Psychology in medieval Islam
A medical work by Ibn al-Nafis, who corrected some of the erroneous theories of Galen and Avicenna on the anatomy of the brain[citation needed].

Islamic psychology translates the term ʿIlm al-Nafs[1] (Arabic,علم النفس) the science of the Nafs ("self" or "psyche")[2] and refers to the medical and philosophical study of the psyche from an Islamic perspective. This article is about the subject during the Islamic Golden Age (9th–13th centuries).

Concepts from medieval Islamic thought have been reexamined by Muslim psychologists and scholars in the 20th and 21st centuries.[3]



In the writings of Muslim scholars, the term Nafs (self or soul) was used to denote individual personality and the term fitrah for human nature. Nafs encompassed a broad range of faculties including the qalb (heart), the ruh (spirit), the aql (intellect) and irada (will). Muslim scholarship was strongly influenced by Greek and Indian philosophy as well as by the study of scripture.

In medieval Islamic medicine in particular, the study of "mental illness was a speciality of its own",[4] and was variously known as al-‘ilaj al-nafs (approximately "curing/treatment of the ideas/soul/vegetative mind),[5] al-tibb al-ruhani ("the healing of the spirit," or "spiritual health") and tibb al-qalb ("healing of the heart/self," or "mental medicine").[2]

Some authors have argued that the medieval scientist Alhazen should be considered the founder of psychophysics, and by definition, of experimental psychology.[6] However, there is no evidence that he used quantitative psychophysical techniques and many of his psychological speculations had been remarked upon previously by other polymaths of the ancient world such as Aristotle, Ptolemy, Lucretius and Euclid.[7] To apply the term "psychology" to the works of Alhazen is presentist, anachronistic and it has been argued that to do so is boosterist.[7]

See also


  1. ^ (Haque 2004, p. 358)
  2. ^ a b Deuraseh, Nurdeen; Mansor Abu, Talib (2005), "Mental health in Islamic medical tradition", The International Medical Journal 4 (2): 76–79. 
  3. ^ (Haque 2004)
  4. ^ (Youssef, Youssef & Dening 1996, p. 58)
  5. ^ (Haque 2004, p. 376)
  6. ^ Omar Khaleefa (1999). "Who Is the Founder of Psychophysics and Experimental Psychology?". American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences 16 (2). 
  7. ^ a b Aaen-Stockdale, C.R. (2008). "Ibn al-Haytham and psychophysics". Perception 37 (4): 636–638. doi:10.1068/p5940. PMID 18546671. 


  • Haque, Amber (2004), "Psychology from Islamic Perspective: Contributions of Early Muslim Scholars and Challenges to Contemporary Muslim Psychologists", Journal of Religion and Health 43 (4): 357–377, doi:10.1007/s10943-004-4302-z 
  • Plott, C. (2000), Global History of Philosophy: The Period of Scholasticism, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 8120805518 
  • Youssef, Hanafy A.; Youssef, Fatma A.; Dening, T. R. (1996), "Evidence for the existence of schizophrenia in medieval Islamic society", History of Psychiatry 7 (25): 55–62, doi:10.1177/0957154X9600702503, PMID 11609215