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Shukran Abdul Rahman

International Islamic University Malaysia


Background:  Scholars have been found to use various approaches and methods when studying subject matters in Psychology, and the subject matter-in questions differ from one scholar to another. It has been found that both the former, which concerns the epistemological aspect of Psychology; and the latter (ontological aspects) have been influenced by cultural factors, including the belief systems of the scholars and their disciples (axiological aspects).

Objectives: The objective of this paper is to discuss the nature of human characteristics (ontological aspects);  the ways to study them (epistemological aspect), and the underlying principles which govern the process to, and scope of,  the study of human characteristics (axiological aspects) by highlighting the contributions of Muslim scholars, and specifically, BediüzzamanSaid Nursi to the field of Psychology.

Method: This paper attempts to address the objectives by reviewing available information on various Muslim scholars whose contribution have been deliberated in the literature. It helps the authors to analyse relevant information which feature the scholars’ work.

Significance: This paper highlights the contribution of Muslim scholars, especially Imam Said Nursi, in the study of Psychology, offering an alternative avenue to the Western perspective of Psychology. It also features the roles of Muslim scholars in describing the nature of human being and the ways they derive the knowledge.

Keyword: Epistemology, Ontology, Axiology, Psychology, Islamic Perspective. 


الخلفية: تم العثور على العلماء لاستخدام مناهج وأساليب مختلفة عند دراسة الموضوعات في علم النفس، وتختلف الموضوعات في الأسئلة من عالم إلى آخر. وقد وجد أن كلاهما، والذي يتعلق بالجانب المعرفي لعلم النفس؛ والأخيرة (الجوانب الوجودية) تأثرت بالعوامل الثقافية، بما في ذلك نظم المعتقدات لدى العلماء وتلاميذه (الجوانب الباطنية).

الأهداف: الهدف من هذه الورقة هو مناقشة طبيعة الخصائص البشرية (الجوانب الوجودية)؛ طرق دراستها (الجانب المعرفي) والمبادئ الأساسية التي تحكم عملية دراسة الخصائص البشرية ونطاقها (الجوانب المعرفية) من خلال تسليط الضوء على مساهمات العلماء المسلمين، وتحديداً، بديع الزمان سعيد نورسي في المجال علم النفس.

الطريقة: تحاول هذه الورقة معالجة الأهداف من خلال مراجعة المعلومات المتاحة عن مختلف العلماء المسلمين الذين تمت مناقشة مساهماتهم في الأدبيات. يساعد المؤلفين على تحليل المعلومات ذات الصلة التي تميز عمل العلماء.

الأهمية: تسلط هذه الورقة الضوء على مساهمة العلماء المسلمين، وخاصة الإمام سعيد النورسي، في دراسة علم النفس، وتقدم وسيلة بديلة للمنظور الغربي لعلم النفس. كما يبرز أدوار العلماء المسلمين في وصف طبيعة الإنسان وطرق استخلاص المعرفة.

الكلمات المفتاحية: نظرية المعرفة، علم الوجود، علم النفس، علم النفس، المنظور الإسلامي.


The study on the nature and reality of human characteristics started as early as before human being was created. Scholars had had different approaches when addressing this subject, mainly due to the zeitgeist they belong to, and the ideology or religion they subscribed. The effort to describe human characteristics have adopted various approaches, most of them relied on subjective observation, analogous view, and rational thinking to name a few. The history of Psychology has documented the work of early scholars who described the nature of human by observing the function of machine, the attributes of tree, animals, and environment. They used the identified characteristics when describing the nature and characteristics of man. Instead of relying on objective approach, they used personal imagination, opinion, evaluation and judgment. Hence the ontology or the scopes studied by them are limited to subjects which are within their limited thinking or reach, neglecting the invisible scope which are not attained through human investigation. The objective of this paper is to discuss the nature of human characteristics (ontological aspects); the ways they were studied (epistemological aspects), and the underlying principles which governed the process to, and scope of, the study of human characteristics (axiological aspects).

Source of Information.

The information provided in this paper is sourced from secondary data, for the research utilises review of literature. The information has been sourced from various literature to include books, article, conference papers, and other publication. The researcher has analysed the literature by focusing on the epistemology, ontology, and axiology adopted by the selected scholars.


