The Fine Line Between Faith and Medicine – By: Fatima DAMAGUM


“And Noah cried to his lord, and said, My lord! Lo! My son is from my house! Surely Your promise is the Truth and You are the Most Just of all judges. He said: O Noah! Lo! He is not of your house; He’s bad behavior, so don’t ask me what you don’t know. I urge you not to be among the ignorant’ Quran Chapter 11, Verse 45-46.

Imagine this: you are a man in his fifties with adult children, boys and girls. You have been identified as an upright citizen of your country. A man of moral integrity with ties to the community in which you live. You can be a pastor or imam of the neighborhood church or mosque. You regularly give charity and help the needy. Many people have benefited from your kindness and magnanimity. You are duly respected in your family and considered a pillar of firm support. You ensure that your children are well trained both educationally and morally.

Then one day it all comes crashing down. Not because of anything you’ve done, but because one of your sons comes to you with blasphemous allegations. He renounced his faith. He questions the existence of God. He mocks your faith and challenges everything you believe in. In a deeply religious country like Nigeria, these allegations alone are enough to cause a normotensive individual to develop a stroke.

You are shocked. All can’t be fine and so you take your son to the hospital and demand that he be mentally assessed. Psychiatrists have conflicting opinions. Some say he is fine and that, with no other symptoms, he is just a young man with atheistic beliefs. Others say he is delusional and say he suffers from a mental disorder. Mental disorders are usually not diagnosed using an objective clinical test such as blood tests or imaging. They require a thorough psychological evaluation and examination to ensure that the patient meets a particular diagnostic criterion. The truth is that the diagnosis can also be very subjective. What may be considered bipolar by one psychiatrist may be mistaken for schizoaffective disorder by another. Fortunately, the treatments are similar.

You are conflicted and depressed. Your son asks to be discharged from the hospital and hires a human rights group. He is being held in hospital against his will, he said. The hospital, not wanting to be associated with negative publicity, decides that he is of legal age and capable of making his own decisions, fires him. He doesn’t come home and in doing so breaks your heart as a father.

This is the story of Mubarak’s father.

On April 5, 2022, Mubarak Bala, the 37-year-old president of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, was sentenced to 24 years in prison by a high court in the northern state of Kano, after being found guilty of blaspheming Islam. He pleaded guilty to 18 counts and asked for clemency. Mubarak has been in detention since 2020.

Mubarak Bala renounced his Islamic faith in 2014. The media wants us to believe that Mubarak was convicted simply because he renounced his faith, but that’s not all. Following his denunciation, he went ahead to form the Humanist Association of Nigeria made up of both Christians and Muslims who have renounced religion. They believe that religion and science are fundamentally incompatible. They deeply disagree about how we get to know the world. Science is based on observation and reasoning from observation. Religion assumes that human beings can access a deeper level of information that is not available through observation or reason. They want proof of existence, they say, and in seeking that proof they are ready to shake mighty tables in a largely conservative society.

It wasn’t the fact that Mubarak renounced his faith, but rather the blasphemous comments he continued to make on social media. We preach tolerance, but the irony is that no one is as intolerant as the atheist. They seek to undermine your belief at every opportunity and mock your God. It’s like they need to prove you wrong. They are constantly seeking attention and validation from others as if to say, “Look at us.” We are right and you are wrong. We believe in science. You are stupid. You do not see ?

Why can’t the atheist or the humanist be tolerant? Why can’t they be silent in their disbelief? Why do they persist in provoking the law? Freedom of expression, you say? What kind of freedom is it when you keep slandering what people believe in??

My interest in Mubarak was not in his lack of religiosity. Indeed, there are many others like him, who quietly stopped praying and lost faith in a supreme deity. My interest was centered on the drug in his case. Is it really possible that he is delirious? Or maybe he has an undiagnosed psychiatric problem? How then to separate delusions from ideologies?

I have seen many people come with conflicting thoughts about God. They are usually distraught patients who present repetitive blasphemous thoughts in their minds. A young man I remember committed suicide because he couldn’t reconcile the disturbing thoughts in his mind with his faith. Another woman came to me crying. She was a Catholic who had made several confessions in church. She had a rosary that she constantly held in her hand, but her mind continued to harbor sacrilegious and offensive thoughts about Jesus Christ and his mother, Mary. She cried out to God all the time and asked for forgiveness. The psychiatrist diagnosed him with a severe form of obsessive disorder. She was placed on medication and her mind has since been silenced. Thoughts rarely come and she is at peace with herself again.

In mental health, there is the concept of egosystonic and egodystonia. Egosyntonic refers to behaviors, values, and feelings that are congruent or acceptable with ego needs and goals, or consistent with the ideal self-image. Egodystonia is the opposite, referring to thoughts and behaviors (dreams, compulsions, desires, etc.) that are in conflict, or dissonant, with ego needs and goals, or, further , in conflict with a person’s ideal self-image. . Simply put, if your thoughts and behaviors are not in conflict with your ideologies as a person, then you qualify as ok.

This may have influenced Mubarak’s lack of diagnosis. His thoughts do not conflict with his beliefs. His mind is at peace and he is therefore considered sane. However, as in the case of the woman I referred to earlier, her thoughts conflicted with her beliefs and caused her great anguish and therefore her thoughts were egodystonic. Egodystonia is usually an indicator of a mental health disorder.

The condemnation of Mubarak made me reflect on so many things: science, medicine and religion. The belief that science and faith are mutually exclusive is not only wrong, but totally misleading. Every day, science continues to prove for us that religious duties and prohibitions are very beneficial for humans. Today studies prove the harmful effects of alcohol, and promote intermittent fasting. Psychologists promote prayer as a form of meditation to calm the mind. What more proof do we need?

May we be guided to the right path, amine.


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