Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules and Islam

Many Muslims I’ve talked to seem to like Jordan Peterson, and yet Dr. Peterson has said little about Islam. The values in his book 12 Rules for Life An Antidote to Chaos connect to Christianity and Taoism. Can they connect to Islam?

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Dr. Jordan Peterson, allow me to give a brief introduction:

The Canadian clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson became an internet celebrity when he released a series of YouTube videos criticizing the Canadian C-16 bill, which is a bill that is attempting to protect gender expression and gender identity by making hate propaganda and incitement to genocide illegal. While the intentions of C-16 may be to protect people, Jordan Peterson (along with others) have criticized the bill for giving the Canadian government the right to police speech itself.

Since then, Doctor Peterson has received both praise and condemnation world wide.

Yet Doctor Peterson’s main work isn’t just talking about C-16. As a clinical psychologist, he delves into theories and thoughts on behavior and consciousness, going back into ancient history, even as ancient as lobster hierarchies that formed millions of years ago. Much of his work deals with archetypes. And he makes frequent reference to the theories of Sigmund Frued, Carl Jung and Friedrich Nietzsche


Peterson’s 12 Rules – An Antidote to Chaos and Nihilism

Dr. Peterson has spoken out much about the scourge of nihilism in today’s world (in the form of postmodernism), and has written a guide that is a sort of antidote to modern nihilism and chaos.

12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (Kindle Book on Amazon)

His book became an international bestseller and even did well in several Muslim countries.


So why do so many Muslims like Dr. Peterson?

I don’t agree with everything that YouTuber Saajid Lipham says in general. But I still enjoy a lot of his videos, since Saajid is very articulate and insightful, and says many things that even non-muslims can agree with.

But Saajid’s point is that historically in the West, people have either found knowledge from philosophy or divine revelation (religion). And that Jordan Peterson, as a modern-day philosopher, has spoken out against the lies in our time that have been propagated as truth (postmodernism), and what Dr. Peterson preaches is closer to the eternal truths of the great philosophies and religions of the world.

For an ideology or religion to be helpful to human beings, it must be grounded in the truth, in fundamental truths about reality, about what it means to be human, and how human beings can overcome the suffering of existence.

Islam emphasizes the point that life is a test, a test where one will suffer, and one must overcome that suffering by killing their ego and devoting themselves to God.

And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient. (Qur’an 2:155)

Recall that Moses said to his people, “O my people, you have wronged your souls by worshiping the calf. You must repent to your Creator. You shall kill your egos. This is better for you in the sight of your Creator.” He did redeem you. He is the Redeemer, Most Merciful. (Qur’an 2:54)

This is the fundamental truth of most of the world’s religions and philosophies.

Ideologies that Pull People Away From The Truth

Ideologies that lie about the fundamentals of reality and human nature benefit no one, and can only lead to disaster.

Communism is such an ideology. It puts forth the idea that there should be no hierarchies and that everybody is the same. Such an idea would be great for ants, but it doesn’t work for human beings. Communism lasted around 70 years before falling apart and killing 100 million of its own people.

Yet today (as Jordan Peterson states in his book) Post Modernism is a sort of backdoor to communism. He discusses this more on pg. 300 of 12 Rules For Life in the section titled, “Postmodernism and the Long Arm of Marx.” This is also discussed in the intro.

Postmodernism, which has been the defining ideology of the West since the 1960s, putting tolerance forward as the ultimate value, that all ideologies must be accepted. And all ideologies are supposed to be considered fundamentally equal. Yet when all things are the same, then there is nothing important or special that is above everything else. There is nothing to strive toward. Everything becomes meaningless.

The first idea or teaching is that morality is relative, at best a personal “value judgment.” Relative means that there is no absolute right or wrong in anything; instead, morality and the rules associated with it are just a matter of personal opinion or happenstance…And, since we don’t know right from wrong, or what is good, just about the most inappropriate thing an adult can do is give a young person advice about how to live. (12 Rules for Life, Norman Doidge, page 11)

(Still from the Foreward, by Norman Doidge) But it turns out that many people cannot tolerate the vacuum—the chaos—which is inherent in life, but made worse by this moral relativism; they cannot live without a moral compass, without an ideal at which to aim in their lives. (For relativists, ideals are values too, and like all values, they are merely “relative” and hardly worth sacrificing for.) So, right alongside relativism, we find the spread of nihilism and despair, and also the opposite of moral relativism: the blind certainty offered by ideologies that claim to have an answer for everything. (12 Rules for Life, Norman Doidge, page 12)

As mentioned above, the main ideology of Islam is that one overcomes the suffering of life by killing their egos and submitting to God.

