How backward is Russia compared to Europe and the United States and when will it catch up?

Below is a chart of the scientific output productivity of a number of important countries. Scientific output productivity refers to the number of scientific research papers published by a certain country divided by its population. A higher number indicates that the country is more “scientifically productive”, meaning that it is prosperous and advanced enough to have a large number of citizens busy doing scientific and scholarly research. In 2017, Russia’s scientific output per capita was 561. It published 80796 scientific papers and had a population of 143.9 million. Dividing the two numbers, we get 561, the number of scientific papers published by the country per million citizens. In 2008, Russia published 36419 papers. Ten years later its output had more than doubled, reflecting the fact it is investing heavily in science and has many more professors and researchers busy doing research at universities and research institutions. Still, its output per citizen is still below Iran, and it is almost half of Malaysia. Russia’s scientific output is almost exactly one third of the US, which stands at 1684 papers per million citizens.

The scientific output of the US peaked in 2014 and has only declined since. This is likely a trend that will continue. Russia, in the meantime, will likely continue growing barring a nuclear war, so that by 2028 it will likely reach South Korea’s output level, and soon after that of France (whose output is also declining). The forecast above assumes a 9.35% annual growth in scientific output for Russia, which is what its annual growth was between 2008 and 2017, so I am assuming a continuation of the same trend now since the Russian rulers appear to have finally realized the crucial importance of scientific research for national power and prestige and will likely continue investing  heavily in it.

We can expect the scientific output of the United States and Europe to stagnate and decline due to their aging native populations. Immigrants can help stave off some of the fall in output, but due to their generally lower educational attainment, it is unlikely that they will be able to undo the trend unless the countries only allow in highly educated immigrants.

Russia’s 2017 output was where Spain was in 1996 and where South Korea was 2003. We can expect Russia to reach European levels of scientific output by 2028.

Spain: It is interesting to note that Spain is today publishing more science per capita than either the United States or France, despite its population having a median age five years higher than that of the US and two years higher than that of France.

The United Kingdom: The UK’s scientific output is amazing. It publishes almost 1000 more papers per million citizens than many other European countries, reflecting an extremely well-funded and well-organized post-graduate system.

Below is a similar forecast done for Iran. If Iran continues at the rate of scientific output growth it had from 2008 to 2017, it will reach European output levels by 2028. I expect it to slow down its growth and to closely track that of Russia, perhaps being somewhere slightly below it by 2028.

Data from the United Nations and Scimago.

What the Prophets Teach Us About the Proper Etiquette of Dua (Supplication)

In answer to questions regarding the nature and ideal manner of supplication in Islam

The true servant of God is the one who accepts whatever the Creator decrees. If he asks of Him and He answers, he considers that a privilege granted by Him, and if he is denied, he considers that an act of the Master doing what He wills toward His subjects, so that there is no complaint in his heart toward his condition.

Ibn al-Jawzi

In this article I will explore what the Quran teaches us about the proper way of interacting with God when supplicating to Him. How does one show proper respect toward God during prayer? And what things are the best things to pray for, and what things are not so good to pray for? If you are looking for a quick answer, go to the bottom of the article to the “Summary and Conclusion” section.

The Prayers of the Prophtes in the Quran

The Quran encourages us to emulate the manners of the Prophets mentioned in the Quran when it says:

Those are they whom God has guided, so emulate them in their guidance. (From verse 6:90)

When it comes to prayer, the Quran gives us many examples of the way the Prophets interacted with God in their prayers.

Prophet Muhammad

We have the example of our Prophet Muhammad . He strongly desired for the qibla (the direction faced during the formal prayer) to be changed so that the Muslims would face Mecca rather than Jerusalem. But he did not voice his desire. He had submitted his heart so thoroughly to God that he considered it God’s business to decide the direction of the prayer and change it if and when He wanted, he did not presume to interfere with this by praying for a different direction despite his own personal desires. Still, God heard his unvoiced prayer; the Quran says:

We have seen your face turned towards the heaven. So We will turn you towards a direction that will satisfy you. So turn your face towards the Sacred Mosque. And wherever you may be, turn your faces towards it. Those who were given the Book know that it is the Truth from their Lord; and God is not unaware of what they do. (The Quran, verse 2:144)

Hadith narrations tell us that the Prophet prayed very ardently for God’s help before the Battle of Badr, a battle that was to decide the fate of the Muslims forever:

The Prophet (ﷺ) turned (his face) towards the Qibla. Then he stretched his hands and began his supplication to his Lord: "O Allah, accomplish for me what Thou hast promised to me. O Allah, bring about what Thou hast promised to me. O Allah, if this small band of Muslims is destroyed. Thou will not be worshipped on this earth." He continued his supplication to his Lord, stretching his hands, facing the Qibla, until his mantle slipped down from his shoulders.

Quoted from the longer narration at Sahih Muslim 1763

The Prophet is also mentioned in certain hadith narrations teaching his Companions, may God be pleased with them, how to supplicate.

'Aishah (May Allah be pleased with her) reported:
I asked: "O Messenger of Allah! If I realize Lailat-ul-Qadr (Night of Decree), what should I supplicate in it?" He (ﷺ) replied, "You should supplicate: Allahumma innaka 'afuwwun, tuhibbul-'afwa, fa'fu 'anni (O Allah, You are Most Forgiving, and You love forgiveness; so forgive me)."

Al-Tirmidhi Book 9, Hadith 1195, Sunan Ibn Majah 3850 (judged authentic)

Abdullah reported that Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) used to supplicate (in these words):
" O Allah. I beg of Thee right guidance, safeguard against evils, chastity and freedom from want."

Sahih Muslim Book 48, Hadith 97

Prophet Adam and His Wife

22. So he lured them with deceit. And when they tasted the tree, their nakedness became evident to them, and they began covering themselves with the leaves of the Garden. And their Lord called out to them, “Did I not forbid you from this tree, and say to you that Satan is a sworn enemy to you?”

23. They said, “Our Lord, we have done wrong to ourselves. Unless You forgive us, and have mercy on us, we will be among the losers.” (The Quran, verses 7:22-23)

Prophet Nūḥ (Noah)

The Quran also gives us the example of a Prophet who makes the mistake of praying for something he should not be praying for. When Noah’s son is about to drown in the Flood, the following exchange takes place:

45. And Noah called to his Lord. He said, “O My Lord, my son is of my family, and Your promise is true, and You are the Wisest of the wise.”

46. He said, “O Noah, he is not of your family. It is an unrighteous deed. So do not ask Me about something you know nothing about. I admonish you, lest you be one of the ignorant.”

47. He said, “O My Lord, I seek refuge with You, from asking You for what I have no knowledge of. Unless You forgive me, and have mercy on me, I will be one of the losers.”

