The Seven Limbs: An Islamic Character Development Intervention

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Key Words:

Behavior modification, Islamic Psychology, Positive Psychology, Character Development, Virtues, Wisdom.

Positive psychology is strengths-oriented, forward-looking, skills-based, and oriented towards growth (Lambert D’raven, Moliver, & Thompson, 2014) and involves the deployment of various pathways of actions, thoughts, attention, and other intentional abilities by which greater states of well-being can be constructed (Lambert, Pasha-Zaidi, Passmore, & York Al-Karam, 2015). Despite positive psychology’s demonstrated efficacy (Bolier et al., 2013; Schueller & Parks; Sin & Lyubomirsky, 2009), a caveat remains; the field is admittedly Western and thus, heavily culture-bound (Bermant, Talwar, & Rozin, 2011; Pandey, 2011; Wong, 2013a), prompting a need to explore, expand, and include non-Western views of well-being (Lambert, Pasha-Zaidi, Passmore, & York Al-Karam, 2015) as well as character/virtue development. 

In their seminal book “Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification”, Peterson & Seligman (2004) identify and describe 24 character strengths which underlie six broad virtues that facilitate thriving. However, the authors admitted that it is likely that the structures of those virtues differ across cultures, that other virtues not included on their list were worthy of consideration, and that they hoped others would examine such potential virtues in future iterations of the CSV (p. 51). 

Moreover, Schnitker et al. (2019) has operationalized virtues as hybrid personality units within McAdams and Pals’ (2006) personality theory and argue that virtues are something that a personality does as opposed to what it is or has (as in Cantor, 1990). They further argue that virtues don’t exist within a vacuum but are connected to broader meaning-making systems in which the individual is located and in which virtues are understood. They also assert that virtue building activities are more effective when individuals already have a transcendent identity to which such activities can be connected. It is within this context that the significance of our research questions emerges. 

The Project and Central Questions
This research project has a number of overarching goals. First, it is to make a Muslim contribution to the knowledge and research base of positive psychology more broadly and virtue/character development more specifically. This is important because there is a paucity of an Islamic perspective in this scholarly area. Second, and in response to McAdams and Pals’ personality theory, MacIntyre’s and Schnitker’s view of virtues and virtue/character development, as well as Peterson & Seligman’s invitation to expand upon the current CSV, it is to offer an Islamic perspective on the constructs of virtue, character, virtue/character development, and wisdom. In that same vein, it will introduce novel wisdom virtues called taqwa (God-consciousness), muraqaba (vigilance), and muḥasaba (self-accounting). Third, it is to introduce a new character intervention that was inspired by the Islamic science of virtue/character development called The Seven Limbs (T7L) that has the potential to foster  wisdom virtues in the research participants. Fourth, we aim to expand the current spectrum of methodologies used to explore such topics by using a qualitative method called heuristic inquiry which we consider to be an indigenous, decolonized approach whose epistemological underpinnings are in alignment with an Islamic worldview of experience being a valid source of knowledge. Given these objectives we delineate the central questions of the project: 

1. How are the concepts/constructs of virtue, character, and virtue/character development understood from within the Islamic tradition? How does this compare/contrast to understandings in (Western) positive psychology (broadly defined). 

2. What are the salient features of the virtue of wisdom from an Islamic perspective? How does this compare/contrast to current definitions and understandings of this construct?

3. What are the salient features of the wisdom-related virtues of taqwa, muraqaba, and muhasaba? Do correlates or versions of these exist within the Western context (ie the CSV)?

4. What is The Seven Limbs intervention (T7L)?

5. What is the experience of T7L intervention on the research participants?

6. What is the experience of T7L intervention and the development of the wisdom virtues in the participants?

Multidisciplinary Research Team 

Dr. Carrie York Al-Karam – Principle Investigator 
Shaykh/Dr. Walead Mosaad – Co-Investigator / Muslim Scholar
Nelly Elmenshawy – Co-Investigator
Sarah Albani – Research Associate