Religion, the State and Our Mental Health

Religion, the State and Our Mental Health

By Hwaa Irfan
Revised 08-09-10‎

According to WHO in 2002, depressive disorders were the fourth leading ‎cause of ill health and disability amongst adults worldwide. By 2020, it is ‎expected that mental health disorders will represent the world’s biggest health ‎problem. ‎

The spread of urbanization has been viewed as a major contributory factor ‎that although increases opportunities for many also increases the pace of ‎living and individualism. Contrary, the pressure to assimilate can be a ‎daunting factor as an immigrant even though waves of immigration over ‎decades have enriched Western lives and cultures, which increasingly fails to ‎provide a valid meaning of life for its own citizens. In the process it is not only ‎many members of the immigrant population that become vulnerable, but also ‎many indigenous people as well. Their unique contributions no matter how ‎small becomes devalued and sidelined, and the crisis of modern day living ‎becomes overwhelming. ‎

Where religion once offered order and some semblance of tranquility in home ‎life, the outer world and an opportunity towards self-understanding and ‎growth, the “promises” of the outer world convey an illusive cloth of happiness ‎‎- ‘follow the piper that plays the sweetest tune’. ‎

For those who have worked in the booming British mental health industry ‎another story is told. A story that hi-lights the inadequacies of modern ‎psychiatry for both indigenous and non-indigenous alike. ‎

When British journalist Magnus Linklater read ‘A Memoir of Moods and ‎Madness’ by psychologist and manic depressive Kay Jamison, he discovered ‎that she had confronted a disease that has defied many including the experts ‎‎- remaining unreflected in the rhetoric of last years governmental White Paper ‎on Reforming the Mental Health Act in England. In fact, the gory historical ‎details of the British mental health industry up until today has done little to ‎explore the minds of the mentally unbalanced in more wholesome terms; still ‎strapped by fear of the unknown and embarrassed by the minds that are ‎losing their own the only desire is to “fit” people into the social remits of a ‎secular world. This form of unrecognized violence, places control at the helm ‎repressing the soul through questionable drug therapies, other forms of ‎treatment and the judicial system. ‎

The Mentally Ill a Reflection of Society

As in some parts of Africa today, once under the Muslim Turks in medieval ‎Anatolia the ‘hospital villages’ of the Seldjuk Empire viewed the mentally ill as ‎people not to be feared and tortured as in the West, but as ill people who had ‎the choice to be admitted into the community under protection to be treated ‎free of charge exempt from income tax on any income they would make).

In today’s British National Health System, NHS U.K, Archie’s height was found to be ‎intimidating attracting defensive aggression from the insecurity complexes of ‎the apparently mentally well. Archie’s manic depression began at school, ‎
and he was eventually unable to cope with school life. ‎

Archie’s response on arrival at a mental hospital was to say the least ‎aggressive to be dragged inside kicking and screaming. From North to South ‎he has inhabited many hospitals and escaped many times. He has been ‎exposed to a torrent of treatments, but it was his inner recognition of his ‎rights, character and will that survived the day. It is these characters I have ‎found that are most likely to survive, and end up the least handicapped. ‎Unfortunately, for others the story is not the same especially where culture is ‎involved. Instead, culture becomes a tool with which to enslave the perceived ‎mentally ill patient even more, and in a frighteningly large amount of cases ‎culture is the only medium that the mental health authorities use as a ‎measure of being mentally ill. ‎

‎Both users and providers of the system have reflected concerns in many ‎specialized British publications. The British mental health system has shown ‎overrepresentation of certain groups, including Muslims, and black people. ‎Research has found that ethnic minorities are more likely to be admitted to ‎hospitals under compulsory sectioning of the Mental Health Act (1983) ‎requiring urgent treatment and thus placed in locked-up wards. They are likely ‎to be diagnosed as schizophrenic not recognizing the reaction to how they ‎are being treated. Sometimes the incarceration is in a prison cell on which the ‎a person will find themselves, distraught, they are injected inducing a kind of ‎psychosis. Once at the mercy of this end of the mental health system, it is ‎difficult to get out. If you were not a schizophrenic when you entered, the ‎likely-hood once in is great due to the high doses of neuroleptic drugs given in ‎preference to non-drug based treatments such as therapy. In a society, that ‎up until recently: ‎

    a) doesn’t equate religion as a way of life and ‎

    b) is insensitive and ignorant towards any cultural and religious ‎practices other than its own – ‘imprisoning of the mind of the person ‎who may become depressed and angered at the way they are ‎perceived and treated. ‎

