أَحَسِبَ ٱلنَّاسُ أَن يُتۡرَكُوٓاْ أَن يَقُولُوٓاْ ءَامَنَّا وَهُمۡ لَا يُفۡتَنُونَ
“Do the people think that they will be left to say, “We believe” and they will not be tried?” [Qur’an; 29:2]
وَلَنَبۡلُوَنَّكُم بِشَىۡءٍ۬ مِّنَ ٱلۡخَوۡفِ وَٱلۡجُوعِ وَنَقۡصٍ۬ مِّنَ ٱلۡأَمۡوَٲلِ وَٱلۡأَنفُسِ وَٱلثَّمَرَٲتِۗ وَبَشِّرِ ٱلصَّـٰبِرِينَ (١٥٥) ٱلَّذِينَ إِذَآ أَصَـٰبَتۡهُم مُّصِيبَةٌ۬ قَالُوٓاْ إِنَّا لِلَّهِ وَإِنَّآ إِلَيۡهِ رَٲجِعُونَ
“And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient. Who, when disaster strikes them, say, “Indeed we belong to Allah, and indeed to Him we will return.” [Qur’an; 2:155]
لَا يُكَلِّفُ ٱللَّهُ نَفۡسًا إِلَّا وُسۡعَهَاۚ لَهَا مَا كَسَبَتۡ وَعَلَيۡہَا مَا ٱكۡتَسَبَتۡۗ رَبَّنَا لَا تُؤَاخِذۡنَآ إِن نَّسِينَآ أَوۡ أَخۡطَأۡنَاۚ رَبَّنَا وَلَا تَحۡمِلۡ عَلَيۡنَآ إِصۡرً۬ا كَمَا حَمَلۡتَهُ ۥ عَلَى ٱلَّذِينَ مِن قَبۡلِنَاۚ رَبَّنَا وَلَا تُحَمِّلۡنَا مَا لَا طَاقَةَ لَنَا بِهِۦۖ وَٱعۡفُ عَنَّا وَٱغۡفِرۡ لَنَا وَٱرۡحَمۡنَآۚ أَنتَ مَوۡلَٮٰنَا فَٱنصُرۡنَا عَلَى ٱلۡقَوۡمِ ٱلۡڪَـٰفِرِينَ
“Allah does not charge a soul except [with that within] its capacity. It will have [the consequence of] what [good] it has gained, and it will bear [the consequence of] what [evil] it has earned. ‘Our Lord, do not impose blame upon us if we have forgotten or erred. Our Lord, and lay not upon us a burden like that which You laid upon those before us. Our Lord, and burden us not with that which we have no ability to bear. And pardon us; and forgive us; and have mercy upon us. You are our protector, so give us victory over the disbelieving people.'” [Qur’an; 2:286]
We are created to worship Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) and part of that worship is in facing trials and tribulations in a manner that pleases Him. It is clear from the above verses that Allah tests us with hardship that may seem difficult to cope with, but He assures us that we are not tasked beyond our capacities.
The test, then, is about our reaction and response.
With regard to stress management specifically, our response should ideally be one of upward delegation. In other words, when “life seems to expect too much from you”, a Muslim increases his conviction in Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) and turns to Him to find comfort and strength.
قُل لَّن يُصِيبَنَآ إِلَّا مَا ڪَتَبَ ٱللَّهُ لَنَا هُوَ مَوۡلَٮٰنَاۚ وَعَلَى ٱللَّهِ فَلۡيَتَوَڪَّلِ ٱلۡمُؤۡمِنُونَ
“Say, ‘Never will we be struck except by what Allah has decreed for us; He is our protector.’ And upon Allah let the believers rely.” [Qur’an; 9:51]
وَٱلَّذِينَ جَـٰهَدُواْ فِينَا لَنَہۡدِيَنَّہُمۡ سُبُلَنَاۚ وَإِنَّ ٱللَّهَ لَمَعَ ٱلۡمُحۡسِنِينَ
“And those who strive for Us – We will surely guide them to Our ways. And indeed, Allah is with the doers of good.” [Qur’an; 29:69]
Stress is a modern buzzword. It can be explained through myriad angles–dietary, emotional intelligence, physical stamina, social expectations, etc. Research abounds in each of these angles. The word is often used synonymously or in conjunction with others like anxiety, unhappiness, and depression.
