By Shahid Athar
Stress is the most common ailment of the modern age.
It has been implicated in the causation of peptic ulcer disease, coronary heart disease, depression, autoimmune disease, hypertension, diabetes and even cancer.
In a 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:
– Fear of the unknown and trying to see through and control destiny.
– Losses in our life of people and things dear to us and our inability to recover those losses.
– 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 Qur’an deals with such situations:
Our losses are a trial for us:
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 God we belong and to Him is our return. They are those on who (descend) blessings from God and mercy and they are the ones that receive guidance. (Al-Baqarah 2: 155)
Thus in Islam, we do not have the concept of the ownership of goods and life. Everything belongs to God and returns to Him. So if we don’t own a thing, why do we mourn our loss?
Our destiny is predetermined. We do not have control over that part. What we have to control over is a limited free will, that is our actions, our choice to do good or bad, to believe in God 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 about such things is of no use.
Rejection of faith in the Qur’an is a disease. This denial of truth is due to arrogance:
In their heart, there is a disease and God has increased their disease and grievous is their penalty because they lie to themselves. (Al-Baqarah 2: 10)
Three Stages of Spiritual Development
– The Passionate Soul
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. (Yusuf 12: 53)
The passionate 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. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said:
“Your most-ardent-enemy is your evil self which resides within your body.” (Al-Bukhari)
If this evil soul is not checked, it will lead to unusual stress and its resultant effects.
– The Reproaching Soul
Nay, I swear by the reproaching soul. (Al-Qiyamah 75: 2)
This soul is conscious or aware of evil, resists it, asks for God’s grace and pardon, repents and tries to amend and hopes to achieve salvation:
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. (At-Tawbah 9: 102)
Prophet Muhammad said: “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.
– The Satisfied Soul
O (you) soul in (complete) rest and satisfaction. Come back to your Lord, well pleased (yourself) and well pleasing unto Him. Enter you then among My devotees, enter you in My heaven. (Al-Fajr 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 in spite of its failures in this world, it will return to God. Purified of tension, it emerges from the struggle with obstacles blocking the peace of mind and heart.
What to do in a Crisis?
In panic, non-believers behave differently than believers. They have no one to return to, to ask for mercy and forgiveness, their life is this life, which they cannot control, thus get more depressed and increase in their state of wrongdoing. Then we will see that if they are used to casual drinking, they will start drinking more and become alcoholic, barbital criminal or resort to suicide.
On the other hand a believer should do the following:
– Increase dhikr (Remembrance of God):
Who have believed and whose heart have Rest in the remembrance of God. Verily in the remembrance of God, do hearts find rest. (Ar-Ra`d 13: 28)
– Increase prayer:
O you who believe, seek help with steadfastness and prayer. For God is with those who are steadfast. (Al-Baqarah 2: 153)
– Ask for forgiveness:
And I have said: seek forgiveness from your Lord. Lo He was Ever-Forgiving. (Nuh 71: 10)
In addition to the above we are also asked to continue to struggle to upgrade ourselves:
Surely God does not change the condition in which a people are in until they change that which is in themselves. (Ar-Ra`d 13: 11)
In summary, 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 God, the All-Mighty, and remembering Him frequently and asking for His help and forgiveness in times of difficulties.
Courtesy www.missionislam.com with slight modifications.
Shahid Athar M.D. is Clinical Associate Professor of Internal Medicine and Endocrinology, Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis, Indiana.