Mental Health and Social Work: The Islamic Perspectives

  • Mohd Dahlan A.MalekEmail author
Living reference work entry
Part of the Social Work book series (SOWO)


The health and psychological well-being condition that occurs today is caused by several factors such as one’s lifestyle, environmental values in society, behavior, and work condition. The social workers and other professionals such as psychologists and counselors also play an important role in contributing to the psychological well-being of the society. The importance of spiritual dimension and psychological well-being can be related to the uniqueness of the creation of mankind. This chapter will discuss about the importance of spiritual dimension and psychological well-being which can be related to the uniqueness of the creation of mankind, the Islamic point of view about mental health, religious belief of mental health, social works in Islamic perspectives, as well as the pillars of Muslim’s social workers. As a Muslim social worker, one must observe and abide by the International Federation of Social Work Statement of Ethical Principles in line with professional social work values.


Mental health and social work in Islamic perspective Psychological well-being Spiritual dimension Religious 


Mental health is an issue that is closely linked with knowledge and insight. It is now a mind-boggling problem in the country, with more people believed to be experiencing some sorts of emotional stress and mental distress. The health and psychological well-being condition that occurs today is caused by several factors such as one’s lifestyle, environmental values in society, people behavior, and work condition. In fact, mental health problems do not only have an impact on the health sector but also on everyday life activities including crime, bullying at school and work place, divorce, violence against children, etc. Based on the National Health and Morbidity Survey by Institute For Public health (IPH) (2011), 12% of Malaysians aged between 18 and 60 are suffering from some forms of mental illness. The most commonly diagnosed mental illnesses in Malaysia are anxiety, depression, and stress disorders. Neuropsychiatric disorders contributed an estimated 16.8% of the global burden of disease in 2008. Considering the importance of mental health issues, various fields of science have specialized on the study of human behavior problems to understand certain issues that happen in society. The social workers and other professionals such as psychologists and counselors also play an important role to contribute to psychological well-being of the society.

The importance of spiritual dimension and psychological well-being can be related to the uniqueness of the creation of mankind. It is very crucial that the concept and history of the creation of mankind are grasped to ensure that we realize the uniqueness of existence of humans and can reflect on the importance of the mental process and human lifestyle. In the Islamic perspective, Allah SWT (the God) created the Universe and all that exists, seen or unseen. He created humans as special, dignified beings, with integral spiritual and physical constituent elements. He endowed them with countless blessings and capabilities. Salient among these are sense organs and minds, to help them make sense of their surroundings and accumulate useful knowledge needed for survival. However, because of the complexity of life situations and the limited capacities of the senses and the mind, Allah mercifully provided nations with guidance in the form of the Holy Qur’an (the Divine Book), manual to help them make it through this temporary, transient life, in the form of Revelation. The Holy Qur’an, literally the words of God, was revealed to prophet Muhammad (SAW), the last link in the familiar chain of theistic messengers of God. The Qur’an, which was zealously kept intact, letter by letter, for more than 14 centuries, guides almost one fourth of the world population today. According to Ragab (2016), the Qur’an is intended to guide humanity on how to make the correct choices in their daily life and as a source for true knowledge that transcends the limitations of the human mind and the senses.

Mankind is considered as a superior creation. The Qur’an revealed the process of the creation of man long before science was able to label every part of the anatomy, down to the inner contents of the individual cells, with their scientific names and pictorial descriptions. In fact, in the Qur’an, Allah described the chronological phases of fetal growth and development 14 centuries ago, long before any ultrasound machines existed:

Verily We created man from a product of wet earth; then placed him as a drop (of seed) in a safe lodging; then We fashioned the drop into a clot, then We fashioned the clot into a little lump, then We fashioned the little lump into bones, then clothed the bones with flesh, and then produced another creation. So, blessed be Allah, the Best of Creators! [Al-Mu’minun:12–14].

According to Tafsir Ibn Kathir (1994), which is one of the main references for Muslim scholars, this reference to man’s creation from “تُرَابٍ,” or dust, implies the origin of mankind, namely, the creation of the first human being, Prophet Adam [عليه السلام], from dust: “[“And Allah did create you from dust, then from Nutfah”], meaning, He initiated the creation of your father Adam from dust, then He created his offspring from semen of worthless water.”

Modern science has, by now, explained the entire process of the creation of a human being, down to those minute, microscopic intricacies that were invisible to the human eye centuries ago. Many times, in the Qur’an, Allah SWT draws our attention to the way we were created. It is interesting to remember though that at the time when these verses were revealed, human beings had limited knowledge about the process of human birth. In fact, the author believed that Islam is one of the religions which focuses on the psychological well-being of mankind.

The Definition of Mental Health

There are multiple definitions of mental health. According to Kartono (2000) mental health means “mental hygiene.” The Etymology Mental Hygiene is derived from the words mental and hygiene. Meanwhile, Hygiene is the name of the Greek goddess of health in which hygiene means health sciences. Mental (from the Latin men, mentis) means soul, life, or spirit. Mental hygiene is often referred as psycho-hygiene. Psyche (from the Greek word psuche) means the breath, the principle of life, life, soul, spirit, soul, spirit. According to (Notosoedirdjo 2001), there are various understandings on mental health, namely:
  1. 1.

    A healthy mental health means no mental disorders.

