Saturday, 14 October 2017

Mental Illness

What has Allah revealed regarding this matter and what do the authorities say?

What is the position of the Revealed Law regarding mental[1] illnesses in general and especially depression, whisperings and anxiety?

Answer (Imam Muḥammad Saʿīd Ramaḍān al-Būṭī):

To treat any illness, whether physical or psychical (nafsī), is permissible and preferable. However, due to the situation that we now find ourselves in, I believe that psychiatry (at-ṭibb an-nafsī) cannot yet be deemed successful. Rather, in most cases, its point of departure is hypotheses that are not supported by any sound science. Therefore, it is rare to see the treatment of mental illnesses produce any positive, beneficial effect. What is often imagined to be a cure is nothing more than a covering and a temporary alleviation of the illness.

The secret behind this failure is that the nafs[2] (as scholars of the West conceive of it today, along with their students in our Muslim, Arab East) is a physical, material phenomenon. Therefore, treating any illness therein can only be – as they imagine – by going back to its presumed source, which is the body, because it is the only thing they can see in front of them.

However, the truth is that psychical phenomena in a person’s life are not connected to the body and its effects, as they imagine to be the case, but rather to the spirit (rūḥ) and its effects. The spirit, in turn, is completely independent of the body, although it does pervade all its parts and cells just as water flows through a plant or a moist stem.

Thus, what is called depression or long-term mental anxiety is from the effects of the spirit, and is the consequence of some of its states. Therefore, treating illnesses like these must start from a point of view that comprises the spirit.

Since Allah, Mighty and Majestic is He, has decreed that the spirit remain one of His secrets and that its reality be beyond the knowledge of any human being, the only refuge from mental illnesses – including depression and anxiety – is to nourish the spirit with more remembrance (dhikr) of Allah, Mighty and Majestic is He, to turn to Him in worship and supplication, to strengthen one’s faith in Allah, and to trust His wisdom and be pleased with His decision. Allah, Mighty and Majestic is He, described this treatment clearly in His Book when He said, “Only in the remembrance of Allah can the heart find peace.” [ar-Raʿd 13:28] 

In fact, true faith in Allah, Mighty and Majestic is He, is the best fortification for the soul against every evil that may lie in wait for it.

And the proof for everything we are saying is the various mental illnesses that are wreaking havoc on the western world today. Despite the best efforts of psychiatry and its practitioners, through experiments and treatments, they have failed to get rid of these illnesses.

[Translated from Maʿ an-Nās: Mashūrāt wa Fatāwa (Damascus: Dār al-Fikr, 1423/2002), v.1, p.184-185]

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[1] (tn): A few terms needs to be explained. The words nafsī translates as ‘spiritual’, ‘mental’ or ‘psychical’, the latter being the opposite of ‘physical’. The term ʿilm an-nafs, literally ‘the science of the nafs’, translates as ‘psychology’ while at-ibb an-nafsī, or ‘the medicine of the nafs’, translates as ‘psychiatry’. The major difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist is that the latter is a medical doctor and can thus prescribe medications, while the former stays within the realm of therapy, i.e. counseling and behavioral intervention.
[2] (tn): i.e. ‘psyche’ or ‘soul’

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