However, what does Jordan Peterson say? And can his rules be applicable to the Qur’an?

I’m not saying that Dr. Peterson’s rules fit in perfectly with the Qur’an in all ways. I’m just going to highlight the similarities for the curious.


RULE 1 – STAND UP STRAIGHT WITH YOUR SHOULDERS BACK

In this chapter, Dr. Peterson talks A LOT about lobsters and lobster hierarchies. I have never heard so much in my life about lobsters until I read this chapter of Dr. Peterson’s book. But I digress, his point is that it is important for one to stand up straight with their shoulders back, to assume the position of a winner, the kind of person who is at the top of dominance hierarchies. Because when you are the kind of person who would be at the top of a hierarchy, your body makes more serotonin, you’re happier, more confident, more energetic, less people pick fights with you, and you’re more capable of taking on the challenges of life.

Whereas if you take on the posture and bearing of loser, someone who slouches, who looks nervous, who avoids eye contact and mumbles and acts afraid, people will not have confidence in you, people will pick more fights with you and try to dominate you. As you start to feel more like a loser, your body will generate less serotonin, you’ll have less mental and physical energy to take on the challenges of life, keeping you in the bottom of whatever hierarchy you may occupy.

“If you have a high status, on the other hand…the serotonin flows plentifully. This renders you confident and calm, standing tall and straight, and much less on constant alert.” (12 Rules for Life, pg. 17)

What does the Qur’an say about this?

The Qur’an refers to Abraham as the “upright,” ḥanīfan. (Qur’an 4:125)

So as long as they are upright toward you, be upright toward them. Indeed, Allah loves the righteous [who fear Him]. (Qur’an 9:7)

Verse 9:36 refers to Islam as the “religion of the upright.”

I won’t cite all the verses, but there are about 14 verses that implore people to be “upright.” You can read them here.

The Qur’an also talks much about making a stand, or standing up for, or standing firm. Check out these 34 verses.

The Qur’an does not offer a “turn the other cheek” morality. It is one that encourages those (who are able) to stand up for others. To stand firm against evil. This matches much of the message of Dr. Peterson himself when he says that goodness is not so much being kind, but having the courage to say “no” or “speak out” when it’s necessary. To stand up against evil, rather than bowing down and cowering just to make everyone happy. (Peterson Video, “A Good Man is Dangerous“)

So the sort of morality in the Qur’an is not of one who is passive and acquiesces, but of one who stands up straight with courage and confidence.


RULE 2 – TREAT YOURSELF LIKE SOMEONE YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR HELPING

I myself am a Quranist, but I will include some good hadith on this site sometimes, for those Muslims who still follow the hadith.

The Prophet (saws) said, “Observe the fast sometimes and also leave them (the fast) at other times; stand up for the prayer at night and also sleep at night. Your body has a right over you, your eyes have a right over you and your wife has a right over you.” [Narrated in  Bukhari]

In Islam it is important for people to take care of their own bodies, because their bodies are a gift from God. The Qur’an encourages many healthy habits, like wudu (ritual washing and sanitation), fasting (which science has now shown the health benefits of), avoiding gambling and drinking (science has now shown that no amount of alcohol is good for you), and eating good healthy food.

“Eat of the good things we have provided for your sustenance, but commit no excess therein, lest my wrath should justly descend on you, and those on whom descends my wrath do perish indeed” (Quran 20:81).

“And from the fruits of date palm and grapes you get wholesome drink and nutrition: Behold in this is a sign for those who are wise” (Quran 16:67).


