Psychology and Self-Control
Brothers and sisters, assalamu aleykum, wa rahmatu Allahi, wa barakatu. For the souls of those whom we have gathered tonight to commemorate their passing away, the martyrs who were killed by the communist regime in Afghanistan who approximately 5000 of them were killed for their souls and for the souls of all of those who have been unjustly killed and continue to be unjustly killed around the world. Let us recite Surat al-Fatiha ma'a as-salat 'ala Muhammadin wa aali Muhammad [Allahumma salli 'ala Muhammad wa Aali Muhammad].
'A'udhu bil-Lahi, min al-Shaytan, al-rajim. Bismi-Llah, Al-Rahmani, Al-Rahim. Al-hamdulil-Lahi Rabbi al-Alamin, Wa as-salatu wa as-salam 'ala asharaf al-Anbiya'i wa al-Mursalin, habibi ilahy al-Alameen Abil Qasim Al-Mustafa Muhammad. [Allahumma salli 'ala Muhammad wa 'aali Muhammad]. Wa 'ala Ahli baytihi, at-tayyibin, at-tahirin, al-masumin. Qala Allahu Ta'ala, fi muhkami Kitabih al-Karim, 'A'udhu bi-Llahi min al-Shaytan al-rajim. Bismillah Al-Rahman Al-Rahim. “Wa amma man khafa maqama Rabbihi wa naha an-nafsa ‘an al-hawa” (79:40), “fa inna al-Jannata hiya al-mawa” (79:41). Ammanna Bil-Lah. Saqada Allahu Al-Aleeyun, al-Adheem [Allahumma salli 'ala Muhammad wa Aali Muhammad].
I have always been personally enthralled and fascinated by the study of psychology, the study of human behavior, both on an individual and on a social level. Why human beings do certain actions, why we perform certain actions, how we perform these actions, what it means to be a human being and what are the behavioral processes of human beings. This is something that I have been fascinated with for many years, and I'm sure a lot of people are interested in this field, the field of psychology.
Now, when we come to the science of psychology or the field of psychology, we know that the study of psychology in a philosophical context dates back to ancient civilizations. We have the ancient Egyptian civilization, the ancient Greek civilization, the ancient Indian Chinese, the ancient Persian civilization, which philosophically, they have discussed the issue of psychology and human behavior. For example and this is one example, in the fourth century, we noticed that individuals such as the Greek Hippocrates, were to develop the theory that mental disorders as an example, that mental disorders were in fact a physical issue and not divinely related. Meaning, in other words, that it was if a person experienced mental disorders, it was not that this was divine necessarily that God had made this person this way, but that there was something physical going on. This goes back to the ancient civilizations such as the Greeks.
More modern psychology. The more modern psychology, the psychology that is studied today, really dates back to the 19th century of an individual whose psychologists currently consider the father of experimental psychology, a German by the name of Wilhelm Wundt, who was a 19th century scholar psychologist. In fact, perhaps he was the first individual to consider himself a psychologist, and he was the person who brought psychology and put it into the lab, basically where individuals were studied, where there was research regarding the study of human behavior.
And if we look over the centuries since that time and over the decades, we notice that psychology as a science, as a field, has developed. It has enhanced to a great degree. More recently, if we look at the recent trend of psychology, we will notice that there is a great emphasis on the issue of self-control. More recently, there's always been literature, there's always been studies about the issue of self-control. But if you look at the latest trends in psychology, if you go to prominent literature, psychology literature and studies, you'll notice that there's now, these days, there's a greater trend towards being fascinated with the issue of self-control. Previously, psychology focused on a lot of things, but the primary focuses of psychology were a few, the primary focuses.
For instance, one aspect that psychology dedicated its focus on was that of human intelligence, what it means to be intelligent and all of the things surrounding human intelligence. This was one issue. Another issue that was very prominent in psychological circles was that of self-esteem, and there's a lot of literature about self-esteem and how important it is for an individual to develop self-esteem. Right? This is another focus of psychology. A third, which there was an increased focus on, an increased attention on, was that of human happiness, how to develop and maintain happiness in our lives. And there's an abundance of resources on this aspect of psychology.
