An imam once told me, “Anxiety and depression should not exist for a believer. Depression did not exist among the early believers. Whoever is anxious, or depressed, should work on their belief and not look for solutions elsewhere. ”
It is imams like this who give their post and their job a bad name. Firstly, there is no way of knowing that depression and anxiety did not exist during the early years of Islam. Secondly, even if they didn’t exist, it is clearly very misguided to make a comparison between the current situation and the early years. To compare modern societies with traditional communities is to compare chalk with cheese, and the imam needs a few short, sharp history lessons to put things into perspective.
The modern ‘crisis of meaning’, the secularisation of faith, the privatisation, personalisation and objectification of belief and practice, and the commodification of religion – all of these are problems which were not really stand-out issues for early communities in the way they are for us. Atheistic materialism, scientism, nihilism, existentialism and rampant narcissism are far more prevalent today than they were in the formative years of the Islamic community. Little wonder, then, that anxiety and depression seem to define and characterise the late-modern mindset.
Instead of turning anxiety and depression into a taboo, imams should be offering kind counsel and advice. Struggling with modern life is not easy, even for those with the strongest faith.