Ramadan Reflection: Seek Support


http://www.flickr.com/photos/oter/5400750603/in/photostream/Two young women and a young man reached out to me respectively this past week, none knowing the others, but all having gone through a similar experience as children. Each had been the victim of sexual abuse at a very young age, and none of them had really spoken about it for quite some time. All three had at some point tried to speak with the one or both of their parents about it (one spoke only to the mother as her father was the abuser) and none had received any support or validation of their concerns—one was even told it’s not a big deal. All three were told not to speak about it with anyone so each ended up holding it inside for quite some time.

Aside from these three, 108 unique individuals in the month of July have reached out to me on issues ranging from depression, anxiety, suicidal tendency, domestic violence, alcohol and drug addiction, sexual orientation, dealing with mental health disorders, marital issues, issues with parents, relationship issues, theological issues, and much more. They have corresponded in the form of emails, phone calls, and in-person meetings. These people are mostly from the NYC area, a good number from different parts of the United States, and the smallest demographic is from outside of the country. They are both male and female, diverse in age, ethnicity and socioeconomic background. All are looking for someone to talk to—most are finding a hard time in doing so.

In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with anyone seeing a counselor. I actually think it’s an important thing to have someone to talk to. The difficulty for the Muslim community is two-fold. Primarily, it’s hard for us at times to get the motivation and comfort needed to go seek a counselor and, secondly, in the instances that we do, it’s hard to find someone who actually understands what we are going through.

It’s not very common to find Muslims comfortable with the idea of speaking about what they have or are going through. Some think it somehow displays weakness of faith and is a form of questioning God, others come from cultures that don’t appreciate or encourage seeking out such help. Many think it’s wrong to “reveal sins” whether it be their own or those of others. Most have been in a place where when they have attempted to speak to someone about it, their attempts have immediately been shot down and it takes a long time before they can speak about it again or, unfortunately, they just don’t speak about it ever again.

In the instances where one actually does find someone to speak with, they run into a few different types of people:

  • An individual who is not trained to provide them the support that they need, but still attempts to do so
  • An individual who does have training and/or experience to provide the support that is being sought out, but doesn’t understand the diversity of Muslim experience, or anything about Muslim identity
  • An individual who is not trained to provide them the support that they need, recognizes this and refers them to someone who is
  • An individual who does have training and/or experience to provide the support that is being sought and, and does understand the diversity of Muslim experience and Muslim identity

Most will find themselves in a place where they meet someone from one of the first two categories and get discouraged with the process. Our goal should be to enable and empower more people who are in categories three and four so that we can ensure proper care and attention to those who need it. Why should we do this? Because there is a lot of unreconciled pain in many hearts out there and it’s not justifiable that we allow for that to continue. The number of tears that I have seen shed in front of me and the amount of frustration and anxiety that has been let out afterwards tells me that the Muslim community is not a happy community, and that’s in large part due to the fact that we are not healthy. It’s unjustifiable that I stand in a comfortable place while I am fully aware that the person sitting next to me is uncomfortable or struggling on the inside.

I don’t think the solution is simply in having more imams that are American-born, because that alone doesn’t mean that they will have the training or experience to counsel someone. A young man came to see me with his female cousin who was walking in the hallway of her high school one day in between classes when a boy grabbed her, pulled her into a stairwell, and raped her. This young woman worked up the courage to tell her parents, who, not knowing where else to go, then took her to their local mosque, where she was told by the imam that she deserved what happened to her because she goes to a mixed-gender school and doesn’t dress properly. Aside from recognizing the stupidity of this statement, why is this person even in a place where he would be dealing with circumstances like this? And what do we think it did to the young woman? She will take what this man has said as being what Islam says, which is not the case, and more importantly then that, she is going to hurt even more on the inside then when she had first come in.

Education is key, and training current religious leaders as well as mental health professionals, whether they are Muslim or not, on issues relevant to the Muslim community is essential. The stereotype that paints the Muslim community as monolithic is most problematic here because it keeps us from being in touch with how diversity plays a role in proper counseling. Not all Muslims are the same and dealing with them means understanding that one will be different from the next, even though they adhere to the same faith.

Despite this, there are many out there who are trained, attuned to the realities that Muslims are facing, and are great resources. If you find yourself in a place where there is something that you need closure on and feel like talking about, whether you are going through it now or went through it a long time ago, don’t let yourself think you have to go through it alone. It is not a weakness of faith to seek support from the people around you. The companions of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, sought support from him in this manner all of the time. Young and old, male and female, Arab and non-Arab all spoke to him about things that they had going on inside and he listened. He heard them out, helped them to make critical sense of it and set out on a path to reach their potential best. People who had addictions, bereavement issues, relationship issues, mental health issues, victims of domestic violence, people who had to deal with the realities that race, ethnicity, gender, and privilege all brought, and many others came to speak to him about what was going on in their respective lives, and he listened. He also turned to those around him at times when he needed counsel and advice. If we require religious legitimacy to seek support when we need it, undoubtedly Islam tells us we are allowed to and that we should.

You don’t have to speak to just anyone. Find someone you are comfortable with and will hear you out before simply telling you what you should do. Not every religious scholar will be able to play this role, nor should they be expected to be. It’s not a shortcoming on their part by any means. Professional help in the form a psychologist, psychiatrist or social worker is also important and should not be looked at as a bad thing. Just like a doctor is there to help us be be physically well, these individuals are there to help us be emotionally well, which in turn has the potential of aiding in our spiritual growth.

For those of you who are not in a place where you need this kind of help, be mindful that there are those who do. If you are speaking to an audience, understand that audience has many people in it that have lived lives that may not have had the best of experiences. Not everyone has good parents, not everyone has Muslims in their families, not everything is a test from God, forgiveness is not always the easiest thing to do, and it is not a weakness of faith to try to understand why you have gone through what you have gone through.

This has gotten somewhat long but I have more thoughts on it and will probably write on it again before the month is over.

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25 Comments

  1. Fatimah says:

    YES! This topic is SO important. The Muslim community needs healing and that process begins by recognizing the places where it is ill. That is why I am studying mental health counseling and I encourage all leaders who are able to invest in continuing education. Great post!

  2. Fulan Fulani says:

    Jazakallah for the amazing article! As a pornography addict, I can totally relate with this problem of finding people to talk to who are educated to deal with our problems and from an Islamic perspective. May Allah (swt) help us all! Ameen!

    • Abdul-rahmon says:

      Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatulahi wa barakatu. Please check out purify your gaze, it helped people with compulsive disorders from an Islamic perspective. Your not addicted to pornography its a means of escaping reality.

  3. Brazilian Sister says:

    Assalamu alaikum, brother! Ramadan mubarak!
    Thank you very much for the article, it touches a very important subject. Quite often in our community brothers and sisters don’t get the support they need from others due to lack of understanding of the religion.
    I’m a convert and by the grace of Allah was put in a group of sisters who really study the deen and do their best to put sharia into practice. But even though, I see some of them acting with such self righteousness and with little compassion when it comes to others.
    All of us are human beings who make mistakes, who pass through difficulties and at some point of life will need support. Muslims are not an exception, and the community has to start realizing that for their own good.
    I pray to Allah that He puts more compassion in our hearts. Ameen!
    May Allah reward you, brother! Ameen!

  4. Mariam says:

    Somebody please have the heart to read my post and respond for the sake of Allah! Only yesterday me and my family have been struck with the greatest test we have ever faced when my little sister who is only 14, came to me and confided to me that she was being sexually abused by our own brother. The details of which will haunt me forever and never leave me. As she told me she cried and felt guilty and she said she was too ashamed and didn’t reach out to anyone before out of fear that she would break the family by doing so. She blamed herself and said she felt that maybe she deserved it and it was a punishment from Allah. Through her tears all I wanted to do was tell her that no its not your fault! I am torn, our family is torn, our world will never be the same as it was.

