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Journey Through a Black Mind

Miriam Islam takes a look at what depression is and its various types from an integrated Western and Islamic perspective.

“If I hadn’t been a Muslim, I probably would have committed suicide by now.”



I stared in confused shock at my friend, sobbing helplessly; a million thoughts running through my head. I didn’t know how to respond. How was I to reply to a statement like that? I knew her very well, she’s my best friend and my neighbour of several years. We had both met at an Islamic conference and remained firm friends.



I knew her as a beautiful confident da’iee who had an insatiable thirst for knowledge and practising the Sunnah. I knew her as a content mother, wife and teacher; the world was her oyster. What could possibly have shattered her confidence to such an extent that she had wanted to commit suicide? What does it take to reach the lowest depths of one’s mind?



It takes one state – depression.



Depression clouds one’s motivations and perceptions of life.
Everyone at some point in their lives experiences pain, discomfort and frustration. Negative emotions are a natural part of life and can even be a driving force for some. Grief or sadness is understandable in circumstances following stressful situations, death or a loss of any kind. The depressed state may be intense at the time, but is usually short-lived as a person comes to terms with their loss/situation and deals with it. However, when the state continues for a prolonged period of time and a person seems to show no sign of improvement or becomes worse, that is when, perhaps, depression has set in.



Referred to as “My black dog” by Winston Churchill, depression is often associated with intense feelings of sadness and overwhelming hopelessness and/or guilt. It clouds one’s motivations and perception of life. A person shows very little interest in “normal” activities and may withdraw into themselves partially or totally. Depression has physical side effects where they may experience too much or little sleep, appetite, energy and sexual drive.



There are many misconceptions of depression as it is not often understood and remains unrecognised. This is mainly due to the fact that it is a taboo subject across many cultures and societies as it is regarded as a sign of weakness and mental instability. Depressed individuals don’t always acknowledge it themselves due to ignorance or denial, whilst others  remain oblivious because symptoms manifest in different ways or have developed very gradually. Contrary to the stereotype that it is just a mental state and not physical, depression is an actual illness. It is a real medical condition, like any other illness, that can be treated and overcome.


Depression is generally placed in the following categories:
Major Depression/Clinical Depression
Aasiyah is a 35 year old mother who is grieving after her four year old son died in a car accident two years ago. Aasiyah sleeps and eats very little and has lost a lot of weight. She doesn’t talk to anybody or take an interest in anything. Her marriage is suffering as is the welfare of her other two children. Aasiyah suffers from Major Depression, where four symptoms are present continuously, every day for nearly two weeks. Major symptoms include sleeping difficulties, lack of energy, feelings of worthlessness or guilt.



Dysthymic Disorder
Jessica is 23 years old and was constantly in foster care as a child. She had her first episode of depression whilst at College. She can’t hold a regular job down as she has poor concentration and sleeps too much. Her social life fluctuates depending on when she is well, or not. She suffers from Dysthymic Depression. This is less severe and less regular but individuals are almost constantly depressed for at least two years. Depressive symptoms are experienced two months at a time and at least two are always present such as change in appetite, sleep pattern, concentration difficulties and making decisions.



Manic depression/Bipolar Depression
Sharon is 29 years old, divorced because her husband left her for another woman. She has started smoking and drinking heavily and goes to a lot of parties where she constantly meets new men. Other times she shuts off from everybody for weeks and weeps endlessly for no apparent reason. Sharon suffers from Manic Depression, which fluctuates between states of mania and depression. An individual is constantly agitated and irritable for at least a week. They have a heightened sense of self-esteem and importance, are very excitable and display enormous amounts of energy. They are extremely talkative and may overindulge in any activity which is pleasurable.



There are other sub-categories of depression, differing in severity and on the cause, but most present with similar symptoms as Major depression and Dysthymic, for example Postnatal Depression.



You can’t tell a man with a broken leg to just get up and walk
Depression is very debilitating for many individuals in that they just cannot function as they “normally” would and live their daily lives. A depressed person may really want to and recognise that they need to get better but they physically can’t. Similarly Muslims cannot assume that a depressed Muslim has weak Iman, as this simply isn’t the case. Many knowledgeable, practicing individuals suffer from depression and it’s not because they have suddenly faltered in their belief in Allah (SWT), but because they’ve had an unexpected shock to their system and their brain is trying to assimilate and accommodate the change.


