September 4, 2020

Mental Health and Islam

Mental health is our emotional, psychological, social well-being and are as vital as our physical health. With good mental health, we feel better and can manage a range of positive and negative emotions. We carry out our daily tasks effectively; we eat well, sleep well and exercise well; we take part in social activities normally and are able to build or manage healthy relationships with others. Poor mental health is linked to multi-faceted reasons such as abuse, neglect, social isolation, stress, bereavement, experiencing trauma or violence, poor health, substance misuse, etc.; we often feel low, numb, irritable or even worthless. Mental health affects people of all ages. It does not only affect the way we think, feel, and act but also how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is not limited to emotional problems. For instance, if a couple is having difficulty getting along; if parents and kids are having trouble seeing eye to eye; or if a person is underperforming at school or work; then a counselor or therapist may be able to help guide the person to resolving their problems. Whether mental health is caused by biological factors, life experiences, or family history, it is important to know that help is available. Mental illness is broadly defined as a disorder that affects a person’s cognitive, social, emotional, behavioral state or abilities (American Psychiatric Association, 2000). Islam views mental illness as a condition that results from an unbalanced lifestyle (diet, sleeping patterns, spiritual activities, and remembrance of God) or an unbalanced body (Rahman, 1998). Popular beliefs among Muslim cultures view mental illness as: a punishment from God; a result of possession of evil spirits (Jinn); the effects of evil eye; and the effects of evil in objects that are transferred to the individual (the evil is put into the object by someone with malicious intent) (Stein, 2000; Pridmore & Pasha, 2004). Traditionally, Islam does not link all mental illnesses to supernatural causes (Rahman). Furthermore, one of the early Muslim scholars in psychiatric health care, Ibn Sina, rejected the popular notion that mental illnesses originated from evil spirits (Pridmore & Pasha). It is essential to note that supernatural causes to illnesses are widely acknowledged and are considered very real within Islam. However, as a Muslim community, we need to recognize mental illness as a legitimate medical condition that is distinct from illnesses of a supernatural nature. In this way, individuals can acknowledge or accept their mental illness and seek treatment with more community support and less stigma associated with their diagnoses. The common Mental Health Issues are (a) Stress- Defined as the body’s response to demand. Stress can cause physical, emotional and behavioral disorders which can affect our health and peace-of-mind, as well as personal and professional relationships. Too much stress can cause relatively minor illnesses like insomnia, backaches, or headaches, and can contribute to potentially life-threatening diseases like high blood pressure and heart disease. (b) Generalized Anxiety Disorder- An excessive feeling of fear or worry about things that are independent of a stress-causing event. General symptoms include problems such as sleeping, feeling of panic, cold or sweaty hands, dry mouth, shortness of breath, and not being able to stay calm. (c) Panic Attacks- Sudden onset of intense fear and discomfort that reaches its peak within minutes and includes 4 of the following symptoms: increased heartbeat, trembling, sweating, nausea, feeling of choking, chest pain, dizziness, fear of losing control, fear of dying, feeling of unreality, and numbness or tingling sensations. (d) Major Depressive Disorder – A feeling of constant hopelessness and despair. Consists of a combination of symptoms that affect the individual’s daily ability to work, sleep, eat and enjoy things in life. May occur only once, but more commonly appears several times throughout the individual’s lifetime. (e) Marital Issues- Common disputes between spouses, family members involving physical abuse and/or psychological abuse.
