Friday, April 20, 2012

Spirituality and Health

         In my practice, I always face the question: “What does spirituality have to do with health and healing?” I guess the confusion stems from us still adopting the old definition of health. Many people still identify health as the absence of disease: if you are symptom free, you are healthy. This is far from the truth, though. 

         The World Health Organization identifies health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social wellbeing”, and sees spirituality as an important factor in the quality of life and wellness of individuals regardless of their religious affiliations. During the last twenty years, there has been a worldwide awakening to the need for integration of the spiritual dimension into our everyday living. 
         Spirituality has become a very popular topic among scientists and medical practitioners alike. And, despite the rapidly growing body of research, still, the effect of spirituality on health and wellness is highly controversial as physicians and pharmacists see it. The spiritual dimension of human life is widely neglected in conventional medical practice and various medical training programs. Even though many studies show the positive effect of spirituality on the overall health and quality of life, Western scientists are reluctant in accepting it as they still disagree on the interpretation of the word ‘spirituality’. Studies show that adopting spirituality/religiosity as a mere ritual do little if not nothing at all to improve health and healing.

           Spirituality, for it to be an effective tool in the healing journey, should be well integrated in our lifestyle. It should be, as the word denotes, a function of the soul. Spirituality is an individualistic concept; it is our personal quest for the sacred connection with our Creator, a quest for deeper meanings and purpose in life. Islam advocates a holistic way of living that integrates spirituality in every aspect of life and incorporates the health of the physical body with the well-being of the mind, heart, and soul. 

         For Muslims, the words spirituality and religion cannot be detached, they are highly intertwined and both are manifested in the daily religious rituals as well as in everyday life experiences. Muslim worshipping acts carry within them a valuable ‘food’ for the soul. They are constant reminders of the need of this sacred connection with our Creator, a connection that ensures not only our spiritual and psychological well being, but that extend to our physical and mental health and wellness as well by driving away evil thoughts and clearing the mind from stress and worries. The later are seen by modern medicine as the precipitating cause of many serious conditions starting from ulcers and digestive problems, reaching all the way to adrenal fatigue, diabetes, and even cancer. 

                  Diseases and Calamity in Muslims’ Eyes Muslims perceive their diseases as a challenge, a test or an added value and meaning. They see calamities and challenges in life as lessons that help them evolve to a higher spiritual level of awareness. As such, they look at calamity, be it illness, material loss or bereavement, as unavoidable part of a normal human life and growth. 

          It is taught in the Qur’an: “Do the people think that they will be left to say, ‘We believe’ and they will not be tried?” (29: 2).

          And: “We will most certainly try you with somewhat of fear and hunger and loss of property and lives and fruits; and give good news to the patient, who, when a misfortune befalls them, say: Surely we are Allah’s and to Him we shall surely return” (2: 155- 156). Al-Jauziyah divided diseases into two major types: Heart (or soul) diseases and physical illnesses. 
                Treatment of heart diseases, lays in the connection of the heart with its Creator. Preserving the health of the heart, according to Al-Jauziyah, is the only way towards holistic health as he sees it as the source of physical health and the source of life itself. Knowing the Creator, believing in His Oneness, loving Him, relying upon Him, and always being grateful for His gifts and boons are the necessary “nutrients” for a healthy heart as described by Al-Jauziyah. If they are ignored, the heart sickens and falls prey to worry, sadness and depression. Nowadays, conventional medicine acknowledges the role of these heart aches and pain in precipitation of diseases such as depression, autoimmune conditions, and malignant tumors. 

 Helpers through Diseases and Life Calamities: 

 1. Belief in God’s Power and Justice
According to Mayo clinic, the belief in a Higher Power is the best coping strategy for various life challenges be they physical, emotional or social demands. Faith and belief have always been Muslims’ helpers in coping with life's crises and physical challenges as well as in handling everyday minor hassles and discomforts.