48. It was said, “O Noah, disembark with peace from Us; and with blessings upon you, and upon communities from those with you. And other communities We will grant prosperity, and then a painful torment from Us will befall them.” (The Quran, verses 11:45-48)

Noah’s son has proudly refused to embark on the Ark, saying that he would go to a mountain to be saved from the Flood (verse 11:43). When Noah sees him drowning, his fatherly instinct is to want to save him, so he calls out to God. Like the other Prophets, he does not make a specific demand, he only expresses the state of his heart to God but fears God too much to make demands of Him. In this case, God rebuffs him. Noah is not punished for praying for the wrong thing, he is only corrected (he is a Prophet and should know better than to try to save someone who proudly refused to be saved, even if it is his own son), then the kind words in verse 11:48 are said to him.

We also have these verses about him:

9. Before them the people of Noah disbelieved. They rejected Our servant, and said, “Crazy,” and he was rebuked.

10. So he appealed to his Lord, “I am overwhelmed, so help me.” (54:9-10)

In another place in the Quran we have Prophet Noah praying against those who rejected his message (after nine centuries of trying), while also praying for certain other things:

26. Noah said, “My Lord, do not leave of the unbelievers a single dweller on earth.

27. If You leave them, they will mislead your servants, and will breed only wicked unbelievers.

28. My Lord! Forgive me and my parents, and anyone who enters my home in faith, and all the believing men and believing women; and do not increase the wrongdoers except in perdition.” (The Quran, verse 71:26-28)

Prophet Ibrāhīm (Abraham)

We also have the example of Prophet Ibrāhīm (Abraham), who prays for some general things and some specific things:

35. Recall that Abraham said, “O my Lord, make this land peaceful, and keep me and my sons from worshiping idols.”

36. “My Lord, they have led many people astray. Whoever follows me belongs with me; and whoever disobeys me—You are Forgiving and Merciful.

37. “Our Lord, I have settled some of my offspring in a valley of no vegetation, by Your Sacred House, our Lord, so that they may perform the prayers. So make the hearts of some people incline towards them, and provide them with fruits, that they may be thankful.”

38. “Our Lord, You know what we conceal and what we reveal. And nothing is hidden from God, on earth or in the heaven.”

39. “Praise be to God, Who has given me, in my old age, Ishmael and Isaac. My Lord is the Hearer of Prayers.”

40. “My Lord, make me one who performs the prayer, and from my offspring. Our Lord, accept my supplication.”

41. “Our Lord, forgive me, and my parents, and the believers, on the Day the Reckoning takes place.” (The Quran, verses 14:35-41)

We also have the following passage that gives us some more detail on Prophet Ibrāhīm’s prayers:

126. When Abraham said, “O My Lord, make this a peaceful land, and provide its people with fruits—whoever of them believes in God and the Last Day.” He said, “And whoever disbelieves, I will give him a little enjoyment, then I will consign him to the punishment of the Fire; how miserable the destiny!”

127. As Abraham raises the foundations of the House, together with Ishmael, “Our Lord, accept it from us, You are the Hearer, the Knower.

128. Our Lord, and make us submissive to You, and from our descendants a community submissive to You. And show us our rites, and accept our repentance. You are the Acceptor of Repentance, the Merciful.

129. Our Lord, and raise up among them a messenger, of themselves, who will recite to them Your revelations, and teach them the Book and wisdom, and purify them. You are the Almighty, the Wise.” (The Quran, verses 2:126-129)

We also have this passage:

83. “My Lord! Grant me wisdom, and include me with the righteous.

84. And give me a reputation of truth among the others.

85. And make me of the inheritors of the Garden of Bliss.

86. And forgive my father—he was one of the misguided.

87. And do not disgrace me on the Day they are resurrected.

88. The Day when neither wealth nor children will help. (Verse 26:83-88)

Prophet Ayyūb (Job)

Another example of prophetic manners when it comes to prayer is Prophet Ayyūb (Biblical Job). He suffered from a terrible illness, but instead of praying for a cure, this was his prayer:

And Job, when he cried out to his Lord: “Great harm has afflicted me, and you are the Most Merciful of the merciful.” So We answered him, lifted his suffering, and restored his family to him, and their like with them—a mercy from Us, and a reminder for the worshipers. (The Quran, verse 21:83-84)

Ayyūb does not presume to ask for a cure. He simply says to God that he is suffering terribly while praising His mercy, leaving it to God to decide what to do in his case. His submission and awe toward God is so great that he probably considers it impolite to ask God to cure him when God is already fully aware of his situation. But he cannot help himself and cries out in pain, and God responds to him even though he does not specifically ask for anything.

Prophet Yūnus (Jonah)

87. And Jonah, when he stormed out in fury, thinking We had no power over him. But then He cried out in the darkness, “There is no god but You! Glory to You! I was one of the wrongdoers!”

88. So We answered him, and saved him from the affliction. Thus We save the faithful. (21:87-88)

Prophet Yūsuf (Joseph)

Prophet Yūsuf is mentioned making this prayer:

My Lord, You have given me some authority, and taught me some interpretation of events. Initiator of the heavens and the earth; You are my Protector in this life and in the Hereafter. Receive my soul in submission, and unite me with the righteous.” (Verse 12:101)

Prophet Mūsā (Moses)

We have the example of Prophet Mūsā (Moses) who, like Noah, makes a vengeful prayer:

88. Moses said, “Our Lord, you have given Pharaoh and his chiefs splendor and wealth in the worldly life. Our Lord, for them to lead away from Your path. Our Lord, obliterate their wealth, and harden their hearts, so that they will not believe until they see the painful torment.”

89. He said, “Your prayer has been answered, so go straight, and do not follow the path of those who do not know.” (The Quran, verses 10:88-89)

One may rightly wonder why a Prophet would make such a negative prayer instead of forgiving and trying to make the world a better place. And why does God grant it? The reason is that the party against whom the prayer is made (Pharaoh) fully deserves the punishment Moses asks for for his murder and oppression of the believers. When a faithful servant of God makes such a prayer, God grants it because it is just and fair to grant it when it is against someone like Pharaoh, and because granting it is no loss for anyone. It would have been better for Pharaoh and his people if he had become a believer, but since he was so immersed in evil for so long, God allowed his fate to be sealed. Destroying him and his army was no loss for anyone, since God can re-create a civilization like his in an instant if He wished. The loss is entirely Pharaoh’s loss.

