Issue 83 / September - October 2011
Prayer and Healing in Islam
Title: Prayer and Healing in Islam
Author: Salih Yucel
In the past few decades many studies and articles on the subject of religion, spirituality and health, from both Western and Muslim perspectives, have been published. In this book, Salih Yucel's quantitative and qualitative studies support previous research findings which suggest that religion and health are not mutually exclusive and that there is clearly a positive correlation between prayer and wellbeing.
This book comprises a research study taken from the author's doctoral thesis, The Effects of Prayer on Muslim Patients' Well-being. Also included in this book is a qualitative study which contains examples of many case histories and anecdotal evidence from Muslims who have benefited from the healing power of prayer, which includes salat (Islamic ritual prayers), dua (formal and informal supplication to God), and dhikr (remembrance of God, based on the Sufi concept of connectedness to the universe. Also included are Bediuzzaman Said Nursi's "twenty-five remedies" for the sick which explains the concept of illness and how Muslims should view it in the light of belief.
The aim of this research has been to investigate the physical and spiritual effects of prayer on Muslim patients. Sixty adult Muslim in-patients, consisting of equal numbers of women and men from different educational backgrounds and nationalities, were recruited from the patient population at Brigham and Women's Hospital, a Harvard Medical School-affiliated institution in Boston, Massachusetts. The research included a pre-test questionnaire in order to assess the spiritual level of the patients and a post-test questionnaire after prayers were completed. The surveys were based on Islamic sources, with the second survey split into two sessions: the first contained readings from the Qur'an while the second consisted of texts from a non-religious source, serving as a control in order to determine the effect of prayers on the patients.
Unlike previous studies, this research has provided guidelines for prayer which is based on the Qur'an, the Prophetic Traditions and the works of a number of Muslim scholars. The guidelines are a reminder that prayers should if possible be carried out under certain conditions, which include both physical and spiritual preparation prior and after prayer. Examples include taking ablution and ensuring clothes are clean prior to prayer and so on. Also some of the spiritual advice is extremely helpful, such as the understanding that prayer will always be answered but not necessarily in the way that individuals may expect it, thus reducing the disappointment patients may feel if they do not get exactly what they have asked for after prayer. However, other conditions, such as offering prayer "sincerely," may not be so easy to ensure.
The findings of the preliminary survey were used to determine the level of religiosity/spirituality of patients from an Islamic perspective. These findings were consistent with previous studies, showing a strong correlation between religiosity/spirituality and hopefulness/confidence. The post-test survey based on self-report measures of religiosity and wellbeing following the prayer session also showed higher scores in comparison to the control group. With regard to vital signs and the positive physical effects of prayer on health, however, the data was not considered to be clinically significant. The author admits to some of the limitations of the study such as the hospital environment itself which is not conducive to prayer conditions. One of the main limitations has been the omission of compulsory prayers (salat) from the survey, as many bed-ridden patients were unable to take part in this activity. A longitudinal study with a larger participant group and a more convenient environment might possibly have produced better results.
However, the qualitative study included in this book, which consists of many case studies of people who have benefitted from the healing power of prayer, provides further support for the importance of including prayer as part of treatment. The main strength of the book lies in its approach, which is based mainly on Said Nursi's ideas of remedies for the sick. These remedies enable patients to move away from reliance on the realm of causality and are able potentially to empower them to try to understand their condition in a much broader context that includes the concept of the Hereafter.