Islam and mental illness

If God loves us, why does He allow us to suffer?

Lately this hasn’t been making sense to me - I am at a low place in my life where I have no emotional relationships at all and I don’t feel needed/wanted. So when I turn to Islamic advice, I keep reading things along the lines of “You need to pray more because you need God, God doesn’t need you” and I find that even more depressing? How can God not need me at all yet love me more than my own mother? I don’t understand how I’m suppose to increase my worship knowing that I am insignificant to Him

Sorry to read about your situation. When it is said that God does not need you, it is to impress upon you your utter dependence on Him. All goodness and happiness comes from God and we as insignificant servants of Him have to utterly submit to Him and rely on Him to take away our hardships. God does not need us and can destroy all of humanity in an instant if He wished. When you take this fact to heart, you recognize that God is not like a parent who will love you regardless of what you do. Instead, God is like a mentor who is forgiving toward those who repent to Him, so the proper way to relate to Him is through obedience.

We are social creatures. It is very depressing to be isolated and feel like you are not wanted. Your Islamic belief cannot magically cure this–there is no way to make God replace the importance of your relationships with humans except for a very small minority of people who attain a high spiritual status and are able to make God the center of their lives. For most people, for their own mental health it is essential that they are surrounded by good and loving people. Since you do not have this in your life, the correct path is to acknowledge your depression and recognize that for it to be taken away there is a need for your situation to change. Your solution is patience while the difficulty lasts, while relying on God to change your situation.

Narrated `Abdullah: I visited Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) while he was suffering from a high fever. I said, "O Allah's Messenger (ﷺ)! You have a high fever." He said, "Yes, I have as much fever as two men of you." I said, "Is it because you will have a double reward?" He said, "Yes, it is so. No Muslim is afflicted with any harm, even if it were the prick of a thorn, but that Allah expiates his sins because of that, as a tree sheds its leaves." (Sahih al-Bukhari 5648)

The above also applies to psychological suffering. It is a chance for your sins to be forgiven and for you to earn the rewards of patience. There is no fun, joy or glory in psychological suffering. We seem to suffer needlessly while God watches on, doing nothing to help us. But remember that the Prophet suffered years of hardship, loss and failure at the beginning of his prophethood. Why did God allow this? God could have given him instant success and relief if He had wished. The answer is that suffering helps prove our character. How can we claim to be truly submissive toward God and truly patient if God always solves our problems for us? The best people you meet in your life are people who suffered greatly but who found a way to hold onto God until God took the suffering away.

Please see my following essay where I expand more on the purpose of suffering: Islam and Depression: A Survival Guide

Advice for Muslims who suffer from mental disorders

I have a form of dissociation, what is the advice for Muslims who suffer from psychological disorders? I don't know why I have it and from what I've searched there isn't really a treatment for it right now. I pray all my prayers but I still know that my condition effects the use of time outside of that. Also the thought of trying to force myself to not be this way is also distressing.

Mental disorders are like any other illness. God holds us only responsible for what is within our power, so if a mental disorder makes it more difficult for us to carry out our religious duties then God will not blame us. And if it is more difficult for us to do good deeds and we still do them, our reward will be greater, since God rewards us according to our efforts and sacrifices. Imagine the most intelligent and kind person you can ever meet and how they would think of you and your condition. God’s view of you would be similar. Know that He understands you, sympathizes with you and does not expect you to be perfect.

Dissociation can be caused by a history of trauma during childhood or later. See The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk, who also mentions many unique options for treatment that are not widely known. Try to research your condition and perhaps you will find treatments that work.

Also check out the Islam and mental illness page on my site.

Best wishes.

Why is there little mention of mental illness in Islam?

Assalamualaikum, why is there so little mention of mental illness in Islam? Even though I know the science for it, since Islam hardly mentions it whenever I feel depressed or anxiety unexplainably I feel it is somehow invalid because Allah swt didnt comment on it much? I think especially depression and anxiety is becoming increasingly prevalent amongst people these days, do you have any idea why this could be? Or is it our new awareness of it that makes it seem like the rate is increasing? Jzk

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

There is little mention of any kind of illness in Islam. From the Islamic perspective illness, whether physical or mental, is part of the hardships and tests of life similar to poverty. Islam gives us enough guidance to be successful in seeking the afterlife, leaving everything else to our own thinking and creativity.