But recently there's been a shift, the shift of focus has been in recent days regarding that of self-control. When we come to this aspect, happiness, we noted that, in fact, for a certain amount of time, it seemed as though the literature was obsessed with this issue, was obsessed with the issue of happiness, was obsessed with the issue of the pursuit of instant self-fulfillment, instant self gratification at all costs, right? Most of the problems that were occurring, most of the human behavioral problems that people were having when they would go and they would discuss this issue with psychologists, when they would go to the literature, the one stop or go-to solution, for the most part, is what to engage in something that made you happy, to engage in something that was fun. This was seen as a solution to many of the problems that people were having.
In fact, even today, even until today, we noticed that there us an obsession, there is an emphasis on happiness, on fun, on instant self gratification. This is seen for the most part, as a solution to many of the problems, many of the behavioral problems that we have. I ran into an article just recently that discusses a project known as Fun Theory, and you can look it up when you go online. Next time you go online at home, look up Fun theory. Basically, what this Fun Theory means, is a group of individuals and researchers getting together and trying to figure out what is the easiest way and the most efficient way to change people's behaviors to the better, and they found out, according to their study, they found out that the easiest and best way to change people's behavior is through fun, it's through enjoyment, it's through entertainment.
For example. And they have videos, and you can see this, for example, they noticed that when you exit out of the train station sometimes, or you're entering into the train station in certain countries, certain places, you'll notice that, and this is the same for the airports, the other places that there's the stairs, and then there's an escalator right by the stairs. We notice this frequently. They come side by side. What they notice, they had a camera in one of the train stations in one of the Scandinavian countries. They had a camera in the entrance of the train station and they noticed that the vast majority of people, they were taking the escalator, they would not take the stairs, but they would take the escalator.
And so they're trying to push for people to exercise, to move, right? And so they were trying to figure out, how do we get people, more people, to use the stairs instead of using the escalator? So they decided that in order to do so, they should try to make going up and down the stairs fun for people, because that's what people look for. They look for something that's entertaining, they look for something that's fun, that gives them happiness. So what did they decide to do? They decided each of the stairs to replace each of the stairs with a key from a piano, all the way from the bottom, all the way to the top. And so when a person would step on the stair, it would give up a sound like the piano. And it looked like the piano. The key was white and black and so on and so forth. And so they put this in there, and they had the camera. And they noticed that once this piano stairs were installed, that 66% more people took the stairs over the escalator.
Why? Because it was something fun. Because when they went up and down. It would make a sound. And you notice some of them, they're not just going up and down. They take some time to dance on the stairs up and down and spend more time. And they said that the reason for this solution, the solution to this problem was to make it fun. And we can go on.
If we look at advertising, advertising tries to suggest that the cure for most of the problems that we have is entertainment, even when it comes to politics, right? Even when it comes to society. And society facing problems, facing threats. For instance, some of you may remember that after 9/11, after the tragedy of 9/11, the country was devastated. Everyone was scared, everyone was shocked, right? But one of the solutions to this fear given by the president at the time was what? Go out shopping, go and shop, go and spend money, go and have fun, because this will be the solution to the problem that we have. Entertainment is seen gratification at all costs is seen as the solution to the problems that we have.
And this seems to be a little selfish. When we try to look at happiness and fun and try to put it within the Islamic world view, we notice that we have problems. It doesn't quite fit in. Islam encourages happiness. Islam encourages us to be optimistic. Islam encourages us to have fun, right? But not at the expense of other things, within a certain limit, within certain boundaries. It prefers that we engage in sacrifice, in patience, in altruism, over happiness. And this is very evident. In fact, when we come to Islam, we notice that one of the basis, very important foundations of our religion is that of self-control. It's that of being able to restrain yourself, to control yourself, not to allow your desires to control you, but for you to be in control of your desires.
Let's examine a number of aspects of our faith. If we look at prayers, the most important obligation in our religion, right? "As-Salat 'amud ad-Deen". It is the pillar of Faith. We pray five times a day. Why do we pray five times a day? Why do we pray throughout the entire year? And we pray five times a day. And we are encouraged not only to pray, but to pray on time to make sure that we are focusing in prayer. Why do we do this constantly on a daily basis? The Qur'an tells us that prayers is a form of discipline. It disciplines us: "inna as-salata tanna 'an al-fasha'i wa al-munkar" (29:45). Prayers verily, Allah tells us in the Qur'an, what prayers does, if it's done correctly, of course, if it's not just an act, it's not just a physical act, but, there is spiritual essence to it. Also, if it's done correctly, "inna as-salata tanna 'an al-fasha'i wa al-munkar" (29:45), it repels, it repulses what? Immorality, vice, evil.
