by Muhammad Nadeem

The Quran promotes good mental health by encouraging faith, patience, gratitude, justice and seeking knowledge. It reassures believers that with hardship comes ease and that God does not burden any soul beyond its capacity.

Nafs in Islam is beyond the psyche in the modern medicine.

Islam places great emphasis on mental health and well-being. The Quran and Hadith guide maintaining good mental health, understanding mental illnesses, and caring for those suffering from mental health issues. Early Muslim scholars made remarkable contributions to the field of psychiatry and psychology. Their works show an integrated approach to mental health that combines spirituality, ethics, medicine, philosophy, and science.

The Quranic Foundations

Several verses in the Quran speak about the importance of sound mental faculties. One verse states “Do not give the weak-minded your property” (Quran 4:5), indicating the necessity of mental capacity for managing one’s affairs. Preservation of mental abilities is considered one of the five major objectives of Islamic law, along with the preservation of religion, life, family, and wealth. Anything seen as impairing mental faculties, like intoxication, is discouraged.

The Quran promotes good mental health by encouraging faith, patience, gratitude, justice and seeking knowledge. It reassures believers that with hardship comes ease (Quran 94:5-6) and that God does not burden any soul beyond its capacity (Quran 2:286). Such teachings aim to strengthen spirituality, instil hope and meaning, and moderate difficult emotions. The five daily prayers and remembrance of God are forms of meditation that calm the mind. Islam prohibits extremes in behaviour and promotes balance, moderation, and self-control, which contribute to mental wellbeing.

In various Hadiths, Prophet Muhammad highlights the interaction between mental and physical health. He stated “There is no disease that Allah has created, except that He also has created its treatment.” (Sahih Al-Bukhari) This spurred Muslims to seek cures for ailments both physical and mental. The Prophet instructed people to seek treatment, saying “Make use of medical treatment, for Allah has not made a disease without appointing a remedy for it, except one disease –old age” (Sunan Abi Dawud). He also said “God has sent down both the disease and the cure, and He has appointed a cure for every disease, so treat yourselves medically” (Sunan Abi Dawud). Such guidance paved the way for advancements in mental health care.

The Prophet encouraged good hygiene and health practices, like eating nutritious foods, getting adequate sleep and exercise. He fasted regularly, which current research links to improved cognitive function and enlightening mood. He prohibited behaviours now known to negatively impact mental health, like alcohol and substance abuse. His teachings aimed to alleviate distress, as he said “No fatigue, nor disease, nor sorrow, nor sadness, nor hurt, nor distress befalls a Muslim, even if it were the prick he receives from a thorn, but that Allah expiates some of his sins for that” (Sahih al-Bukhari). The Prophetic tradition provides a holistic framework for promoting mental well-being.

Early Muslim Scholars

Between the eighth and fourteenth centuries CE, Muslim scholars made advances in understanding mental health, disorders and treatments. Their contributions integrated science, medicine, philosophy and religion, reflecting a holistic outlook.

The renowned scholar Al-Balkhi (tenth century) highlighted the interaction between the mind and body in his work Sustenance for Body and Soul. He noted that physical illnesses like fever can impact mental faculties, while psychological afflictions like depression can manifest physically. This mind-body connection is now well-established in modern psychiatry and psychology. Centuries before Western thinkers, Muslim scholars recognised that a person is composed of integrated, mutually influencing psychological and physiological dimensions.

In medical encyclopaedias like Ibn Sina’s Canon of Medicine and Al-Razi’s Comprehensive Book of Medicine, Muslim physicians described a range of mental illnesses. They provided detailed accounts of symptoms, causes, prognosis and treatments. Mental disorders were classified into two broad categories: psychoses and neuroses. Psychoses like dementia were seen as connected to biological factors and treated somatically. Neuroses like anxiety and depression were linked to emotional factors and treated with psychotherapy. This parallels modern psychiatric classification systems like the DSM. By systematically documenting mental illnesses based on clinical experience, early Muslim scholars advanced psychiatric understanding.

Institutional Care

The first psychiatric hospitals emerged in the Muslim world in the eighteenth century. They provided moral and humane treatment of the mentally ill, who were not shackled or isolated like in other cultures at the time. Hospitals had amenities like flowing fountains, perfumes, music and recreation to soothe patients. They were well-funded by the government and welcomed visitation by families. This integration into society was unique globally. Muslim physicians recognised institutional care was necessary for serious mental illnesses, while also seeking to normalise mental health issues.

Muslim doctors use a combination of somatic and psychotherapeutic treatments for mental health problems. Medications included herbs, essential oils and tinctures to balance and treat symptoms. Non-pharmacological approaches like cognitive therapy, behaviour modification, Quran recitation therapy, occupational therapy and counselling were also employed. Muslim scholars wrote about changing negative thought patterns, training desires, controlling anger and developing moral virtues as ways to alleviate psychological distress. Patients were given individualised treatment (now an emerging sunrise sector in pharmacology) plans addressing mind, body and spirit. This holistic approach aligns with biopsychosocial models in modern psychiatry.

