“Therefore remember Me. I will remember you, and be grateful to Me, and do not disbelieve [or show ungratefulness by refusing sincere submission].”
—Qur’an (Al-Baqarah, 2:152)
Years ago when I was in college, I remember studying about how the body and mind instinctively react to fear and pain, and how they constantly seek comfort and peace—even if that comfort or peace is irrational or will cause even more fear or pain in the long run. However, when we react to fear or pain in healthy ways, we are using our built-in self-protection system the way it was intended when we were created.
What is interesting about our body’s built-in self-protection system is that our brains do not always differentiate between physical pain and emotional pain. Thus, we react similarly to both. Moreover, our brains do not always differentiate between individual pain and social pain, so we feel pain on deep levels no matter where the suffering stems from. In other words, even when our pain is incited more by what is happening around us than what is happening within us, this external experience does not necessarily lessen the actual pain we experience.
Science Daily shares this summary of a research conducted by SISSA Medialab: “’Social’ pain hurts physically, even when we see it in others. The distress caused by social stimuli (e.g., losing a friend, experiencing an injustice or more in general when a social bond is threatened) activates brain circuits related to physical pain: as observed in a new study. This also applies when we experience this type of pain vicariously as an empathic response (when we see somebody else experiencing it)” (ScienceDaily.com, February 27, 2014).[i]
Given the widespread social impact of the coronavirus, nearly everyone in the world is affected by it, even those who are not physically unwell and even those who have varying opinions about how to react to the virus itself. In other words, whether the coronavirus is affecting us directly or indirectly, it is causing social pain in a way that is affecting all of us, even in ways we are unable to perceive.
Naturally, whenever there is a health scare on this level, the first reaction is to inform people how to physically stay safe and healthy, and how to properly quarantine themselves if they are directly affected. While taking these safety measures are absolutely crucial and most urgent, what is also crucial and urgent is taking safety measures regarding our emotional and spiritual health.
Emotional and Spiritual Quarantine
“Quarantine yourself with istighfar,” Hamdalah Sanni advises on her @hamdalahsanni Instagram account, referring to the spiritually nourishing practice of consistently asking Allah to forgive us throughout the day. She then shares this hadith as a spiritual reminder during this difficult time: The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, “If anyone constantly seeks pardon (from Allah), Allah will appoint for him a way out of every distress and a relief from every anxiety, and will provide sustenance for him from where he expects not”(Abu Dawud).
Reading this really touched my heart and reminded me of the ayah in the Qur’an in which Allah says what has been translated to mean, “And whosoever has taqwaa of Allah, He will make a way out for him [from every difficulty]. And He will provide him from [sources] he could never imagine. And whosever puts his trust in Allah, then He will suffice him. Verily, Allah will accomplish his purpose. Indeed Allah has set a measure for all things” (At-Talaaq, 65:2-3).
The Arabic term taqwaa is often translated as having fear of Allah, keeping one’s duty to Allah, or maintaining a level of God-consciousness that protects the soul from spiritual harm. In the discussions of tafseer (explanation of Qur’an), taqwaa is likened to placing a barrier between oneself and the punishment of Allah—or from spiritual suffering in this world or in the Hereafter.
When we understand taqwaa in this way, we can think of having taqwaa as building an emotional and spiritual quarantine for ourselves in this world. And here, I don’t mean that taqwaa will protect us from suffering physical pain, diseases, or health challenges. Rather I mean that taqwaa protects our soul and nourishes our emotional and spiritual health no matter what pain, disease, or health challenge is decreed for us in this world.
In other words, while the medical field offers us ample resources to help us make the best decisions for our health care, taqwaa offers us ample tools to help us make the best decisions for our soul care.
Health Care in Soul Care
Undoubtedly, no matter how crucial nourishing our physical health is for us in this world, nourishing our spiritual health will always be more crucial. Nevertheless, our Merciful Creator offers us tools for nourishing both. Not only are we taught prayerful supplications that assist us in protecting ourselves from physical diseases, we are also given the gift of Qur’an to help us heal the physical ailments that are decreed to befall each of us during our lives.
