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Healing Power of Faith & Prayer

 Religious & Scientific Perspectives

Prof. Abdul Majid
Department of Zoology, 
Government Postgraduate College, 
Mansehra, Pakistan


We turn to God and He Renews our Strength so that we can run and not grow weary, so that we can walk and not feel faint.  The man or woman who turns to God is like a tree planted by a stream. What they share with the world replenished by a source beyond themselves so that they never run dry. (Kushner) (1)

Healing is defined as the diagnosis of the cause of evil and mental and physical sickness, and the development of techniques for its cure. (2)

Psychotherapy is a systematic effort to restore the disordered personality to the general pattern of normalcy (3). In Jung’s words psychotherapy is a domain of healing. (4)

Psychotherapy has a long and very old history. It is actually man’s fight against spiritual/mental sickness, diseases, maladjustment or any other disorder of this kind.

According to Dr. Ali Rizvi,
“Its foundation was actually laid with the appearance of man on this globe. The man who suffered a pain that could not be located in the body, was somewhere in the non-body region and thus resorted to a treatment which was considered appropriate to this kind of malaise” (5)

Different methods and techniques have been (and are being) used (in psychotherapy) to cure such disorders and mental ailments but the demon of melancholy seems to be devouring the substance of serenity and satisfaction. It is estimated that more than 500 million people worldwide suffer from the ill effects of depression. By 2020 it is expected to be the 2nd most debilitating disease after heart attack. (6)

A variety of anti-depressants are suggested as a course of therapy, but there is no recovery. More and more people in the modern societies are attempting to seek pleasure through carnal and corporeal modes of satisfaction. The sacred sources are denied the blessings which they deserved, while the unsanctified avenues are unfolded for immediate gratification, but their dissatisfaction is increasing. Neurosis, depression and suicide are increasing day by day.

Now people are realizing that real peace of mind and tranquility can not be gained without turning to God.

Within the past few years it has become generally known in the West that religious beliefs and practices have an important impact on physical and mental health.

Religion is commonly relied upon to cope with the stress caused by health problems. Now the medical effects of faith are considered a matter not just of faith but also of science.

More than three hundred scientific studies demonstrate the medical value of religious commitment (including worship attendance, prayer, scripture study, and an active participation in a spiritual community). These benefits include enhanced prevention and treatment of mental disorders (e.g. depression, suicide, and anxiety), medical and surgical illness (e.g; heart disease, cancer, sexually transmitted diseases), and addiction, reduced pain and disability; and prolonged survival.(7) In addition, spiritual treatment (e.g; prayer, religiously based psychotherapy) enhances recovery. (8)

For the faithful, religious commitment offers many health advantages. A cohesive, comforting set of beliefs and participation in sacred rituals may endow a sense of meaning, purpose, & hope. Faith offers a “peace that passeth understanding” in times of pain, grief and disability. Healthy life style choice (e.g. exercise, proper diet) are more common and unhealthy behaviors (e.g. nicotine, alcohol, & drug use, suicide attempts; high risk sexual activity) are less common among religious persons. Persons of faith usually cope effectively with stress and have strong social support and a high quality of life. (9)

Dr. Frankle, who developed a  system of psychotherapy, which in his own words, “not only recognizes man’s spirit, but actually starts from it”  quotes research findings which indicate that about 20 percent of neurosis result from inability of the patients to find any purpose in life. He further says that it may be the task of the therapist to direct them to a meaning in life by the realization of some value. This realization may be achieved, not only by accomplishing worthwhile tasks, but also sometimes by the adoption of an attitude of acceptance of inevitable sufferings. (10)

It is not surprising, then, that three major studies (recently published in the American Journal of Public Health and Journal of Gerontology performed in different parts of United States by different research teams have found religiously active people living considerably longer than non-religious. The lack of religious involvement has an effect on mortality that is equivalent to forty years of smoking one pack of cigarettes per day (11)

Several studies have now discovered a connection between religious involvement and immune system function. For example, in a study of 1718 subjects( age sixty five  or over) conducted by Duke University researchers, low level of church attendance were associated with higher levels of interleukin – 6 (IL-6), a blood protein indicative  of immune system dysfunction. Higher levels of religious attendance in 1986, 1989 and 1992 all predicted lower IL-6 levels. Higher levels of IL-6 (< 5ng/ml) are found in persons with AIDS, osteoporosis, Al- zheimer’s disease, diabetes, and certain forms of cancer. Frequent church attendees were only half as likely as non-attendees to have high levels of IL-6 in their blood, suggesting that they have strong immune system. (12)