I have never considered the Quran’s silence on mental illness as somehow invalidating the struggles of people who suffer from it. God knows us better than anyone else and knows our struggles and sympathizes with us. Trusting in His mercy and compassion is sufficient for us to trust that He is aware of what we go through and will make it a cause for the expiation of our sins.

Narrated `Abdullah: I visited Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) while he was suffering from a high fever. I said, "O Allah's Messenger (ﷺ)! You have a high fever." He said, "Yes, I have as much fever as two men of you." I said, "Is it because you will have a double reward?" He said, "Yes, it is so. No Muslim is afflicted with any harm, even if it were the prick of a thorn, but that Allah expiates his sins because of that, as a tree sheds its leaves." (Sahih al-Bukhari 5648)

One important reason why depression and anxiety is increasing is that families are becoming smaller. Studies show that the more siblings you have, the lower your chances of getting depression will be. By having fewer relatives around us we are deprived from the chance of having that one close relative whom we can trust and rely on, and this leads to feelings of loneliness and neglect, which leads to high inflammation and stress hormone levels. And if this state goes on for years, a person can slowly lose their hope in life, become depressed and also get physical illnesses like diabetes and heart disease. For more on this you can check out the book Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection by the scientist John T. Cacioppo and Bessel van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score.

As Muslims, we can benefit from all the scientific information that is out there about depression, while also benefiting from the hope and consolation that Islamic spirituality brings us (as I discuss in my essay Islam and Depression: A Survival Guide).

Best wishes.

What if a person’s sins are due to mental illness?

if one were to have a mental illness that causes them to be very impulsive such as they engage in zina/drugs/etc... are they charged by Allah the same as one who commits these acts but does not have a mental illness that sometimes impairs their judgement or that makes abstaining from these acts difficult? i read somewhere that one accrues a bigger sin if it is easy for them to abstain but choose not to than one who it is difficult for them to abstain.

The Quran says:

God does not burden any soul beyond its capacity (The Quran, verse 2:286.)

We do not burden any soul beyond its capacity (The Quran, verse 6:152.)

We never burden any soul beyond its capacity (The Quran, verse 7:42.)

God never burdens a soul beyond what He has given it. (The Quran, verse 65:7.)

Each person is judged according to their own abilities and weaknesses. A sin that is easy to avoid for one person may be very difficult to avoid for another. The same applies to good deeds. A very rich person who gives away $1000 in charity is very different from someone who only has a little money saved and gives away $1000. The second person is making a much greater sacrifice and will be rewarded differently.

Most sins and good deeds are partly because of human nature, partly because of free will. If a person is almost overwhelmed by human nature to commit a sin so that there is little room left for free will (such as a person who takes drugs for Parkinsons’ disease, which can cause compulsive behaviors like gambling), then their responsibility will be much less than another person who chooses to sin when they can easily avoid it.

Why do so many people in the West wish for death?

Assallamualeykum! Nowadays, people (especially young adults) have a strong desire to die. They hate this world, and those people are not always muslims. What could be the reason for their wish to die when they don't even know what expects them after death? they have absolutely no ambition. I can't say that they are in a high spiritual level either. however, some of them seem to be pretty self-sufficient. how can a person be self-sufficient possessing a hatred inside himself at the same time?

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

What you are describing is depression, and can be caused by genetic or environmental factors. A depressed person may be unable to think positive thoughts and to take joy in life, so they can become indifferent whether they live or die. People who are blessed with never having suffered depression can mistakenly think that it is negative thoughts that lead to depression. The reality is that it is the depression that causes the negative thoughts, and if the depression is cured, the negative thoughts will go away automatically.

For more on depression and its causes please see my essay Islam and Depression: A Survival Guide.

 

Can someone with mental illness marry in Islam?

Can a person marry, even if he/she is suffering from some kind of psychological disease and knows that it can affect his/her married life?

