In Weakness and In Strength: Mental Health and Islam

KO File Photo by Abid Bhat

MENTAL health and psycho-social wellbeing are an indispensable and preliminary requirement for the overall wellness of an individual. So much is this dimension of health pivotal and precarious that even a minor mental health issue can leave an individual de-capacitated and in a crippled state. But man is susceptible to a series of events and a host of phenomena which put her mental health in a state of compromise and casualty. Living in a world of throat-cutting competition and pressed upon by social, economic, existential and psychological challenges of all sorts and magnitudes, one is bound to encounter mental stress and related issues of one magnitude or the other sooner or later in life. At times, these experiences are too explosive in nature that they drive an individual into acts of self harm, drug addiction and even suicide. What are the possible remedies to this monster of mounting mental health problems, and what role, if any, can religion play to mitigate the issue.

The role of religion/spirituality in mitigating mental health issues and acting as a source of solutions to ailments of psychological order can be assessed from multiple frames of reference. Let’s cursorily look at the issues which endanger man’s mental health and see how religion resolves these issues and provides a framework, working within which, one can not only secure hismental health but improve his quality of overall life too. To begin with, life is not a cake walk, but a roller coaster of incessant challenges. These challenges assume various forms and contexts and keep revisiting us now and then. Isn’t it mostly about these challenges that one feels unnerved, helpless and pressed against the corner? But doesn’t one remember how Allah, the creator of life with its miseries and comforts has described human life and the circumstances that accompany it. God, while describing human constitution and human condition explicitly states that “We have certainly created man into hardship” (Al Quran – 90:4). Look at the expression “certainly” as used in the verse to indicate the inevitability of hardships, tribulations and sufferings that one is bound to confront in one’s life.

The fact of the matter remains that man isn’t able to see through this fact and doesn’t prepare himself/herself mentally for the miseries that are potentially inherent to life. “Life is difficult” writes Dr Scott Peck, “This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult-once we truly understand and accept it-then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters”. This is the first master-key that can help each and everybody to unlock many of the doors to happiness and peace. Let it be reminded that the Quran, after describing life as full of tribulations and hardships, doesn’t leave man in isolation, in a state of hopelessness, but assures man of ease and comfort accompanying every hardship and misery “So, surely with hardship comes ease” (Quran 94:5).

The Quran leaves it to the discretion of its believers to seek help and comfort from God in whatever condition they are and this assurance has great therapeutic and corrective effect. The Quranic assurance is “and when (O Messenger) my servants ask about me, then surely I am near: I answer the prayer of the suppliant when he prays to me”.

Let’s turn to the next major stressor in our lives and that is the issue of career, job security, sustainable livelihood and aggregate of all issues pertaining to our future. We are often, too much overburdened by our naive conjectures about the future that we miserably and pathetically end up messing up our present. In the quest of what we want, we undermine what we have and instead of benefiting and relishing from resources at our disposal, we spoil our life with untenable worries about the future. How does Islam help us neutralize this anxiety and what attitude does our religion command of in these cases. Quran categorically informs us of the fact that “Satan threatens you with poverty and orders you to commit evil, whereas Allah promises you forgiveness from himself and bounty” (2:268). Satan, as man’s eternal enemy he is, tries to wane us away from the  mercy and bounties of Allah, by planting in our hearts the seeds of uncertainty, apprehension, fear of poverty and illness and thus makes us subordinate to his nefarious designs.

But God, our creator and sustainer, commands us of hope and thankfulness, optimism and joy. A Hadith-i-Qudsi informs us to keep our limbs in action and our hearts at peace when confronted with issues of livelihood and prosperity in worldly life. The exemplary life of Prophet Muhammad (saw) and his companions vividly demonstrates this facet of putting all hope in God and simultaneously harnessing material causes to their end. Theirs’ was a life of unceasing thanksgiving and satisfaction, despite the availability of minimum worldly resources at their disposal and sometimes even absence of the means of livelihood. What conferred them with this satiety and composure in the face of fierce turbulence and what multiplies our anxieties and depression, despite the availability of resources at our disposal.

The difference lies in the fact that the Prophet (PBUH) and his companions knew that they are responsible and accountable only for their efforts and actions and handed over final results, success or failure, to God, the almighty. Whereas we, as people, think that we are both the agents of action and the result, despite knowing and observing more frequently that results, successes and failures are beyond our control. How can we be at peace with ourselves and with the world at large when we place on our shoulders the responsibility that doesn’t legitimately belong to our domain, because we now know and then despite our best efforts, results will not always be in our favour, for they are beyond our jurisdiction? Please don’t read these lines as something advocating inaction, pessimism and a scapegoat to justify our lazy and negative habits. The intent is just to orient the reader from his focus on results to his vigour and persistence of efforts. That is why we see the Prophet (PBUH) and his companions actively engaged with life and its affairs, sometimes trading, sometimes preaching, sometimes fighting and sometimes just seeking help from God.

Their belief in the fact that God is the harbinger of all results didn’t dissuade them from action, but it certainly blessed them with peace and tranquillity, so necessary to accomplish any mission. If we can abide by their examples, we will surely conquer the obstacles of life, if on the other hand we abide by anxiety, misplaced worries and concern about affairs, beyond our ken, we are surely to bitterness in our life. True, all  these conditions are, at times, inevitable , but positivity and hope in the face of these challenges is the only panacea one can afford.

Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer 

  • The author is a writer and columnist 

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Amir Suhail Wani

The author is a writer and columnist

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