By Shahid Athar, M.D.
Stress is the most common aliment of modern age. It has been implicated in the causation of peptic ulcer disease, coronary heart disease, depression, auto immune disease, hypertension, diabetes and even cancer. In milder form it manifests in form of unrest, violence, at work, school and home. Common medical problems like tension headache, insomnia, and obesity are also attributed to unusual stress. None of us are free from stress but some deal with it better than others.
Stress results from the following factors:
a. Fear of the unknown and trying to see through and control the destiny.
b. Losses in our life of people and things dear to us and our inability to recover those losses.
c. Inner conflict between our heart and mind between what is known to be the truth and our failure to accept it as truth. Acceptance of truth may require changing our habits and way of life which we may adhere to for some reason like pleasure, joys, taste, pride in race or heritage etc.
Let us examine how Quran deals with such situations.
Our losses are a trial for us:
وَلَنَبْلُوَنَّكُمْ بِشَيْءٍ مِنْ الْخَوْفِ وَالْجُوعِ وَنَقْصٍ مِنْ الأَمْوالِ وَالأَنفُسِِ وَالثَّمَرَاتِ وَبَشِّرْ الصَّابِرِينَ
“Be sure we will test you with something of fear and hunger, some loss in goods or lives, but give glad tidings to those who are steadfast, who say when afflicted with calamity: To Allah we belong and to him is our return. They are those on who (DESCEND) blessings from Allah and mercy and they are the once that receive guidance. (2:155)
Thus in Islam, we do not have concept of the ownership of goods and life. Everything belongs to Allah and returns to him. So if we don’t own that thing why mourn our loss?
a. Our destiny is predetermined. We do not have control on that part. What we have control over is a limited free will, that is our actions, our choice to do good or bad, to believe in Allah or not to believe in Him, but we have no control over tomorrow’s event not related to our actions i.e. whether my wife will have a son or daughter, whether his/her eyes will be brown or black, or whether I will have an accident or not tomorrow. Worrying over such things is of no use.
- b. Rejection of faith in Quran is called a disease. This denial of truth is due to arrogance.
فِي قُلُوبِهِمْ مَرَضٌ فَزَادَهُمْ اللَّهُ مَرَضًا وَلَهُمْ عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ بِمَا كَانُوا يَكْذِبُونَ
“In their heart there is a disease and Allah has increased their disease and grievous is their penalty because they lie to themselves.” 2:10
Therefore after lying to ourselves, we set up an inner conflict – between heart and mind. In order to contain that conflict the mind sends signals to glands for secretion of harmones like adrenaline which leads to rapid heart rate, perspiration, tremor, the basis of lie detector test.
This lying conflict could be due to “SMALL” crimes like theft or adultery, or big crimes like rejection of Allah.
3 stages of spiritual development of soul are:
a. Nafs al Ammarah: -The Passionate soul
مَا أُبَرِّئُ نَفْسِي إِنَّ النَّفْسَ لَأَمَّارَةٌ بِالسُّوءِ إِلاَّ مَا رَحِمَ رَبِّي إِنَّ رَبِّي غَفُورٌ رَحِيمٌ
“I do not absolve myself Lo the (human) soul is prone to evil, save that whenever my Lord has mercy. Lo, Lord is forgiving; merciful.” (12:53)
This soul inclines toward sensual Pleasure, passion and self-gratification, anger, envy, greed, and conceit. Its concerns are pleasure of body, gratification of physical appetite, and ego.
Hadith“Your most ardent enemy is your evil self which resides within your body” (Bukhari).
If this evil soul is not checked it will lead to unusual stress and its resultant effects.
- b. Nafs al Lawwamah (The Reproaching Soul).
وَلاَ أُقْسِمُ بِالنَّفْسِ اللَّوَّامَةِ
“Nay, I swear by the reproaching soul” (75:2)
This soul is conscious or aware of Evil, resists it, asks for Allah’s grace, and pardon, repents and tries to amend and hopes to achieve salvation.
وَآخَرُونَ اعْتَرَفُوا بِذُنُوبِهِمْ خَلَطُوا عَمَلاً صَالِحًا وَآخَرَ سَيِّئًا عَسَى اللَّهُ أَنْ يَتُوبَ عَلَيْهِمْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ غَفُورٌ رَحِيمٌ
“And (There are) others who have acknowledged their faults. They mix a righteous action with another that was bad. It may be that Allah will relent toward them. Lo! Allah is relenting, merciful.” ( 9:102)
Hadith: “These are two impulses within us. One spirit which calls towards good and confirms the truth. He who feels this impulse should know that it comes from Allah. Another impulse comes from our enemy (Devil) which leads to doubt and holds untruth and encourages evil. He who feels this should seek refuge in Allah from the accursed devil.”
This soul warns people of their vain desire, guides and opens the door to virtue and righteousness. It is a positive step in spiritual growth.
c. The satisfied soul (Nafs al Mutmainnah).
يَا أَيَّتُهَا النَّفْسُ الْمُطْمَئِنَّةُ ارْجِعِي إِلَى رَبِّكِ رَاضِيَةً مَرْضِيَّةً فَادْخُلِي فِي عِبَادِي وَادْخُلِي جَنَّتِي
“O (you) soul in (complete) rest and satisfaction. Come back to your Lord, will pleased (yourself) and will pleasing unto him. Enter you then among my devotees, enter you in my heaven.” (89:27-30)
This is the highest state of spiritual development. satisfied soul is the state of bliss, content and peace. The soul is at peace because it knows that inspite of its failures in this world, It will return to Allah. Purified of tension, it emerges from the struggle with obstacles blocking the peace of mind and heart.
What should we do in panic and despair?
In panic non-believers behave differently than believers. They have no one to turn to, to ask for mercy and forgiveness, their life is this life, which they cannot control, thus they get more depressed and increase in their state of wrong doing. Then we will see that if they are used to casual drinking will start drinking more and become alcoholic, or a criminal.
On the other hand a believer should do the following:
a. Increase dhikr (Remembrance of Allah)
الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَتَطْمَئِنُّ قُلُوبُهُمْ بِذِكْرِ اللَّهِ أَلاَ بِذِكْرِ اللَّهِ تَطْمَئِنُّ الْقُلُوبُ
“who have believed and whose heart have Rest in the remembrance of Allah. Verify in the remembrance of Allah, do hearts find rest.” 13:28
b. Increase their prayer.
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اسْتَعِينُوا بِالصَّبْرِ وَالصَّلاَةِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ مَعَ الصَّابِرِينَ
“O you who believe, seek help with steadfastness and prayer. For Allah is with those who are steadfast.” (2:153)
c. Ask forgiveness
فَقُلْتُ اسْتَغْفِرُوا رَبَّكُمْ إِنَّهُ كَانَ غَفَّارًا
“And I have said: seek forgiveness from your Lord. Lo He was ever forgiving.” (71:10)
In addition to above we are also asked to continue to struggle to up-grade ourselves.
إِنَّ اللَّهَ لاَ يُغَيِّرُ مَا بِقَوْمٍ حَتَّى يُغَيِّرُوا مَا بِأَنفُسِهِمْ
” surely Allah does not change the condition in which a people are in until they change that which is in themselves.” (13:11)
In summary, I conclude that stress results from lack of inner peace due to conflicts within us and leads to external disturbances in our behavior and health. Inner peace can only be achieved by believing in Allah, the All Mighty, and remembering him frequently and asking for his help and forgiveness in times of difficulties.
Shahid Athar, MD
Clinical Associate Professor
Indiana University School of Medicine
8424 Naab Road
Indianapolis, IN 46260
Modern Stress And Its Cure From Qur'an,