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).







Release that grudge-improve your health!

Isn’t it ironic? I have taken the task of writing my first post today despite the fact that I have my Human Resource Management, mid-term tomorrow?
Well, the theme for my very first post was so important that I could just take out time for it anyways.

Holding a grudge against someone is not uncommon at all frankly. We all have that hard corner against someone who has wronged us, offended us or may be humiliated us at some point in time. We all have one of the following, a self-absorbed parent, a messed up sibling, an arrogant friend, a partner who lies to us. I and you, we all have a grievance story!

Before I further pen my thoughts down, I would like you to imagine something. Imagine that you are in an open field, and four to five helicopters over your head, are circling round and round in the air above, for weeks now.

That is how some sensitive people experience hurt or holds a grudge, when they take an event, situation or relationship too personally. Sticking in the past or holding onto a grudge or any wrong doing will continuously make thoughts and memories play repetitively in your mind. The feelings when you see the offender, the anxiety when you get the flashback of the hurt will bother you a lot. But hey, are you giving an event or a person too much power over yourself?

Recently, I too was stuck in some situation mentally. My friend provoked me with the same question and I considered the implications of unforgiveness. If you consider the meaning of unforgiveness it is probably drinking poison and indulging in false hopes that the situation can be undone, the hurt be fixed by someone who hurt you.

Forgiveness has some basic properties which I too was ignoring. Firstly, it brings peace. Secondly, the most misunderstood aspect of forgiveness is that the blame is on others for your hurt. Not at all! By forgiving, you acknowledge the sense of responsibility for your own feelings. Then there is the healing property of forgiveness which we don’t really value, unfortunately.

Don’t you have a story of how someone was unkind to you, shouted at you, mistreated you or the hurt that you continue to experience? We often disregard the importance of forgiveness, because we think we have forgiven. But that is incomplete. Forgiving someone is not forgetting, it is not reconciliation, neither is it denying that something happened. Forgiveness implies moving on from the past and empowering yourself in a way that gives you the power and liberty to feel good about yourself.

Consider the importance of learning to forgive as a skill from Epictetus’s quote:

It is the circumstances which show what men are. Therefore, when a difficulty falls upon you, remember that God, like a trainer of wrestlers, has matched you with a rough young man. For what purpose? You might ask. So that you may become an Olympic Conquerer; but it is not accomplished without sweat . .  No man has had a more profitable difficulty than you have had, if you choose to make use of it as an athlete would deal with a young antagonist.

Don’t lose sight of the bigger picture, the Hereafter! You have to empower your soul and comfort your mind by learning to forgive, in the real sense of the word. Have you considered that even if you take revenge, play back a prank or curse the person, it only brings short-term relief? It does not make you feel at ease perpetually.

Coming to the health implications of holding a grudge, they have mostly been rooted in the fight-flight concept. The dilemma of the flight or flight response from our sympathetic nervous system is that it only leaves us with two options; reacting or withdrawing. However, if you only depend on your biological system, then it means that you have not applied constructive thinking to deal with an interpersonal conflict, a betrayal, loss or abandonment. To recover the control over your emotions, you need to move beyond. You can rely on your nervous system to deal with immediate danger or pain, but your nervous system would not give you any short cuts to deal with a ten year old grudge with your parent or your partner. Under the influence of the fight-flight cycle and the collision of the stress hormones, our long-term vision becomes blurry. In our frustration, we give the power, the responsibility of our feelings to that person who hurt us, broken us. We become habitual of feeling bad about a person who had wronged us. Is there any significance of giving away the power to your relatives who don’t care for you? Haven’t you given them too much space in your head, majority reserves of your mind body and soul? Remember, that the rule in your mind, the expectation you have is not applicable to the one who hurt you. We can’t enforce the rule of apology onto someone else. Grab back that power as soon as possible to save yourself from frequent headaches, muscle tensions and other chronic issues.

Don’t remain imprisoned by grudges and complaints, for you will suffer the most! Forgiveness is a skill and everyone can learn it, when they first acknowledge the sense of responsibility over their feelings, their emotions. I or anyone proposing forgiveness for health does not mean that your pain is insignificant, or the cruelty you faced is justified. The important thing here is that you don’t deserve to be broken by the shackles of unforgiveness, so much so, that it starts affecting your health and well-being!

Islamic teachings always, always complete the problematic picture for me. The remedies that our deen offers are unique and highly effective. For now, you can ponder over the following ayaat from the Noble Quran, which I think explain the beauty of being a believer, and the honor of having the Quran and Ahadith for guidance! Soothe yourself from the following:

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 [Surah Fussilat:34].

Verily, those who are Al-Muttaqun (the pious), when an evil thought comes to them from Shaitan (Satan), they remember (Allah), and (indeed) they then see (aright). [Surah al-Araaf:201].

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 [Surah Tawbah: 51].

Purity is half of faith. Alhamdulillah [Praise be to Allah] fills the scales, and Subhana’Allah [How far is Allah from every imperfection] and Alhamdulillah [Praise be to Allah] fill that which is between heaven and earth. Prayer is light; charity is a proof; patience is illumination; and the Quran is an argument for or against you. Everyone starts his day and is a vendor of his soul, either freeing it or bringing about its ruin.” [An Nawawi’s Forty Hadith, Number 22, Reported by Muslim].

…….Do you not love that Allah should forgive you? And Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful [Surah An-Nur:22].

If you tend think about that painful experience again sometime, pause to reflect on Yasmin Mogahed’s quote too:

If you want to kill something, neglect it. It happens in both good and bad. Neglect a relationship, it dies. Neglect your iman, it dies. But the same principal applies when you want to kill something like a thought or a desire. Neglect it, it dies.

Till next time, remember me in your prayers and think over forgiveness as a self-prescription.
I shall try to focus on my HRM mid-term now 😉

Jazak Allah khairan kaseera, for reviewing my first post!


The Noble Quran, Dar-us-Salam Publications

Forgive For Good, Dr Fred Luskin