The Creative Process of Indonesian Muslim Writers: An Islamic Psychology Perspective


The purpose of this study is to examine the creative process of Indonesian Muslim writers. The method employed in this study is qualitative method, known as descriptive-explorative. Questions were asked to writers through in-depth interview. These writers have written at least 5 books related to Islam or having Islamic nuances, with concept ranges from Islamic thought/ ideas to fiction. Other than books the participants are actively engaged in writing articles, papers and other forms of writing.

The result of this study shows that creative ideas were obtained by: (i) focusing on one topic, through observing realities related to the topic, and getting involved directly and intensively (e.g., reading, discussion with colleagues, students, spouse, family members, including those who have opposing ideas), (ii) studying a certain topic by actively engaged in activities to broaden their knowledge related to the topic of interest (iii) having leisure activities in between their creative engagement (e.g. gardening, sight-seeing), (iv) performing intensive religious practices (e.g. night prayer, dzikir/supplication), (v) maintaining good conduct, both thought and behavior, and observing self-control against their own negative feeling (e.g. arrogance, ambition, show-off). These negative psychological states might contaminate their creative process.  These aspects were not only physical, social, or psychological, but also moral and spiritual in nature


One problem that is faced by every writer or thinker in any field is to get new ideas. Some creative writers told stories about how to get the inspiration. Eneste (1990) report that one way to get creative ideas is to stimulate our thinking through physical environment, cognition-emotion, or social environment. Physical environment can provide stimulation by exposing oneself to new situation or certain place. Cognitive stimulation can be in the form of problem solving exercises that force them to think creatively.

Emotional stimulation can provide deep experience such as to be empathetic to other people’s problem. Social stimulation is a situation where discussion take place and various opinions on one topic emerge. Through the discussion of contradicting opinions, one idea will be sharpen and more solid.   In psychological perspective there are two phases of a creative process, an incubation period, when a person is having problem that is not yet solved, but the though of it is there. After some time of incubation period usually follows a point of insight, when creative ideas surface. This phenomenon has been described quite thoroughly by Eneste (1990) covering the experiences of Sutan Takdir Alisyahbana, A.A. Navis, N.H. Dini, among others.  It is interesting to know the uniqueness of Muslims creative experience, since they usually are people who have strong faith in their life. The case is not the same with the western idea of creativity. As mentioned by Csikszentmihalyi (1996), creative process is a process of enjoyment that your mind is focused on “here and now” experiences. It is quite salient that hedonism has influenced how westerners define creativity. Muslims have different view of their life, so it is interesting to see if this different values influence their creative activity as well.

In order to reveal this uniqueness, the research questions are: what do Muslim writers experience during their creative process? What kind of psycho-spiritual behavior do they have in order to get original ideas?


This study applies qualitative method that is aimed to collect holistic data from respondents. Through this approach, it is expected that a comprehensive and rich description of the phenomenon will be obtained.   Respondents are Indonesian Muslim writers who at least had published five titles of book. The topics of the books are limited on human interest from Islamic religious perspective. If there are co-authors, the respondent should be the first author. Ten respondents were interviewed through in-depth interview technique.

The verbatim of the interview was analyzed and categorized into domains that represent the process of the creative activities. For each domain that emerge from the first interview, then followed by the second interview to elaborate the specific domain. If the respondent mention conflicting statement, then another interview is conducted to clarify.

Result   The result of the study showed that there are five groups of behaviors that occurs during the creative process: (i) focusing on the topic and broadening the knowledge of the topic through reading, having discussion with colleague, spouse, student, and even with others who possess opposing opinion; (ii) observing what happen around the topic of interest in day-to-day activities; (iii) doing leisure activities in between the writing process, e.g. gardening, cleaning the room, sight-seeing, (iv) performing intensive religious practices (e.g. night prayer, dzikir /supplication), (v) maintaining good conduct, both thought and behavior, and observing self-control against their own negative feeling (e.g. arrogance, ambition, show-off).

1. Focusing on the topic and broadening the knowledge of the topic.

Muslim writers use books and magazine

“Usually I start writing after I hear or read an idea. Then I will trace the sources of idea from books. Often I found a gap that are not well represented or some conclusion that are not quite accurate.”  “if the flow of ideas are not smooth I usually read book relevant to the topic I am trying to develop.”  “I create my own mood. When I am lazy I would go to book store, opening books that trigger my mood.”  “When I wrote my novel blue pigeon my idea was original. The idea came after I read report in the magazine that tell about college girls who became campus chicken.”

Getting idea from questions from other people and from our self.

The exposure of Muslim writer of broader issue is usually through dialogue and interaction with common people.

“People experience various kinds of things. When they talk about difficulties, there a lot of intriguing questions they convey to Muslim writers. Idea for writing usually came from discussion from community gathering in the society. The experience and cases from the community members are interesting to write and to put into dakwah perspective.”

Discussion with colleague. Colleagues for many Muslim writers were very closely related people. Closeness enables them to give out their thought, comments and spontaneous critics.

“At the beginning I stole others opinion, but after a process of internalization I found that my ideas are more original.”