He also prays in the following way for God’s help when God chooses him to be a messenger:

25. He said, “My Lord, put my heart at peace for me.

26. And ease my task for me.

27. And untie the knot from my tongue.

28. So they can understand my speech.

29. And appoint an assistant for me, from my family.

30. Aaron, my brother.

31. Strengthen me with him.

32. And have him share in my mission.

33. That we may glorify You much.

34. And remember You much.

35. You are always watching over us.”

36. He said, “You are granted your request, O Moses. (Verses 20:25-36)

The following are other verses that mention him praying:

He said, “My Lord, forgive me and my brother, and admit us into Your mercy; for you are the Most Merciful of the merciful.” (7:151)

And Moses chose from his people seventy men for Our appointment. When the tremor shook them, he said, “My Lord, had You willed, You could have destroyed them before, and me too. Will you destroy us for what the fools among us have done? This is but Your test—with it You misguide whomever You will, and guide whomever You will. You are our Protector, so forgive us, and have mercy on us. You are the Best of Forgivers.” (Verse 7:155)

He said, “My Lord, I have wronged myself, so forgive me.” So He forgave him. He is the Forgiver, the Merciful. (Verse 28:16)

Prophet Sulaymān (Solomon)

We also have the example of Prophet Sulaymān (Solomon) who asks to be given worldly power and his prayer is granted by God:

34. We tested Solomon, and placed a body on his throne; then he repented.

35. He said, “My Lord, forgive me, and grant me a kingdom never to be attained by anyone after me. You are the Giver.” (The Quran, verses 38:34-35)

Prophet Zakarīyā (Zechariah)

We also have the example of Prophet Zakarīyā (Biblical Zechariah). He was childless in his old age, and after being impressed by the piety of the young Mary (mother of Prophet Jesus, peace be upon them), he prays for a child for himself:

Thereupon Zechariah prayed to his Lord; he said, “My Lord, bestow on me good offspring from Your presence; You are the Hearer of Prayers.” (The Quran, verse 3:38)

This time we have a Prophet who prays for something specific; a child.

Prophet ʿĪsā (Jesus)

We also have the following verse about Prophet ʿĪsā (Jesus):

Jesus son of Mary said, “O God, our Lord, send down for us a table from heaven, to be a festival for us, for the first of us, and the last of us, and a sign from You; and provide for us; You are the Best of providers.” (5:114)

The Quranic Prayers

 

And among them is he who says, “Our Lord, give us goodness in this world, and goodness in the Hereafter, and protect us from the torment of the Fire.” (Verse 2:201)

And when they confronted Goliath and his troops, they said, “Our Lord, pour down patience on us, and strengthen our foothold, and support us against the faithless people.” (Verse 2:250)

285. The Messenger has believed in what was revealed to him from his Lord, as did the believers. They all have believed in God, and His angels, and His scriptures, and His messengers: “We make no distinction between any of His messengers.” And they say, “We hear and we obey. Your forgiveness, our Lord. To you is the destiny.” 286. God does not burden any soul beyond its capacity. To its credit is what it earns, and against it is what it commits. “Our Lord, do not condemn us if we forget or make a mistake. Our Lord, do not burden us as You have burdened those before us. Our Lord, do not burden us with more than we have strength to bear; and pardon us, and forgive us, and have mercy on us. You are our Lord and Master, so help us against the disbelieving people.” (Verses 2:285-286)

Those who say, “Our Lord, we have believed, so forgive us our sins, and save us from the suffering of the Fire.” (Verse 3:16)

“Our Lord, do not cause our hearts to swerve after You have guided us, and bestow on us mercy from Your presence; You are the Giver.” (Verse 3:8)

“Our Lord, we have believed in what You have revealed, and we have followed the Messenger, so count us among the witnesses.” (3:53)

Their only words were, “Our Lord, forgive us our offences, and our excesses in our conduct, and strengthen our foothold, and help us against the disbelieving people.” (3:147)

And why would you not fight in the cause of God, and the helpless men, and women, and children, cry out, “Our Lord, deliver us from this town whose people are oppressive, and appoint for us from Your Presence a Protector, and appoint for us from Your Presence a Victor.” (Verse 4:75)

And when their eyes are directed towards the inmates of the Fire, they will say, “Our Lord, do not place us among the wrongdoing people.” (Verse 7:47)

“We would be fabricating falsehood against God, if we were to return to your religion, after God has saved us from it. It is not for us to return to it, unless God, our Lord, wills. Our Lord embraces all things in knowledge. In God we place our trust. Our Lord, decide between us and our people in truth, for You are the Best of Deciders.” (Verse 7:89)

“You are taking vengeance on us only because we have believed in the signs of our Lord when they have come to us.” “Our Lord! Pour out patience upon us, and receive our souls in submission.” (Verse 7:126)

They said, “In God we have put our trust. Our Lord, do not make us victims of the oppressive people.” (Verse 10:85)

191. Those who remember God while standing, and sitting, and on their sides; and they reflect upon the creation of the heavens and the earth: “Our Lord, You did not create this in vain, glory to You, so protect us from the punishment of the Fire.” 192. “Our Lord, whomever You commit to the Fire, You have disgraced. The wrongdoers will have no helpers.” 193. “Our Lord, we have heard a caller calling to the faith: `Believe in your Lord,' and we have believed. Our Lord! Forgive us our sins, and remit our misdeeds, and make us die in the company of the virtuous.” 194. “Our Lord, and give us what You have promised us through Your messengers, and do not disgrace us on the Day of Resurrection. Surely You never break a promise.” (Verses 3:191-194)

And lower to them the wing of humility, out of mercy, and say, “My Lord, have mercy on them, as they raised me when I was a child.” (Verse 17:24)

And say, “My Lord, lead me in through an entry of truth, and lead me out through an exit of truth, and grant me from You a supporting power.” (Verse 17:80)

When the youths took shelter in the cave, they said, “Our Lord, give us mercy from Yourself, and bless our affair with guidance.” (Verse 18:10)

28. Then, when you and those with you are settled in the Ark, say, “Praise be to God, who has saved us from the wrongdoing people.” 29. And say, “My Lord, land me with a blessed landing, as you are the best of situators.” (Verses 23:28-29)

And say, “My Lord, I seek refuge with You from the urgings of the devils. 98. And I seek refuge with You, my Lord, lest they come into my presence.” (Verses 23:97-98)

There was a group of My servants who would say, "Our Lord, we have believed, so forgive us, and have mercy on us; You are the Best of the merciful." (Verse 23:109)

And those who say, ‘‘Our Lord, avert from us the suffering of Hell, for its suffering is continuous. (Verse 25:65)

And those who say, “Our Lord, grant us delight in our spouses and our children, and make us a good example for the righteous.” (Verse 25:74)

7. Those who carry the Throne, and those around it, glorify their Lord with praise, and believe in Him, and ask for forgiveness for those who believe: “Our Lord, You have encompassed everything in mercy and knowledge; so forgive those who repent and follow Your path, and protect them from the agony of the Blaze. 8. And admit them, Our Lord, into the Gardens of Eternity, which You have promised them, and the righteous among their parents, and their spouses, and their offspring. You are indeed the Almighty, the Most Wise. (Verses 40:7-8)

We have enjoined upon man kindness to his parents. His mother carried him with difficulty, and delivered him with difficulty. His bearing and weaning takes thirty months. Until, when he has attained his maturity, and has reached forty years, he says, “Lord, enable me to appreciate the blessings You have bestowed upon me and upon my parents, and to act with righteousness, pleasing You. And improve my children for me. I have sincerely repented to You, and I am of those who have surrendered.” (Verse 46:15)

