Towards an Islamic Perspective of Developmental Psychology
By Salisu Shehu
This article seeks to advance an Islamic understanding of the process of human development. It begins with a critique of the Western secular worldview, which relies exclusively on empiricism and reductionism. It also brings out the exclusion of the spiritual dimension and the privileging of materialism in secular developmental psychology. The paper relies on the Quran to determine the factors, heredity and environment, that shape development. It also argues that while there are factors that have a causal effect, in the ultimate analysis everything depends on God's will.
Developmental psychology, otherwise called "child psychology," is a branch of psychology that is essentially concerned with the study of the overall processes of human development from conception to old age. The term "process of development" has been used to refer to the stages, aspects, patterns, principles, factors, and agents involved in human development.
In psychology, the term "development" has a wide range of meaning. It means the overall qualitative and quantitative changes that accompany human growth and maturation. In this regard, these two terms (growth and maturation) have also been subsumed under the general meaning of development. The definition given by Lefrancois reveals this wide sense of meaning: "the total process whereby an individual adapts to his environment."1 The scope of developmental psychology is as wide as is implied by the meaning of "development." It thus covers both prenatal and postnatal development-embryonic, infant, child, adolescent, and adult development. By the same token, it covers physical, cognitive, personality, social, emotional, and moral aspects of development.
Modern developmental psychology is an integral aspect of mainstream modern Western secular psychology. By necessary implication, its fundamental paradigms and methodologies and its essential views of man are invariably materialist and secular, just like that of its mother body. Modern psychology has played a significant role in shaping Western man and Western society. As part of the overall product of modernity, the Western worldview is predominantly secular-characterized by atheism, agnosticism, and humanism. In line with this world view, the dominant trend in Western intellectualism is similarly materialistic and secular.
In modern psychology, man is treated and studied within the purview of the Western materialist worldview. Thus, he is seen and studied fundamentally as a material being. The spiritual entity or component in him is either less recognized or simply dismissed or dispelled completely. This dismissal of the spiritual component in man became necessary because its presence cannot be established with the standards of rigid empiricism, which came to hold sway over the behavioral and social sciences-the craze for scientific precision and accuracy. In a more apt sense this is called scientism-the mad worship of science.
The Islamic world view is diametrically opposed to this Western world view. In the Islamic world view, man and everything in the universe are a creation of Allah. He created the universe alone and solely sustains and governs it. Man's life has a divine and transcendental purpose because he shall be resurrected in a Divine world (the Hereafter) and shall be made to account for his life in this world. In the Islamic view, man is a creature made up of two components-matter and spirit. He should strive for the betterment of both in equal and balanced ways and manners. The Islamic Law (the Shari'ah), which governs man's life, has been Divinely formulated so that both components in man are catered to in a balanced way. A Muslim's life and by extension the life of the Muslim community is governed and patterned along this worldview, just as the Western community is governed by its worldview.
Therefore, there are sharp differences between the Islamic and Western patterns of life. Similarly, and also necessarily, the patterns and processes of development (especially the moral, emotional, and social aspects of it) must be fundamentally and essentially different. Thus, it is also correct to say that a theoretical model of studying child development that has been conceived, formulated, experimented on, and applied in the West cannot necessarily be applicable for the same purpose in the Muslim world. The fundamental differences in worldview between the two worlds, which subsequently necessitate differences in child-rearing practices between the two cultures, vindicates this assertion.
There is an urgent need for developing an Islamic perspective of developmental psychology whose paradigms, principles, methodologies, and conceptual and theoretical frameworks must evolve out of the Islamic worldview. In the same vein, it must also take into account the peculiar essentials and dispositions of the Muslim ummah pertaining to its belief system, moral codes and etiquette, and all aspects of its life that combine together to make it a distinctive entity. This article is an effort in this direction, attempting to identify and expound some of its basic principles and paradigms.
Before delving into a discussion of the paradigm and principles of Islamic developmental psychology, it seems pertinent to present a more concrete critique of the fundamental epistemological paradigm and methodology of modern psychology. This will reveal its shortcomings and blind spots.2 For the purpose of a comprehensive critique, three basic methodological issues are examined: the source of knowledge in modern psychology, the means of examining the knowledge, and the objectivity of empirical data.
The Source of Knowledge
In modern psychology as in all other modern behavioral and social sciences, the source of knowledge is confined only to human intellect and senses. Revelation is completely dismissed and denied as a source of knowledge; it is simply considered as a myth or superstition. This rejection of revelation as a source of knowledge is a consequence of both historical and philosophical antecedents. It resulted from the conflict between the Catholic Church and the scientists and the subsequent triumph of the scientists which engendered the so-called scientific revolution with all its attendant and associated material advancements.
With the scientific revolution, scientific epistemology, which is purely mundane and even atheistic, gained ground and came to be accepted as an infallible and impeccable paradigm of inquiry. This paradigm of knowledge, according to Abul-Fadl, soon came to assume a position of preeminence among all others, rendering them obsolete and vestiges of the prescientific age. As a result, each discipline was left with the option of either adopting this epistemological model or perishing. Humanity's inquiry into the nature of its social world was forced to adopt this empirical model as its epistemological basis.
Belief in revelation as an infallible source of knowledge is an essential article of faith in Islam. All Muslims believe in this. This is why Muslims accept the Qur'an and the Sunnah as their primary sources of knowledge. This belief influences the consciousness of a Muslim while he seeks all sorts of knowledge. A Muslim psychologist will, therefore, necessarily face a fundamental contradiction between his faith and the Western empirical epistemological model. For this reason, Muslim psychologists must create an epistemological framework that conforms to their belief. Failure to do this will keep them in perpetual dilemma, as succinctly put by Badri.4
Even more serious, however, is the fact that there is an obvious incongruence in using theories that have been formulated and tested within the purview of this epistemological model to study the development of an individual or a group of individuals whose belief system is in total opposition to it. Undoubtedly, the desired accurate results cannot be obtained. This point becomes all the more clear if a critical look is cast on the next methodological issue.