  2. 2.

    A healthy mental health is obtained by the absence of any illness that could potentially occur with the presence of a stressor.

  3. 3.

    A healthy mental health occurs if a human is in line with his or her capacity and is in harmony with their environment.

  4. 4.

    A healthy mental health means that the human is positively growing.


According to MediLexicon’s Medical Dictionary, mental health is defined as “emotional, behavioral, and social maturity or normality; the absence of a mental or behavioral disorder; a state of psychological well-being in which one has achieved a satisfactory integration of one’s instinctual drives acceptable to both oneself and one’s social milieu; an appropriate balance of love, work, and leisure pursuits.”

World Health Organization (2005) defines mental health as “… a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make contribution to his or her community.” Mental health refers to our cognitive, behavioral, and emotional well-being – it is all about how we think, feel, and behave. The term “mental health” is sometimes used to indicate an absence of a mental disorder. Mental health can affect daily life, relationships, and even physical health. It also includes a person’s ability to enjoy life – to attain a balance between life activities and efforts to achieve psychological resilience.

Religious Beliefs and Mental Health

The culture of a society is usually characterized with the beliefs and moralities of its people, which are conveyed to an individual through the education provided by the family, society, and religious associations. A person’s religious beliefs tell us a lot about their personality and view of life. A person trusting in God normally experiences the least amount of stress (Athar 2009). Mental and moral diseases have a resemblance to physical diseases. Both have the potential to kill and need to be treated and, at times, could be contagious and must be analyzed. After the main cause is identified, it should be treated accordingly.

The Qur’an is considered as a remedying medicine for those who are materialistic, suffer from attachment issues to the world, and possess the need to unconditionally surrender to lust. Maryam Gazorpour and Nasrin Barkhordar (2003) examined the question of mental health in the Qur’an and concluded that throughout the Qur’an, there are teachings that are highly effective, in which each has their own way in maintaining mental balance and providing hope and dignity to human beings. The Qur’an, in fact, does not use the word mental health but a number of other terms conveying the same concept. Some of these terms include Sakinah, Qalbu Salim, Hayatan tayyibah, and Nafsu mutmainnah.

Muslims believed that listening and reciting the Qur’an is one of the best coping behavior strategies. When the Qur’an is recited aloud, it has an effect on physiological parameters such as the heartbeat, blood pressure, and muscle tension. These effects have been reported regardless of whether he or she is Muslim or non-Muslim and Arab or non-Arab. Anyone can take delight in listening to God’s word (Athar 2009). According to Farideh et al. (2010), in 2006, a research was conducted by Kazem Ali Mohammadi and Massoud Jan on the relationship between religious beliefs and practice and mental health. There was a positive and meaningful correlation between these two. Also, the findings of this research correlated with the findings of other researches done on other nations, confirming that practicing religious people show a higher degree of happiness. Thus, belief in religious teachings is among the main factors of happiness as a component of mental health.

On the topic of prayer, Allah SWT says in the Qur’an: “When my servants ask you about me, tell them that I am close to them and answer the question of the person who calls me. Thus, they should listen to me and have faith in me if they wish to be salvaged” (Al-Baqarah: 186). William James, a psychologist, says that any form of prayer indicates that through the connection with God, the person who prays has obtained spiritual power that is said to be food for the soul. The prayer contains power which is as real as the force of gravity. Remembering Allah SWT (God) constantly is very effective for the health of the soul and strengthens the bond between man and God (Bayan Memar 2003). One of the techniques used by Muslim psychologists and Muslim social workers to treat patients is by calming them through praying. Praying has the same effect as it reduces stress and brings serenity to a person.

In Islam, our mental process and psychological well-being are the most important factors that should be focused. Therefore, the concept of well-being and peace is crucial. Islam is an Arabic word which denotes submission, surrender, and obedience. As a religion, Islam stands for complete submission and obedience to Allah SWT (God). The Qur’an states: “Those who believe, and whose hearts find satisfaction in the remembrance of God: for without doubt in the remembrance of God do these hearts find satisfaction. For those who believe and work righteousness, is (every) blessed, and is promised a beautiful place of (final) return” (Al-Ra’d: 28–29).

As discussed earlier, mental health problems do not only have an impact on the health sector but also on daily activities. Considering the importance of mental health issues, various areas of science have specialized on the study of human behavior problems. The various fields of science that has shown dedication to the study of mental health includes social work, medicine, education, religious studies, social welfare, and psychology.

The treatment of mental health afflictions is a concern for everyone in the twenty-first century. Kazem Ali Mohammadi and Massoud discovered that there was a relationship between religious beliefs and mental health. In addition, findings of their research are similar with the findings of other researchers done from other nations, confirming that people who practiced their beliefs show higher degrees of happiness. Thus, strong belief in religious teaching is among the main factors of satisfaction and contentment as a component of mental health (Farideh et al. 2010). Sheikh and Gatrad (2000) argued that Muslim narratives are not necessarily understood by the Western models of care. A particular view states that psychological difficulties such as depression and anxiety may be viewed from an Islamic perspective as an indication of an unsettled spiritual heart, a viewpoint which is incongruent with the broadly secular models of Western health care (Sheikh and Gatrad 2000).

