Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT) from A Muslim’s Standpoint


The Muslim counselor, the student and a client fortunately have been given comprehensive teachings in Islam to deal with tribulations and erroneous thoughts. Beliefs are indeed the most significant unit for a Muslim. Imam ibn Al-Qayyim al Jawziyyah elaborates on the roots of good and evil.  The origin of all good and evil, rational and irrational begins in a believer’s thoughts. Thoughts and beliefs are the grounds of seeking piety and pleasure. Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT) is quintessentially similar to a lot of Islamic teachings; the therapy techniques of REBT are complemented by quite a few verses of the Holy Quran. These verses reveal an important feature for the Muslim involved in psychology as a therapist or as a student i.e. the Hereafter’s benefit-seeking therapeutic feature of Islam.

Albert Ellis is the mastermind behind one of the most applicable cognitive-behavioral therapies (REBT). Ellis laid the fundamentals of REBT in 1955. The basic concept underlying this therapy is that our beliefs and attitudes are most important when it comes to consequences rather than the circumstances. Ellis identified two types of beliefs that can make or mar one’s mental health. Rational beliefs are those which have roots in self-acceptance, logical-reasoning, and realism. Irrational beliefs are rooted in inflexibility, musts, shoulds, self-criticism or self-damnation. Ellis set forth to describe his ABC model; Activating Event, Belief and Consequence. Ellis argues that it is the belief that causes the consequence not for the most part the activating event.

The therapist who operates in accordance with REBT is supposed to encourage the client to build a rational and valuable belief system. The three focus areas of the therapist should be enhancing the interactive structure between thinking, feeling and behaving. Ellis and his followers have worked thoroughly on anxiety, depression, and guilt, shame and hurt under the category of unhealthy negative emotions. The main aim of the REBT therapist is to follow a holistic framework to facilitate the client to solve his past and future disturbances. REBT combines the forces of all major psychology therapies from Skinner’s homework tasks and reinforcement to Freud’s defense mechanisms. Ellis proposed that psychoanalysis provides an insight into the client’s problem but does not assist the client in transforming his lifestyle. An REBT therapist promotes forgiveness and persuades the client’s to move on in life after discovering childhood conflicts. When Ellis began leafing through the philosophies of happiness, he agreed with Epictetus’s view that humans are constructivists. Moreover, Ellis also focused on a client’s low frustration tolerance. Ellis also believed in humor, gratitude, proselytizing and positivity.

Homework tasks are often given to REBT clients to evaluate the manifestation of their irrational beliefs. The Muslim therapist hence can positively remind the client now and then to ensure a smooth progress. Allah swt says in the Holy Quran,

And remind (by preaching the Qur’an, O Muhammad ) for verily, the reminding profits the believers” (51:55).

One vital element of faith of a Muslim is tawakul i.e. putting one’s trust in Allah swt. In the light of the Holy Quran, the C of Ellis’s REBT model is left upon Allah while the believing client works hard to alter his irrational beliefs. Allah swt says,

Say: “Nothing shall ever happen to us except what Allah has ordained for us. He is our Maula (Lord, Helper and Protector).” And in Allah let the believers put their trust” (9:51).

This verse can also prove to a really effective coping statement, another module of REBT.

Depending on the intensity of client’s self-sabotaging actions, the Muslim psychologist administering REBT can utilize the Holy Quran as a manual to see which particular verse the condition of the client can relate to. For instance, for people who feel abandoned or lonely can be encouraged by these words of Prophet Musa a.s in the Quran,

Nay, verily! With me is my Lord, He will guide me” (26:62).

The magnificence of Islam, as the code of life, lies in the solutions it provides to daily life obstacles from stress to bereavement by explaining the riddles of life with the rule of opposites. Allah swt says,

The good deed and the evil deed cannot be equal. Repel (the evil) with one which is better (i.e. Allah ordered the faithful believers to be patient at the time of anger, and to excuse those who treat them badly), then verily! he, between whom and you there was enmity, (will become) as though he was a close friend” (41:34).

A fruitful lesson is contained in this mighty verse especially for the therapist. The intentions of the client while undergoing therapy can be transformed into that of piety and spirituality. This verse also explains that it is incumbent of each individual to maintain positive perceptions about the world and him. Immense rewards lie in the process of disputing irrational beliefs into rational beliefs. The magnanimity of a revolution in perception is explained with the picturesque example of an enemy converting into a close friend. In REBT, the ultimate aim of the therapist is also to change the narrow perceptions of a client into holistic and open ones.