Moreover, modern day research now confirms that physical health regiments are most effective when the person has a healthy emotional and spiritual outlook on their life and circumstances. Similarly, modern day research confirms that long-term emotional and spiritual suffering leads to very real physical health challenges, chronic pain, or diseases in our bodies. This emotional-physical health connection was made famous in the bestselling book The Body Keeps Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bressel van der Kolk, MD.
Therefore, even when we are most focused on maintaining optimal physical health for ourselves, we have no choice but to also nourish our hearts and souls if we are to be truly healthy in our bodies, minds, and souls.
How To Nourish Your Mind, Heart and Soul
In seeking holistic health for ourselves, I share eight (8) ways that we can nourish our minds, hearts, and souls during this difficult time:
(1) Peaceful Surrender to the Qadar of Allah
In an earlier blog that I wrote about loss, I share this reflection on dealing with painful trials in this world:
When we are in the midst of sadness or grief, the challenge for the sensitive believing soul is navigating our emotions in a way that is spiritually healthy for us. In this, we strive to express our emotional pain in a way that nourishes our souls and that refrains from harming our souls (i.e. in a way that reflects true sabr).
In the Qur’an, Allah says what has been translated to mean, “And certainly, We shall test you with something of fear, hunger, and loss of wealth, lives, and fruits. But give glad tidings to the saabiroon (the patient ones)” (Al-Baqarah, 2:155).
In the realm of human emotion, the tragedy of loss is not faith-specific. Worldly loss weighs heavily on anyone, as feeling the pain of loss is merely a manifestation of how Allah created the human heart. In our feelings of sadness, these emotions are not necessarily a reflection of our spirituality. Rather, they are a reflection of our humanity.
In the above ayah, our Creator is reminding us of the nature of life, in all of its agony and loss, and how tragedy will touch every one of us. Sometimes that loss will be of something very close to us, and sometimes that loss will be from something connected to us from a distance. However, in either case, our Merciful Creator reminds us that it is only the saabiroon (the patient ones) who will derive benefit from these losses.
Specifically, the saabiroon are believers whose sabr is such a defining trait of their heart and lives that the Creator Himself has defined them by their steadfastness in soul-care. For the saabiroon, the health of their souls consistently takes priority over everything, irrespective of whether they are enjoying times of ease and happiness, or enduring times of extreme pain and difficulty. In their life of soul-care, an inherent quality of the saabiroon is that despite sometimes feeling deeply painful emotions, they consistently channel their pain in way that nourishes their souls and fills their hearts and tongues with dhikr (sincere remembrance of Allah).
In the Qur’an, Allah describes how the saabiroon handle tragedy and loss. He says what has been translated to mean, “[They are those] who, when afflicted with calamity, say, ‘Truly, to Allah we belong and truly, to Him we shall return’” (Al-Baqarah, 2:156).
In this ayah, Allah is not only describing what is happening on the tongues of the people of sabr, but He is also describing what is happening in their hearts. When the saabiroon experience tragedy, their hearts are immediately reminded that everything of this world—whether their wealth and treasured possessions, or the human souls that are beloved to them—are owned by the One who created them and brought them into existence. Therefore, the people of sabr realize from the very depths of their hearts that, in their Creator’s immeasurable Mercy and Wisdom, He can do with His creation as He pleases.
What this means is that if we are seeking holistic health in reaction to the trials of life, then we must teach our hearts to peacefully submit to the qadar (divine decree and decision) of Allah, even when that qadar includes some suffering. I reflect on this part of soul-care in the following reflection from my journal:
The bulk of your soul-care work is just surrender—a humble, complete surrender to the Power of the Most Generous. Realizing this has taken so much of the weight off my heart. And it quells the worry that often torments me, as I restlessly ask, “How am I going to do this?”
Yes, there will be work, and yes, there will be pain—and both are rooted in humble surrender.
Being patient through the pain of purification is the very essence of that surrender.
Use the pain to fuel the spiritual contentment of your soul.
[And say]: I submit to You, O Allah! I have no power over myself except that which You give me.
