Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Concept of Thinking between De Bono’s Six Hat of Thinking and Islamic Perspective

Norun Najjah Ahmat
Siti Rohana Omar
University Technical Malaysia


Thinking is the ultimate human resource. The West claims that the “six thinking hat’s method” of Edward De Bono is the most important change in human thinking for the past twenty-three hundred years although it was actually popularized fourteen years ago. Even though, it is an exaggerated claim but they believe that the evidence is beginning to point that way and spread around the world very fast. However, Islam has shown the same concept of thinking but in different method and words since thousand years ago. It is obviously shown in Qur’an, the tenet of Islamic way of life. It has educate people whether Muslims or non Muslims to use ‘aql and mind and also the five senses given by Allah. All these elements help mankind to be the ulul-absar, ulul-‘ilmi, ulul-albab, qaum ya’qiluun, qaum yatafakkaruun and qaum yafqanun. The most important point in this article is to see that both concepts are useful to humankind and could be used together for the future education’s benefit especially for the Muslims and towards becoming a better Ummah.


Background of Six thinking hats

Edward De Bono is widely regarded as the leading authority in the direct teaching of thinking as a skill. He originated the concept of lateral thinking and developed formal techniques for deliberate creative thinking. His instruction in thinking has been sought by some of the leading business corporation in the world. Dr. De Bono’s understanding of the brain as a self-organizing system led to the design practical tools for thinking. His design of Six Hats method provides thinking with a constructive idiom instead of adversarial argument. The appeal of his work lies on its simplicity and practicality. It also allows a thinker to do one thing at a time. Occasionally confusion is the obstacle in the process of thinking because normally people try to do too much at once. At the same time, the thinking would be bothered with emotion, information, logic, hope and creativity all crowd in it. It is like juggling with too many balls. This method able to separate emotion from logic, creativity from information and so on. The most important is that the six thinking hats allow us to conduct the thinking as a conductor might lead an orchestra. People are sometimes hesitant about the hats and colors because they do not seem serious or complicated enough. Dr. De Bono believes that in practices, the simplicity has never been a problem. What people need is the hats and color as simple mental hooks, because they are much easier to remember than are complicated psychological terms. He believes that this method is an alternative to the argument system, which never intended to be constructive or creative. With the Six Hats methods emphasis is on ‘what can be’ rather than just on ‘what is’ or not on who is right and who is wrong.

The history of Western thinking

A thinking system based on argument is excellent and nothing wrong with at all, but it is not sufficient. Basically, this design of thinking based on argument originally came from the Greek Gang of Three, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. Socrates put great emphasis on dialect and argument. In 80% of the dialogues in which he was involved there is no constructive outcome at all. Socrates saw his role as simply pointing out what was wrong. He wanted to clarify the correct use of concepts like justice and love by pointing out incorrect usage. Whereas Plato believed that the ultimate truth was hidden below appearance that people can see only the shadow of the truth. Lastly, Aristotle systemized inclusion/exclusion logic. As the result, western thinking is concerned with “what is” which is determined by analysis, judgment and argument. This is fine and useful system, but there is another whole aspect of thinking that is concerned with ‘what can be’ which involves constructive thinking, creative thinking and ‘designing a way forward’. This method is almost the exact opposite of argument, adversarial, confrontational thinking where each party deliberately takes an opposite view and each tries to prove the other party wrong.

The six thinking hats effectively changed the scenario of traditional thinking process. It’s impact on the people behavior on thinking can be divided into four categories. Firstly, this methods enable any individual or group to use their intelligence, experience and knowledge fully and deeply. Secondly, this method is time saving. The most important is the third effect, which is the ego. People tend to use thinking parade their egos, or used to attack and put down other people. Confrontational and adversarial thinking exacerbate the ego problem but the six hats thinking remove it. In this method, the ego is performing well under each of the hats. It provides neutral and objective exploration of the subject which argument does not. Lastly, this method allows the thinker to do only one thing at a time.

The rationality behind hats

The usage of hat has it’s rationality. In many cultures, there is already a strong association between thinking and ‘thinking caps’. The value of a hat as a symbol is that it indicate a role. People are said to be wearing a certain hat. Another advantage is that a hat can be put on or taken off with ease. A hat is also visible to everyone around. Those are the reasons why Dr. De Bono chose hats the symbols for the direction of thinking. He chose six colored hats corresponding to the six direction of thinking: white, red, black, yellow, green and blue.

The function of each colored hat is as follows:
a) White Hat: white is neutral and objective. The white hat is concerned with objective facts and figure.
b) Red Hats: Red suggest anger, rage and emotions. The red hat gives the emotional view.
c) Black Hat: black is somber and serious. The Black hat is cautious and careful. It point out the weakness in an idea.
d) Yellow Hat: yellow is sunny and positive. The Yellow hat is optimistic and covers hope and positive thinking
e) Green Hat: green is grass, vegetation and abundant, fertile growth. The green hats indicate creativity and new ideas.
f) Blue Hat: blue is cool and also the color of sky, which is above everything else. The blue hat is concerned with control, the organization of thinking process and the use of the other hats.

