We Need Spiritual Doctoring

All faiths call us to struggle against a behavioral cancer: a viciousness recessed in the human psyche.

BY: Faiz Khan, M.D.


"Whosoever kills an innocent human life, it is as the killing of all humanity. Whosoever saves a human life, it is as saving all of humanity."
--Qur'an (Islamic Revelation)

The event of September 11th defied language. As an American Muslim, I stood aghast after the attack on my fellow citizens--up to 15% of which may have included U.S. Muslims. And as an ER doctor on duty in New York City that day, I treated victims and relief workers whose suffering was incomprehensible, as all suffering by innocents is.

Shortly thereafter, I reached ground zero. Unfortunately, I could contribute little, due to the scant number of survivors recovered. Tears fell many times at the scenes that followed. Ironically, some were tears of relief as I observed American Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Parsis, those of the Baha'i faith, and others side by side, selflessly helping with relief in any form.

From my diagnostician's perspective, the tragedy joins others as a horrible symptom that has nothing to do with religion, but everything to do with corrupt sociopolitical and economic agendas that result in endless cycles of pain and violence. These have plagued civilization since the dawn of history, of course. But in modern times, we face the horror of more quantitative damage as media manipulation, industry, and technology can be used to inflict suffering upon innocents on an unprecedented scale.

The underlying causes of these symptoms is what must be challenged and defeated. It is the struggle against a behavioral cancer; against a barbaric viciousness recessed in the human psyche; against a darkness that makes any sane individual ashamed of belonging to the human species; against a suffocating, malignant and constricting egoism. These in turn manifest as fanaticism, reactionary hysteria, and elitism.

When these qualities overcome an individual or group, they ultimately lead to mass crimes against humanity in the name of an ideal. And we can recognize these same deadly elements in the backlash acted out in "retribution"--with people targeted solely on the basis of skin color or dress.

The struggle against these dangerous facets of the psyche is the way of the prophets, saints and sages in all traditions. The Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) called this struggle against those dark elements found within your own self the Greatest Jihad. "Jihad," a very misunderstood term, does not mean holy war--there is no such concept in Islam. It literally means "struggle." This struggle, this Greatest Jihad, is not being waged often enough and the consequences are disastrous.

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