Psychology and religion are two subjects that frequently meet in research. Usually when they do, the focus is on why people follow/need religion and how this provides them with a meaning and purpose higher than themselves. This will be addressed in the coming article.
For now it is more fitting to start by basic definitions of both Positive Psychology and Islam; and focus on a more profound relationship between the two.
“Positive psychology” is a fairly new sub-field of Psychology. By one definition, it is the “scientific study of optimal human functioning. It aims to discover and promote the factors that allow individuals and communities to thrive.” http://www.ppc.sas.upenn.edu/akumalmanifesto.htm
“Islam” on the other hand is a monotheistic religion that centers around the belief in One God (1). This belief is the key to “optimal human functioning” just mentioned. This is evident within the meaning of the word “Islam” itself; an Arabic word (2) the root of which is SLM ( pronounced Sa-la-ma ). From this root come three basic words; Surrender ( Istislam ), Peace (S alam ) and Purity (S alama ).
Islam carries these three meanings; it means if a person fully surrenders himself/herself to God Almighty alone and worships Him purely , he/she will live in peace and harmony with all of God's in this life and in the life after .
Surrendering to God = Peace and harmony with the world:
This is a cause-effect relationship.
The concept of submission to God is not specific to Muslims. Everyone is in submission to God whether or not they willingly admit it, no one chooses when to be born nor does anyone have the power to expel a disease out of their body with their own hands. Some illnesses have a cure and some don't, and some people don't respond to treatment even if the illness is treatable; it is all in the hands of God.
However, when a Muslim willingly submits to God, he submits to the Creator who knows when he/she will be born and has the power to cure him/her from any illness; he/she is thus in a state of peace and acceptance of whatever happens because he/she is in capable hands. Surrendering to one's creator means that one is at peace with whatever God created, whether in ourselves individually or in the world around us; it means one is content with who he/she is and with their surroundings because one believes this is the best settings for themselves.
“Is it then other than Allah's religion that they seek (to follow), and to Him submits whoever is in the heavens and the earth, willingly or unwillingly, and to Him shall they be returned.” Quran, translated by Shakir, 3:83.
Muslims believe that God is The All Knowledgeable. We have all been in situations that seemed good but didn't turn out to be what we initially wanted. By the same token, most of us are familiar with many “blessings in disguise”. God says in the Quran:
“ Fighting is enjoined on you, and it is an object of dislike to you; and it may be that you dislike a thing while it is good for you, and it may be that you love a thing while it is evil for you, and Allah knows, while you do not know.” Translation by Shakir 2:216.
If we accept that we don't actually know-it-all, we are at peace with what the future brings. We are always happy or at least content with our circumstances. These are t he positive emotions that Shearon and Sheiner talk about in their research Compodium ( www.reflectivelearning.com , 2007, P.4); “The positive emotions about the past include satisfaction, contentment, fulfillment, pride and serenity”.
Following those in the same study are the positive emotions related to the future including optimism and faith, which directly relate to Muslims' belief that God is The Sustainer. Surrendering oneself to one's sustainer is imperative. In seeking our fortunes in life we are at peace with ourselves because we know that God is The Sustainer who supplies for us just like He supplies for the fish in the sea and for the birds in the skies. Imagine the safety and security one feels knowing that our fortune for the day is already out there waiting for us, there is no rat race and everyone gets a piece of the pie (3).
“And in heaven is your Sustenance, as (also) that which ye are promised.” Quran, translated by Yusuf Ali, 51:22.
As we can see, what is important in this basic definition of Islam, is that it is shows us that the path to peace and harmony is submission to God. Knowing that and having this kind of relationship with God protects Muslims from depression (according to Shearon and Sheine, positive emotions related to the future are empirically proven to “buffer against depression”); everything is destined to be and is in its best form. These beliefs, if understood and implemented will lead to satisfaction and contentment. In the words of Positive psychology, they lead to “optimal human functioning” and lay the path for us to “thrive”.
“Yes! whoever submits himself entirely to Allah and he is the doer of good (to others) he has his reward from his Lord, and there is no fear for him nor shall he grieve.” Translated by Shakir, 2:112.