The Islamic Approach to Holistic Healing
By Doaa Akram Abu Gharbieh
The purpose of this thesis was to describe how Islamic teachings can be synchronized with the holistic healing approach. The thesis question “what Quranic teachings can be used to bring the benefits of the holistic healing course to the Muslim client?” was explored in parallel to my personal healing journey as well as the conversations I have had over the past years with my clients and friends. Seven themes emerged from the observations. They are as follows in no particular order: the creation of the witness, connecting with the body, recognizing and embracing the personal story, understanding choice, purification, the relationship with the spiritual world, and forgiveness and compassion. These themes can be employed by healers to address the more traditional Muslim clients during their sessions, thus bridging the gap between the spiritual teachings of Islam and the holistic healing approach.
From earliest times to the present day, in all cultures, healers have been present to help individuals through guidance. Healing has a long alliance with faith, belief, spirit, family support, the web of everyday life, and altered states of consciousness (Institute of Noetic Sciences, 1993). Healing is defined as the return toward the natural state of integrity and wholeness of an individual. Healing is the process of bringing together aspects of one’s body-mind-spirit to a deeper level of inner knowing that leads toward integration and balance. Healers facilitate the healing process. (Dossey, Keegan, and Guzetta (2000))
Holistic healing counselors may be part of the continuum of healers who have helped humanity achieve higher levels of evolution. They are individuals who have taken the road into self-exploration, and gained enough wisdom to understand how little humans know about themselves. Over years of working on themselves and with others they understand how deeply they are conditioned to believe and act in certain ways that may be contrary to their nature.
One strong influence we, people in the Middle East, meet in our society is the strong power of Islamic theology and teachings over the lives of individuals, whether Muslims or not. Unfortunately, the genuine spirituality of Islam was lost in the sea of conflicting interpretations of Islam’s holy texts. The basic messages of self-knowledge and freedom of choice were distorted, creating a fissure between the personal desire and what is deemed a religious duty.
New and more liberal interpretations of Islamic texts and history emerge with every generation. In recent years, for example, Dr. Muhammad Shahrur, an Emeritus Professor of Civil Engineering at the University of Damascus who writes extensively about Islam (wikipeida), offered eye-opening interpretations of Quran that contributed to saving many Muslims from the labyrinth of extremism and mainstream religion.
Dr. Shahrur, and many a scholar, was successful in addressing the age-old beliefs, or rather mis-beliefs, that plagued Muslims for decades. But once again, followers are guided into believing the scholar, thus creating additional conditioning and further rigidity among the trend’s followers.
Similar to their predecessors, such scholars insist that Islam is a faith that is suitable for our daily life. Yet, they fail to address more personal questions individuals have regarding their own life experience. For example, while a Muslim is advised to help the poor, such schools fail to address the reasons why we resent helping the poor, or question the intentions behind the act.
Therefore, an approach needs to be devised to address a Muslim client without interfering with or confronting his or her religious beliefs. At the same time, the approach needs to bring her awareness to the teachings of Islam which strongly correspond with the holistic healing practices. The approach needs to create the awareness necessary to help the client address her beliefs by herself. Finally, through the holistic healing approach, space can be provided for the person to work on the aspects that are usually ignored by the traditional Islamic schools of thought, namely the clutter accumulated in the mind, body and spirit.
It is worthy to point out the first and key directive in the Quran which is lost on many Muslims was “Iqra’ “[1:1]. While many take this word to simply mean “read the letters and words” it can be interpreted on a more broad level to mean “to receive the guidance; following the particulars to find the whole result.” This meaning, summarized by the single Arabic word “Iqra”, corresponds beautifully with the holistic healing work.
Being a holistic healing student who had traditional Islamic upbringing, I was faced with the challenge of synchronizing the knowledge I had of my faith with the predominantly western approach to the holistic study course. I believed in the approach and the process work of the course because I was able to see the results of the work in the different aspects of my life. I was learning to connect with my body, manage my emotions, express my feelings and thoughts, and deepen my awareness of myself in general, and by that the world around me.