Whereas the Western model extols the expertise of health-care professionals, the Islamic way often relies on performing the prayers and turning to religious leaders and family for support (Khan 2006). However, these forms of support are not necessarily mutually exclusive, if individuals can find utility in both conceptualizations of mental distress. Khan’s (2006) survey of 459 Muslims which was conducted in America highlighted the potential for health-care provisions to complement traditional care through participants’ repeated identification of the need for services. Nevertheless, Khan suggested this balance has not yet been achieved as the identification of need was not related to a subsequent uptake of services. Similarly, a recent UK study of 156 Muslims of Pakistani origin found a consistent lack of uptake of mental health services (Rethink 2007).

The Concept of Mental Health in Islamic Perspective

In the concept of Mental Health in Islamic Perspective from the view of the Qur’an, the mankind has three aspects: the aspect of “jismiyyah” (physical, biological), the aspect of “nafsiyyah” (mental, psychological), and the aspect of “ruhiyyah” (spiritual, transcendental). The aspect of “jismiyyah” is the biological physical organ of the mental health of humans (Rahman 2015).

The biological physical organ is composed of elements such as earth, water, fire, and air, and it is the most perfect form compared to other creatures, as it is called as a concrete form and gives them soul in which they are able to sense various feelings, such as pain, heat, thirst, hunger, and sexual pleasure and so-called abstract form. The “nafsiyyah” aspect is the overall quality of the typical human, in the form of thoughts, feelings, will, and freedom, whose existence is among “jismiyyah” aspects and “ruhiyyah” aspects. Al-qalb dimension exists as a determinant in the capacity of human goodness and badness that has three functions: firstly, the cognition functions which give rise to creativity; next, the emotion function that causes a sense of power; and, lastly, the konasi function that raises the power of intention. Under these conditions, the al-qalb is divided into three conditions, namely, “qalb” good condition (Salim), “qalb” bad, and “qalb” between good and bad (Baharudin 2007).

There are some forms of the signs of mental health, such as the establishment (al-Sakinah). The word “Sakinah” in Arabic semantic study comes from the word “Sakana” which means the food or the poor or infant (village or country citizens). From this semantic sense, the word “Sakinah” means establishment because it has a settled territory and does not move. The terminology of “Sakinah” also has the meaning of (1) al-wadaah, al-waqarah, and al-thuma’ninah which means tranquility and (2) al-rahman which means mercy, whereas in English it means calmness, quietness (security), peacefulness (peace), and serenity (tranquility). Wahbah Al-Zuhaili (2008), one of the famous Muslim scholars, in his commentary gave the meaning of “Sakinah” with statutes or serenity of the people’s soul (al-isabait and al-thuma’ninah) from all anxiety (al-qalaq) and difficulties or the narrowness of mind (al-idtirar). The word “Sakinah” also means leaving hostility or war and “anab” (al-safe), the loss of fear (al-khouf) and the sorrow of the soul. Ibn Qayyim (1986) classified the meaning of “Sakinah” as the information given by God, to the soul of strong, restless, and agitated people, in order to increase their faith and beliefs. The definition of “calmness” in terms of “Sakinah” does not mean static or immobile, but people who do the work and complete the task they are given are often accompanied by a sense of tranquility. If the term of “Sakinah” has a static and immobile meaning, it means that the human mental health spirit would not develop, and it violates the law of developments.

Social Work in Islamic Perspective

Social work looked so attractive, perceived to be “the scientific” means for achieving the badly needed social change and social reforms. The profession was introduced as a “social technology” applying “modern science” (social and behavioral) with the aim of tackling socioeconomic problems swiftly and efficiently. For social workers in the Muslim world, Authentization of social work implied the integration of Islamic religious knowledge with current practice theories. But the latter, still adhering to a nineteenth-century positivist/empiricist epistemology, hampered the inclusion of religious concepts in professional practice. In time, however, certain theoretical breakthroughs (Sorokin’s integralism, Maslow’s transpersonal psychology, the Islamization of knowledge movement, spirituality in social work movement) helped remove that obstacle (Ragab 2016). As scholars involved in the Authentization of social work movement delved deep into examining the basic characteristics of their local cultural and religious heritage, they realized that their clients (and themselves) do embrace a worldview that is starkly different from that underlying Western social work. Issues of the “ontological” and “epistemological” assumptions on which the profession’s practice theories rest were suddenly brought to the center of discussion, something social workers have always ignored, relegating to the realm of unnecessary philosophizing. After all, they reason, a profession is basically about “doing,” thus being interested in techniques and skills for practice. But now, as they found how cultural and religious values do shape the client’s worldview, his behavior, his problems, and their solutions, there was no escape taking up these abstract issues very seriously – if they ever hoped for their practice to be effective (Ragab 2016).

