Human Behaviour: Emotions and Drives

by Prof. Dr.Omar Hassan Kasule Sr.


Human emotions

Humans, like animals, have emotions. They may be pleasant such as joy or unpleasant such as anger. Emotions involve both mental and physical aspects. The mental aspects involve the human intellect, the reception and interpretation of sensory signals and synthesis of all these into a resultant emotional state. Physical effects follow the emotional state. One of the physical effects is the way emotions are expressed. Humans have developed very sophisticated ways of expressing their emotions using the facial muscles, the eyes, a complex body language and least of all verbal expressions. Humans are also adept at hiding or even suppressing their emotions. They can also with some effort pretend to be in an emotional state that is not true; however the effort can not be sustained for any measurable length of time.

Animal drives

Humans, like animals, are motivated to take action by basic drives that are almost instinctual in essence. These drives are all related to the basic need of survival. The basic drives are hunger, thirst, sex, self-protection, and security. Surat Quraish emphasizes food and personal security. The food and sex are the strongest drives and are necessary for the preservation of the species. The food drive is so strong that the Prophet recommended eating before prayer (KS p. 315). The sexual drive in its purely animal form is mere lust, shahwat (MB # 2110 p 989. There is disagreement whether the basic drives are innate or are external (elicited by rewards and incentives). Our preference is for the opinion that they are innate. It appears from many scientific observations that there is a biologic basis for some of the drives. The hypothalamus and the limbic system control rage and aggression. The cortex, the limbic system, the hypothalamus, and the endocrine glands control sex behaviour. Hunger is controlled by the satiety and feeding centres. The thirst centre controls drinking.

Human drives

Humans have drives more and above the animal drives described above. These drives are higher and nobler; they are not elicited by hope for reward or fear of punishment. The main human drives are: altruism, iithhar (p 1250 59:9; p 171 12:91, 20:72, 59:9), faith, iman (p 1250 6:158, 10:100), consciousness of Allah, taqwah (p 1253 91:7-8), pleasure of Allah, ridhallah (89:27-28), seeking knowledge, appreciation of aesthetic beauty, and self-actualisation.

Relation between drives and emotions

Drives are from inside but emotions are from outside. There is a close relation between the two. Drives lead to and control emotions. Satisfaction of drives is associated with pleasant emotions. Dissatisfaction of drives is associated with unpleasant emotions. Many unpleasant emotions may result from conflict between drives. Unpleasant emotions can also occur when the drive is unattainable or it is in conflict with results of logical intellectual analysis. A drive could be satisfied in more than one way. For example the sex drive could be satisfied through legal marriage (Muslim # 3242) or through illegal sexual intercourse. The purpose of religion is to direct humans to correct control of their drives. It is wrong to deny that drives exist or to try to suppress them. Suppression will be successful for only a short time. It is better to direct and channel the drives in a positive direction.

Intentions and actions

Actions are based on and follow intentions. There are many ambivalent situations when two contradictory drives are present at the same time. Humans differ from animals in that they are above to control, their drives. This control is not always perfect. It depends on the individual and the circumstances. Humans are rewarded according to how well they control these drives. Rewards are given for suppressing negative drives or redirecting them such that they become positive and useful. Punishment is given when positive drives are not nurtured or are expressed in the wrong context. In His mercy to humans, Allah rewards them for good intentions and does not punish them for bad intentions. There is punishment only if a negative intention is actually translated into a negative action (Muslim #230, 231, 233, 234, 235, 236, 237).

Pleasant Emotions

Love (hubb)

Love of Allah is the highest level of love (2:165, 3:31, 5:54, 9:24). Human love for Allah is reciprocated by Allah's love for humans. Allah's love is denied to non-believers (2:276, 3:32, 22:38, 30:45). Love of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) comes next to the love of Allah (Muslim #70,71). Love of Allah and His messenger are part of faith (iman) (KS p. 179). There is love for blood relatives (9:24), children (12:8), and the erotic love for spouses (12:30). Sexual love can be a disease if excessive and for the wrong reasons. It could be positive such as the Prophet’s love for Aisha and negative such as the love of Aziz’s wife for Yusuf (12:30). Excessive uncontrolled sexual love/passion (‘ishq) can be a disease treated by marriage or fasting. Love is also possible for unrelated people and friends. Love of the material possessions of the earth, hubb al duniya is the opposite of the love of Allah (2:165, 2:216, 3:14, 3:92, 3;152, 3:188, 9:24, 14:3, 16:107, 38:31-32, 41:17, 75:20, 76:27, 89:20, 100:8).

Hope (raja, amal)

MB # 2106 p 988. Hope has to do with good feelings about the future. Tomorrow is better than today. Only those with iman can have a sense of hope. This is because they have a larger picture and see a larger reality. Hope is from Allah (Muslim #6875, 6877, 6878, 6880).

Elation (suruur, farah)

The Qur'an has mentioned happiness (suruur) 2:69, 3;120, 3;170, 3;188, 6:44, 9;50, 9:81, 10:22, 40:58, 11:10, 13:36, 19:26, 20:40, 23:53, 25:74, 27:19, 27:36, 28:9, 28:13, 28;76, 30:4, 30:32, 30:36, 33:17, 33:51, 40:75, 40:83, 42:48, 57:23, 76:11, 80:38-37, 84:9). It is a state of good feeling that is temporary because the challenges of daily life for adults preclude continuous elation. Elation could be due to material or even non-material things.

Unpleasant Emotions

Fear (khawf): The Qur'an discussed fear (20:67, 3;151, 8:2, 8:17, 22:35, 23:60, 28:10, 33:10, 33:26, 40:18, 59:2, 59:13). It was also mentioned in the hadith (MB # 2106 p 988). It is an emotion that arises due to real threats or sometimes for no reason at all.

Rage and aggression (ghadhab)

Anger, ghadhab al insan (9:58, 21:87, 7:154, 42:37, (KS 415). A person should be angry only for Allah (7:150, 7:154, 20:86). Rage and aggression are related to drives and emotions. Rage is natural (Muslim #6319) and can not be avoided. What is needed is self-control to avoid negative side-effects (KS p. 68, Muslim #6311, 6313, 6314, 6316, 6317). Quarrelling, usually associated with rage, is discouraged (MB#1107). Other ways of controlling rage are fasting (Muslim #2563) and recitation of the Qur'an (KS p. 397).

Hate (kurh)

Humans can hate for various reasons most of the time related to self-interest or one of the diseases of the heart. It is unfortunate that the emotions of love and hate are closely related. Humans normally hate those they loved before such as wives (4:19) or those they are supposed to love such as female children (16:57-59, 16:62, 43:17-18).


Human behaviour in the default state of fitrah will be perfect. The human has both the good and bad drives. In the natural state the good will dominate over the bad. However humans do not always live in a natural state. Their upbringing and environment affects the balance between the bad and the good. The environment can suppress or reinforce either the good or the bad.

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