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Commonly-held Muslim beliefs around mental health

Dr Yusuf outlines the effects of religious beliefs around the ‘unseen world’ (spiritual influences) that affect Muslim mental health.
One of the questions that often comes up when we’re talking about Muslim clients and their experience of mental health conditions is the idea of the effects of the unseen world or spiritual influences, one might say. Now, anyone who’s dealt with Muslim clients will be aware that this is something that is, certainly for Muslims from certain cultures, . it is something that is very much on their mind when they are thinking about their mental health conditions.
Patients will often come to me and talk about the effect of black magic or the effect of the jinn, the jinn being a concept in Islamic understandings of an unseen race of beings, devil’s in other words, that do occasionally have impacts on people and their mental health. Now all of these concepts have a basis in the religion of Islam, in the cosmology of Islam, you might say. There are such things as jinns that Muslims believe in. There is such a thing as negative spiritual practices or black magic that that we have been told about. There is the effect of envy, what’s called hasad, and something called the evil eye.
Now, all of these things are part of Muslim understandings of the way in which the unseen world impacts the material world. But to what extent will a particular Muslim client be focused on these aspects as opposed to not having enough serotonin in the synapses of their brain, or the fact that they’re in an unhappy marriage, or the fact that they’ve had trauma in their childhood? This is something that will be highly variable. In a nutshell, however, it’s useful for any practitioner to be aware of the fact that from a spiritual perspective, there are four malign spiritual influences, i.e.
things that cause harm to your mental and psychological and spiritual health, and also four benign aspects which bring benefit, comfort and support to a person’s mental health, as well as their spiritual and psychological health. So these concepts effectively work in opposition to each other. Muslim clients will accept all eight of them, but you will often find that prominence is given to those cause negative mental health rather than those that can be the key to recovery and positive mental health. So what are they? From the negative perspective, you have the concept of the evil eye, or the harmful eye perhaps is a better way of putting it, the ayn. As it’s called sometimes.
You have the concept of hasad or jealousy as a malign intent or a malicious intent towards somebody that can cause them harm. You have the idea of jaadu or Sehr, which is black magic. And you have the idea of this species called the jinn that may impact a person’s mental health negatively or full-on possess them, the idea of jinn possession or demonic possession. On the other side of that, you have four positive elements from the unseen world, from the spiritual realm, that can impact positively on a person’s mental and psychological health. They are Directly in opposition, as you have the concept of the harmful gaze, you have the concept of the beneficial gaze.
The greatest example of that being the gaze of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings upon him, that that raised his companions up to a very high spiritual degree. As you have the idea of a negative intention towards a person, which is called hasad, the wishing of harm to come to a person without doing anything about it. So too, you have the power of dua which is, or you have you have rather the positive intention for a person wishing that good comes to them, which is called rahma or mercy, as you have practices and words that may cause harm to a person, which is what Muslims understand by magic or black magic.
So too, you have the positive effect of dua or supplication on behalf of a person that can bring lots of benefits to that person. And just as you have the idea of demonic forces, you have the idea of angelic and saintly forces that can, that can diffuse the harm, avert it and bring benefit to people. Over all of that all Muslims believe in the power of God that encompasses all things that is ultimately benevolent and all powerful.
So what we have here from the if you like the spiritual elements of a person’s, a Muslim person’s mental health are four factors that may cause harm to mental health and four factors that may cause benefit to mental and spiritual health, all surrounded and encapsulated by the idea of the power and the mercy of the Divine. Now, all of this might seem a bit overwhelming for a health care practitioner.
So what’s really important here is opening up the space for conversation, allowing the person to talk about what they believe is impacting on them and influencing them, and knowing that for every negative factor that there may be in a person’s worldview, in their spirituality, there are within the religion, positive factors that balance them out. That’s also true from the perspective of somebody who is approaching either a patient themselves, a carer, or an imam or religious figure. You will often hear people will come to you with the negative side of things, the jinn and the jaadu and so forth. Think about, however, at the same time, the the positive forces and factors that are at play here as well.
And so what you can provide is a nice, balanced perspective to the person, and sometimes that’s really helpful. The most important thing? Give the client the space to talk and to say what they feel and make them comfortable in doing so.

In this video, Dr Yusuf, outlines the effects of religious beliefs around the ‘unseen world’ (spiritual influences) that affect Muslim mental health.

Practitioners who have experience of providing support for Muslims with mental health problems are likely to have come across some of these terms but may not have a comprehensive understanding of what they mean, and how they are experienced.

Dr Yusuf carefully explains religious beliefs can have both positive and impacts on mental health, by comparing four ‘malign’ (or negative) religious beliefs with four that are ‘benign’ (positive or neutral). Importantly, there is a basis for these beliefs in Islam and therefore they are part of the Muslim worldview.

The power of God, that encompasses all things, ultimately benevolent and all-powerful

Malign spiritual influences Benign spiritual influences
Evil eye (nazr) The beneficial gaze
Black magic (jaadu) Supplication on behalf of another (dua)
Negative spiritual beings (jinn) Angelic and saintly forces
Envy and malicious intent (hasad) Positive intent and mercy (rahma)

Dr Yusuf suggests that the most important consideration for practitioners is to open up the space for conversation, allowing Muslims to talk about what they feel is impacting on them.

Practitioners may find it helpful to know that for every negative factor in the Muslim religious worldview, there are positive factors to balance them out. While Muslims with mental health problems may focus on negative influences, it can be helpful to remind them of the positive influences.

Over to you

Dr Yusuf described four malign and four benign spiritual influences that might impact the mental health of Muslims in this video.

Practice explaining one malign influence and its benign counterbalance to a colleague or friend. You can post your explanation below to help other learners or let us know how the conversation went.

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Understanding Muslim Mental Health

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