    I have spoken to my mother and she is torn inside. The worst part is that this is our brother who is the imam and leader of the community whom we loved and looked up to so highly! It hurts more than words could ever describe but I thank Allah that she has reached out to me after suffering in silence! My mother has spoke and him and told him that she doesn’t know if she will be able to forgive him for this and that she wants him to step away from the Mimbar, leave the country and leave her sight as he has destroyed so many lives and broken the family. My little sister loved him the most and looked up to him most out of all of us and now I don’t know if she will ever be able to forgive him. All matters pushed aside I have been praying to Allah since yesterday to help us and provide me with a way to help her as now she is struggling with sex addiction- masturbation, chat rooms etc, as a result of what he’s done to her. She wants to change and become a better person.

    We are currently located in NY, Brooklyn area and I am desperately trying to find her a Muslim counselor/therapist as too much damage has been done to her little soul. Please help me with any information/advice that you can. I pray Allah protects our daughters/sisters/brothers. Indeed Allah only tests us to refine us and make us come out as even better people and to make us return to Him in Tawbah.

    • Osamah says:

      Dear Sister.

      Assalmualaikum.

      I’m sorry to hear that your sister is going through such hardship.

      I know a website that deals with sexual addiction,which seems pretty good. I know a brother who is very close to me and he is currently addicted to internet porn. He says the online therapy he’s receiving is working, but needs practice. The course takes about 6 months or more, depending on the severity of the case. You could be her support person (mentioned in the website what the role of a support person is).

      The website URL is http://candeobehaviorchange.com/

      It uses the very latest in brain science to change unhealthy behaviour.

      There’s another website which I haven’t tried. It’s more Islamic oriented but a bit expensive and seems more intensive (I am not absolutely certain,so please check the site for more detail) .I am not sure how successful it is , but please don’t expect a very quick solution because as it has taken time and repetition for an addictive habit to form (technically also called a neurone pathway) likewise it will take time to get rid of the addiction.

      Here’s the other website —->http://www.purifyyourgaze.com/pre-ramadan-class

      I would recommend you check both the websites.

      Please enquiry from before whether their courses are oriented toward the female user. I know candeo should have for females .Also candeo has had many years of experience and has claimed to have cured thousands of individuals in the past who have previously suffered from pornography addiction.

      These programs should also include an instructor (who is human). You can request that the instructor be a female if you sister is more comfortable with that. I’m not sure about the other online recovery programme,but if you use candeo the instructor will only know the user by his or her user name.

      If you’re looking for a software for blocking inappropriate content you can try covenant eyes (http://www.covenanteyes.com/).

      Hope this helps and I wish your sister the very best in her recovery.

      Salam

      O. Kiwan

    • sanaa says:

      salaam dear sister, i don’t even have words to express how horrified i am by what your family is going through and how much my heart aches for all of you. i don’t know you but you will all be in my prayers, especially your baby sister.as for counseling, the imam who wrote this reflection heads an islamic center in manhattan (www.icnyu.org). there are a number of counselors there who can insha’Allah help you. to make an appointment, visit

      http://www.icnyu.org/index.php?option=com_artforms&formid=3&Itemid=135

    • Rabiya says:

      Sr. Mariam, I pray that you and your family can overcome this storm and find inner peace.

    • Sarah says:

      There is a Muslim Counselor willing to conduct sessions over skype. http://www.livingeman.com/services/kamal-shaarawy-islamic-counseling/

      May Allah keep you and your family safe

  5. Umm Sara says:

    Sister mariam,
    I just read your post and cannot stop thinking about your family and your little sister. I can only say that you are all in my duas my dearest. The situation your family is in, is tragic and yet only Allah knows why this has happened.
    I cannot give you any other advice apart from seeking help from Him and professionals that can help you. It seems to me that you all may need to have counsel in some form or another- you, your mum, sister etc.
    Find someone you can trust and talk about it- it helps a lot.
    I sincerely hope Allah helps your troubled souls and gives you peace soon.
    Love and duas xxx