Ragab (2016) believed that social work theories of practice should be submitted to rigorous scrutiny to ascertain the degree of each theory’s congruence with the Islamic ontology and epistemology. But, of course, other aspects of practice which are merely technical and instrumental would be utilized, even treasured. And in accordance with the Authentization methodology described above, any components which prove to be compatible with the Islamic worldview would be merged into the texture of the new “integrated” model. Then, the new syntheses would have to withstand rigorous field testing, if it is to be accepted as part of the new genuine conceptualization. The qualifier “genuine” is meant to replace the label authentized, because the product would be then ready to be part of mainstream social work. However, despite this evident and clear need for the inclusion of religious concepts when providing services to Muslim clients effectively and despite insistence that this inclusion should be performed in a systematic, verifiable fashion, many academics found it hard to accept that innovative approach. They adhered to the notion that mixing so-called science and religion was not “scientifically” sound. It was clear that most of those disobedient were still stuck to the old nineteenth-century “positivist” philosophy, almost unaware of the impact of the twentieth-century revolutionary developments in science, subnuclear physics, cosmology, neuroscience, and psychology, which brought in dramatic changes in our view of the world and of ourselves. Space would not allow dwelling on these vast scientific discoveries or their radical consequences, but fuller accounts could be easily found elsewhere (Ragab 2016).

The Islamic Perspective on Social Work Practice refers here to the methodical integration of (a) extant social work practice theories, to the extent that they are compatible with the Islamic ontological and epistemological presuppositions, with (b) relevant aspects of Islamic knowledge, values, and beliefs. As mentioned above, the rich Islamic heritage, rooted in the Qur’an and the Sunnah (the body of traditional social and legal custom and practice of the Islamic community and one of the major source of Sharīʿah, or Islamic law), accumulated by scholars over the centuries, deeply impacts the life of a Muslim in all its facets and in so many ways, starting from defining his identity and the way he sees himself, the world around him, and beyond all the way to guiding him to the legitimate types of financial transactions, decent attire, table manners, and even water conservation. According to Ragab (2016) and other scholars such as Fahrudin et al. (2003) and Azmi (1991), social work as a profession, that Islamic heritage contains tried and tested knowledge, values, and deep spiritual insights, is essential to working with Muslim clients in three ways, namely:
  1. 1.

    It contains a general theory of human behavior and the social environment.

  2. 2.

    It offers a “comprehensive,” non-reductionist theory of the causes of “psychosocial” problems.

  3. 3.

    It provides potent motivating techniques for helping Muslim clients cope with their problems.


So, in parallel with the general phases of the process of integration of Islamic concepts in “theory building and research” described above, we will describe here the integration process when it comes to social work “practice.”

Ragab (2016) believed that there are several steps for Muslims social work to help their client, namely:

Step I: Taking Stock of Relevant Islamic Concepts

If we expect to be able to help Muslim clients overcome their psychosocial problems effectively, we cannot assume that they typically think and act in exactly the same way as “the client” is supposed to think or act under the Western model or practice theory. The most notable feature of concern here is the Islamic view of human nature. As hinted above, in Islam, human beings are dignified beings “created” by the Almighty God, with spiritual and bodily components, and endowed with free will. Each human being lives on this Earth for a limited predestined time span, where he is continuously being “tested” on how he uses his God-given free will: for good or evil. Based on the results of the tests, he receives his rewards or punishments in the eternal Real Life (the hereafter). The Qur’an, the words of God, kept intact in the Arabic tongue (no translation) word by word since it was revealed, provides divine guidance to humans in all facets of their lives. The words and deeds of Muhammad, the Messenger of God, provide humans with specific guidelines on how one should conduct himself correctly in this life in its daily details. Now, taking stock of these precepts should afford us the basis for selecting (or modifying) congruent models or practice theories which would be appropriate for working with Muslim clients.

Selection of a Practice Model for Integration

The inventory of current practices and practice theories would be subjected to attentive assessment as to their degree of congruence with these Islamic principles. The ontological and epistemological assumptions on which these practice theories or models are based should be rigorously critiqued. Maslow (1954) pronounced his judgment – on the basis of careful assessment – about the first two “forces” in psychology, freudianism and behaviorism, on which social work has depended for decades, dubbing them “nontheories” (himself being for long an ardent behaviorist!). Fortunately, the latest theoretical frameworks reflecting the post-positivistic, post-materialistic “New Story” of science are more open to acceptance of the spiritual and religious factors and consequently are more compatible with the Islamic concepts (Ragab 2016). With the recognition of the mentalist and cognitive factors by humanistic psychology, and the recognition of the transcendent and the “spiritual” factors by transpersonal psychology, social work research took notice of the potentialities for the inclusion of Islamic tenets into the cognitive-behavioral model (Hodge and Nadir 2008). But it is important to point out that the incorporation of Islamic concepts in social work practice entails making certain modifications in the way “standard” procedures and techniques are carried out. For example, the “professional relationship,” the cornerstone of the helping process, when informed by the “Islamic” perspective, certain relevant Islamic precepts when applied would significantly modify its nature. The Islamic perspective introduces the concept of the client being seen as the worker’s “brother in faith.” It follows that the worker, answerable to the All-Seeing and All-Hearing God, has the “duty” to serve him and to protect him as humbly and as caringly as is humanly possible. The worker is rewarded by no less authority than God, both in this life and in the hereafter, in accordance with the degree of his adhering to these admonitions (Zeidan 2005). While, at the same time, if the client is a non-Muslim, the worker, also answerable to God again, should offer him the best “traditional” services his client is entitled to, in fairness and without imposition, or any attempt at proselytization that exploits his need for help.