RULE 3 – MAKE FRIENDS WITH PEOPLE WHO WANT THE BEST FOR YOU

The Prophet (saws) said, “The likeness of a righteous friend and an evil friend, is the likeness of a perfume seller and a blacksmith. As for the perfume seller, he may either bestow something on you, or you may purchase something from him, or you may benefit from his sweet smell. And as for the blacksmith, he may either burn your clothes, or you may be exposed to his awful smell.” [Narrated in Bukhari]

The Qur’an preaches tolerance for those who have different faiths. “There is no compulsion in religion (2:256).” And Surah 60 talks more about tolerance toward disbelievers. However, despite that, the Qur’an encourages certain kinds of behavior among the believers in regards to each other.

They are supposed to be compassionate and patient toward one another. (90:17)

And they are not supposed to backbite and snoop on each other. (49:12)

And they are not supposed to ridicule, mock and insult each other (49:11)

Co-operate with one another in good and virtuous matters consistent with the Divine Laws and DO NOT co-operate in evil and bad matters.”(5:2)

Such is a good code for friendship in general. Good friends will not mock you or talk about you behind your back. Such friends are people who want the best for you.


RULE 4 – COMPARE YOURSELF TO WHO YOU WERE YESTERDAY, NOT TO WHO SOMEONE ELSE IS TODAY

Focus on your self growth. Don’t invalidate that growth by comparing yourself to others.

God made us all different, with different capabilities and different backgrounds. Some of us will be better looking. Some of us will have more money. Some of us will be more articulate. All you can do is be the best you.

And the best among you is the most righteous.

O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted. (49:13)

The Qur’an also emphasizes that people need to focus on their own behavior first, before they focus on that of others.

You should enjoin right conduct on others but mend your own ways first. Actions speak louder than words. You must first practice good deeds yourself, then preach (2:44)

Though the above quote also fits in with Rule 6, which I will get to below.


RULE 5 – DO NOT LET YOUR CHILDREN DO ANYTHING THAT MAKES YOU DISLIKE THEM

“My Lord, grant me from Yourself a good offspring. Indeed, You are the Hearer of supplication.” (3:38)

“And those who say, “Our Lord, grant us from among our wives and offspring comfort to our eyes and make us an example for the righteous.” (25:74)

In Dr. Peterson’s chapter about Rule 5, he says that it’s important for parents to enjoy being around their children. When parents enjoy being around their children, the child will be properly socialized. When a parent does not like being around their child, the child will become antisocial and start to dislike themself and others. A parent who refuses to discipline their child creates a person who the world will ultimately punish (because that child will be unfit to face the trials of this life).

Verse 25:74 tells people that their children should be a “comfort” to them, meaning, they should LIKE being around their child. And it says that a good child makes a parent an example for the righteous. A parent who is raising their child with manners and discipline makes the world a better place. Whereas a parent who shirks that responsibility and lets their child behave however they want is not being a righteous person themselves.


RULE 6 – SET YOUR HOUSE IN PERFECT ORDER BEFORE YOU CRITICIZE THE WORLD

Once again

You should enjoin right conduct on others but mend your own ways first. Actions speak louder than words. You must first practice good deeds yourself, then preach (2:44)

I think that speaks for itself. Make sure your own conduct is good before you go around criticizing others. Also, as mentioned in (49:11), people are not supposed to ridicule each other.


RULE 7 – PURSUE WHAT IS MEANINGFUL (NOT WHAT IS EXPEDIENT)

What should people do with their lives? How do they exist in a world where life is suffering?

“What in the world should be done about that? The simplest, most obvious, and most direct answer? Pursue pleasure. Follow your impulses. Live for the moment. Do what’s expedient. Lie, cheat, steal, decieve, manipulate-but don’t get caught. In an ultimately meaningles unverse, what possible difference could it make? (12 Rules for Life, pg 158)…Or is there an alternative, more powerful and more compelling? (12 Rules for Life, pg 159)

Dr. Peterson goes on to say that the alternative to pursuing short term pleasure is delayed gratification, in short, patience.

“Indeed Allah is with the patient.” (Qur’an 8:46)

7 verses about Allah and patience.

The Qur’an addresses the fact that life is suffering. But life is suffering because it is a test from our Lord. We’re not supposed to be excessive in our indulgence in this world. One can enjoy relations with their spouse and their children and their friends. But ultimately, one’s focus should be on God and the world to come.