2. Assuming Responsibility for One’s Own Mistakes and Pitfalls
Qur’an teaches: “And whatever strikes you of disaster, it is for what your hands have earned; but He pardons much” (42: 30). It is up to the person himself alone to change his failure into success and when he starts assuming the right means, Divine help will intervene as stated in the Qur’an: “Verily Allah will never change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves” (13: 11). Such a proactive attitude is essential in overcoming illness as taught by modern-day conventional studies. The feeling of helplessness and victimhood is a main obstacle that impedes healing. 

3. Supplication
 Muslims know deep inside that there is always a higher power that supports and protects them. “And when My slaves ask you [O Muhammad] concerning Me, then [answer them], I am indeed near. I respond to the invocations of the supplicant when he calls on Me” ( Qur’an, 2: 186). This is another cure for helplessness. It gives us strength to struggle against life challenges. 

4. Divine remembrances (Dhikr Allah): 
 Divine remembrances are not mere words; they are rather like a sacred type of meditation helping in empowering and reassuring the spirit. They help relax and clear the mind while instilling empowering positive affirmations and meanings in life, they dissipate distress and grief, relieve the anguished heart and bring joy, happiness, tranquility and serenity. 

5. Qur’an Recitation
 Qur’an holds a special power of healing: “It [the Qur’an] is, for those who believe, a guide and a healing” (41: 44) and“We send down from the Qur’an that which is a healing and a mercy to those who believe” (17: 82). Recitation of verses of the Qur'an offers Muslims a way to deal with their stress and to manage the emotions of anguish and distress. 

 6. Surrender to the Divine Will
 Surrendering to the Divine will means relying only on God for help and guidance while assuming all necessary worldly means. It is stated in the Qur’an:“whosoever fears Allah and keeps his duty to Him, He will make a way for him to get out (from every difficulty).And He will provide him from (sources) he never could imagine. And whosoever puts his trust in Allah, then He will suffice him. Verily, Allah will accomplish his purpose. Indeed Allah has set a measure for all things” (65: 2-3). This practice, again, brings comfort to the soul, dissipates stress and relieves aguish. 

7. Detachment
 Islam teaches about the true value of material life: “Know that the life of this world is only play and amusement, pomp and mutual boasting among you, and rivalry in respect of wealth and children, as the likeness of vegetation after rain, thereof the growth is pleasing to the tiller; afterwards it dries up and you see it turning yellow; then it becomes straw” (Qur'an, 57: 20). Detachment invokes the true meaning of Islam: surrendering to Allah’s will and having total, unconditional faith and trust in His absolute Wisdom and Justice. This feeling of detachment calms down everyday tension and directs us to relax and work in harmony with the universe.

8. Balance and Moderation
 Islam establishes a balanced harmony between the requirements of the soul and the demands of the body. It does not dissociate the physical body from the soul as it sees them as an integrated whole. “But seek, with that [wealth] which Allah has bestowed on you, the home of the Hereafter, and do not forget your portion of legal enjoyment in this world” (Qur'an, 28: 77). 

 9. Content and Satisfaction
 A person’s misery stems from an inability to appreciate Divine blessings in his/her life. Prophet Muhammad said: “The bigger the test is, the greater the reward for it will be. When Allah loves people, He tests them. If they accept the affliction [cheerfully], then they will achieve contentment; and those who become enraged [or evade the affliction] will only reap Allah’s rage” ( Ibn Majah & Tirmidhi). The cure for sorrow and distress lies in the acceptance and satisfaction experienced deep in one’s heart; knowing that afflictions will only affect one as much as he/she permits them to. 

 10. Patience and Forbearance
 Prophet Muhammad taught: “No fatigue, no disease, no sorrow, no sadness, no hurt, no distress befalls a Muslim, even if it was the prick he received from a thorn, but that Allah expiates some of his sins for it” (Bukhari & Muslim). This is another great reassurance for an aching heart and an ailing body.

 ~~Adapted from the book HEALING BODY AND SOUL~~

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