Field Testing and Modification

Once the process of inclusion of the Islamic precepts into such models or practices is completed, these integral innovative practices are ready for testing, the testing of the innovative integrated models or practices usually of the “intervention research” variety that takes place in real-life situations and institutions. Maslow (1954) noted that revolutionary developments such as these (his reference was to transpersonal psychology) require such types of research, declaring “Clearly the next step for this psychology and philosophy is research, research, research—not only in the laboratory, but more importantly, in the field, in society, in factories, in homes, hospitals, communities, even nations” (Maslow 1970: 6).

Dissemination and Education

Successful models and practices reports standardized and codified describing them would find their way to conference presentations and professional journals. In this way they would be exposed to critical reviews and wide deliberations. In time, the products would find their way to textbooks and other material to be infused in social work education. In-service training could disseminate them to social workers already in the field in accordance with the normal cycle of professional knowledge production, dissemination, and assimilation.

There are several verses that discussed about the concept of social work in Islam. For example, the Qur’an stated that:

It is not righteous that you turn your faces towards East or West; but it is righteous to believe in Allah and the Last Day and the Angels and the Book and the Messengers; to spend of your substance out of love for Him, for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask; and for the ransom of slaves; to be steadfast in prayers and practice regular charity; to fulfill the contracts which you made; and to be firm and patient in pain (or suffering) and adversity and throughout all periods of panic. Such are the people of truth, the God fearing. (Al-Baqarah: 177).

The above verse is the concept of social work in Islam. It is however more than a philosophical concept but also a practical draft that outlines the why, whom, and who of service delivery. Muslims believe that the form of worship is incomplete without conducting deeds that could help others. This is because Muslims hold on to the belief that Allah is advising us to complete our worship by helping the needy. Therefore, after believing in Allah SWT, the angels, the Prophets, the Books, and the Last Day, we must translate our Iman (faith) and our beliefs into actions of service to humankind. In fact, it is considered necessary for believers to fulfill their duty of service to those who need their help. Every Muslim is obliged to contribute to the welfare of society. Thus, by establishing social services within Muslim communities, every Muslim can indirectly participate through financial and moral support. The Prophet Muhammad SAW said: “Whosoever removes a worldly grief from a believer, Allah will remove from him one of the grieves on the Day of Judgment. Whosoever alleviates [the] lot of a destitute person, Allah SWT will alleviate his lot in this world and the next. Whosoever conceals the faults of a Muslim, Allah will conceal his faults in this world and the next. Allah will aid a servant (of His) so long as the servant aids his brother.” The question of who is best qualified to carry out the duty of serving the community in the area of social services is again outlined in this verse as one who believes in the Unity of Allah, the Last Day, the Angels, Books, and Messengers of Allah. When we are asked on how are we able to achieve these objectives of Islamic social services, the Qur’an once again gives us assistance by laying out the principle on what actions we should take to create the base for our social services but also through which way we could achieve our goals.

To conclude, these principles define a Muslim social worker and provide the power and ability to serve their clients in the best way possible.
  1. 1.

    Steadfast in prayer: The one best equipped to help others is one who is steadfast in prayer. “Thee alone we worship, Thee alone we ask for help.” In a Muslim community, a person nominated for social work must possess this fundamental trait of a Muslim. If they are to be effective and productive, it is also a reminder to those of us working in the field that we must be steadfast in prayer.

  2. 2.

    Regular charity: They should of course foster a personality that is giving and allows character development that is empathetic to the needs of others. Communities where members contribute to charity of all kinds are considered as both compulsory and voluntary which could benefit each other and feel responsible for each other.

  3. 3.

    Fulfill contract: Muslims working in the field of social services must be trustworthy, honest, and conscientious of their duty to their clients. Services delivered cannot be haphazard or half-hearted. When we make a pledge, we must honor it; when we make a promise, we should keep it; and when we set ourselves up as helpers, we fulfill that task to the best of our abilities.

  4. 4.

    Patience in pain, suffering, adversity, and panic: These are characteristics that are essential for Muslim social workers, counselors, Imams, and leaders. When people depend on us for support and rely on our counsel, we cannot be hasty, impatient, or panic at first sign of difficulty. The task for Muslim workers in social services is soul wrenching and requires a personality that is blessed with Taqwa (God consciousness) and Sabr (patience). However, the levels of Taqwa (God consciousness) may vary, but it is an evolutionary process in which one can develop the personality of a Mutaqi (one who has God consciousness).

  5. 5.

    Truth: As the Prophet Muhammad SAW stated: “A Muslim cannot be a liar.” Truth and honesty is the cornerstone of any public service. Lies stand in the way of trust without which a Muslim social worker or counselor is not viable. We must be honest in our dealings with our client and not use any underhanded ways. Truth is also a virtue that is admired universally and inspires respect, trust, and reliability.

  6. 6.

    God fearing: Those who fear Allah is always conscious of his or her duty to their Creator and will never harm or put anyone under their care into harm. A sense of accountability and responsibility to Allah must be the core trait of a Muslim community worker. This keeps our egos in check and focuses on the objective that our service must obtain the pleasure of Allah and His blessings, instead of the pleasure of making a name for us.


