In the name of Allah SWT the Most Merciful, the Most Gracious.
I suffer from schizophrenia, a mental illness that affects up to one in a hundred people worldwide. The illness disrupts the functioning of the mind and causes intense episodes of psychosis, including but not limited to delusions and hallucinations, as well as longer periods of reduced expression, motivation and functioning. I was officially diagnosed with the illness during the end of the month of July, 2017, Alhamdullilah. Over the course of my ongoing journey with my mental illness I have learnt a great deal, Alhamdullilah.
Overcoming the stigma attached to mental health in the community:
There is a great stigma attached to mental illnesses in our community. Well-meaning mashayikh isolate and hurt sufferers of mental health by suggesting that the cure lies only in ‘getting closer to Allah SWT.’ Their prescription for clinical depression is to be more God-conscious and their prescription for anxiety is to increase our reliance on Allah SWT. Whilst all these prescriptions are beautiful and ideal in principle, we should never prescribe cures to illnesses we possess no knowledge of. It is incredibly important that we as a community invest in mental health programs in our schools, masajid, and community centres. We should value and hold in high esteem the science of psychology and psychiatry, and not perpetuate the outdated view that these sciences are useless and a waste of time – I’ve had a couple of well-meaning aunties tell me to never enter into these fields because according to them; studying psychology makes one mad. Mental illnesses MUST be treated like any other physical illness. It is not the fault of the sick. Nobody chooses to be mentally ill and nobody should ever feel ashamed of their mental illness.
After my first psychotic episode, I refused to take medication because I was lead to believe that I was just possessed by the devil. After I internalized this, I experienced a period of intense depression because I thought I was a ‘bad Muslim’ since I was possessed by the devil. I started to blame myself and became hopeless. But after my second episode, I sought professional help from psychologists, psychiatrists and established scholars and realized something profound: just like a diabetic person needs regular medication in order to survive, I need ongoing medication for my schizophrenia in order to live and there’s no shame in that. I also realized something beautiful: my illness is a test from the Most Merciful, the Most Wise and with every difficulty there is great ease. With this diagnosis, I have learnt so much about myself and about the compassionate nature of our Lord. He tests us to strengthen our hearts. The tests from Allah SWT come in different forms and instead of spending time hiding behind your mental illness and being consumed by shame and guilt, seek Allah SWT and His cures such as medication, counselling, and the recitation of the glorious Qur’an. Immerse yourself in the Qur’an and become enlivened by it. Once you see the beauty of the Qur’an you begin to see the beauty in everything around you; even in your own imperfections and illnesses – this is what I truly believe now. My illness is a gift from the Most Kind and the greatest form of gratitude to God is to use His gifts and blessings in the service of His religion. So I pray that with my illness I am able to break down the negative stereotypes surrounding mental health and be a tool to inspire those suffering from mental illnesses to seek professional help and realize that they are not to blame. But I cannot do this alone. In surat Taha, when Allah SWT orders the Prophet Moses to go to the Pharoah, the beloved Prophet of God asks Allah SWT for the aid of his brother so that he may overcome the Pharoah. Similarly, in order to overcome the stigma attached to mental health, we as a community need to stand with our brothers and sisters who have been rejected and hurt by members of our community and educate the ignorant. We need to offer them support and our time and resources.
To the broken hearts suffering from mental illnesses:
To those suffering with depression, anxiety, bi-polar, schizophrenia, bulimia or any other mental illness remember, “Indeed Allah is with me and He will guide me through” [26:62]. Have irrational optimism that Allah SWT will heal you. When it feels like the entire community has abandoned you, remember that Allah SWT never did and that He is always with you even in your darkest moments. “Allah does not burden a soul beyond what it can bear” [2:286]. No matter what it is, you have the ability to overcome it. The ability to find people to help you, the ability to use the pain to grasp more tightly to His rope. The Prophet Muhammad said, “great reward comes with great trials. When Allah loves a people, He tests them, and whoever accepts it attains His pleasure, whereas whoever shows discontent with it incurs his wrath”[Tirmidhi].
So be patient and keep going. Just a little more remains until you find everlasting happiness and peace.
May Allah SWT heal our sick minds and bodies but most importantly our sick hearts.