The trouble arises when we misunderstand the nature of life. Anyone walking the streets today, browsing social media, or overhearing mundane conversations could assume that our purpose in this world is to attain as much pleasure and gratification as possible. We measure our happiness according to arbitrary material gain. We only allow ourselves to feel happy once we have enough money to go on that luxury holiday, or buy the house of our dreams, or have perfect children.
Here’s the thing: life isn’t perfect, nor was it ever supposed to be. This unjust narrative is one that is burdening us with compounding pressure and negatively affecting our mental health.
Life was created to test who from amongst us, the creation of Allāh, would be most excellent in deeds. In light of this, we face cyclical seasons of joy, heartbreak, success, depression, loss, and joy once more. Through each of these times, we must strive to emerge with as much excellence as we can muster. When we focus on our spirituality, we begin to understand that inner peace can be found in times of both hardship and ease alike. Our spiritual self helps us to recalibrate and find a sense of balance amidst the extreme highs and lows we face. In our dīn, we are given every tool we require to navigate every possible situation or feeling that may befall us.
1. Don’t underestimate yourself
Too often, our patterns of thought become detrimental to our mental health. We think that our problems are too devastating, too big, and just too difficult. With every waking day, we feel heavier and smaller in the face of our pain. Allāh reassures us in the Qur’ān:
“Allāh does not burden a soul beyond that it can bear.”
As Muslims, we believe that we have the inherent ability to overcome every struggle we face, regardless of whether this struggle is mental, physical, or spiritual. We should not lead ourselves into a trap of unending negative thoughts that leave us feeling defeated and victimised. We rise to the challenge and remind ourselves that we are stronger than we think. We are empowered by this belief. We take every possible step needed to recover. We can sign up to talk therapies, counselling, or speak to our GPs for practical tips on how to bring about positive thinking. Allāh knows what we are capable of overcoming, and we must maintain the belief that we can overcome any obstacle we find on our path.
2. The value of struggle
Every single prophet who walked this Earth faced the most intense pain, turmoil, and difficulties. Yet they were the most excellent in heart, character, and deed. They suffered the most, yet at the same time accomplished the most. When we are suffering, we must try to remember that this is a sign of Allāh wanting good for us. Through the pain we feel, we are elevated in rank before Allāh, and our sins fall away. Sa’d ibn Abī Waqqās reported:
I said, “O Messenger of Allāh, which people are tested most severely?”
The Messenger of Allāh (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said:
“They are the prophets, then the best [of people] who are next, then the best [of people] who are next. A man is put to trial according to his religion. If he is firm in his religion, his trials will be more severe. If he is weak in his religion, he is put to trial according to his strength in religion. The servant will continue to be put to trial until he is left walking upon the Earth without any sin.”
In another narration that highlights that our distress is a means of expiation, the Prophet (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said:
“No misfortune or disease befalls a Muslim, no worry or grief or harm or distress – not even a thorn that pricks him – but Allāh will expiate for him some of his sins because of that.”
Prophet Ya’qūb (‘alayhi al-Salām) was a great prophet who faced severe emotional pain after losing his son Yūsuf (‘alayhi al-Salām). His sorrow was so intense that he went blind after weeping so much. Through decades of unshifting grief, he did not lose hope. He believed unwaveringly that Allāh’s plan for him and his family was greater. He did not complain or protest through this test, but instead turned to Allāh, the only One who could truly understand him and help him:
“He [Ya’qūb] said, ‘I only complain of my suffering and my grief to Allāh, and I know from Allāh that which you do not know.’”
Our struggles can be valuable. The pain we endure can sometimes be a gift that blesses us with closeness to Allāh. During times of ease, many of us can become negligent and ungrateful of the blessings of Allāh. Once we get through painful times, we start to realise that Allāh is the One who truly provides for us, sustains us, and protects us. We seek the professional help we need, but our hearts are attached to Allāh, as He is the only One we truly require:
“Is He [not best] Who responds to the desperate one when he calls upon Him and removes evil and makes you inheritors of the Earth? Is there a deity with Allāh? Little do you remember.”
3. Hardship is a sign of ease
A principle we derive from Qur’ānic stories is that things usually get a lot more difficult before relief finally comes. It is usually once we hit rock bottom that we start to notice a shift in events. It may not seem like it, but this principle is actually one of hope. If things are progressively getting more difficult for you, it is a sign that ease is just around the corner – so don’t give up.
