This is not a recent photograph by all accounts but neither is it something from the days of yore. Yes, the heads are real and yes, this man has likely killed them for offending the tenets of Islam although he is remarkably clean after decapitating five people, I must say.
Is this an example of following Islamic doctrine or is it a sign of mental illness?
I found an interesting article today, entitled
Naturally, I got quite excited to find that not only did Islam recognise psychiatric disorders medically but it also had a way of dealing with them in what I assumed to be a proactive and identity-focused therapy approach.
It started off well but quickly deteriorated into the same old rhetoric of religious dogma dictating psychiatric illnesses. Parts of it made me laugh out loud, suffering as I do from a number of mental health problems, my children also affected by neurological disorders.
I thought the best thing to do was clarify psychiatric disorders for the Muslim community, ‘lest they find themselves relying completely on Allah for mental support. Whoops, my bad. Islam makes all believers completely reliant on Allah, irrespective of mental health. ~It doesn’t matter if you’re a ‘psychiatrist’ or a patient, your identity is not your own, it is owned by Allah or to be more specific, it is owned by Mohammed.
Now, how do I want to start this? Do we discuss the article or do we jump straight in and ask the pertinent question: if Mohammed had not been chosen as the prophet and a third-party took the role instead, would the Qu’ran have differed in any way? Technically, under the tenets of Islam the Qu’ran is the word of Allah transmitted to the prophet. Really, the prophet is irrelevant as he is only the vessel through which the message is translated. Had it been a woman or a twenty-year old man from elsewhere in Arabia, maybe a child then the message should not have differed in any way as it will still have been the word of Allah.
Impossible for me to say but there is one discrepancy highlighted. If the message is the same universal code of conduct then why are the ethics and the rituals significantly different across the religious fields where the concept of ‘one God’ is concerned? God spoke to Adam, to Abraham and his clan, to Jesus, to Muhammad. How did the message deviate so much to create so many schisms in religion?
The only answer is that the message was received differently according to which medium was selected for divine intervention. One God equals one universal message. Now, was this change of message due to the personality of the prophets or the primitive nature of their understanding? Did the message begin with the roughly hewn Adam and filter itself into the purity of Islam or did each man shape the message into a personal tool, the rituals and prayer to God varying dependent on the prophet’s needs at the time?
Language is important. Each prophet heard God in his own native tongue, not in a universal language. Adam and Moses heard it in Hebrew, Abraham and Jesus in their own colloquial form of Aramaic, Muhammad heard it in Arabic. It makes sense for God to be specific as the message needed hearing and understanding; translating it into an unknown dialect would just have confused the prophets further. But the way in which the various books are written differs in language. They each offer up their own version of God and the afterlife and as the timeline progresses, nods are made to the other religious orders as each faith compares itself to peer groups and asserts dominance over the others, culminating in the fiery and dominant Islam which refuses to allow any other faith to hold authority, insisting that other faiths must pay a tax to Islam in order to acknowledge their subordinate status.
Should we call this firebrand version of holy ethics evolution of scripture or see it for what it is; a mandate for identity hijack and power consolidation?
I haven’t just got it in for Islam, it’s all religion yet there seems to be more discord in Islam than any other faith, the schisms splitting the faith into multitudinous sects scattered across the world. Even America jumped on the bandwagon in the ‘thirties with the Nation of Islam and to date, there are over seventy divisions within the faith, each one determined that it is the true version of Islam.
Muhammad facilitated this diverse fracture of Islam in a disputed hadith that has seen many translations but seem to agree on a definitive number:
The Beloved Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings of Allah be eternally upon him, said, “The Jews divided into 71 sects, 1 will enter Paradise and 70 will enter Hell. The Christians were divided into 72 sects. By the One whose Hand my soul is in, my Ummah will be divided into 73 sects, 72 of which will enter Hell.”
What he essentially did was throw down the gauntlet to at least 72 others to forge their own cults of Islam and prophetically divide the faith. I looked for schisms in Judaism and there aren’t that many. If we throw in the schisms in Christianity (Jesus was born a Jew), it bolsters the number but not to the predicted value. The numbers also seem very close; 71, 72, 73 and in a logical sequence with Islam having the highest number of schisms.
