How does Islam nourish our emotional well-being?
Islam provides a sense of purpose and emotional fulfillment through attachment to God. Spirituality and religiosity are also associated with better mental health and have been identified as essential aspects of preventing and treating mental illness.
Islamic spirituality provides ultimate purpose and meaning to human life—two aspects central to human flourishing and maintaining a healthy emotional state. At Islam’s core is the concept of servitude, surrender, and submission to the Divine. And, in doing so, we are, counterintuitively presented with the opportunity to attain true freedom and liberation from the shackles of this world.
The freedom and relief that comes from this surrender through worship has been shown to have profound effects on the brain. Through daily prayer (salah), supplication (du’a), and God’s remembrance (dhikr), we are provided with constant sources of protection and avenues for therapeutic relief. Within the idea of submission is also the notion of Divine Destiny (qadar)—the belief that everything that happens to us is part of God’s just, wise, and compassionate plan. This shifts our thinking from agonizing over questions like “Why Me?” or “What did I do to deserve this?” to more self-empowering frameworks that offer hope, a deepened sense of God-consciousness, and solace in the Qur’an.
Through this framework, Islam provides the strongest anchor by which to navigate life: a deep attachment to God.
Does Islam provide guidelines on how to deal with mental illness?
Yes. Various types of mental illness have been discussed by Muslim scholars for centuries. Contemporary scholars recognize the need for both spiritual and clinical treatments to address mental health struggles.
Many Muslim scholars have dedicated their lives to exploring the spiritual and psychological dimensions of human well-being and flourishing—including aspects that would fall under the contemporary classification of mental health.
In the fields of clinical psychology and psychiatry, many practitioners increasingly recognize the role of spirituality as an essential part of both the prevention and treatment of mental illness. A systematic review of multiple studies showed that increased levels of spirituality and religiosity in adolescence correlated with better mental health.
It should be clarified, however, that in discussing the beneficial role that spirituality and psycho-spiritual therapy (such as prayer) can have on mental health and well-being, we do not intend to minimize other forms of treatment. This delicate balance was understood by Muslim scholars centuries before the development of modern psychiatry. For instance, the 14th century scholar Ibn al-Qayyim writes that, “The second category of diseases of the heart are based on emotional states such as anxiety, sadness, depression, and anger. These types of ailment can be treated naturally by treating the cause or with medicine that goes against the cause…and this is because the heart is harmed by what harms the body and vice versa.”
Islamic texts acknowledge the validity of negative emotions and offer guidelines on how to deal with them in a healthy way.
One of the first steps Islam takes in navigating such emotions is to reorient our perspective: The Qur’an reminds us not to allow ourselves to become or remain overly attached to this world and its distractions, and that the pursuit of virtue will lead to ultimate happiness in the Hereafter:
“Wealth and children are the adornments of the life of this world, but that which endures, [such as] righteous deeds, is better in reward with thy Lord, and better [as a source] of hope.”
It is normal to experience sadness and grief (even intensely), and, just as Allah gave us life, He gave us emotions. These emotions can in fact be beneficial and a means of drawing nearer to God if dealt with appropriately.
Muslim scholars have offered a number of practical approaches to addressing these emotions. One such strategy is the Duha Approach, where we can healthily and constructively navigate such feelings (see: Do the Quran and Sunnah offer guidance on how to deal with trauma and pain? below).
What does Islam teach about managing anxiety, depression, and self-doubt?
Islamic teachings validate negative emotions and mindsets, and from these teachings we can derive practical tips to overcome them.
The Qur’an describes human nature as prone to anxiety and fear:
“Truly, man was created anxious; when evil befalls him, fretful; when good befalls him, begrudging, except for those who perform prayer.”
Some practical steps from the Islamic tradition to deal with negative emotions include:
- Practice the sunnah of husn al-dhann (having a good opinion of others). Give others (and yourself!) excuses and try to understand where your thoughts or emotions might be coming from. Also understand that other peoples’ actions may not be a reflection of their feelings towards you, but a reflection of their own negative experiences.
- Recall the Prophet ﷺ and the difficulties he endured compared to your own.
- Remind yourself that there are great blessings and opportunities in difficulties and suffering, and that it is God’s promise that we will be tested by things that may cause us anxiety, grief, a sense of loss, and more:”We will certainly test you with a touch of fear and famine and loss of property, life, and crops. Give good news to those who patiently endure…”
- Lastly, strive to remember that Allah is always with you, even if it feels like the entire world is against you.
Are Muslims punished for hating their life or wanting to end it?
No—even the most pious people experienced moments of despair. But we are also taught not to wish for death and to seek help when we are struggling.