Likewise, studies of patients with AIDS indicate stronger immune system functioning among those who are more religiously involved. (13)

In an another extensive study of healing by Dr. Dale Matthews and associates, personal prayers caused an overall 20 percent decrease in the amount of pain experienced by patients with arthritis. Patients also reported less swelling in their joints, greater mobility, and a heightened sense of spiritual peace. Dr. Matthews describes the reason of comfort,

“It raises the possibility that perhaps the effect of prayer is not going through the inflammatory mechanism, but instead is happening at a man cerebral level.”

Dr. Mathews also identified the act of physically putting one’s hand on the patient as more interactive, identifying the patient-healer interaction as a possible mechanism. (14)

Many modern psychologists like Jung, Brill, Link, Borgin, Loewanthal, Worthington, etc; acknowledge the fact that a person having a strong belief and practicing religion can better cope with psychological disorders than the one who does not practice religion. (16)

Recently an interesting study was conducted in Allama Iqbal Medical College, Lahore, on the effect of ‘Tahajjid Salat’ (late night prayer) in curbing depression. In this study, one experimental group was advised to recite the Holy Quran, offer prayer and be busy in invocation (dhikr). The other group was advised to remain busy in home tasks, etc. Then the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale was used to measure results. Astonishingly, 25 out of 32 patients of experimental group showed remarkable recovery from depression. The other group’s majority showed no change. (15)

Dr. Charles T. Kaelber reported in his article LINK BETWEEN DEPRESSION and SPIRITUALITY that depression is less common in people who are actively involved in religious activities. (17)

Kate Loewenthal also concludes in his book “The Psychology of Religion” religion can affect patterns of stress, and this can affect patterns of distress and of minor psychiatric disorders. We could suggest that minor anxiety is a disorder associated with the religious life, while major depression is a disorder associated with secularization.

Religious Activity --> Belief that God is in control, supporting all for the best --> positive mood --> Lower distress (18)

Why religion supports people and why faith in God is so helpful to people in distress, Dr. Pargament, the author of “The Psychology of Religion and Coping” speaks:

“I believe religion offers a response to the problem of human insufficiency. Try as we might to maximize significance through our own insights and experiences or through those of others, we remain human, finite and limited. At any time we may be pushed beyond our immediate resources, exposing our basic vulnerability to ourselves and the world. To this most basic of existential crises, religion holds solutions. The solutions may come in the form of spiritual support when other forms of social support are lacking, explanations when no other explanations seem convincing, and a sense of ultimate control through the sacred when life seems out of control or new objects of significance when old ones are no longer compelling.” (19)

Johnson sums it up more eloquently:
“It is because man is finite with infinite possibilities that he ventures upon the religious quest. He is naturally finite, yet he learns infinite possibilities which he cannot reach alone. Thus, he will never be content to endure the finite loneliness of self – sufficient isolation …. Religious learning is the discovery of ultimate resources to meet infinite longings of the finite spirit. (20)

Mark Su, a physician at the Tufts University Family Residency Program in Boston, Massachusetts, examined 212 studies from the past 20 years that examined the relationship between spirituality & health… most from the Judeo – Christian Perspective. Su found that 75 percent of these studies reported a positive benefit, 17 percent showed mix or no effect, and 7 percent found a negative impact on health.

Su found religion had the most positive impact on health conditions such as cancer, heart disease, and hypertension. Presenting the findings at the annual scientific assembly of the America Academy of Family Physicians in Atlanta – October 2001, Su said asking patients about their religious backgrounds practices and community is a relationship builder: “it leads to meaningful discussions: it creates a bond.” (21)

The Holy Quran also describes in its various verses that the real peace of mind and tranquility lies in faith in Almighty Allah and in His remembrance. Quran declares:

Those who believe, and whose hearts find rest in the remembrance of Allah, do the hearts find rest in the remembrance of Allah. Those who believe and do right, joy (Tuba) and true happiness is for them and a beautiful plea of find return. (22)

