Mental health in the Islamic culture is a controversial topic because of the modern perception that psychology and mental health concerns are western constructs. Therefore, some Muslims do not believe in mental health issues and state that they do not apply to them. Other Muslims might state that all they need for their mental wellbeing is good faith or that the Prophet Muhammad had never seen a therapist, so why should they. However, it is important to understand that the Prophet Muhammad himself did not only acknowledge and address the psychological challenges but contributed to the field of psychology for generations of scholars ahead of him.
Throughout the history of Islam, numerous scholars and personalities made their contributions to the development of Islamic philosophy and psychology. The psychological tradition in Islam takes its roots from the Islamic Golden Age that occurred in Middle Ages from the 8th to 15th century. Islam scholars such as al-Ghazali stated that there is a connection between spiritual life and psychological wellbeing. Those who could not maintain their mental health were at risk of developing abnormalities within their mental condition or struggled to sustain a close relationship with God.
Other major contributors to psychology in medieval Islam include Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi, Abu-Ali al-Husayn ibn Abdallah ibn-Sina, and Abbu Zayd al-Balkhi, among others. Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi was one of the first scholars to provide descriptions and treatment plans for mental issues in his works El-Mansuri and Al-Hawi. Abu-Ali al-Husayn ibn Abdallah ibn-Sina was the author of Canon in Medicine, where he described conditions such as depression and male sexual dysfunction. In addition, he was one of the first scholars that described the connection between mental and physical state. Abu Zayd al-Balkhi had one of the most complex approaches to mental health treatment. While developing positive thinking in his patients, he managed to connect factors such as physical activity, housing, and nutrition to the mental state of a person. In addition, al-Balkhi identified differences between neurosis and psychosis and categorized neurosis into smaller groups, namely obsession, sadness and depression, fear and anxiety, and anger and aggression. Hence, his findings are another example of how psychology in medieval Islam is relevant to findings of modern psychology.
The development of psychology during the second part of the 20th century was addressed by Islamic psychologists who wanted to match the latest development in psychology to the Islamic perspective. Islamic psychological movement aimed at adding the spiritual element to the trends in psychological science. This movement essentially resulted in the creation and development of the dialogue between eastern and western psychologists. This exchange of ideas was further reinforced by international organizations such as the Indian Council on Islamic Perspective in Psychology (ISIPP) that emerged in 2016. The ISIPP conducted numerous seminars and meetings that contributed to the dialogue between the East and the West. The exchange of ideas affects psychological education in Islamic countries and makes western colleges and universities more inclusive. The International Association of Islamic Psychology is another organization that is devoted to developing Islamic Psychology.
In addition, the teaching of Prophet Muhammad addressed the spiritual needs of people who suffer. As such, prayers, tasbeeh, and recitation will help in reducing anxiety and feelings of uncertainty associated with stress and grief. It is also important to always remember Allah. Morning and evening zikr routine ensures the connection to the divine and helps people to cope with stress.
The understanding of Prophet Muhamad’s approach to psychology comes with a thorough study of his life and teachings. There are many examples of how the Prophet experienced emotional hardships known to every human. For example, grief, stress, and other emotional difficulties during the prophethood. One of the episodes where Prophet Muhammad experienced year-long grief after the death of his wife Khadija and his uncle Aby Talib. His sadness was so intense that historians point to this period of life as a “year of sadness”. Another example can be seen in the life of the Prophet Jakub, who experienced intense grief and sorrow after separation from his son. Furthermore, those feelings led to his partial loss of eyesight. Hence, even the prophets were subjected to the emotional hardships, stress, and grief that are part of human experience.
It is crucial to note that Prophet Muhammad had also addressed the aspects of mental health in his teachings. He provided guidance on how to deal with mental health issues and address the stress and grief in one’s life. The Prophet taught his companions that suffering might also be a blessing; hence, people who suffer developed healthy coping mechanisms for their traumas. This allowed a cognitive reframing of suffering into something that provides benefit. Secondly, Prophet taught his companions to embrace their emotions. After the embrace, one should take responsibility for the regulation of his emotions in a healthy manner. The management of emotions can be done easier if holistic habits such as sleeping, eating, and exercise are taken care of. The Prophet encouraged his followers not to suffer in silence and seek help and cure among their brothers and sisters. Those recommendations match with recommendations that modern psychologists give for the maintenance of general mental health that was developed more than a thousand years later.
Historical analysis reveals that the last sermon, commonly referred to as khutabat al-wida, delivered by Prophet Muhammad, has become a fundamental religious hallmark among Muslims. The sermon, which was delivered during his last pilgrimage, has become the center of the Islamic narrative. Different sources have presented the sermon, which has led to the difficulty of identifying the actual origin of the initial copy of the speech. It is important to point out that based on the sermon and the present concerns in the Islamic faith, it is evident that a few issues have emerged regarding the fundamental practices associated with the religion before and after the death of Prophet Muhammad, as illustrated in this essay.
