The Qur’an and mental health

The Qur’an is written by our creator – so why would it not contain all the keys to attaining great mental, emotional and spiritual health? All we have to do is pay close enough attention in order to reap the benefits.

The Qur’an is truly unlike any other book. That’s why when we approach it, it can feel very different to what we’re used to, and possibly intimidating, or tricky to get to grips with. 

It is impossible to summarise here what makes the Qur’an so miraculous. A hallmark of the Qur’an’s unique style is how it seamlessly intertwines guidance, metaphors, parables, and principles, with encouragement and warnings. Instead of linear prose, or simply poetry, the Qur’an is a dynamic symphony of moral logic and Divine truth. It might remind you of how your thoughts are in constant and interconnected movement.

Arabic and non-Arabic speakers alike can perhaps best witness the untranslatable melodic flow and powerful energy of the text by listening to the Qur’an being recited. 

Take a moment to listen:

Surah al Fatiha and Surah al Qaf recited by Mansour Mohiddiene (7mins)

“And We send down of the Qur’an that which is a healing and a mercy to those who believe” — Qur’an 17:82

The Qur’an has fascinated and inspired the world’s brightest thinkers, since the time of the Prophet (pbuh) up to the present day. But you don’t need to be an expert to access the Qur’an’s healing qualities. All you need is sincerity, humility and willingness to try.  

Remember, this book was revealed for you. 

“We have not revealed the Qur’an to you to cause you distress, but as a reminder to those in awe [of Allah].” — Qur’an 20:2-3

You, the reader, are constantly invited by Allah to question, ponder, reflect, study, confer, and look again, deeper.     

What does the Qur’an say about mental health? 

The Qur’an is about how to live, and the path to peace. The advice in the Qur’an is designed to bring how we think, feel and act, into alignment with our fitrah, (innate disposition of surrender to Allah). By proactively turning to Allah and putting our trust exclusively in Allah’s self, we can find tranquillity and contentment, and live in harmony with others and the natural world. 

How can I read the Qur’an to support my mental health? 

If you’re interested in developing a stronger relationship with the Qur’an to support your mental health, here are some tips that might help: 

Acknowledging complicated relationships with the Qur’an 

First of all, take a moment to think about how the Qur’an genuinely makes you feel? Comforted? Bored? Scared? Relaxed? Stressed? Intimidated? Confused? You might feel ashamed to admit it if you don’t have the best relationship with Allah’s book. But it’s important to acknowledge if you do feel this way.

Sometimes religious trauma can get in the way of our relationship with Allah, but we can’t start to heal unless we acknowledge it. 

As children, all too many of us were taught the Qur’an in a harsh, or unforgiving way – it’s used to win arguments, scold you, or remind you of how you will be punished. Often we’re not taught the Qur’an by people who have not had any sort of proper Qur’anic education. It’s just something that ought to be done, like doing the dishes. Add on top of this the impact of living in an Islamophobic society, where the Qur’an is routinely mocked and hostility is everywhere. And the fact that Muslims who lack any expertise, just like Islamophobes, can call themselves scholars and spread dodgy interpretations to millions of people online, every day. It’s easy to see why some of us struggle to even read the Qur’an, let alone fall in love with it. 

Omid Safi reflects on the mystical opening of the Qur’an (10mins)

“He is the One Who sends down rain after people have given up hope, spreading out His mercy. He is the Guardian, the Praiseworthy.” — Qur’an 42:28

Letting go of any guilt or anger about how you feel towards this book is going to be helpful if you want to explore the Qur’an for the purposes of your mental health. If you feel this way, perhaps there is some healing, forgiveness and resetting that needs to happen, so that you can open your heart fully to the Qur’an and all its possibilities. If there is, that’s ok. You can choose to start afresh.

It is up to you.    

Read more about healing from trauma

“He is the One Who accepts repentance from His servants and pardons sins. And He knows whatever you do. – Qur’an 42:25

Open your heart to the unexpected 

“Read! And your Lord is the Most Generous, who taught by the pen, Taught man what he knew not.” — Qur’an 96:3-5

You can’t step in the same river twice. Who you are right now, is not who you were yesterday. Your life is in constant movement. Your thoughts are in constant movement. Your heart is in constant movement. If the Qur’an is a guidance for every age, every place, and every heart, who is to say that the Qur’an won’t show you something different depending on the specific moment in time and space that you are reading it?

Each time, try reading as though it’s the first time

As you evolve so will your level of insight. If you open the Qur’an expecting to see the same thing you saw yesterday, perhaps you might overlook a fresh new insight ready to help you meet the challenges you’re facing today. 