It's supposed to stop you from committing a crime. It's supposed to stop you from doing evil. It's a form of discipline. It's a form of discipline that allows you to control yourself in the face of what? In the face of immorality, in the face of evil. This is prayers.
When we come to fasting, we fast during the month of Ramadan, every single year, from dawn until sunset until nighttime. Why? Allah told us: "Ya ayyuha alladheena amanu, kutiba alaykum as-siyam kama kutiba 'ala alladheena min qablikum la'allakum tattaqoon" (2:183). Fasting has been prescribed upon you just as it has been prescribed upon those who came before you. It's not something new, it's something that civilizations and generations before you have also engaged in.
Why? "La'allakum tattaqoon" (2:183). So that you may be able to reach a level of what? Of taqwa, self-restraint, to restrain yourself. When we are able to overcome those things which are completely halal, eating and drinking and having a relationship with your spouse, during other times, it's completely fine. There is no problem in it. When we are able to avoid doing something that is completely legitimate, this gives us the ability and the discipline and the restraint to overcome those things that are evil, those things that are prohibited. Those things that are wrong. This is fasting.
When we come to Hajj, we notice that Hajj also instills what? Fortitude for those who have been to hajj, for those who have performed the 'Umra, we notice that one of the very important obligations is that we perform all of the rights, the tawaf and the sa'yiand the jamarat and all of that, we perform it in what? In a state of the ihram. And the ihram, as is well known, is not just to take off our regular clothes and put on special clothes, for men, two pieces of clothes that are not sewn, and with all the regulations, the regulations that come with the way or the type of clothing. But we noticed that in the state of the ihram, we have to avoid doing many things.
If you go to the Book of Law, the Books of Law, they will tell you that during the state of ihram, men and women must avoid doing what? 25 things. And if you categorize them, they are what? In essence, most of them are completely halal, right? Wearing sewn clothes. This is one wearing shoes or socks, of course, for men, this is another covering your head in the shade. This is another one. Removing hair from your body, adornments beautifying yourself, looking at yourself in the mirror, putting perfume, or oil, or all of these things. We are commanded to abstain from doing these things during the state of ihram. Why?
Again, to give us discipline. Again, to give us self restraint. And some of you, those who have experienced this, understand that it's difficult. Yes, for the time of Umra, it's very short, but during the days of Hajj, when it's two days, when it's three days and you haven't taken a proper shower, you can't use shampoo, smell good, smelling shampoo, you can't use your deodorant. You know that after two or three days, it gets very difficult. Of course, what makes it easy is that another two or 3 million people are doing the same thing, right? But it makes it difficult after a few days.
Allah Subhana wa Ta'ala wants to teach us a lesson here, wants to tell us that I want to build you as a strong character. I want you to overcome these superficial things, clothing, and jewelry, and smelling good, and looking nice. I want you to avoid that. I want you to emphasize on growing spiritually. It's discipline, it's teaching us self-control and self restraint.
When we come to the issue of hijab, the Qur'an talks about hijab in many different ways. It talks about the physical hijab and it talks about the moral hijab. And first, in fact, it talks about the moral hijab, before it talks about the physical hijab. Allah Subhana wa Ta'ala tells the men and women to do what? To lower their gaze. Lower their gaze, doesn't necessarily mean just look down and walk, don't look up at all. Lower your gaze means what? Do not indulge in wrong and prohibited desires. Watch out. Put a boundary, put, restrain yourself from certain lusts, from certain immoralities, things that you are not allowed to engage in.
It causes us to strengthen ourselves and to resist temptation. This is the reason behind it. And of course, as we know, brothers and sisters, it's not just the look, because sometimes I notice this, amongst either it's through myself, my personal experience or through others who have told me, that sometimes people, they take some of these issues literally. When it comes to specifically when it comes to looking, we know that looking at something which is haram, right, the opposite sex, men looking at women in a certain way, woman looking at men in a certain way, with lust is unacceptable.
However, some people, that's all that they think about, either looking or either touching. We know that we are not supposed to come into physical contact with those who are considered non-mahram us, right? But unfortunately, when it comes to the way that we interact on other terms today, in today's age, with social networking, with Facebook and with Twitter, when it comes to texting, when it comes to emails, the virtual contact that we have some individuals, they think that as long as I'm not looking at someone, as long as I'm not touching this person, it's okay for me to talk to this person however way possible. We're just talking, we're just sending messages. We are just typing on the keyboard. It's fine, there's no problem.