And those who came after them, saying, “Our Lord, forgive us, and our brethren who preceded us in faith, and leave no malice in our hearts towards those who believe. Our Lord, You are Clement and Merciful.” (Verse 59:10)

Our Lord, do not make us a target for those who disbelieve, and forgive us, our Lord. You are indeed the Mighty and Wise. (Verse 60:5)

O you who believe! Repent to God with sincere repentance. Perhaps your Lord will remit your sins, and admit you into gardens beneath which rivers flow, on the Day when God will not disappoint the Prophet and those who believed with him. Their light streaming before them, and to their right, they will say, “Our Lord, complete our light for us, and forgive us; You are capable of all things.” (Verse 66:8)

And God illustrates an example of those who believe: the wife of Pharaoh, when she said, “My Lord, build for me, with you, a house in Paradise, and save me from Pharaoh and his works, and save me from the wrongdoing people.” (Verse 66:11)

And say, “My Lord, forgive and have mercy, for You are the Best of the merciful.” (Verse 93:118)

The Lesson from the Prophets’ Prayers

Almost all of the Prophets are mentioned as praying for God’s mercy and His forgiveness. This is the central theme of the vast majority of the prayers mentioned in the Quran. The Quran does not encourage us to pray for material things. In one of the most beautiful prayers in the Quran, we have Pharaoh’s wife praying for a house, not in this world, but in Paradise (Verse 66:8). The Quran encourages us to take care of the state of our souls and to give priority to the afterlife over the present life:

16. But you prefer the present life.

17. Though the Hereafter is better, and more lasting. (Verses 87:16-17)

Judging by what the Quran teaches us, it is almost an insult to God to ask Him for specific material gain, such as getting that particular car or house, or marrying a particular person. The Prophetic attitude is to ask for God’s help, mercy and blessings in general terms while living it to Him to take care of the details.

However, the Prophets make an exception when there is an overwhelming need. Prophet Muhammad asks to win the Battle of Badr even though God is capable of making the Muslims supreme in the Arabian peninsula whether they win the battle or not. This is what the Quran teaches at the beginning of Sūrat al-Rūm:

2. The Romans have been defeated.

3. In a nearby territory. But following their defeat, they will be victorious.

4. In a few years. The matter is up to God, in the past, and in the future. On that day, the believers will rejoice.

5. In God’s support. He supports whomever He wills. He is the Almighty, the Merciful.

6. The promise of God—God never breaks His promise, but most people do not know.

7. They know an outer aspect of the worldly life, but they are heedless of the Hereafter. (The Quran, verses 30:2-7)

The Quran acknowledges that the Muslims will celebrate when the Romans (who were Christians and thus were considered to follow the same God as the Muslims) win against the more pagan-like Persians. But the passage reminds us that God is in charge regardless of who wins and who loses, so we should not be too attached to what happens in this world, we should be more worried about the hereafter.

The other Prophets too at times ask for things that are not entirely spiritual. Ayyūb cries out to God when his pain becomes too great. Zakarīyā asks for a son. These should be considered exceptions that the Prophets made to their general rule (of always leaving things to God to decide, and only asking Him for His mercy, forgiveness and support).

We also have the example of Sulaymān which is somewhat conflicting with the rest, because he asks to be given a kingdom so great that no one will have the like of it afterwards. It appears from the Quranic mentions of Sulaymān that his appreciation for material things came from a deep spirituality rather than from a love of the worldly life.

30. And We granted David, Solomon, an excellent servant. He was penitent.

31. When the beautiful horses were paraded before him in the evening.

32. He said, “I have loved the niceties of this world because of the remembrance of my Lord—until it disappeared behind the veil.

33. Bring them back to me.” And he began caressing their legs and necks.

34. We tested Solomon, and placed a body on his throne; then he repented.

35. He said, “My Lord, forgive me, and grant me a kingdom never to be attained by anyone after me. You are the Giver.”

36. So We placed the wind at his service, blowing gently by his command, wherever he directed.

37. And the demons—every builder and diver.

38. And others fettered in chains.

39. “This is Our gift; so give generously, or withhold; without account.”

40. For him is nearness to Us, and a beautiful resort. (The Quran, verses 38:30-40)

Verse 32 above has many conflicting interpretations, but I prefer Muhammad Asad’s interpretation which fits the rest of the Quran, in that Sulaymān states that his love for niceties of this world comes from his remembrance of God. This would sound far-fetched in an ordinary person, but when a Prophet, descended from a Prophet and from a long line of Prophets before him claims this, we can believe him. God answers his prayer and says that the works done by Sulaymān were expressions of appreciation toward God:

10. We bestowed upon David favor from Us: “O mountains, and birds: echo with him.” And We softened iron for him.

11. “Make coats of armor, and measure the links well; and work righteousness. I am Observant of everything you do.”

12. And for Solomon the wind—its outward journey was one month, and its return journey was one month. And We made a spring of tar flow for him. And there were sprites that worked under him, by the leave of his Lord. But whoever of them swerved from Our command, We make him taste of the punishment of the Inferno.

13. They made for him whatever he wished: sanctuaries, statues, bowls like pools, and heavy cauldrons. “O House of David, work with appreciation,” but a few of My servants are appreciative. (The Quran, verse 34:10-11).

Sulaymān and his father were chosen for greatness in this world because of their deep spirituality. They were not worshipers of the worldly life, they appreciated it because they sensed God’s power and greatness through them.

What all of this teaches us is that we should not treat God like a genie in a bottle who answers wishes. We should instead treat Him like an all-powerful King who always knows what is best for us. We can make specific prayers when pain or desire overwhelms us, and He will humor us by responding to our prayer if He wishes, since it doesn’t decrease anything from His power. He gave Sulaymān everything he asked for because it did not cost Him anything to give him all of that, and because Sulaymān was a spiritual and appreciative servant who deserved it. God is a King who does what He wants in regards to His different servants.

Summary and Conclusion

Here are the general conclusions I have reached from studying the prayers of the Prophets:

  1. General prayers for God’s forgiveness, guidance and mercy are the best. Prophets are rarely concerned with material things, their main concern is God.
  2. If we strongly desire a specific thing, we can pray for it, but we should always do this with extreme respect and humility toward God. Prophet Nuh’s saying in verse 11:47 perfectly describes the attitude of the believer toward God when making prayers: “O My Lord, I seek refuge with You, from asking You for what I have no knowledge of. Unless You forgive me, and have mercy on me, I will be one of the losers.”
  3. It is highly insulting toward God to treat Him like a genie in a bottle, telling Him must do this thing for us otherwise we will be upset with Him. When praying, we must always keep in mind that God may have a different plan for us and that God wants us to prioritize our spirituality over our material desires.

Asking God for material things, thinking that we can get those things then hold onto them, shows great ignorance about the nature of this world. You can get the car you desire, but two years later you could be in an accident and lose it. There is no way to hold onto the material things we have in this world, we could always lose them, therefore the Prophetic attitude is to leave the material world in God’s care and to focus on the spiritual world, asking His help and guidance in our own spiritual growth and never treating Him like a lover of the worldly life would treat a magic lamp or ring that gives them what they desire.

