Luqman Ahmed, Ottawa, Canada
The issues surrounding mental health have been increasingly highlighted over the last few years. Experts continue to warn us that the world is in the grips of a mental health crisis that worsens our health and quality of life and even hurts economies.
Governments around the world are dedicating more resources to address mental health issues, including modern medicine, therapeutic procedures, and scientific innovations. While making use of these resources and showing our gratitude, as Muslims, we also have the luxury of turning towards the words and teachings of God to find solutions to our problems.
We believe that the teachings of Islam and the Holy Quran are perfect and beneficial for human beings. It contains divine guidelines for every facet of life, including our mental health. Below, I shall share a few nuggets of Islamic knowledge with the hope that if these are understood in their true spirit, they open a new paradigm for us to understand the issues of mental health. It goes without saying that these tips are intended to complement, not replace, professional help for any mental health concerns. We firmly believe that Allah is the ultimate and true Healer, Al-Shafi, and we put our trust in Him for all our physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.
Anxiety and peace of mind
Anxiety and restlessness are closely related to mental health challenges. While anxiety may also be looked at as a normal human emotion when making any significant decision, at a higher level, it interferes with a person’s ability to lead a normal life and worry and fear become constant with him or her. Islam teaches us that remembrance of Allah can help mitigate this challenge. Allah says in the Holy Quran:
الَّذِيۡنَ اٰمَنُوۡا وَتَطۡمَئِنُّ قُلُوۡبُہُمۡ بِذِکۡرِ اللّٰہِ ؕ اَلَا بِذِکۡرِ اللّٰہِ تَطۡمَئِنُّ الۡقُلُوۡبُ
“‘Those who believe, and whose hearts find comfort in the remembrance of Allah. Aye! it is in the remembrance of Allah that hearts can find comfort.” (Surah ar-Ra‘d, Ch.13: V.29)
The Holy Quran has also explained the reasoning and wisdom behind this concept. In verse 173 of Surah al-A‘raf, Allah explains that love, attraction, and longing for God have been ingrained in human souls even before our creation. As such, it is only natural that remembrance of their Lord brings comfort and peace to human beings.
Allah has also warned us in this regard that if Man purposefully turns away from Him and neglects his duty towards his soul, this will be a cause of great discomfort for him. Allah states in the Holy Quran:
وَمَنۡ اَعۡرَضَ عَنۡ ذِکۡرِيۡ فَاِنَّ لَهٗ مَعِيۡشَةً ضَنۡکًا
“‘But whosoever will turn away from My Reminder, his will be a strait life.” (Surah Ta Ha, Ch.20: V.125)
Hope keeps us going
Hope can do wonders when it comes to mental health challenges or any other heavy burden or difficulty in life because it allows us to see the ray of sunshine despite all the darkness. It is particularly essential for anyone already feeling down because the feeling of hopelessness further pushes a person to pull back from life, avoid things he or she usually enjoys or be in the company of loved ones.
Allah has instilled a great message of hope in the Holy Quran. For a person who may regret something he or she has done or continues to dwell on the past, Allah gives the following message in the Holy Quran:
قُلۡ يٰعِبَادِيَ الَّذِيۡنَ اَسۡرَفُوۡا عَلٰۤي اَنۡفُسِہِمۡ لَا تَقۡنَطُوۡا مِنۡ رَّحۡمَةِ اللّٰہِ ؕ اِنَّ اللّٰہَ يَغۡفِرُ الذُّنُوۡبَ جَمِيۡعًا
“Say, ‘O My servants who have committed excesses against their own souls! despair not of the mercy of Allah, surely Allah forgives all sins.’” (Surah az-Zumar, Ch.39: V.54)
Allah tells us that whatever has happened in the past or whatever mistakes you may have committed, they can be fixed, or reparations can be made in the present. Dwelling on the past without taking any action to rectify the wrong will not bring about any good.
Similarly, a narration from the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa teaches us that we should always have a positive, upbeat attitude, especially toward our Creator. The narration goes as follows:
عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللّٰہ صَلّى اللّٰهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ: إِنَّ اللّٰهَ يَقُولُ أَنَا عِنْدَ ظَنِّ عَبْدِي بِي وَأَنَا مَعَهُ إِذَا دَعَانِي.