And this is wrong, because the moral hijab encompasses our entire interaction. It's not just the way that we look or just the way that we touch. It's the way that we speak, it's the way that we listen. It's the way that we carry ourselves and interact with one another. And this, the reason for us to do this is to resist temptation, immoral temptation. Even when it comes to other issues, things that are completely halal. Like I mentioned, when it comes to the accumulation of wealth, we are all encouraged and mandated, in fact, to go out and to work and to make money and take care of ourselves and our families. This is something that we are all mandated to do.
However, we are not to go and accumulate wealth for the sake of accumulating wealth. There's another reason, there's a higher objective behind it when it comes to what we consume, when it comes to food and drink, or when it comes to our wealth, when it comes to purchasing things, there are all certain restrictions on this. The Qur'an tells us: "kulu wa shrabu, wa la tasrifu" (7:31). Eat and drink. Nushijan, bon appetit. Eat and drink, but make sure that you are not wasteful in your consumption.
Go out and buy that dream home of yours, and the car, and whatever you want, but do not be wasteful in your consumption. Do not be wasteful when you spend. Why? To teach us self-restraint, to teach us to control ourselves. Even when it comes to our thoughts and our feelings, we are required to watch how we think, what we think of others. Are we suspicious of others? Or do we give people the benefit of the doubts? When it comes to our feelings, do I feel pride and arrogance? Or do I feel generosity and compassion and kindness to others? We are encouraged to watch even our thoughts and our feelings to control our thoughts and our feelings.
The ethos of modern societies, for the most part, is the pursuit of desires with a passion. Go out. You only live once, right? Go out and pursue go out and pursue this life with a passion. Go out and pursue pleasure with a passion and do not allow others to tell you otherwise. But when we come to Islam, Islam tells us, no, make sure that you restrain yourself, that you have discipline. Not that you hide in your room and you lock yourself up and you don't interact with the world, but in your interactions, that there is a sense of self-control and there is a sense of discipline. Allah Subhana wa Ta'ala tells us in the Qur'an: "wa man adallu min man ittabha'a hawa" (28:50), and who is more astray and misguided than the person who focuses on what? On pursuing his or her desires only. The implication of this is that if a person has self-control, if a person controls him or herself, then this is the manifest and best way to seek guidance from Allah, Subhana wa Ta'ala.
And so when we come to the issue of self-control and psychology, we will notice that many studies have been made in this regard. There was a study that was made by a professor from Stanford University by the name of Walter Mitchell. And this professor and his team, they made a study where they examined children, a number of children between the ages of four and five. And what they did was they seated these children and they brought before them, they brought marshmallows. And they asked each of these children. They said, would you like to have one marshmallow now, or would you like to wait a little bit and get two marshmallows?
Of course, some of them, they wanted their marshmallows immediately. It's like the lottery. I think the lottery does this too, right? If you win the lottery, they tell you, would you like some money now? Some of the money now, or would you like the entire portion over 30 years or what have you? That's what I've heard. I don't know. So they asked these kids, they said, do you want one marshmallow now, or do you want two marshmallows in ten or 15 minutes? Some of them, they wanted their marshmallows immediately, and they were given their marshmallows immediately. Some of them were able to wait until 15 minutes. And these are four and five year old kids, they were able to wait, to control themselves, to wait for 15 minutes with the hopes that if they were to do so, they would be given double the reward, not just one marshmallow, but two marshmallows.
Now, after this study was conducted, that was not it. This research team, they followed these children into their adult lives. And they noticed that those kids who were able to control themselves did better at school, right? They entered into better universities, they got higher education, they got better jobs, they had stronger relationships with their family members and others, they were less likely to engage and consume alcohol and substance abuse. And overall they had better lives, decades later, because they were able to do what? Because they were able to exhibit self-control, they were able to show patience, they were able to restrain themselves. This is one.
Another is Dr. Ellen Galinsky who is the founder of the Families and Work Institute, and basically what this professor did was she reviewed thousands of studies of different cases and she came out with the conclusion that there are seven essential skills that every child should develop in order to have a successful life. And on the top of the list was what? Self-control. She said that self control is the number one and most important skill that a child needs to develop so that he or she can live up a better life in the future.