(2) Compassionate Presence
In the coursebook Alone, But In the Company of Your Lord, I discuss the importance of maintaining “compassionate presence” on our journey of emotional and spiritual healing, in the section entitled “What Is Compassionate Presence?”:
In a sentence, compassionate presence is the consistent process of making your mind and heart a safe space for you.
Compassionate presence is rooted in self-acceptance and beautiful patience, no matter how far you are from where you’d like to be. It is looking into the mirror of your soul and saying, “I accept you for who you are, and will compassionately and patiently support your improvement each day.” It is also saying, “I know I cannot do this alone, so I beg my Most Merciful Creator for help.”
Compassionate presence is embracing the present in a way that nourishes your heart and soul, instead of exhausting or tormenting them by dwelling on the past, or by anxiously fearing the future or impatiently awaiting it. This means making the conscious heartfelt choice to accept your past (both the good and the bad) without dwelling on what happened in it, whether it was something really good that is no longer part of your life, or something really painful that is causing lingering anxiety, regret, emotional triggers, or emotional wounding.
This compassionate presence also means having a calm acceptance of the unknown future, whatever it may bring. It is your heart saying, “I am pleased with whatever my Lord has written for me,” without anxiously fearing the worst, and without impatiently seeking a better tomorrow.
When compassionate presence is absent from our emotional experience, our mind and heart are not safe spaces for us. Consequently, our minds are consumed with negative self-talk, with toxic self-criticism, and with crippling self-doubt…
In this unhealthy space, sincere gratefulness or beautiful patience in the now becomes extremely difficult or impossible. This leads to poor emotional, spiritual, and even physical health…
However, compassionate presence is not denial, suppression, forced forgiveness, or “extreme positivity.” In other words, compassionate presence does not ask you to deny the pain or trauma of your past or to rush to forgive abusers or oppressors as a quick fix to healing yourself…
Compassionate presence is nourishing the soul through seeing the beauty in the now and trusting in the beauty of the future, no matter what pains have past or are (possibly) to come. Compassionate presence is rooted in self-love and self-care, whatever that means for you right now, even if what this means will change in the future.
Compassionate presence is lifting your heart and hopes to your Merciful Creator, and trusting that He will take care of you, even when you feel incapable of taking care of yourself…
(3) Patience and Prayer
In the coursebook, Alone, But In the Company of Your Lord, I share this reflection about our emotional and spiritual healing journey, inspired by what our Merciful Creator teaches us regarding soul-care:
In the Qur’an, Allah tells us that the starting point of seeking help with anything that we are struggling with is maintaining patience and establishing the prayer. He says what has been translated to mean, “And seek help in Sabr and the Salaah, and truly it is extremely heavy and hard except for Al-Khaashi’oon (those who are sincerely and humbly submissive)” (Al-Baqarah, 2:45).
If we are seeking help through sabr, this means we are patiently withholding ourselves from doing anything that would harm our lives and souls, and we are patiently and continuously doing whatever would benefit our lives and souls.
If we are seeking help through Salaah, then we are at the bare minimum praying our five foundational prayers every day on time. Additionally, when possible, we are also praying any optional prayers that would help us through life’s trials and demonstrate true gratefulness to Allah, such as Qiyaam ul-Layl or Witr, or the Sunnah prayers that accompany the five obligatory prayers (Fajr, Dhuhr, Maghrib and ‘Ishaa).
However, when we are struggling in our emaan, maintaining patience and keeping up with our obligatory (let alone optional) prayers can be very difficult, hence the saying of Allah, “…truly it is extremely heavy and hard except for Al-Khaashi’oon (those who are sincerely and humbly submissive)” (2:45).
Thus, we should constantly supplicate to Allah to make us of the khaashi’oon. In the meantime, it is important for us to show sabr in keeping up with what helps our souls, especially the five daily Salaah and any other spiritual obligations, even when we feel unmotivated or empty inside. I remind myself of this in my personal journal:
Struggling in your emaan? Do you feel dead inside when you pray, make du’aa, or read Qur’an?
Remember this: It’s okay to show up empty. Just be sure to show up.
And your Lord will fill your heart with the spiritual fuel it needs, eventually.