“And We send down from the Quran that which is a healing and a mercy to those who believe…”(Quran 17:82)
The life of this world is not stable as every person goes through stages and phases; happiness is followed by sadness and then relief or joy, ones’ faith is strong and unconquerable, and seemingly, for no reason it plummets, next, by the will of God it slowly rises again. Periods of great fitness and health are followed by injury or, sickness, but with each twinge of pain or suffering a true believer feels some of his sins fall away. “Whenever a Muslim is afflicted by harm, God will expiate his sins, like leaves drop from a tree.”(Bukhari and Muslim) Islam teaches us to be concerned, about the whole person. Following the guidance and commandments of God allows us to face illness and injury with patience. Islam is a code of life. Muslims do not practice only during the weekends or festive seasons; rather religion is an ongoing part of daily life. Islam is organised in a spiritual and moral way, taking into account humankind’s innate needs and desires. The tenets of Islam are derived from the Quran and the authentic traditions of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), known as the Sunnah, these two sources of revelation are a guide, or a manual for life. The traditions of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) teach us to cherish good health and realise its true value as one of God’s countless bounties. “And when your Lord proclaimed, ‘If you give thanks, I will give you more; but if you are thankless, verily! My punishment is severe.”(Quran 14:7) Psychology in Islam is used in everyday practices but under different guises, such as spiritualism. Islam offers a spiritual sanctuary for Muslims to live a peaceful life by using their inner strengths and having a strong relationship with the ultimate power, Allah, being optimistic, purifying their feelings, and not waiting for outside events to improve. Islam acknowledges the importance of spiritual status as an interior power that can be exercised to have a calm mind, healthy consciousness, and positive thoughts. Islam values the importance of good mental health and emotional wellbeing. The Qur’an can be used as a guide to those suffering from emotional distress and aims to lead people to a meaningful quality of life. ‘There is no disease that Allah has created, except that He also has created its treatment’ (Hadith). The research studies reveal that, if we were to take an MRI video of neural changes that happen in our brain when we are told the word ‘No’, we would see a sudden release of stress producing hormones and neurotransmitters. These chemicals immediately interrupt the normal functioning of our brain, impairing logic, reason, language processing, and communication. If the language is destructive or causes harm, the longer we are likely to ruminate on it. This can lead to damage to key structures that regulate our memory, feelings and emotions. This in turn will lead to disrupted sleep, a change in appetite and ability to feel happy. Each time we vocalise this negativity, more chemicals are released in our brain, increasing anxiety and irritability. This is the way cognitive neuroscience explains how destructive thought patterns and language can affect one’s mental wellbeing.
Over a thousand years before Western psychology was constructed, the psychological language of the Qur’an described destructive emotions and harmful conditioning as nafs al-ammara or the commanding self. The Qur’an gives guidance to help overcome the inner turmoil that we can experience, caused by the nafs al-ammara and bring the peaceful self or nafs al-mutmainna into being. Islamic psychology or the science of the nafs is the philosophical study of the psyche or the mind from an Islamic perspective, which addresses psychology, neuroscience, philosophy of mind, psychiatry and psycho neuro immunology. Due to the multidimensional use of words in the Arabic language, it’s difficult to translate into one specific word, but the word nafs lexically refers to our soul, the psyche, heart or mind. Nafs is used to indicate our own self or used as a synonym of Freud’s libido. The second way nafs has been used in the Qur’an is to refer to a specific part of our self that has desires, appetites. The Islamic concept of nafs highlights the intricate and complex composition of the inner self. Freud in the early 1900s described similar states as the id, ego and superego. The Qur’an describes the nafs, or self, as operating out of one of three states: nafs al-ammara (commanding self); nafs al-lawwama – accusatory self; and nafs al-mutmainna (peaceful self). The Qur’an explains how these states command our psyche and tell us what to do, they control us and dominate us. If we have nafs al-ammara, it means we are subjugated by the self, we listen and follow its commands. This stage describes the part of us that requires material possessions and sensual desires. With nafs al-lawwama we are conscious of our own imperfections and, inspired by our hearts, we see the results of our actions and our weaknesses and aspire for perfection. Finally, nafs al-mutmainna implies contentment and peace, there are no immoral desires. This is the ideal state of ego, there is tranquillity and peace. When our emotional needs are being poorly met, the nafs al-ammara begins to control our feelings, thoughts and behaviours. The Qur’an provides guidance to learn and practise relaxation exercises to weaken the influence of the nafs al-ammara. When it is in control, our thoughts are distorted leading us to take things personally, to see everything in a negative light and