In addition, as a Muslim social worker, one must observe and abide by the International Federation of Social Work Statement of Ethical Principles including recognizing the inherent dignity of humanity, promoting social justice, challenging unjust policies and practices, and respect for confidentiality and privacy, integrity, and accountability. Social work is a value-based profession; that is, there are philosophical underpinnings and specific worldviews that by and large shape the profession. Professional social work values aligned with a traditional Islamic perspective, yet there are also social work values and beliefs that Muslims may need to evaluate and negotiate according to their faith. Negotiation of social work values and beliefs are common among all professional social workers, regardless of their religious affiliation, and it is a constant, lifetime process. Islam clearly has a history and commitment to social welfare with the institution of zakat and “Al sadaqa.” Most notably, there are Qur’anic verses and hadith that emphasize caring for the poor, elderly, women in distress, and orphans. Even in the matter of privacy and the way in which people share information and communicate, Islamic tradition encourages people to be mindful of what they say and how they say things. For example, Islamic tradition discourages gossiping, to respect peoples’ privacy and to provide encouraging and kind words to others. This is clearly in alignment with the foundation of social work counseling and communication techniques. Furthermore, Islam encourages people to remain positive and hopeful in the most difficult circumstances, which explains why Muslims have a common adage of “alhamdullilah (praise God) for everything.” In social work this reflects taking a strengths-based approach, and it is a hallmark value in the profession. Professional social work can help Muslims better craft their actions to reflect such as an attitude.

The Islamic perspective of the person emphasizes selflessness, healthy altruism, perfection of self, and giving happiness to others (Fahrudin et al. 2003). Why have social workers shown increasing interest in spirituality and religion? The root reason may be that our modern society, with its demands that for many are psychologically and emotionally overwhelming, plus its virtual displacement of community and family, has created myriad conditions of life that are spiritually and religiously shattering. Moreover, growing numbers of congregational clergy of all religions and denominations, responding to their members’ needs for counseling and therapeutic care, have sought secular education and training that would enable them to provide psychological and emotional treatment. They in turn have had a spiritual and religious influence on the individuals and institutions – including social workers and schools of social work – that have educated and trained them for such practice. Muslim social worker is required to adhere to the following pillars:
  1. 1.

    The syahadah, or profession of faith, is the belief that there is no other god but Allah (God) and that Prophet Muhammad (SAW) is His last prophet. Thus, Islam insists on the submission of the faithful to the oneness of God. “Say: He is God, the one and only” (Qur’an, Al-Ikhlaas: 1–4) is one of many Qur’anic verses emphasizing the monotheistic character of Islam.

  2. 2.

    The “solat” is the imperative to pray five times daily: at dawn, noon, midafternoon, sunset, and evening. The prayers can be performed anywhere, and although individual prayer is allowed, group prayer is preferred.

  3. 3.

    The zakat is the requirement to pay alms to the needy on behalf of one’s family and business. “It was customarily calculated as an annual payment of two and one-half percent of all capital assets, savings, and current income above a specified threshold” (Azmi 1991).

  4. 4.

    The “Syiam” is the imperative to fast from food, drink, and sex during daylight hours during the month of Ramadan, which immediately precedes the celebration of the date upon which Allah revealed the Qur’an to the Prophet Muhammad. Ramadan thus ends with a 3-day celebration, Id Al-Fitr, the breaking of the fast. Self-discipline and reflection, rather than abstinence and self-mortification, are emphasized.

  5. 5.

    The “hajj” is a pilgrimage to Mecca, a holy city of Islam located where Allah revealed the Qur’an to the Prophet Muhammad SAW. The pilgrimage should be undertaken at least once in a Muslim’s lifetime, if financially, mentally, and physically capable. The beginning of the pilgrimage season is the end of Ramadan; the end of the season is the celebration of the Great Feast Id Al-Adha.


Islamic Intervention in Social Work

Islam takes great account of the well-being of its people and teaches them to always take care of their health by practicing the act of prevention before cure, as it is stated that “To prevent is better than to cure.” Meanwhile, if the people suffer from sickness, they are encouraged to seek for the best remedy and treat the illness accordingly.

Mental Health in Medicine

In the year 1985, WHO added spiritual well-being as an important aspect which could determine whether a person is healthy or not. The concept of prevention in Islam is “To prevent is better than to cure” (preventive medicine).

Someone who is well informed about his or her potential, skills, and position will be able to work in optimum condition, which is a sign of a healthy mental person. On the contrary, a person who is forced to occupy certain positions or conditions will work to a certain extent which could later on lead to distress that could potentially be detrimental to their mental health. From the words of Allah: “That they may eat of the fruit, and from what is cultivated by their hands”. Thus, will they not be thankful? Prophet Muhammad SAW once stated: “Better food eaten by a person is food that comes from his own efforts, because the Prophet Daud also ate from his own work” (HR. Al-Bukhari).

A mentally healthy person is a person who is grateful for his existence and characteristics, regardless of his physical condition, position, potential, or ability, because they are considered as grace (fadhl) and blessings from Allah, to test the quality of human labor, for worship or piety to Allah SWT. Despicable acts carried out by a person can cause psychological problems to themselves, while conducting good deeds will lead to the maintenance of a healthy mental state (Mujib 2005).

And as for those who fear the greatness of his Lord and possess the ability to refrain from his desires. Surely then the paradise will be his residence (Al-Nazi’at: 40–41). The ability to assume responsibility, both family, social, and religious responsibilities shows the maturity of the person, as well as the condition of their mental health. Allah SWT said in the Qur’an:

And if Allah wills, He made you one people (course), but Allah mislead whom He wills and gives guidance to whom He wills. and surely you will be asked about what you have been up to. (Al-Nahl: 93).