I could not help but compare results between practicing the teachings of the interpreted religion and those of the holistic healing course. For more than three decades I had practiced the teachings of the former. I was being conditioned to work against myself and my desires. I was persuaded to suppress my needs, and suffocate any questions I had regarding the meaning of any belief. I was encouraged to maintain a false façade of goodness.
Before I arrived at the holistic healing course, I had had an awakening related to the falseness of the traditional religion I grew up within its framework. I started a quest through which I shed many of my old beliefs stemming from a fundamentalist understanding of Islam. Although I lost my belief in religion in form, I did not doubt its essence. I believe that true spirituality, not religion, is the gateway to the evolution and thriving of humanity.
I came to the holistic healing course wanting to further my awareness of myself. It was conspicuous to me the way certain practices in the course were conductive to improving Islamic practices. For example, during prayers, one is supposed to be alert. Yet, one is not taught how to be alert. By developing the observer self, following the guidelines in the Undefended Self, it becomes easy to catch oneself straying from prayers, and know the content of the stream of thoughts.
During the conversations I have had over the years, it became evident that it was easier to help others become more aware of themselves through the practices in the holistic healing course, rather than ask them to question their calcified beliefs. Such practices did not challenge their beliefs, at least not directly. But with time, they started to ask the right questions as to who they really were, why they were not achieving their goals, why they were miserable, and how they can overcome their life circumstances.
At the same time, those practices were more positively received when they were connected to the texts of the Quran or prophet traditions. Usually the person is more willing to apply those practices when they are introduced within the framework of a material she was familiar with. In contrast, the same practices are viewed with suspicion when they are introduced as part of a western spiritual school, or even Sufi school at times.
The Healing Themes
Healing and healership can be practiced in an almost infinite number of ways. By proposing the following themes it is attempted to link the Islamic framework to the holistic healing practices used during a healing session. The effort focuses on creating a bridge between the client’s religious texts and the work of healing, to facilitate the acceptance of those sessions within one’s effort to improve. The themes themselves are interconnected that one would lead to another as a matter of organic development. They are not linear, but rather circular. So starting from any point would yield the same results.
The Creation of the Witness
The creation of the witness, or the observer, is the key to launching anyone on the path of healing. Being heavily conditioned, we need to find that part which watches us as we live our life. In the Quran, this part was called the “shaheed” meaning the one who witnesses. According to Susan Thesenga in The Undefended Self, the ability to observe ourselves objectively and compassionately is the single most important skill to develop in walking the spiritual path.
By its very definition, the witness, or shaheed, is the one watching what is happening. It does not interfere or even direct the events. A client may have already developed this skill. But she needs to be encouraged to sharpen it as a means of attaining higher levels of presence and awareness in her daily life.
Hence, the idea that one need not go into the drama of any situation. The observer self is not a judge, but the one who is detached. This witness maybe developed on several levels by connecting to the body and the senses, and the subtler “bodies” namely the emotional and mental bodies.
Connecting with the body enhances one’s sense of self-awareness. The Quran abounds with the verses that remind one of using their senses as a means to learn and a tool for accountability. It contains many verses that point out the value of having a pure heart to enter the realm of heaven. It also brings attention to thoughts and feelings, mainly by bringing attention to what the world around us conjures up in terms of thoughts and feelings.
Thus a client may be encouraged to follow the awareness through her body every time she encounters a word that refers to the senses, e.g, when reading\ hearing the following verses:
[90:8] Did We not assign unto him two eyes [90:9] And a tongue and two lips,
[24:24] On the day when their tongues and their hands and their feet testify against them as to what they used to do,
[50:37] Lo! therein verily is a reminder for him who hath a heart, or giveth ear with full intelligence.
[26:89] Save him who bringeth unto Allah a whole heart.
By applying the exercises that moves one’s awareness to form, from one part of the body to another, the sense of one’s self is heightened. Ultimately, one needs to bring her awareness in her body as a whole.
Then attention needs to be driven to the thoughts and emotions, particularly in relation to the world around us that is brought in by the senses, and the feelings our perception of what surrounds us invokes in us:
[25:44] Or deemest thou that most of them hear or understand? They are but as the cattle - nay, but they are farther astray?
[30:24] And of His signs is this: He showeth you the lightning for a fear and for a hope, and sendeth down water from the sky, and thereby quickeneth the earth after her death. Lo! herein indeed are portents for folk who understand.
