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QURAN IN RAMADAAN: Perfect Attributions

In psychology, Quran, Ramadaan on September 19, 2009 at 4:43 am
ما أَصابَكَ مِن حَسَنَةٍ فَمِنَ اللَّهِ ۖ وَما أَصابَكَ مِن سَيِّئَةٍ فَمِن نَفسِكَ ۚ وَأَرسَلنٰكَ لِلنّاسِ رَسولًا ۚ وَكَفىٰ بِاللَّهِ شَهيدًا ﴿٧٩﴾ (79) Whatever good happens to thee is from God; and whatever evil befalls thee is from thyself. AND WE have sent thee [O Muhammad] as an apostle unto all mankind: and none can bear witness [thereto] as God does.
1430, 28 Ramadaan:
The above quoted is Ayah no. 79 from Sura Al-Nisa. It is taken from the portion of the text where in a series of verses, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala exposes the true state of minds in Madina’s hypocrites and reveals and corrects their explanations of events.
These hypocrites, while acknowledging God as the source of happy events (reference: Al-Nisa, 78), used to blame the holy Prophet (salla Allahu alaihi wa sallam) on unhappy occurings such as death and injury in confrontations with the enemy.
People’s attempts to explain the causes for events and happennings have been referred to as ‘attributions’ in psychology. I will first describe the concept as explicated in psychology and then I will come back to the perfect attributional style that Allah teaches us here in conjunction with another verse in Quran quoted below.
Attributional Style
Attribution is a concept in social psychology. All of us attempt to explain our own behavior, other’s behaviors as well as circumstances and events occuring arround us. Where various psychologists have contributed various concepts and research findings, the one I’m focusing here is Weiner’s attribution theory.
Weiner’s dimensions of attributions
Weiner (1986) argued that people’s attributions can be characterized in terms of three dimensions (below, as originally adapted by Abrahamson, et al. 1978):
1. internality/externality
2. stability/unstability
3. globality/specificity
Internal explanations look for personal causes of positive or negative occurences: such as ability, effort, shortcomings, behavior, etc. External explanations look for causes outside oneself such as others, chance, fate, God. Stability refers to the fact that the proscribed cause is supposed to be permanent such as a ‘irrecovable handicap’, ‘being the decided victim of someone’s cruelty’, or ‘a permanent fixture for misfortune’. Instability means the assumed causes have a changeable nature; for instance a ‘transient lack of practice’, ‘a stroke of luck’, ‘an accidental mistake’. Global attributions are supposed to prevail across most of the situations of one’s life; for e.g. an ‘overarching lack of general intelligence’, ‘being a good person’, etc. Specificity implies causes that relate only to the particular situation or event being explained; such as ‘being good in maths’, ‘the trouble-giving interview panel’.
The Quranic concept of Attribution
Quran divides attributions into basically two types: Events resulting from our own actions (or lack of actions) and events resulting by the decree of God.
These attributions correspond with the choice vs fate distinction in Quranic thought. At the abstract level and in principle everything happens directly or indirectly as a result of God’s interventions (i.e., fate). These interventions could be in the form the laws of nature formulated by God upon which the whole universe (including the human world) is running. They could be in the form of what happens to us as a result of others’ actions. They could be in that rare form of miracles. They could be in the form of that general decree by God that whatever deliberate action (good or bad) we fix upon and attempt to engage in, angels have been pre-ordered to let it happen (as in authentic ahadith).
However, as part of this fate, we can also achieve specific ends on our own as specific outcomes: a phenomenon which has been discussed in Quran and hadith in terms of two related concepts: Ikhtiyar (choice) and Tadbeer (strategy). For these specific outcomes then we are responsible and the internal attribution is then valid. On the other hand, some negative occurences also happen as more indirect consequences of our own negative (bad or faulty) behaviors. These may be considered as Jaza-e-Dunya (retribution in the world) and here too internal attributions are valid.
In all other cases, only external attribution (that is, those referred to God’s decree) are the best course as apparent when we consider the verses Al-Nisa 79, and Al-Hadeed 22 & 23 in conjunction; an idea that is supported in many other instances in our religious texts.
ما أَصابَ مِن مُصيبَةٍ فِى الأَرضِ وَلا فى أَنفُسِكُم إِلّا فى كِتٰبٍ مِن قَبلِ أَن نَبرَأَها ۚ إِنَّ ذٰلِكَ عَلَى اللَّهِ يَسيرٌ ﴿٢٢﴾ (22) NO CALAMITY can ever befall the earth, and neither your own selves, unless it be [laid down] in Our decree before We bring it into being: verily, all this is easy for God لِكَيلا تَأسَوا عَلىٰ ما فاتَكُم وَلا تَفرَحوا بِما ءاتىٰكُم ۗ وَاللَّهُ لا يُحِبُّ كُلَّ مُختالٍ فَخورٍ ﴿٢٣﴾ (23) [Know this,] so that you may not despair over whatever [good] has escaped you nor exult [unduly] over whatever [good] has come to you: for God does not love any of those who, out of self-conceit, act in a boastful manner –
For instance, many a times when something negative befalls us it is to be supposed as a test of our faith from God. This corresponds with the concept of “acceptance/resignation” as an effective coping strategy when all other attributions (blaming oneself, or someone else, or ‘chance’) will backfire (for an interesting explication of this concept, click on this Google Books link).
The same attribution holds when positive occurences take place. However, here there seems to be an apparent contrariness: what are we supposed to think when something negative happens? Is it a Jazaa or a Bala (test)?
After some ponderance, firm believers can easily resolve this issue in a manner that their readings of tafseer and hadith will validate:
The Perfect Attributions
  • All events that take place in one’s life or around one are by default from God.
  • Regardless of the nature of the occurence – positive or negative – , it is a test for our skills, attitudes and most importantly our faith.
  • In case of negative occurences there is cause for additional thought particularly when we can relate the happenning to a particular chain of events involving a series of actions on our part that fall under the head of Choice (Ikhtiyar) and Strategy (Tadbeer). When the link between our intentional and strategic choices with the subsequent outcomes is logical, we are to accpet the responsibility rather than just file it away under the head of Bala bis-Sayyi’ah (Test by a negative occurence).
  • In case of a positive occurence, there is a particular need to focus on the ‘blessidng’ side, no matter what the contribution of our own Choice and Strategy in it. This is in view of our essentially weak natures consistently accessible to satanic attitudes of arrogance, self-promotion, inflated self-esteem, and a foolish  superiority (which are always followed by belittling others by heart, tongue, or hand).  
 