Hazrat Abu Hurairahra narrated that Allah’s Messengersa said, “Indeed Allah the Most High says, ‘I am as My slave thinks of Me, and I am with him when He calls upon Me.’” (Sahih al-Muslim, Kitab adh-dhikri wa d-du‘a’i wa t-tawbati wa l-istighfar, Hadith No. 2675)
Purpose and meaning in life
Kristen Fuller, MD, is a successful clinical writer in the mental health realm, a physician, and an author. In one of her articles for Psychology Today, she writes:
“Regardless of what brings you meaning and purpose, it is essential to have a sense of purpose.
“Research shows that individuals who have a strong sense of purpose and meaning in life tend to have better mental health, overall well-being, and cognitive functioning compared to those who lack a sense of purpose.” (“How Creating a Sense of Purpose Can Impact Your Mental Health”, 7 March 2022, www.psychologytoday.com)
Islam seeks to free human beings from the shackles of this world through submission to God Almighty alone. It teaches us that our salvation and deliverance lie in accepting Allah as our Creator and submitting ourselves to follow His teachings. While human beings are allowed to enjoy and entertain themselves within God’s limits and achieve their worldly aims and goals, the pursuit of God takes precedence over all. It provides a singularity of purpose in life.
The Promised Messiahas has taught us that the pursuit of God should be our highest aim in life and that if we recognise this fact and work towards achieving it, it can satiate our thirst and feeling of purposelessness. He writes:
“Our paradise lies in our God. Our highest delight is in our God, for we have seen Him and found every beauty in Him. This wealth is worth procuring, though one might have to lay down one’s life to procure it. This ruby is worth purchasing, though one may have to lose oneself to acquire it. O ye, who are deprived! Hasten to this fountain as it will satiate you.” (Noah’s Ark, p. 35)
Ease after hardship
For any individual struggling with depression or feeling down, another uplifting message contained in the Holy Quran is the universal truth that life is filled with periods of hardship and ease. With every hardship, Allah has promised ease. As the saying goes, the light at the end of the tunnel is not an illusion – the tunnel is.
In the Holy Quran, Allah states:
فَاِنَّ مَعَ الۡعُسۡرِ يُسۡرًا اِنَّ مَعَ الۡعُسۡرِ يُسۡرًا
“Surely there is ease after hardship. [Aye], surely there is ease after hardship.” (Surah al-Inshirah, Ch.94: V.6-7)
Thus, the Holy Quran teaches us to fight through hardships and periods of affliction with courage and bravery and not lose hope. The Holy Prophet Muhammadsa taught us that if we patiently persevere in the face of adversity and do not lose faith in Allah, it becomes a source of reward for us in the hereafter or in eternal life. He stated:
عَنْ أَبِي سَعِيدٍ وَأَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ أَنَّهُمَا سَمِعَا رَسُولُ اللّٰہ صَلّى اللّٰهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ يَقُولُ: مَا يُصِيبُ الْمُؤْمِنَ مِنْ وَصَبٍ وَلاَ نَصَبٍ وَلاَ سَقَمٍ وَلاَ حَزَنٍ حَتّى الْهَمِّ يُهَمُّهُ إِلاَّ كُفِّرَ بِهِ مِنْ سَيِّئَاتِهِ.
Hazrat Abu Hurairahra reported, ‘We heard Allah’s Messengersa saying, ‘Never a believer is stricken with discomfort, hardship or illness, grief or even with mental worry that his sins are not expiated for him.’’(Sahih Muslim, Kitab al-birri was-silati wa l-adab, Hadith 2573)
Thus, even though we do not know whether we will ultimately succeed in resolving our problems, the Islamic guidelines are that, while placing absolute trust in Allah, each day and step of a believer should be better than the preceding. Allah states in the Holy Quran:
وَلَلۡاٰخِرَةُ خَيۡرٌ لَّکَ مِنَ الۡاُوۡلٰي
“Surely [every hour] that follows is better for thee than [the one] that precedes.” (Surah ad-Duha, Ch.93: V.5)
Do not isolate yourselves
Studies have demonstrated that social isolation, in some cases, is closely related to issues of mental health; see, for instance, Holt-Lunstad et al., 2015. This means that people who pull themselves away from friends and family, activities they enjoy and community gatherings they would otherwise attend, are more likely to face such challenges. Whether a person believes that mental health issues lead to social isolation or that social isolation leads to mental health challenges, the reality is that they are closely related to each other.