And finally, from the University of Florida, a professor by the name of Dr. Roy Barmayder [Baumeister], who is the author of a book called Willpower [Willpower: Rediscovering Our Greatest Strength]. Basically, this author suggests that the success of individuals is based upon two important things. One is the level of intelligence of that individual and second is the level of willpower or self-control that that individual has. And he says in his book, and I quote, he says: "self-regulation failure is the major social pathology of our time". Let me repeat it. He says "self-regulation failure", meaning not being able to control yourself and restrain yourself, "is the major social pathology of our time". It's the biggest social problem of our time.
People who are not able to control themselves, people who are willing to do whatever it takes in order to what? In order to gratify themselves, in order to please themselves, in order to entertain themselves. And then he goes on in this book, Willpower, he gives a few examples of what can be done in order to develop a person's willpower. And he says: "there are certain methods. For instance, one is to sleep and to eat moderately". Don't sleep too little, don't sleep too much, don't eat too little, don't eat too much. He says to establish certain routines, to keep a journal or a diary, for instance, to be organized overall, to organize your life, to engage in guided meditation, amongst other things.
For Muslims, many of these things sound very familiar. Our teachings, they emphasize on performing some of these tasks and other tasks in order to be able to regulate ourselves. In order to be able to control ourselves. The secret to success, brothers and sisters, is that we are able to exhibit self-control, because we know that the difference between humans and other animals is what? Is that human beings, they have free will. They can choose to do something good or something bad. They can choose, they have control over their choices. While animals, they don't. Animals, they base their decisions on instincts, on their desires. They don't wait to think and to judge between two acts, they're not able to reason. This is what mainly differentiates humans from animals.
But there is another factor that differentiates successful human beings with human beings who fail. And that is what? That is willpower. That is how much willpower a person has, how much control he or he or she has over their desires. Allah Subhana wa Ta'ala tells us in the Qur'an: “Wa amma man khafa maqama Rabbihi wa naha an-nafsa ‘an al-hawa” (79:40). And as for he or she who is able to recognize the position of their Lord: "wa naha an-nafsa ‘an al-hawa” (79:40), who repels pushes back himself, his soul from engaging in the lower desires, those which are impermissible, of course. Who has self-control, who has self- restraint, Allah says what? “Fa inna al-Jannata hiya al-mawa” (79:41). For this person, the paradise, the garden is the final abode, is the final destination.
I ask Allah, Subhana wa Ta'ala, the Almighty, to allow us to benefit from the Qur'an, to allow us to benefit from the traditions, from our teachings, from the Prophet, peace be upon him, from the Ahl ul-Bayt, from our obligations, from our commands, from our acts, to give us the tawfik and to give us the ability to gain this sense of self-control, to restrain ourselves so that we are successful in this life and in the hereafter.
Brothers and sisters, there are many people who are sick, there are many people who are ill. There's a specific person who is in a very, very difficult situation. He was diagnosed formally with cancer and this took a toll on his life. The cancer has come back again, and it has spread in his chest and his lungs. And doctors have given him a very specific amount of time to live. And he is in the hospital currently. So for his sake, for his health, for the health of all of those who are sick, let us recite altogether this Surah, this Ayah five times.
'A'udhu bil-Lahi, min al-Shaytan, al-rajim. Bismi-Llah, Al-Rahmani, Al-Rahim. “Amman yujibu al-mudhtarra idha da‘ahu wa yakshifu us-su’u”. “Amman yujibu al-mudhtarra idha da‘ahu wa yakshifu us-su’u”. “Amman yujibu al-mudhtarra idha da‘ahu wa yakshifu us-su’u”. “Amman yujibu al-mudhtarra idha da‘ahu wa yakshifu us-su’u”. “Amman yujibu al-mudhtarra idha da‘ahu wa yakshifu us-su’u” (27:62). Ya Allah! Allahumma, bi Haqqi Fatimatah wa abiha, wa baliha wa baniha, wa as-sirr al-mustawda’ifiha, ya Allah. Allahumma shafi’ kulla maridh, Allahumma shafi’ mardhana, lasiyama al-mardh al-mandhureen. Allahumma shafi’him bi Shifa’yk, wa da’uwim bi Da’waik, wa afihim min Bala’yk.
Brothers and sisters, for the souls of all of those who have passed away, for the souls of the martyrs of Afghanistan, for the souls of the martyrs all around the world, for the hastening of the reappearance of our final Imam, let us recite Surat Al-Fitiha, ma'a as-salat 'ala Muhammadin wa aali Muhammad [Allahumma salli 'ala Muhammad wa Aali Muhammad].