Within the ummah, a prevalent, yet dangerous, misconception exists regarding feelings of anxiety, depression, and sadness – the idea that such sentiments are solely an outcome of low iman (faith). This misconception can lead to problematic consequences, like self-loathing, hopelessness, and pessimism, as an individual may perceive themselves as a defective or inadequate Muslim who, therefore, deserves such difficulty and pain, which can aggravate episodes of low mental health and mood. Additionally, this misapprehension can cause others to look down upon those who are suffering from such issues; thereby creating a discourteous, damaging, and, therefore, un-Islamic environment.

However, this perception is un-nuanced from the Islamic understanding, since it fails to consider the true nature and impact of the trials that an individual faces in life, the complexion of the qalb (heart), and the journeys undertaken by the exemplars of our faith.

To be more specific, when examining the Islamic tradition, it is evident that such feelings can originate as a natural reaction to the tests and difficulties given to us by Allah. In fact, such reactions can be tests in and of themselves. This phenomenon can be understood and evidenced through numerous examples within the Qur’an and hadith literature, such as Maryam’s journey during her pregnancy, Musa’s mission regarding Pharoah, and Yaqoob’s experience with grief and loss. Hence, Muslims should avoid perceiving such feelings as manifestations of failure, but, rather, as trials that can shift one closer to their lord.

Yaqoob’s Sorrow

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In Surah Yusuf, Yaqoob, a Prophet and a father of a prophet, was faced with the immense trial of losing his beloved son, Yusuf. Due to this tribulation, Yaqoob cried until he lost sight from his eyes and became blind. This intense emotional reaction to the grief and sorrow he held was not reprimanded by Allah; rather, this was described as part of a beautiful patience. Yaqoob, however, employed his immense sorrow as an opportunity to turn back to Allah, saying “I complain of my anguish and sorrow only to Allah…”

Allah then returned Yusuf to Yaqoob, granting him relief and a reward for his beautiful patience.

If a Prophet of Allah can cry until he becomes blinded, how can we expect to be completely unaffected by the trials faced in our lives?

Musa’s Anxiety

Musa, the most mentioned Prophet in the Holy Qur’an and the only Prophet who had the blessing of conversing with Allah directly, was tasked with the difficult mission of speaking to Pharoah so that he may become mindful of Allah and rectify his transgressions, such as his claim to be God and killing the newborns of the children of Israel. Naturally, Musa, alongside his brother Haroon, expressed anxiety and fear regarding this mission, due to Pharaoh’s political, economic, and military power. Yet, Allah did not admonish Musa or Haroon for this anxiety; rather, Allah reassured them saying “Have no fear! I am with you, hearing and seeing.”

However, Pharaoh, who disregarded the signs of Musa as sorcery, devised a plan to undermine and ridicule Musa’s message, by challenging his “magic” with the magic of his sorcerers on the Day of the Festival, where the people would be present.

After the sorcerers cast their magic, causing their ropes and staff to slither, anxiety and fear manifested within Musa. Whilst Musa did not verbalise this anxiety to Allah, like he did previously, nor exhibit it to the sorcerers and the public, he still possessed it. Again, Allah did not admonish Musa for this, but He reassured him again by saying “Do not fear! It is certainly you who will prevail.”

After multiple reassurances and reminders by Allah, Musa was the one to calm and quell the anxieties of his followers, being faced with Pharaoh’s pursuing army on one side and being seemingly blocked by the Red Sea on the other. Musa’s followers cried out, “We are overtaken for sure”, to which Musa replied “Absolutely not! My Lord is certainly with me—He will guide me.”

Maryam’s Trial with Pregnancy

Regarded as the greatest woman to have ever walked the earth, Maryam’s journey was one of great challenge and pain. Prior to her trial of pregnancy, she dedicated herself to seclusion for the sole purpose of worshipping Allah, where no individual except her guardian, Zakariya, was allowed to enter.

Maryam was later given the news, by the angel Jibril, that she would become pregnant and give birth to a son, who would be a sign for humanity and a mercy from God, as a single woman. Maryam then left for a remote place to carry out her term. However, when labour began, the resulting anguish and pain caused Maryam, the greatest woman, to begin to despair and dishearten, saying “…I wish I had died before this, and was a thing long forgotten!”

Yet, Allah did not reprimand her for this; rather, Allah, through Jibril, comforted and reassured her. Jibril replied to her, saying “Do not grieve; your Lord has provided beneath you a stream… And shake toward you the trunk of the palm tree; it will drop upon you ripe, fresh dates. So eat and drink and be content.”

Maryam would then give birth to Isa, one of the five mightiest Messengers.