Muslims scholars are no exception in the endeavours to explain the nature of human existence. They have contributed in (a) the development of the approaches to study human characteristics; (b) the inclusion of essential aspects of human nature and characteristics; and (c) the importance of having sound fundamentals which steer and govern the ways to study, and the scope of studies in the field of Psychology.  In other words, Muslim scholars have contributed to development of Psychology discourse which focused on developing man’s understanding of what make them a human, and what determine their course of actions. That is substantiated by a fundamental value, or axiology, that the quest for knowledge must be for the attainment of truth, and that truth is achieved via empirical work and divine information. The epistemology that the scholars subscribed in the effort to know the nature of human, thus, were based on the two major sources of input, without denying or negating one another. The epistemology underscores the importance of understanding the Quran and the Prophet’s hadith. Both have perfected the effort to characterize human, and given a comprehensive picture of what a human is all about. This, in turn, has laid down an overall ontological notion of human reality without limiting it to only studying behaviours (behaviorism), functions of unit (functionalism), or structure in a unit (structuralism). Their contribution could be found in the literature by, and about, them.  

The summary of the epistemology adopted, and ontology contributed, by Muslim scholars are presented in the following table.

Table 1: Selected Epistemology and Ontology of Psychology by Muslim Scholars

Name of ScholarEpistemologyOntology
Ibn SirinDream Interpretation, Rational Thinking, Scientific knowledge, MemorizationDream, Consciousness. Modern psychology (sleep analysis)
Jabir Ibnu HayyanThe study of chemistry and invention of several chemical processes through experimentation.Mental Health
Abu Rayhan Muhammad Ibn Ahmad al-BiruniObservation, experimental methodhuman nature; individuals in society
Imam Syafi’iExperienceSelf-development, Interpersonal skill, self-independence
Al-KindiObservationSoul, Dreams, Sorrow, human intellect
At TirmidhiTravelled to various places, learning from many different teachersStudy of soul
Al TabariLearning with previous scholars and previous researchIslamic medicine, Relationship between psychology and medicine;
Abu Zayd Al-BalkhiObservation, Rational ThinkingBody and Soul, Spiritual and physical health, Medical psychology, Depression, Psychotherapy
Abu Bakar Muhammad Ibn Zakariya al-RaziRationalismConcepts of three souls, Brain, Chemistry
Al FarabiDistinguishing knowledge gained by humans (theoretical and practical knowledge)The capacities and the origin of the souls (cosmological, metaphysical, and biological perspective), human Intellect, Social status of individual in society
Al ZahrawiScientific Observation, ExperienceAnxiety, Human Thinking, Neuroscience, Human Brain, Habit and Natural Mentality, Psychotherapy
Ibn MiskawaihInvestigation, Rational Knowledge, Islamic Teaching  Ethics, Moral virtue, Happiness in human being, Moral health, Soul, Self-reinforcement
Ali ibn Abbas Majusi AhvaziScientific and medical research, studying the relationship between patients and doctorsMind: it’s biology, anatomy, and physiology; Religion and psychological treatment/
Ibn Al-HaythamExperimentation, Induction and DeductionThe concept of perception; The concept of sensation; The concept of vision; Visual categorization; The property of refraction
Ibn SinaExperimentation and observationPsychophysiology; Human perception; Mind-body relationship; Philosophy of medicine
Ibn HazmObservation; Personal experience; Logical and philosophical thinkingHuman soul; Love; Sense of perception
Al- GhazaliRationalism, EmpiricismTazkiyatun Nafs, Spiritual Intelligence, Khauf and Raja’
Ibn BajjahObservation, rational thinking, experiment, reason and reasoningSoul, Intellect, Human body and the process that happen (sensation, perception, and growth), Intelligence
Ibn TufaylPhilosophical tale or view.Inner elements of man, development of one’s soul.
Fakhr al-Din al-RaziUnderstanding the Quran, Studied all the awa’il sciencesSoul, Dogmatic Theology (Kalam), Desire, Human’s Perfection.
Shihab Al-Din Suhrawardi MaqtulThe action of immediate presencePsychology relating to the faculties of soul, Five internal senses
Ibn ‘ArabiAn analysis of his own soul who underwent. mystical experience)Soul, Dream, Perception
Nasr al-Din Al-TusiObservationSoul, Fluidity of character, Character as manifestation of soul
Jalal Ad-Din Al-Rumirational and critical thinking.  Mindfulness, Acknowledge negative experiences, Openness, Attunement, Soul and Suficism psychology, World of Spirit, Reason, Feelings
Ibn Al-NafisObservation and ExperimentationPhysiological psychology
Ibn QayyimDiscussionSoul – Interaction between nature, nuture and spiritual factor
Ibn BattutaObservationSocial psychology, Humanistic approach
Ibn KhaldunRational thinking, ObservationPerception, Empirical thought, Change, Social learning, Human soul
Ibn RushdObservation, rational and thinking, derived from commentaries on Aristotle’s De AnimaIntellect, Happiness, Soul
Ashraf Ali ThanviDirect counsellingPsychopathology (mental health than mental illness)
Imam Badiuzzaman Said An- NursiLogical and inductive reasoning, QuranIntegration of religious beliefs and multiple fields of sciences; Psychological nature in motivation
Malik Ben NabiObservation and rational thinking.The study of civilization and the reason behind declination of Muslim society.