Imagine you are every character in the Qur’an 

“There was certainly in their stories a lesson for those of understanding. Never was the Qur’an a narration invented, but a confirmation of what was before it and a detailed explanation of all things and guidance and mercy for a people who believe.” — Qur’an 12:111 

The best way to immerse yourself in the meaning of the Qur’an is to dive right into the action – like jumping into a river and going with the flow.

Search your soul for all the micro ways in which you might be acting like Pharaoh, or the people of Thamud, or the people who lost hope just before a battle.

Think of all the ways you’ve shown kindness like the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), stood firm like Prophet Musa (pbuh) and repented like Prophet Yunus (pbuh).

The more deeply you reflect, the more the psychology of how different characters react to their blessings and hardships will start to feel very familiar. If you look hard enough, you will see that in many ways, you embody all the archetypes of humanity outlined in the Qur’an – the good, the bad, and those wavering in-between. 

The story of the Qur’an is your story.  

It might be uncomfortable at first when you begin to see the sides to yourself you typically fail to notice (or prefer to ignore) – but it can be liberating too. By getting to know the Qur’an you can get to know yourself, from the words of the One who created you, and this can have a monumentally positive impact on your mental health, and give you a clearer sense of direction and purpose in the long run.  

Read the Qur’an as though it is being revealed to you

“Read! In the Name of your Lord” — Qur’an 96:1

“Someone once told me, read the Qur’an as though it was revealed to you directly. It’s made me reflect on some of the verses differently and changed my relationship with Allah.”

Yes, you can read many different tafsirs (scholarly Qur’anic interpretations) – and it is very important not to dismiss the centuries of astonishing wisdom from the greatest thinkers of our tradition – but don’t forget, you also have a direct and personal relationship with Allah too

What is Allah telling you, personally? Allah is talking to you, so listen.

“If all the trees on earth were pens and the ocean [were ink], refilled by seven other oceans, the Words of Allah would not be exhausted. Surely Allah is Almighty, All-Wise.” — Qur’an 31:27

Tafsirs can really help you to figure out the deeper meaning of a parable or expression, and give you insight and context you would simply not have on your own. Respecting knowledge is an important Islamic value. But it is up to you to apply what you learn to your own present reality, and that always requires a degree of personal interpretation. If you’re always waiting for someone else to tell you what to think, and how to feel about Qur’anic messages, you could be losing out. 

Pay attention to what your heart tells you too.

“For me, finding the balance with the Qur’an was tricky. At one point I felt this intense level of anxiety that if you’re not a scholar you’re reading it wrong. And I had a lot of stress about how unqualified I was, but at the same time I didn’t agree with the interpretations from people who claimed to be qualified. When I just decided this Book is for me no matter what, it changed things. I am allowed to read it. I know it sounds silly, but I wish someone said it.”

It’s ok to explore different possible meanings, even if they don’t chime with things you’ve been told by other people. After all, even experts disagree with one another – you don’t have to pick a team, you can stay open, humble, and curious. Often the more opinions you hear, the more helpful it is for you to form your own view. And it’s ok for you view to change – in fact the more you learn, the more likely your view is to evolve.

Remember, if you ask Allah for guidance, Allah will respond. 

“Call upon Me, I will respond to you.” – Qur’an 40:60    

“I listen to surah Rahman for peace, I read surah Hud before facing a challenge, I read surah Yusuf when I feel hopeless. I read surah Maryam when I need comfort, and surah Anbiyah when I need motivation. Surahs Inshirah and Duha are my daily mantras.” 

Keep things informal

Don’t let other people make you think your religion is heavy and sombre, or painful and burdensome. It really doesn’t have to be. It’s supposed to make life better, not worse. 

Sometimes we’re raised with a lot of ‘strictness’ and formality when it comes to the Qur’an. Respect is crucial, but you don’t have to be super formal with your approach. 

“Peace”: a word from a Merciful Lord.” — Qur’an 36:58

A few minutes here and there, digging into topics that interest you, is totally valid. You’re doing this for you, not to make anyone else happy, so approach the Qur’an in a way that feels comfortable. By all means set yourself goals, and certainly take it seriously. But don’t let pursuing the Qur’an become a burden, or a source of guilt, especially if you’re already struggling with your mental health.   

“Surah Yusuf (chapter 12) brings me so much comfort. And I find listening to it being recited very soothing when I’m feeling anxious.”