The healer can direct the client in order to process her pain or “discomfort” or even numbness in certain parts of the body. Through connecting one with the different layers of the body, one is connected to hidden world of subconscious thoughts. From there, one goes on the trip to meet her shadow. At which stage one needs to work on “Purification”
Purification is the process one undergoes as one “distills” the impurities on emotional and mental levels. It relies on the choice one makes when one’s awareness is able to recognize the faults in one’s lower self, so it may be transformed into its original state, being the higher self. One needs to make the choice to purify oneself to evolve to higher realms of awareness.
This concept is clearly defined in the Quran by referring to the word “Zaqat”. In Arabic, Zaqat simply means “to purify and to correct” (p. 411, Al Mu’jam Al Waseet, P1, 3rd Edition, Dar Emran). Zaqat also is one of the main pillars of Islam. So for a Muslim client, this is an obligation defined by Allah.
[4:49] Hast thou not seen those who praise themselves for purity? Nay, Allah purifieth whom He will, and they will not be wronged even the hair upon a date-stone.
[20:76] Gardens of Eden underneath which rivers flow, wherein they will abide forever. That is the reward of him who groweth.
[24:21] O ye who believe! Follow not the footsteps of the devil. Unto whomsoever followeth the footsteps of the devil, lo! he commandeth filthiness and wrong. Had it not been for the grace of Allah and His mercy unto you, not one of you would ever have grown pure. But Allah causeth whom He will to grow. And Allah is Hearer, Knower.
[91:7] And a soul and Him Who perfected it [91:8] And inspired it (with conscience of) what is wrong for it and (what is) right for it[91:9] He is indeed successful who causeth it to grow,[91:10] And he is indeed a failure who stunteth it.
The work of purification will, by necessity, lead to tackling the false beliefs that foster one’s dis-ease. For every false belief, one needs to consciously see how that belief is preventing healing. Purification entails letting go of that belief and substituting it with another, to counteract its effects, until one is ready to let go of such props all together.
Recognizing and Embracing the Personal Story
Encouraging a client to write down their life story in a journal, as a way to embrace its events may be linked to the verses that relate the stories of the prophets, whom stories abound in the Quran. The client may be encouraged to feel the emotion associated with the painful life events of the prophets, which may be synchronized with the client’s own pain.
Working with my client, she wondered why it was important to look at the past and feel the hurts. I needed to remind her that we are not really free from the stronghold of our past if we do not go through the suppressed emotion it caused. I needed to point out that the early verses in the Quran reflected that Prophet Mohammad needed to go through the pain of early childhood memories, those of being orphaned, poor and wandering, to counterbalance them by reminding him of the graces bestowed upon him afterwards.
Unless we feel the pain, we may not appreciate the blessings that we have in our life. And we need to embrace our story, so we can release the attachments we have to past wounds. Therefore healing will occur.
There are verses that speak of the power of choice in creating our life. Often clients believe they are the victims of their life circumstances. While in fact, they are responsible for the outcome that manifest.
[8:53] That is because Allah never changeth the grace He hath bestowed on any people until they first change that which is in their hearts, and (that is) because Allah is Hearer, Knower.
[13:11] For him are angels ranged before him and behind him, who guard him by Allah’s command. Lo! Allah changeth not the condition of a folk until they (first) change that which is in their hearts; and if Allah willeth misfortune for a folk there is none that can repel it, nor have they a defender beside Him.
[30:41] Corruption doth appear on land and sea because of (the evil) which men’s hands have done, that He may make them taste a part of that which they have done, in order that they may return.
[42:30] Whatever of misfortune striketh you, it is what your right hands have earned. And He forgiveth much
[74:38] Every soul is a pledge for its own deeds.
The Relationship with the Spiritual World
This theme probably one that was most neglected by traditional religion. Unlike the Sufis and the Shi’as, Sunni fundamentalists made little effort to introduce the Muslims to the realms of the non-physical realities such as angels, guides, spiritual beings, deceased teachers and ancestors as spiritual guides.