Yet are these varied sects even classified as a ‘schism’? They all hold to the core model of Islam and their differences are marked by cultural and ritual diversity as well as nuanced belief concerning lay-parts of the Qu’ran. The most marked split is the Sunni/Shia divide which focuses on a legal anomaly concerning the heir to the Islamic caliphate, an issue centred around power and not divinity. If we call them ‘sects’ then it grants them license to be similar in core belief. By this margin, Christianity has thousands of sects, far more than Muhammad’s initial prediction.
The language in all the religious texts concerned is geared towards group segregation, defining races and cultures and how to interact with them. There is no mention of any future civilisations by name, which is odd given the enlightened nature of God. He maybe could have advised Muhammad ‘watch out for the Ottoman’s, they’re going to lose the Middle East to the League of Nations’ but He didn’t. Nor did he give any mention of the true value of oil deposits on the desert, right under the feet of the poverty-stricken Arabs. Had God seen fit to bestow the knowledge of petroleum onto Muhammad, maybe Islam would have dominated the world by now. As it was, the black tar bubbling out of the ground was useful for burning shit and lubricating things but that was it. Not until Edwin Drake started drilling did the value of crude oil become apparent. The Arabs, slow to catch on granted the British, Russian and American powers rights to start drilling and took severely biased deals that favoured the Westerners. Thanks to the Ottoman’s siding with the Central powers in WW1, they lost vast tracts of fertile land to the League of Nations and had to fight for their independence for decades.
God overlooking the potency of petroleum was a big mistake but it’s one he made time and time again with all the prophets.
Looking at the state of the Arab world, there is a hell of a lot more Allah could have said to Muhammad. As it was, he was only as enlightened as the age permitted. No different to the Greek and Southeast Asian philosophers. Well, actually the theories about atoms originated with Leucippus of Miletus a thousand years before the birth of Muhammad and were carried on by his student, Democritus. That these Greek scholars would be privy to knowledge about the cosmic world and the prophets were not is interesting.
A thousand years of philosophy, plenty of time for the studious Muhammad to refine his own theories. Nothing in the Qu’ran is a unique concept apart from its quasi-materialistic rewards in Paradise. It leans heavily on other scripture to reinforce its doctrine and another irony is this: out of the three-hundred and sixty ‘gods’ in the Kaaba, how come one of them was the One God? This means that whoever worshipped Allah to begin with as a moon deity was following the true faith and therefore Islam was around before Muhammad made it famous. If another prophet had been chosen in a different area with no knowledge of the Kaaba in Arabia, would the name ‘Allah’ still have been used to define God? Can’t say. It’s just conjecture again.
What I can say is that it is odd that the ‘real’ God was one of the three-hundred and sixty in the Kaaba. I would have assumed that the deity may have had a unique name that set it apart from other faiths, like the name Yaweh, not previously worshipped as a deity before the introduction of Judaism.
The Qu’ran bases its concepts on the other religions and philosophies of the world and the only thing that makes it unique is Muhammad’s own translation, his words and rituals that make the Muslim faith specific and separate.
The notion of ‘One God’ is not new; most polytheists had a hierarchy of order with a supreme being that oversaw the other gods, be it just or wrathful, usually a conglomeration of both. The idea of ‘one god’ is simply one name that incorporates all the attributes and representations of the other gods. It makes it easier to have a structured hierarchy with less components. I would say it was a logical leap of philosophy given our nature to group and collate things.
Still, enlightened as the prophets were they lacked critical knowledge of their environment and bodies not otherwise debated in earlier philosophy. Natural disasters were blamed on an angry God ( a great tool for the prophets to ensure compliance through piety) and dissent was blamed on ‘evil spirits’ or witchcraft, neither concept a new addition to scriptures in general.
One would assume that a man enlightened by God would have distinct medical and logical knowledge given that God is the sole cause of existence. I’m not saying the prophets weren’t clever, just that they were confined by the limitations of their era and forced to make up things to justify what had not yet been scientifically proved.
This brings me nicely back to the original point of this blog, the psychiatric benefits of Islam on mental illness.
This is an excerpt discussing (ironically) obsessive-compulsive disorder. I say ‘ironically’ as Islam actively encourages obsessive-compulsive behaviours through ritual and fear of harm, two important factors in the disorder.
