Attending Mosque Helps Mental Health
By Elham Asaad Buaras
The latest report from the Mental Health Foundation suggests that going to the mosque can have benefits for Muslims with mental health problems. Hanif Bobat from AWAZZ, a South Asian Mental Health Project in North Manchester, produced the 15-paged report , entitled A User-Led Research Project into Mosque. The research looked at four participants with long-term mental health problems. All were asked about the role of the mosque in their lives, commenting on the eligibility of participants, Bobat writes: “It was decided that even someone who attended the mosque once a week was suitable.”
All participants had accessed primary and secondary mental health services and were members of AWAAZ drop-in and regular attendees to group therapy and Islamic counseling. A total of six group sessions were held, each for about 90 minutes. The sessions were conducted over a period of six months at monthly intermissions.
The Report follows previous studies on the therapeutic power of religion on the psychologically distressed. “One Study among 64 patients in Pakistan showed that depressive illnesses are encountered much less in the Muslim population during the month of Ramadan. Further the author indicates that during Sahri (early morning rising) and other specific tasks, i.e., Tahajjud (night) prayers and other religious rituals, there is reduced incidence of depression.” Bobat refers to a Qur’anic verse that says:
“Surely by Allah’s remembrance are the hearts set at rest..” (13:28)
Despite the existence of prior works on Islam as a form of counseling, this project is unique in that it is created and assembled by someone who suffered from depression. Bobat admits that he “went through a period of manic depression” in the early 1980s.
The Report’s findings conclusively support the view that mosques offer therapeutic help with mental health problems. Mosques were described as community centers, participants felt that regularly attending the mosque and meeting other Muslims was encouraging. The participants agreed that they shared a “sense of peace”.
“Both during the group sessions and in one-to-one meetings, participants described feelings of being at peace in mosque and were also more relaxed. Two people said that as soon as they entered the mosque, a feeling of serenity, calmness and a sense of being in the ‘House of God’ brought about recognition of the Creator. Most participants tried to put aside the mundane day-to-day tasks and anxieties while in the mosque. To experience temporary sense of peace.”
Attending the mosques is a routine that requires adequate preparations. “Ritual cleansing before entering the mosque can be a way of putting away the materialistic life and establishing a connection with the Creator. Participants highlighted this ritual practice of washing hands, and face before entering the mosque as ‘refreshing and feeling clean and pure’.”
Once in the mosque the therapy continues. The mosque is described as a “place of contemplation, spirituality and humility”. Another strong concept emphasized by Bobat is the intensity of worshipping in unison. “Since a Muslim goes to the mosque for prayers at some stage in a day, he or she becomes part of groups there and offers prayers in a group. This gives a measure of social support in case of personal or other difficulties. This Islamic group therapy ;is comparable to the concept of group therapy in the West.” In fact there is evidence to suggest that Islamic therapy preceded western forms of counseling. Bobat writes:
“Mosques as a therapy is already being facilitated by a practitioner in Saudi Arabia and there is also a form of psychotherapy, Tahajjud Therapy, which has its roots in the teaching of the Qur’an and Tradition (Hadith) present, “Veritable answers to the host of functional disorders in psychiatry! e.g., many individuals need psychological help when they aren’t able to cope with the stresses in their lives, e.g. loss of job or wealth or bereavement, etc.”
In his Report, Bobat makes recommendations on what he would like to see happen to research in this area. Firstly he requests statutory and voluntary mental health service support research on faith healing. He also suggests that there should be wider training for front-line staff.
Finally he claims “resources need to be allocated to establish departments across the United Kingdom within existing mental health services, that are sensitive to faith communities, looking at issues of religion and spirituality.” Also there are calls for the study to be extended to Muslim women.