When asking God for something specific, you should always keep in mind that God is in charge and it is His decision whether He grants what we ask or not, and if He does not, we have no right to complain. Every single blessing we enjoy, our very existence in this world, rely on His support every second of every day. God can give us everything we want, but He wants to give them to us when we have achieved Sulaymān’s spirituality, when we see God’s greatness and presence in everything around us (see this essay for how to achieve such a state and remain there permanently). Once we have achieved that, our attachment to the worldly life will have weakened to such a degree that we no longer feel a need to pray for material things. We end up living in God’s presence, seeking His love and guidance more than anything else.

 

Malaysia has overtaken Japan in scientific research output per capita

Below is the graph from my previous post where I discovered that Malaysia has been producing more scientific research per citizen than Japan since 2016. This is very interesting because Malaysia is a Muslim-majority country. Japan has stagnated since 2006 due to its aging population and stagnant economy while Malaysia, thanks to having a sustainable population (thanks to sustainable fertility rates, thanks in large part to religious faith) continues to grow steadily. We can expect South Korea to slowly fall as it goes the way of Japan, so that Malaysia may actually become the top science-producing country (per capita) of Asia in the next two decades.

In 2017, Japan published 892 scientific papers per million citizens, while Malaysia produced 936.

 

Data from the United Nations and Scimago.

Japan, South Korea and China’s scientific research output compared

As part of my series of posts comparing the scientific output per capita of different countries, in this post I will compare Japan, South Korea and China’s scientific output per capita, meaning the number of scientific research papers published per million citizens by each country. In the late 1990’s South Korea was going through industrialization but was greatly behind Japan. South Korea’s papers published per million citizens (PPMC) was 222.8 in 1996, compared to Japan’s 681, meaning that Japan was producing almost three times as much scientific research as South Korea. As South Korea industrialized, the gap between the two countries narrowed, so that South Korea actually overtook Japan in 2007. The sad story of Japan is that it has never been able to go significantly above its 2006 scientific output levels of 942 PPMC, perhaps due to its aging population (its median age is higher by 6 years today compared to South Korea’s), and perhaps due to its stagnant economy caused by the long-term effects of interest.

South Korea too appears to have entered the twilight zone in 2015 at a PPMC of 1523, we can probably safely assume that it will go through decades of slow decline from here on (unless immigration saves the day). China is slowly ramping up its scientific output, although it has yet to overtake South Korea’s scientific output per capita levels for the year 1999.

Adding Malaysia to the chart lead to something I hadn’t noticed before, Malaysia overtook Japan in scientific output per capita in 2016 (the green line):

Data from the United Nations and Scimago.

China’s scientific output per capita compared to Malaysia’s

As part of my series of posts comparing the scientific output per capita of different countries, in this post I will compare Malaysia and China. Malaysia is interesting for being the most industrialized Muslim-majority country in the world. It took China until 2001 to reach Malaysia’s scientific output per capita levels for 1996, meaning that China was five years behind Malaysia on this measure of scientific output. By 2005, the two countries were producing the same amount of scientific research per citizen. Then the gap started widening, so that it took until 2011 for China to reach Malaysia’s output levels for 2008. But even by 2017, China had not caught up to Malaysia’s 2009 output levels. Today Malaysia is producing almost three times as much scientific research per citizen than China is. I expect China to remain firmly 10 years or more behind Malaysia for the foreseeable future due to the time and energy costs of scaling scientific research output over the vast swaths of China, but China will likely ultimately catch up with Malaysia some day.

Note that China was producing 16 times as much scientific research as Malaysia in 2017, what we are comparing here is output per citizen, which tells us the entire country’s general state of development. Since China has highly undeveloped rural areas with hundreds of millions of citizens, those are going to seriously drag down its output per citizen until those areas are finally industrialized.

Data from the United Nations and Scimago.

South Korea and Malaysia’s scientific output growth compared

As part of my series of posts comparing the scientific output per capita of different countries, in this post I will compare South Korea and Malaysia. This is an interesting comparison because South Korea is one of the most recently industrialized parts of Asia, while Malaysia is the most industrialized Muslim-majority country in the world. In 1996, Malayisa was 11 years behind South Korea in scientific output per capita (how many scientific papers it published per million citizens). This scientific productivity gap narrowed to seven years between 2003 and 2005, then it started widening again, so that in 2017 it was more than 10 years. Now that South Korea’s output is declining, Malaysia might be expected to slowly catch up with it in the next decade.

Data from the United Nations and Scimago.

Malaysia and Iran’s scientific growth compared

In the previous posts I compared South Korea’s scientific output per capita with China’s, then with Iran’s. In this post, I will compare Iran and Malaysia, to see how far behind Iran is compared to Malaysia. It took Iran until 2003 to reach the same scientific output level as Malaysia had in 1996, meaning that it was 6 years behind. But by 2006 Iran had achieved parity with Malaysia, both countries were publishing the same amount of scientific research per capita. But the two countries started diverging in 2008, with Malaysia far outpacing Iran’s growth (perhaps due to the sanctions on Iran reducing its ability to fund research). It took Iran until 2014 to reach Malaysia’s level of 2010. As late as 2017, Iran had not reached Malaysia’s levels of 2011. Besides sanctions, another reason might be Iran’s much larger geographical size making scaling scientific research costlier in time and money, as is also the case in China.

Data from the United Nations and Scimago.

Comparing Iran’s scientific growth to South Korea’s

In the previous post I compared China’s scientific growth to South Korea’s. In this post I do the same for Iran. Iran’s gap with South Korea is narrower than China’s gap. In 2017 it was only 13 years behind South Korea when it came to scientific research output per capita. This gap might continue growing due to Iran being larger and more difficult to industrialize. But now that South Korea’s per-citizen scientific output is in decline, Iran (and China) have a good chance of catching up with it within the next decade.

Data from the United Nations and Scimago.

Comparing China’s scientific output to South Korea’s

It has been said that China is twenty years behind South Korea in development, and that South Korea is or was twenty years behind Japan. A measure of development that I like to use for comparing the development level of different countries is PPMC, which stands for Papers Published Per Million Citizens, referring to the number of scientific and scholarly papers a country publishes per a million citizens in a year. In 2017, that number was 1491 for South Korea while it was 349 for China, meaning that South Korea produced more than four times more scientific research per capita than China, which means that South Korea’s infrastructure, institutions and educational attainment on average are four times more advanced than China’s. The reason for this is that besides the fact that China started industrializing later than South Korea, China is a much larger country and requires far more investment and work to where South Korea is. China’s coastal cities likely already far outpace South Korea technologically, but China’s interior is going to be dragging down the country’s averages for decades to come.

