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Pro Social Behaviour And Islamic Spirituality Religion Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Religion
Wordcount: 2395 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Spirituality has been defined as that which gives people meaning and purpose in life. Spirituality can be achieved through participation in a religion, but can be much broader than that, such as belief in God, family, naturalism, rationalism, humanism, and the arts.

Islam is a religion based on a total submission to the will of the Almighty. The real place for the growth of the spirit is in the midst of life through carrying out all deeds and actions, both spiritual and worldly, as per the will of Allah. As the Quran mentions “Those who spend in prosperity and in adversity, for those who curb their anger and those who forgive people. And Allah loves the charitable”.

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In Islam there is significant emphasis on pro-social behaviour as a means to carry out the will of God. It is however seen that this aspect has not been emphasised either in formal training or informal socialisation in the practice of Islam. Accordingly a number of commentators have remarked that some of the ills presently afflicting Muslims in the sub-continent have been due to the neglect of the pro-social behavioural aspect. The present paper is an attempt to throw light on the importance given to pro social behaviour in Islam.


Spirituality, definition by psychologists, Islamic phil

Pro social behavior, definition, altruism, giving etc

Prosocial links with spirituality, other religions, and Islamic spirituality

Conclusion: judeo-christian, why not in norms and moral imperative, not there, so conflicts, unhappiness in society, therefore promote spirituality, true meaning of life

From an evolutionary perspective, early humans’ survival relied strongly on the processes of giving and helping. Religious practice has also been associated with prosocial and helping behaviors, as helping is often considered a religious obligation. Weight on giving and helping in the Judeo-Christian culture can be considered a primary reason that prosocial behavior is a social norm and moral imperative in Western Culture today [2] . Similar is the case with other religions where prosocial behavior is encouraged although to what extent it has percolated down to becoming a social norm is a debatable issue.

The universal presence of prosocial behavior amongst humans has long been a significant puzzle in the social sciences [3] . Prosocial behavior can be defined as voluntary actions intended to help or benefit another individual or group of individuals. Prosocial behavior occurs when someone acts to help another person, particularly when they have no goal other than to help a fellow human. Actions that benefit other people or society as a whole are classified as prosocial behaviours. One of the characteristics of prosocial behaviour is that helping does not benefit the helper. It is opined that prosocial behaviour is often accompanied by a cost. Thus the decision to help others is often at a cost to the doer. Prosocial behavior has come to be seen as key in harmonious interpersonal and group interactions.

A few terms and concepts frequently overlap in any discussion on prosocial behaviour. Terms like philanthropy, altruism, spirituality, volunteerism, charity, giving, and forgiveness etc are used while discussing prosocial behaviour. It would be useful to throw light on these concepts for a fuller understanding. Philanthropy is voluntary action for the common good, including voluntary giving, serving, and association. The key mechanisms that have been identified as determinants of philanthropy are: (1) awareness of need; (2) solicitation; (3) costs and benefits; (4) altruism; (5) reputation; (6) psychological benefits; (7) values; (8) efficacy. One of the explanations of prosocial behaviour is that people are motivated to behave in ways that help them attain some goal. Often one’s own image becomes the prime mover in prosocial behaviour. Thus considerable prosocial behaviour is motivated by reputational incentives. Altruism on the other hand is performed without any reputational incentives. However personal gratification as a reward cannot be ruled out even in altruistic behaviour. It is also seen that societal pressures and norms impact people’s choice of behaviour. Often people evaluate their lives and find that there is a need to make it more fullfilling by engaging in prosocial behaviour.

Giving is viewed as a positive thing to do, especially when giving reduces inequality and when giving is less costly, recipients are not to blame, and is more effective. Giving may contribute to one’s self-image as an altruistic, empathic, socially responsible, agreeable, or influential person. In addition, giving is in many cases an almost automatic emotional response, producing a positive mood, alleviating feelings of guilt, reducing aversive arousal, satisfying a desire to show gratitude, or to be a morally just person. There is ample evidence from studies on helping behaviour that helping others produces positive psychological consequences for the helper. There are several reasons why humans may have pleasurable psychological experiences upon giving: people may alleviate feelings of guilt (avoid punishment), feel good for acting in line with a social norm, or feel good for acting in line with a specific (prosocial, altruistic) self-image. Clary and Sneider [4] proposed a model identifying the factors that initiate volunteerism. They found that it is a combination of the desire to be altruistic, wish to be part of a group, wish to reduce guilt, and the desire to acquire knowledge and skills.

Religious texts of all major religions encourage prosociality amongst their believers. The hypothesis that religions facilitate costly behaviours that benefit other people has been variously tested and commented upon. It has also been pointed out that the acute human sensitivity to prosocial reputation is a psychological mechanism, originating unrelated to religion that evolved to facilitate strong reciprocal cooperative bonds within groups [5] . It is seen that the threat of being found out therefore became a strong motivator for good behaviour. Norenzayan & Shariff [6] point out that religious devotion is expected to be context-sensitive, with clear boundary conditions and religious situations habitually facilitate prosocial behaviour. It has also been seen that if religiosity is related to prosocial behaviour in some contexts, it is possible that having a prosocial disposition causes one to be religious.

