Wahida C.Valiante BSW, MSW, OASW
Narni, Rome, June 2003
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Over the years, family therapy has emerged as a separate and distinct discipline, one practiced very often by those outside the formal fields of psychiatry and psychology -- such as social workers, family therapists, counselors, and others. This diversity of practitioners illustrates well that there is no universal theory of psychotherapy. Many different approaches, techniques and theories seem to produce positive changes and results. Psychotherapy itself has also gone through several changes, from Freud’s “unconscious and deficit focus” to behavioral and cognitive therapies in the “here and now.” Currently it is moving toward “future orientation” with a primary focus on individual strengths, knowledge, abilities and the potential for change. The individual is neither stuck in the past, nor the present, but is looking also to the future.
Based on the writer’s own clinical experience, and without excluding other family therapy models, this presentation points to striking links between certain Qur’anic concepts and Solution Focused Therapy, which suggests that the latter may be especially applicable to treating post traumatic stress disorder in members of this particular cultural and religious minority.
- There are approximately 1.5 billion Muslims in the world.
Millions of Muslims live in North America and Europe; 6 to 7 million in
the U.S. and 650,000 in Canada (May 2003 statistics)
Study of the Muslim Family:
a paucity of written and researched material by Muslim scholars and scientists
on the family, as viewed from historical, socio-cultural, psychological,
behavioral, and political perspectives. AbuSulayman (1993) points out that
most Muslim scholarship on family and gender relationships is restricted by
and confined to the formative years of Islamic law, “that is, to the first
four centuries or so of Islamic history (roughly from the seventh to
the eleventh century).” This is also the period during which Islamic Law (or
Sharia) developed, and when Muslim society reached the zenith of its
political, social, legal and economic maturity.
of this period marked the culmination of a religious-legal process to which
nothing of major moment has since been added. Unfortunately, this is also the
period that culminated in stifling any further development of intellectual,
social, philosophical and legal thought by Muslim minds in light of the
faith's revealed text, the Holy Qur’an.
important to note that most classical and contemporary Muslim scholars have
studied families only from a religious point of view. According to this
approach, the family is viewed exclusively from a religious perspective, which
is held up as both normative and idealized. This normative view of family,
however, presents a version of sociological and ideological reality that is at
odds with the actual state of the family (i.e., not “what it should be”) in
most of Muslim society.
creates insurmountable difficulties in critically examining the validity of
the patriarchal structure, the role and status of women, and the concept of
equality in light of current Qur’anic knowledge and of the Prophet Muhammad's
own family practices. For centuries, Muslims all over the world have been
superimposing on their faith laws that were developed in response to local
cultural, social, political, or legal needs. But many of those cultural and
indigenous practices, or legal traditions, have serious implications for the
Muslim family in general and Muslim women in particular, who are caught
between the opposing worldviews; the Qur’an and the other
the most compelling arguments against this classical body of Muslim knowledge
is that it restricts the worldview of the Qur’an itself to
certain socio-cultural, behavioral, and historical time-space factors.
Furthermore, it limits family study to idealized versions instead of existing
reality, and avoids seeking solutions to correct the existing situation.
Brief Solution Focused Therapy:
Relating Qur’anic concepts
to aspects of Brief Solution Focused Therapy:
In the Qur’an, the
individual is defined in a unique way. One is responsible for his/her own
actions; “ But proclaim (to them) this (truth): That every soul delivers
itself to ruin by its own act.”(Qur’an 6:70). Personal responsibility is also
tied to relationships -- those of kinship, masakin (the needy), orphans, even
wayfarers, as well as with one's community, society at large, and ultimately
with the world.
Similarly, an ethical
or spiritual action, whether positive or negative, is bound to have an impact
on oneself, others, society, community, and the world. Herein lie some ideas
that illustrate ready parallels with Solution Focused Psychotherapy, with its
concepts of solutions, including: action, free will, the ability to make
choices, responsibility for one's own action and behavior, individual
responsibility, and the ability to change (jihad) oneself and society. Through
constant growth, gender-neutral interconnectedness, small changes, and small
goals, human nature is basically healthy and strong, and miracles do happen.
Emphasis on Individual Behavior and Strengths, Rather
than Past History:
choice and responsibility for individual behavior is central to Islamic
thinking; “…every soul draws the consequences of its own action.” (Qur’an
16:111). In fact, there is a constantly renewed opportunity for choice
between right and wrong actions, so that past behavior is only relevant
insofar as it acts as a strong predictor of current and future behavior.
Working with individual strengths and current behavior, with only selective
references to the individual's past history, corresponds to the approach of
Solution Focused Therapy.