But you have to show up.
Show up to prayer.
Show up to du’aa.
Show up to Qur’an.
Just the act of showing up is a powerful act of faith.
Allah will take care of the rest.
(4) Dhikr and Du’aa
Throughout the Qur’an and prophetic teachings, we are consistently reminded to keep our minds, hearts, and tongues in the remembrance of Allah (dhikr) and supplicating to Him (du’aa).
The practice of dhikr in particular brings calm, rest, and satisfaction to our hearts. Due to the natural trials of life, our hearts are often in a state of pain, confusion, and frustration—which then cause us to use our tongues to complain about our own lives, or about what other people are receiving or doing in theirs.
In this, we use the tongues that Allah has given us to express how unfair it is that some people have such-and-such or get to do such-and-such. This sort of thinking and speaking is undoubtedly the result of an unsettled, troubled heart. And it is the unsettled, troubled heart that becomes distant from Allah and most prone to harboring ill feelings in the heart and becoming frustrated and displeased with Allah’s qadar.
Allah says what has been translated to mean, “Those who believe, and whose hearts find rest (and satisfaction) in the dhikr of Allah, for without doubt in the dhikr of Allah do hearts find rest” (Ar-Ra’d, 13:28).
Additionally, Allah lets us know that turning away from this dhikr is a cause for us to take into our company a shaytaan (devil) as an intimate companion. He says: “And whoever turns away (or blinds himself) from dhikr of the Most Merciful, We appoint for him a devil to be an intimate companion” (Az-Zukhruf, 43:36).
What will help us protect ourselves from this unhealthy companionship in our most intimate relationship with our souls is to use our tongues for dhikr instead of expressing ungratefulness, frustration or anger at Allah’s qadar.
There are numerous adhkaar and supplications that we are taught in the Qur’an and prophetic teachings that can help calm and purify our hearts throughout the day. Many can be found in the book Hisnul-Muslim or Fortress of the Muslim by Sa’id bin Ali bin Wahf Al-Qahtani (published by Darussalam), which is now available via a downloadable app. And of course, we can find numerous supplications in the Qur’an itself.
Among these supplications is one that can protect us from harmful physical diseases, and it can be recited for protection from coronavirus or any other ailment: “O Allah, I seek refuge from leprosy, insanity, mutilation, and from all serious illness” (Sunan Ibn Dawood, 1556).
It is also important to read Qur’an every day, even if only one ayah or for a few minutes. This will help keep our minds, hearts, and souls nourished during this time.
(5) Mindfulness About Unhealthy Escapism
During times of stress, we as humans are hardwired to seek escape from fear and pain. As alluded to at the beginning of this blog, this inherent tendency can be healthy or unhealthy. Therefore, in embracing self-care that is soul-nourishing, it is important to remain mindful of when we are falling into unhealthy escapism.
Unhealthy escapism is any form of avoiding or escaping fear or pain that disrupts the healthy function of our daily lives. This disruption can manifest practically, emotionally, or spiritually. One common form of unhealthy escapism is excessive binge watching of entertaining television, movies, or YouTube videos, especially if this results in neglecting our practical or spiritual obligations in any way.
If you are striving for healthy self improvement in your relationship with television or other visual entertainment, I encourage you to read the blog, “It’s Okay Not To Watch: Ten Points of Self-Honesty with TV.”
If you are looking to stock up on beneficial reads during this time, I am offering the opportunity to download 25 eBooks for only $25 as a self-care promotion before Ramadan.
(6) Soul-Nourishing Online Connections
Because our physical movement and travel are restricted during this time, it is natural that many of us will be spending more time online than we usually do. Therefore, it is important that we remain mindful of our online usage just as we remain mindful of our excessive consumption of television, movies, and other entertainment.
Fortunately, in this day and time, we are blessed with a multitude of beneficial online resources, communities, and courses. I encourage each of us to take advantage of these soul-nourishing online connections that offer both free and affordable content. Amongst them are Woman By Nature (for women only), Qur’an Journaling courses by Mariam Poppins, and Honest Tea Talk, which was created as a Muslim alternative to Jada Pinkett Smith’s Red Table Talk.
