Dealing With Depression: Imam Ghazali

The Islamic faith is not unfamiliar with tests and tribulations. This is the fifth in a series of articles on depression according to Islam. It is from the On Demand Course: Mental Health Workshop – An Islamic Guide to Dealing with Depression.

The way that Imam Ghazali approaches depression, anxiety and so forth is not head-on. He talks about it, of course. Before delving deeper, know that these conditions are real things.  They can be quite mild and manageable, or they can be incredibly disabling. They can be transient or they can be severe and enduring. 

You may sit on a spectrum. Beware that it can be a slippery slope. It can go from from mild to severe. Often, people will notice something is wrong with you before you have realized there is something wrong with yourself. 

Keep an eye on yourself. As a brief note, know that caring for others is often something that brings a sense of content and peacefulness to the heart. 

There is help available. Do not be afraid to seek it out. Have sincere friends for it is lacking. Do not be afraid if you need to take medication. 

The Last Quarter of the Ihya

Abu Zaid looks at biology, psychology, and social context. He focuses on the psychology part. Ghazali brings in the spiritual dimension, the bio-psycho-socio-spiritual model of the human. 

Ghazali’s last ten books ( the last quarter of the Ihya) are about salvific qualities. Ghazali talks about turning to God, patience and gratitude, hope and fear in Allah. Abstinence and a sense of sufficiency from the world. Faith and trust in God. Love, contentment, yearning for God, sincerity, being true and seeking God, watching over the self. Self-development, contemplating the signs of God in creation and within yourself, and lastly the remembrance of death and the hereafter.

The first concept here returns. A sense that something is not right. Not heading in the right direction. One needs to recognise that and one needs to just turn around. That is the first step. 

Then, it is to recognise that we experience good times and bad times. We respond to the good times with joy that we attribute to God, and we respond to the hard times with courage and endurance that is focused on God. That is in the present moment. 

Then we think about the future and all the anxieties that we have about the future. We approach the future with hope in God’s mercy and fear of our shortcomings or hope when confronted with the beauty of Allah and awe-struck fear when confronted with the majesty of Allah.

The Spiritual Dimension

When moving towards God, when reconstituting that spiritual dimension of human existence, we take what we need from the world. However, we do not place our hopes, fears, joy, sorrow, endurance, or determination on that which we are going to leave behind. But rather, on that which is eternal and ever-enduring. 

That you focus your hope, your fear, your thankfulness, your patience and your reliance upon Allah, upon the eternal beloved that we are all seeking, to whom we are all returning. 

We have utter trust in Allah, which is the next book. We believe in God and place our trust in God. Then, by doing so, we develop. We emerge from our cocoons through this process into an experience of love, joyfulness and contentment.

Turn to Allah

We continue seeking our Lord. Fueled by that joy and contentment with sincerity and being true. A true turning to God. All the time watching out and watching over ourselves and what is going on inside here. The whisper of the devil that is within. 

Then we contemplate the universe around us and the universe within us. Allah says:

سَنُرِیهِمۡ ءَایَـٰتِنَا فِی ٱلۡـَٔافَاقِ وَفِیۤ أَنفُسِهِمۡ حَتَّىٰ یَتَبَیَّنَ لَهُمۡ أَنَّهُ ٱلۡحَقُّۗ 

“We shall unfailingly show them Our signs in all the far-flung directions and in their very selves until it becomes unmistakably plain to them that it is the Truth” [Quran, 41:53; tr. Keller, Quran Beheld]

We now look at these. We experience them and re-experience them with new eyes, with a new heart. Focused and based on our experience of God. We see our inner states and what is going on inside here, sadness, anxiety, happiness and so forth. As well as what is going on out there, the psychological and the social, in the context of the spiritual, in the context of our Lord.

Allah says:

تَبَـٰرَكَ ٱلَّذِى بِيَدِهِ ٱلْمُلْكُ وَهُوَ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَىْءٍۢ قَدِيرٌ

ٱلَّذِى خَلَقَ ٱلْمَوْتَ وَٱلْحَيَوٰةَ لِيَبْلُوَكُمْ أَيُّكُمْ أَحْسَنُ عَمَلًۭا ۚ وَهُوَ ٱلْعَزِيزُ ٱلْغَفُورُ

“How gloriously exalted in beneficence over all is He in whose hand alone is Sovereignty; And He has absolute power to do anything. Who created death and life to try you as to which of you is finest in works; And He is the Invincible, the All-forgiving.” [Quran, 67:1-2; tr. Keller, Quran Beheld] 

Contemplation such that we are ready for our end when it comes. Whoever yearns to meet with God, God loves to meet with them. 

Ghazali, just in the titles of these books, takes you through a process. This process is a recognition of reality. We are not just our internal world and the world around us. All of that exists in the context of an ultimate reality. That is the reality of our relationship with God. Turn to that. 

You will find through that that the good and the bad that come to you that cause these fluctuations of our emotional states, happiness, sadness and so forth, are both coming from one source. The rain and the sun, both come from one source. They are both required for the roses to grow, for the roses to bloom. 

Recognize Reality

When you recognize that, it allows you to develop patience when things are difficult and gratitude when things are easy. These two things together lead to contentment. 

We began, we begin and we become in the name of Allah who is all benevolent and eternally beneficent. He is All compassionate and Ever merciful. And all of our lives are wrapped up in this.

We are for God, we are returning to God. Our origin is with God, our destiny is with God. Everything in between is just a noise. So keep this in mind, especially if you are in a state of hopelessness and helplessness. 

Place your trust in Him.