Below we have South Korea’s scientific output per capita compared to China’s. It took China until 2009 to reach the same scientific output per capita as South Korea had in 1996, meaning that on this measure China was 13 years behind South Korea. This lag only increased with time, so that by 2014 the gap was 15 years. By 2018, the gap was 18 years because China’s output per capita hadn’t risen significantly.

It is natural for this gap to grow with time because due to China’s much larger size, it is going to take it far more time to raise the country’s scientific production compared to the much smaller South Korea. The good news for China is that this gap is probably not going to be getting much larger because South Korea’s output has started falling (likely due to an aging population, i.e. fewer young people available to become scientists and scholars) while China’s continues to rise.

Data from the United Nations and Scimago.

Islam and Depression: A Survival Guide

A street in Chefchaouen, Morocco

Please note that this article is not meant as a replacement for medical help, but as a supplement to it.

What does Islam have to offer someone who has been suffering depression for years and sees no end in sight to their suffering?

Depression is not sadness and cannot be cured by thinking positively as some people insultingly think. The dismissive attitude of many Muslim immigrants toward depression is due to the fact that, thanks to having very large and well-functioning families, they enjoy a very powerful protection against depression that is largely lacking in the West (for more on this see the section on loneliness and social alienation below). Depression is what it feels like to be stuck in darkness between two high walls, with no way forward and no way backward. Every bad memory of the past feels as if it happened this very moment, while the future feels as if it will contain nothing but a continuation of the present misery. Depression is not caused by thinking negative thoughts. The line of causation is in the opposite direction; it is the depression that causes the negative thoughts. A depressed person can think of a happy event that took place years ago only to remember the negative things that happened during it. The negativity of depression blankets all of their thoughts like a dark cloud.

Some forms of depression are caused by life circumstances, while others, such as bipolar depression, are caused by chemical changes in the brain that are completely outside a person’s control. Positive things happening in their lives can help them experience short episodes of happiness, but these episodes end very quickly and the depression always comes back. For this reason, such people need long-term strategies that take the reality of their situation into account.

In this essay I will describe a long-term plan for dealing with depression that first takes the spiritual side into account and then the material side. This plan is not a cure, it is designed to make depression understandable and manageable for the person who suffers it so that they may, with God’s help, slowly climb out of it.

Acceptance

When we are depressed, we feel as if we have been abandoned in this big, wide world to suffer on our own, without any purpose or wisdom behind it. Day after day passes, we suffer, and we are not better off for it. What is the point?

The first step toward dealing with depression is to realize that God could solve all of our problems and take away our depression an instant, but He is choosing not to do it. You have not been abandoned by Him, He is allowing this to happen to you and watching you suffer every second. This sounds rather cruel, why would a kind God allow this? Some people abandon religion because of this, being unable to accept that a true God would watch humanity suffer without intervening to help them.

But think about Prophet Muhammad . He was chosen by God to teach and spread His religion. Yet he had to suffer abuse and persecution in Mecca for 13 year. Why did God allow this to happen? God could have made the Prophet successful on the very first day he received the revelation. But instead he had to go through an excruciatingly painful 13-year process filled with failures and losses.

The reason for that is that the universe is designed by God to function in this way. We can call the process that the Prophet had to go through “suffering through time”. Patiently suffering through time is how a believer’s character is proven. The Prophet could have just suffered for a day or two, or a month, then he could have been granted success. But God did not lose anything by letting him suffer for 13 years, those years were necessary for him to be shaped into the person he was.

Suffering through time is how we prove, every hour of every day, that we have faith in God. It enables us to affirm, and affirm, and affirm our faith day after day and year after year until we have truly proven ourselves to God. Once we reach the stage He desires, He can then grant us the greatest success and the greatest happiness in a single day.

Your depression is not purposeless. Your depression is a matter between you and God. He is completely in charge of it and only He can put a stop to it, if and when He wants. This is not to deny that your depression may have a material cause and may be treatable with the right drugs and therapies; but it is all up to God whether you will be able to find the right people to help you and the right treatment. God’s help does not come down from the sky in the shape of angels, He helps us by arranging this world in the right way for us to be helped while hiding His own hand in the matter. God does not want us to see Him or to see any direct evidence of His existence, He wants us to always have the option of doubting His existence, because this is what enables us to prove our faith in Him. There is no point in having faith in something when you have direct evidence of its existence, it would be like having faith in the law of gravity.

When you suffer, if you turn your back on God and blame Him for not helping you, you are failing His test. The attitude He wants you to show is one of submission and acceptance, the attitude that the Prophets of the Quran all show toward God when they suffer. Your attitude should not be, “God, I know you are in charge, and I know you are watching me suffer. You are so cruel to allow this to go on!” Your attitude should be:

God, I know you are in charge, and I know you are watching me suffer. Forgive any sins that may have brought me here, help me correct any mistakes I have made that have brought me here, guide me and increase me in knowledge. Help me learn what I am supposed to be learning.

Depression is one of the ways that God distinguishes His faithful believers from the fair-weather believers whose faith is only strong when things are going well in their lives. Depression is an opportunity for you to transcend your human limitations, to show that you can love God and believe in Him even as He watches you suffer. This proves that you truly respect Him the way He deserves to be respected (by always thinking the best of Him) and that you have faith in His power, wisdom and love.

So be like Prophet Muhammad and the other Prophets. Do not despair, for if you do, you fail the test.

Think the best of God

It can be very difficult to think any positive thoughts about God when you feel so bad. In fact, sometimes it can be all that you can do to stop yourself from thinking very bad thoughts about Him. Those who truly fail their test are those who allow their suffering to permanently color their thinking about God. They build up a strong grudge and hatred against God for creating them, for creating this world the way it is. Some of these people end up calling themselves atheists, even though they do not really doubt God’s existence in their hearts, they just have a blinding hatred for Him.

If the best that you can do is to resist negative thoughts about God, then this is the best that you can do. God does not ask you to do more than you are able. Resist negative thoughts and constantly pray to God for His help.

Give up, surrender and learn the lesson

Depression causes you to suffer through time, sometimes for months and years, in order to prove your powerlessness to you. Depression shows you that you are not in charge. It is like a storm that throws us here and there, wherever it wants, while we are powerless to do anything about it. And that is the point. Suffering is designed to make us humble ourselves before God:

We sent messengers to communities before you, and We afflicted them with suffering and hardship, that they may humble themselves. If only, when Our calamity came upon them, they humbled themselves. But their hearts hardened, and Satan made their deeds appear good to them. (The Quran, verses 6:42-43)

The Quran also says:

But those who do not believe in the Hereafter are swerving from the path. Even if We had mercy on them, and relieved their problems, they would still blindly persist in their defiance. We have already gripped them with suffering, but they did not surrender to their Lord, nor did they humble themselves. Until, when We have opened before them a gate of intense agony, at once they will despair. (Verse 23:73-77)

The above passage describes the response of many people to depression. Rather than using the opportunity to affirm their faith in God, they despair. And if they are cured, rather than learning anything from their suffering, they again go back to ignoring God for most of them time.