And keep yourself patient [by being] with those who call upon their Lord in the morning and the evening, seeking His countenance. And let not your eyes pass beyond them, desiring adornments of the worldly life, and do not obey one whose heart We have made heedless of Our remembrance and who follows his desire and whose affair is ever [in] neglect. (18:28)

Take this for a philosophical exercise. Let’s say you had a group of people who were just living for the moment and a group who were working hard to build a better tomorrow. Which society would be better? The first society would probably extinguish themselves quickly. The second would lay the foundations for a long term future, for both themselves and their children.


RULE 8 – TELL THE TRUTH – OR AT LEAST, DON’T LIE

Telling the truth is very important in the Quran. In fact, the word “truth” is mentioned 193 times.

Here are some other key verses.

“For Muslim men and women, for believing men and women, for devout men and women, for truthful men and women, for patient men and women, for humble men and women, for charitable men and women, for fasting men and women, for men and women who guard their chastity, and for men and women who engage much in God’s praise: for them has God prepared forgiveness and a great reward.” (Quran 33:35)

The believers are but those people who believed in God and His Messenger without ever feeling doubt thereafter, and strove with their souls and possessions in the way of God; those are the ones who are the truthful.” (Quran 49:15)

“And whosoever obeys God and His Messenger, such will be in the company of those whom God has blessed: the Prophets, the truthful ones, the martyrs, and the righteous. And how excellent a company are such people!” (Quran 4:69)

Many of the prophets who are praised in the Quran are called “truthful.” Believers are called “truthful.” And one of the key meanings of a “kuffar,” or disbeliever, is that they are someone who conceals the truth.

But most importantly… “God is the Truth” (Quran 22:6)

God is truth itself. Those who align themselves with the truth, align themselves with God.


RULE 9 – ASSUME THAT THE PERSON YOU ARE LISTENING TO MIGHT KNOW SOMETHING YOU DON’T

The Quran implores us not to rush to judgement, not to make assumptions, but to hear people out before rushing to conclusions.

The first example I can think of comes from the tale of King David and two men who came to him for judgment. (Quran 38:22). Kind David hears the tale of one of the men, but not the other, and rushes to pronounce judgment on one of the men. But then the men both disappear, like a cloud into thin air. David realizes this was a test from his Lord, that he failed (because he rushed to judgment and did not listen completely). So David begs his Lord for forgiveness.

The second example comes in Quran verse 18:60-18:82, when Moses travels with the companion Al Khidr who does a number of things that Moses disagrees with and judges, without realizing that the man had his own reasons which ended up being legitimate.


RULE 10 – BE PRECISE IN YOUR SPEECH

Okay, I’m not sure if there is anything about precision in speech in the Quran (let me know if there is), but there is much about one being careful in how they speak to others. Speaking to others kindly and avoiding anger in one’s tone.

And they had been guided [in worldly life] to good speech, and they were guided to the path of the Praiseworthy. (Quran 22:24)

And We strengthened his kingdom and gave him wisdom and discernment in speech. (Quran 38:20)

And if We willed, We could show them to you, and you would know them by their mark; but you will surely know them by the tone of [their] speech. And Allah knows your deeds. (Quran 47:30)

Dr. Peterson’s point was more that people should be very careful about what they say because they have a responsibility for the information that they put out into the world.


RULE 11 – DO NOT BOTHER CHILDREN WHEN THEY ARE SKATEBOARDING

I don’t know if there is anything about this in the Qur’an, but Dr. Peterson’s point in regards to this rule was that adults shouldn’t prevent children from achieving mastery over danger. To do so would be to leave children coddled and unfit for dealing with the trials of the world. (i.e. helicopter parenting).

All people will inevitably suffer. You can’t protect your children from the suffering of this dunya.

I posted the verse before but I will post it again:

And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient. (Qur’an 2:155)


RULE 12 – PET A CAT WHEN YOU ENCOUNTER ONE ON THE STREET

So, a chapter that I thought would be focused primarily on our furry animal companions ended up being a lot about suffering, being, and the difficulties of existence. However, the chapter (and really the whole book) ultimately boils down to this point

“People are very tough. People can survive through much pain and loss. But to preserve they must see the good in Being. If they lose that, they are truly lost.” (12 Rules for Life, pg. 345)

I would like to address Dr. Peterson’s concluding point with the opening of the Qur’an, Al Fatiha.