However, if we were to reflect on the life of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), we would see that if anyone should have been burdened by stress, it would have been him (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). He did not sit on a throne and have people cater to his needs just because he was a prophet.
The weight of the task on his shoulders and the responsibility of delivering the message cannot be compared to what we face today. In addition to this, he encountered many emotional circumstances in his life (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), such as the death of many loved ones, being ostracised by the disbelievers, and even physical attacks. [See Resources for “Tearful Moments of the Prophet’s Life.]
Yet he (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) bore it with grace and outstanding character in any situation.
One of the keys to this ability to bear stress and continue to act for the pleasure of Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) was his connection to Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) in private. The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) spent long hours of the night with his Lord.
يَـٰٓأَيُّہَا ٱلۡمُزَّمِّلُ (١) قُمِ ٱلَّيۡلَ إِلَّا قَلِيلاً۬ (٢) نِّصۡفَهُ ۥۤ أَوِ ٱنقُصۡ مِنۡهُ قَلِيلاً (٣) أَوۡ زِدۡ عَلَيۡهِ وَرَتِّلِ ٱلۡقُرۡءَانَ تَرۡتِيلاً (٤) إِنَّا سَنُلۡقِى عَلَيۡكَ قَوۡلاً۬ ثَقِيلاً (٥) إِنَّ نَاشِئَةَ ٱلَّيۡلِ هِىَ أَشَدُّ وَطۡـًٔ۬ا وَأَقۡوَمُ قِيلاً (٦) إِنَّ لَكَ فِى ٱلنَّہَارِ سَبۡحً۬ا طَوِيلاً۬ (٧) وَٱذۡكُرِ ٱسۡمَ رَبِّكَ وَتَبَتَّلۡ إِلَيۡهِ تَبۡتِيلاً۬ (٨) رَّبُّ ٱلۡمَشۡرِقِ وَٱلۡمَغۡرِبِ لَآ إِلَـٰهَ إِلَّا هُوَ فَٱتَّخِذۡهُ وَكِيلاً۬ (٩) وَٱصۡبِرۡ عَلَىٰ مَا يَقُولُونَ وَٱهۡجُرۡهُمۡ هَجۡرً۬ا جَمِيلاً۬ (١٠) وَذَرۡنِى وَٱلۡمُكَذِّبِينَ أُوْلِى ٱلنَّعۡمَةِ وَمَهِّلۡهُمۡ قَلِيلاً
“O you who wraps himself [in clothing], Arise [to pray] the night, except for a little – Half of it – or subtract from it a little Or add to it, and recite the Qur’an with measured recitation. Indeed, We will cast upon you a heavy word. Indeed, the hours of the night are more effective for concurrence [of heart and tongue] and more suitable for words. Indeed, for you by day is prolonged occupation. And remember the name of your Lord and devote yourself to Him with [complete] devotion. [He is] the Lord of the East and the West; there is no deity except Him, so take Him as Disposer of [your] affairs. And be patient over what they say and avoid them with gracious avoidance. And leave Me with [the matter of] the deniers, those of ease [in life], and allow them respite a little.” [Qur’an; 73:1-11]
This type of intimate connection is not restricted to the prophets. We are all able to connect with Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) multiple times a day and also at night, as much as we are able to. The night prayer (Tahajjud) is particularly a remedy and enhancer of mind, body, and soul.
Another way to find relief from stress is to engage in frequent istighfar (seeking forgiveness).
Seeking Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) and managing the stress of life are inseparable. We do not wait for things to be perfect before we serve Him with our best. Rather, our striving through the struggles and connecting with Him frequently IS in itself an act of worship. Supplicating to Him for our needs is worship, as is putting our trust in Him and relying on Him to ease our anxieties.