As if things weren’t already difficult enough for Ya’qūb (‘alayhi al-Salām) after losing his son Yūsuf, then losing his sight, he then loses his second most beloved son, Binyāmīn. For many of us, after a lifetime of sorrow, this would have been the final straw. In the eyes of Ya’qūb (‘alayhi al-Salām), this was a sign that instilled great hope in him:
“O my sons, go and find out about Yūsuf and his brother and despair not of relief from Allāh. Indeed, no one despairs of relief from Allāh except the disbelieving people.”
Ya’qūb (‘alayhi al-Salām) understood that this increase in difficulty meant that ease was very near. He was proven correct, and he was soon reunited with both Yūsuf (‘alayhi al-Salām) and Binyāmīn, and regained his sight. It is often in times of extreme difficulty that Allāh sends His help. It is often when a situation becomes unbearable and you do not see any light that Allāh will then open the doors of His mercy, blessings, and grace for you.
4. Ease will surely come
We are never left in a state of perpetual suffering. Ease always comes, especially to those who make a conscious effort to please Allāh and stay away from things that displease Him. When speaking about the people who are conscious of Him, Allāh says:
Whoever fears Allāh:
– He will make a way out [for him]
– And will provide for him from where he does not expect
– And whoever relies upon Allāh – He is sufficient for him
– Indeed, Allāh will accomplish His purpose. Allāh has already set for everything a [decreed] extent.
Mental health struggles can be especially difficult to work through. This is because it can be difficult to explain to others the true extent of your suffering and how it affects your daily life.
In order to get better, you first must want recovery more than anything. You need to make a daily effort to fight through your unnerving thoughts and sensations, and make recovery your priority. Once you take this step, things will slowly begin to get easier.
By no means are you alone in your pain. Seek the support of your loved ones, professionals, and Imams as much as you can. Be proactive and remain consistent in getting help, with your focus set on feeling that ease set into your life. Turn to Allāh daily and express what you need. Ask Him what it is you wish for, and truly confide in Him:
“Your Lord says, ‘Call upon Me; I will respond to you.’”
5. Seek help in patience and prayer
As a primary step, it is important that you seek professional help from counsellors and psychiatrists who are available to you. These professionals have undergone rigorous training and have a wealth of knowledge, experience, and insight that can help you out of your pain and onto a path of hope. Once you have taken this key step in the direction of your recovery, it is important that you still remain sensitive to the state of your heart. Allāh says:
“Seek help through patience and prayer. Indeed, it is difficult except for the humbly submissive [to Allāh], who are certain that they will meet their Lord and that they will return to Him.”
Patience is one of the most virtuous qualities we can uphold. To be patient is not to be passive or helpless. While in a state of patience, we are hopeful and proactive as believers. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said:
“Adhere to that which is beneficial for you, keep asking Allāh for help, and do not feel helpless.”
Additionally, the act of patience is so great in the eyes of Allāh that its reward is without limit. It is reported that Sulaymān ibn Qāsim said:
“The reward of every action is known, except for patience. Allāh said: ‘Indeed, the patient will be given their reward without account.’”
Living in a world that seems to be fundamentally opposed to our values, beliefs, and practices can confuse our sense of identity. Our mental health can suffer greatly if we constantly feel pulled between our religion and the vices that surround us. Our personal and work lives can also be a source of unrest at times. Life in general can weigh heavy upon us, and we can lighten this load with the frequent remembrance of Allāh. Al-Ghazālī writes:
“If mental agitation is not stilled by this tranquiliser [i.e. prayer], the only recourse is a purgative that will strike at the deep roots of the malady. That is to say, one must examine the distractions that prevent the attainment of inner serenity.”
Al-Ghazālī further explains that our mental agitation ultimately stems from our pressing concerns and desires. A detox from social media, harmful environments, and tempting situations can help us to improve not only our mental health, but also our īmān.
Let us take a step away from all the noise. Let us go towards our loved ones, mental health professionals, and most important of all, Allāh.
The Messenger of Allāh (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, “The supplication of the distressed is this: O Allāh, I hope in Your Mercy. Do not abandon me to myself, not even for a moment, and take care of all my affairs. There is no God but You.”
 Al-Qur’ān 67:2
 Al-Qur’ān 2:286
 Tirmidhi 2398
 Bukhāri 5641
 Al-Qur’ān 12:86
 Al-Qur’ān 27:62
 Al-Qur’ān 12:87
 Al-Qur’ān 65:2-3
 Al-Qur’ān 40:60
 Al-Qur’ān 2:45-46
 Ibn Abī Dunyā, Al Sabr Wa Al-Thawāb ‘Alayh
 Al-Ghazālī, Inner Dimensions of Islamic Worship, p.41.
 Abu Dāwūd 5090