 May Allah allow us to benefit from His perfect guidance.

NOTES
Abrahamson, L. Y., Seligman, M. E. P., & Teasdale, J. D. (1978). Learned helplessness in humans: Critique and reformulation. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 87, 49–74.
Weiner, B. (1986). An attributional theory of motivation and emotion. New York: Springer-Verlag.
  1. […] This cup of tea was served by: The STRUCTURE of ENTROPY […]

  2. Engaging. I relly enjoy how you are able to link the psychology frame of reference to the Quran. It is very interesting. But that is the beuaty of the Quran, its many facets. And everyone sees it from a different perspective.

  3. “At the abstract level and in principle everything happens directly or indirectly as a result of God’s interventions (i.e., fate).”

    As you quoted the Koran, which says that there are two type of attributions, so what is the diff b/w the abstract level and the practical?

    And what about the “waswasa” or bad thoughts and good thoughts – who put in our heart these two kinds of thoughts?

  4. To Umer:
    1st point: By abstract level I meant the underlying reality which in every case is that everything happens here with the direct decree of God or the indirect decree of His laws according to which things happen by default in this world.
    Practical level could be what is apparent to the observer on earth. For instance, the efforts of a student bringing good grades, a driving mistake leading to a fatal accident.

  5. To Youssef: All knowledges must converge in the Quran, the ultimate source of knowledge since time immeasurable.
    Being a psychology student was one of the first things (other than my interest in astronomical and physical sciences) that bound me firmly to my faith in God.

  6. Also to Umer:
    In answer to your question about waswasaa, the ayah from Sura Shams comes into my mind: فَأَلهَمَها فُجورَها وَتَقوىٰها (“and inspired it with its sin and its piety”). So both good and bad are part of our nafs and the source of our thoughts.

  7. It has clarified a lot of things regarding attributing the circumstances positively and negatively…But there’s one thing which we have been hearing in our society for a very long time that Allah tests His people by giving them certain hurdles and difficulties…And in such situation unfortunately we tend to attribute the matters (we face) to our fate and Allah….Since we believe that nothing happensd without His chioce…How far this conventional belief is true?

  8. to Rimsha:
    Every moment of our lives – positive or negative, big or small – is a test of our strength and faith. We are right when we attribute an occurence to God, but wrong when we explain it away as merely a source of trouble.

  9. thankyou for clarifying it !

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