An active faith life can significantly improve mental health. I’ve found this to be true from my experience as a lifelong Muslim, an Imam with experience as a therapist, and a member of an organization for Muslims in recovery. Many people credit their recovery from addiction and other mental health issues to God and the support of a religious community.
Each religion also has a unique contribution to make to conversations about addiction and mental illness. Islam contains at least four basic truths or lessons that can be a source of healing and comfort to people affected by these disorders….
1. Addiction and Mental Illness Don’t Discriminate
Anyone can suffer from mental illness, regardless of their faith or religion. There can be a tendency in religious circles, Islam included, to think it’s a sign of weakness to suffer from addiction or other mental health issues. This stigmatization isn’t helpful because it can keep people from seeking medical help. (Learn how treatment is helping people recover from drug addiction at FHE Health.)
The truth is that mental illness is a disorder of the brain. Being a believer— (in any faith tradition)—doesn’t mean you can’t suffer from depression or anxiety. Nobody is immune to mental illness just because of a particular religious identity, faith tradition, or even an especially strong devotion to God or Allah.
2. The Importance of Both the Spiritual and the Practical
Belief in God’s provision must make room for medical treatment. The prophet Muhammad said, “Trust in Allah but tie your camel.” What he meant was that living a spiritual life in communion with God should not be an escape from or denial of the practical needs of daily life. The spiritual is important, but so is the practical. By extension, if you have a mental health issue, pray and trust in Allah but also act to get the problem addressed.
We can’t just “pray” certain things a way. Most of us know, for example, that if we have a serious medical condition we should get it treated by consulting a doctor and following their advice. The same needs to be true for mental health disorders like anxiety or depression. They are medical conditions that today are thankfully treatable much of the time.
3. Comfort From Meditation on Allah’s Nature and Attributes
Meditating on the perfection and goodness of Allah can be comforting. In Arabic, we use the term “Allah” to describe the God we worship. “Allah” conveys perfection that supersedes all forms of perfection beyond our human imagination. There is no higher or more perfect being than Allah.
We speak of Allah as One who is above the superlative degree. Allah is to the “infinitive” degree. By that we mean that Allah is greater than any power. Allah is the Creator of all things and the only One who can make something out of nothing.
Allah the Incomparable One cannot be adulterated. Whereas you can take an integer and fractionalize it, Allah is indivisible. This belief can be traced all the way back to Islam’s origins with the prophet Muhammad. At the time, people were getting into polytheism. Islam grew out of a desire for purification: It was a return to the One True God.
This One True God has 99 attributes. They help to describe Allah’s goodness. Allah is the Most Merciful, the Source of Peace, the Most Bountiful, the Most Honorable, the Most Holy, and the list of adjectives goes on. In times of anxiety or depression, it can be comforting to reflect on Allah’s goodness and encouraging to remember that Allah knows and sees everything we’re going through.
4. Peace From Submission to Allah and the Law
Daily submission to Allah and the law can bring peace and tranquility. If you want peace, you connect yourself with the Source of Peace. In Islam, the word for tranquility is “sakinah” and is born out of the word for “peace be to you” in Arabic.
We can find this peace and tranquility through remembrance of the law and doing those things that are obligatory (“fard” in Arabic). For example, we are obligated to pray five times a day and to follow the rituals that accompany prayers. When I’m in this prayer mode, it is not just me praying but my whole body stopping to pray; I must wash myself, face the East, and make sure everything is clean.
This act of worship is also a form of meditation and can be very calming. It is a reminder that Allah is watching, so it brings a very strong sense of peace, love, devotion, and hope. If you have these things in your heart, that’s how you get high.
Peace is an outgrowth of submission to Allah and the Law of Allah. Submission can be defined as doing everything you can to please God. This posture of submission affects our beliefs, actions, and character. It affects everything that we have and do. And because the Law is so detailed, it can provide relief from anxiety about whether we are living according to Allah’s perfectly good will for us. We can know that we are pleasing Allah. In fact, Allah is so beautiful in His perfect mercy that He has arranged that if we do just one good deed, that one good deed will take 10 bad deeds out of our account.
While not an exhaustive list, these four mental health lessons from Islam can be a source of peace, comfort, and help for people who may be facing addiction or mental illness. Ultimately, Islam allows us to see the problem and understand it as it really is—then take responsibility to address it. If we need some help, we must ask for help to get to the root of the problem.
Jory Kareem is an Imam in Boca Raton, Florida. He has served as a therapist and in other roles at the national behavioral health provider FHE Health.