Read at random

“So whoever does an atom’s weight of good will see it.” — Qur’an 99:7

If you want the Qur’an to be a formal, distant book reserved for Ramadan and funerals, then that’s up to you. But if you have a copy of the Qur’an handy by your bed, or on your desk, you can dip in and out, picking verses or chapters at random. This way you can start to build a familiarity and level of comfort with the Qur’an so that it becomes like a good friend who accompanies you throughout life. 

“I ask Allah for guidance for the day ahead, say bismillah and open the Qur’an at random every morning. I ponder those few verses throughout the day, thinking deeply and reflecting on how they apply to me. I research the verses if I don’t understand them. Honestly it’s an anchor and gives me a healthy focus that takes me away from my anxious thoughts. It gives me something interesting and reassuring to hold on to. I love it.”  

Don’t freak out if you don’t see what they see 

“Surely your Lord alone knows best who has strayed from His Way and who is ˹rightly˺ guided.” — Qur’an 68:7

Since the death of our Prophet (pbuh) people have been arguing about what the Qur’an means. The reason Islam spread and flourished was because tolerance is a quintessentially Islamic characteristic, (although in the internet age it might not feel like it). If Allah wanted us to all think the same we would. Surely disagreement is actually a mercy, because imagine how dull life would be otherwise? The point isn’t necessarily about reaching a conclusion, but the proactive journey you’re making to learn and understand. 

You will see according to your disposition, personality and your spiritual level. 

“We will show them Our signs in the universe and within themselves until it becomes clear to them that this is the truth. Is it not enough that your Lord is a Witness over all things?” — Qur’an 41:53

The Qur’an yields different fruits to different types of seekers; to those who long for moral guidance, ethical instruction, mystical interpretation, philosophical exploration, legalistic extraction, psychological insight, and beyond…

You can’t force yourself to agree with people’s interpretations, and you can’t force anyone to agree with you.

Humility and sincerity are what keep us open to new insights.

Only Allah knows best.    

Video showing how powerfully different Qur’an interpretations can be (11mins)

   

Study the Qur’an 

“We elevate by degrees whomever We will; and above every person of knowledge, there is one more knowing.” — Qur’an 12:76

If you’re getting into the Qur’an, or just Islam and spirituality generally, there’s really only so far you can get purely on your own. If we wanted to get to grips with science we could learn a lot through our own observation, but we’ll get a whole new level of insight if we chat to a quantum physicist, a medical doctor, and an industrial engineer. 

To get to the next level in your search for peace and the path to Jannah, immersing yourself in history, critical thinking, and religious argument can open you up to whole new and exciting possibilities.  

Arabiq.Online on Instagram and Tiktok is a offers some biteszie explanations of Arabic words, phrases and themes found in the Qur’an.

“I recommend The Usuli Institute Qur’an halaqas (learning circle) with Shaykh Khaled Abou El Fadl on YouTube. He explores the layers and meanings, as well as conflicting opinions on each Qur’an chapter in a new, fresh and interesting way that has totally changed my understanding of the Qur’an.”  

Five themes to look out for in the Qur’an 

Ultimately, the best way for us to discover how the Qur’an can support our mental health is by reading and engaging with the Qur’an first-hand. But if you’re not sure where to start, here are five key themes to look out for that can benefit your wellbeing and mental health: 

1. You have a purpose

“Indeed, in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of the day and night there are signs for people of reason. Those who remember Allah while standing, sitting, and lying on their sides, and reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth [and pray], “Our Lord! You have not created [all of] this without purpose. Glory be to You! Protect us from the torment of the Fire.”” — Qur’an 3:190-1

You are here for a reason. Allah did not create you aimlessly, or so that you could mindlessly chase after fun and nothing else. Your in-built sense of purpose and natural inclination is towards seeking goodness and doing good. Your job is to keep striving for justice, spreading goodness and creating peace in all you do. When we stray from our purpose, it can affect our sense of wellbeing and self-worth. (Read more about self-love)

Another way to figure out our purpose is to notice in the Qur’an, when Allah offers guidance, what outcome is the guidance intended to achieve? Take a look at the criteria you are given for what is worth your time and what isn’t. When you know what you’re aiming for, and how to approach your goals, the Qur’an becomes a toolkit for dealing with life.  

“And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me.” — Qur’an 51:56

2. You have a clear enemy

“Surely Satan is an enemy to you, so take him as an enemy. He only invites his followers to become inmates of the Blaze.” — Qur’an 35:6 

Shaytaan is your enemy. From the day human beings were created, Shaytaan refused to bow down to our superior nature. Instead he vowed to mislead us and knock us off the path to Jannah. That means as you walk through life, there is a force dedicated to derailing you – but his power is limited to whispering and persuasion – attempts at making evil seem good.