believe that things can’t be changed for the better. When our conscience, the nafs al-lawwama is active, we become aware that something is wrong with the way we are feeling and behaving. We can then learn to challenge negative thinking leading us to our nafs al-mutmainna. The Qur’an uses a technique called Alif-Lam-Mim for strengthening the nafs al-lawwama and help bring about a more peaceful state of being. Mindfulness is a modern concept, which emphasises a mental state of awareness, focus and happiness. Mindfulness is a way in which we can become more aware of ourselves, our thoughts and our feelings, and act in a way which is mindful of ourselves and others despite our nafs and desires. Furthermore, it is very similar to the main principle of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT is the most widely researched and empirically supported psychotherapeutic method. The guidance found in the Quran and the traditions of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) advise humankind to maintain a balance between body and soul. A healthy diet is balanced with a mixture of all the foods God has provided for His creation. Coronary heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, obesity and depression have all been linked to inadequate diets. True believers need healthy bodies and minds in order to worship God in the correct way. The heart and the mind are nourished by remembrance of God, and worship performed in a lawful way. Muslims must take care of their spiritual, emotional and physical health. Our bodies, the most complex of machines, are given to us by God as a trust so we should maintain them in good order. Fulfilling the obligations of three of the five pillars of Islam requires that Muslims be of sound health and fitness. The daily performance of five prayers is in itself a form of exercise, its prescribed movements involve all the muscles and joints of the body, and concentration in prayer relieves mental stress. Good health is necessary if one intends to fast the month of Ramadan and the performance of the Hajj (or pilgrimage to Mecca) is an arduous task that requires many days of hard physical effort. Islam encourages anything that promotes refreshing the mind or revitalising the body provided it does not lead to or involve sin, cause harm, or hamper or delay religious obligations. Islam’s holistic approach to health covers all aspects of the mind, body and soul. A truly health conscious person blends diet, nutrition and exercise with the remembrance of God and an intention to fulfill all their religious obligations. There is a strong connection between mental health and Islam. Islam attaches great importance on spirituality and patience. A true Muslim shouldn’t be depressed or have mental illnesses. As a Muslim, if we get affected by life’s troubles and disturbing thoughts like everyone else, but we can deal with them much better because we have a clear roadmap of where we came from, where we are going and why, so we have a head start having this fundamental knowledge from its source. Someone who feels completely lost and alone in the face of a crisis would probably feel helpless and depressed. But someone who feels supported by a compassionate God who genuinely cares, who listens to desperate pleas, and who grants generous help, has a better chance of getting back on track much faster because there is a strong helping hand to reach for while dealing with life’s troubles. Quran says, “And for those who fear Allah, He always prepares a way out, and He provides for him from sources he never could imagine. And if anyone puts his trust in Allah, sufficient is Allah for him. For Allah will surely accomplish His purpose: verily, for all things has Allah appointed a due proportion.”(Quran, 65: 2-3) Islam addresses mental illnesses and mental health challenges people face. It does not require us to be superhuman. If one experiences negative feelings, he is encouraged to resist them with positive thoughts and actions if possible or to seek professional help if the case is clinical. People feel depressed or sad when this harmonious equilibrium is disturbed, in which case Islam steps in, not to condemn the feeling, but to offer a solution for regaining psychological and mental balance. In summary, the experience and wisdom found in religious traditions is no longer a taboo; meditation is now increasingly being used for therapeutic treatment for both physical and mental illnesses. Spirituality brings about positive emotional and mental well-being and often comes with optimism, gratitude and resilience. Some practitioners in clinical psychology and psychiatry do now recognise the role of spirituality in the prevention and treatment of mental illness. Islam, as a middle way religion, heals the human soul, diminishes anxiety and brings emotional balance in a believer. Inner peace is considered by believers as more important than material achievements. This is probably one of the reasons why poorer but more religious countries have lower suicide rates. Islam’s teachings to acquire sakinah (contented mind) through tawakkul (reliance on Allah) in any situation and sabr (patience) in any affliction keep a Muslim mind peaceful. Our healthy body is a gift from Allah and we are the trustees. We should not misuse it, nor provide wrong raw products for the factory and we should keep superb maintenance of this delicate and sensitive machine, in order to enjoy it as it is the container of our soul.
(The authors write regularly on Islamic topics for “Kashmir Horizon” exclusively. Views are their own) [email protected]

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