It is not uncommon to hear some Muslims say: “A Muslim cannot be afflicted by depression” or “Depression is the result of weak faith; all you need to do is pray more.” To justify this stance, some people use āyāt such as the following:
إِنَّ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ وَأَقَامُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَآتَوُا الزَّكَاةَ لَهُمْ أَجْرُهُمْ عِندَ رَبِّهِمْ وَلَا خَوْفٌ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَا هُمْ يَحْزَنُونَ1
Indeed, those who believe, do good, establish prayer, and pay alms-tax will receive their reward from their Lord, and there will be no fear for them, nor will they grieve.
, however, was understood by the early Muslims to refer to the state of the believer in the hereafter. For example, Imam al-Ṭabarī mentions that “there is no fear for the believers in the hereafter; God is pleased with them and He grants them salvation and grace, nor will they grieve over what they missed out on in this world.”2
Ibn Kathīr agrees with al-Ṭabarī; he says, “The believers are not scared of what is to come on the Day of Resurrection nor do they experience sorrow over what they left behind in the world.”3
This world, however, is a place of trials and tests,4
and the believers are told in the Qur’an to expect tribulations in their wealth and within themselves (i.e., their health),5
with some fear, famine, and loss of property, life, and crops.6
We are also told that we will be tested in the pleasures of life and through gains.7
These tests apply to all of humanity, including to the best of us (the prophets). In fact, the Prophet ﷺ taught us that God tests those He loves the most, to strengthen them and to cultivate tenacity, resilience, and gratitude within them.
Sa‘d said that when the Prophet ﷺ was asked which people experienced the greatest trials he replied, “The prophets, then those who follow their path, then those who follow them. A human is afflicted in proportion to their faith; if they are firm in their faith, their trial is increased, but if there is weakness in their faith, their trial is made lighter for them, and this continues until they walk on the earth [almost] having no sin.”8
The prophets (whose faith and trust in Allah is unmatched) experienced and acknowledged intense emotional challenges.9
Part of the humanity of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ is evidenced by the struggles he endured and how he overcame them. In the resilience he exhibited is a series of lessons for us should we undergo similar challenges. For example, Prophet Muhammad ﷺ experienced sadness so deep during a year-long episode of bereavement that chroniclers coined this period “the year of sadness.” His grief was exacerbated by the immense financial pressure on him and his followers from the Quraysh’s socio-economic boycott. He also felt the pain of the disbelievers’ denial of his message:
فَلَعَلَّكَ بَاخِعٌ نَّفْسَكَ عَلَىٰ آثَارِهِمْ إِن لَّمْ يُؤْمِنُوا بِهَٰذَا الْحَدِيثِ أَسَفًا10
Perhaps, then, will you [O Prophet] grieve yourself to death over their denial, if they [continue to] disbelieve in this message.
Importantly, Allah (SWT) urged him to take steps to manage this grief:
فَلَا تَذْهَبْ نَفْسُكَ عَلَيْهِمْ حَسَرَاتٍ11
So do not grieve yourself to death over them [O Prophet].
Part of managing the grief in his life involved embracing and acknowledging his emotions. While watching his son Ibrāhīm take his last breaths, Prophet Muhammad ﷺ demonstrated the importance of being careful with one’s words and focusing on coming to terms with reality and accepting the will of Allah (SWT) with contentment and healing. With tears flowing down his blessed checks, he said:
إن العين تدمع والقلب يحزن، ولا نقول إلا ما يرضي ربنا، وإنا لفراقك يا إبراهيم لمحزونون12
Indeed, the eyes shed tears and the heart feels sorrow. Yet, we do not say anything except that which is pleasing to our Lord. Your departure, O Ibrahim, surely leaves us all deeply saddened.
He also taught a holistic approach to healing, including accessing spiritual remedies (such as mindful remembrance of Allah,13
cognitive reframing in light of Allah’s Divine Will,14
and special supplications for anxiety and sadness),15
regulating our emotions,16
and taking good care of our bodies.17
However, he did not stop there.
When one of ʿĀʾishah’s (RAA) family members would pass away, she would gather her close relatives and friends and ask for a pot of talbīnah
(a soup made by adding milk and honey to dried barley powder) and some tharīd
(a dish made from meat and bread) to be cooked. She would then tell them, “Eat of it, for I heard Allah's Messenger ﷺ saying, ‘Talbīnah
soothes the heart of the patient and relieves some of his sadness.’”18
In these instances, ʿĀʾishah (RAA) recognized that her loved ones were suffering from grief and offered them a physical, medical treatment for emotional distress. She was also known to use talbīnah
to treat anxiety and grief-induced psychosis. It should be noted here that talbīnah
was considered by the Prophet’s contemporaries to be a form of healing with some medicinal benefits to be used in conjunction with spiritual remedies—illustrating the holistic nature of Islamic healing. Describing talbīnah
, the Prophet ﷺ said, “It strengthens the heart of the bereaved person, and removes [some of] the sorrow within the heart of the ill person, similar to how one of you removes dust from their face by washing their face with water.”19
Although talbīnah can be categorized as a form of naturopathic medicine, the Prophet ﷺ encouraged the companions to seek all forms of treatments available to them:
20تَدَاوَوْا عِبَادَ اللَّهِ، فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ لَمْ يَضَعْ دَاءً إِلَّا وَضَعَ مَعَهُ شِفَاءً إِلَّا الْهَرَمَ
Seek cures, O servants of God, for God has placed a cure for every ailment that He has allowed, except for old-age/death.
This Prophetic tradition, among others, is said to have encouraged early Muslim researchers to go out and look for medical solutions available to them, catalyzing the formation of Islamic medicine (which also included aspects of Galenic medicine) as well as al-ṭibb al-nabawī
(Prophetic medicine, a distinct displine based on Prophetic sayings and remedies).21
In this way, the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ laid the groundwork for what would become a rich Islamic tradition of caring for mental health in the generations that came after him.22
It is important to add here that Muslims often delay seeking medical treatments because they attribute mental health problems to different phenomena, including the evil eye (ḥasad
), possession by supernatural entities such as demons (jinn
), and magic (siḥr
Many Muslim scholars (e.g., Ibn Taymiyyah) assert that these are real phenomena that can impact mental and spiritual health. However, “not all mental health problems are associated with supernatural causes.”24
As noted above, the Prophetic framing encourages Muslims to seek spiritual, psychological, and medicinal forms of healing that are available to them.