Additionally, I myself offer support in navigating emotional and spiritual struggles at uzuniversity.com via my videos, eBooks, and courses. Click here to subscribe to our free newsletter and soul-nourishing content.
In seeking soul nourishment while using social media, I share a reminder I wrote to myself in my personal journal:
Do a social media “soul cleanse” such that every moment you spend online becomes a benefit to your spiritual life, bi’idhnillaah. How? In addition to seeking out and sharing posts that are beneficial reminders to yourself and others, interact with others in a way that helps purify your heart from anything that can sully your soul—and that helps true love for the sake of Allah take root in your heart.
Here’s what I find helpful:
Honor your guests, whether they enter your personal space virtually, in reality, or in your thoughts. Pray for them. Ask Allah to bless them and grant them happiness and success in this world and in the Hereafter. If they are falling into error or sin, ask Allah to guide them and forgive them. If they are posting something about their own happiness and success, take a moment to leave a comment congratulating them and praying that they are increased in good.
And whenever you have a free moment, take time to send someone a message to just ask how they are doing, or to just send love and salaams, especially if you aren’t close friends who interact often.
If you are upset or angry with someone, spend time in sajdah and private supplication asking Al-Kareem (The Most Generous) to remove any ill-feelings and misunderstandings between you, until peace, compassion, and empathy settle in your hearts.
And most importantly, ask Al-‘Aleem, Al-Ghaffaar (The All-Knowing and Continuously Forgiving) to help you see clearly your own faults, sins, and wrongdoing, and to help you regret them and repent from them.
When we do this, we’ll likely find that the one who is harming and hurting us most is ourselves. Yet still, show yourself love and compassion by praying for assistance, guidance, and forgiveness in your brokenness and confusion. Then, bi’idhnillaah, you’ll be able to show this same love and compassion more freely with others—in your personal life and online.
(7) Online Transition for Family, Schools and Businesses
For individuals, schools, and business that could benefit from practical assistance in transitioning their events, courses, and activities online during this time, email firstname.lastname@example.org (the Muslim-owned company I use for my website and online university).
(8) Embrace Your Solitude
In closing, I suggest that each of us finds contentment in solitude, a lesson at the heart of what I share in my course “Alone, But In the Company of Your Lord.” In my journal, I reflect on the blessings of both solitude and occasional suffering in life:
Suffering is a means of purification. Solitude is a means of clarification. And loss—whether of companionship, wealth, or even trust itself—is a means of enrichment.
It is a gift.
It is like your Lord handing you a weathered roadmap, one retrieved from the aged dirt of the earth, and pointing you in the direction of home.
Yet you didn’t even know you were lost. You didn’t even know what was home.
Until He placed that roadmap in your hand.
That’s the moment your soul falls in submission—despite all the suffering, clamoring, and confusion of life—and you humbly accept this inescapable truth: You are all alone on this journey home.
And step by step, breath by breath, and pain by pain, you are being called back.
And all those worldly comforts and human relationships you thought you couldn’t live without? They were just temporary companions on your journey home. They were divine mercies—and tests—scattered along your path. But like a cool drink of water on an arduous journey, they quench the veins only for the moment, and only enough to keep you moving.
Because even they have a path and roadmap of their own.
And that’s the beauty. That’s the blessing.
Because without the suffering and abandonment when your roadmaps point to diverging paths, you’d think that these temporary comforts and tests scattered along your path were the destination itself.
You don’t have to struggle alone. Let’s work together: uzuniversity.com
Umm Zakiyyah is the internationally acclaimed author of more than twenty books, including the If I Should Speak trilogy, Muslim Girl, and His Other Wife. She recently launched her “Choosing To Love Alone” series via UZuniversity.com to support struggling believers seeking to nourish their emotional and spiritual health.
Join UZ University now.
Copyright © 2020 by Al-Walaa Publications. All Rights Reserved.
[i] The pain of social exclusion: Physical pain brain circuits activated by ‘social pain’. Retrieved on March 15, 2020 from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140227101125.htm