Cognitive Dissonance


I think this post is long overdue but I’ve been busy catching up with my TQ course, so everything has been on hold lately. Anyway..I was thinking about a term I learned in AP Psych last year called cognitive dissonance. For some reason, I had a really hard time understanding this term and how it was possible so my teacher told me to apply the term to my own life and make an example that would help me remember it. I did that, and it worked. My example was that although I watch PG-13 movies, I don’t necessarily agree that it’s okay for Muslims to watch certain movies regardless of their rating. My teacher looked at me kind of funny, and asked me to elaborate. So I did. I explained to him that what is PG-13 now would have been rated R or worse just ten years ago. I also briefly explained the whole mahram issue and how the men in movies and on TV are not mahram for us (meaning that for Muslim women, the men on TV are most likely not our fathers, grandfathers, brothers, husbands, by blood uncles, or small boys who have not reached the age of maturity). So I told him that I personally believed that watching excessive television (besides news) and non-animated or beneficial or educational movies is not okay, but I do take part in watching tv from time to time or a movie every now and then. He was really confused at first, but after about an hour of explaining issues of ‘Awrah, Mahram, Tawheed, and the common culture of today, I think he really got the point and I was pleased to hear that he understood everything. It was great.

So this got me thinking about one of the gravest sins in Islam–hypocrisy. To do something, even after knowing that it is wrong and prohibited. The warning signs are there, the caution tapes are surrounding it, yet some people completely disregard and ignore those flashing red lights. They proceed to fall deeper and deeper into something, knowing that it will not benefit them in dunya and certainly not in akhirah. So, isn’t that a branch of cognitive dissonance? In the sense that, one’s ideas or beliefs do not match their actions. 17 times a day, we ask Allah ‘azzawajal to keep us far, far away from the path of  الْمَغْضُوب Al Maghdubi–those people who have earned Allah’s anger. These are not the people who remained ignorant, rather they are the ones who know what they have to do but they don’t do as a result, they invite the punishment of Allah, they incur Allah’s wrath. SubhanAllah, these are not even the misguided people who fell into dalala rather, those who have the knowledge, yet they still disobey. Thus, they earn the punishment. Yes, we are asking Allah not to make us like them, but are we making the significant changes we need to make to earn His pleasure? To be on the path of An’amta ‘Alayhim? Every time we knowingly disobey Allah, are we not  inviting Allah’s punishment? La hawla wala quwwata illa billah…Ya Allah, make us among those who act upon what we know to be the truth. Among those who cut off all the roots to evil in our lives. Among those who’s knowledge will be an evidence for them on Yaum ut Taghabun, and not an evidence against them. Ameen.

My point is not to suck the fun out of everything, but I’ve just been having some trouble balancing my ideas and beliefs with what I actually do. I think it’s all a learning process, and ultimately a test from Allah. 

Allahu ‘Alim

-Fi Amanillah-


4 thoughts on “Cognitive Dissonance

  1. Salaam

    You bring up an interesting connection between feeling cognitively dissonant and our actions as Muslims. Perhaps the process of purification of our soul could be viewed as training ourselves to recognize the feeling of cognitive dissonance, amplifying it, and making it responsible for turning us away from sin. If you have an academic background in individual psychology, I’d encourage you to explore this connection further and perhaps draw mutually informing parallels between processes of tazkiyah as found in Qur’an and Sunnah and modern-day psych techniques. I guess the trouble there might be that today, psychologists tend to downplay feelings of cognitive dissonance on a number of issues by encouraging people to feel “OK” with whatever they have trouble with (as they should have trouble with for things that go against the fitrah).

    Your tangent on Al-MaghDoob was also interesting. Their actions and rationalizations have always intrigued me.

    And finally, IMHO the fact that you recognize this and check yourself every now and then is a very good sign. May Allah help us all on the way to reaching the station of nafs-ul-muTma’innah.

  2. Assalam Alaykum,

    Jazaki Allah kheir for the insightful post.

    This is definitely a problem which I have also had to deal with. If you will allow me to share an old story that maybe will help: so back in the day (3 yrs ago) when I was a freshman in college I was ma sha Allah really into the deen (kind of like a new convert). So I get to college and I decide that I would put away my TV and only listen to Qur’an all day. This worked for maybe a month or so–then I found myself somewhat depressed because all of the “fun” had been forcefully sucked out of my life.
    At that point I realized (only by the grace of Allah )that maybe I should add a little bit of “fun” into my life–like maybe I should start listening a little bit of music and watch a little bit of TV which is not too detrimental but still fun. So I did that–but eventually I began to really not “need” the “fun” anymore because the Qur’an and socializing with my brothers and all of that began to be “fun.” To make a long story short, we realize that the goal is to devote ourselves entirely to Allah swt but part of achieving the goal is to determine realistic methods by which we will achieve the goal. That is, we cannot one day after a life of “fun” just replace that “fun” by something else because it is not healthy–and this is seen from the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). Another example can be seen from other Muslim traditions such as “I only sleep so that I can have the strength to worship Allah.” Thus it may not be hypocritical per se to go to the theater or to watch The Office every once in a while so long as we only do this with the intention of remaining sane while at the same time tazkiya-ing ourselves to never have to go to the theater anymore (at some point insha Allah).
    (Just a small side not: after three years I don’t have to listen to anything but Qur’an or lectures these days and I don’t have a TV anymore…walhamdulillah)
    Long story short: It is bad to do certain things but if they are already embedded in our lives we need to take active measures to remove them and realize that removing them all at once may not be possible.
    Wa Allahu a’lam.

    Jazaki Allah kheir

  3. Waiyyakum..and JazakumAllahu Khair for the beneficial comments. :)
    @ Br. BrownS,
    I took A Heart Serene a couple months ago and my favorite part about the class was when we learned about the concept of Muhasaba…taking account of ourselves every now and then in hopes of pointing out good/bad inside us and making improvements. So after making personal Muhasaba lists at the end of each day since the class ended, I realized that what I was trying to do was equate my tasdeeq bil qalb (what’s in my heart) with what I say and then, ultimately…my actions. If even one part of the triangle was incomplete, cognitive dissonance was the end seems. That’s what I was trying to get at here, but I definitely want to explore it further iA.

    @ Br. Abdel Aziz Ismail,
    I appreciate you sharing that story, because I can totally relate. I’m a first year undergrad student so I feel like there’s a lot coming at me at once and I’m just trying to make sense of it all while not making myself look like a total outcast. What I found to be the best cure for such problems is being around good, righteous company. When I’m with my deeni friends, I don’t feel like our gatherings lack fun, rather it’s the opposite effect. When I’m in other circles, it’s almost as if all the ‘good’ i’m used to, is actually sucked out and I feel a void…so the ‘fun’ is not really there when in fact, those activities (ie: movies) are meant to be fun. I think this is something one should really thank Allah for, because it’s a huge blessing from Allah when someone feels completely content in the company of the righteous and not so comfortable in other gatherings.

    Allahu ‘Alim. :)

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