” Obsessive–Compulsive Disorder
From an Islamic perspective, these unwanted obsessive thoughts are called wasawis (plural of waswasah), which are whispered into the minds and hearts of people by Ash-Shaytan (Satan). We can find evidence of this in the holy Quran and Hadith .
“Allah says, “Then Shaytan whispered suggestions to them both,in order to uncover that which was hidden from them of their private parts” (Quran7:20).
[Say: ‘I seek refuge with Allah, the Lord of mankind, the King of mankind, the God of mankind, from the evil of the whispers of the Devil, who whispers in the hearts of men’] (Quran 114:1-4).
And the Prophet Muhammad said “Shaytan comes to one of you and says, ‘Who created so-and-so and so-and-so?’ till he says, ‘Who has created your Lord?’ So, when he inspires such a question, one should seek refuge with Allah and give up such thoughts” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim).”
So in order to get rid of the obsessive-compulsive disorder of thinking, we need only pray to Allah for help and it will be given? Okay, we can let Muhammad off this one; OCD is a pretty unusual condition and its manifestation can be strange to others in a group. We could permit the theory of demons, given the climate in the sixth-century A.D. Both Old and New Testament had already discussed demons and the multifarious religions preceding them all involved an ‘underworld’ or an ‘evil god’ to some extent. It seemed rational. But surely God would have clarified this for the prophets, all of them rather than lead them down the garden path of demonic possession? Such categorising of mental illness as sorcery and possession no doubt convinced the sufferers themselves that they were indeed ridden by evil and in no way helped them to deal with their problems.
The article gave this explanation for psychiatric disorders:
“ First of all, one should know that Islam considers all diseases including psychiatric illness as trials and tests from Allah. So, when any disease befalls a Muslim, it can be an expiation for his/her sins.”
“The ability to reason is a sign of maturity. So, as long as the person has this ability, then he is held responsible for anything he says or does. The Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam) said: “The pen is lifted (stopped from writing the deeds) from three: the sleeping person until he wakes up, the handicapped or insane person till he becomes able to reason and the child till he grows up (reaches the age of puberty)”.”
And the cure for this malaise?
“On the other hand, the psychiatric diseases like any other diseases should be treated. The Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam) said: “Indeed, when Allah created the disease, He created its cure”. [Ahmad]”
The best remedy for such disease is in reciting the Qur’an.
But what’s the point in reciting the Qu’ran if you are a perpetual sinner? Yes, it’s official, folks. If you are mentally traumatized or suffering with any kind of disorder of the psyche then this is your own fault:
“Abu Hurayrah has narrated from Prophet Muhammad pbuh that: “Whenever a Muslim is afflicted by illness, continuous pain, anxiety, grief, injury or by a thorn with which he is pricked. Allah causes this to be an atonement for his sins.”
Mishkat ul Masabih
This article published in 2013 details some of the religious obstacles facing modern-day psychiatry in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It is evident from the paper that religion is stunting the Kingdom’s ability to correctly diagnose and treat psychiatric disorders. A significant portion of people were found to turn first to the Imam and then the faith healers with psychiatry being seen as ‘Western’ and contravening Islamic doctrines in some respect.
Islam is quick to remind us of its historic importance in the world of pharmacology and bodily diagnosis but where mental health is concerned, it falls flat on its face. I’m not excusing the other religions, they all have their own take on demonic possession and mental illness but with modern advances in psychiatric theory and treatment, most religions bar Islam were able to shake off the blinkers of prehistoric lore and see mental illness in a more medical light. Islam took its base for study from the Western philosophers as well as the mysticism of the East and contributed significantly to biological medicine, evolving the original theories further through their own diligent study.
I’ve decided that mental illness is subjective, dependent on social acceptance. What we might class as insane in the Middle East regarding behaviour is clearly the standardised norm in those cultures yet if it were practised in the West, it would cause the individual to be deemed mentally unstable. Similarly, many of our cultural practices are forbidden in Islam yet we deem them perfectly acceptable, to a degree.