Many experts have hi-lighted that this stems from the racial stereotyping and ‎cultural imperialism which are apart of the make-up and training of mental ‎health professionals amongst a people who have become increasingly ‎emotionally disabled due to the sterile environment which they have created ‎for themselves. Emotionally challenged in their personal lives, the emotional ‎distancing is considered to be a mature approach, a professional approach as modern psychology has largely been dependent on a tradition that ‎divorces the importance of the soul from the social being. No attempt is made ‎to develop any detailed understanding of how the religious-spiritual beliefs of ‎Muslims influence their relationship to themselves and their environment. ‎

It has been the experience of family members and some supportive ‎communities that have challenged the machinations of the mental health ‎system seeking accountability and change. From this has arisen community ‎based-support agencies and professionals often under-resourced and ‎undermined. It was these resources that were found useful in response to the ‎backlash of September 11th. the Association of Muslim Schools enlisted ‎consultants to advise teachers on how to handle the subject. However, many ‎teachers have preferred to take a ‘personal approach’ to each pupil. Some ‎Islamic schools have used prayer and it’s more spiritual aspects as a means ‎of achieving calm, whilst others have held discussion workshops. ‎

One pupil from Islamia School experienced recurrent nightmares about the ‎‎9/11 events since. She feared that Islamic schools as gathering points for ‎Muslims may be bombed and became extremely anxious for her relatives in ‎Pakistan. ‎

    ‎“When Afghanistan first began getting bombed, my mum was so ‎scared for my safety, she didn’t want me to go to school. I was scared ‎too but she read some ayats from the Qur’an and I felt better after ‎that…”

In a report in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, 2000, there was a call ‎to improve guidelines for the treatment and detection of depression and to ‎ascertain the characteristics of a physician that may contribute to ‎
the under-detection of depression in minorities. This is probably due to the ‎stereotype that feed and nurture symptoms of depression. Undetected it ‎
is externalized, or internalized.‎

Psychiatry and Being a Muslim

It was during an ongoing debate some years ago among members of the ‎Muslim Mental Health Group that we came to a general understanding that ‎psychology/psychiatry only prolongs mental ill-health, not cures it! As a young ‎practitioner starting out in the profession, I came to this conclusion quite soon ‎when I saw the effect on a disfranchised people. To be disenfranchised over a ‎long period of time due to institutionalized racism has been proven, by many ‎in-depth studies in the US, to disempower a person. One begins to see ‎oneself through the eyes of the racist institutions and “non-institutions,” and ‎loses control over one’s life. The impact is so profound that it has a long-term ‎negative effect on one’s mental and physical health. ‎
‎ ‎
When leaders in Europe recently referred to Muslims as having a victim ‎mentality, they were unknowingly confessing to the nature of racism ‎‎(Islamophobia) in Europe. The nature of this beast is all-consuming, and the ‎nature of many everyday racists (proactive or not) is that they sincerely do not ‎realize the effect of their prejudicial beliefs.‎
‎ ‎
Systematically killing the soul is the nature of racism. It is also the ‎nature of secularism and materialism. Sciences developed within ‎this frame of reference — a role which psychiatry and psychology ‎play an intrinsic role, — are only able to address the materialistic ‎nature of a person, and not the whole person. Psychiatry and ‎psychology plays this role regardless of the honest intentions of the ‎practitioner, because these ‘sciences’ deny the importance of the ‎soul, culture, spirit, and religion, unless the practitioner has other ‎tools that can enrich these human sciences. The most consistent ‎and systemic killing of the soul in recent times is through the hijab, ‎aiming to remove one identity to make Muslim women vulnerable to ‎the process of sexual objectification. An intentional act by those in ‎power, and a subconscious act by those ignorant of what they have ‎become a party to!‎
‎ ‎
Materialism Gone Mad
‎ ‎
There are those who argue for and/or against the idea of psychiatry as a ‎science. As a science, it was to become one of the pillars of materialism, thus ‎secularism, in the intellectual pursuit of “man becoming his own god.” ‎Psychoanalyst and psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung in the lifetime of the father of ‎psychiatry Sigmund Freud commented,‎
‎ ‎

    ‎”As for Freud’s therapy, it is at best but one of several possible ‎methods and perhaps does not always offer in practice what one ‎expects from it in theory”‎

As a materialistic science, psychiatry is to man what capitalism is to the soul: ‎devoid of spirit, and is thus unable to recognize the human soul and spirit. ‎When asked about psychology during an interactive online session at ‎, the Muslim counselor and professor of psychology Dr. Malik ‎Badri replied,‎
‎ ‎

    …the pioneers of Western psychology have used their discipline to justify ‎the secular and antireligious revolution that dethroned the church.

