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The Physical and the Spiritual are One. 

The rich heritage of mental health in Islam dates back to the Islamic Golden age. We often talk about the advancements of science and humanities, however,  we don’t often talk about mental health and just how profound and illuminating the field of psychology was at that time. Golden age scholars have a very sophisticated and modern understanding of mental health. This adeptness was inspired by the saying of the Prophet PBU, “if God put an ailment on earth he also put a cure.” One scholar, in particular, had astute and very yielding discoveries, Abu Zayd al Balkhi author of The Sustenance of the Soul. His work on Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, OCD, is the earliest account of this illness. The earliest description of OCD in the Western world was not until the 17th century, Abu Zayd’s work was is in the 9th century. He was able to classify it, referring to it as he refers to it as Waswas, whispering of the self, and also diagnose and treat it effectively. What he described to diagnose OCD meets every criterion for diagnosing and treating the illness today. He was also the first person to bring forward the concept of exposure therapy, also known as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. When Muslims say psychotherapy treatments are not for them, they may be unaware that in fact psychotherapy was and is a part of our heritage and should not be seen as taboo. The Uma may only see mental health as a spiritual problem when often there is a physical explanation for mental health issues. As such, people suffering from mental issues should be treated and cared for spiritually and physically.

Photo by Sunguk Kim

“My Lord! Enrich me with knowledge..” (Quran, 20:114)

What is it that propelled the Islamic scholars to look for these understandings, it is the verses of the Quran and the sayings of the prophet that refer to those with mental turbulence and ask that we are kind to them and that we feed them properly. We must seek knowledge, as it is an obligation upon all believers, knowledge not just about the world but also about the human being inside of each of us. 

“Whosoever knows himself knows his Lord.”– Prophet Muhammad PBU

So what happened to the rigorous study of the human mind in Islamic tradition? There was a decline period after the golden age, fighting colonialism and other ideas imposed onto the Islamic community that was not its original state. Slowly, we moved towards cultural ideas of mental illness that emphasized jinn and/or black magic. It is important that we remember our roots and feel not ashamed to investigate, learn, understand our minds for it is an important part of our deen.

photo by Zahid Lilani

“Reflection is the lamp of the heart. If it departs, the heart will have no light.” – Abd Allah ibn Alawi Attas

Despite the decline in mental health studies, the lasting effect of the Muslim scholars’ work has preceded them. Today we can see so many overlaps in our tradition and modern-day psychology. DMT (N, N-Dimethyltryptamine) is a hallucinogenic tryptamine chemical that occurs naturally in all humans, plants, and animals. It is also referred to as the “spirit molecule”. It has been shown to be produced in meditation which is associated with a sense of freedom and peace, helping people to feel less stress, anxiety, and depression. Meditation is used in many psychology circles as a tool for people with mental illness to access a sense of peace within themselves and the world around them, as well as overall reflection. Today studies show the same molecule activated in meditation is also activated in humans when they perform salat and/or pray to God in general. The mind, body, and soul connection is made clear on a molecular level. All three of these elements need our care to create a balanced and healthy life. 

“And He is with you wherever you are”– Quran (57:4).  

photo by Cristifer Maximilian

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues encourage them to seek help from a qualified professional. In Islam, we know, our mind, body, and spirit are interconnected in are meant to be in harmony with one another. Let the Uma take care of each other, go easy on each other and take solace in the knowledge that Al-Hakim, the All-Wise, has created every moment in our lives for a reason, with the promise that one day it will all make sense.