Bismillah- In the Name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.
In order to understand what Islam says about mental illness and its reality, we have to first understand what mental illness is as an independent issue without the social norms and attachments. Many times people do not know what mental health is nor do they know how to respond to its sensitivity, which is why you may have come across phrases such as “why are you so depressed”, or “stop having a nervous breakdown” as common responses when you see people talking to those with mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, mood and/or eating disorders.
Some may try to brush it off as a “joke” or even try to “normalise” it, but in reality, it can be humiliating for those who are suffering from mental health problems and degrading for individuals that use such language. We would never in a million years use cancer or paralysis in the same way. Imagine people saying “just stop having cancer!” or “you are so disabled”. We’d think “how could anyone ever say something like that?” and we would pass them off as ignorant and heartless, because someone who has cancer or is disabled did not bring that upon themselves. So what difference does it make when someone has a mental health problem?
Of all the people, we as Muslims should know what it feels like to be stigmatised, misunderstood and humiliated. People turn their heads and raise their eyebrows at anyone whose name is Muhammad, has a beard or wears the niqab and the hijab (especially at airports). But why is it that we cannot sympathise with people who suffer from mental health issues?
Mental illnesses and symptoms have been used and abused so much out of their proper context, they are either not taken seriously or have serious stigma attached to them when in reality they are just like every other illness the human body and mind may experience. The causes are sometimes unknown, but the illness itself can be detrimental and life
threatening, and the road to recovery is not always as simple as prescribing antidepressants, or providing counselling- people may also need a good, solid support network around them, and this is what most communities are failing to address and provide.
On discussing mental health problems and Islam, it’s important to accept the fact that these issues do exist and they do affect people in various ways. It is also important to understand that Islam did not come to eliminate depression, sadness or grief, but rather it came to regulate it. This is supported by ample evidence from the Quran and Sunnah, which has been later backed by western thought and ideas around mental health and general wellbeing.
We have all heard the line “just make dua”, and we are by no means debasing the value and power of dua, but in this particular context, for someone suffering from severe depression, trauma or anxiety that line really doesn’t suffice– because Islam’s purpose is not to eliminate our feelings and thoughts, therefore just using an Islamic tool alone does not rid the problem. If Islam was to eliminate sadness, then we would never feel sad because as followers of Islam we should be happy, cheery and the best we can be all the time. However, this would be asking too much from people, and Allah does not burden us with more than we can bear. We are supposed to be sad, we are supposed to ask for help, we are supposed to be desperate, and we are supposed to surrender our imperfection which is why Allah says:
“Verily in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find rest”
Therefore, when sadness is not regulated and gets out of control extra help/support is needed. This extra help and support may also be out of the framework of Islam. But anything that does not contradict the Islamic teaching can and should be utilised, thus we should seek and receive the right support and help when needed, whilst keeping Allah as our first point of contact. Just because anti-depressants and counselling are not strictly Sunnah, it doesn’t mean it’s not supposed to be done. So simply saying to someone who is on the verge of a breakdown that all they need to do is make dua and rely on Allah can shatter their confidence even more.
In order for us to understand better what mental health is and its importance, we can reflect upon the lives of the most noble and blessed people before us. They too experienced extreme sadness and grief. Take Yaqub (A.S.) who mourned over the loss of Yusuf (A.S.) for many years and eventually became blind from excessive crying. Then there is our Prophet (P.B.U.H) who has a year in his life called “the year of grief” where he experienced the loss of close people as well as feelings of isolation and rejection. Fatima (R.A.) was extremely grieved when her father died and then passed away 6 months later. Zainab (R.A.) experienced heartbreak and separation for many years until her husband became a Muslim.
Such great Islamic figures experienced sadness and depression, but Allah or the Prophet didn’t advise the companions to only call upon Allah. In fact, the Prophet (P.B.U.H) was described to be the best of listeners and would give hope and help to those who were hopeless and helpless; we could even say he was the best of advisors, counsellors and supporters. There is recognition of needing help and support in Islam, even if there is no explicit hadith or ayaat saying “Muslims can experience mental health problems, and there are other cures beside Islamic help” – this sort of concept can be applied to other areas of Islam. Allah has made haram explicitly and clear, but the halal and the permissible has been left vast and great, for example, chemotherapy wasn’t around the time of the Prophet but no one says to a cancer patient that they should just make dua and get on with life.
Finally, we can conclude that low imaan is not the only cause of mental health problems and making dua is not the only solution, because Islam has not come to eliminate depression or emotions such as sadness and grief, but to regulate it, direct it and make it a learning process for us to develop and grow as human beings and as Muslims. However, the only way we can do that is if we work together as a community. We need to collectively understand what mental health is and how to deal with it, alongside both Islamic & non-religious interventions.
Anas ibn Malik reported: A man said, “O Messenger of Allah, should I tie my camel and trust in Allah, or should I untie her and trust in Allah?” The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Tie her and trust in Allah.”
Seek help and don’t suffer in silence! For more information and inspiration, please watch our webinar on World Mental Health Day at: www.facebook.com/imamsonline/videos.
Original Source: Inspirited Minds.