The Islamic perspective
Depression as a medical and psychological condition is recognised and addressed in Islam. Grief and depression are regarded as the same emotion, but differ in severity and length. Grief is known as Huzn and the one who is overcome with grief is referred to as a hazina. Depression is called Ka`iba meaning distressed and sorrowful. Ikti`aab is also used to describe depression as it is taken from the word Ikta`aba, which refers to the darkening of the earth’s surface upon nightfall. This similitude relates to the grief and sorrow that darkens a person’s mind.


Grief/depression is divided into different types as above, and into general causative factors of depression which will now be discussed:



Grief upon not following guidance
Ahmed, who is 40, runs a restaurant business which serves and sells alcohol. He doesn’t pray or give zakat and he gambles, so is heavily in debt. He eventually develops Dysthymic Disorder. It is made clear in many verses of the Qur’an that those who don’t follow Allah’s guidance will grieve, be they Muslim or non-Muslim.



“Henceforth there shall come to you guidance from me now and again.
Whoever follows it shall have neither fear nor sorrow” (Al Baqarah: 38)



Grief due to missing a worldly opportunity
Mr Khan, who is 48 years old, was made redundant a year ago. He can’t find another suitable job and has a wife and family to support. Mr Khan suffers from Major Depression. This is an example of grief incurred through loss of a worldly matter, whether it is financial, personal or material. It also encompasses regret and grief upon not achieving a worldly desire such as marriage, business, children etc.



Grief relating to religious activities/matters
Mr Ali, aged 55, was the Muad’dhin for his local mosque for several years. Due to a recent stroke, he is no longer able to call the Adhan or attend the congregational prayers. Mr Ali suffers from mild clinical depression. This grief is a type of regret where one cannot engage in more specific religious activities such as charity, extra prayers and commendable deeds. An example of this type of grief was when poor companions of the Prophet (SAW) expressed regret in not being able to contribute or participate in all the battles/expeditions or were unable to give as much in charity as the richer companions.



All our emotions and reactions are innate and have been created by Allah (SWT).



Grief, happiness and various other emotions of the human heart are innate. Grief occurs when we face any discomfort or an inconvenience or upheaval in our lives. All our emotions and reactions are inbuilt as they have been created by Allah (SWT), just the way our individual personalities have been shaped by Allah (SWT). What we feel is in sync with the personality that Allah (SWT) created us with. As such, our emotions are controlled by Allah (SWT) just the way all our affairs are controlled by Him. This fact is apparent in several verses in the Qur’an:

“And that it is he (Allah) who makes men laugh and weep.” (An-Najm: 43)


“No misfortune can happen on earth… That is truly easy for Allah this is done so that you are not disheartened over what you may lose nor feel exultant over what Allah may give you.” (Al Hadid: 22-23)



We have limited control over our emotions hence we feel many negative things despite not wanting to e.g. jealousy, hurt, bitterness, lustful desires. The extent to which we allow the emotions to consume us are within our control, but to remove them completely is beyond our ability. Depression, like grief and hurt, develops into a state that is beyond our control.



I looked at my friend and finally said to her, “Yes, because you are Muslim you won’t take your own life. A Muslim’s life is sacred; a Muslim has so much to offer. You know there is something more out there for you. You understand that there is a greater purpose in our life then our immediate situation. Allah I knows why he has put you in this situation. You see, ultimately grief, sadness or any emotional setback is a test from Allah (SWT) to make you stronger.”



The tests in life may be of a similar nature for everyone, but everyone reacts in different ways. Our reaction to the emotions we feel in the situation is what Allah (SWT) is testing. The purpose is to distinguish between the sincere believers and the ones who disbelieve. Tests are a means of purifying and expiating our sins so that we attain a higher status in the Hereafter. Tests are an opportunity for reward from Allah (SWT) and gaining closeness to Him. Any test only serves to benefit us in the Hereafter even though we cannot see or understand the wisdom behind it, so perhaps depression, as any other test, is a “blessing in disguise”.



Miriam Islam was born and brought up in the UK and is married with three delightful little children. She is a Health Science graduate and was a college lecturer teaching Human Physiology and Basic skills literacy. She has contributed articles to Habibis Halaqas and also writes on a freelance basis on health-related topics.




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