Show, Don’t (Just) Tell – The Right Way to Tackling Mental Health
By Abdallah Khan
I remember that it was humid; an anomaly in the boisterous city of Chicago, because his hair stuck to his forehead, like flies stuck in a web, when he spoke. We were having lunch on the roof, as always, our riverside offices just one floor beneath us.
“I’m going to jump.”
“I’m going to kill myself.”
My eyes darted from corner to corner as the roof felt like it was closing in on us. A vent system on the left. Solar panels and sky lights on the right. Satellite dishes in front of us. I had lunch here almost every day with Omar, but I was only now seeing these things, which led to the stark realization: I was only now seeing Omar.
“Don’t be so alarmed. Not right now. I still have some things to settle.”
He’d said it so matter-of-factly, as if it was just another one of his office orders.
Omar wasn’t just a colleague. I’d grown up with him. We went to the same schools, the same university, even the same internships, all by happenstance. He bought me lunch twice a week. He was the neighbor who always called the night before Eid. He was a man I prayed with, side by side, every Friday for Jumu’ah. I’d regarded him as one of closest friends and yet, what he said was beyond anything I could have ever anticipated.
I’d learn, not long after, that Omar was battling alcohol addiction, that he’d long ago had a falling out with his parents, and that he cried himself to sleep, almost every night in bed.
Alcohol, strained family relations, suicide: all these things are strictly prohibited in our religion. I know that. Omar knows that. Most children of school age know that. So, I didn’t dare remind Omar. To this day, I believe if I had, on that fateful humid day, both our lives, Allah willing, would have turned out drastically different than what they are today.
Islam necessitates a sense of nuance when it comes to reverting to our fitrah and all the obligations entailed therein. The fitrah, though a natural inclination, is often skewed in our formative years due to environmental factors, forbidden influences, and our own personal misgivings. Hence it simply is not enough, and often counterproductive, to expect someone to pray after informing them that lacking thereof would be akin to kufr. The issue is further exacerbated when men and women such as Omar are treated as lepers, reminded, in their darkest moments, that their actions are not only forbidden, but also a one-way ticket to Hell, by communities ill-educated in the subtleties of both mental health and Islam
Often when a person from a faith based background decides to end their life, they have developed an altered perception of reality, in which to do otherwise, to live, would not only be an insult to themselves and the world, but sometimes, even to God. To therefore have them imagine themselves in the throes of Hell would not mitigate their desire, but instead augment it tenfold.
In other cases, where a person was never exposed to the intricacies of tawheed, any reminders of a foreseeable future, whether of this life or the next, are to them, nonexistent. Living with mental illness is analogous to driving a car in the dead of night, fog all encompassing. You can only see as far as the headlights. There is only now.
Tasting the sweetness of eeman is like planting a seed in the desert. Along with Allah’s mercy, it takes consistent cultivation and tenderness for us to grow our plant in such harsh conditions. It takes time.
Many of us are well acquainted with Aisha’s prolific statement concerning Allah’s wisdom in delaying the prohibition of alcohol until Islam had permeated the hearts of Muslims. But what many of us are unaware of is that even before the outright prohibition, Allah spoke about the matter in many sublime ways, as if having a private reassuring conversation with an alcoholic.
First, Allah said:
“They ask you about wine and gambling. Say: In them is great sin and some benefit for people, but their sin is greater than their benefit.” [Al-Baqarah;219]
Without explicitly reprimanding drinking, Allah implicitly discourages it while simultaneously acknowledging the negligible benefits provided therein. And what is the first line of defense alcoholics use? The benefits of drinking. Allah does not deny their claim but rather supplements it by providing a full picture, which includes the adverse effects of drinking, as well.
The second verse to be revealed on the matter was as followed:
“O you who believe, do not approach prayer while you are intoxicated until you know what you are saying.” [Al-Nisa;43]
Allah again, in His boundless wisdom, encourages goodness without, yet, restricting intoxication. If one ponders this verse, the subliminal implication present is jaw-dropping. Muslims are required to pray five times a day. Heavy intoxication tends to last a few hours, not to mention the time needed to recuperate after such an indulgence. Therefore, to approach the daily prayers in a capacitated state, most, if not all people, would have to avoid drinking all together. Allah , held the hands of Muslims once more in His infinite mercy, directing them to the right path, without displaying the outright condescension us humans fling at one another, when we meet a fellow suffering Muslim.
It was only after the Muslims were ready, did Allah unequivocally prohibit alcohol, saying:
“O you who believe, wine, gambling, sacrificing on stone alters, and divining arrows are but defilement from the work of Satan, so avoid them that you may be successful.” [Al-Ma’idah;90]
And yet, today when we meet an alcoholic, a victim of depression, a survivor of suicide, we jump to the third step, not even bothering to hold a person’s hand the way Allah holds ours. Even modern science disputes this method, as for an alcoholic to quit cold turkey, would cause their body more harm than good. Though many of us may have full grown bodies, capable of running marathons and climbing mountains, we are all really just children, searching for the love and compassion our parents once gave us. Allah shows it to us repeatedly, so the question remains: when will we start showing it to one another?
