1430, 07 Ramadaan:
زُيِّنَ لِلنّاسِ حُبُّ الشَّهَوٰتِ مِنَ النِّساءِ وَالبَنينَ وَالقَنٰطيرِ المُقَنطَرَةِ مِنَ الذَّهَبِ وَالفِضَّةِ وَالخَيلِ المُسَوَّمَةِ وَالأَنعٰمِ وَالحَرثِ ۗ ذٰلِكَ مَتٰعُ الحَيوٰةِ الدُّنيا ۖ وَاللَّهُ عِندَهُ حُسنُ المَـٔابِ
Translation: ALLURING unto man is the enjoyment of worldly desires through women, and children, and heaped-up treasures of gold and silver, and horses of high mark, and cattle, and sown fields. All this may be enjoyed in the life of this world – but the most beauteous of all returns is with God.
This is ayah no. 14, Sura Aal-Imran in the 3rd juz and summarizes one of the most basic psychological needs of any human being. It is also one of those acoustically, and literarily satisfying verses of Quran that quotes lists as several examples of a certain concept. In Arabic, the items of a list follow each other with the conjunction letter وَ between them, and it’s a pleasure to read these lists in the true Arabic accent as per the rules of tajweed.
Sources of psychological motivation
I will use terms from Henry Murray‘s concepts in his theory of psychogenic needs to discuss the list of needs indicated here, that he describes in detail in his classic book Explorations in Personality. Apart from the psychological needs described below, the list also refers to certain basic bodily needs in the terms ‘women’ and ‘cattle and sown fields’, which will not be focused upon.
Note: The small n is used to refer to the word ‘need’ following Murray.
The first two terms of the list – women and children – represents a group of needs with the commonality of affection between them. Murray included 5 different needs in this category of which three are relevant here.
Affiliation – Our need to relate to a person or a social group. “The aim of the need Affiliation is to form a synergy: a mutually enjoyed, enduring, harmoniously co-operating and reciprocating relation with another person” (p. 174). It is this need which generates in us the positive sentiments of trust, good-will, love, and a sympathetic empathy. It is this need that makes us seek out acquaintances, to do things that please those we love, to wish to stay with and among people, to discuss, share and exchange information, opinions, personal troubles and gifts with people. It is the basis for our moral tendencies of cooperation and loyalty.
Taking the idea of women and children together, Murray’s concept of the complementary need pair of nurturance and succorance immediately springs to mind. Nurturance refers to the need to take care of and/or attend to (whether socially or materially) another person in need. Succorance is the complementary need to feel supported, and to have one’s needs (psychological or basic) gratified by another. Both, of course, are fused with Affiliation: the element of relating to another is essentially present.
The need for nurturance is what makes us listen with sympathy to someone in trouble, to feel moved at the sight of distress or maltreatment, to actually offer our support by sharing our time, effort, resources and ideas with those we love or are in need. It makes us enjoy the company of children, to be lenient and forgiving to our juniors, and to refrain from bothering or annoying someone we care for. Succorance, on the other hand, is the receiving end of nurturance. It makes us crave the care of our parents, and to seek for help, advice, sympathy, consolation, and forgiveness from friends, family, experts, and other superiors.
Gathered treasures of silver and gold…. In a few words, the spirit of the need for Acquisition is captured with the whole range of its varieties implied. Murray’s concept of n Acquisition describes the desire for material possessions and acts designed to satisfy this desire. In the most ordinary sense, this need is expressed when we work for money or food. However, the lust of this need does not stick to our basic physical requirements. It soon blossoms into behaviors such as bargaining, purchasing, collecting, storing, and hording. In Murray’s terms, the n for Retention (keeping, collecting) is often fused with it. The actual examples used (ornamental metals) are those that typify the ‘greed for more’ underlying these behaviors; the mutually reinforcing words وَالقَنٰطيرِ المُقَنطَرَةِ so aptly reflect our urge to keep and hold on to these objects forever. A whole range of objects and a variety of stores fall in the range implied: stores of food, brimming deep freezers, filled up wardrobes, diverse collections of jewelry, shoes, handbags, ties, watches, utensils and crockery, bank balance, shares, interest, property, saving or lottery certificates… the list continues.
The next term of the list “horses branded (for excellence)” could be taken as another item in the implied treasures, but in the Arab culture horses stood for much more than riches. Horses were the primary means of travel and communication in those times as well as a major war resource along with weaponry. They meant speedy connection across settlements and easy manoeuvering and execution in battle fights. Thus they were an essential part of the assemblage of any emperor or sultan who meant to keep or extend his power over the lands. When Quran warns muslims to keep prepared against any possibility of encounters with enemy, horses are mentioned as representative of military power. [Sura Al-Anfal, 60].
Murray’s theory of psychogenic needs includes several needs with the common feature of power; the most relevant of which is Dominance. n Dominance is the need for control of one’s environment. This need is what moves people to take up influential, leading, persuasive, supervising, organizing, judging, law-making, or ruling positions and professions. The most penultimate manifestation of the need for Dominance is the emperor with perfect control over the masses, resources and institutions of a country with added opportunity to extend the range of his dominance by taking over surrounding countries. The phrase وَالخَيلِ المُسَوَّمَةِ could be taken as a symbol for such thorough need for dominance.