In the name of God, the infinitely Compassionate and Merciful.
Praise be to God, Lord of all the worlds.
The Compassionate, the Merciful. Ruler on the Day of Reckoning.
You alone do we worship, and You alone do we ask for help.
Guide us on the straight path,
the path of those who have received your grace;
not the path of those who have brought down wrath, nor of those who wander astray.

(Quran, Al Fatihah)

This verse beautifully encapsulates the essence of the Qur’an and Islam itself. God is our creator. God is good. God is compassionate and merciful. And surely the creation must have the essence of its creator. After all, the Qur’an implores us frequently to admire the awesome beauty of the natural world as signs of God Himself. Verse 3:191 implores us to think deeply about the wonders and creation of the universe.

But more than that, if our Creator is the ultimate good, than Being itself is fundamentally good. If you do not believe in the fundamental goodness of Being, what else is there? How can you survive? Such a person is lost. And as people today embrace nihilism via post-modernism, they themselves become lost.

If you can’t enjoy life enough to pet a cute cat or dog when you see one, what else is there?


CODA – WHAT SHALL I DO WITH MY NEWFOUND PEN OF LIGHT?

So why did Jordan Peterson pick 12 rules for his book? And then why did he add a Coda after that? (There is a final chapter after all the 12 rules are mentioned).

By the time I got to this point in the article, the brilliance of the answer struck me like the light of a glowing pen. Jesus had 12 disciples and the 13th chapter is about Jesus himself.

TL;DR: Dr. Peterson talks about a glowing light pen he has. He asks questions, and uses the pen to answer his own questions (finding answers within himself).

Here are the critical questions he writes with his pen of light:

“What shall I do with my wife? Treat her as if she is the Holy Mother of God, so that she may give birth to the world-redeeming hero. What shall I do with my daughter? Stand behind her, listen to her, guard her, train her mind, and let her know it’s OK if she wants to be a mother. What shall I do with my parents? Act such that your actions justify the suffering they endured. What shall I do with my son? Encourage him to be a true Son of God (12 Rules for Life, pg. 352)”

Dr. Peterson talks about the importance of holding up Christ and his mother as an archetype for human behavior.

Well, this may surprise many Christians (and Muslims) but the Qur’an says something similar.

We made the son of Mary and his mother a symbol [of Our grace], and provided for both an abode in a lofty place of lasting restfulness and unsullied springs. (23:50)

AND [remember] her who guarded her chastity, whereupon We breathed into her of Our spirit and caused her, together with her son, to become a symbol [of Our grace] unto all people. (21:91)

The Qur’an itself states that the Prophet Isa (Jesus Christ) and his mother are an archetype for all the people. In Islam, these figures are most certainly not Gods, as that would be shirk (the sin of associating partners with God). But they are humans that play a powerful role. Jesus is called the “Messiah” in the Qur’an, so clearly he’s important. The Messiah in most religions is the redeemer, the one who will come back in the darkest times to ultimately fight evil with goodness.

And the Mother Mary is actually mentioned quite a bit in the Qur’an. Her powerful role is that she is the mother of the Messiah. She is one who was pure and honest and speech. Even for those who do not believe in the literal virgin birth and are more interested in the metaphor of it, her virginity could be a metaphor of her purity as a person. But ultimately, the importance of the Virgin Mary is she asserts the powerful role of motherhood, and its potential to do good in the world.

As to remembering the suffering of one’s parents, the Qur’an addresses that as well.

And We have enjoined upon man, to his parents, good treatment. His mother carried him with hardship and gave birth to him with hardship, and his gestation and weaning [period] is thirty months. [He grows] until, when he reaches maturity and reaches [the age of] forty years, he says, “My Lord, enable me to be grateful for Your favor which You have bestowed upon me and upon my parents and to work righteousness of which You will approve and make righteous for me my offspring. Indeed, I have repented to You, and indeed, I am of the Muslims.” (Qur’an 46:15)


If you enjoyed this article, check out Jordan Peterson Archetypes: Female Chaos and Male Order

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