  6. Mohamed Qayum says:

    Aslaam Alikum
    Brother Khalid Latif,I stay in Kenya and would like to help the Muslim community with this type of service. Please can you give me on line training.
    Being one of the community elder lots of people came to share there problems with me.
    Hoping to hear from you.
    MaSlaam

  7. R says:

    This is tragic and like the last post I will most certainly keep you in my duas as well. This is such an important topic and feel because of the mental health issues I have faced that I would also like to provide support or get into such a profession to help others and also myself and my family. But I don’t know where to start in terms of the Islamic educational component how can a lay person like me with little knowledge of Islam be able to help others in the way that is fair to them? Also is it possible we can perhaps get a list of practicing Muslim therapists going according to cities that perhaps we can consult them and even start this most daunting process of finding the help we need besides simply getting pills from a shrink for our condition? Because this has become such a debilitating issue for me I have taken time off work just to figure this out and find out where I can find help. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    • Nida says:

      I like the suggestion of a list or database of some sort of Muslims professionals in the country. Does anyone kow if something like this exists?

  8. Mariam says:

    Dear all,

    May Allah bless all of you for reading my post and keeping me and my family in your dua and responding to me with whatever help you could offer. Words cannot describe how much I appreciate it and how much it has comforted me to know I am not alone.

    Some update: I cannot thank Allah enough for making things easier for us each passing day. Ever since we were struck with these news, I have been crying non stop as I felt like I was having flashbacks for her! But Allah has been so merciful to us– my brother has been extremely remorseful and has cried and cried and asked my mother for forgiveness and has said he is so ashamed and humiliated in front of Allah and that he asks Allah to forgive him after every Salah, crying. His remorse has given us a huge amount of comfort because at least we know that he knows he’s done a huge wrong. I ask Allah to forgive him and to make this the one sin that will bring him closer to Allah like never before. My sister, may Allah bless her heart, has been stronger than us throughout this storm- she said that she feels much better after telling whats happened to her and now she says that she knows that Allah is making her a better person through this trial and definitely she is trying to get closer to Allah now and always asking Allah to forgive her for her sins. Alhamdulillah what a beautiful lesson to take from such a tragic event!

    Sometimes Allah tests us and we are faced with afflictions so that we can turn back to Him, renewed, with sincere Tawbah. Sometimes these tragic events are what it takes to make us better! And she had said that if I had to go through what I did to realize where I was going with my life and to turn back to Allah and get closer to Him, then it was worth it, than if I didn’t go through it and was heedless. All I can say is that sometimes all we see is evil when something afflicts us- but indeed there is much good behind it that we don’t realize until much later.

    I ask Allah to forgive my brother and to heal my sister, and I ask Him to have mercy on all of you who have responded and helped me, ameen!

    • Sarah says:

      Wa alaikum assalam

      I am so happy to hear of the progress your family is making. With the perspective all of you have, that some good will come out of a horrible situation, you’ve already begun the process of healing.

      Your family is in my duas.

    • Fazia says:

      Mariam,
      You are so strong in faith, alhumdolillah! I’m so saddened for you and your family; especially to have to endure this during Ramadan of all times. However, maybe the family becoming informed of your sisters abuse during Ramadan is the reason why your brother has fully realized the error of his actions. I’m grateful for your family that he has shown such remorse because I believe that certainly helps all of you to get on the path to healing as a family unit. I do hope that your family will take advantage of the mental health and spiritual counseling that’s available. With Allah’s help, your family will hopefully become stronger after enduring such an ordeal, insha allah. You and your family are in my duas.

    • AmatullahA says:

      Assalam Alaykum dear sister,

      Its heart breaking to have read your story. My prayers go out to your family, your sister and brother. Please try to get in contact with Muslim counselors mentioned by the bros and sis here that can aid you in the best possible way inshaa’Allah. May Allah make it easy upon your family and may you all come out of this trial stronger than ever Ameen. I also request the Staff here to direct the sister to some professionals as they may have a better idea.