We learn from the Quran that Maryam, the mother of Jesus, asked God to hasten her death while she was giving birth. This is a woman who was among the most pious and noble of people to ever walk the face of the Earth. Even those around the Prophet ﷺ—such as a young man who expressed to him his wish to die—experienced these sorts of thoughts.
However, the Prophet instructed us not to pray for death. He taught, “None of you should wish for death due to a calamity that has afflicted him. Yet if he must do something, let him say: ‘O Allah, keep me alive so long as life is good for me, and cause me to die if death is better for me.’”
In general, we should approach life as something categorically good: The believer is taught not to hate this life, but to instead see it for the profound blessing and gift that it is, and to keep negative things in perspective.
Along the way, do not suffer alone or in silence. There is no shame in seeking help. To reach out for help in this regard does not make you less or worse of a person. If you are seeking help to be healthy and whole, that is in itself a way of honoring the life that God has given to you. It is an act of worship, not an indication that you are a bad person.
If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide or would like emotional support, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or KhalilCenter.com.
Are there Qur’anic prescriptions for coping and distress?
Yes, the Qur’an uses stories to provide relatability and offers coping strategies to feel better about temporary negativity and distress.
The Qur’an tells the stories of many individuals who experienced profound distress and other negative emotions, and provides priceless guidance on how we may overcome these emotions. The Qur’an teaches us that even the greatest of people, from God’s prophets and messengers to saintly men and women, experienced periods of profound distress, grief, or sorrow. We can learn from this that such emotions are a normal part of the human experience. Just as Allah gave us life, He also gave us emotions.
Seeking solace by visualizing the promise of eternal, untainted happiness in Paradise compared with the temporary nature of this life, striving to remember God frequently and engage in dhikr, and turning to God with your complaints and pains in prayer and supplication are all actions inspired by Quranic guidance that help us through negative emotions. Additionally, seeking out the support of groups or trusted individuals (such as grief and bereavement support groups) who have gone through similar experiences may provide needed validation and catharsis.
What is tazkiyah?
Tazkiyah is the process of working to purify the heart and soul.
Muslims use a number of terms to describe the important process of purifying or refining the heart and soul. These terms commonly include, but are not limited to, purification (tazkiyah), purification of the soul (tazkiyyat al-nafs), spiritual excellence (ihsan), and Sufism (tasawwuf). All of these terms point to Islam’s emphasis on striving to attain a refined and purified inward state in harmony with the commands of Allah.
This endeavor is borne out of verses of the Qur’an such as “He has succeeded who purifies his soul, and he has failed who corrupts it” (91:9-10) as well as statements by Prophet Muhammad ﷺ such as, “The faith of a servant is not upright until his heart is upright, and his heart is not upright until his tongue is upright…”
How can one purify their heart and soul?
The steps towards purifying or adorning ourselves with these and other virtues and vices include the practice of exercising mindfulness (muraqabah), repentance (tawba), performing good deeds, and striving to perfect and beautify one’s character (akhlaq). Among the objectives of tazkiyah are to cultivate virtues—such as reverent fear and consciousness of God (taqwa), sincerity, truthfulness and honesty, generosity, forbearance, forgiveness, patience, and modesty—and to remove vices—such as heedlessness, dishonesty, stinginess, envy, shamelessness and indecency.
Are OCD tendencies a result of Satanic whispers?
OCD may be caused by both external (Satanic) and internal (self or biological) sources. Being overcome by excessive thoughts is not a sign of low faith or defectiveness.
Unwanted, obsessive thoughts relating to religiosity are classified as a specific form of OCD known as scrupulosity. This is when a worshipper is preoccupied with religious matters beyond normal limits to such an extent that this preoccupation starts to negatively impact daily functioning.
For Muslims, this is known as waswâs al-qahri (overwhelming whispers)—a complex disorder in which individuals develop intrusive compulsions related to their religious beliefs or acts of worship that become excessive, dysfunctional, and distressful. These thoughts cause cognitive dissonance within and are believed to stem from either internal (self or biological) or external (Satanic) sources.
Being overcome by such excessive thoughts is not a sign of low faith in Islam, nor is it reflective of the individual in any way. The problem is not with the thought itself, but how you cope with it. Those who suffer from waswâs al-qahri require a treatment plan that involves both effective cognitive behavioral therapy with a culturally competent clinician, as well as Islamic interventions with a religious leader (imam) that include cognitive restructuring to reframe unhealthy spiritual beliefs into more positive, healthier ones.
How does the Quran describe happiness? How does one achieve it in Islam?
Happiness through the lens of Islam is of two kinds: Happiness in this world and happiness in the hereafter.
The Qur’an does not disparage the life of this world. God states:
“It is He who created all that is on this earth for you.”
“Eat from what your Lord has provided for you and give Him thanks.”
“Do not neglect your rightful share in this world.”