Discussion with family. Often family members are the people of best collaborator. This is especially important among fiction writer.

“ I discuss my idea with my spouse and children. I told them that I would write a story. I would ask if this story is appropriate to their age. They will give their comments”

Meeting people who have better expertise:

“If my idea did not go to well I would go to a person who has better expertise than I am. They would give me suggestion”  “Sometimes in my dream I discuss with someone that not clear who he/she is”

Having discussion with people who have opposing opinion. To test whether or not an idea is appropriate or sound, Muslim writer will try to discuss issues with other people who would express opposing opinion.

“I often have discussion with students or colleague. I deliberately express my ideas against theirs. Then they would express their best ideas and thought, from there I learn and gain new ideas”

2. Trying to get ideas by studying one topic and observing realities by direct involvement. 

Getting involved in activities. Muslim writers get involve in activities that represent their concern and commitment. One of the activities they consider important is dakwah and community involvement. This involvement will help them to gain inspiration for their writing.

“I am an activist. The best way to get idea is by working in the field of dakwah. My travel to various islands I Indonesia had help me find a lot of interesting problems to write”

Sensitive to events.

Muslim writers observe carefully and critically realities in their surrounding. Realities can become stimulus to extend their thought

“As long as I open my eyes I can always find ideas “

“A writer has to be sensitive no matter how small an event is. Once I travel to Surakarta with Mustofa W Hasyim (a Muslim cleric). A seller was offering eyeglasses to Pak Hasyim. I could see that this guy started to insist Pak Hasyim to buy the eyeglasses. Pak Hasyim was not disturbed and asks for bargain from 100 thousand to 10 thousand rupiah. I though that is interesting and I wrote a story in tempo newspaper.”

3. Perform leisure activities in between writing activities.

Perform fun activities with family and looking for new situation. Muslim writers do leisurely activities for a change after they try to focus in their creative works.

“I take care of flowers the yard sometimes ironing my clothes for fun”

“Performing dinner activities often give us new ideas”.

4. Intensify religious rituals such as night prayer and fasting and supplication.  

Muslim writers believe that ideas and thoughts belong to Allah. Human are only a transmitter in order for the idea to be conveyed to public.

“I leave it to God regarding ideas. I only a transmitter”

“I am very sure that ideas comes from Allah ( ilham ). I only build a infrastructure in me by keeping good conduct and clear thought”

“I perform night prayer. This habit can help me out of ideas blocking”

“My best time to write is after fajr prayer”  “I don’t do special pray but only supplication. This is like tips from Allah. But as a human being we should not rely on free tips from Allah. We must do our own searching too”

5. Keeping good conduct in thought and behavior, such as humbleness and avoid to be ambitious, and politeness.  

“I don’t have specific rituals for writing but I try to think positively in a consistent manner, avoid riya (showing off), and avoid becoming too ambitious.”

“I am quiet but I think I almost always smile to my neighbors or whoever I know”


The results show that Muslim writers experiencing various activities during their creative process that are unique in term of their relevance to the faith of Islam. These experiences can be categorized into three dimensions, i.e. practical dimension, mental-cognitive (intellectual) dimension, and spiritual dimension.

What we learn from western textbooks of creativity, imply that those dimensions are independent to each other. For example, in the early 20th century, creativity is thought to be mystical phenomenon saying that some mystical forces intervene a person and make the person create something novel. The famous English writer, Rudyard Kipling, once explained about the process of his creative works, ”My Daemon was with me in the Jungle Books, ………

When your Daemon is in charge, do not think consciously. Drift, wait, and obey!”. This spiritual view is then contrasted with scientific approach, in the sense that if there is some mystical or spiritual phenomenon on creative process then there is no place for scientific psychology to participate in the study of creativity. Sternberg (1999) illustrate the issue with the following statement, “We believe that it has been hard for the scientific approach to shake the deep-seated view of some people that, somehow, scientific psychologists are treading where they should not.”

The case is not the same in the Muslim world, where spirituality is always a part of the process of creation. Since the beginning of Islam Civilization, there was a consistent phenomenon happened within the Muslim scholar such as Ibnu Sina (Avicenna), and others. There is no doubt about the quality and novelty of the works of early Muslim scholars. Even the western civilization nowadays still recognizes the works of Ibnu Sina, such as The Cannon of Medicine. If we read the history, we will find that the creative process of early Muslim writers was always multidimensional.

They were not just creative writers, but also devoted Muslims, and good persons. They always maintain good conduct and never claimed their creation as their individual accomplishment without any help from Allah, as the supreme spiritual being.  The results of current study confirm the characteristics of the creative process of Muslim writers, that is multidimensional which consist of three dimension, i.e. 1) spiritual; 2) practical; and 3) intellectual.


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Fuad Nashori  adalah salah seorang pelopor dan ahli di bidang Psikologi Islami, sehari-hari beliau menjabat sebagai Ketua Umum PP Asosiasi Psikologi Islami Indonesia dan Dekan Fakultas Psikologi dan Ilmu Sosial Budaya Universitas Islam Indonesia, (UII) Yogyakarta. Fuad Nashori adalah penulis tetap untuk rubrik Psikologi Islami di website ini


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