Ellis described low frustration tolerance in terms of the client believing that something or someone he does not like should not exist. In REBT, the counselor is set to remove the barriers that limit an individual’s tolerance for various predicaments and people. In the light of the Quran, this is explained as developing patience with a guarantee of rewards in the Hereafter as well. It is mentioned in the Holy Quran,

“…So (for me) patience is most fitting. And it is Allah (Alone) Whose help can be sought against that which you assert” (12:18).

Rational Emotive Behavioral therapists are also of the view that people are responsible for their reactions. Allah swt in the Holy Quran says,

Verily! The hearing, and the sight, and the heart, of each of those you will be questioned (by Allah)” (17:36).

The senses form our cognition, emotions, memory and behavior; hence we are responsible for how we use our eyes and ears to ultimately form core beliefs in our brain.

Often times, the client feels that he or she does not have control over their life. Some clients are utterly sorrowful because of the irrational framework they view things in. Hence, Ellis believed that happiness is not a destination; it also comes as a result of the attitude we have. The Quran instructs the Muslim therapist to help the client believe

And that it is He (Allah) Who makes (whom He wills) laugh, and makes (whom He wills) weep” (53:43).

Thus, the Quran mandates for the therapist and the client to look ahead to recovery and rejuvenation as it comes with firm belief in Allah swt.

Ellis also endorsed the idea of insight i.e. reflection on one’s core beliefs by carrying out a cost and benefit analysis. In the Quran, Allah swt says,

We will show them Our Signs in the universe, and in their ownselves, until it becomes manifest to them that this (the Qur’an) is the truth. Is it not sufficient in regard to your Lord that He is a Witness over all things?” (41:53).

Negative views of self accompanied by low self esteem often leads to the development of eating disorders and somatoform disorders, especially in women. According to Ellis, the problem lies in the belief of the client or attitude towards self that leads to such chronic mental illnesses. The Muslim therapist should ponder upon the following verses and then make the client practice self-acceptance by affirming himself with the following words,

Verily, We created man of the best stature (mould)” (95:4).

The therapist should soothe the irrational beliefs of self-critical client by focusing on the fact that Allah swt is also Al-Musawirr, the Fashioner, Shaper and Bestower of forms. In the Skinnerian tasks given to the client, an assignment can also be given to contemplate on such refreshing verses of the Quran. This can be done in the light of reading tasks, yet again a unit of REBT.

In a nutshell, Albert Ellis believed that negative and uncontrollable emotions and impulses can be controlled with REBT but it requires consistent struggle by the client. After attaining an insight into problems, alteration can only take place if the client is willing and able to work hard to not only to feel better but to get better holistically. Allah swt reminds in the Holy Quran,

Verily, We have created man in toil” (90:4).








Reinforcing Spirituality in the workplace


I did not realize that relationships at the workplace could be so gratifying in terms of Ibadah until I sat down with my father to delve into his experiences about human resource management. His answers left me inquisitive and I set to search for the ideal virtues in a Muslim employer and employee that please Allah SWT.

Motivation, communication, cooperation, conflict management, wage compensations, promotion, job description, rotation and enrichment are the key components outlined in an employment agreement. To fortify the faithfulness in daily roles played by a manager, supervisor and a subordinate, I rummaged though admirable work of Imam Ghazali rahimullah to the rejuvenating lectures of Nouman Ali Khan.

To begin with, ayah 57 from Surah Yusuf is of utmost significance for both the manager and the worker.

Allah swt says, And verily, the reward of the Hereafter is better for those who believe and used to fear Allah and keep their duty to Him (by abstaining from all kinds of sins and evil deeds and by performing all kinds of righteous good deeds).”