Abdullah Yousaf Ali comments on the word ‘Tuba’
‘Tuba’ an internal state of Satisfaction, an inward joy which is difficult to describe in words but which reflects itself in the life of the good man through good and ill fortune, through good report and evil. And then there is the final goal to which his eyes are turned, the beautiful Home of rest in the Hereafter, after his life’s struggles are over. That goal is God Himself. (23)

On the other hand, in another verse God said:
One who turns away from the remembrance and admonition of Allah, for his is a life narrowed down and he shall be raised blind on the Day of Judgment. (24)

So the true happiness in fact comes from the true belief in almighty Creator and from the values one cherishes and the virtues one nourishes. While all pleasures stemming from carnal desires and material phenomena disappear soon after their satisfaction, the bliss surrounding moral and spiritual consummation always remains alive and fresh in human mind and soul.

When we acquire complete satisfaction by advancing from doubt to faith, ignorance to knowledge, negligence to remembrance, sin to repentance, hypocrisy to sincerity, falsehood to truth, pride to humility, lethargy to action, haughtiness to lowliness, the soul is pacified. The delight, joy and comfort of soul are with the remembrance of Allah, from Him it comes and to Him it will return.

So we can say that real satisfaction is due to closeness to God and remoteness from God results in mental diseases.

An important study is published in 1988, which was conducted by Cardiologist Dr. Randolph Byrd. A computer assigned 393 patients at a coronary care unit either to a group that was prayed for by prayer groups or to a group that was not remembered in prayer. No one knew which group the patients were in. The prayer groups were simply given the patients first names, along with brief descriptions of their medical problems. They ware asked to pray each day until the patients were discharged from the hospital – but were given no instructions on how to do it or what to say. When the study was completed ten months later, the prayed - for patients benefited in several significant areas:

They required 20% less antibiotics than unremembered group
They were 2.5 times less likely to suffer congestive heart failure
They were less likely to suffer cardiac arrest and left the hospital earlier (25)

Similarly a study published in the November 2001, American Heart Journal showed a positive relationship between spirituality and health among cardiac patients. Duke University researchers studied 150 heart patients at a medical center in North Carolina. All received cardiac stents – device to keep their arteries open – and 120 received a noetic therapy, such as guided imagery, stress relaxation, healing touch or intercessory prayer. Buddhists, Catholic, Moravians, Jews, Fundamental Christians, Baptists and others prayed for the patients from around the world.

Patients who received the additional therapies had a 25 to 30 percent reduction in adverse outcomes – from additional surgery to death. (26)

It may be concluded on the basis of the above and many other studies that prayer for another person suffering from disease might have a beneficial effect if the sufferer knew that others cared enough for him or her to pray. In this case the knowledge of existence of the prayer might help to restore patient’s own faith in an ultimate restoration to health. There are also evidences (as described above) to affirm the efficiency of secret prayer when the person for whom prayer is made, does not know about the prayer. And in the words of Douglas Steere:
“No more and no less than that intercessory prayer seems able to touch the life of another at the core of his or her being and that in the extremity of disease we can be supported and even healed by the help of the prayers of other when we outwardly know nothing (27).

As poet Alfred Tennyson wrote, “Many things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of” (28)

These are the recent studies which strongly support the Islamic teachings about prayers. Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) said, “Prayer (Duaa) is the kernel of worship”. In another saying it is described that the most favorite thing to God is to pray to him.

Similarly the Prophet Mohammad said:
Prayer is the weapon of a believer, the pillar of religion Islam and is the light (Noor) of heavens and earth (29)

Almighty Allah instructed his beloved Prophet,
Pray for the believers because that is a source of security, serenity and tranquility for them. (30)

The prayers of great sages and saints have had special impact on those for whom they prayed. Modern research testifies this, as Dr. Iqbal said:  


Similarly, according to a hadith (saying of the Prophet) there are some people whose prayer (Duaa) is not rejected;
The fasting person until he breaks the fast; the just ruler, and the oppressed person, whose prayer Allah Lifts above the clouds and opens unto it the doors of heavens and Allah says: I swear by My honor, verily, I shall assist you, even though it may be after some time. (31)

Before describing further the healing power of prayer, a very brief note about the healing power of the Holy Quran is given which is also perfect admonition, remembrance (Zikr) and prayer.

About the Holy Quran, God said:
We send down (stage by stage) in the Quran that which is a healing and a mercy to those who believe. (32)

Abdullah Yousaf Ali comments on this verse as:
In God’s revelation there is a healing for our broken spirits, hope for our spiritual future, and a joy in the forgiveness of our sins. All who work in faith will share in these privileges. It is only the rebels against God’s law who will suffer loss. (33)

Dr. Ahmed E. Qazi and associates examined the effect of recitation of the Holy Scripture (The Quran).As a result of their studies they concluded that high blood pressure was decreased due to listening to the Quran, the heart beat was normalized and the muscles of the body relaxed. These effects of recitation were not only on Muslims but also on non-Muslims (34)

The First Sűrah (chapter) of the Quran is also called Sűrah (Fâtiha) Shifa (Healing and Cure) for all the ailments and this is the Sűrah recited necessarily in all the formal prayers of Muslims.

Dr. Rashid told Hakim Tariq Mehmood that the Patients who were suffering from insomnia were cured by the prayers of Dawn (Fajr) and night (Isha) and the recitation of the Quran and they slept without taking any sleeping pills. (35)

Almightly Allah advised all believers to seek strength in patience and prayer, Allah is with those who are patient. (36)  


When the period of suffering seems to be too long, strength seems to be sapping, patience may soon be exhausted unless strength is renewed. Hence, prayer is coupled with patience in the Quranic directive. Prayer is the ever – flowing spring which renews the believers’ energy and gives them new strength. Prayers also add to that perseverance, contentment, confidence and reassurance and make them feel that they are not alone.

Sayyid Qutb adds:
The value of prayer is great indeed; prayer is the direct link between man who is certain to die and the Power which is everlasting. It is the appointed time for the confined nature of man to come to the ever - flowing spring. It holds the key to the endless treasure which has more than anyone needs. It is the gate through which man escapes from his limited confines on earth to the limitless expanse of the Universe. It is the source of spiritual strength and tender compassion. It provides the gentle touch which comforts the tired heart. For this reason, whenever the Prophet (PBUH), experienced some hardship, or whenever he had to make a momentous decision he prayed much in order to make his contact with Allah more prolonged. (37)

Abu Hurairah, a companion of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) was suffering from intestinal pain. The prophet (PBUH) advised him,
“Stand up and pray because healing (shifa) is in prayer.” (38)

Dr. C. Callender, Chair of the Surgery Department at Howard University, Washington D.C. rightly said:
“The miracles of spiritual healing should be accepted as the newest medical technology” (39)

I conclude my paper with Biblical and Quranic verses which are better suited here.

A sufferer prays to God:
Unto thee will I Cry, O Lord my rock; be not silent to me, if though be silent to me, I become like them that go down unto the pit. Hear the voice of my supplications, when I cry unto thee, when I lift up my hands towards thy Holy sanctuary…….

Blessed be the Lord, because he had heard the voice of my supplications.

The Lord is my Strength and my Shield; my heart trusted in Him, and I am helped: therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth, and with song will I praise him. (Psalms 28:2-3,6-7) (40)

In the Holy Quran God assures:
When my servants (bondmen) ask thee concerning me (tell them) I am indeed close to them, I listen to the prayer of every supplicant when he calleth on Me: Let them also with a will, listen to My call, and believe in Me, that they may be rightly directed. (Al-Quran: 2:186)



1.      Quoted in Kenneth I. Pargament: The Psychology of Religion & Coping (New York: The Guilford Press, 19987) p.208
2.      Enclyclopaedia Britannica(Chicago: William Bentom Publishers, 1975) vol. 8,p.685
3.      Dr. Syed Azhar Ali Rizvi: Muslim Tradition in Psychotherapy and Modern Trends (Lahore: Institute of Islamic Culture, Club Road, 1989) p. 1
4.      Ibid.
5.      Ibid, p. 203
6.      Iqbal S. Hussain: The Quran and Modernism Beyond Science and Philosophy (Lahore: Adabistan, 43, Rattigan Road, 2000) p. 308 .  The World Health Organization (WHO) sponsored a project titled ‘The Global Burning of Disease’, which estimated that in the year 2000, depression was the fourth leading cause of disability in the world and would be the second – leading cause by the year 2020 . A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, in which  it is estimated that the proportion of persons receiving treatment for depression increased more than three – fold from 1987 to 1997. (See for further details Charles Kaelber article Research Indicates Link Between Depression and Spirituality in Research News and opportunities (Durham: North Carolina June 2002), p. 5
7.       Dale Matthews: Is Religion Good for Your Health in Russell Stannard (ed) God for the 21st Century (Philadelphia: Templeton Foundation Press, 2000) p. 103 and also see the summary of 85 studies published by Dr. Kenneth I. Pargament in his book “The Psychology of Religion and Coping” (pp. 407 – 422), which proves that religion and religious activities are very effective in coping(Varios definitions of coping are given by the famous psychologist  Pargament in the aforesaid book at page 85, one of them is: Any response to external life strains that serves to prevent, avoid, or control emotional distress.
8.      Ibid
9.      Ibid, p. 104
10.  Dr. Robert H. Thouless: An Introduction to the Psychology of Religion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1971) p. 78
11.  Harold Koenig: The Healing Power of Faith in Stannard Russell (ed) God for 21st Century p. 108
12.  Ibid, p. 109
13.  Ibid
14.  Tara Yeoman: Prayer Study Returns Positive Results: Matthews work shows measured decrease in arthritis pain in Research News and Opportunities, May 2001, p. 3
15.  Dr. Usman Najati: Al Quran and Ilmun-nafs (Lahore: Al-Faisal Publishers, Urdu Bazaar) pp. 362 – 363) and Kate M. Loewenthal: The Psychology of Religion: A short introduction. (Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 185 Bonbury Road, 2000) p. 124 – 125
16.  Hakim Tariq Mehmood Chughtai: Sunnat Nabvi (The way of the Prophet and Modern Science) Bahawlpur (Hasil Pur); Darul Mutaliah in front of Mosque Bazaar Wali, 1996) pp. 53 – 55
17.  Dr. Charles T. Kaelber, op. cit.
18.  Kate M. Loewenthal, op. cit. p. 128
19.  Kenneth Pargament, op. cit. p. 310
20.  Ibid.
21.  Mike Fillon: Medical Wonders from Religiosity in Science and Spirit (IL: 115 Campbell Street Suit L-4, May, June 2002, p.36
22.  Al-Quran, 13: 28-29
23.  Abdullah Yusuf Ali: The Meaning of the Glorious Quran, Translation and Commentary (Cairo: Darul Kitab Al-Masri) Volume 1, p. 612
24.  Al-Quran, 20: 124
25.  Dr. Larry Dossey: Does Prayer Heal? In  Readers, Digest, June 1996, p. 118
26.  Mike Fillon, op. cit.
27.  Douglas V. Steer: Dimensions of Prayer ( TN: Upper Room Books, 1997 ), p. 77
28.  Ibid
29.  Hakim Tariq Mehmud: The Teachings of the Prophet and Modern Sciences (Lahore: Ilmourfan Publishers, Urdu Bazaar, 2000) pp. 210 – 211
30.  Al-Quran: 9: 103.
31.  Maulana Mohammad Zakaryya: Blessings and Rewards of Keeping Fast (Lahore: Kutab Khana Faizi), p. 27
32.  Al-Quran: 17:82
33.  Abdullah Yousaf Ali, op. cit; Vol. 1, p. 718
34.  Hakim Tariq Mehmood, op. cit;  212
35.  Ibid
36.  Al-Quran: 2: 153
37.  Adil Salahi (ed): Our Dialogue (KSA Jeddah: Arab News, 6th Edition) Vol. 2, pp. 665 – 666
38.  Usman Najjati: Hadith & Ilm-un-Nafs (Lahore: Al-Faisal Publishers, Urdu Bazaar, 1988) p. 344
39.  Mike Fillon: Science and Spirit, op. cit. p. 37 Quoted in Kenneth Pargament: the Psychology of Religion and Coping. P. 210

About the author:
Assistant Professor of Zoology & Chairperson of HSSRD & winner of CTNS 2001 Science- Religion International award.

Source:  with permission
Hazara Society for Science-Religion Dialogue, Pakistan
(The Hazara Society is for the constructive engagement of Religion & Science)

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