The Thinking Skill in Islamic Perspective

The spiritual thinking is the highestlevel of thinking because of it’s holiness based on tawheed, faith and taqwa. This kind of thinking is also named religious thinking, which relate to the metaphysic and Divinity. The second level of thinking belongs to the human’s ability of thinking which started since in the womb till the most important level of mind development at the age of six. Thirdly, the logical thinking, which based on the actual or factual or certain knowledge, science, mathematic. This kind of thinking need evidence, argumentation, facts, reasons and truth. Lastly is the lateral thinking which does not emphasis logic or facts or truth but stress on creativity, imagination, creation or dreams. Thus, everyone is supposed to have all the four level of this thinking skill. It means that a man is supposed to have faith; mind owned capacity, scientific thinking ability and artistic thinking competency.

In Islam, the creative thinking could be named as the Muslim Mind. One of book, which talked about it, is The Muslim Mind: Foundation and Early Manifestation by Muhammad Abd. Rauf. In this book, it states the Islamic tenet, which are al-Quran, and human mind. Al-Quran emphasis the creation of khalifah and the importance of knowledge seeking for the truth. Allah honored the human mind by addressing it and commanding it to nourish itself through the pursuit of knowledge by means of reading and writing, and refining itself through reflection and sober thinking over the wondrous Creation of Allah. Man has immaterial, intangible but enduring faculty or power, mysterious connected with the body, whereby man thinks, understands, decides, judges, will, hesitate, infers, feel, hope, fears, chooses, invent, intends, anticipate, and so on. Muhammad Abd Rauf then, divided the human mind into three parts; the cognitive area, which is the ability to know, understands, remember and so on. Meanwhile the emotional/affective responses part involves the feeling, happiness, and sadness, fear, suffer, love, envy and others. Lastly the volitional part indicates desire, hope, action, ambition and so on.

The Tools of Thinking Skill

Allah create human with the five senses hoping that the human being would use it to think the Greatness of the One, the Creator. Islam critiqued those who fail to think broadly on the creation and the Truth of Allah. Allah demand His Creation to observe the surrounding with eyes he provided. At the same time, He wants the man He created to listen carefully to the truth of Islam. Also, He expects the human being to smell the truth and the feel gratitude to Him. Important sense is the taste capability of human over the sweetness of Allah’s creation. Lastly, touch is the sense that Allah expects from human to feel the touchiness of everything He gives. If man are really appreciate these all senses, the mind will sound and be filled with gratitude to Allah.

Thinking Skill under the Classification of Islamic Knowledge

Islam classified knowledge into two parts, the perennial knowledge and the acquired knowledge The revealed knowledge consist of Al-Quran, Hadith, Seerah, Tawheed, Fiqh and so on. Whereas the acquired knowledge consist of Intellectual Science and natural science.

The highest knowledge is philosophy which divided into various divisions such logic, etiquette, metaphysic, epistemology, esthetic, political philosophy, religious/divine philosophy, scientifically philosophy and historical philosophy

Islam honored the knowledgeable people. The pious or the ‘aalim’ has been called in Quran in many ways, to show Allah’s respect toward those who acquired knowledge. They were called The Vision man (Ululabsar), The thinker man (ulul albab, Qaum Yatafakkaruun, Qaum Yafqanun) and the knowledgeable people (Qaum Ya’qiluun). Beside human mind or senses, there are two more important element of thinking which are mentioned in Quran; Aql or cognitive thinking and Qalb or the affective and volitional thinking. It is significant because the heart was thought to be the gate of abstract ideas to the mind as much as the hearing power is the gate to the sound and eye is the gate of the perception of the objects of mind.

Six Thinking Hats and Islam

Islam does not need colors or hats to understand the truth, to think, to remember and feel gratitude to Allah. However, Islam always welcomes any positive strategies or ideas, which can help the human kind to understand Islam. The six thinking hats might not enable human to have the spiritual thinking skill but it can help from the other angle of Islamic perspective such as in producing new fatwas for the new problem without so much trouble with extreme argumentation which had happen in the past. This method also can help the Muslim to be together and settle the problem of Ummah which never success to be achieved in the past. This method may also helps the Muslim to be together to defeat the Kuffar especially the Zionist. The Muslim should not feel hopeless of finding the new strategies or ways to rise again as the honorable Ummah in the world.


1- Al-Quran
2- Edward De Bono,2000. Six Thinking hats. Penguin Books. United States
3- Prof Dr. Mohd Yusof Hasan. 2000. Pemikiran Saintifik. Longman. Selangor.
4- Edward De Bono. 1970. Lateral Thinking. Penguin Books. United State
5- Edward De Bono. 1976. Teaching Thinking. Penguin Books. United State
6- Erdward De Bono. 1990. I am Right You Are Wrong. Penguin Books. United State
7- Tony Buzan. 2002. The Power of Creatiive Intelligence. Harper Collin. England
8- Wan Muhhamd Ali. 1977. Islam dam Modenisme. Kuala Lumpur: ABIM
9- Osman Bakae. 1991. Tawheed and Science. Kuala Lumpur: IPR.

* Paper presented in The Seminar of Higher Education in The Muslim World, 24-25 Mac 2008 in International Islamic University of Malaysia (IIUM)

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