Emphasis upon Action, Rather than on understanding the Pathology or the Problem:
“…Surely Allah does
not change the condition of a people until they change their own
condition…”(Qur’an 13:11). The precedence of action over understanding the
background pathology or problem is a central Islamic concept. The Qur’an
states that human beings are created to be representatives (vicegerents) of
Allah (Qur’an 6:165) and are under a moral obligation to continually reflect
and reform them selves (Qur’an 3:110). Thus, according to the Qur’an,
one's successes in this life and in the Hereafter are measured not solely in
terms of personal inter-psychic growth, but in terms of personal growth as
shown in relationship to others and to God.
The Qur’an reminds us that change does not come about by ritualistic pursuits only, since reward and punishment are considered more immediately in relation to one's actions, rather than to one's professed faith. Bearing this in mind, Islam declares action to be a necessary concomitant of faith. In popular terms, Islam always seeks to "walk the talk." Similarly, the approach of Solution Focused Family Therapy is also more concerned with action than with retrospective insight. It aims to change the individual's behavior in order to alter his/her conditions of living rather than their attitudes to it; that is, from saying “I do not know what to do,” to “what can I do to change things?”
Emphasis on the Individual
rather than Gender:
In the Qur’an, the
creation of man and woman out of a single soul (Qur’an 4:1) does not
distinguish between men and women along the lines of traditional male or
female attributes. Nor does it divide human nature and divine nature according
to gender, or assign any specific cultural functions or roles to either men or
women. In fact, there is no arbitrary pre-ordained eternal system of
Allah tells us that,
“in whatever you are occupied when you recite the Qur’an, and in any other
work you may be doing…We are a witness to your actions…AND even the smallest
things that you do, do not go unrecorded” (Qur’an 10: 61). Thus, even a small
action can have major impact on the individual self, others, society, and the
world. So if Islam is a prescription for internal and external peace, then
change comes about -- to paraphrase Edward Lorenz's “butterfly effect” --
through active application and not benign neglect.
Change is Constant:
The Qur’an states that
change is both constant, and inevitable. “You shall surely travel from stage
to stage,” (Qur’an 84:19). Addressing the question of heaven (the
Hereafter), it says, “We have built Heaven with power. Verily, We are
expanding it” (Qur’an 51:47).
The solution focused
therapist’s foundational understanding that “change is inevitable,” parallels
the Qur’anic concept that nothing stays still in all of creation, including
the diverse situations of humanity.
Emphasis on Goal Setting:
Emphasis on Cultural and Racial Neutrality:
Therapy's emphasis on individual behavior for the locus of change, rather than
race and culture, is parallel to the Qur’anic concept of “vicegerency,” or
being representatives of Allah. This implies that all human beings,
independent of gender and race, are held accountable for their actions and
behavior; the Qur’an further points out that without these attributes, the
human condition cannot change.
The Miracle Question:
This is a rather intriguing concept of Solution Focused Therapy, because of its dual connotations -- clinical as well as religious. First, it seeks to set specific and concrete goals through the process of thought and action, both of which are within the control of the individual. Secondly, it seeks to foster a belief in change (through goals and action) that is understood to happen beyond the control of the individual. This parallels the Qur’anic concept of one God (Tawhid), who has the ultimate power to change human conditions and situations. In other words, miracles do happen, because Allah answers the prayers of those who call upon Him; “do not despair of the mercy of God…Indeed God is Most Forgiving, most Merciful” (Qur’an 39:53).
As our society,
Canada's in particular, moves away from the melting-pot ideal and toward that
of cultural and religious pluralism, so must psychotherapy and clinical
counseling move from a secular assimilationist perspective back to more
orthodox ideologies in order to meet the varied needs of multicultural
communities. Therefore, clinical assessment should go beyond an analysis of
the presenting problem(s) and the identification of individual pathologies, to
include the religious, cultural, social and personal experiences of these
families. As a result, the emphasis on diagnosis and assessment of
families can become holistic, rather than fragmented into body, mind, and
- AbdulSulayman, A AbdulHamid. (1993) Crisis in the Muslim Mind: translation by Yusuf Taalal DeLorenzo.
- Virginia: International Institute of Islamic Thought.
- Bucaille Maurice. (1979) The Bible The Qur’an and Science: Pakistan: Kazi Publications.
- Irving. T.B. (1991) The Qur’an: India: Goodword Books
- McGolderick, M. (1982) Ethnicity and Family Therapy: an overview. In: M.McGolderick, J. Pearce and J. Giordano (eds), Eethnicity and Family Therapy. New York: Guildford.
- Muhsin-Wadud, Amina. (1992) Qur’an and Woman. Kauala Lumpur: Penerbit Fajar Bakti Sdn.bhd.
- Tarrant, D. (1987) Family Therapy with Evangelical Christian Families: Dissertation submitted for Diploma in family marital therapy. University of London, Institute of Psychiatry
- Valiante. C. Wahida. (1992) Domestic Violence in the South Asian Family: Treatment and Research issues. In South Asian Symposium: a Reader in South Asian Studies, The Center for South Asian Studies Graduate Students’ Union, University of Toronto 1993.
- Yousef Ali. The Glorious Qur’an
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