Humans are granted with the ability to sacrifice and redeem the mistakes they have done. Sacrifice means to concern oneself for the common good by giving away most of their wealth or ability. Meanwhile, redeeming their mistakes is defined as a self-awareness of said mistakes, thus they should dare to bear all the risks faced due to their previous actions, then they must refrain themselves from making the same mistake again. Both issues are considered as a sign of a person’s mental health, because what humans have, either in the form of mind-body or fortune, is indeed a gift that is the result of trust from Allah (SWT). As a mandate, if it is received in a good condition, then it should not be wasted or treated in a manner that disrupts the explosive emotional stability. In contrary, it should be used for the benefit in the context of Islam. However, if it is received in poor condition, then it should not be swore upon and faced in an apathetic and pessimistic manner, even ignored. The attitude that one is supposed to have is the ability to accept it well and try to use it optimally (Mujib 2005). Satisfaction and happiness are regarded as signs of one’s mental health, because an individual would feel successful, as if they have been freed from all burdens, and has fulfilled their needs. The acceptance of favors that brings satisfaction or happiness is not always seen from the quantitative side, but from its quality and blessing. Perhaps the individual is regarded as a failure according to the criteria and eyes of others, but because the individual has deep emotional maturity, then no matter how the quantity of favors one has received, they will feel a great sense of satisfaction and joy. Instead, individuals who are considered successful, but the success was addressed by greed, Kufr, and ungratefulness, then his inner soul will feel dissatisfied, envious, and filled with hatred toward others. Such mental state often creates psychosomatic illness (Mujib 2005).

Group Intervention

Group intervention is one of the important interventions for Muslim social work. A social worker should comprehend the helping benefits, at several levels, of the above forms of prayers and the five pillars of Islam. All have a strong group element, reflecting and reinforcing Muslim society’s high-context nature; as a popular Muslim saying has it, “God’s hand [is] with the group.” At the group level, emotional support and exchange of ideas or difficulties take place, most often in the mosque, with other worshippers or with the imam. As emphasized by the Hadith, “The Prophet Muhammad SAW remarked: Those who interact with people and express their hardships are better than those who do not interact with people and do not express their pains.” In Islam, the concept of “Jamaah” or work with group is very important; for example, in performing “solat” or prayers, Muslim people are advised to perform in group. Group prayers help to create a sense of familiarity, friendliness, selflessness, and equality among the faithful. This is entirely consistent with the Hadith edict of the equality of believers regardless of color, social strata, or wealth; the Prophet Muhammad said: “All the people are equal as the comb’s teeth.” Group prayers also reinforce a potential for natural support networks and provide a rationale for breaking down barriers that would normally interfere with the mutual exchange of social support. The group nature of prayer can thus influence the thought and behavior of their members, in the context of group intervention (Yalom 1975).

Beyond these considerations, research in social work and allied disciplines reveals several direct practice considerations for working with Muslim individuals and families. Practitioners, the literature points out, should:
  1. 1.

    Have an understanding of Muslim family arrangements as more hierarchical and less flexible, with a communication style that tends to be implicit and indirect, rather than explicit and direct (Daneshpour 1998).

  2. 2.

    Have an understanding of the implications of gender construction within Muslim society, which limits women’s movements outside the home and their women’s vocational choices, encourages women’s domesticity, and creates an ethos of the breadwinner male (Al-Krenawi and Graham 1996). In contrast to men, women sometimes limited geographic mobility precludes seeking help outside their home communities.

  3. 3.

    Appreciate that the client may be reluctant to work with a practitioner of the opposite sex. Where opposite sex clients occur, reduced eye contact, greater physical distance, and culturally appropriate and consciously nonsexual terms such as “my brother” or “my sister” may be used (Al-Krenawi and Graham 1996).

  4. 4.

    Have a basic understanding of Islam, including Shiite, Sunni, and Islamic movement traditions, as well as their common practices and implications.

  5. 5.

    Have a clear understanding of the Muslim world view on sociocultural and psychosocial phenomena which may be encountered during social work practice. Examples include, but are not limited to, social prohibitions against suicide and social constructions of sexuality that affirm heterosexual lifestyles (Haynes et al. 1997).

  6. 6.

    Comprehend the cultural and personal significance of polygamy to family members; appreciate the significance of polygamy to children’s and mothers’ functioning. In order to motivate the father to accept help, children may be selected as a target system for intervention (Al-Krenawi et al. 1997). Muslim family structures may be polygamous, which may create economic loss to women and children, lower academic achievement among children, poor relations with wives and husband, and competition and jealousy between co-wives and among the co-wives’ children (Al-Krenawi et al. 1997).

  7. 7.

    Appreciate the explicit link between a Muslim’s religious identity and his or her individual identity.