The Most Miserable People on the Day of Judgement

We can imagine that the most depressed, downhearted people of this world, those who have faced difficulty after difficulty, trial after trial, would be far away from experiencing some sense of comfort or hope.

Perhaps these people have undergone loss, anxiety, depression, and sorrow, causing them severe anguish in this world, unbearable to most.

However, the Messenger of Allah ﷺ mentioned that these very people “…will come on the Day of Resurrection to be dipped in Paradise, then it will be said, ‘O son of Adam, did you see any hardship? Did you have any distress?’ He will say, ‘No, by Allah, my Lord! I did not once see hardship or distress.’”

Their state of depression, sadness, and miserableness was not condemned or faulted; rather, a beautiful reward will await them for their patience and persistence during such difficult trials.

The Pain and Sadness of a Muslim

We can sometimes fall into the mistake of feeling or thinking that the pain, anxiety, and sadness we experience in life are purposeless. We may even feel that the trials we face are simply a source of pain for us and nothing more.

However, the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “No fatigue, or disease, or sorrow, or sadness, or hurt, or 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.”

Our anguish, anxiety, and our sorrow are not condemnable or random, nor are they meaningless. They are a source of goodness for us, by cleansing us of our shortcomings and purifying us.

The Affair of the Believer

The noble Prophet ﷺ said, “Wondrous is the affair of a believer, as there is good for him in every matter; this is not the case for anyone but a believer. If he experiences pleasure, he thanks Allah and it is good for him. If he experiences harm, he shows patience and it is good for him.” (Sahih Muslim 2999)

This means that the state of a Muslim is never unsuccessful, as whatever befalls them, whether relief or difficulty, is good. So, if a Muslim experiences a fortune or a pleasure, like the acquisition of wealth, and is grateful, this is good. Likewise, if a Muslim is patient during difficulties, like experiencing grief, depression, anxiety, or any other physical or mental anguish, this will be good for them.

Therefore, our hardships and struggles are not losses; rather, they are a source of goodness for us and can bring us closer to our Lord.

Surah Ad-Duha and Prophet Muhammad

During the Makkan period of the Prophet’s ﷺ life, the revelation of the Holy Qur’an, which was regularly sent to the Prophet ﷺ up until that point, had suddenly ceased for half a year. Due to this notable cessation, the Prophet ﷺ had thought that Allah was displeased with him and had rejected him. Resultantly, this caused the Prophet ﷺ, the greatest creation of Allah, to become despondent and dejected.

However, Allah then revealed Surah Ad-Duha to the noble Prophet ﷺ, breaking the pause in revelation, to reassure him and alleviate his feelings of distress and despondency, “Your Lord ˹O Prophet˺ has not abandoned you, nor has He become hateful ˹of you˺.” (Surah Ad-Duha: 3)

Allah directly addresses and removes the doubts and fears of the Prophet ﷺ by reassuring him that he is not deserted or despised. “And ˹surely˺ your Lord will give so much to you that you will be pleased.” (Surah Ad-Duha: 5)

Allah then comforts the Prophet ﷺ by promising him great bounties, which will give him pleasure and happiness. “Did He not find you as an orphan then sheltered you? Did He not find you unguided then guided you?” (Surah Ad-Duha: 6-7)

Allah furthers his comfort to the Prophet ﷺ, by reminding him of the blessings and provisions, of shelter and guidance, that he had given him when he was a vulnerable orphan and was unaware.

Allah did not reprimand or fault the Prophet ﷺ for his state of sorrow and despondency; rather, Allah corrected the Prophet’s ﷺ thoughts of being rejected and uplifted his spirits.

Conclusion

Experiencing pain, depression, anxiety, and any other sort of mental or physical anguish is a natural ordeal of life, as we will be faced with many difficult tribulations in this world. These tribulations are specifically designed to test our faith, our resilience, and our patience. Hence, we should not critique ourselves for these resulting feelings.

Rather, we should perceive these struggles as expiations of our shortcomings and opportunities to bring us closer to Allah. Moreover, as Allah did with our pious predecessors, we should seek to manage and address these issues in the correct manner, so we do not fall into complete hopelessness and disbelief.

1 Comment

  • Paul Bartlett

    May 8, 2024 - 5:41 pm

    I have read various articles relating to mental health issues for Muslims. These are very good. However, they tend to refer to matters such as depression and anxiety, as serious as they can be. But there are some of us who have other matters, such as schizophrenia, severe bipolar disorder, psychosis, clinical paranoia, or depersonalization. For those of us who struggle with mental illnesses such as these, it is not enough just to quote this or that ayah from the Holy Qur’an. We may need professional psychiatric treatment, including strong medications if appropriate. Those of us with such debilitating mental illnesses tend to be overlooked in the conversations.

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