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Spirituality is a universally accessible state of mind. It is inexplorable tied to the concept of religion. Pergament [7] discussed the question of what makes religion special and concluded that it is the unique substance and function of religion that makes it special. Thus the defining essence of religion is the sacred that refers to things set apart from ordinary life because of their connection to God, the holy, the divine; to transendent forces, Ulitmate truths and Utlimate reality. As Baumgardner and Crothers [8] put it, religion is not just a set of beliefs and practices; it also involves how these beliefs are used to answer life’s most profound questions and cope with life’s most difficult challenges. Pargament defines religion as a ‘search for significance in ways related to the sacred’ and spirituality as a ‘search for the sacred’. Religion and religious behaviours represent the many ways in which the search for the sacred becomes organised and sanctioned in society. Thus spirituality becomes a means to address life’s most important questions. It would be interesting to examine the definition of spirituality as proposed by Hill et al [9] who define it as ‘ the feelings, thoughts, and behaviours that arise from a search for the sacred… people can take a virtually limitless number of pathways in their attempts to discover and conserve the sacred’. These pathways to the sacred may also be described as spiritual strivings, which include personal goals associated with the ultimate concerns of purpose, ethics and recognition of the transecndent.

Prosocial behaviour as it is understood can be classified in two broad groups on the basis of motivation, one a purely secular prosocial behaviour where actions to benefit others originate purely out of secular and personal concerns with no obvious and material benefit to the giver / helper. On the other hand a religiosity driven prosocial behaviour is where there is definite benefit to the individual in the form of promised salvation or pay offs as a result of following strict religious injunctions and duties.

Let us take the example of Islam to examine how religious injunctions and prescriptions enjoin upon its followers to engage in behaviours that could be termed as prosocial behaviour.

Islam is a religion based on a total submission to the will of the Almighty.

According to Islam, Allah has appointed the human soul as His Khalifah (vicegerent) in this world. He has invested it with a certain authority, and given it certain responsibilities and obligations for the fulfillment of which He has endowed it with the best and most suitable physical frame. (Maududi). In his capacity as the vicegerent (Khalifah) of God, man is answerable to Him for all his activities. It is his duty to use all the powers that he has been given in accordance with the Divine will. He should utilize to the fullest extent all the faculties and potentialities bestowed upon him for seeking Allah’s approval.

In his dealings with other people he should behave in such a way as to try to please Allah. In brief, all his energies should be directed towards regulating the affairs of this world in the way in which Allah wants them to be regulated. The better a man does this, with a sense of responsibility, obedience and humility, and with the object of seeking the pleasure of the Lord, the nearer will he be to Allah. Islam rejects and condemns the ascetic view of life, and proposes that the spiritual development of man would take place not outside this world but inside it. The real place for the growth of the spirit is in the midst of life and not in solitary hibernation. In Islam, spiritual development is synonymous with nearness to Allah. Distance from Allah signifies, in Islam, the spiritual fall and decay of man.

Maududi [10] points out that what will distinguish the actions of the secular and religious will be the nature of their relationship with Allah and the aims behind their actions. Whatever a religious man does, will be done with the feeling that he is answerable to Allah, that he must try to secure Divine pleasure, that his actions must be in accordance with Allah’s laws. A secular person will be indifferent towards Allah and will be guided in his actions only by his personal motives. This difference makes the whole of the material life of a man of religion a totally spiritual venture, and the whole of the life of a secular person an existence devoid of the spark of spirituality. Thus spirituality is linking of actions to the purpose of life. Actions on their own, without using this framework are just actions or material constructs.

The Islamic road to achieve spirituality passes through several stages, starting from Iman (faith) and progressing towards It~at (obedience, subservience), Taqwa (piety, Allah consciousness), to Ihis~an (Godliness). Faith (Iman) in Islam is a state of happiness acquired by virtue of positive action and constructive conceptions as well as dynamic and effective measures (Hammudah AA [11] ). According to Islam, true faith has a decisive effect on the spiritual and material lot of man, and also on his personal and social behaviour as well as his political conduct and economic life. There are numerous references in the Holy Quran and traditions of the Prophet on this aspect.

The laws of practical ethics in the holy Quran rest largely upon the principles of justice, but charity, philanthropy, generosity, gratitude and sincerity are also recommended. Strict honesty is demanded in business dealings, with just balances, and upright intentions. Lies of all kinds are condemned, the taking of bribes is strictly forbidden. This is especially the case in regard to trusts concerning orphans. Wrong to the orphan is held to be a grievous sin, and in many Suras of the holy Quran there are one or two verses which say in effect ‘ Do not touch the property of orphans’. Charity and philanthropy occupy a very important place. There are several commands like ‘ Pray, give alms, and the good which you do will find with God, who sees all your actions’ (Patrick, 1901).

Thus we see that one the one hand, Allah commands man to follow all is commands and injunctions, yet at the same time prescribes a prosocial behavioural path for him to follow. In essence, the spirituality of Islam is in fact the righteous and prosocial behavior with the knowledge that it is being done with the pure intention of pleasing Allah.


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