Prophet Muhammad gave his last sermon on the Mount of Arafat, where he focused on the key issues associated with Islam as a religion. The exhortations were founded on the basics of the Quran. The Prophet called on Muslims to bear witness that there exists only one God, Allah. He stressed how all humans are equal and created by God. This theme in his sermon goes hand in hand with the element of human dignity, which he also addressed in his last speech. He affirmed that as embedded in the Quran, the most honored before Allah is one who is God-fearing. He called on the believers to preach Islam to every corner of the world and fulfill the mission. He reminded the people of the role and essence of brotherhood. He expressed his sentiment on the need to respect the rulers by being obedient and considerate. In his sermon, he called on Muslims to embrace human dignity, uphold the rights of women, remain honest, and foster individual accountability. He also addressed controversial issues such as adultery, repayment of the debt, the abolition of hood revenge practices, and the abolition of interests.
A critical review of the last sermon by Prophet Muhammad reveals the fundamental aspects of the Islamic faith. The sermon proves that at the time of the death of Prophet Muhammad, most Islamic teachings had not been understood by most believers. A significant number of issues were stressed again to reaffirm the basics of the faith. The Prophet was keen to point out how the people should behave while interacting with each other as well as with authority. Before his speech, the issue of hood revenge was rampant, which prompted the Prophet to call for the abolition of this practice. The Prophet was also keen to note the issue of interests and its subsequent abolition. The sermon could be viewed from the perspective of a commentary on what he observed during and before his health deterioration. According to the speech, he also pointed out the issue of adultery and bequest. It is evident that several believers had not fully embraced the good practices of the religion, which made the Prophet stress the need to reconsider these practices as embedded in the Quran.
Major contributors to modern times are also not scarce. As such, Dr. Malik Badri is considered one of the founding fathers of modern Islamic psychology. After receiving an education in psychology that was western based, he noticed a tendency that all of his fellow scholars tended to dismiss their spirituality and emerge themselves into secular western psychology completely. Therefore, Dr. Badri devoted his scientific career to addressing the issue of Islamic faith in modern psychology. The result of his works was the 1979 book “The Dilemma of Muslim Psychologists” that was published in London. The book inspired Muslim psychologists to refuse the secular tradition in psychology and integrate the aspect of Islamic faith into the scientific field.
Works of medieval Islamic psychologists and scholars were ignored and dismissed from the modern psychological discourse by the western scientific community. Therefore, modern Islamic psychologists had to thoroughly study the historical legacy of scholars of the Golden Age of Islam to develop a unique Islamic perspective on psychology. Through the works of many scholars that were curated by Dr. Badri, the holistic Islamic frame of wellbeing was rediscovered and implemented in the field of modern Islamic psychology. Later, Kaplick and Skinner identified this trend as the Islamic Filter approach.
Another approach to the development of Islamic psychology is called the comparison approach. This method was a reaction to the development of western academic disciplines. In response to that, Islamic scholars aimed at finding common grounds between Western theories and Islamic sources. However, the approach did not gain much insight or contribute to the development of psychology.
Instead, the third approach was proposed by Skinner and was viewed as an alternative to the Islamic Filter approach proposed by Dr. Badri. The approach emphasized the importance of Islamic primary and secondary sources that should act as the main base for the development of independent Islamic psychology. Adepts of this approach insist on substituting the terms such as ego, id, or superego, which developed by the western tradition, with terms of Islamic origin. This way, the theoretic base will be fully Islamic, and the spiritual aspect will be naturally implemented in it.
Efforts by these schools of Islamic Psychology had provided a groundwork for the further expansion. Mostly, the scholars involved in the Islamic filter and other approaches focused on the clinical aspect of psychology. There are numerous areas of knowledge that still need to be addressed and explained from the Islamic point of view. Those areas involve motivation, prejudice, altruism, social conformity, obedience, aggression, and groupthink among others. Modern scholars of Islamic psychology expand the scope of knowledge by writing publications. Nevertheless, there are few of non-clinical areas that are yet to be explored and developed. Another direction of expansion of the Islamic psychology comes from its spiritual aspects. For example, the area of tazkiya/taṣawwuf that addresses spiritual diseases such as jealousy or anger. Islam as a religion has many answers to provide, so Islamic psychology is a dynamic field of knowledge.
In conclusion, Islamic psychology is a complex topic as there are numerous contributors that created a broad legacy of teachings. Nevertheless, it is hard to deny that Islamic scholars have developed ways to diagnose and treat mental health conditions. Moreover, it was done centuries before modern psychology, and the treatment plans and diagnoses are comparable with guidelines and symptoms identified by modern science. In addition, the aspect of spirituality offered by Islamic psychology could bring new methods and therapeutic approaches to psychological science.
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