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How Classical Conditioning is Used to Influence

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

How Classical Conditioning is Used to Influence

Classical conditioning is a term often used by psychologists. In short and simple terms, it describes the process of learning through association. This phenomena is most associated with Ivan Pavlov, who while studying the role of saliva in dogs’ digestive processes by accident, stumbled upon this process. Dogs salivate in the presence of food but over time Pavlov noticed that the dogs started producing the saliva even before coming in contact with the meat. They would start salivating when the technician came in who used to feed the dogs.

John B. Watson further extended Pavlov’s work to humans in the famous experiment with baby Albert. At the start of the experiment, Albert had no fears of white rats. But through pairing the sight of a white rat with a very loud noise, he soon developed a fear for white rats.

So, in simple terms, you start with two things that are already connected with each other, such as the man eating shark called; Jaws and experiencing feelings of fear (Jaws-Fear). Then, you add a third thing, such as the “famous Jaws theme” for several trails. Eventually, this third thing (theme music) has the potential to become so strongly associated with these feelings of fear that it, itself, has the potential to produce these feelings of fear without even seeing the man eating shark.

It is relevant for Muslims to be aware of this process as this way of “learning” is used to influence our inclinations and behaviour, and so it can be used for wrong purposes to mislead the behaviour of people or it can be used in the right way to guide people to what is right.

So, we see that classical conditioning is used on a daily scale by Western media alongside Western politicians. With their anti-Islamic rhetoric and framing tactics, they  have insured that that the image of Muslims has become connected with terrorism and killing and with the feelings of fear, anger and even disgust. It has been taken so far that nearly every Islamic symbol is under scrutiny.

This process is so intense that we actually see that almost every noble symbol of Islam and Islamic values have in some way been associated with general negativity. For example, we see that the noble hijab is often associated with images of abused and oppressed woman. The images automatically generate feelings of shame and disgust. When the hijab is continuously associated with this kind of images and feelings, the hijab, on its own, could generate these negative feelings. This process is influencing non-Muslims as well as Muslims.

The same thing we see with the beautiful month of Ramadan and fasting. When another type of fasting is praised in Western societies and when it isn’t connected to obedience to God but with dieting and good health, we see that it is associated with terms and pictures of health and stamina. However, as soon as we speak about fasting in Ramadan and connect it to obedience to Allah, all kinds of discussions are started and all kinds of negative news gets associated with this fasting process to the extent that even Muslims have tried to connect fasting with terms which might sound more appealing to non-Muslims, such as having empathy with the poor or having healthy effects on the body.

The process of classical conditioning, as stated above, has also the potential to guide us to the correct behaviour. We, for example, see that the Quran makes use of this method in many ways to prevent human to stay away from harmful behaviour and to influence their inclinations to what is right. A very strong example in guiding humans to stay away from harmful actions can be seen in the following verse:

﴿يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اجْتَنِبُوا كَثِيرًا مِّنَ الظَّنِّ إِنَّ بَعْضَ الظَّنِّ إِثْمٌ ۖ وَلَا تَجَسَّسُوا وَلَا يَغْتَب بَّعْضُكُم بَعْضًا ۚ أَيُحِبُّ أَحَدُكُمْ أَن يَأْكُلَ لَحْمَ أَخِيهِ مَيْتًا فَكَرِهْتُمُوهُ ۚ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ تَوَّابٌ رَّحِيمٌ

“O you who have believed, avoid much [negative] assumption. Indeed, some assumption is sin. And do not spy or backbite each other. Would one of you like to eat the flesh of his brother when dead? You would detest it. And fear Allah ; indeed, Allah is Accepting of repentance and Merciful.”

The strong wordings and connection which is made between gossiping and eating the flesh of our brothers should cause feelings of repulsion when thinking about committing this sin. It should help us to stay away from this behaviour. The method to help ourselves to stay away from such a repulsive act would be to make the link between gossiping and this feeling of repulsion as strong as possible.  Practically, this would mean that we have to read the Quran as often as we can, so the connection between gossiping and feelings of repulsion becomes stronger and stronger, helping us to stay away from it!

    Classical conditioning, as we see, can influence our thoughts and behaviour both in a negative and a positive way. We, as one Ummah, should consider how we to help ourselves and our youth in shaping our inclinations towards the noble values and symbols of Islam. One way, for example, is helping our daughters make the connection that hijab is a symbol of honour and obedience to their Lord and in no way it is associated with humiliation and abuse, and that in fact nudity is what will lead to abuse and oppression.

﴿إِنَّ هَٰذَا الْقُرْآنَ يَهْدِي لِلَّتِي هِيَ أَقْوَمُ وَيُبَشِّرُ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ الَّذِينَ يَعْمَلُونَ الصَّالِحَاتِ أَنَّ لَهُمْ أَجْرًا كَبِيرًا

“Indeed, this Qur'an guides to that which is most suitable and gives good tidings to the believers who do righteous deeds that they will have a great reward.” [Al-Isra: 9]

Written for the Central Media Office of Hizb ut Tahrir by
Yasmin Malik
Member of the Women’s Section in the Central Media Office of Hizb ut Tahrir


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