Simply put, they focused on scaring Muslims away from exploring such realms by constantly referring to Shayateen (devils) and Jin (demons). They insisted that such connections with the Angelic realms are limited to Prophets and the pious (usually dead). They emphasized that angels are indeed watching over one with judgment as to the good and bad deeds that are being committed throughout ones’ life. Such actions will be judged at a later date.
Much fear is created around the connection with the world of spirit, despite the fact that one fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith is to believe in angels. In fact, we are connected to our higher self and our child-self, and we are connected to guides, and guardian angels, as well as our fears that take the shape of demons.
By affirming this relationship, I was able to help two of my clients to shed the fear that they were going ‘crazy’ when they talked about having talked with their soul, or inner child, or being attacked by dark entities. Working through such instances was liberating for them, and usually ended up with them realizing they were giving forms to their own childhood fears.
In fact, I propose that the key to understanding the Holy Quran is to connect with that higher realm that was mentioned in the very early verses of the first sura:
[96:1] Read: In the name of thy Lord Who createth, [96:3]Read: And thy Lord is the Most Bounteous, [96:4] Who teacheth by the pen, [96:5] Teacheth man that which he knew not…[96:11] Hast thou seen if he relieth on the guidance (of Allah)
I propose that if one has been able to achieve certain level of stillness in the mind, one will be guided to achieve a higher understanding of the words of the Quran. I propose that while Muslims have been reading the Quran for centuries, very few indeed are surrendering to such guidance as a result of the heavy conditioning of theology.
Therefore, I propose that a Muslim client is encouraged to understand that the phrase “Bisme Allah Al Rahman Al Rahim” (in the name of Allah the Merciful the Beneficient), is in fact an invocation of a transcendent realm, rather than a perfunctory phrase, that will move one to higher understanding of the teachings of the Holy Book, and for the purposes of this thesis, towards healing and lifting one’s vibrations.
Forgiveness and Compassion
The closing of the circle comes when we are able to forgive ourselves, and those who wronged us. After going through the various themes of the circle, I have come to see that forgiveness and compassion are the last to be accomplished towards the self and towards others.
It is necessary to emphasize that compassion towards one’s self is vital for health on all levels. One needs to seek to forgive oneself and ask for the forgiveness from Allah:
[2:109] Many of the people of the Scripture long to make you disbelievers after your belief, through envy on their own account, after the truth hath become manifest unto them. Forgive and be indulgent (toward them) until Allah give command. Lo! Allah is Able to do all things.
[2:286] Allah tasketh not a soul beyond its scope. For it (is only) that which it hath earned, and against it (only) that which it hath deserved. Our Lord! Condemn us not if we forget, or miss the mark! Our Lord! Lay not on us such a burden as thou didst lay on those before us! Our Lord! Impose not on us that which we have not the strength to bear! Pardon us, absolve us and have mercy on us, Thou, our Protector, and give us victory over the disbelieving folk.
[3:134] Those who spend (of that which Allah hath given them) in ease and in adversity, those who control their wrath and are forgiving toward mankind; Allah loveth the good;
[24:22] And let not those who possess dignity and ease among you swear not to give to the near of kin and to the needy, and to fugitives for the cause of Allah. Let them forgive and show indulgence. Yearn ye not that Allah may forgive you ? Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.
[42:40] The guerdon of an ill-deed is an ill the like thereof. But whosoever pardoneth and amendeth, his wage is the affair of Allah. Lo! He loveth not wrong-doers.
Now, how to forgive?? By going through the full circle of witnessing the wrong, for example, how we feel about it, locate it in our bodies, recognizing the wrongdoing, whether by us or against us, as part of our personal story, understand that it was our choice to have such experience and choosing to purify oneself from such emotions as anger, hate, etc. asking for guidance and support throughout this process.
Throughout this process, I propose the healer hold her client in a compassionate field of the highest level possible. It is my personal experience that one suffers a deep sense of betrayal and anger on the one hand, and a feeling of loss of identity on the other. Therefore it is strongly recommended that the client is encouraged to utilize the aforementioned themes to allow further healing to take place.
It is my hope that this material will be of benefit to my fellow healers.
I would like to end by quoting the following verse from the Quran
“[17:82] And We reveal of the Qur’an that which is a healing and a mercy for believers though it increase the evil-doers in naught save ruin.”