  9. R says:

    Sister Mariam I have no words to describe your faith in Allah alhumdullilah…may Allah make this path easier for your entire family. I think if your sister can have the perspective she has then I don’t think many of the tribulations ordinary people like myself face are any reason to be upset. May Allah bless you all and increase your iman many fold. Jazakallah for sharing although I can only imagine how difficult it must have been to face or even write this post. May Allah spread his mercy upon your family.

  10. Amjad says:

    I know it’s not right category to put the question.

    But what is the wisdom behind Beard in Islam ?

    I know it’s Sunnah the very first and only motive for me but I was wondering if someone can explain like comprehensive explanation on this topic.

    Jazakhumullah Khair.

    Regards,
    Amjad

  11. Yasmin says:

    Assalam o alaikum,
    I don’t understand why people do such a thing. I personally have been through sexual abused by my older brother and sister. My sister used to make me do things that I didn’t want to all the time. I don’t remember what age it started, but I do remember her doing things to me at age 9. My older brother started to touch me while I slept. I woke many times and swore at him, but I never spoke to him about it. The thing that gets me is, at that time he was the most religious. praying salah, reading Quran, respecting parents and siblings. My uncle even tried to kiss me once. I’ve never told anyone about these things, I kind of tried to forget them.

  12. Fatima says:

    Asalamo caleikom wr wb!

    When I moved to Norway at the age of six, my father used to drink alcohol and soon after we ( my mother and siblings) arrived he started molesting me. He would donsome thing to me almost evary day untill I was eleven and got my periode. I have never spoken of it to anybody. Today my father is a beter man, but i still hate him for what he did to me, and i am realising that I can’t show my mother that i love here. I don’t know if i even do! She would often leave
    me and my brother home alone with him in the vications, once he almost broke my arm. And he jused to touch me right infront of here how could she not have seen that?
    I have always protected my siblings and he has never done any thing like that to them allhamdulilah!

    Today I am 18 years old, discusted by the sight of this man! Constantly fighting withy mother, addicted to bad sexsual- habits (not zina). I am practesing my religion allhamdulilah, but lately my mental healt has not been good and i am strugling with everything.

    This is the first time I have been able to put some of what hapend to me into words, it feels good! So help me what should I do, talk to a Psychologist ? Make duaa for me inshAllah!

    • Nida says:

      Yes sister! You should definitely consider talking to someone, a professional, especially since you say your mental health hasn’t been well lately. It’s been a year since you posted, I hope that you have reached out to somebody during this time inshallah.

      • Fatima says:

        Asalamu calaykum sister, I’m well alhamdulilah. And even though I haven’t spoken to anyone about this I’ve goten a lot better alhamdulilah :) It wasn’t easy but i focused on getting closer to ALLAH swt and make a lot of duaa and thikir. A lot of ups and downs, even a a depression but Alhamdulilah, Allah swt got to throu it!

  13. AK says:

    For those of you who have experienced the trauma of sexual abuse, it is important to get help. Find a counselor. The easiest way to do so: http://therapists.psychologytoday.com/rms/?gclid=CJ6xueiBlbICFYY-MgodSVEAbQ

    Also, you may find the following resource helpful: http://www.suhaibwebb.com/society/domestic-violence/child-abuse/

  14. Kirana says:

    It’s true. Even when you find people with good intentions, they give you advice according to what works for them/ordinary circumstances, and cannot comprehend what it’s like when the situation is difficult and unusual, particularly when the disorder is related to something psychological or neurological, let alone when interlinked with its effects on marital and theological issues, within an intercultural settings. We’re kind of on our own. Muslim communities tend to lack people with the imagination to comprehend what novel situations might be like for the purpose of understanding and helping another human, without a pathological need to pre-decide if it’s haraam or not. People tend to cope better when the handicap is physical with everything else absolutely normal.

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