It depends on the seriousness of the illness. If there is a good chance that you can have a functional family life and can bring up children safely, then it may be fine (you should get other people’s opinion on this and not rely only on your own). Be honest with your potential spouse regarding your illness, you should let them know about it and give them your honest opinion on what you think your limitations are when it comes to being a good spouse and parent.

Dealing with an eating disorder (and other mental conditions) as a Muslim

i wanted to bring this topic up since its not really spoken that much in the Muslim community. I've had an eating disorder for a year now and its honestly changed me as a person. I've prayed many times but i still feel regret after eating and it doesn't help with a family who don't understand. They have this view that whenever you have a mental problem its because you've 'strayed from god'. i kinda want some religious help because i feel so lost and numb.

Unfortunately it is common for people, and not just Muslims, to treat mental disorders as a weakness of the person’s character instead of a real condition.

The Islamic way to think of your disorder is to think of it as any other illness, such as type I diabetes. There are many devout Muslims who have this condition, and they are dependent on injections and drugs for the rest of their lives. There is no guarantee in Islam that prayer will take the condition away.

And a Muslim born without legs due to a genetic issue is most likely not going to grow new legs regardless of their prayers and worship. But God can turn their condition into a blessing for them in various ways. For example they could receive a good income from the government that enables them to dedicate themselves to studying what they like instead of having to waste their time working to earn a living.

The first step to defeating your condition is to accept it, the way the people mentioned above accept their conditions. God does not promise us perfect lives, and He does not promise that we will be free from suffering the various illnesses and conditions that befall all humans. If we are among the “unlucky” few to suffer a condition, we must accept it and realize that God had complete power to prevent us from getting that condition, and that He has complete power to perform a miracle to cure us. Yet He allowed us to get the condition, and He has not decided to cure it.

There is an important lesson in this. Your condition is not meaningless. God, with all of His power and watchfulness, has allowed you to have it. It is His decision. He is the one in charge, you are not in charge. If He wants, He can take it away at any moment. But while you have it, you must accept it, knowing that it is by His decree and permission. When you suffer, this is a chance to practice patience and earn its rewards. One cannot earn the rewards of patience unless one has something to be patient about.

Most of the hardships we suffer in life are sent to bring us closer to God, as they force us to see our weakness and fragility and our dependence on Him. We must stay close to God at all times, we must keep His remembrance alive, and we must always ensure that He and the afterlife always feel as important to us as the present life. Once we achieve that state, and we prove our loyalty to Him by maintaining that state instead of abandoning it after a few days or weeks, He either removes the hardship, or turns it into a blessing, or gives us something else that makes up for it, so that even though we continue to suffer from the hardship (a chronic condition, for example), we are given sources of happiness and joy that more than make up for it.

Forgive your family for not understanding, do sufficient Quran-reading, prayers and supplication to feel close to God every single day, then patiently wait for His judgment. He will either bring about a cure eventually (months from now He may lead you into reading an article that mentions some treatment strategy that works for you), or He will do something else that makes up for it one way or another.

Think of your condition as any other medical condition, such as diabetes. Your part is to seek closeness to God and seek help through research and medical professionals, in this way taking care of both your spiritual duty and your material duty. What happens next is up to God. He may give you a cure or He may not. What matters is that you do your part, stay patient and do not lose hope, knowing that He will do what is kind and just toward you when He wants, and what He will do may be something you never expected.

God does not ask you to do more than you are able. Sometimes we are in so much pain, physically or mentally, that the most we can do is prevent ourselves from complaining or thinking unthankful thoughts. If this is the most we can do, then God will understand and will not ask more of us. If people speak of God as if He is harsh, unjust or demanding, then know that what they say is false. God is kinder than we can imagine, and He will never hurt us just to hurt us, or demand more from us than we are able to give.

53. [The angels] said, “Do not fear; we bring you good news of a boy endowed with knowledge.”

54. [Prophet Ibrahim] said, “Do you bring me good news, when old age has overtaken me [when I am too old to have children]? What good news do you bring?”

55. They said, “We bring you good news in truth, so do not despair.”

56. He said, “And who despairs of his Lord’s mercy but those who are lost?” (The Quran, verses 15:53-56)