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Well-being and the worshipper: a scientific perspective of selected contemplative practices in Islam

Mohamed Safiullah Munsoor (Academy of Islamic Studies, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)
Hannah Safiullah Munsoor (Faculty of Education Health and Wellbeing, University of Wolverhampton, Wolverhampton, UK)

Humanomics

ISSN: 0828-8666

Article publication date: 8 May 2017

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Abstract

Purpose

Modern life is characterized by its hectic life-style, which invariably leads to high levels of stress having negative consequences for the mind-body. Thus, people are seeking for natural ways to achieve a sense of equilibrium and peace. Neuroscience has identified beneficial findings from contemplative practices like meditation, prayers and fasting. Within the Islamic framework, these practices were found to be beneficial for both the body and the mind. However, comparatively little research has been carried out on Islamic contemplative practices. Thus, there is a dire need to carry out further research, where the focus needs to be more on the inward aspects of Islam especially the contemplative practices.

Design/methodology/approach

The study took an integrated approach, whereby, objective experimental data from various sources were combined with the religious narratives from the Qur’an and the Hadiths or the practice of the Prophet in Islam. This was augmented by the subjective experiences of the participants of the study and all of these woven to present a case for Islamic contemplative practices.

Findings

Worship, be it Yogic, Buddhist and Islamic, seems to have positive mental and physical benefits for individuals. Much has been documented within the field of Yoga and Buddhist practices, and it is only recently that Islamic practices are beginning to be studied and are yielding similar results. It has been found that Islamic ritual prayers, fasting and meditation (dhikr) have an impact on the well-being of the worshipper. The communities of practice commonly known as “tariqas” and other religio-spiritual orders can serve as a vehicle to further these practices. This opens the door for more extensive research in this direction.

Research limitations/implications

This study clearly indicates that Islamic practices have positive benefits; however, the number of studies are limited. Moreover, there are a whole system of practices as the contemplative tree in this paper points out, which needs more robust as well as longitudinal studies to outline more conclusive evidence to this effect.

Practical implications

Muslims have been looking at other traditions like Yoga and Buddhist meditation to find ways of improving their physical and mental health. This meta-study indicates that Islamic contemplative practices have positive benefits, and thus, there are a variety of practices like ritual prayers, fasting and meditation, which is found to demonstrate positive health benefits. Thus, it has direct practical reasons to pursue these practices and derive the innate benefits from them.

Social implications

The data from the various neuroscience studies have demonstrated the neurological and physiological impact on individuals directly relating to worship. However, the studies on the Islamic ritual prayer (salat) cited in this study points out to its social implications, where congregational prayers was found to be more beneficial than the individual prayers. Thus, this indicates the social implications that collective worship can have. Further research is needed in terms of understanding the social impact on the various collective contemplative practices.

Originality/value

The originality of this literature review and analysis is bringing together the various strands of neuroscience and health data to demonstrate the positive impact of worship emanating from others faiths, while building a case for Islamic contemplative practices. This is further augmented by its integrated approach of weaving hard and soft data and synthesizing it to present health benefits of worship.

Keywords

Citation

Munsoor, M.S. and Munsoor, H.S. (2017), "Well-being and the worshipper: a scientific perspective of selected contemplative practices in Islam", Humanomics, Vol. 33 No. 2, pp. 163-188. https://doi.org/10.1108/H-08-2016-0056

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited