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Mental Health and Religion


 by Ibrahim B. Syed, Ph. D. 
Islamic Research Foundation International, Inc.
7102 W. Shefford Lane
Louisville, KY 40242-6462, U.S.A.




There are many examples in the Qur'an and Hadith of the virtues of a positive mental attitude, perseverance and optimism in the face of adversity. However, did you know that patience and a positive outlook on life are two of the greatest healing tools that you can use? 

The Qur'an (2:155) says, "Give glad tidings to those who exercise patience when struck with adversity and say, 'Indeed, we belong to God and to Him is our return.' Such ones receive [the] blessings and mercy of their Lord, and such are the guided ones." According to the findings of modern science, it appears that this mercy may often come in the form of improved health.


Well designed studies have examined the relationship between mental health and religious belief, commitment or practice.


Between 85 to 90 percent of persons responded that religion is a source of comfort.

Four out of ten randomly selected patients admitted to the medical services of a tertiary-care teaching hospital indicated that religion is the most important factor (more than family or friends) that enabled them to cope with the stress of their illnesses. Among hospitalized patients as the severity of the medical illness increased, religion was increasingly used as a coping behavior. In many studies, investigators found that persons who were more religious had greater well-being. Investigators reported positive associations between religious commitment and well-being.




According to the World Health Organization this year, depressive disorders are the fourth leading cause of ill health and disability amongst adults worldwide. By 2020, it is expected that mental health disorders will represent the world’s largest health problem.

Patients who depended heavily on their religious faith to cope were significantly less depressed than those who did not.  Research workers found better adaptation, lower rates of depression, and less frequent negative emotional states among the more religiously active. One study reported that failure to attend church services at least weekly was associated with an almost 40 percent increase in the risk of depression among 1,855 New York City residents.




Self-esteem is another important mental health outcome because a lack of it has been strongly linked with depression. One study found that persons who relied heavily on religion to cope actually had very high levels of self-esteem.  A number of researchers have now reported lower rates of suicide (the most dire consequence of depression) among those who are more religiously involved.




Like depression, anxiety and worry are widespread in America today. It was found that frequent church attenders actually experienced significantly lower rates of anxiety disorder than did infrequent attenders and those with no religious affiliation. These results were strongest among younger persons ages 18 to 39.

One study assessed the effectiveness of religious interventions in the treatment of Muslim patients with anxiety disorder. (Azhart, M.A., S.L. Varma, and A.S. Dharap. (1994) Religious psychotherapy in anxiety disorder patients.  Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica 90: 1-3)

Islamic teachings encourage patience, prayer and turning to Allah (SWT) in times of need and for guidance, but when one is struggling to survive in society and when discerning what is important isn’t easy, one can easily lose one’s way. This happens even in some Islamic countries undergoing fast urbanization whereby the state’s desire to catch up with the rest of the world has had a marked effect. 

These emotional stresses communicate themselves through somatic or physical complaints. “That is because they believe, then disbelieve, so a seal is set upon their hearts so that they do not understand” (Surat ul Munafiqun 63:3). And there we are, separated from our hearts – the seat of emotion, awareness and wisdom amongst physicians whose trade is not guided and informed by these notions. It is only recently, that there has been increased recognition through ‘person-centered’ medicine of the major role of psychosocial factors in the patients’ well-being and illness. Studies fail to address the question of why physicians may be less religious and why they appear to resist discussing religion in the clinic. Over the last 30 years, hundreds of services claim to use psychosocial rehabilitation, however there is unfortunately great confusion as to what this means and entails. Mental Health Social Worker Abul Hussein argues that religion or spirituality can act as a part of the holistic healing process – the center of balance – that gives calmness and peace so vital to recovery (REF.3). 

The awareness of what resources we have at our disposal when applied creatively can achieve a lot. It is not only for us to develop it further, but for modern mental health to realize that the process of returning to a state of balance can best be addressed by recognizing and assimilating the inner wealth already in possession of the patient spiritually, psychologically and culturally. Only then will modern mental health be equipped with the resources it needs to facilitate its original objective.



Alcoholism and Drug Abuse


In America, persons of the Christian faith, who frequently attended church (at least once a week), prayed or read the Bible, had significantly lower rates of alcoholism.


Possible Mechanisms of Effect


There are at least three natural mechanisms by which religion might promote mental health.


First through a system of beliefs and mental attitudes.

Second through increased social support and promotion of interaction with others.

Third, by emphasizing a focus on others and on a power higher than the self.


For a Muslim his/her Eemaan provides hope and a sense of control over his/her destiny.  The Noble Qur'an emphasizes that something good can result from every situation if the believer puts his/her complete trust in Allah (SWT).  Allah (SWT) can be reached and influenced by  Salaat and Du'a. Guilt is erased by the simple act of asking for forgiveness.  Complete trust in Allah (SWT) may have powerful psychological consequences, and may indeed bring comfort to those who are lonely, anxious, discouraged, or feeling out of control.


Second, active participation in the congregational  prayers in a Masjid brings people into contact with others of similar age who have common interests and with whom social relationships may form.  Religious doctrines promote social interaction by encouraging positive social attitudes and self-sacrifice.  Studies have shown that church or Mosque attendance is strongly related to almost every dimension of social support.  For those in certain age groups-especially the elderly-support from Masjid Jamaat members exceeds that from all other sources combined (other than family members). Social support in turn, is related to lower rates of depression, anxiety, loneliness, and other mental health problems. Indeed, emotional support from others is a major therapeutic tool used in all forms of counseling and psychotherapy. 


Religion's social effects include its impact on the family unit and on the rearing of children.  Studies have shown that religiously active marriages are more satisfying and less prone to divorce. Religious families are also likely to instill religious values in children, stressing commitment and character development, including honor and respect for parents.  These values may later affect whether children are willing to help out aging parents or siblings.  The future care of older adults in society may rest on such values.


Third, religious doctrines promote a healthy, balanced love of Allah (SWT), self and others.  In modern society most person strive for independence, self-sufficiency, and self-promotion, rather than seeking to help or improve the lot of others. In Islam the message is stop focusing on oneself, and start focusing on Allah (SWT), Ibadah and serving humans and His creatures.  The surest path to self-fulfillment, happiness, and self-esteem is not through striving to achieve these things for the self, but rather through providing these to others because of love for Allah (SWT) and the desire to serve Allah (SWT).

Many emotional disorders today result from people being focused on or preoccupied with their own petty issues. Islam says that a cure for such narcissistic tendencies is to transcend the self, put trust in Allah (SWT) and be concerned with loving and helping others.    These attitudes are also the very fabric, which holds families, communities and nations together.


There is much wisdom in the Prophet's (SAW) statement (narrated by Abu Hurayrah), "The strong [person] is not the one who overcomes the people by his strength, but the strong [person] is the one who controls himself while in anger." In fact, staying patient and calm is key to physical strength. 


It produces calm and health to practice saying, "Alhamdulillah" for what we have and for what we are faced with. We should try to keep our home and work environments peaceful and as free from stress as possible. One way we can counteract the effects of stress are to simply be aware of the stress we are encountering, and to consume sufficient nutrients and supplements such as herbs. 

If we completely ignore the relationship between mental and physical health, we are missing an important detail in the picture of personal health. And, as in most health problems, practicing prevention is superior to finding a cure. Therefore, the best manner to avoid having negative attitudes and emotions control our bodies is simply to practice the wisdoms that we have been given throughout the Qur'an and Hadith. We should say, "Alhamdulillah" for what we have; "Insha'Allah" for what we intend; and, "Subhana' Allah" when we see something exciting or amazing. We should remember to say, Astaghfir'Allah" when we lose our tempers or become weak, and most importantly, "Allahu Akbar" when we are faced with the challenges of life. These five phrases, said regularly, are like taking a multi-vitamin for holistic health.






  1. Harold George Koenig.: Religion and Mental Health. Haworth Press, 1997.

  2. Ibrahim B. Syed.: Medical Benefits of Taraweeh Prayers. WWW.IRFI.ORG

  3. Hwaa Irfan, Religion in Mental Health: The Soul under pressure.

4.      Karima Burns, Health Benefits of Saying "Alhamdulillah",


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