Thus, a mandatory virtue for both parties is to never lose sight of the perpetual mission of life. The subordinate should trust in Allah swt as the Ultimate Provider for hard work and service and the supervisor should learn from the leadership qualities exhibited by Prophet Muhammad (saw), the four caliphs, Hazrat Yusuf (as) and all the beloved messengers of Allah. In the light of the above verse:

  • The Muslim manager ought to devise the employment agreement around the 5 prayers (salah) negotiating time management, submission deadlines, rest pauses and work shifts.
  • Another principle characteristic is built upon ukhwat i.e. Islamic brotherhood. Both should know the fruits that lie beyond this temporary life of a heart-warming brotherhood.
  • Another important lesson which can be absorbed from this ayah is that when Satan intrudes the mind of the employee in the absence of the supervisor, he should remember that Allah swt is All-Seeing; He knows the conflicts created by nafs. Such a self-reminding habit ensures that one understands the importance of honesty and sincerity to his leader.
  • This verse steers me to an aspect also mentioned in Ihya-Ulum-Ud-Din (The Revival of Religious Learnings) under ‘Seven things that make the religion of a businessman perfect’ i.e. the worker and the manager should both remember that they are setting up accounts with everyone they deal with. Allah swt will have the debit/credit records on the Final Day.

Narrated by Abu Hurairah (ra), Allah’s Messenger (saw) said, “Allah said, ‘I will be an opponent to three types of people on the day of Resurrection; one who makes a covenant in My name, but proves treacherous, second who sells a free person and eats his price and third, who employs a laborer and takes full work from him but does not pay for his labor.” (Sahih Bukhari).

Aforementioned hadith shows the intensity of love that Allah has for the hard-worker. The employees proffer their services in return of remuneration and benefits. Also, the religious-mandated practice of abiding by the agreement has been emphasized. A Muslim naturally tends to get psychologically attached to his Muslim brother. Reviewing Prophet (saw) management skills, it can be seen how Allah wanted him to boost the morale of the companions (sahabah) at all times and listen to their concerns. Our messenger’s (saw) life reveals his highest regard for employees’ services; their covenant was uncomplicated but magnificent in the context that the volunteers were the most important asset in the mission i.e. their supplications and services.

Isn’t it miraculous how our Creator, most Magnificent and most Merciful, has paved way for our self-evaluation in every field of life? Alhamdulilah! In Surah An-Nisa, Ayah 135, Allah swt says,

O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even though it be against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, be he rich or poor, Allah is a Better Protector to both (than you). So follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest you may avoid justice, and if you distort your witness or refuse to give it, verily, Allah is Ever Well-Acquainted with what you do.”

The know-how of justice, self-acceptance, embracing criticism, being truthful and avoiding discrimination lies in this verse. The righteous employee should keep an eye on any acts of discrimination around him; this divine code of life also defines discrimination in terms of favoring the rich staff over the poor. The intention (niyah) of the employer of any organization should be to facilitate his employees and make them intellectual and highly productive Muslims securing an abode in the loftiest compartments of Jannah.

Feeding on my brainwaves in cross-cultural psychology class day before yesterday, I observed my supervisor’s frown turning into a smile. I was overwhelmed when I reminisced a tradition that smile is also a form of sadaqah i.e. an act of charity. Such cheerful habits make us beloved in the eyes of Allah azzawajal.

Purification of soul can also be conquered at work which brings us to yet another attribute of an employer i.e. the ability to pre-plan training programs. Integrating Nouman Ali Khan’s lecture ‘People of Substance’ into the employment bond, positive and negative reinforcement done in accordance with Shariah will yield awe-inspiring results. For example, in a firm in Lahore, the supervisor sends his employees to a holistic nutritionist on performance-based work; she devises plans based on Prophetic Medicine and quantum health sciences which bring them closer to Allah swt’s creation, their body systems and the lifestyle of the Prophet (saw). Another effectual bequest to be given for employee’s recognition could be a book on Prophet Muhammad’s (saw) seerah. Regarding training programs, employees deserve a chance for rejuvenation of faith thus they can be registered into workshops, incorporated Quran and Hadith boot camp courses and conferences.

I believe to become mehboob (beloved) for Allah swt requires to master the blissful art of forgiving. It is perhaps the most heartwarming and fulfilling attribute to apply in jobs and role playing; the employer should forgive and let go of errors and mistakes as frequently as he can looking ahead to riches of Hereafter. On the other hand, the employee should forgive the judgments made about them and accept demotions as a form of test from Allah, the Most Generous.
Allah mentions in Surah Ale-Imran, ayah 136,

For such, the reward is Forgiveness from their Lord, and Gardens with rivers flowing underneath (Paradise), wherein they shall abide forever. How excellent is this reward for the doers (who do righteous deeds according to Allah’s Orders).

Jazak Allah khair!                                                                                                                              


Published originally in Hiba Magazine
April 2014 print issue.

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