Notice when and where Shaytaan pops up in the Qur’an. What is he associated with? What are his characteristics? What is his role? Who follows him and who does he follow?

Think about his relationship to:

  • Envy 
  • Hostility 
  • Deception / false perception / delusion
  • Action / inaction 
  • Cowardice / self-doubt 
  • Arrogance / hypocrisy
  • Despair 
  • Temptation / recklessness 
  • Suspicion / gossip

What does Shaytaan represent to you literally, metaphorically and spiritually? How does he show up in your reality?

3. You deserve dignity – freedom from injustice and oppression

“O humanity! Indeed, We created you from a male and a female, and made you into peoples and tribes so that you may get to know one another. Surely the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous among you. Allah is truly All-Knowing, All-Aware.” — Qur’an 49:13

The result of goodness is goodness. Bad things make us feel bad. Notice when and how the Qur’an ties in with your intuition. Notice how much of the Qur’an is dedicated to telling people to mind their own business, stop judging, make peace, forgive and let people get on with their lives, even if they’re not great people.

Notice how you’re only encouraged to make a stand when being a bystander would lead to injustice.

What does that mean in terms of the way you are treated and the way you let people treat you? Are you being just to yourself? 

“And if they incline to peace, then incline to it [also] and rely upon Allah. Indeed, it is He who is the Hearing, the Knowing.” — Qur’an 9:61 

“So by mercy from Allah, [O Muhammad], you were lenient with them. And if you had been rude [in speech] and harsh in heart, they would have disbanded from about you. So pardon them and ask forgiveness for them and consult them in the matter. And when you have decided, then rely upon Allah. Indeed, Allah loves those who rely [upon Him].” — Qur’an 3:159 

4. Faith is your lifeline through adversity

“If Allah should aid you, no one can overcome you; but if He should forsake you, who is there that can aid you after Him? And upon Allah let the believers rely.” — Qur’an 3:160. 

This theme is hard to miss. Allah is the Lord of the Worlds, and the only one worthy of our complete and utter worship. No matter what we go through, Allah will suffice a believer. Faith is hope. Belief is strength. This means that for a sincere believer, failure is literally impossible.

Our struggles are never pointless.

Our pain is always witnessed. Our perseverance is always rewarded. Success will come in the end – it is a promise from Allah for those who don’t lose patience and give up hope. Whatever you are going through, you can get through it. Hold on, your effort is soon to be rewarded.   

“Say “Allah is sufficient for me. There is no god except Him. In Him I put my trust. And He is the Lord of the Mighty Throne.”” — Qur’an 9:129

5. You have to take action

“Indeed, We created humans in the best form. But We will reduce them to the lowest of the low. except those who believe and do good – they will have a never-ending reward.” — Qur’an 95:4-6

Trust in Allah is crucial, but the Qur’an also makes it clear, you must play your part too. Faith without the corresponding action leads to problems. Notice how often the people who believe but fail to take action are referred to as hypocrites and troublemakers. And notice what happens to the people who only pray in times of need and forget Allah as soon as they get what they want. Notice how Allah talks about people who thank Allah when they are happy, but then despair of Allah when they are tested. Are you practising what you preach? Are you grateful for what you have? Are you living in a way that empowers and benefits yourself and others? Are your choices based on worldly concerns or what will bring you closer to Allah?

Part of looking after your mental health and wellbeing is taking action to feel better.

This could mean establishing a good self-care routine, reaching out for help from people you trust, speaking to your doctor or finding a therapist, making du’a, or learning about trauma healing… a little effort can go a long way during difficult times, and when times are good too.

“So establish prayer, give alms, and hold fast to Allah. He is your Guardian. What an excellent Guardian, and what an excellent Helper!” — Qur’an 22:78 

Comfort for a heavy heart 

A good place to start is… 

  • Surah 94, Al Inshirah
  • Surah 93, Ad Duha 
  • Surah 12, Yusuf 
  • Surah 19, Maryam

Stories of inspiration and hope 

A good place to start is… 

  • Surah 11, Hud
  • Surah 21, Anbiya 
  • Surah 18, Al Kahf
  • Surah 48, Al Fath 

Lessons in human nature  

A good place to start is… 

  • Surah 20, Ta Ha
  • Surah 16, An Nahl
  • Surah 28, Al Qasas
  • Surah 31, Luqman 

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