Imagine yourself at the time of the Prophet (S) walking along the streets of Madinah. You are worried, frightened, and have no idea where to turn to. You have an inclination that your husband is cheating; or your wife has been complaining about your financial situation; or your son or daughter is going astray. You are consumed by worry and feel in dire need of help. You want desperately to confide in someone. It takes you just a moment to realize where to go for help—no one is better as a helper than the Prophet (S) himself, the best of counselors.
A question may immediately come to the reader’s mind: How can the Prophet (S) be “the best of counselors” when there is a stigma associated with counseling or therapy in the Muslim world and no one dares to mention the possibility of seeking help from a counselor? The answer is simple when we realize that all the prophets were advisers. Prophet Hud, as recorded in the Qur’an, said, “…and I am a trustworthy adviser to you” (Qur’an 7:68).The Prophet (S) said, “Religion is sound advice….” (Muslim).A therapist or counselor’s job is to listen to the presenting problem, place that issue within a particular mental health/behavioral model, and then advise the client, assisting him or her in understanding and resolving that issue. The Prophet’s model for mental, emotional, behavioral, and spiritual health was Islam, and his way of advising/counseling others was exemplary. In the best tradition and practice of an adept counselor, he helped others find solutions, to gain greater self-awareness, and to acquire the skills needed to resolve their problems. He pointed the way to avenues of relief for their distress. He was a shining light in their darkened world.
There are countless examples that demonstrate the Prophet’s skill of counseling others, but one particular narration stands out. Reported in Ahmad, a young man asked the Prophet (S) if fornication could be made lawful. Without judgment, the Prophet (S) listened to him carefully and asked a few personal questions to allow the man to reflect on the reality and consequences of what he was asking. The Prophet (S) asked him, “Would you like someone to do that to your mother?” The boy said, “No.” He then asked, “Would you like someone to do that to your sister?” Again, the young man replied, “No.” The Prophet (S) further asked, “Would you like someone to do that to your Aunt?” The man answered in the same way. Then, the Prophet (S) placed his hand on the man’s chest and prayed to Allah to help him to remain pure. This narration beautifully illustrates a skillful counselor, one who does not tell the client what to do nor reprimands the client for thinking a certain way, but instead guides him to come to a conclusion on his own.
This narration also points to the fact that the Prophet (S) “individualized his advice to people,” as author Reehab Ramadan states (suhaibwebb.com). He did not have a standard answer for every question but, instead, paid meticulous attention to each individual, listening with sincere and caring focus, considering their intellectual, emotional, and spiritual state and capacity, and then articulated his advice in a way that would help them specifically.
In our communities today, Muslims are experiencing marital problems, parent-child issues, personal challenges such as chronic depression or anxiety, and the more intensive problems such as infidelity, domestic violence, and suicide. We cannot just bury our heads in the sand or live in denial of these serious issues. Although we do not have the Prophet (S) with us, we have other avenues for seeking help. But what is required of us is courage, the kind of courage that it must have taken for the young man in the narration cited above to ask the Prophet (S) his question.
The various sources for advice and help are trained imams, counselors, marriage and family therapists, psychologists, social workers, and others. Although the ideal thing is to go to a Muslim professional in one of these fields, oftentimes, there is none available in one’s local community. In this case, we may have no choice but to seek out a non-Muslim professional. There are those who are familiar with the Islamic tradition and Muslim culture and have had multicultural training and, therefore, can be effective in counseling Muslims. We would not hesitate to visit a non-Muslim oncologist to treat our cancer if there were no Muslim doctor available. We would not just sit and wait and hope that the disease will go away on its own.
Psychological problems can be just as serious and potentially harmful as any physical disease and it is foolish to ignore them. Pretending as if an extramarital affair or a family member’s chronic and debilitating sadness does not exist can lead to dire consequences. The better option when there is no Muslim counselor locally is to look for one who offers sessions by phone or Skype.
This is becoming more common and the internet is a great resource for finding a Muslim counselor who will best understand the religious precepts and cultural traditions that are interwoven into the fabric of the challenges and problems that Muslims face.
Contrary to popular belief, seeking help from a therapist or counselor is not a sign of weakness. Rather it is an indication of strength in courageously and realistically facing one’s issues, and of the determination to live a productive and meaningful life. We know this because of the Prophet (S)’s example. He was available to the people to assist them in solving their problems and resolving conflicts, and he encouraged them to strive to better themselves. We must follow in the footsteps of the people around the Prophet (S) who were not afraid to acknowledge their problems and shortcomings, but were able to face them with the certainty that by reaching out things would get better.