For the Muslim community, religion becomes a natural healing system. Whenever a person is suffering or is facing a problem, eventually they will feel a sense of connection to something great and transcendent which is very therapeutic. By feeling connected to something transcendent, one will feel a sense of power, which in turn gives him or her the resilience to face the sadness and hardships of life. The resilience of the client when faced with problems is often built by their religious beliefs and spirituality. Many clients facing terminal illness claimed that their experience led to self-reflection and a greater self-acceptance. They become more insightful due to their spiritual beliefs. The experience they’ve went through enables them to have a better understanding of the essential purpose of life. In general, the role of spiritual belief includes several aspects. First is the role of coping. Spirituality can be observed as a humane way to deal with and adapt to problems (coping). For people who experience sadness and suffering, feeling the presence of God or the Highest Power provides strength and endurance to these stressful situations. The strong belief of the Ultimate Power brings a sense of control to this life. Folkman and Lazarus (1980) believed that coping can be defined as a person’s attempt, both cognitively and psychologically, to constantly manage internal and external demands that transcend one’s capacity.

A man who goes through a crisis would first attempt to interpret his experience and then afterward try to cope against the crisis. One of the coping efforts includes the practice of spirituality. Praying is an example of a practice of spirituality that can give strength to a person, because by conducting the prayer, they feel the sense of guidance and protection of God in their settlement of troubles and difficulties. In addition, other spiritual prayers or practices and spiritualities are therapeutic because they bring hope and optimism to someone who was previously helpless. In this case, the figures of spirituality, religion, and the Prophet serve as models that give examples of both their attitudes and their behavior. These figures are often people who are highly regarded as intellectuals and possess psychological qualities, such as courage, sincerity, kindness, and other relevant traits as a source of inspiration for humans in general.

Furthermore, to the clerical figures, spirituality itself offers an ideal guide to human behavior. The concept of forgiveness, whether forgiving yourself or others, is important to integrate a client with their social reality. The client should try to accept reality, whether it is positive or negative, and make the best of it. In addition, individual spirituality believes in the relevance of submission to The Ultimate Entity. These would effectively promote the healing of stress and trauma. Next is the role of meaning. For the client, spirituality gives meaning to their life. It is with spirituality that they can find meaning in all events and situations, including their past horrific or traumatizing experiences and suffering. Spirituality brings a lot of significant meaning to such things, for example, a disaster can be interpreted as a test or message from God.

The concept of intervention is very important for social workers to deal with their clients. The initial stage of intervention is considered as an assessment. Assessment is defined as the process of identifying factors causing problems, both internal and external, which interferes with the normal life of a person, group, or community. How spirituality-based interventions a social worker will perform depends on the outcome of the assessment. Components in the spirituality assessment include the following:
  1. 1.

    Exploring the life history of the client’s spirituality and how it implicates biopsychosocial functioning.

  2. 2.

    Determining the extent of the client’s involvement with a particular spirituality community.

  3. 3.

    Determining whether the client’s spirituality is transformative, adaptive, or maladaptive.

  4. 4.

    Determining whether the client has a “pathology” of spirituality, such as radical belief (terrorism), excessive self-blaming (excessive blame), and others.

  5. 5.

    Exploring whether the spirituality of the client contradicts the spirit of family, friends, and spouses (the significant others).

  6. 6.

    Exploring how the client’s spirituality affects his or her interpersonal and ecological relationships.

  7. 7.

    Determining how to integrate the client’s spirituality in the process of social worker intervention.


From the above facts, especially from questions such as “how to integrate spirituality in the intervention process?”, an example of a practical question a social worker can ask the client is: “How do you think I as a social worker would respond to your spiritual needs?” This question is an important question because it determines how the client’s spirituality is integrated in the intervention method. It is the client who understands better the importance of spirituality in his life, regarding the meaning, coping, modeling, and support.

The following are examples of spirituality-based interventions commonly employed by social workers in Islamic contexts:
  1. 1.

    Pray (prayer can either be done by social workers only, together with clients or clients only).

  2. 2.

    Teach the concept of religion/spirituality.

  3. 3.

    Quote/refer to religious texts.

  4. 4.

    Self-disclosure of spirituality (social workers reveal the experience of spirituality in order to guide the client).

  5. 5.

    Confrontation of spirituality (criticizing and commenting on the values of spirituality that the client believes).

  6. 6.

    Assessment of spirituality.

  7. 7.

    Relaxation and religious imagery (relaxation and imagination to visualize the imagined experience of spirituality, such as an encounter with spirituality leaders).

  8. 8.


  9. 9.

    Apology (encouraging clients to forgive themselves or others).

  10. 10.

    Using the religious community.

  11. 11.

    Encourage repentance.

  12. 12.

    Referral for blessings.

  13. 13.

    Writing a journal of spirituality (asking clients to write notes related to experience, struggles, and self-understanding of spirituality).

  14. 14.


  15. 15.

    Bibliotherapy (giving the client a book/reference about spirituality to learn).

  16. 16.

    Scripture memorization (remembering the text/religious doctrine).



Mental health is an important issue that is closely linked with knowledge and insight.The mental health problem that occurs today is caused by several factors such as one's lifestyle, environmental values in society, people behaviour and work conditions. There are several coping strategies available in dealing with mental health issues including spiritual and religious approach. As Muslim social workers could learn from the client about the relative significance of religion and the manner in which it could be integrated into a helping relationship. In both cases, social work practice enters a still richer sense of the depth and breadth of the Muslim human condition. Islamic approach for social works is to bring happiness to man, to develop his faculties and talents, and to create a balance between their desires and needs so that there is no extremism in Islam as a divine religion that places so much emphasis on humanity, and not on a person’s class, race, or family.



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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Psychology and EducationUniversiti Malaysia SabahKota KinabaluMalaysia

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