Freud described the components of personality, the Qur’an depicts them in its own way. Id, the pleasure principle, in the Qur’an is discussed as nafs-e-ammārah, whereas ego is described as Nafs-e- lawwāma, and superego is defined as nafs-e-muṭmaʾinna. All three components hold significance to the development of an individual’s personality.

Id entices humans to indulge in lustful activities and follow their carnal desires, while the Qur’an talks about it in the case of nafs-e-ammārah. The ego is accountable for controlling the desire of the id and for regulating it to the ‘reality principle’ [13, 19]. The ego is termed nafs-e-lawwāmah in the Qur’anic context. Freud’s Ego, however, lacks a moral sensibility [11]. This is because the ego, by Freud, focuses more on the reality principle by stating, “What people might think if I do this or that!” then feeling guilty about committing sins, but nafs-e-lawwāmah is about committing sins and then going back to Allah Almighty asking for forgiveness because of guilt and remorse. The last component, that is, the super-ego, is characterized as nafs-e-muṭmaʾinna. The superego, according to Freud, is based on the morality principle [5,6]. Though Freud’s superego concept states about morality principle, it does not achieve contentment [11]. This is contrary to the teachings of the Qur’an, because, in nafs-e-muṭmaʾinna, a person who achieves this stage feels content with Allah Almighty’s decree and keeps themself away from lustful desires and worldly gains.

Conclusion

The main aim of the article was to analyze the different perspectives on personality, specifically referencing the Qur’an and Freud’s theory. Throughout the article, I refrained from making any generalizations about concepts or theories. This is because it would be audacious to discuss contradictions, as Freud’s perspective is purely theoretical and not based on factual evidence. On the other hand, the Qur’anic standpoint is approached from a spiritual and philosophical perspective. In the field of psychology, both perspectives are vital, regardless of what they teach or what we can learn from them. It is important that they do not hinder our ability to excel and learn from each other.


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  10. The Qur’an, Chapter 7, Verse 205.
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  12. Manzurul Haq, “Heart”: The Locus of Human Psyche, in Islamization of Knowledge-II, vol. 2, ed. Zafar Afaq Ansari (Islamabad, Pakistan: Islamic Research Institute Press, 1981), 64.
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  14. A transcription of a portion of a Channel Islam International talk from November 11, 2010.
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  16. The Qur’an, Chapter 12, Verse 53.
  17. The Qur’an, Chapter 75, Verse 2.
  18. The Qur’an, Chapter 89, Verse 27-28.
  19. Hall, A Primer of Freudian Psychology , 22‒26; Pastorino and DoylePortillo, What is Psychology?, 621‒22.
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Farhan Rasool

Farhan, a dedicated psychology student pursuing a Master's degree at the University of Lucknow, India, specializes in clinical and forensic psychology. He exhibits a profound interest in expanding his knowledge, particularly in psychopharmacological treatments across various medical domains. Concurrently, Farhan is diligently working on his dissertation project and multiple scheduled review articles, reflecting his commitment to advancing the field.

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