Health has always topped every record and checklist. Irrespective of the arena, the well-being of an individual always takes priority and every other matter is subordinate to this condition.
Additionally, the supreme understanding given to health has always been limited to the physical – the outward appearance often decides whether the person is healthy or not. An active gym freak is deemed healthy, a bubbly teenager who plays cricket and eats well, is labelled fit and similarly, a lady without any ailments, going about her chores routinely is perfectly in-shape.
But today, every sane person is aware that there is a deeper understanding to the wide concept of ‘health.’ The WHO has managed to adopt and establish the broad notion of health. According to WHO, ‘health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.’ This definition entered into force in 1948 and has not been amended since then.
Origins of the Current Concept of Mental Health
The origin and establishment of the current concept of mental health has been a long process. It underwent movements, research, and a set of arguments before attaining recognition and acceptance by the majority, though exploration into its myriad meanings still continues. Today, with the awareness circulating around, physical and mental health are probably the two most frequently discussed types of health. Spiritual, emotional, and financial health also contribute to the big picture and are inter-connected in one way or the other.
The past year of historic pandemic, which sadly is still continuing has managed to make it clear the broad concept of health. The virus succeeded in attacking both the body and soul. Statistics of mental health facilities are witnessing an uptick in inquiries and referrals to psychological issues. In addition to loneliness and isolation, fear and anxiety to factors related to COVID -19 has led to an amplitude in disturbed mental health of many.
A little thought on this idea clarifies that every disease caused by any pathogen attacks both the body and the soul. Any chronic illness affects a person’s ability to complete their regular tasks, thus often leading to depression and stress. These feelings could range from financial problems to mobility issues. Mental illness, such as depression or anorexia can affect body weight and overall function as well. In a nutshell, mental health is as important as physical health for a full active and fruitful lifestyle.
However, when it comes to prevention, treatment and training, the focus is more on the body, while mind and soul are pushed behind. Why aren’t they cared for? Just as the body is protected from harsh climates, appreciated for its hard labor, given rest when it’s sore and taken for regular check-ups, the mind too requires the same.
Islam from the vey beginning has never differentiated between the body and the soul.
Islam and Mental Health
Both are considered crucial for the well-functioning of humanity and have been given equal care and attention. The way of life propagated by Islam has always taken into attention the well-being of all the dimensions of health – According to creditable work and references, human physical and mental health has received serious attention in the words of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and in the Quranic guidelines.
Islam has frequently stressed the importance of physical health; it invites a true Muslim to consistently improve his or her health by following the various commands and teachings. The Prophet (pbuh) stressed on cleanliness to the extent that it’s considered ‘half of faith’. It is mandatory for a Muslim to look presentable all the time. Prophet (pbuh) guided on every aspect of prevention of disease – from something as basic as oral hygiene or trimming of hair and nails, to matters of intimate health. Even on subjects of food, eating and drinking, every piece is detailed – from what’s forbidden to how much and how to eat – all of it is told and recorded. Being active and engaging oneself in sports activity is encouraged while at the same time, anything that brings about even the tiniest bit of harm to the body is denounced. It is a way of life which promotes balance without indulging in either extremes.
But the beauty of this religion is, every slice of physical health is closely interconnected to mental health. The Islamic ruling of worldly-afterlife approach that is based on balance and moderation play a fundamental role in promoting mental health among the faithful. The acts of worship that are made obligatory on every Muslim may look very physical but are truly nourishing to the soul inside. In fact, mere physical effort or just mental intention will make the act void before Allah until both combine and perfectly balance each other in order for it to be successful.
For instance, the five daily obligatory prayers – though it may look a lot physical to an outsider but there is a ton of spirituality in there. From the onset of making an intention to stand before Allah like that He is seeing every move of ours, to prostrating and submitting oneself completely to His will and seeking help to every worry – all of this goes into the soulful aspect of prayer. With any phase missing, the prayer becomes unacceptable. Similar are other acts of worship – Zakat (obligatory charity), Hajj (pilgrimage) or Sawm (fasting) – they train and purify both the body and soul to lead a happy and healthy life in this world and the hereafter.
Revitalise with Ramadan
With the Islamic sacred month Ramadan around the corner, it’s a perfect time to revitalize health in the true sense. Every year, fasting is made obligatory for Muslims this month to train and prepare them for the rest of the months. “O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you, even as it as prescribed for those before you, that you may become God-fearing.” Chapter 2, Surah – Al Baqarah and verse 183. There is more to the concept of this month, which is a lot less evident, and sadly, many Muslims too are unaware of it.
Ramadan is commonly viewed as only a month of fasting during the day and during through the night inclining to ritualism. There is no doubt that fasting and prayers (salah) are two major acts of worship in this month. However, in reality the blessed month demands and aims to fulfil much more. The Creator is aware of all the ailments His creations are made to bear with the pressure the daily life brings upon them, hence, periodically He has placed Ramadan for His creations to revive their physical, mental and spiritual elements of health.
Doctors agree that fasting is extremely beneficial for lowering cholesterol levels, detoxifying and for many more health benefits- similar to the intermittent fasting trend now which has become a go-to-method to lower weight and remain fit and healthy. It gives the body rest from the continuous task of digesting food and is not cruel like pictured by many. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, ‘Eat suhoor (morning meal before dawn), for in suhoor there is blessing’. This indicates that a fasting Muslim is commanded to eat before commencing their fast for there is a great deal of goodness and benefit in it.
Furthermore, the Prophet (pbuh) said, “Whoever does not give up false speech and evil deeds while fasting, then Allah is not in need of his leaving food and drink.” Hence, Ramadan demands more than mere refraining from food, water, sex. A fasting Muslim must abstain from every evil act, like lying, false speech, vulgar talks, bogus thoughts and unlawful listening and watching, and simultaneously practicing and strengthening good habits.
“Indeed, there is a piece of flesh in the body that, if healthy, will cause the entire body to be healthy, and if corrupted, it will cause the entire body to be corrupted. Indeed, it is the heart.” (Bukhari)
The environment of Ramadan while abstaining from food, drink and various mentioned acts, aims at uplifting and reviving the heart, which is directly connected to the soulful aspect of health. Fasting and its related acts instill Taqwa (God-fearing) into a person, which ensures the awareness that the Creator is observing every action. This makes one refrain from forbidden acts even when no one is watching.
This Taqwa, is the epitome of mental and spiritual health; and Ramadan distinctively tries to instill this essence. A mind that is dependent and submits itself to Allah can never be lonely, depressed, exhausted or in grief for long. When the mind and soul blindly trust the decision of their Creator and are sure of His help, support and mercy, then no ailment can engulf that individual. The Holy Quran, which was first revealed in this month is the cure to every mental illness; Ramadan helps in re-connecting mankind to this lighthouse of eternal guidance and therapy.
Therefore, these thirty days are very valuable and are quick to slip and slide away; to make the most of it, they require serious planning and preparation. One must first try to learn and soak in the purpose of this blessed month; and then regular schedules need rescheduling to justify the objective of these days – abandon what can be left and delay what can wait, but time waits for none and is sure to glide at its own fast pace.
Women and Self-Care
And for a woman, her duties are often irreplaceable, nor can they be postponed. Often, she is at a greater risk of letting the opportunity drop – hence planning becomes even the more crucial. Prepare whatever food possible before the month begins. It’s a month of fasting, not feasting so keep it simple. Reduce kitchen hours and prepare a strict timetable. Educate other family members on the same and distribute tasks. Let all play a positive and supportive role.
Family must strive and move ahead as a single unit; reminding, motivating and contentedly competing with one another.
The quest is simple, yet critical – A Healthy Life.