Saadia Z. Yunus
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist
As I sat across from my client as she was narrating to me the power a specific prayer had, I realized something profound: A closeness to God and feeling His presence in dark times can assist us in overcoming challenging situations. The closeness can provide a sense of calm, that the omnipotent Creator is ever watchful over what is happening and is taking care of us. As my client described the positive impact that simply reciting this particular prayer had on her, I was certain that this connection to prayer was a valuable resource in her life and could be a strong handhold for others as well.
The connection between religion and mental health has been discussed in detail in the literature. Research published in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry in 2013 discusses the positive relationship between religion and mental health. For instance, a person’s religiousness is related to decreased use of alcohol and drugs. Depending on a person’s religious commitment, these factors affect longevity since suicide rates and even suicidal ideation are lower in religious people. The overwhelming conclusion of these studies is that spirituality can be a significantly positive mental health resource, particularly in times of great distress.
For Muslims, knowing that God is with us is a strong anchor in trying times. Not only does He reassure us that He is with us, but He also informs us that we have the strength to bear what we are enduring: “God does not burden any human being with more than he is well able to bear…” (Quran 2:286). This promise reassures us that God knows our strengths and capabilities and only gives us what we have the capacity to endure and overcome. Remembering these words and recognizing God’s presence in difficult times, such as a death in the family, the loss of a job, an anxiety attack, an illness, etc. assist us in overcoming these challenges. Internally, a switch goes on that we are not alone in our distress and there is an all-powerful being carrying us through. The strength that follows such a belief gives a person the ability to overcome.
God reminds us in the Quran that “those who believe, and whose hearts find satisfaction in the remembrance of God: for without doubt in the remembrance of God do hearts find satisfaction” (Quran 13:28). That remembrance of God is a source of comfort during times of agitation, distress, worry, and physical and emotional pain. It does not always appear so easily, such as turning to spirituality instead of vices when we are depressed or anxious, but practical steps can lead to the awareness of him and bring ease to distressed hearts. Examples of these include praying, taking a few deep breaths, journaling, meditating, yoga, and even something as simple as taking a hot bath.
The key is to remember Him within the difficulty for that is what will make the test lighter to bear. When we remember God’s words of ”surely, with every difficulty, there is relief” (Quran 94:6), we are reminded of the ease within the hardships. This can shift our focus to gratitude, which is the first brick in the building of contentment. Writer, Amy Morin, in her piece titled, 7 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude, states that “gratitude reduces a multitude of toxic emotions, from envy and resentment to frustration and regret.” These facts are based on studies conducted by Robert Emmons, Ph.D., a researcher on gratitude. His research uncovers how gratitude lessens depression and increases happiness. Gratitude, a concept Islam encourages as well, is a driving force towards contentment. God says, “Be thankful to God: whoever gives thanks benefits his own soul” (Quran 31:12).
Healthy Us, Healthy Me
As a marriage and family therapist, I am a systems thinker, so even when I am working with an individual, I view the larger picture: mainly, the relationships individuals are a part of. Each relationship we are in impacts who we are as individuals. If we are in a healthy relationship, it leads to our individual happiness. If we are in an unhealthy relationship, it will subsequently be detrimental to our individual mental health. There are a plethora of studies and articles that discuss the importance of healthy relationships and their effects on individuals. One research study performed at the University of Cambridge found that people in healthy relationships have a 50% greater likelihood of survival than those who are not. Another study conducted at the University of Michigan in 2013 discovered that those who are in unhealthy relationships are more likely to suffer from depression. These studies and many more address the correlation between mental health and unhealthy/healthy relationships that are too vital for us to ignore. Having support can influence our mental health by offering support in times of stress, suffering, and grief, reducing the impact of anxiety and depressive thinking.
Islam emphasizes the importance of relationships, keeping the ties of kinship, being kind to one another, forgiveness, and so much more that contribute to healthy relationships and a healthy overall state of mental health. If we are God-conscious in every relationship, it can make a beneficial impact on the health of that relationship and thus make a favorable ripple effect on our internal state of being.
One relationship that makes a significant impact on our lives is the one with our parents and, as parents, the one we have with our children. God says in the Quran: “And your Lord has decreed that you not worship except Him, and to parents, good treatment. Whether one or both of them reach old age [while] with you, say not to them [so much as] ‘uff’ and do not repel them but speak to them a noble word. And lower to them the wing of humility out of mercy and say: ‘My Lord! Have mercy upon them as they brought me up [when I was] small.” (Quran 17:23-24). These are essential reminders to all children to maintain a respectful and positive relationship with their parents. A healthy relationship with one’s parents contributes to one’s positive state of mind. With this constant awareness of God’s reminder, kindness and respect will encompass the relationship and it will be an atmosphere of positivity.
In addition to the parent/child relationship, a healthy marriage is also vital to one’s psychological well-being. Being in a loving, respectful relationship allows a person to excel in his/her personal life as well: “..And one of His signs is that He created mates for you from yourselves that you may find rest in them and He put between you love and compassion; most surely there are signs in this for a people who reflect” (Quran 30:21). With the entire household encompassing love and mercy, it will aid in the happiness of each individual. To keep the atmosphere of the home full of compassion, Dr. John Gottman, relationship expert, and researcher, says there needs to be a 5:1 ratio of positive statements vs. negative statements. When couples aim to speak more positively with one another, they will contribute to a happier home.
Although living a God-conscious life can contribute to a healthy internal state of being, it is essential to recognize one’s limitations. It is necessary to reach out to a mental health professional when difficulties become too challenging to manage, whether in relationships or as an individual. Seeking help from a mental health professional in no way implies that a person is weak, has weak faith, or is incapable of making decisions on their own. It is important to work through all negative assumptions about therapy and counseling so we are not holding ourselves back from seeking the help we truly need.
There are many places in the Quran and Ahadith (sayings and actions of the Prophet Muhammad upon whom be peace) that discuss our mental health and the importance of taking care of it. The Prophet (pbuh) said, ‘There is no disease that God has created except that He also has created its treatment’ (Hadith). When we think of disease, we immediately think of the physical ailments, but this includes mental health illnesses as well. God did not leave us alone to deal with difficulties, but He provided us with many avenues of healing to aid us in our lives.
We end this article with a positive reminder from God, the source of all strength and hope: “There has come to you from God a light and a luminous Book, through which God, by His grace, guides all who seek His good pleasure on the path of peace, and brings them out of the depths of darkness into light and guides them unto a Straight Path” (Quran 5:15-16).
Feeling low and looking for happiness in life? Call 877-WhyIslam to learn more or get a free Quran.
Saadia Z. Yunus, MA, LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist, motivational speaker, and community leader.