Of late, we are seeing a pattern in the number of Islamic extremists who are subsequently identified as ‘mentally ill’. The individuals themselves are backed up by a whole network of people, all who must be in the same state of mental insecurity as they celebrate the actions of the perpetrators. If somebody is mentally ill and we mirror their values, then we must also be as deluded as them. It stands to reason and religion is all about ‘reason’.
Islam in general will disassociate itself from extremism, its many sects mostly disavowing the ethics of the Islamic State although some are in support, other ‘mentally ill’ people in large organised groups. It cannot condemn the acts too much, however as they are all carried out in line with the beliefs of the prophet. Arabs will not deny that are at war with the West, have been for centuries since the first inception of Christianity into the Arab lands. Despite Christianity having its roots in the former Palestine, it is primarily a Western religion, its epicenters focusing around England and Rome. The interpretation of the Qu’ran by the extremists is frowned upon but can never be totally condemned under the tenets of Islam.
Here’s some Islamic favourites that I found interesting, in no particular order taken from the ninth book of the Qu’ran, Surat At-Tawbah, written circa 630 A.D after Muhammad was well established as caliph of the Islamic State. It is a call to arms for the faithful and although the context is one of cultural war between many clans, inferences are made to ‘disbelievers’ as a general term for anybody outside the sphere of Islam. The background was the Tabouk campaign, instigated by the armies of Islam but extremists seize on certain words such as ‘Jew’, ‘Messiah’ and ‘disbelievers’ as well as ‘hypocrites’. It gives license to the extremists to wage war on the ‘disbelievers’ and ‘hypocrites’ as well as those who believe in the ‘Torah’ and ‘Gospel’ until only Islam dominates and all other faiths are subjugated, forced to pay the jizya (religious tax) for the privilege of existing. As for the ‘disbelievers’, those like myself without a definitive faith, the punishment is painful in this life and the next. We must remember that, in these times Muhammad needed to motivate his armies, keep them focused but what was said back then still holds weight today, apparently. I feel that the Surah relate to the Sahih Muslim Book of Jihad and Expedition, a call to arms for those under Muhammad’s command:
And [it is] an announcement from Allah and His Messenger to the people on the day of the greater pilgrimage that Allah is disassociated from the disbelievers, and [so is] His Messenger. So if you repent, that is best for you; but if you turn away – then know that you will not cause failure to Allah . And give tidings to those who disbelieve of a painful punishment.
And if they break their oaths after their treaty and defame your religion, then fight the leaders of disbelief, for indeed, there are no oaths [sacred] to them; [fight them that] they might cease.
Fight those who do not believe in Allah or in the Last Day and who do not consider unlawful what Allah and His Messenger have made unlawful and who do not adopt the religion of truth from those who were given the Scripture – [fight] until they give the jizyah willingly while they are humbled.
O you who have believed, indeed many of the scholars and the monks devour the wealth of people unjustly and avert [them] from the way of Allah . And those who hoard gold and silver and spend it not in the way of Allah – give them tidings of a painful punishment.
If you do not go forth, He will punish you with a painful punishment and will replace you with another people, and you will not harm Him at all. And Allah is over all things competent.
And among them are those who abuse the Prophet and say, “He is an ear.” Say, “[It is] an ear of goodness for you that believes in Allah and believes the believers and [is] a mercy to those who believe among you.” And those who abuse the Messenger of Allah – for them is a painful punishment.
Allah has promised the hypocrite men and hypocrite women and the disbelievers the fire of Hell, wherein they will abide eternally. It is sufficient for them. And Allah has cursed them, and for them is an enduring punishment.
Indeed, Allah has purchased from the believers their lives and their properties [in exchange] for that they will have Paradise. They fight in the cause of Allah , so they kill and are killed. [It is] a true promise [binding] upon Him in the Torah and the Gospel and the Qur’an. And who is truer to his covenant than Allah ? So rejoice in your transaction which you have contracted. And it is that which is the great attainment.
O you who have believed, fight those adjacent to you of the disbelievers and let them find in you harshness. And know that Allah is with the righteous.
Disclaimer: The views on this page are solely my own interpretation of parts of Islamic scripture. My conjecture about the prophet Muhammad is essentially that; conjecture. My thoughts do not reflect the views of anybody else but me and I have little evidence other than the Qu’ran and on-line resources to back up my arguments.