The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) taught us the following dua:
اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَعُوذُ بِكَ مِنَ الْهَمِّ وَالْحَزَنِ، وَالْعَجْزِ وَالْكَسَلِ، وَالْجُبْنِ وَالْبُخْلِ، وَضَلَعِ الدَّيْنِ، وَغَلَبَةِ الرِّجَالِ
“O Allah! I seek refuge with You from worry and grief, from incapacity and laziness, from cowardice and miserliness, from being heavily in debt and from being overpowered by (other) men.” [Bukhari]
The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) would often rise above his circumstances and seek to refine the situation and the community instead of accepting things as they were. We are required to be proactive and hopeful and striving towards improvement. Overall, an individual has certain duties towards himself:
- Developing physical strength and health: Health is a blessing that we are accountable for. Our bodies are an amanah (trust from Allah) and must be tended for with responsibility. Not only is it essential to nourish and strengthen the body, it is also vital to avoid anything that can be detrimental to health and well-being in the short or long-term. This includes refraining from risky endeavors that can threaten life or health.
- Strengthening willpower: A good sense of willpower aids one in leading a life of self-discipline and making good choices in one’s personal, social, and professional life.
- Pursuing education: Seeking knowledge is an obligation and there is no age when it is too late to undertake a course of learning. Expanding the mind by engaging in new and beneficial activities not only helps to stay intellectually alert, but also helps with emotional and spiritual well-being.
The World Health Organisation (W.H.O.) defines mental health as a state of well being in which an individual realises their potential and can cope with the normal stresses of everyday life and are able to contribute to society.
As Muslims, we recognize this as ihsaan. The teachings of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) protect us from harm and encourage us towards good.
Anxiety and associated disorders are now the most common form of classified mental illness in USA, more so than depression and other mood disorders. Anxiety is not mere worry about some matter of concern. It can be debilitating for those who suffer from it.
Mental illness is often manageable but can also be fatal. But it has only been recently come into existence as a category of mental illness. This means there is a lot we do not know about it yet.
Anxiety is not about weak iman (faith). It is an illness. Just as we respond to physical ailments with treatment. We need to have such treatment in place for mental illness. We cannot simply instruct the person suffering from anxiety to have iman just as we cannot instruct a person with a broken leg to stand in more worship at night in order to fix his leg.
If we notice someone having destructive tendencies, that is a clear sign from Allah to get help and there should be no shame in that. Rising above the challenge and seeking to refine individuals and society is following in the Prophets (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him).
إِنَّ ٱلۡإِنسَـٰنَ لَفِى خُسۡرٍ (٢) إِلَّا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُواْ وَعَمِلُواْ ٱلصَّـٰلِحَـٰتِ وَتَوَاصَوۡاْ بِٱلۡحَقِّ وَتَوَاصَوۡاْ بِٱلصَّبۡرِ (٣)
“Indeed mankind is in loss; except for those who have believed and done righteous deeds and advised each other to truth and advised each other to patience.” [Qur’an; 103:2-3]
We need to rise above the stigma. We need to help one another towards truthfulness, even if it’s truthfulness about ourselves and our own communities and help one another in patience and perseverance.
Our mosques and community centres and homes need to be safe spaces for people to share their feelings and struggles in a non-judgmental way and receive appropriate responses.
1. Acceptance: of every individual in our communities who may not be like us, or come from the same experiences, or have the same things, and who may have their attitudes shaped through different means. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) would not turn people away but rather he would bring them in, even in the smallest things. Ja’far ibn Abi Talib (may Allah be pleased with him) left for Abysinnia at a time when Islam had only been around for a few years. When he returned 15 years later, his children had grown up in Abyssinian culture. Their Arabic was different and people noticed. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), however, started speaking to them in the same manner, giving them acceptance and moral support rather than letting them feel awkward and out of place.
2. Encourage: those who need help to seek it from appropriate sources. Seeing a therapist should not be stigmatised. People would often come to the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) to talk about their problems and seek advice.
3. Intervention: We need to know when to intervene. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was a master at knowing his people and what approach and advice would be appropriate for each. He would notice it when someone was absent, or when someone was behaving differently because he engaged with his community. Whether the ailment is physical or emotional, people need support and we as the community need to be that support. When we notice signs of mental illness in another person, we need to take appropriate measures to intervene.
4. Validation and not dismissal: Mental illness cannot be fixed with an extra dose of iman pills. We need to understand that people can be suffering in a way that is different from the way we ourselves suffer. What is painful for us may not be painful for them, and vice versa. When someone is in need of mental healing, we need to validate that and not dismiss it. We have to help people cope with everyday stresses and realize their maximum potential.
5. Educate with empathy: ourselves and families and communities. Sometimes people just need a listening ear, for someone to hear them out and empathize with them.