Recognising the role of spirituality in promoting health and wellbeing

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Recently the issue of mental health has taken prominence in the news and government departments. Here are some comments I made at the ‘Religion and media conference’ at Nottingham Trent University in November.

More than 1200 scientific studies over the past two decades have shown that religious teachings on moral and spiritual values have positive effects on our physical and mental wellbeing. Over the past three decades, hundreds of reviews of these studies show that there is a positive association between faith, health and wellbeing. Faith in God and a purposeful life gives a solid foundation for developing strong character, values like truthfulness, honesty, kindness, forgiveness, patience, and gratitude. These are amazing values that nurture a positive attitude, a successful outlook and good life. A guarantor of a happy life that is free from wrongdoings, malice against others and resentment. Since values like forgiveness and patience build resilience that in tough times will provide a coping mechanism.

Fostering moral and spiritual values promote wellbeing

Some studies have shown that religious service attendance (including going to mosque and prayer in congregation, religious meetings and conferences) is associated with good health. This benefit of religious practices may be explained by mindfulness and meditation. Mindfulness is the state of alertness, awareness of oneself and others, whilst meditation is the remembrance and connection with the Divine. Biochemists, neuroscientists, and psychiatrists are becoming increasingly interested in understanding the underlying mechanisms of positive attitude, meditation, purposeful and meaningful life that faith encourages. So, the British Islamic Medical Association (BIMA), which has more than 4000 medical professionals and the Christian Medical Fellowship (CMF), which has 5000 members have been campaigning for a better understanding of the benefits of faith and health.

People of faith who practise the moral teachings of kindness, patience, forgiveness and gratitude will have a strong character and a positive outlook on society and life in general. Consequently, enabled to cope with anxiety and despair. Similarly, persons of faith who live by the spiritual ideals of worship can see beyond the material world to become altruistic, stand a far better chance of coping with mental health problems.

Mental health and faith

Before the pandemic, 25% of people in the UK reported mental health issues. But since the pandemic, it has risen to 39%, a massive increase in just two years. Another measure of mental health is the suicide rate. There were 6,859 suicides in the UK in 2018, a rise of 10.9% compared to the previous year. Five years ago there were an average of 17 suicide crisis calls received each day in London, by 2020 this figure has risen to 37, more than double. No wonder mental health is a priority for the government.

Related to mental health is domestic abuse. In England and Wales, there is an estimated adult incidence of 2.4 million. Furthermore, mental health and social support services in the UK were under strain before the pandemic. Most of this harm is preventable if people at risk can access appropriate and timely support. However, accessing this can be challenging as suicide ideation and domestic abuse are issues that are distressing, stigmatising, difficult to talk about and may carry an element of shame.

As a faith organisation, the mosque or the Imam is not the doctor who can deal with mental illness. That’s the job of the GP. However, by contributing to a healthy lifestyle and wellbeing, Islamic teachings may prevent mental illnesses by educating members of the congregation. An investment worth every penny. Among the Muslims the masjid is the hub of the community, so, they can play an important role by spreading these amazing teachings of how to cope with mental issues. They can also prepare volunteers who can reach out to those in need of help.

What is spirituality?

Spirituality is the sense of connectedness, closeness, and relationship with Allah; it’s being a devotee, worshipper and obedient servant of the Divine Lord. It defines the purpose and meaning of life as a God-given gift, a probationary period allotted for doing good. So, the faithful happily declares, “I trust my Lord and master, I have hope in his kindness and generosity, so, in tough times I can confidently say ‘I belong to God and I am returning to him.” This prayer as much as representing the truth is also a source of consolation and reassurance. In illness, spirituality reassures the faithful that my Lord is my healer and supporter. It’s hugely comforting, eases the pain, smoothens the treatment and gives hope. It makes one feel safe and secure. They can maintain a sense of dignity as the Khalifat-ullah – the Divine representative. During an illness, believers often engage in worship, prayers and other devotions. Here are some spiritual practices for you to engage in:

  1. The five daily prayers
  2. Zikr (remembrance of God) by chanting his beautiful names, a form of meditation
  3. Study of the Quran and books of Hadith
  4. Listening to the recitation of the Quran and melodious singing of Nasheeds (devotional songs)
  5. Fasting on Monday and Thursday
  6. Visiting the countryside and parks to witness the glory of Allah
  7. Giving charity

We need to be more mindful of the spiritual benefits of being connected with Allah, Muslims should recognise and appreciate the blessings of Islam and The Majestic Quran. Finally, we must share these experiences with others to help them cope with the challenges of this worldly life.