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Attachment Theory for Muslims

True and Everlasting Attachment

The word attachment is a term used in Psychology to describe ‘an infant’s tendency to seek closeness to particular people and feel more secure in their presence” (Ernst R Hilgard and Richard C Atkinson 2000-90).[1]

John Bowlby, a leading British Psychoanalyst in Psychology, introduced this idea of attachment. A child’s failure to form a secure attachment to one or multiple persons in the early years is closely related to an inability to develop close personal relationships in adulthood (Bowlby, 1973).[2]

Bowlby’s attachment theory is supported by other psychologists who were interested in Human Behaviour. For that purpose they studied young animals to observe their attachment with their mothers, Lorenz and Harlow are renowned for their observations on this behaviour in ducklings and young monkeys, respectively (Harlow & Harlow, 1969).[3]

Later, Mary Ainsworth, one of Bowlby’s colleagues, further elaborated this notion by carrying out experiments on babies and toddlers. She demonstrated how some young children had secure attachments, some had resistant attachment behaviours and some had avoidant attachment with their mothers.[4]

This theory highlights the long-lasting effect on humans as adults. In this regard another contemporary Psychologist R Chris Farley, believes “The attachment behaviour system is an important concept in attachment theory because it provides the conceptual linkage between ethological models of human development and modern theories on emotion regulation and personality.”[5]

These attachment theories are based on two concepts: a “secure base” and attachment, which Bowlby describes as, “All of us from the cradle to the grave, are happiest when life is organised as a series of excursions, long or short, from the secure base provided by our attachment figures” (Bowlby, 1988).[6]

Based upon evidence and thorough research, no doubt these attachment theories have illustrated some remarkable facts about human behaviour and hence, show that every human being needs, first, a secure base to explore the world and, second, strong attachments with the caregiver. These earliest bonds in human life have profound effects on later life.

In this context, the notion of the attachment theory with a primary caregiver and its deep impact on humans later in life prompted me to look at this from the Islamic perspective. One may question how belief in a religion is related to attachment and psychology as believing in some sort of deity and worshipping it is one’s personal choice. The losses and pains you faced in childhood are there with you and their negative effect stays with you throughout your life. So if it is the case that you did not have a mother or positive caregiver that could give you a happy start in life, then it follows that you are shaped in a particular way dooming you to a life of misery. In other words, stay in that state and suffer until you die.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, Psychology is “The scientific study of the human mind and its functions especially those affecting behaviour in a given context”.[7] Now let us look at the basic concept of Islām. It is the belief in the existence of Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā), His Lordship, His sole right to be worshipped, and it is the belief in Allāh’s names and attributes. Islām commands obedience to Him and the connection with Him, or in the light of the Book of Allāh or the character and teachings of His Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam). Through this we receive that light and peace which erases every loss and pain in your life and makes you someone you could not have imagined.

In Islām, belief in Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) is clearly an “attachment” with your Creator. It is a more secure, strong and precious attachment than any other bond or relation with anyone else. It not only teaches you how to connect to your Creator who is Al-Ḥayyul-Qayyūm (The Ever-Living, The Sustainer of all existence), but, by the guidance of Allāh, when you discover that your true Lord is Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) then you have truly reached the most secure base. Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) says,

There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion. The right course has become clear from the wrong. So whoever disbelieves in Tag hut and believes in Allah has grasped the most trustworthy handhold with no break in it. And Allāh is Hearing and Knowing.

Psychoanalysts do experiments in controlled conditions and collect data to prove the validity of the theories. As for the evidence of the attachment with Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) its validity, strength and one hundred percent likelihood of success is clear in the lives of the Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam), his companions (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhum), the pious predecessors (raḥimahum Allāhu) and of practising Muslims today.

The most amazing stories are of the people who have experienced the most unhappy and difficult childhoods. Those who either had no mother figure or were abandoned by parents in harsh situations, those who were emotionally and psychologically damaged, only when they came close to Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā), did their pains and sorrows become replaced with peace and happiness. When they came into the fold of Islām they realised that there is no true love, care, protection, or a secure base except with your Creator, who (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) is Ar-Raḥmān and Ar- Raḥīm (the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful). He is Ar-Ra’ūf (the Kind), Al-Qarīb (The Near), Al-Hafīḍ (The Guardian), As-Salām (The Source of Peace and Perfection), As-Samīʿ (The Hearing), Al- Wadūd (The Most Loving), Al-Wakīl (The disposer of affairs).[8] These are but a few Names of Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā). Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) says,

“… and My Mercy embraces all things.” [9]

It is narrated from Abū Hurayrah (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) that the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said:

“Allāh has one hundred parts of mercy, of which He sent down one between the jinn, mankind, the animals and the insects, by means of which they are compassionate and merciful to one another, and by means of which wild animals are kind to their offspring. And Allah has kept back ninety-nine parts of mercy with which to be merciful to His slaves of the Day of Resurrection.”[10]

In conclusion, this topic is extremely profound. One cannot justify the blessings of the attachment in a few hundred words. This connection with Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) is the only secure base that can reverse or go back to where you started, just as a new start in one’s life. All praise is due to Allāh, Lord of the Worlds.

Source: www.islam21c.com


[1] Rita L.Atkinson, Richard C.Atkinson, Hilgard’s Introduction to Psychology, 13th edition, Harcourt Brace& Company, Orlando.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] https://internal.psychology.illinois.edu/~rcfraley/attachment.htm

[6] http://www.uea.ac.uk/providingasecurebase/a-secure-base

[7] Oxford Dictionary

[8] Umm Abdurrahman Sakina Hirschfelder, Who is Allah?, International Islamic Publishing House.

[9] Al-Qur’an 7:156

[10] Sahīh Muslim (al-Tawba, 6908)

About Shamim Alam


  1. Please Shamim Alam – who are you? I Googled but found no info about YOU. I found your article fascinating. I agree with the previous commentator L.A.N. that “I do not doubt that childhood experience with the main care giver will effect future relationships”. As I am writing a manuscript including your angle, I would like to present you but not only with your name. Myself, I am a MD PhD specialized in psychiatry.

  2. Interesting comparison. I understand the attachment to Allah supercedes all other attachments and creates a secure base however humans are created as social beings too. If we eventually find Islam we can overcome the damages created by severed or poor attachments however I do not doubt that childhood experience with the main care giver will effect future relationships

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