Though those of us quick to jump to the do’s and don’ts of the religion often have the best of intentions, worrying that our fellow Muslims will suffer in the afterlife for their actions, we must remember that what matters to Allah is quality, not quantity. An alcoholic, in his gradual effort to quit, may be more beloved to Allah than one who stops right away. The same way a person who struggles to memorize the Quran is more beloved than the person who is able to do so with ease.
These people don’t need a list of rules thrown at them. Yes, the list is important but a prerequisite is providing them with an open heart, a listening ear, and a sense that they have control over their lives. For lack of control is what leads people to the edge of rooftops, their loved ones far below, both physically and emotionally.
Only when we have, through Allah’s will, removed these people from the edge or prevented them from reaching that point to begin with, can we guide them towards righteous deeds such as prayer and fasting. But even then, no lecture or de-contextualized ayah could be more valuable than our own actions. Such is the same with children who will never remember what you say, but will always remember what you do. What good is it to tell a child to pray when you do not pray yourself? Children are far more intuitive than we give them credit for, and they will question your actions, internalizing your behaviors and answers to the core of their soul.
If you want a fellow Muslim to oblige by the fard, show him the sweetness of eeman through your actions, which was the way of our beloved Prophet Muhammad . A man who started a revolution through his mercy, rather than his sword, which was only held during times of war.
In replicating the mercy of our Messenger we must remember that though faith and positivity are the best medicines, they are not the only medicine. Rather prayer and trust in Allah are necessary supplements to treatments including, but not limited to, therapy, prescription medicines, and physical activities. The two are not mutually exclusive, and to say otherwise is to deprive those who seek help from us, the same mercy the Prophet readily exuded for us, members of his ummah.
It is this mercy that led Thumamah ibn Uthal, a murderer of countless companions and even an attempted murderer of the Prophet Muhammad himself, to accept Islam, after Muhammad set him free, pronouncing forgiveness.
As the literary icon of his time, the famous poet, Muhammad Iqbal once said, “Sure you can deny God, but how can you deny Muhammad?” You can claim that God has never been seen, but what of Muhammad ? What of the man who we know existed, who never lied, never insulted, never abused, instead using his mercy to move mountains and inspire people for generations to come? What of his compassion towards those who left him bloodied and bruised? His earnestness in the face of enmity? And his humility in the face of riches he could have easily amassed, but rejected? His character?
There is no greater human example for us to follow. So, let us learn from him and extend our mercy towards the alcoholic, the lonely, the suicidal, and the mentally ill, because even though they can only see as far as the headlights, with the right direction, that’s all they need to be guided home.
**Disclaimer: This article, for purposes of brevity, does not touch upon the vital aspect of attending to our own needs before concerning ourselves with the needs of others. Our minds and bodies have a right over us and the sufferings of another can not and should not supersede the necessities of our own mental health. Though Allah has bestowed upon us free will, nothing happens without His permission, and it is with due diligence, that we should accept His decree, not overly-lamenting previous losses, but instead learning from them. **
 Fitrah: A natural intuition within every human being to worship none but Allah alone
 Kufr: Shar’iah defines kufr as disbelief in Allah and His Messenger whether due to denial or succumbing to our desires. Jabir reported that the Messenger said: “Between a man and disbelief and paganism is the abandonment of Salat.”
 Tawheed: Oneness of Allah
 Anas reported that the Prophet said: “Whoever possesses the following three qualities will taste the sweetness of faith: 1. The one to whom Allah and His Apostle become dearer than anything else. 2. The one who loves a person and he loves him only for Allah’s sake. 3. The one who hates to revert to disbelief (atheism) after Allah has brought (saved) him out from it, as he hates to be thrown in fire.”
 Aisha said: “If the first thing to be revealed was: ‘do not drink alcoholic drinks.’ people would have said, ‘we will never leave alcoholic drinks,’ and if there had been revealed, ‘do not commit illegal sexual intercourse, ‘they would have said, ‘we will never give up illegal sexual intercourse.’”
 “The likeness of the one who reads Quran and memorizes it, is that he is with the righteous & honorable scribes. The likeness of the one who reads it and tries hard to memorize it even though it is difficult for him will have two rewards.” [Bukhari]
 Fard: Obligatory acts such as prayer every Muslim must perform
 [Collected by Muslim, Ahmad & others]
Abdallah Khan recently graduated from Brooklyn College with a B.S degree in Computer Science. When he is not writing code, he spends his free time in community outreach efforts, and writing articles of fiction, aimed at delving into the nuances of religion and history. Abdallah hopes to one day publish a novel about his home country of Pakistan, highlighting the country’s awe-inspiring beauty in spite of the internal and external forces that attempt to thwart the enduring nation.