The n Aggression is commonly fused with Dominance – the need to forcefully overcome opposition and hindrances in one’s way. Again military power – implied in the Quranic phrase – is a joint vehicle of force and control.
Needs associated with cultural activities
The last terms of the list are cattle and sown fields. These two concepts do not just reflect the primary need for food, nor do they merely imply property. Rather, they are symbols for agriculture, which in itself is tied with the idea of culture and civilization. As such they subsume several psychogenic needs that are manifested through such cultural activities.
When managing our basic needs and comforts in settlements and communities, we seek to explore and discover (n Cognizance) creative and economic ways of ensuring adequate and constant supplies and storage in a neat and organized fashion (n Order). There’s the need to design, combine and create tools, technologies, systems and institions to help in the many practical stages of management (n Construction). Finally, the pool of knowledge and skills needs to be communicated to the next generation by providing information, explaining and demonstrating (n Exposition) in order to ensure the continuity of the system in the future generations.
Finally, there is an urge in all of us to utilize our efforts, skills and resources accomplish our tasks in the optimal fashion. This is that famous need for achievement that Murray described as our need for mastery and to perform at a high standard autonomously, and that McClelland focused on in his landmark research.
Common qualities of the psychogenic needs
One of the foremost qualities of these needs is that their objects are alluring, beguiling and enticing. In addition to impinging upon the above discussed psychological motivations, they entice our senses and satisfy our sense of beauty. In fact Allah Subhanahu Ta’aala Himself identifies their allure as a significant factor as to why people pursue these needs. With the use of the word زُيِّنَ, He clearly associates this particular dimension of human motivation that is referred to as n Sentience by Murray.
Another common feature is the transient nature of the gratification of these needs. All human process take place in a cyclic fashion – so with these needs. We experience love for people, but do not feel it on the uppermost levels of our mind all the time; we forget, turn indifferent, or are distracted by other needs. This doesn’t stop us, however, from feeling needy after a time lapse or given some trigger. Same with all of them, inclusive of course, of the more basic level needs such as hunger and thirst. There is no satisfying us for good. Like that hapless dog whose tongue falls out as soon as his stomach is empty again.
A final and common feature of all these needs is that their objects are all limited to this world [ذٰلِكَ مَتٰعُ الحَيوٰةِ الدُّنيا]. These needs cannot answer us in the post-death scenario where existence continues on a different plane. More important, these needs are often not enough to fully realize our humanity and yet have the potential to engross us too much in themselves so that we forget there are sides to us still undeveloped.
This higher-level need – the need to experience something bigger and higher than ourselves – has been called as the spiritual need and, from the psychological perspective, can best be summarized by referring to Abraham Maslow:
He rejects the idea of limiting the experience of the holy to only one day of the week, when everything is miraculous. He argues that the sacred is in the ordinary, in people, in one’s own backyard (Maslow, 1970b). Looking for miracles is a display of ignorance that everything is miraculous. All kinds of serious people are found to be capable of discovering the sacred anywhere and everywhere in life (Maslow, 1970b). He comments that when the organised religion splits off the sacred from the profane, the sacred, no longer belonging to everyone, becomes the property of a certain few—an elite cadre, select guardians of a private “hotline” to heaven, “the elect” (Maslow, 1970b). Maslow comments that when the holy is confined to one day of the week, people may feel free from the necessity of religious experience at any other time. [Source: Mario Fernando]
How God promises to fulfill our spiritual sides
وَلَقَد خَلَقنَا الإِنسٰنَ وَنَعلَمُ ما تُوَسوِسُ بِهِ نَفسُهُ ۖ وَنَحنُ أَقرَبُ إِلَيهِ مِن حَبلِ الوَريدِ
NOW, VERILY, it is We who have created man, and We know what his innermost self whispers within him: for We are closer to him than his neck-vein. [Sura Qaf, 16]
God promises us His attentions to us on a one to one basis and at a close, private, intimate, highly interpersonal level. The exquisite experience of relating to the Creator of this universe in such a manner is by itself extremely gratifying and uplifting and an immense source of strength and support in times of stress. This is the core experience of spirituality which is available to all of us, regardless of our external differences, as clear from these two ayahs.
Another way, our spirituality is gratified in this world is by encouraging in us those character qualities which all religions and even the contemporary literature on spirituality identifies as universally desirable and as in the upper echelons of psychological development. Since the major take in this article is psychological, I once again refer to Maslow’s list of B-values (the values deemed desirable by those striving to fulfil their being – that is, higher level – needs) and select those that correspond with the concept of Ehsan in Islam [Source: George Norwood].
There is another and certainly the Perfect and the Absolute way that God promises to cater to our needs which will still be alive and impinging in the Afterlife. Among all the various rewards of the Afterlife mentioned throughout the Qur’an, objects catering to one or another of the various psychological needs can be identified. The rewards presented as the most valuable are, again of the highest kind: meeting Him directly and earning His praises.
Thus God is the ultimate means of the fulfillment of our needs in both the worlds. While the fulfillment of the earthier needs in this world is open to all within physical and curcumstantial constraints of the world, none of the needs can be fulfilled in the Afterlife until we first earn this status through our actions in this world.