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Muslims and the stigma of mental health issues

When reading the Qur’an one can take many narratives and focus on that narrative. If one is looking for rules in which to live by then the Qur’an can be used. One narrative that is extremely personal is that of the Prophet. If we take all the verses dealing with the personal state of the Prophet, it makes for intriguing reading. The Prophet’s most joyous and most melancholy moments are captured in the Qur’an. The most common and for today’s narrative the most important is the Prophet’s state of mind. If we pay attention to the Qur’an, the reader, can get a sense of The Prophet’s struggles with his state of mind.

[pullquote] it was necessary for Allah to comfort the Prophet and reassure him that he was not “a mad man”.[/pullquote]In ayat two of Surah Qalam, Allah says “You are not [O Muhammad] by the favor of your Lord, a mad man”. Given what was happening in the Prophet’s life, it was necessary for Allah to comfort the Prophet and reassure him that he was not “a mad man”. In this ayat, Allah is addressing the Prophet directly, unlike ayat twenty two of Surah Takwir, where He address the early Muslims not the Prophet himself, saying “And [O people] your companion [Muhammad] is not a madman”.  Seeing that Allah addressed both Muslims and the Prophet about him “not being a mad man”, it appears to be significant.

When receiving the first few revelations, the Prophet believed that he had indeed gone mad. Hearing and seeing revelations is not a normal occurrence and one that needs explanation. As the Prophet came to realize his prophethood and spread the message, naturally there was resistance. The Meccans would send messengers to travel the roads leading to Mecca, in order to warn of “a mad man who sees and hears things.” As The Prophet began to doubt his very sanity, Allah comforted him by assuring him  that “ you are not, by the favor of your Lord, a mad man.”

Focusing on ayats 1-3 of Surah Duha and focusing on what was happening to the Prophet during what is known as “The Period of Silence”. From the first revelation of “read in the name of your Lord”, The Prophet would be revealed short ayats and surahs. And one day the revelations would suddenly stop. Imagine the confusion that The Prophet faced and the internal and external criticism. This time was so unbearable that the angel Gabriel who appeared only to assure the Prophet, that in fact, he was a prophet, after which no revelation followed. When The Prophet was at his lowest and self doubt was weighing the Prophet down for, as some scholars says two years, a revelation came.

“By the morning light. By the night when it is still. Your Lord has not forsaken you. Nor is He displeased”  Surah Duha 1-3

Allah reminds us in the Qur’an that all the Prophets were labeled mad men, magicians, and soothsayers by their peers. This is a constant narrative, in all religious texts, of Prophets being rejected. The question is, how do Muslims today handle this issue of mental health? How do Muslims deal with depression, anxiety, and even schizophrenia? It is common for mental issues to be dismissed as simply a lack of religion. Muslims have made major strides in medicine when it comes to diagnosis and treatment of physical ailments. No longer are headaches thought to be jinn trapped inside our heads trying to escape.

The stigma placed on mental illness, especially in the Muslim community has been unchanging since the sixth century. Allah, in The Qur’an acknowledges mental stability and mental health but, we are not told how to cure or approach it. The current approach of pointing to jinn or lack of religion is an outdated approach. As we have allowed advancement in physical health and prevention, we should also be able to do the same with mental health. We live in an age where social workers, therapists, psychologists, and other human service workers are available. The fact these workers are available are only useful if the stigma in utilizing their services is chipped away. Using these services is not a turn away from Allah or Islam but, a step towards a healthy lifestyle. These services paired with a healthy relationship with Islam knows no limit to success. It is the job of Muslims to move past the fog of dishonor hovering over mental illness and be in constant search for the clear skies of an overall healthy lifestyle.

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