PERMA: A basic theory of well-being through the lens of Islamic guidance and counselling


“Do not be sad, for sadness, grief, and anxiety are the roots of mental problems, the sources of stress.” Ãid al-Qarni 

It’s been two-decade since the original publication of “Don’t be sad” book by one of the esteemed Muslim scholars, Dr. Ãid al-Qarni, which was first written in Arabic via ‘لا تحزن’ and eventually translated into hundred languages both local and international for its beneficial impact on the believers and the nonbelievers alike. However, for our Ulama, most of the gems provided there are not new as far as Arabic books are concerned, especially for the endless wisdoms of the holy Qur’an and the noble Hadith. To be fair with other Islamic books of the same subject matter, they are must-read too or even more informative for Arabic speakers.  

What made the book exceptional and aesthetic however is that it tackled both Clinical and Positive Psychology based on Islamic perspectives that strikingly surprised those are unaware of the reality of Islam, a religion that cures misery and helplessness and promotes well-being and serenity once the faith is firmly instilled in one’s self for more than fourteen centuries when Psychology was far from establishment. For us, the variables toward happy life are encapsulated in two things: Righteous act and Faith when the Almighty Allah said “Whoever acts righteously whether male or female, and he is a believer, we will certainly provide him with a happy life. 16:97”

When COVID 19 first shook up the entire humanity two years ago to which our peace of mind has been severely affected, one of the Specializations that has been being sought after in Coursera, among other educational platforms, I believe, is “Foundations of Positive Psychology” packed with other emerging fields that study has recently shown such as: Grit by Angela Duckworth and Resilience by Karen Reivich. And what significantly makes me curious the most is the so-called PERMA introduced by Dr. Seligman, the father of Positive Psychology that stands for: Positive Emotions, Engagements, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishments. 

Equipped with Islamic foundation with considerable capability to speak and write in Arabic, I allowed myself to get involved in this field in a self-paced way – thanks to Coursera for this opportunity – in an investigative approach whether there’s resemblance between Positive Psychology and Islamic belief, given the said theory has its binary consequences toward us Muslims: one is useful undoubtedly for all, and the other is unsafe even proscribed specially for those who basically lacked knowledge in Islam as far as Aqidah or Islamic creed is concerned. Thus, I feel the sense to deep dive into what our religion has to say about this. 

Positive Emotion: This route to well-being is hedonic – increasing positive emotion. Within limits, we can increase our positive emotion about the past (e.g., by cultivating gratitude and forgiveness), our positive emotion about the present (e.g., by savoring physical pleasures and mindfulness) and our positive emotion about the future (e.g., by building hope and optimism). University of Pennsylvania

The author: Islamically, this can be relatively considered as tafāol or simply means optimism. The Almighty Allah has said “And who despairs of the mercy of his Lord, except those that are astray? 15:56” It’s also one of the best forms of Tawakkul or a complete reliance on Allah, the Exalted. The prophet has said “If you all depend on Allah with due reliance, He would certainly give you provision as He gives it to birds who go forth hungry in the morning and return with full belly at dusk.”

Engagement: Engagement is an experience in which someone fully deploys his skills, strengths, and attention for a challenging task. According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, this produces an experience called “flow” that is so gratifying that people are willing to do it for its own sake, rather than for what they will get out of it. University of Pennsylvania

The author: Our religion has promoted perfection – giving one’s best – and sustainability in every action we are going to commit. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) once quoted “Indeed, Allah is pleased when one of you commenced a work perfectly.” In another Hadith, “The acts most pleasing to God are those which are done most continuously, even if they amount to little.”

Relationships: Relationships are fundamental to well-being. The experiences that contribute to well-being are often amplified through our relationships, for example, great joy, meaning, laughter, a feeling of belonging, and pride in accomplishment. Connections to others can give life purpose and meaning. Support from and connection with others is one of the best antidotes to “the downs” of life and a reliable way to feel up. Research shows that doing acts of kindness for others produces an increase in well-being. University of Pennsylvania

The author: We believe that the variation of our looks, colors and even races is based on the wisdom that: We have to know each other that would give meaning to our life and help flourish our well-being. Allah has said “O, people! We created you from a male and a female, and We made you races and tribes, so that you may come to know one another. The best among you before Allah is the most righteous. Allah is Knowing and Aware.” Also, per the Prophet (PBUH) “None of you has complete faith until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.” It is worth mentioning that when the human father, Adan (PBUH) was created, he was lonely and sad until his loving Eve was paired with him to fill his missing piece. 

Meaning: A sense of meaning and purpose can be derived from belonging to and serving something bigger than the self. There are various societal institutions that enable a sense of meaning, such as religion, family, science, politics, work organizations, justice, the community, social causes (e.g., being green), among others. University of Pennsylvania

The author: Our lives are meant only to worship our Lord alone, the most Merciful. Once Ibādat or sole worship is in one’s life, it will unload all burdens and anxieties in pleasing others because to satisfy one’s self is an unreachable goal. That is why Bilal bin-Rabbah, who was then under the lordship of his master Somayyah, was able to withstand the bitterness of torment while being dragged under 50+ degree Celsius in the desert just to leave Islam, and he succeeded to preserve his faith. In return, his name has been coined in history and forever mentioned till the last day.  

Broadly, the meaning of our lives revolves around “Maqāsid al-Sharia” or the objectives of Sharia in which the preservation of these five goals is orderly absolute: Religion, Life, Intellect, Progeny, and Wealth. In fact, you may have everything in life, but what is the use if you have it at the expense of your religion as a Muslim. Thus, it’s pretty obvious that the “Meaning” in Positive Psychology, for the west, depends on one’s preference, whereas it’s already 360 degree designed in our religion that we just need to follow and obey.  

Accomplishment: People pursue achievement, competence, success, and mastery for its own sake, in a variety of domains, including the workplace, sports, games, hobbies, etc. People pursue accomplishment even when it does not necessarily lead to positive emotion, meaning, or relationships. University of Pennsylvania

The author: In Islam, it’s necessary to note that success or accomplishment is not only measured by the outcome; it’s rather left to the will of the Almighty after one’s part. A dāe or Muslim preacher, for instance, might be unable to see the fruits of his da’wa or the individuals he dearly wants to be guided that rather chose the wrong path as in the case of prophet Noah (PBUH) with his son. Nonetheless, the prophet never failed in his plight to save his people from the hellfire though most of them followed Satan or their own desire.

The formula is that: We won’t be asked before Allah if we indeed succeeded with our responsibilities and tasks relative to our religion; we are rather asked how we performed our responsibilities on the day of judgment when the Sun is only a mile closer from us. Yet, it’s understood that indeed accomplishments do contribute to our well-being as a human.

In conclusion, it is worthwhile to keep in mind that our religion leaves no stone unturned in all dimensions and aspects of our lives but has a say to it. Allah has said “Today, I have perfected your religion for you, and completed My favour upon you, and have granted Islam as a religion for you. 5:3” 

Imadodin Basar Dimao

Bilingual support specialist (English and Arabic) @ Coursera


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