One of the eminent scholars who had contributed to the development of knowledge on human nature is Bediüzzaman Said An Nursi. His brief background, and contribution to Psychology is described below.

Bediüzzaman Said Nursi

Bediüzzaman Said Nursi was born in 1877 and passed away in 1960. He was named after the place of his birth, the village of Nurs, but had been given various titles such as Said-i Nursi. He had been given the title of Bediüzzaman, or the Wonder of the age, a Regenerator of the end age (Şükran, 2013) for his incredible ability, remarkable thinking skills and ability in memorizing knowledge (Siti Elis, Muhammad Qamarul, Nur Sakeenah (2018).

He lived during the time when The Ottoman Empire had been defeated, causing the implementation of secular government system in Turkey which in turn influenced his study of human nature. He was responding to the situation during that time which was characterised by the control of the world economy through science and technology. In fact, Islam has not been well accepted, treated as a personal matter which did not require the state’s involvement.  They were of the view that everything including education or sciences should be separated from religion. Said Nursi was not in favour with such idea and scenario, driving him develop a synergy of spiritual aspects and modern sciences in educational curriculum. He held to the thought that the glorious Islamic civilization had to be repeated in order to face the increasingly challenging and modern world. He had written letters on the belief system, and on the next world. The letters had reached different places of Turkey through his students (Ayyüzlü Ömer, 2013).

Said Nursi is known as a Muslim scholar who had made significant impacts to various fields Islamic studies of Psychology. He had shown his enormous perseverance to promote Islam to the Turkish society. His vast knowledge and strong determination had led him to instil Islam in the societal system. (Siti Elis, Muhammad Qamarul, Nur Sakeenah (2018). This is evident in his famous books, Risale An-Nur, which contains remarkably significant concepts which address important aspects of knowledge for Muslims. Risale An-Nur are perfect and complete piece of work, emphasizing the transformation of live among individuals (Cecilia Moreira, 2000). The teaching of Nursi in Risale-An-Nur could be assimilated by individuals in order to transform live as much as they can, and to make life and society reflecting the teaching of religion, and human positive attributes (compassion, love, understanding, prosperity, peace. and health) that individuals need to attain in their lives. 

Epistemology of Psychology as found in Said Nursi’s Work

Guizzardi, (2007) stated that the term ontology has its origin in the Latin Language (from the word ontologia which is translated to as the study of existence. In Greek, the word “onto” means “being”, and “logos”, set the original idea for the concept of ontology, being the science or study of being (Lawson, 2004).  The concept can be referred to as a science which dwells into the nature, type, and structure of certain beings which exist or might exist (Smith, 2003). Nursi has made significant contribution to the ontology of science, including behavioral sciences by having the concepts and principles of human nature derived from the Quran. His writing, the Risale-i Nur has deliberated the concept of science or fann or ‘ilm. Stated another way, Psychology, being a science, has benefited from the great and detailed work of Said Nursi. The ways he approached knowledge of human nature, and their characteristics have integrated the input from Islamic teaching and science. In other words, Nursi’s epistemological approach is based on the revealed and acquired knowledge (Khamami, 2015). In brief, his epistemology was that knowledge could be obtained through;

