Nurturing Mental Health

How the Quran Can Help Cleanse Our Mind

By Syed Imtiaz Ahmad

May/Jun 2024

Our minds work continuously to process what comes our way through our senses of hearing, seeing, and the corresponding impressions that these and other senses create in our mind. Our mind distinguishes us from other forms of life. Happenings in the surrounding world can shape our mind in ways that we don’t always consciously realize. 

Consider, for example, that a person hits another person for no discernible reason. You hear and see it happening, but what matters is how you react to it. Do you simply ignore it or intervene? If you choose the former, the likely impression created within your mind is that hitting another person may be okay. You may then behave that way on impulse. 

Impulsive behavior develops when we don’t process what we hear and see. The proper development of behavior requires such processing and influencing your mind properly, namely, according to what you may consider a desirable behavior. 

Behaving in a way that you may often regret without any intention to correct it can lead to mental disorders. Sometimes you may develop a dual personality. Personality development professional Linda Ferguson, author of “Your Authentic Self- Inner and Outer,” says, “An outer self represents the personas you display. The inner self contains your values, beliefs, personality. It often results from a feeling that you must stuff down or hold back those aspects for fear of offending someone” ( It causes stressful situations and ultimately may lead to mental disorders.

The Quran repeatedly mentions the interplay of hearing, seeing, and mind impressions and shows the pathways to good mental health: “By the soul, and the order given to it, and its enlightenment as to its wrong and right, truly he succeeds who purifies it and fails who pollutes it” (91:7-10). 

Mental Health America (MHA; founded 1909) is dedicated to promoting mental health and wellbeing. Among some of the commonly known causes identified by MHA are genetics, environmental influences, stressful events, childhood trauma, negative thoughts, unhealthy habits, drugs, alcohol, and brain chemistry.

Causes such as genetics and brain chemistry are beyond the scope of this article, for nurturing alone may not be effective in these cases. 

Our passions and desires, while generally good for personal development, can also lead to toxic situations. American philosopher and social thinker Eric Hoffer (d.1983) once remarked, “Our frustration is greater when we have much and want more than when we have nothing and want some. We are less dissatisfied when we lack many things than when we seem to lack but one thing” (Geoffrey James, “In 1951, America’s Greatest Philosopher Predicted Where We’d Be in 2019”,, Oct. 28, 2019). This profound observation points to the complex relationship among desire, possession, and satisfaction, the paradoxical nature of human longing and the intricate interplay between abundance and scarcity in our pursuit of contentment. “Do not follow your vain desires, because they will mislead you” (38:26).

Polymath Abu Zayd Ahmed ibn Sahl al-Balkhi (d.934), in his Masalih al-Abdanwa Anfus (“Sustenance of the Soul,” trans. Malik Badri (IIIT, 2013), wrote, “The psychological symptoms that afflict a person are those such as anger, sorrow, fear, panic and other similar manifestations.” He talks about the soul or spirit stemming from the human mind and how to keep its components in a state of wellbeing and harmony to avoid the psychological disorder that it may face. He further adds, “The human soul can be healthy or unhealthy in the same way that its body can be healthy or unhealthy. When the soul is healthy, all its faculties will be tranquil without any psychological symptoms manifesting such as anger, panic, depression and others. You need to protect the soul from outside elements such as you hear or see that may worry or disturb you causing arousal of negative emotions.”

Mental Health Through the Lens of the Quran

The Quran guides us to nurturing mental health through some key concepts, words and phrases. The first concept is that of two inherent positive and negative forces active within the human mind. One force guides us to positive mental health; the other tempts us to actions that cause mental ill health. Suppose you want to say something to someone. One may ask oneself “Should I just go ahead and say it? Or think it over before saying it? How should I say it?  Having said that, should one question oneself whether it was said the right way or should have been expressed differently?”

Think before you act and reflect on your actions for any deficiencies that need to be overcome. Doing so will lead you to the desired behavior by nurturing your mind positively. The Quran calls this al-nafsal-lawwama (75:2-3), a questioning mind. On the other hand, a proud person may just say whatever comes to mind and act impulsively. Uncontrolled impulsive behavior can harm others and may lead to mental disorder. The Quran calls this al-nafsal-ammara, a mind driven by impulse and prone to misguidance (12:53). The behavior becomes erratic, leading to mental health disorders.

What are some of the foundations for nurturing the human mind of children, adolescents or adults? First, learn from what comes our way, from what we hear and see, and read stories or information coming to us from a variety of other sources. Learn from the environment that influences you, but don’t accept everything blindly. Ignorant people think that whatever they know is all that there is to know. But intelligent people, on the other hand, are only too aware of just how much more there is to know. 

We nurture children by talking to them about what’s going on around us, reading them stories leading to questions and answers, drawing lessons to shape behavior and preparing for dealing with situations to avoid mental disorders. The Quran describes the first part of this process as tazakkur (recollections of happenings around us; 51:55, 58:19 and 87:9-11), followed by thoughtful reflections (tafakkur; the pointers for our way of life (2:266; 7:176; 6:50; 10:24).

Nurturing the mind leads us to develop insights and prudence (tadabbur) and be aware of our choices. The Quran “is a book sent down to you full of blessings so that you may meditate on its signs and that men [and women] of understanding may be duly guided” (38:29).

Cleansing Our Mind

Our body collects dust and dirt from our surroundings, and so we wash it regularly, take showers, and use cleansing agents and sanitizers to prevent infections. Likewise, what we hear and see continually creates impressions in our mind. Just like our body, our mind also needs constant cleansing. This, however, often gets neglected because we may lack consciousness about what’s happening in our mind. Thus we need to cleanse it from all that affects it negatively. 

The key to this process is constant reflection on what we hear and see and sense, paying particular attention to the negative impressions entering our mind. Just as the dust and dirt on our bodies must be removed, these negative impressions must be corrected thoughtfully to train ourselves for the desired behavior. The Quran calls this tarbiyyah (psychological training). The Quran is “a blessed book …meditate on its signs” (38:29). Popular literature points to meditation for preventing mental disorders ( Prioritizing regular mental, physical and spiritual cleansing can help you keep functioning at your best. 

The MHA lists drugs and alcohol among the causes of mental disorders. The American Psychiatric Association also considers gambling a source of mental disorder (“What is Gambling Disorder?” Many who indulge in these activities often become addicted. Drugs, alcohol, and gambling are self-inflicted causes of mental disorders. Many people maintain that these provide mental relaxation in small amounts. While this may be true in some cases, such relaxations often become addictions and are common sources of mental disorders. “They ask you concerning wine and gambling. Say: ‘In them is great misdeed, and some benefit, for people; but the misdeed is greater than the benefit” (2:219).

Are humans born with an inner essential nature that separates them into what predetermines their ultimate behaviors? Psychology Today defines nature as the innate biological factors (“Nature vs. Nurture”, Nurture, on the other hand, refers to upbringing or life experience: “Your Lord created you from a single spirit” (4:1). This means humans are born with similar underlying capacities. Barring genetic differences that may be inherited or the result of a chemical imbalance in our brain at birth, our capacities can be nurtured into positive human development or tempted to do negative things that may lead to mental disorders. Both nature and nurture play a role in psychological development, one that at times manifest in complex ways.

Syed Imtiaz Ahmad (professor emeritus, Eastern Michigan University) is President of Professional Education Endowment Foundation (Canada). He has served as ISNA’s vice president and president (1990-92); vice president and president of ISNA-Canada; chairman of ISNA-Canada School Board; and president of the ISNA Human Development Institute (Canada).

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