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What is recovery? An Islamic perspective

How recovery is understood from an Islamic perspective, drawing out contrasts with healthcare and bio-psycho-social models of mental health problems
At the beginning of this course, we took a look at some of the complexities and challenges around understanding what mental health was and therefore what a mental health problem was. Now, as we come towards the end of this course, let’s take a look at that in reverse. What is recovery? What does it mean to be better? Now, are you better when you feel better? When you function better? When you cope better? Are you better when whatever biological problem in your organs and tissues has been resolved?
An invisible illness sometimes has an invisible recovery, just as we can’t do a blood test to determine that you have a particular mental illness, we also can’t do a blood test to determine recovery from it. So different health professionals tend to apply slightly different models of what recovery Means. For lots of medics, including GP’s, recovery is tied to a medical model, it’s about symptom reduction. If a medication reduces your level of emotional distress, you’ve recovered. However, the medication might simply numb you. Does that mean you’ve recovered even if you’re not able to function the way that you used to before?
Other mental health professionals tend to apply this bio psycho social model to recovery, as we do to the question of mental illness. Recovery here is symptom reduction, yes, but it is also functioning better and a, sometimes a subjective sense of well-being. What it means often is that it’s measured By, can you get back to work? Can you get back to education? And so forth. Now, what is it that a religious perspective adds to this idea of recovery? Well, from an Islamic or Muslim perspective, it means all of the above, but also the idea of what’s called Afiyah. Our fear is a comprehensive sense of well-being. It’s about coping better.
Yes, it’s about psychological resilience to long term health conditions or social difficulties. It’s based on a religious understanding of a concept ِنَّ مَعَ الۡعُسۡرِ يُسۡرًا ؕ‏ with hardship comes ease. Recovery from a Muslim perspective does not necessarily mean getting better. It means being able to reframe one’s illness, often chronic illnesses in a very different context. Being able to get a sense of blessedness, a sense of gratitude, even whilst in that setting. We are aware, for example, that the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings upon him, said that whenever a person is afflicted by some form of illness or distress or loss, they are requited by God in the afterlife.
That is to say, they receive a reward for the patience they endure in this world in the afterlife, and that, for many Muslims, is really instilling of a sense of hope for the ultimate outcome, along with trust in God. One finds meaning in one’s experiences, even negative experiences, as well as growth. The idea that, for example, the famous hadith of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings upon him, when he was asked by his wife, Aisha, May God be pleased with her, who suffers the most in this world? His response? The prophets and then those that are like them. Now, what does this mean?
The Prophet, peace and blessings upon him, he has flipped around the idea, the very common idea, that a reverse in your worldly life entails a reverse in your spiritual life. If you are down and out in your worldly life, it means you must be down and out in terms of your in terms of your relationship with God as well. Or to put that more simply, if I’m suffering, God must be angry with me. When you take this narration that says prophets have the worst calamities. The prophets, the best of mankind have experienced the most hardship in life.
It turns this idea on its head, and it allows Muslim clients and patients to find some meaning in, even in the distress that they are undergoing. Now this idea, this holistic idea about meaning and hope and connectedness and identity and empowerment has been recently purported in a new model for what recovery means in the secular, a secular approach which is called CHIME. CHIME standing for connectedness, hope, identity, meaning and empowerment. So we have these new models of what it means to recover from a mental illness that actually work very well from a traditional Islamic perspective as well.

In this video, Dr Yusuf explains how recovery is understood from an Islamic perspective, drawing out some contrasts with healthcare and bio-psycho-social models of mental health problems.

An Islamic perspective on recovery from mental health problems includes all aspects of mainstream models such as: feeling better; functioning as usual; a reduction in symptoms; building resilience in case mental health problems reoccur.

However, Dr Yusuf explains that it also includes Islamic concept of Afiya (a comprehensive sense of wellbeing), based on the Islamic principle that with hardship comes ease. Recovery from an Islamic perspective is not simply feeling better but the ability to reframe illness in a different way, with a sense of blessedness and gratitude even when experiencing mental health problems.

Muslims believe that if they experience illness or distress with patience and a sense of trust in God, they will be rewarded in the afterlife. Opportunities to find meaning and achieve personal growth can be found, even in the most difficult of circumstances.

Dr Yusuf recommends the CHIME model of recovery as a holistic approach to assessing recovery from mental health problems.

Image used with permission by Recovery Place.

The CHIME framework is as follows:

Connectedness Having good relationships and being connected to other people in positive ways. Characterised by: peer support and support groups; support from others; community
Hope & Optimism Having hope and optimism that recovery is possible and relationships that support this. Characterised by: motivation to change; positive thinking and valuing success; having dreams and aspirations.
Identity Regaining a positive sense of self and identity and overcoming stigma
Meaning Living a meaningful and purposeful life, as defined by the person (not others). Characterised by: meaning in mental ‘illness experience’; spirituality; meaningful life and social goals
Empowerment Having control over life, focusing on strengths, and taking personal responsibility


The Recovery College in Greenwich is an adult education institution based in Woolwich, London. They work within the CHIME Framework to provide education courses to support recovery and wellbeing. Find out more about CHIME at the Recovery Place website.

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Understanding Mental Health in Muslim Communities

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