Of September 11, 2001

31. Healing the Individual and the Society

        Health as defined by WHO is not just absence of disease but ‘a state of total physical, mental and spiritual well-being”. Health like freedom is not a gift from USA to the world but a gift from God to the mankind. The specific question is: “Is man healthy or sick?”  My answer is “he is very sick.”  As a physician, I must look for the signs of disease to make a diagnosis.  The signs of disease, of sickness of man, are physical illness as it is prevalent in large numbers in the form of coronary artery disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, emphysema and many other illnesses or in the form of crime as a result of alcoholism, homicide, anger, rape, drunk driving, theft, child and spousal abuse, racism and violence individually and collectively. Man is neither at peace with himself nor with his surroundings, nor with his Creator.  This is why, he is so sick. 

        The society is comprised of individuals.  If the bricks of a building are defective, the building itself will be defective and will collapse.  The sickness of a society is a reflection of sickness of individuals.  Thus, there is an epidemic going on.  The epidemic is not a flu or HIV but of materialism, greed, disbelief, oppression, racism, the gap between haves the have-nots, terrorism by individuals, groups and states and wars imposed on helpless people. We humans tend to have amnesia of our past sins and we talk of painless war and surgical strikes by not so smart bombs forgetting that WW2 killed 20 million people including 250, 000 Americans and in Viet Nam war 52, 000 Americans died and nearly 250,000 got injured. The Vietnamese dead were never counted nor the damage to Vietnamese society and environment fully assessed.  

        What is the way of healing such ailment?  I believe that such illnesses, individually and collectively, are due to lack of belief in God, which results in the lack of love of God, love for fellow human beings and us. Thus, when we do not love God, we stop praying and when we do not love others, we stop caring for them. Obviously, when we stop loving others, we treat them differently than we do ourselves. We consider war as good when the other is being killed and not so good when one of us is killed. When we stop loving ourselves, we stop caring for ourselves and become physically ill, an addict or have violent behavior. Violence against one is violence against all. We should consider each drop of blood that is shed in violence and war as our own drop of blood and each drop of tear shed by an orphan of war as our own tear of grief.   

        Thus, restoring the lost health starts by reinstalling belief in God and surrendering to His will that we must take care of our bodies. Our bodies are but a trust that we must prevent harm to ourselves and others, that we must care for others.  As Prophet Muhammad (p) said, “ he is not one of us who does not care for others”.  This also extends to the safeguard of the environment.  As God says in the Quran, “ Do not cause mischief on earth after it has been set right”.  Thus, we must reflect as Quran asks, “why don’t you think, why don’t you ponder and why don’t you reflect?”  We must love God, not just for any benefits but solely because He loves us.   The great Sufi Saint, Rabiya Basri, summed it up succinctly “Dear God, if I worship you for the desire of heaven, keep me away from it.  If I worship you for the fear of hell, then keep me therein.  But if I worship you only for the love of you, then do not deprive me of your love and your nearness”.

        The healing from sickness means that we must take medicine in appropriate dosages.  Too much of good medicine can lead to overdose and more illness. Thus, too much of religion leads to overdose of religion, which is extremism and terrorism in the name of religion. Many people have died in the name of religion or because of their religion but also many people have been healed by the religion.  Religion in an appropriate dose, given to the ignorant, makes him a better human being, but religion in a high dose, given to tyrant makes him an evil person We must restore the value of spirituality as Dr. Martin Luther King said some 30 years ago “ the technology has over taken spirituality – we have created guided missiles and misguided men”. I pray that God saves us from “ the mischief of  our own soul and actions” and help us heal us from the sickness of disbelief that we can help heal others in the society. .

        We must work through other practioners of healing under the umbrella of interfaith which is not giving up part of one’s faith, compromising on one’s faith or mixing all faith together into a new faith. The interfaith movement is a window to show and share the gift of our faith with others. The people of faith are like climbers climbing to the same peak through different directions. They are an army of God but in different uniforms, not a fighting army but a salvation army in service to mankind. Interfaith work leads to healing from illness of apprehension and hostility. When we come out of our house of worship, then we should join hands with others sharing the love of God and work of God especially now as we all are going through a very painful and sad chapter in the history of new the millennium.  

        Let each of us become a healer, first healing ourselves then our society that we live in. Once we heal ourselves, we reach a state of peaceful bliss ready to receive God’s Mercy as Quran promises, “ O! Soul at peace! Return to thy Lord, well pleased and well pleasing. Enter as My servant, enter into My Heaven” (Surah Al-Fajr).

Presented on March 29,2003 at the 10th annual convention of International Association of Sufism (www.ias.org).

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Shahid Athar, MD
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