The Myth of Depression-Proofing in Islam

By Amber Juman

Before you and I venture on this difficult path of tackling the taboo of depression, let me make one thing clear that depression is not the same as sadness. Depression is a clinical term used for the extreme situations in which an individual spends continuous days in this state and can barely do the everyday activities of a normal person. One main error that we as a society end up doing is to label ‘everyone’ as going through depression and the second is to claim that depression does not exist. If we can find a common ground between these two extremes then a lot of the problems will be solved.

I can’t even tell the number of times I have seen people say to depressed people that just read Quran or pray two nafl ha’jat and everything would be fixed. A girl who has been assaulted and is going through extreme emotional trauma, are you going to tell her to read Quran and everything would be fixed? Here, I am in no way denying the importance and miracle of the Quran. I am just bringing your attention to the fact that when you are sick, you need both the Quran and the medicine. A depressed person suffering from years of trauma needs to seek therapeutic help. It is of the means you seek while keeping faith and trust in Allah. Islam even encourages to seek out means and not to sit idle in the face of an issue. When you go to the doctor for a stomach ache he will tell you to drink a tonic alongside making dua for healing. Why do we then expect different for mental health?

When your car breaks down, you will go to a mechanic. When you have a tooth ache, you will go to a dentist. When kitchen starts to flood, you will call the plumber. When you are suffering spiritually, you will go to an Islamic scholar but when you are suffering emotionally you will go to a therapist. A Mechanic wouldn’t know how to fix your tooth and an Islamic scholar (in most cases) wouldn’t know how to fix you emotionally. Our spiritual teachers are not trained to help us emotionally, which does not deny that they are amazing in their own field.

The rare people that we come across who dare to acknowledge the existence of human suffering and depression in Islam; they claim that depression is due to a lack of Iman (belief). A person can be a great religious person but he or she can still be going through depression and it has nothing to do with your belief system. If your mom dropped you on your head when you were a baby and that left a scar then that is going to pain you your entire life no matter how righteous you become. Aching over any sort of disorder and expressing your pain is out of human sentiments, which the righteous and the non-righteous can feel alike. Here I am not talking about the sadness that is the aftermath of sins or ghaflah (the state of spiritual heedlessness) in life so don’t use my statement as a way to sugarcoat a misleading path. My aim here is to talk about the circumstances that lead to emotional problems in life, like parental fights, sexual harassment, domestic violence, blaming, name calling, constant comparison, and things that create emotional instability in us. It is sometimes because of these problems that a person is driven to alcohol or drugs, where the ends are not to be justified by the means, but it does make you more empathetic to the ends.

Some people use this verse of Quran to argue that depression is a case of spirituality only:

Verily in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find rest! (Qur’an, 13:28)

They assume that if you don’t find happiness then there your Iman is at fault. This is the worst thing that you can say to the person who is already depressed. Unfortunately, such utterances end up worsening the condition of a person who is already carrying a lot of self-blame. Depression is a much more complex psychological state which comes under the realm of therapy. While religion gives hope to live on, an experienced therapist gives you necessary help with healing practices.

Allah SWT says in the Quran to Prophet ?,

We do indeed know how thy heart is distressed at what they say.” (Qur’an, 15:97)

Allah SWT is acknowledging that the heart of the Rasulullah (S.A.W) is in pain and anguish. At another moment Allah consoles the mother of Hazrat Musa (A.S.) and tells her to stop worrying. We also know that Hazrat Yaqub (A.S.) cried for years for his son and went blind in the suffering. It comes in the Quran too that his sons asked him that when he will stop crying for Yusuf (A.S.). Not even once did Allah ask him to stop crying. Not once did Allah say that you are the prophet, how can you cry? You are so righteous, how can you be grieved to this extent?

Pain and suffering are a part of this world. This world was meant to break us and bring us to our knees. What gives us the strength to stand up again and face our demons is the faith in religion, the faith in Allah that He is watching our state and is there to protect us. That is the difference between a depressed Muslim and a depressed non-Muslim. The difference is not to deny depression or to say that it is the lack of Iman. Be the religious power to pick up your brother in pain and not the power to further bury them in the guilt of not being religious enough.