The government of the province of Alberta has given the following information on their website regarding the effects of social isolation on one’s mental health:
“Social isolation and loneliness can affect your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. They can lead to health problems like heart disease, mental health concerns such as depression and dementia, and early death.” (“Addiction and Mental Health, Alberta Health Services”, 6 January 2022, https://myhealth.alberta.ca)
Islam, being the most communal religion, can help with the problem of social isolation. There are many commandments and teachings in the religion of Islam that pushes people to interact with others.
Daily prayers are one of the most important components of Islam. Muslims are encouraged to gather in mosques or prayer centres to offer prayers together in congregation. The weekly Friday prayers bring people together from a much larger area. Finally, Muslims from all over the city gather for Eid prayers twice a year. Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, goes even further as it enables Muslims from all parts of the world to unite for the pilgrimage. In this way, the religion of Islam provides ample opportunity for a Muslim to socialise with others, find people of similar natures and inclinations, and leave behind social isolation.
There are also many other Islamic teachings and practices that can help a person struggling with social isolation. Some of them are fulfilling the rights of elderly parents, visiting individuals who are sick, feeding the poor etc.
Regarding social isolation, we also find the following guidelines of the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa which he left for his ummah:
عَنِ ابْنِ عُمَرَ أَنَّ النَّبِيَّ صَلَّى اللّٰهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ نَهَى عَن الْوَحْدَةِ أَنْ يَبِيتَ الرَّجُلُ وَحْدَهُ أَوْ يُسَافِرَ وَحْدَهُ
“Ibn Umarra reported that the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, prohibited isolation, that a man spends the night alone or travels alone.” (Musnad Ahmad, 5650)
Relief from grief
In his book Seerat-ul-Mahdi, Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmadra has collected different narrations about the Promised Messiahas. In one such narration, he writes:
“Hazrat Mian Abdullah Sanori Sahibra relates to me that the Promised Messiahas often used to say:
خدا داري چہ غم داري
“‘When God is yours, what grief can you have?’” (Seerat-ul-Mahdi, Vol.1, narration 174)
Similarly, it is recorded in Malfuzat that the Promised Messiahas once said:
کوئی مشکل مشکل اور کوئی مصيبت مصيبت رہ نہيں سکتی اگر کوئی شخص استقامت اور صبر اپنا شيوہ کر لے اور خدا تعالیٰ پر توکل اور بھروسہ کر لے۔ خدا داری چہ غم داری۔
“No difficulty or affliction can persist if one demonstrates steadfastness and patience while placing trust and faith in God Almighty. ‘When God is yours, what grief can you have?’” (Malfuzat , Vol. 5, p. 274)
Thus, from an Islamic perspective, a person should always have a strong belief in Allah, accompanied by His remembrance and worship. In times of trials and difficulties, he or she should not give up hope. In fact, Islam teaches us to use all our God-given faculties to resolve problems while placing our trust in Allah for the best possible outcome. Even if the results are not what we expected, we accept them as a divine decree. Lastly, as Muslims, we always remember that this life is temporary and that ultimate justice and reward are due in the Hereafter. The Holy Quran teaches us a beautiful prayer:
رَبَّنَاۤ اٰتِنَا فِي الدُّنۡيَا حَسَنَةً وَّفِي الۡاٰخِرَةِ حَسَنَةً وَّقِنَا عَذَابَ النَّارِ
“‘Our Lord, grant us good in this world as well as good in the world to come, and protect us from the torment of the Fire.’” (Surah al-Baqarah, Ch.2: V.202)