Classical Islamic literature approached mental health from diverse angles – medical, philosophical, moral and spiritual. Muslim scholars recognise humans have physiological, cognitive, emotional, social and religious dimensions interacting in complex ways. They sought to understand mental phenomena using both revelation and reason. Mental well-being was seen to require balance across humour, rational thinking, morals and spirituality. This profoundly integrative outlook combines timeless Islamic wisdom with centuries of scholarly experience and observation. It provides a framework addressing mental health promotion, illness prevention and treatment from multiple dimensions.

Modern psychiatry and psychology have made huge advances, but still face many challenges like stigma, lack of access and ineffective treatments. The Islamic tradition’s holistic view of humans provides a valuable lens. It calls for addressing mental health at individual, social and spiritual levels together. Integrating Islamic ethics and spirituality could help enhance culturally competent care for Muslim patients. Therapies incorporating Islamic practices like supplication, remembrance and Quran recitation may provide added benefit. The integrative methods of classical Muslim scholars are a largely untapped resource. Their rich heritage in mental health could help improve care, especially for underserved Muslim populations.

Practical Approach

Mental health is an integral part of overall health and well-being. In Islam, caring for our mental health is part of religious duty to honour the gift of life that God has given us. Seeking professional help and treatment for mental health difficulties should be seen as an act of faith and worship, not a sign of weakness.

Islam offers profound spiritual resources that can aid in strengthening mental health when combined with professional clinical care.

In Islam, mental health is closely tied to the concept of purification and development of the nafs (self or psyche). The Quran describes the nafs as operating at different levels, such as the regretful self (nafs al-lawwama) and the peaceful self (nafs al-mutma’inna). Difficulties with mental health are viewed as arising when our nafs is spiritually unhealthy.

The Prophet Muhammad recognised the validity of psychological distress and the need for treatment. He made dua: “O Allah, I seek refuge in You from worry and grief, from incapacity and laziness, from cowardice and stinginess, and overpowering debt and being overpowered by others.” This shows the Prophet’s understanding of the different types of mental and emotional struggles that people go through. His supplication indicates that he acknowledged these difficulties and turned to God to seek relief from them.

Seeking professional help is encouraged and pursuing medical and professional assistance for health conditions, including mental health difficulties, is recommended in Islam.

Spirituality and Mental Health

Modern research has demonstrated the benefits of spirituality for mental health. Studies show that higher levels of religiosity and spiritual practices correlate with better mental health outcomes. For example, a meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Psychiatry looked at over 3,300 research studies and found that religiosity and spirituality were associated with less depression, anxiety, suicide attempts, and substance abuse. The researchers concluded that this data supports integrating spirituality into patient care.

The positive impact of spirituality likely arises from several factors. Faith provides meaning and purpose in life, instilling hope during difficult times. Believing in a higher power leads to greater perceived control over life’s stressors. Spiritual practices such as meditation, prayer, and reading scripture promote relaxation and mental calm. Involvement in a faith community provides social support and a sense of belonging. All of these benefits contribute to strengthening mental health and resilience.

The Quran and teachings of Prophet Muhammad offer spiritual resources that can aid in recovery when combined appropriately with clinical care overseen by a professional. Some beneficial practices include:

Salah: Performing the five daily prayers provides a structure and rhythm to our days. Taking time out to connect spiritually helps relieve anxiety and depression. The regularity of the prayers also instils discipline. For those suffering from mental illness, reasonable accommodations can be made to prayers depending on one’s situation and abilities. The goal is spiritual nourishment rather than strictly adhering to every physical aspect.

Dhikr: Engaging in remembrance of God through reciting phrases such as Subhan Allah, Alhamdulillah, and Allahu Akbar serves to calm the mind and uplift the spirit. In one study, Malaysian university students who recited dhikr showed significant reductions in stress levels. The meditative repetition directs our focus towards the Divine.

Du’a: Humbling one’s self through personal prayer and supplication allows the expression of our innermost feelings and needs directly to God. This strengthens our sense of connection to the Divine, the ultimate source of peace. Pouring our hearts out to the MostMerciful provides comfort.

Quran: Reciting or listening to the Holy Book, especially during times of distress, can provide solace and guidance. The linguistic beauty and profound meanings of its verses have a soothing effect. Numerous verses describe God’s mercy, which gives hope.

Islam offers a balanced approach to mental health that integrates religious and clinical treatment modalities. God has provided a cure for every illness. Additionally, the Quran and Sunnah equip Muslims with profound spiritual tools that can complement evidence-based therapies. With professional guidance, practising spiritual self-care such as salah, dhikr, and dua can aid Muslims on their journey towards improved mental health and well-being, God-willing.

(Ideas are personal)


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