I came across an interesting journal article, entitled "Egyptian contribution to the concept of mental health" which was published in the Egyptian Mediterranean Health Journal, Volume 7, No. 3, May 2001, pp. 377-380 by A. Okasha, professor of Psychiatry at Ain Shams University in Cairo:
The approach of Islam to mental illness can be traced most importantly to the Holy Quran. The most common word used to refer to the mad person, i.e. insane or psychotic, in the Quran is majnoon. The word is originally derived from the word jinn (the word jinn in Arabic has a common origin with words with different connotations and can refer to a shelter, screen, shield, paradise, embryo and madness). The Islamic concept of the insane that the sufferer is possessed by a jinn should not be confused with the concept of possession in the Middle Ages. In Islam, a jinn is not necessarily a demon, i.e. an evil spirit. It is a supernatural spirit, lower than the angels, that can be either good or bad. It has the power to assume human and animal forms. Some jinn are believers, listen to the Quran and help humans. Moreover, Islam is not only concerned with human beings but also with the spiritual world at large. In the Quran the jinn and the human being are almost always mentioned together. This has altered the concept and management of the mentally ill; although a person may be perceived as being possessed, the possession may be by a good or a bad spirit. Consequently one cannot generalize punishment or condemn unconditionally .
Apart from the concept of the mentally ill person being possessed, Islam has another positive concept where such an individual is seen as the one who dares to be innovative, original or creative, or attempts to find alternatives to a static and stagnant mode of living. This is to be found in various attitudes towards certain mystic philosophies such as Sufism, where the expansion of self and consciousness has been taken as a rationale to label some Sufis as psychotic. The writings of various Sufis do indeed reveal the occurrence of psychotic symptoms and much mental suffering in their quest for to self-salvation.
A third concept of mental illness is that there is disharmony or constriction of consciousness, which non-believers are susceptible to. This concept holds that there is a denaturing of our basic structure and disruption of our harmonious existence by egotism, detachment or alienation .
Islam also identified the unity of the body and the psyche. The psyche (elnafs) is mentioned 185 times in the Quran as a broad reference to human existence, meaning at different times body, behaviour, affect, and/or conduct, i.e. a total psycho- somatic unity.
The teaching of the great clinician Rhazes had a profound influence on Arab as well as European medicine. The two most important books of Rhazes are El-mansuri and Al-hawi. The first includes the definition and nature of temperaments and a comprehensive guide to physiognomy. Al-hawi is the greatest medical encyclopedia produced by a Muslim physician. It is the first clinical book presenting the complaints, signs, differential diagnosis and effective treatment of an illness. One hundred years later, Avicenna wrote Al qanun fi al-tibb, which was a monumental, educational and scientific book with better classification .
The first Islamic mental hospital appears to have been established in the early ninth century in Baghdad and to have been modelled on the Eastern Christian institutions, which seem to have been mainly monastic infirmaries. Among the hospitals that appeared throughout the Islamic world, perhaps the most famous one was the 14th century Kalaoon Hospital established in Cairo by the Sultan al-Mansour Kalaoon in 683 AH/1284 AD . It had sections for surgery, ophthalmology, and medical and mental illnesses. Contributions by the wealthy of Cairo allowed a high standard of medical care and provided for patients during convalescence until they were gainfully occupied. Two features were striking: the care of mental patients in a general hospital and the involvement of the community in the welfare of the patients; these foreshadowed modern trends by many centuries ."
~ Excerpted from an article by Professor A. Okasha, Faculty of Psychiatry and Director of WHO Collaborating Centre for Research and Training in Mental Health, Institute of Psychiatry at Ain Shams University in Cairo.