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Back to Basics

Maslow's Hierarchy of NeedsSo now that the psychology lesson is over, let’s see how we can incorporate an idea like this into our daily life as Muslims. If we were to mach what Islam says with a concept like the Hierarchy of Needs, how much of it would make sense?Maslow's Hierarchy of NeedsIsn’t there a saying that goes something like, “As we go more into the newer age, it is as if we are going back to the old times”? Okay, maybe there isn’t one, but there should be!

When we look around today, we see more and more need of basics, be it food, water, life sustenance, or emotional needs. Psychologist Abraham Maslow came up with his Hierarchy of Needs, and if we think about it, it makes a lot of sense. In order to get one need, you have to get the one before it to take you there. Step one, to step two. How can we take this concept and relate it to Islamic personal needs? I think it is about time we come up with an “Islamic Hierarchy of Needs”.

Maslow stated that in order to be motivated to satisfy higher needs, like social and esteem, one needs to fulfill the basic needs, called physiological needs, like air, water, food, and sleep. If one does not or has not satisfied these basic needs, (s)he will not have the ability to move on to satisfying higher needs, and instead only be motivated to satisfy these basic needs. Seriously though, why would a hungry, thirsty, and sleepy person care to solve the problem of unemployment? I think he or she has other things to worry about.

So after physiological, we climb the ladder to safety needs. These range from things like living in a safe area and job security to financial reserves. We can only care about these kinds of things if we are at least getting a bite to eat or even have a home, compared to the hungry or sleepy person. Maslow’s Hierarchy then goes on to social needs, such as friendship, belonging to a group, and giving and receiving love. Then Maslow explains how social needs are where the “higher level” needs awaken. Then, once a person feels a sense of belonging, (s)he can go on to esteem needs, both internal and external. These are related to self-esteem and achievement, things such as attention, self-respect, reputation, or recognition.

Lastly, at the top of it all, Maslow’s theory has established self-actualization as the quest to reach one’s full potential as a person. Unlike the needs in the lower levels, this need is never actually satisfied, because as one grows psychologically, there is always a new opportunity or change. This need is categorized under concepts like truth, justice, wisdom, and meaning.

So now that the psychology lesson is over, let’s see how we can incorporate an idea like this into our daily life as Muslims. If we were to mach what Islam says with a concept like the Hierarchy of Needs, how much of it would make sense?

Since we are human beings, we still would have to satisfy our physiological needs, in moderation, of course. In today’s world, I think Muslims need to spend a lot more of our time focusing on the “higher level” needs: social to self-actualization. How can we attain the status of “self-actualization”?

In Islam, in order to get to a higher level, our Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them) have prescribed seeking knowledge. The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) said, “Whoever knows his own self knows his Lord; moreover, you should acquire that knowledge without which no action is correct, and that is sincerity.” (Lantern of the Path)

So as we beginning to work on esteem needs, recognizing ourselves and the world around us, we have many references in our narrations, but most importantly from the Holy Qur’an. Yes, back to basics. How many times have we been told to read the Holy Book as often as we can since it is our “instruction manual”? Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (peace be upon him) has advised us to “recite it in an orderly manner and contemplatively and adhere to the limits of His promise and His threat. Reflect on its examples and warnings.”

So once we being to accept, and recognize what will help us to satisfy our esteem needs, we can move on to realizing that we are Muslim and better work on social work and propagating the truth. In order to propagate the truth, we need to go back to working on educating ourselves with Islamic history, knowledge, and true Islam. There is a lot of information out there about Islam, but it is our duty to stick to what pure Muhammadan Islam says. We should create creative ways to brush up on our basics. We might consider holding classes on Fridays for an hour to learn, or even re-learn, our Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence). Many times we wonder why have trouble sincerely entrusting ourselves to Allah, and a lot of time the root causes, many scholars have said, is because we do not cleanse our souls, which requires things like knowing how to pray, or even reciting our Arabic correctly, performing our Wudhu properly, and making sure certain things don’t break our fast. We can look even broader at Fiqh issues, such as things like what to do in situations of lying or cheating, which can be more root causes.

These needs are definitely something we all need to satisfy – a need to know who we are, what we are doing, and where we are going. Once we get over cleansing ourselves, at least starting the process, for it is never-ending, we can work on self-actualization – caring to seek truth, justices, wisdom, and harmony in our lives. Many times we are so caught up in smaller issues and get stressed or feel helpless that we forget the solution to satisfy these needs we have of being happy, or feeling wanted, lie in our books, our Islamic knowledge, and with Allah.

Take the challenge and get back to your basics.

About Madiha Zaidi

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  • Shaan

    Interesting piece sister, jazaak’Allah. There are indeed many parallels between psychology and basic Islamic teachings. However, I am wondering what you think of esteem needs. Specifically, you mentioned attention, self-respect, reputation, or recognition. But there seems to be a bit of digression between Islamic teachings and Maslow here. For instance, we are taught in The Qur’an that when we give charity, it’s best to give it secretly. There are also numerous narrations recommending us to not call attention to ourselves when we do good deeds but to keep them concealed. So, is this really a difference, or am I just missing something?