Your depression is designed to help you break that cycle. God wants you to give up and surrender, to acknowledge that there is no power in this world besides Him. The Quran tells us the story of Prophet Yunus (Biblical Jonas) who also despaired of God like so many people do, but he was able to overcome his despair:

And Jonah, when he stormed out in fury, thinking We had no power over him. But then He cried out in the darkness, “There is no god but You! Glory to You! I was one of the wrongdoers!” So We answered him, and saved him from the affliction. Thus We save the faithful. (21:87-88)

Like Prophet Yunus, surrender completely to God and acknowledge that He is in charge and that only He can help you.

Stop hurrying

When suffering depression, we always wish for a magic cure that will stop the pain immediately. But remember the stories of the Prophets. Prophet Yaʾqūb lamented the loss of his son Yusūf for years before God gave him back his son. God could have prevented his suffering, but He did not. Yaʾqūb did not complain to God, asking Him why He had to do that to him when He could solve all of his problems instantly. He instead accepted his fate and knew that the matter was in God’s hands and that only God knew where it would lead.

Rather than rejecting your suffering, come to terms with it by accepting it and accepting the fact that it may go on for the foreseeable future. Rather than giving God an ultimatum, saying He should cure you within the next week or month or else you will stop believing in Him, your attitude should be one of utter submission. You belong to God and it is His business what He does with you.

Imagine someone who suffers depression for 60 years, dies, then enters Paradise, where every day is as good as the happiest memories of their lives, and where they can live forever. Exchanging a mere 60 years for an eternity of complete happiness is very much worth it if we think about it.

But the deal God offers us is actually much better than that. The Quran says:

Truly, with hardship always comes ease. (94:5 and 94:6)

It also says:

Whoever works righteousness, whether male or female, while being a believer, We will grant him a good [worldly] life—and We will reward them according to the best of what they used to do. (16:97)

It also says:

And thus We established Yusuf in the land, to live therein wherever he wished. We touch with Our mercy whomever We will, and We never waste the reward of the righteous. But the reward of the Hereafter is better for those who believe and observed piety. (Verses 12:56-67)

Prophet Yusuf suffered unjustly for many years, being away from his family and later being put in prison for no fault of his own. But the Quran says God rewarded him in this worldly life by granting him a very high status, while also keeping in store a greater reward in the hereafter.

Cure your soul then seek a material cure

For You is praise, no matter how long the distress lasts,
And no matter how oppressive the pain becomes...

Badr Shakir al-Sayyab, “The Journey of Job”

Let us say, like in those lines above from the Iraqi poet Badr Shakir al-Sayyab, you have accepted your fate. You have faced God and said to Him in all sincerity that you are willing to take whatever He sends your way. What is there to do next?

The next step is to make it part of your daily routine to perform a certain amount of extra worship, if you are able (if not, read on for what to do). What I recommend is performing at least an hour of tahajjud and Quran-reading every night before bed (see here for more details), other times and other forms of worship might work better for some. Your goal should not be to perform this until you get a cure. Your goal should be to perform this daily for the rest of your life.

It is impossible to remain close to God, to submit to Him and to rely on Him in full sincerity unless you dedicate a part of your day, every day, to extra worship. Just a few days of skipping this extra worship is sufficient to re-attach your heart to the worldly life and to put you back in square one, lost in the worldly life and faraway from God.

It is against human nature to submit to God, to remain pure of sin, to rely on Him and to only seek refuge in Him. Human nature makes us want to be egotistic, short-sighted and selfish. We need daily work to subdue the ego and restore the balance. You cannot maintain the character and spirituality of the Prophets and saints if you do not work for it daily. As soon as you stop the work, your human nature will reassert itself. This is a struggle that we have to keep for the rest of our lives.

If you are desperate to escape your depression, then this should be your first step. Promise God to perform an extra hour of worship every day for the rest of your life if He enables you to do it, and ask Him to give you a meaningful and productive life in return. Do this and your life may completely change within the next few months.

If you are too demotivated to perform worship

Sometimes it is enough of a struggle to get out of bed in the morning. If that is the case with you, start praying for these three things every time you think about God: ease, guidance and forgiveness. Even if you do not feel repentant, even if you cannot help but feel resentment for being in the situation you are, keep asking God for His forgiveness. Instead of turning your back on Him because of your suffering and resentment, turn to Him despite these things. Start facing Him and conversing with Him even if you do not feel like it, even if your negative thoughts make you feel as if He dislikes you and has abandoned you. Voice your thoughts to Him and complain to Him of your situation and your suffering.

Keep turning to God again and again and again even if everything makes you want to turn away from Him in anger and resentment. Do your best to think the best of Him regardless of how you feel. God is not going to ignore you. But He will not magically cure your situation either, God, in general, does not perform miracles in front of us, because that would be direct evidence for His existence. He wants to hide Himself from us so that we have the choice of having faith in Him or rejecting Him. While God will likely not suddenly fix your situation, if you keep up doing these things, He will cause small changes in your life that will accumulate over time, so that in three months, or six months, things could be very different for you.

Keep asking for God’s help and slowly, but surely, He will help you get on your feet and rebuild your life.

Start measuring time in periods of 3 months

When we are depressed, we tend to measure our suffering in minutes and hours. We feel as if our situation will continue in exactly the same way for eternity. We cannot think of any happy memories and we cannot think of anything to be optimistic about.

That is the normal depressed brain at work. What you should do is override that type of thinking by reminding yourself that change takes time, because God does not magically solve our problems for us. He helps us help ourselves, helping us so subtly that afterwards we are almost always able to take all the credit and ignore His part in it.

Start thinking of time in terms of three-month periods. Follow the advice in this essay then three months from now look back and see how things have changed. Chances are you will be in a much better state than you are now. And three months after that things will be even better. After a year passes, you may still have some depression, but God may have caused many changes in your life that enable you to feel much more purposeful and optimistic than you feel now.

Material considerations

Get potted plants

A common feature of depression is the feeling of alienation in time. Either one feels stuck, so that time does not seem to pass, or they feel as if time is running out and their problems are piling up without being able to do anything about it. Plants are a great way to rehabilitate your sense of time. As you take care of them and watch them slowly grow, they calm down your sense of the passage of time while also turning the passage of time into something positive, rather than something to worry about. A few days after taking care of a plant you start to look forward to seeing it grow. You will look forward to seeing how it might look in a few days or weeks. And that makes your depression slightly more manageable.

Potted plants are cheap, so get as many as you can (I recommend ten if your room or house is large enough). You can get plants that require very little care (if you feel you may not have the energy to take care of them), such as aloe vera, which thrives best when you leave it alone for weeks at a time.

Indoor plants are also great at fighting indoor air pollution. Carbon dioxide builds up inside homes that are not well-ventilated, sometimes reaching double the levels compared to the air outside. High carbon dioxide severely affects mental performance. Just a few indoor plants are sufficient to reduce indoor carbon dioxide significantly. This is a cheap and easy way of feeling better. Plants also reduce other harmful chemicals in indoor air that increase inflammation and make you feel unhealthy. One plant that is supposed to be great for reducing indoor air pollution is the Madagascar dragon tree (Dracaena marginata), which you can get in a small pot and watch it slowly grow into a nice little tree three or four feet high.

