“Allah shall not burden a soul beyond its capacity,” (Quran 2:287). For a long time, I thought this ayah spoke about external pressures like loss, financial issues, and any tangible problems that manifested its way into the mind. It wasn’t until I endured an emotional low that I realized this ayah extends beyond the tangible world. It applies to conflicts of the mind and the heart as well. I realize that mental health is often deemed as “worthless” and is heavily stigmatized in the ethnic world. Phrases such as “return to Allah” and “just pray” can feel debilitating at times when they are used to belittle your struggles, but enduring periods of depression and anxiety are tests—just like loss, financial ruin, and health complications. They are real issues that can manifest in physical ways such as shaking, loss of appetite, and trouble sleeping. Sometimes your legs feel like jelly and your heart pains you. These symptoms aren’t a testament that Allah (SWT) is upset with you, but rather He is building you to make you stronger. Allah’s strongest soldiers are those who can deal with that which disrupts their inner peace, and yet strengthen their mind and heart, and grow in resilience. It is easier said than done to believe in this concept. Sometimes the mind dissociates and we’re left with this feeling of disconnect and sadness. I’ve recently begun watching Khalil Jaffer’s series titled, “The End of Negative Suffering.” In this series, he describes how to become more present in time, as dwelling on the past and worrying about the future can increase depression and anxiety. Within his lectures, he illustrates the human instinct to become comfortable in conflict, and how inner peace becomes disrupted by the voice in our head. Jaffer’s series is accompanying me on my own journey toward self-enlightenment. It is important to deconstruct this narrative that poor mental health is a result of poor emaan (faith). Allah (SWT) tests His believers in a multitude of ways, and it takes a special kind of resilience to dissect the innermost struggles of our being, and then create greater faith in Allah through the pain. Healing is not linear. Some days will be better than others, and some days it will feel like the world is completely out of your control. Know that this is not the end, because Allah (SWT) is within you. He is closer to you than your jugular vein, as mentioned in verse 16 of Surah Qaf. And so, I ask you to join me on this journey towards inner peace. We will get through the hard times because Allah has guaranteed that our capacity exceeds further than our struggles.
Side Note*lectures mentioned include some Shia history but it is towards the end and the last five minutes of each video. For the most part the series focuses on Psychology and Islam.*
You escape the moonlit night of Basra to enter a dark pathway. As you walk deeper into your path, melodious chants or hushed discussions replace the silence. Soon you are welcomed by a group of onlookers sparsely illuminated by the candle lights. You are greeted as you take a seat. A man, who could easily declare himself an Imam, speaks up, “In the name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful. Welcome! We are the brethren of purity, loyal friends, people worthy of praise, and sons of Glory.” Towards the end of the tenth century, the Abbasid caliphate was beginning to witness the onset of an orthodox influence. The change in atmosphere birthed the rise of a secret group. A group that can be compared to the Pythagoreans of old or the freemasons of recent. The group, whose identities are a mystery to this day, would meet every twelfth night to study, discuss, and write philosophy and science. They believed Islam was drowning under the rigidity of literal-minded scholars who rejected rationality. To counter this push, they wrote a 52-part book on mathematics, music, law, pleasure, cosmology, and the Soul, amongst other things. The collection was later read by the likes of Ibn Sina, Al Beiruni, Suhrawardi, and Ibn Taymiyyah. The group called this book the ‘Rasail Ikhwan As-Safa’ or the ‘Epistles of the Brethren of Purity.’ They called themselves the ‘Brethren of Purity, Loyal Friends, People worthy of praise, and Sons of Glory.’ We will just call them the brotherhood or the Ikhwan for obvious reasons. It is said that the group adopted the name ‘Brethren of Purity’ from a story in the ‘Kelileh va demneh,’ a collection of animal fables adapted from an ancient Indian collection, ‘Panchantra.’ The story involved different animals putting themselves in harm’s way for the betterment of each other. Like the rag-tag group of animals, the Ikhwan were loyal friends who were there for each other in their quest for salvation. That their name comes from an ancient Indian (likely Hindu) text, gives us an idea of their openness to all knowledge and philosophies. One can identify, within the epistles, the influences of Greek, Indian, and Persian philosophy. Their open approach reflects further in the importance they gave to every sacred scripture. They valued the gospels, the psalms, and the Tawrah just as they valued the Quran. According to them, “the truth exists in every religion.” In addition to the sacred sources and philosophy, the Ikhwan as-Safa also drew inspiration from mathematics, science, and the natural world. As was a common trend amongst the Muslim philosophers of the time, the brethren subscribed, with certain twists, to the neo-platonic philosophy. Neoplatonism divides reality into four levels. The most fundamental level is the One, beyond spacetime, belief, and understanding. From this One, and within this One, emanates the next level, known as the Intellect. This level, also beyond spacetime, contains perfect, unified knowledge of everything. From the Intellect emanates the Soul, the third level. This is responsible for utilizing the knowledge of the Intellect to create the final level – the universe as we know it. A central tenet of the brotherhood was the preference of ‘batin – the hidden’ over ‘zahir – the evident.’ Zahir is a literal approach to reading the Quran, in which you grasp the apparent, esoteric meaning. However, according to many Sufi schools, Islamic philosophers and the Ikhwan, an exoteric meaning can be found underneath the zahir, known as the batin. A testament to their creative and allegorical study of the Quran is their nuanced ideas about significant aspects of Islam. Hence, unsurprisingly, they were often termed heretics by orthodox scholars. A surprising idea of the Ikhwan that would’ve brought much criticism was their approach to the hereafter. The Quran refers to a temporary state between our two lives as ‘Barzakh’. The Ikhwan considered it to be a cyclical journey of rebirth that unpurified souls had to complete to achieve perfection. It was only after this perfection that they could unify with the One. Furthermore, according to the brotherhood, the fire of hell and the bliss of heaven did not exist. At least not in a literal sense. For them, heaven and hell were spiritual states rather than tangible locations. A lot has been discussed about the true identity of the Ikhwan as-Safa. Some guess them to be of a Sufi-Sunni background. Most believe they were Ismaili scholars or, at the very least, belonged to the Shia tradition. It is important to satiate our curiosity and identify the origins of the Ikhwan. Yet, you must’ve noticed the absence of any such discussion in this article so far. This was intentional. This article was meant to introduce you to a new understanding and a new approach. That of open-mindedness, of creativity, and of courage. The Ikhwan worked hard to conceal their identity. They aimed to “shun no science, scorn any book, or to cling fanatically to no single creed.” It was of no importance to them what religion one came from. So, it is of no importance to this article.