Why She Struggles to Smile – Mental Health in Islam

This story is about a woman who felt like the world was against her. But still, she praised Allah (SWT). Still, she decided that she will try her best. Her intentions were pure.

Then, she started to feel tired all the time. There was a time when she used to be full of energy but nowadays she won’t get up until the afternoon. At the end of the day, she feels extreme shame wash over her. She had prostrated in her prayer and promised to Allah (SWT) to do so much better, to strive much harder, but she again made mistakes and couldn’t break out of the overwhelming lethargy…

And there are hundreds – even thousands –  like her.

People who don’t have families, friends, or even a caring therapist within their proximity. People who might have nearly everything in the world except one person to tell them they’re not a terrible person for their sickness. People who are living in a situation in which they are made to feel even more unloved than how they already feel.

But this woman, like many others, is not hated by Allah (SWT). She is not being punished for a sin she committed. Her story talks about a specific form of illness, one that won’t be cured the next day after eating better, waking up earlier, or reading more Quran.

Suffering from hunger and thirst is a trial, failing a test is a trial, and even overwhelming confusion, sadness and anxious feelings, no matter how little others notice these internal pains, are all trials. Allah (SWT) does not afflict someone with hardship to force them into Hellfire, but rather to cleanse them of all their sins, and give them a chance to better themselves. The pain that a pure individual goes through is Allah (SWT) giving them hasanat for the patience that they express during such times.

In fact, if we go back to this hadith, we see that Islam does not deny mental health at all:

Abu Huraira reported the Prophet PBUH said, “If Allah wills good for someone, He afflicts him with trials.”

This hadith was not spoken with simply poetic motive. Muslims all around the world go through great hardships which affect their mental health. Different situations and mental capacities contribute to the type of mental health illness an individual develops. Some individuals do indeed suffer as a result of their declining faith, while others suffer from how persistently their faith is challenged, to such a degree that if you were put in their shoes you might end up even worse off than they are currently faring.

Allah (SWT) created us all differently, and so we respond to our situations very differently. Allah (SWT) knows everything about us, not just what’s in our heart, but also the way our brain responds to stress and change. Mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, ADHD, OCD, bipolar disorder, and multiple personality disorder – these are all things that Allah (SWT) gives us to test us. Struggling to manage these conditions does not ultimately mean we fail His test, but it is simply the load we must carry on our path to Jannah, similar to how carrying a heavy bag across long distances may also be our load.

The Prophet said, “No fatigue, nor disease, nor sorrow, nor sadness, nor hurt, nor distress befalls a Muslim, even if it were the prick he receives from a thorn, but that Allah expiates some of his sins for that.” (Sahih Bukhari)

Within Islam, there are many useful opinions in regards to our nafs (the human psyche) or our spiritual mindset and what contributes to the balance and imbalance of our inner state. This includes the three states that our nafs change into depending on our actions and intentions. There is the nafs al mutmainnah which is a state in which someone is pure and does things only to please Allah (SWT). There is the nafs al ammarah which is a state where someone is always sinning and never feels ashamed. Then there is the third type, which is the nafs al lawammah which is a state where someone sins but also feels bad for sinning and tries to improve. It is this third type that most of us fall into, and in the case of mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety, is only as bad as it is because of how ashamed a person feels, showing the purity of their intention.

So while some Muslims might conclude that the Quran and Sunnah are sufficient forms of ‘therapy’, Muslims and individuals of other faith-based backgrounds also need other forms of therapy which are compatible with their beliefs.

Islamic therapies

Islam has many ways which can help relieve ourselves from these anxieties and better our mental wellbeing, and even improve current methods of therapy, particularly for Muslims.

For example, Quran recitation has been proved to calm down people with psychological and psychiatric disorders. A study by Dr Al Qadhi in Florida revealed that listening to the Holy Quran has an effect on bringing calm and reducing tension in the reflective nerves by as much as 97 per cent.

The Prophet PBUH would also ask Bilal RA to call the adhan by saying: “Bilal, relieve and soothe us through salah (prayer).”

Another form of therapy that is prominent in Islam is similar to cognitive behavioural therapy, in that we are told to find a balance in our life and way of thinking.

“Allah’s Messenger PBUH said, “O `Abdullah! Have I not been informed that you fast all the day and stand in prayer all night?” I said, “Yes, O Allah’s Messenger!” He said, “Do not do that! Observe the fast sometimes and also leave them (the fast) at other times; stand up for the prayer at night and also sleep at night. Your body has a right over you, your eyes have a right over you and your wife has a right over you.”

Aisha (RA) would often prepare Talbeenah, a soup made of barley, milk and honey to treat those who were experiencing anxiety, depression and even bereavement induced psychosis. The hadith on Talbeenah is proof that physical remedies can be used to treat emotional ailments. Aisha (RA)’s actions were an effort to find a physical psychiatrist medicine, similar to pills of today.

Abu Darda reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Verily, Allah sent down the disease and the cure, and for every disease, he made a cure. Seek treatment, but do not seek treatment by the unlawful.”


Islam provides a comprehensive insight into mental health by paying attention to both spiritual and mental aspects of humans. For Muslims, this means to seek mental health therapy in both conventional services as well as comfort in the familiarity of the Quran, prayer and spiritual practices, which has been approved by our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and proven as effective. MWA believes that Muslims and members of other faith-based backgrounds have the right to access forms of therapy that acknowledges their worldviews, both within their local communities and broader society.

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