Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim
Many Muslims, even scholars among us, believe that depression is a sign of weak Iman. The argument goes as follows: Having a strong Iman means having belief in qadr and in Allah’s mercy, and the fact that everything goes according to Allah’s plans. It also entails having hope in Allah. On the other hand, being depressed is a sign of hopelessness, losing faith in qadr and in Allah’s mercy, and therefore it is a sign of weak Iman. In other words, only those who have weak iman will ever get depressed, and no true Muslim will therefore suffer from depression.
Let us look at how much truth there is in the above statements from the scientifically proven facts as well as proofs from the Quran and sunnah.
Depression in Science
Depression is a psychological disorder. ‘Some people still think that depression is trivial and not a genuine health condition. They’re wrong. Depression is a real illness with real symptoms, and it’s not a sign of weakness or something you can “snap out of” by “pulling yourself together”.’ [nhs]. It’s not just a persistent feeling of sadness and hopelessness; there are also physical effects of depression. These include feeling constantly tired, sleeping badly, having no appetite or sex drive, and complaining of various aches and pains, and for women it disrupts menstrual cycles.
How Does Depression Develop?
There are many causes and triggers of depression, and when some of these various causes come together in one person, it triggers depression. Some of these include:
- Genetic tendency towards depression
- Stressful life events
- Some kinds of illness such as hypothyroidism and head injury
- Birth of a child (postpartum depression)
- Persistent negative automatic thoughts
- Alcohol and drugs
- Lonely lifestyle
As you can see, most of these causes are outside human control. Some are even biological. Point to ponder: How can a biologically triggered illness be the symptom of spiritual weakness? Moreover, how can Allah the Most High give us a disease beyond our control that causes spiritual weakness? Can Allah the Just send humans to the Hellfire due to a disease beyond human control?
Depression in the Quran
The Prophet Yaqub alaihi salam lost his beloved son Yusuf alaihi salam when Yusuf was just a boy. Years later, he lost another son, Benyamin, in the exact same way, which not just added to his sorrow, but also triggered the old pain of losing Yusuf as well. We hear these stories and pass over them, but try to relate this to your own life. I once lost a cat, although it returned after a few days. But those few days were a torture. It’s not the fact that they have gone away, it’s not knowing whether they are dead or alive, not knowing whether they have food to eat or are slowly dying of hunger and thirst, whether they have a shelter or weathering in the wilderness, or even worse, kidnapped and being tortured. And it was just a cat. Imagine losing a son, your most beloved son, in that way, and then after a few years losing another son in the same exact way.
Now imagine what Yaqub must have felt when he said the following:
وَتَوَلَّىٰ عَنْهُمْ وَقَالَ يَا أَسَفَىٰ عَلَىٰ يُوسُفَ وَابْيَضَّتْ عَيْنَاهُ مِنَ الْحُزْنِ فَهُوَ كَظِيمٌ
And he turned away from them and said, ‘Oh, my sorrow over Joseph,’ and his eyes became white from grief, for he was [of that] a suppressor. [12:84]
The English translation doesn’t capture the emotion as beautifully as the word of Quran: ya Asafa! It’s a lament, a heart-wringing cry for Yusuf. He became blind from grief.
Can anyone dare to accuse a prophet of Allah of having weak iman? Then how come he became so miserable that he lost his eyesight?
His sons then told him:
قَالُوا تَاللَّهِ تَفْتَأُ تَذْكُرُ يُوسُفَ حَتَّىٰ تَكُونَ حَرَضًا أَوْ تَكُونَ مِنَ الْهَالِكِينَ
They said, ‘By Allah , you will not cease remembering Joseph until you become fatally ill or become of those who perish.’ [12:85]
His reply is the ultimate proof of his tawakkul, his belief in Allah and the strength of his iman:
قَالَ إِنَّمَا أَشْكُو بَثِّي وَحُزْنِي إِلَى اللَّهِ وَأَعْلَمُ مِنَ اللَّهِ مَا لَا تَعْلَمُونَ
He said, ‘I only complain of my suffering and my grief to Allah , and I know from Allah that which you do not know. O my sons, go and find out about Joseph and his brother and despair not of relief from Allah . Indeed, no one despairs of relief from Allah except the disbelieving people.’ [12:86-87]
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