Thus, while believers enjoy the goods of this world, they work towards the higher goods of the next. Happiness depends on our attitude to this world, and how we live in it. If we are engrossed in the material world and take it as an end in and of itself, we will forget the ultimate purpose of our creation.
According to al-Ghazali, the moderate way of living is like the lives of the Prophets, since it fulfills both the needs of this world and the hereafter:
Know, the happiness of everything—its pleasure, its serenity—indeed the pleasure of everything accords with the needs of its nature. The nature of everything accords with what it has been created for. The eye delights in [seeing] pretty pictures and the ear delights in [hearing] harmonious sounds. Every limb can be described like this. The heart’s distinctive delight is in the knowledge of God, the Most High, because the heart is created from it [divine knowledge].
Do the Quran and Sunnah offer guidance on how to deal with trauma and pain?
The Duha Approach is one example of how our religious tradition offers guidance on dealing with trauma and pain.
This approach is based on the chapter of the Quran known as ad-Duha (The Dawn). This chapter was revealed during a particularly difficult period in the life of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ that was marked by profound sadness and anxiety. By reflecting on the surah and deriving lessons from it, we hope it can serve as a blueprint for how one may overcome and healthily manage things like suffering and trauma. Each of the steps in the Duha Approach mirrors the structure of the chapter itself:
The first step in the Duha Approach is to establish a sense of attachment and connection to Allah. Experiencing hardships or trauma is not necessarily a sign of God hating you, as even the greatest of human beings—such as the Prophet ﷺ—experienced severe difficulties.
The second step is to shift perspective and remind ourselves that no matter what we may be experiencing now, it will pass, just as this world itself will one day pass. The Hereafter and its promises of reward and permanent contentment far outweigh the brief hardships of this world. The chapter then provides an example of what might be similar to a technique in cognitive therapy: seeking to reshape how we view and interpret our current state of affairs. This surah does so by diverting the Prophet’s ﷺ attention away from his present difficulties and instead reminding him of the blessings Allah has bestowed upon him, and of His guidance and care for him. The next step is to take action to better our patterns of behavior and thus our mindsets. And lastly, this approach encourages the cultivation of gratitude. Consistently acknowledging things that are worth being grateful for which can radically improve our general state of being.
How do you deal with negative events?
When faced with the pains and difficulties of this life, we should remember, “No fatigue, nor disease, nor anxiety, nor sadness, nor pain, nor distress befalls a Muslim, even if it were the prick of a thorn, except that God cleanses some of his sins for that.”
Islam does not teach us to view life as a place where only good things happen to good people, and where bad things happen only to bad people (if at all).
In fact, Prophet Muhammad ﷺ teaches us that it is often quite the opposite: “When Allah loves a people He tries them.” He went even further and said that the most severely tested, “[a]re the prophets, then the next best, then the next best…the servant will continue to be put to trial until he is left walking upon the earth without any sin.”
When faced with the pains and difficulties of this life, we should remember these comforting words of the Prophet ﷺ, “No fatigue, nor disease, nor anxiety, nor sadness, nor pain, nor distress befalls a Muslim, even if it were the prick of a thorn, except that Allah cleanses some of his sins for that.” And, “Trials will continue to befall the believing man and woman, with regard to themselves, their children, and their wealth, until they meet Allah with no sins.”
How have Muslims understood the spread of Covid-19?
According to a survey, Muslims viewed Covid-19 as a test, but also found blessings within the constraints of the pandemic.
Yaqeen surveyed a number of Muslims about how they perceive the coronavirus pandemic. The overwhelming majority of respondents believed it to be a major test from God and some degree of divine punishment or reprimand. But more than half also felt, despite the hardships and losses, that they had witnessed blessings that came from this otherwise difficult time.
Without divine revelation, it is ultimately beyond human capacity to declare with certainty the divine intent behind events, including afflictions like the coronavirus pandemic—Muslims are warned not to speak about or on behalf of God without knowledge.
In this respect, we may find wisdom in a conversation that took place between Prophet Muhammad ﷺ and his wife, ‘Aisha. She once asked him about the nature of plagues, to which the Prophet replied:
“It is a punishment that Allah sends upon whomever He wills, but Allah has made it a mercy for the believers. Any servant who resides in a land afflicted by plague, remaining patient and hoping for reward from Allah, knowing that nothing will befall him except what Allah has decreed, will be given the reward of a martyr.”
Are mindfulness and meditation practices permitted in Islam?
Yes, mindfulness and meditation are integral to Islam.
The Prophet ﷺ embodied what it means to be a mindful Muslim. He would frequently retreat to a quiet place of seclusion (Cave Hira) even before receiving the message of Islam. There, he found clarity and refuge. It was during one of these meditative moments that he received the miraculous revelation of the Qur’an.
In Islam, mindfulness and meditation are tied to the concept of muraqabah: a comprehensive form of self-awareness that is deeply intertwined with God-consciousness. It is the idea of living and being in the world as the Divine designed in order to attain true presence and reach higher states of spiritual strength and connectedness, especially in prayer.
Does Islam teach meditation?
Yes, although the Islamic version of meditation may differ from what we typically think of as meditation.
Before we can answer this question, we must first look at how meditation is frequently defined. Meditation is the idea of “continued or extended thought, reflection… devout religious contemplation or spiritual introspection,” derived from the Latin meditatio (“thinking over”). As a general term, meditation linguistically refers to any and all deliberate and directed mental activities. In therapeutic or spiritual practice, different kinds of meditation have been scientifically proven to achieve mindfulness and its associated wellness in everyday life.
Some Muslims are hesitant or skeptical about the word “meditation,” because there are so many different types, some of which are associated with religious beliefs and practices that sometimes contradict Islam. But according to the linguistic sense of the word, Muslims have always practiced several forms of meditation, and through them achieved advanced spiritual states during acts of worship, prayer, and remembrance.
Ibn al-Qayyim, a medieval Islamic theologian, has provided one of the best and most concise explanations of the many meanings of “meditation” in Islam. He states that an integral part of our preparation for the Hereafter is by, “reflecting (tafakkur), remembering (tadhakkur), examining (nadhar), deep consideration (ta’amul), taking lessons (i’tibar), contemplating (tadabbur), and seeking insight (istibsar).” Each of these words represents different shades of mental activity that can be considered forms of meditation.
To learn more about these different components of contemplation, read our paper on the Lost Art of Contemplation by Dr. Zohair Abdul-Rahman.
Is prayer in Islam considered meditation? What are examples of Islamic meditation?
While terms such as “meditation” may evoke certain images and connotations that are not Islamic, Muslims are encouraged (and in some cases obligated) to engage in practices and cultivate inwards states and qualities that could be described as meditative.
These practices include prayer as well as other mindfulness practices such as tafakkur (deliberate contemplation), dhikr (remembrance of God), silence, and muraqaba (mindfulness), among others.
With respect to prayer, Prophet Muhammad ﷺ himself stated that, of all things made beloved to him in life, “the coolness of [his] eyes” or “[his] tranquility” has been placed in prayer. When he felt overwhelmed or troubled, he instinctively and routinely sought refuge in God through prayer.
On one specific occasion, the Prophet ﷺ asked his Companion, Bilal, to call the people to prayer by saying, “give us comfort by it, oh Bilal…”
What is mindfulness in Islam?
Mindfulness is to be completely aware of and mindful of God at all times, and as a result to perform as many good actions as possible.
In the Islamic context, mindfulness is the virtue of muraqabah, a word which is derived from the root meaning “to watch, observe, regard attentively.” As a technical spiritual term, it is defined as “the constant knowledge of the servant and conviction in the supervision of the Truth, glory be to Him, over one’s outward and inward states.” A Muslim in a state of muraqabah is in continuous full knowledge that God is Aware of him or her, inwardly and outwardly.
Muraqabah is a complete state of self-awareness in your relationship with God in the heart, mind, and body. Knowing that God is always watching, we develop greater attention to our actions, thoughts, feelings, and inner states of being. Muraqabah is also the fulfillment of worshipping God with a proper understanding of His beautiful names, such that they guide us to be more intentional with our actions. As God says in the Qur’an,
“Remember that God knows what is in your souls, so be mindful of Him.”
Ibn al-Qayyim and Al-Ghazali both have chapters in their books about the merits and realities of muraqabah. It is not just a recommended character trait, but a realization of the supreme character trait, spiritual excellence (al-ihsan). As the Prophet ﷺ defined in the famous hadith of Gabriel, spiritual excellence “is to worship God as if you can see Him, for if you do not see Him, He certainly sees you.” In other words, spiritual excellence is to be completely aware and mindful of God at all times—the very peak of faith.
How can one be a mindful Muslim?
One way to achieve mindfulness is to regularly engage in mindfulness exercises.
Begin by choosing a time of day when you can find solitude and quiet. Choose a posture you find comfortable. Begin by trying to be aware of your natural breathing while relaxing muscle tension throughout your body. While doing this, aim to be not only outwardly silent, but inwardly silent as well, ceasing inner dialogue with yourself or following certain trains of thought. Instead, focus on Allah and His awareness of you. You can incorporate dhikr as well to anchor your thoughts and focus.
Through regular exercises such as the above mindfulness exercise, we can enhance our sense of mindfulness and comprehensive awareness of God and our inner states in relation to Him, and hopefully reach lofty spiritual states and their benefits: an enriched quality of life, enhanced worship, and Allah’s pleasure.
What Islam Says About...