Modern research on stress has often focused on the fact that, as Americans, we have little reason for real stress, and we often exaggerate it. Many therapies are focused on reducing our perception of stress. However, in light of the disaster, many American Muslims are truly experiencing true stress – the primal kind of stress involved in the fight or flight mechanism of the adrenal glands. Perception therapy will provide little help to those people who either ran for their lives as the WTC collapsed, or are hiding in fear of a retaliatory strike against innocent American Arabs and Muslims.
Stress, however, is not useful in the long term. Although it may prove beneficial when we are faced with danger, it only harms the body when prolonged. Muslims who are feeling stressed by Tuesday’s events should take countermeasures to protect their health and help them manage their lives more efficiently and peacefully.
Stress-related diseases include hypertension, headache, ulcers, depression, allergies, stroke, asthma, arthritis, diabetes and even cancer (Greenberg, p.51). When the hypothalamus experiences a stressor, it releases the stress hormones cortisol and aldosterone. It also instructs adrenal medulla to secrete adrenal hormones, which are responsible for physiological changes while experiencing stress such as accelerated heart rate, increased oxygen consumption, perspiration, increased blood pressure and increased blood sugar levels. Stress decreases the amount of saliva in the mouth and increases hydrochloric acid secretion, which often results in ulcers (Greenberg, p.33). Inhibiting the immune system response, stress helps develop mutant cells that can lead to tumors (Greenberg, p.45).
Muslims can deal with prolonged stress better when they understand where it comes from. Stress, doctors say, usually comes from fear of the unknown, the future, and death. However, Allah has already provided us with prevention against those fears. “And surely We shall try you with something of fear and hunger, and loss of wealth and lives and crops; but give glad tidings to the steadfast” (Qur’an, 2:155). The Prophet (SAW) said, “Your most ardent enemy is your evil self which resides within your body. If this soul is not checked, it will lead to unusual stress” (Bukhari).
Furthermore, since Muslims are told in the Qur’an that humans are on this earth only as passengers, we should not have this fear of loss. A Muslim’s destiny is predetermined, so worrying about it is fruitless. We only have “limited free will” to believe in God or not, or to chose good deeds or bad ones.
Rejecting faith in Allah, though, is against nature and a sign of disease. “In their hearts is a disease, and Allah increases their disease. A painful doom is theirs because they lie” (Qur’an, 2:10). Having no one to turn to during a crisis, the non-believer can become violent or turn to alcohol. Psychiatric diseases are on the increase because people sometimes lie to themselves to maintain ephemeral pleasures. “In order to contain that conflict, the mind sends signals to glands for secretions of hormones like adrenalin which leads to rapid heart rate, perspiration, tremor… the basis of lie detect[ion],” says Dr. Shahid Athar.
The believer will be in peace, however, at the highest state of faith ( ihsan ) for he knows that regardless of whatever turmoil and challenge he endures, he will return to his Lord.
“The closer the belief, the greater the spiritual health,” says Dr. Louis Greenberg. It has been shown that some people are genetically predisposed to depression, but a person’s faith may play an important role in front of stress (Greenberg, p.64).
In summary, here is a list of what Muslims can do to counteract the effects of stress:
Increase dhikr (remembrance of Allah): “Those who believe, and whose hearts find satisfaction in the remembrance of Allah: for without doubt in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find satisfaction (Qur’an, 13:28).
Increase prayers: “O you who believe! Seek assistance through patience and prayer; surely, Allah is with the patient (Qur’an, 2:153).” Regardless of the type of meditation, recent studies have verified the physiological effects of meditation. Most of those mediations consist in focusing on something, repeating some words and breathing (Greenberg, p.142, 143).
Perform ablutions: The most important component of relaxation is what Hans Loehr calls “the rituals of success.” These rituals may be as simple as making ablution; yet, they must be performed properly for it is not enough to pass water on the body parts – those parts must be massed.
Ask for forgiveness: Even if a person has not done anything wrong, he must insure the forgiveness of Allah. “Then I said, ‘Ask forgiveness of your Lord; surely, He is the most Forgiving'” (Qur’an, 71:10).
Recite the Qur’an: The Prophet (SAW) said, “… Qur’an is a remedy for illnesses of the mind” (Bukhari). “The echo of sound has a medical effect and is now widely utilized,” says Dr. Greenberg. “The recitation of or listening to the Qur’an has an effect on the body, the heart and the mind! It is said that the letter Alif echoes to the heart and the letter Ya’ to the pineal gland in the brain. Dr Ahmed El Kadi of Akber Clinic (Panama City, FL) conducted and published the effects of listening to Qur’anic recitation on physiological parameters (i.e., the heart, blood pressure, and muscle tension), and reported improvement in all factors, irrespective of whether the listener was a Muslim or a non-Muslim, Arab or non-Arab. Obviously, it can be postulated that those who understand and enjoy the recitation with a belief in it will get maximum benefits,” writes Dr Athar.
Make the hereafter one’s main concern: “Whoever has the hereafter as his main concern, Allah will fill his heart with a feeling of richness and independence; he will be focused and feel content, and this world will come to him in spite of it. Whoever has this world as his main concern, Allah will cause him to feel constant fear of poverty; he will be distracted and unfocused, and he will have nothing of this world except what was already predestined for him,” said the Prophet (SAW). One of the greatest causes of stress is money – how to pay the loans, whether one’s job will be lost, what will happen to the family if the father dies, etc.
Think positively: Muslims should forget about the bad things of the past and think of good things, always having hope that he can be better. Trying to change the past is a foolish and crazy waste of time, “for saying ‘if only…’opens the way to Shaytan” said the Prophet (SAW). The Prophet (SAW) also said, ” Know that victory (achievement) comes through patience, and that ease comes through hardship.” Muslims understand that there’s no reason for panic in the case of crisis – no reason to be distressed or worried for we know that after hardship come ease!
Do not waste time on thoughts of fear or stress: “The search of time is one of the most frequent causes of stress” (Seyle, p.102). Laziness is the mother of all evils, and the Prophet (SAW) used to seek refuge in Allah from it. Understanding that this life is short and time precious, Muslims should try to work hard and pursue worthy knowledge (Munajjid).
In conclusion, a surprisingly effective remedy for stress is to “remember death”. The Prophet (SAW) said, “Remember frequently the one who will destroy all your pleasures – death! For there is no one who remembers death when in straitened circumstances, but his situation will become easier…”.
Athar, Shahid, MD. “Modern Stress and Its Cure From Qur’an.” www.islam-usa.com.
Greenberg, Jerrold S. CSM = Comprehensive Stress Management. WCB: McGraw-Hill. 1999.
Munajjid, Sheik Muhammad. Book of Sheikh Muhammed Salih Al-Munajjid: Dealing with Stress and Worries.
Seyle, Hans. The Stress Without Distress. N.Y.: Lippincott. 1974.
Shakir Translation. Holy Qur’an.