    ‎”We, as Muslims, have had no problems between religion and science, ‎and our conception of man is quite different from the conception of ‎Western modernity, which uses man as an animal and is politically ‎governed by a democracy that has no respect for the ethics based on ‎traditional religion.

    ‎”Accordingly, if psychology is to be used by Muslims, it must be based ‎on an Islamic world view.‎

In another session, Dr. Badri replied:‎
‎ ‎

    ‎”Islamizing psychology is the only way to make psychology useful to a ‎Muslim. That is so because Western psychology is firmly based on a ‎materialistic world view and secular conception about the nature of ‎humans. It is a psychology without a soul, developed to serve human ‎beings who have denied the soul. Though psychology calls itself a ‎science, it is in fact in many ways a philosophy or a religion that gives ‎pseudoscientific justification for the way of life of modern Western ‎society”‎

When an incident arises like Fort Hood, we react in various ways, ‎but in general devoid of the influencing factors. The shootings of ‎Major Malik Nadal Hassan (a psychiatrist) has been left to much ‎speculation by the press. Imbedded in that speculation are ‎Islamophobic (racist) overtones that outpace the school violence the ‎US is renowned for. What we do know is that Hassan was a ‎psychiatrist and a US Army officer at the second largest US military ‎camp (with a focus on state-of-the-art training for Afghanistan and ‎Iraq in the US), where he shot 41 soldiers and two civilians (13 ‎mortalities).‎
‎ ‎
What we do also know (because the mainstream media makes a ‎meal of it) is that Hassan’s religion is Islam. The labels ‘radicalism’, ‎‎‘fundamentalism’, and ‘terrorism’ naturally follows suit as the ‎emotions of the media. The faculty of reason belongs to a person ‎who thinks, however the mainstream media of today does not think ‎in so doing, tar all Muslims with the same brush.‎

Hassan was scheduled to be stationed in Afghanistan on duty when ‎Obama questioned (but has not stopped) the American war on ‎Afghanistan. Hassan was not yet married at the age 39 (although it ‎was on his mind), and we do not know if his relationship with ‎psychiatry was in line with the Islamic world view, but if it was a ‎strong relationship, the massacre would surely not have happened! ‎
‎ .‎
A US-born Muslim of Palestinian descent, Hassan was a quiet, ‎practicing worshipper. He learned, studied, and gained his medical ‎degree and qualification in psychiatry through the army. He gained ‎a degree in biochemistry, and it was only in 2008 that he became a ‎fellow in disaster and preventative psychiatry. However, it was as ‎an intern in psychiatry that he had to undergo counseling and extra ‎supervision because of the nature of his relationship with his ‎patients. It is said that over a period of time it became apparent ‎that he was disturbed about US troops in Afghanistan, and this may ‎have been a result of counseling US soldiers, veterans of the US ‎wars on terrorism on Afghanistan and Iraq.‎
‎ ‎
It was his aunt Noel Hassan who furnished more information about ‎him to the Washington Post, from which we learn that, like many ‎Muslims, he was frequently being harassed to the point that he ‎wanted to leave the army, which he had pursued for some years ‎previous to the attack. There may have been warning signs, but the ‎lack of coordination in providing mental health services by the ‎military to the soldiers when the demand is high and the outcome is ‎poor may form part of the hearings to take place on Capitol Hill.‎
‎ ‎
Non-Muslim American soldier Jeremy Hinzman went AWOL and ‎became a conscientious objector instead of allowing himself to be ‎sent to Iraq. In an interactive interview with, he ‎said why:‎
‎ ‎

    ‎”I am afraid of killing innocent people and people who are fighting to ‎maintain control over their future rather than be exploited by a power ‎that is around the world. If I were to be shot, my life would be over and I ‎wouldn’t know the difference.‎