Exercise

Some people claim that exercise can cure depression. You should rightly be skeptical of such claims. But it is true that exercise can greatly improve your levels of motivation. It might make you feel 30% better than you feel right now, you may still feel depressed, but this might just be enough to give you the motivation to perform tahajjud, Quran-reading and other beneficial things. I recommend performing an hour of vigorous but not too strenuous exercise on an exercise bike. You can do it while watching a video.

Loneliness and social alienation

People who grow up in larger families are less likely to be depressed. Merely having more people around you in your life can be your greatest defense against depression, even if your relationship with these people has many flaws. For some Muslim immigrants coming from the Middle East, depression sounds like a wholly alien and impenetrable thing because they have never experienced it themselves and have no idea what is like to experience it. Some of them rather insultingly talk about how it is a lack of spirituality or a possession by Satan that is causing depression. The reason these people cannot experience depression is the fact they come from societies organized in such a way that make depression almost impossible, and in this is an important clue for treating depression.

In the Middle East, it is common for a person to be surrounded by siblings, aunts, uncles, siblings and other relatives who all contribute to a person’s self-esteem. The conviviality of these societies makes each person feel cared about, as if they have a very important place reserved for them by their societies. To understand the nature of this “place”, it is best compared to a king or queen’s throne. A king or queen gets treated with extreme respect and consideration regardless of who they are and what kind of personalities they have. The fact that they are king or queen, the fact that they have this “place” reserved for them by society, makes everyone treat them that way. In the same way, in a well-functioning Middle Eastern society, each person is given a “place” that ensures them love, respect and consideration regardless of their personalities. In other words, a person in such a society does not have to do anything to earn the respect and consideration of those around them. These things are automatically granted to them merely by the virtue of being born into that society.

Imagine if one day you woke up and discovered you are in a king’s palace and everyone started treating you like you are the king or queen. It will not take very long for you to believe it when everyone does that for you. In those Middle Eastern societies I am describing, a person is made to feel the same way by their relatives; they are treated as if they are lovable, as if they are important, as if they matter very much, and since everyone around them does that, a person starts to believe these things. This is probably more powerful than any anti-depressant. Each relative contributes 2% or 3% to a person’s sense of being important and lovable, and what do you know, it all adds up to such a high degree that it is made physically impossible for that person to suffer depression.

In the West, while certain people enjoy similar societies, this is the exception. In general, people in the West are socially alienated; most of the people around them do not treat them as if they have a place of great importance reserved for them. They are not surrounded on every side by people who treat them as if they are very important and very worthy of love. And because of that, people feel that they do not really have a place in society. They feel displaced, alienated.

To understand these things better, I recommend that you read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (in the 19th century at least some Western societies used to be like the Middle Eastern ones I describe). In the story, Mrs. Bennet is a rather ignorant and annoying woman and people are aware of it, yet everyone treats her as if she is an important person and as if she matters very much. It can be said that she does not “deserve” this good treatment. She has not done anything to deserve it, it is something automatically given to her by her society, and this acts as a very strong defense against her feeling lonely and depressed. It is almost as if there is a society-wide conspiracy to make her feel important and loved.

For a person to feel as if they matter and as if they are loved, it is essential that people around them constantly reaffirm these things. In the Middle East, this happens for most people on a daily basis because it is embedded within almost every social interaction. No one needs to say “I love you” because it is so strongly assumed that saying that is as ridiculous and unnecessary as saying “electricity exists”. In the West, however, a person can spend an entire day without anyone affirming their worth and importance. And if this continues day after day and week after week, so that feeling loved and cared about is a pleasant surprise rather than as common as air, then apathy and depression are the result.

Depression, in other words, is the natural result of people not constantly reassuring you, implicitly through their actions and manners, that you are loved and cared for.

According to that, the cure would be to have a large extended family that acts the way I described above. But since the type of family and society we have is out of our control, there isn’t much we can do about them. But recognizing the displacement and alienation are important contributors to depression can help you come up with strategies to use this knowledge to reduce your depression.

For example, having people around you even if you do not know them can help improve how you feel. You can confirm this by going to a coffee shop or library. You will be a lot more motivated to read something beneficial at one of these venues than you will be alone at home. Just having people around you gives you a sense of belonging that somewhat reduces your depression.

The best way to attack depression would be to increase your social connections, simply increasing the number of people you meet on a daily basis who are nice to you will greatly improve your self-esteem and diminish your depression. Many cities have clubs and meet-up groups that you can join to spend more time around other people. There are many sites like VolunteerMatch.org that help you find volunteering opportunities around you, volunteer at the charities and projects you like and the people you meet and your interactions with them can help you as much as any antidepressant can.

For an introverted person, meeting new people is always a challenge, this is something that exercise can help with because exercise reduces social anxiety. If you just ran for two miles, social anxiety would be the last thing on your mind for a while.

Try to spend less time alone and more time around other people. If you live with your parents, stay in the living room more often and spend less time in your room.

It is not always possible to do something about loneliness, and sometimes you are stuck around people who only worsen your depression. For this reason it is crucial that you constantly ask for God’s help, because He can arrange your circumstances for you and create ways for you reduce your loneliness. He can open doors for you that you did not know even existed.

Get medical help

Some types of depression are caused by your brain’s physiology. A person with bipolar II is going to be stuck in a never-ending cycle of depression and elation. Some of these people never get diagnosed because they are good hiding their depression and their periods of elation never reaches the point of mania and psychosis (as happens in bipolar I).

While medical help will likely not entirely cure you, it can improve how you feel to the point where you can feel motivated to do other things to improve your situation. If there is a drug that can reduce your depression by half, then there is no reason why you shouldn’t benefit from that. Therapy can also be very helpful, not necessarily because of any special knowledge of the therapist, but because just having someone be nice to you and treat you like you matter is very important for fighting depression.

Educate yourself

There are many people who, after reading a dozen or more books, were able to find just the right lifestyle and routine to help them keep their depression under control. Read memoirs and autobiographies by people who suffered from depression. Read any book on the topic of depression that you find interesting. These books can help point you in the right direction even if none of them give you a complete answer.

Summary: Remain with God

God can help you get into exactly the right situation you need to cure your depression. He can help you find exactly the right type of medical help that can help you, or guide you to the right advice or the right life choices. Realize that you are not in charge and that if God does not help you, nothing can. You should do everything you can to help yourself, but it is God who can make all the difference between whether your efforts will be successful or end in failure.

You should therefore prioritize the spiritual side over the material side. Take care of the state of your heart and soul, and God can take care of the rest for you by making things easy for you and guiding you in the right direction.

For more Islamic advice relevant to depression and other hardships, please check out my following essays:

 

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