  1. Logical reasoning (Gondal & Majeed, n.d): Said Nursi has taken an approach which emphasised the essentiality to apply logical reasoning in the effort of interpreting or understanding religious beliefs. He supported this approach by holding to the belief that the Quran urges people to use rational thinking and it is important to apply logical reasoning in understanding realities (Gondal & Majeed, n.d). To illustrate, he even rationalised the defeat of The Ottomon Empire in that if the Ottoman had won the First World War, the Muslims might have been carried away with unjust activities, involved in capitalism, controlled by the enemies which are not in line with the nature of the Islamic world. The involvement in such activities would contradict of the Muslim interests. He equated the position of an individual who suffers from a problem with the condition of thirsty individuals. Both have before them, a bottle full of drinking water, and the other as having the perfect guidance, the Quran.  He argued that the water will not serve any purpose if one does not consume it. The same situation happens with the individual who has the access to the Quran, and knows its content but does not subscribe to it, or benefit from its teaching.  He or she will not be able to attain good life and will suffer from the problems for the rest of their live (Moreira Cecilla, 2000).
  • Blending science with the divine sources. He acknowledged the importance of sciences in the contemporary society, being aware that individuals in the contemporary society rely and subscribe to the information acquired by science. Said Nursi argued that human will eventually rely on science and learning, by obtaining strength from science. Nevertheless, he warned on the destructive aspect of sciences if it is to be detached from spirituality. Science will not do good to people if it is separated from their real nature, for it will dump various superstitions and falsehood which would lead human into error and dangerous atheistic beliefs. Hence, Nursi underscored the need to combine all sciences with the divine sources. Both provide the information on the nature of reality. Science is a subset of religion for the former uses certain approach and methodologies which are in tandem with the latter. Said Nursi provided specific examples of the understanding of science and technology which could be explained by the Qur’an via subtle allusions (Abdur Rahim Choudhary, 2004). In brief, the content of knowledge about human nature had been sourced from religious input. According to him knowledge entails:
  1. knowledge of the Spiritual Realm (Aalam-e-Mithaal), given to Awliya Allah as a special favor from Allah. The World of Similitude (Aalam-e-Mithal), is an important focus in the discussion of Nursi’s epistemology. The original term of World of Similitudes (Aalam-e-Mithal) consists 80% of the religion, an important approach to find the straight path of Islam. (CIFIA, 2018).
  2. a system of Governance, which invisibility cause human to have limited knowledge on it. (CIFIA, 2018)
  • Allegorical methodology (Gondal & Majeed, n.d).: Nursi used this as a tool in conveying his ideas and wisdom by giving multiple examples, comparisons and stories that could be easily understood by the community during his time. This was used in order to outreach his villagers in order to develop and change them from the state of ignorance, poverty and dissension, important to survival of restore religious and ethical values in the society he lived.
  • Intuition: Nursi used intuition (Hads), by reflecting and pondering over it the creation of Allah. He emphasised on the sincere relationship of his belief with Allah so much so that everything he saw, heard, held, or encountered is attributed to the Allah’s power (Al-Ansari Farid, 2000).

Some Ontology of Psychology as found in Said Nursi’s Works

Said Nursi had focussed the discussion of human nature by highlighting the characteristics possessed by individuals. In so doing he underscored the essentiality of anchoring the scopes of human characteristics on religious belief. The scope of knowledge he acquired by science had been integrated with the information or truth he obtained from the Quran and Hadith. In short, he had integrated traditional religious beliefs and modern sciences, described below

  1. Belief system. The belief should be passed from hand to hand, aimed at disseminating truths to individuals in the society. The belief about truths have been reached from hand to hand through letters manifesting the belief, full of love and enthusiasm (Ayyüzlü Ömer, 2013). In this context, he stressed the full connection with Allah, taking place when one assimilates in his own life the teachings of Islam. It is to make something an integral part an individual’s being. He or she treats religion as the basis or fundamental of his structure, constitution, and actions
  • Psychological nature, a concept he introduced to explain the factors that affect the life of human beings. The concept of human psychological nature had enabled him to ensure that he would never disappoint anybody whom he attended to. Among the human characteristics he highlighted are
  1. Positive Beliefs: In his relation with the Muslim community in Damascus who were facing many problems, he resorted to giving them positive beliefs that there will be victory for them, leading them to be optimistic and having a high morale to revive back their society (Gondal & Majeed, n.d). It is used to enhance the community well-being.
  1. Motivation: This is an essential factor in enhancing the spirit of Muslims during that time when the Turkish people were facing a declining phase after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. His view on individuals’ need is in tandem with that of other scholars who emphasised the importance of satisfying human’s need (e.g Maslow and Elderfer) in attaining equilibrium, which he referred to as appetites desires. It also includes the need to transform self into a higher level of being (Cecilia Moreira, 2000). Said Nursi said that human beings have limitless appetites desires but limited resources, causing them to suffer from tension. This can be managed by developing a full connection with ALlah. (M. H. Yavuz). Individuals have the need to grow into new paradigms of conscience, brotherhood, compassion, understanding (self-actualization) which are their basic necessities. This is significantly essential for individuals, not only to equip them for the worldly accomplishment but to attain the spiritual level, the realization of Islam, in personal and social life.
  1. Personality. Said Nursi developed an integrative Islamic personality model that can be used by Muslims as a better guideline to assess Muslim’s personality. Unlike the western ideas of personality, his model of personality included the soul or unseen parts such as the nafs and others (Gondal & Majeed, n.d).
  1. Mind and heart. Individual reasoning involves a gradual transformation, beginning with the process to (a) raise individual consciousness, followed by b) the implementation of faith in daily life, and lead to (c) the restoration of the Shariah. Individuals, according to him, received blessed news, merry incident, fine service which are shared by others through means of technology, essential for them to save and support man’s belief system. (Ayyüzlü Ömer , 2013
  • Daawah:  Bediüzzaman highlighted the approach to call people to Islam. He discussed the way to preach Islam in Turkey and around the world by stressing the need to apply judicious approaches without upsetting or risking any parties (Ayyüzlü Ömer, 2013). Preachers must use subtly smart approach and wisdom. The absence of wisdom may lead to defeat in the activities one endures. (CIFIA, 2018).
  • Psychological Health: Individuals must not fall into despair and hopelessness but must always be hopeful and optimistic. Muslims must believe in the divine determining power when encountering any calamity, essential for them to be hopeful. (CIFIA, 2018). In this relation, he highlighted the concept of happiness which is associated with calamities, somewhat not purely evil as sometimes it presents in happiness while at times happiness is the results of calamity.