‎ ‎
He preferred to risk being executed and to forsake his family (he left the US) ‎than to take the innocent lives of others. However, as a psychiatrist, Hassan ‎would not take lives. As a psychiatrist, he might have simply had to counsel ‎soldiers suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome stationed in ‎Afghanistan, or maybe his expertise may have been used as one of the ‎weapons of war. As an American psychiatrist he was part of a society where ‎‎26.2 per cent of the 18+ population has a mental illness. There has been ‎much questioning about the mental health, and criminal records of some of ‎the ‘soldiers’ recruited to fight in these wars. This plus the horrors of war is a ‎Malakoff cocktail of its own!‎
‎ ‎
Psychiatry as a Weapon of Torture
‎ ‎
When one is familiar with how psychiatry can be used to turn normal healthy ‎people into schizophrenics because they are the wrong color, one is not ‎surprised to know that it can be used as a weapon of war. In Guantanamo ‎Bay, psychiatry was employed to manipulate, heighten, and create phobias in ‎detainees. Back in 2005, One a Behavioral Science Consultant informed the ‎New York Times that “their [the medical team’s] purpose was to help us break ‎them.”‎
‎ ‎
The history of the development of psychiatry, particularly in the US and the ‎UK, reveals that it was employed as an essential tool in social engineering, or ‎eugenics, as it was known in the 19th century to the early 20th century. As for ‎psychiatry as a tool of torture at Guantanamo, adolescent Muhammed Jawad ‎wanted to hang himself. His records show that an army psychologist wanted ‎to “devise a plan intentionally designed to cause emotional devastation and to ‎break Mr. Jawad.”‎
‎ ‎
Psychiatry as a tool of the state serves to demonstrate what man is capable of ‎doing to man. Without ethics, conscience, or regret, what is a budding ‎psychiatrist meant to feel, to understand, and to officiate? Neither what ‎Hassan did can be pardoned, nor can the environmental factors that led him ‎to the mental state whereby all the hate, anger, violence that creates veterans ‎who return home to tell horrific tales of their deeds, or the shattered minds left ‎behind in the occupied territories around the world, or the professional who ‎wakes up one day to discover the ugliness in what they have spent so many ‎years qualifying for can actually shatter the mind, leave the body standing, ‎and the soul in limbo!‎

Influences cloak Islamic teachings of patience, prayer, to turn to Allah (swt) in ‎times of need and for guidance, but when one is struggling in a society to ‎survive for ones sanity where discerning what is important isn’t easy, one can ‎easily lose ones’ way. Even with the fast urbanization of some Islamic ‎countries whereby the state’s desire to catch-up with the rest of the world has ‎had a marked affect. These emotional stresses communicate themselves ‎through somatic or physical complaints. ‎

‎{That is because they believe, then disbelieve, so a seal is set upon their ‎hearts so that they do not understand} (Surat ul Munafiqun 63:3). ‎

And there we are, separated from our metaphysical hearts – the seat of emotion, ‎awareness and wisdom amongst physicians whose trade is not guided and ‎informed by these notions. It is only recently, that there has been increased ‎recognition through ‘person-centered’ medicine of the major role of ‎psychosocial factors in the patients’ well being and illness. Studies fail to ‎address the question of why physicians may be less irreligious and why they ‎appear to resist discussing religion in the clinic. Over the last 30 years, ‎hundreds of services claim to use psychosocial rehabilitation, unfortunately ‎there is great confusion as to what this means and entails. Mental Health ‎Social Worker Abul Hussein argues that religion or spirituality can act as a ‎part of the holistic healing process – the center of balance – that gives ‎calmness and peace so vital to recovery. ‎

The awareness of what resources we have at our disposal when applied ‎creatively can achieve a lot. It is not only for us to develop it further, but for ‎modern mental health to realize that the process of returning to a state of ‎balance can best be addressed by recognizing and assimilating the inner ‎wealth already in possession of the patient, spiritually, psychologically and ‎
culturally. Then modern mental health will be equipped with the resources it ‎needs to facilitate its original objective.‎


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The Examiner Major Malik Nadal Hassan: A uslim First, and an American ‎Second‎Progressive-Examiner~y2009m11d6-Major-Malik-Nadal-Hasan-A-Muslim-‎first-and-an-American-second
‎ ‎
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