The Axiology of Psychology which influenced Said Nursi’s Works

Said Nursi upheld the belief that thinking is an important human activity, an activity which is stated in the Quran, making it imperative for man to use reasoning when exploring the world (Gondal & Majeed, n.d). Said Nursi had stressed the need to integrate religious sciences with modern sciences.  The scopes of human characteristics (ontology), and the approach to study them (epistemology) have been influenced by several important principles and values he upheld (axiology), namely

  1. The spiritual aspects: Said Nursi highlighted the role of spiritual aspects in modern sciences and the integration between them. This is to the support for the idea that Islam is the universal religious beliefs. In an article, Said Nursi was said to believe that faith itself is a part of human progress (Sheriif, 2016). Psychology cannot exist without taking into account the spiritual reality, and the religious or spiritual paths can’t leave aside the profound self-analyses of ourselves. (Moreira, 2000).
  • The belief system: Said Nursi underscored the essentiality of having a belief system for it enables an individual to reach the ‘highest of the high’ and behave in the manner that qualifies him or her to attain the pleasure of Allah (Al-Ansari Farid, 2000). According to Nursi, it is the belief which connects individuals to Allah (Farid al-Ansari., 2000). Belief makes individuals being connected to the Creator. He deliberated the need to attain the desired level of belief in that an individual must keep good relationship with ALlah, entailing him or her to develop conscience; to furbish and adorn the conscience; to correct and rectify it; purify and cleans it; raise it to the level of serenity and sincerity.
  • The Revealed Knowledge. He emphasized on the truth which come in divine source. He stressed on the need for referring to the Quran in the effort to attain harmonious, healthy and peaceful life (Moreira Cecilla, 2000). The Quran contains all the answers an individual requires in order to attain harmonious, peaceful, and healthy personal as well as societal lives.  The emotional, mental, and material problems and suffering which exist among human being could be addressed when individuals refer to Qur’an and the book which explain the teaching of the Quran, such as Risale-i Nur, by Nursi. (Cecilia Moreira, 2000).
  • He referred to a Hadith by the Prophet which read “In the end age (just before the doomsday), keeping one’s belief will be as difficult as keeping a piece of ember in hand.” (Ayyüzlü Ömer, 2013). He said that the teaching of Islam does not contradict reason in that all the teaching can be proven and explained rationally. Islam does not detach the importance of reason and proof. The Quran encourage Muslims to establish proof, hence lead to having truths of belief.
  • The Responsibility. Collective responsibility to educate others about belief system and socially beneficial efforts. This is driven by a Hadith of the Prophet (PBUH) “In the end age (just before the doomsday), saving one’s belief will be as difficult as keeping a piece of ember in hand”, his companions asked:” Oh Messenger, so how will the believers do then?” The Prophet replied: “Beliefs will not be able to keep in hand but each believer will pass the belief from hand to hand and thus everybody will hold the belief in their hands continuously.
  • The Man-Lord Relationship. He also highlighted the relationship between man and belief when he emphasised the relationship of belief with man.  An important focus in his teaching is relationship of belief or ‘the relations resulting from belief (al-intisab al-imáni) (Al-Ansari Farid, 2000),

Besides, the axiological aspects of his work could also be addressed by highlighting the impactful outcomes he has made to the society whose life became more meaningful after being given guidance or advice from him.


Psychology, being a science, has benefited from the Muslim scholars’ work and that of Said’s Nursi’s work. Being grounded on divine source, various information on human nature or characteristics have been explained, in perfection, by referring to the Quran and Hadith. To echo Said Nursi’s teaching, the exclusion of revealed or divine information in explaining human nature will only cause Psychology to be a half-truth knowledge.


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