Is Seeking Counselling A Sign of Weakness? by Ustadha Raidah Shah Idil

Ustadha Raidah Shah Idil, a core member of the SeekersHub Answers service, offers much-needed, effective online pastoral care – to those who seek help. What about those who suffer in silence?

Taha has reached rock bottom. Perhaps he is struggling with some form of addiction, or he is depressed. He has tried numbing his pain, but he knows that if he does not get help, then he may end up walking a path he will later regret.

He paces his room, thinking of his parents and his younger siblings. They all need him to be invincible. He doesn’t know how.

By the time he summons up the courage to speak to his parents, he is shaking from nervousness.

“Baba, Mama, I need to speak to you.”

Taha’s parents look at each other, worried. They have noticed that he has been distant lately. He barely speaks to them, eats poorly, and spends a lot of time in his room.

“I think I’m depressed,” he blurts. “I-I need to get help – I need to speak to someone.”

His parents gasp. Their firstborn son – depressed? This happens to other people, and to other families. Not their Taha.

Their fear for him takes on familiar, well-worn forms – anger and anxiety.

“When I was your age, I didn’t have time to be depressed. Who are you going to speak to? Dr Phil?“ his father snaps. “Stop being so weak.”

“You need to get married”

“You need to get married,” his mother says hurriedly. “That will help you feel better. What about Aunty Jasmin’s niece?”

Taha slumps in his seat, closes his eyes, and looks away.

Taha is a fictional character, but his struggle is very real. Many Muslims around the world today are tested by some form of emotional, mental, and/or spiritual imbalance.

Not enough families are equipped with the right tools to deal with this trial. Worried parents often blame themselves when their children come to them with their troubles. It is heartbreaking to realise that your beloved child is struggling with something that has no quick fix.

Parental worry can quickly transmute into impatience, because it hurts us to see our children hurting.  The harder, but more fulfilling path, is to stay present, see our children for who they truly are, and make space to seek help.

Prayer

Our Beloved Prophet (upon him be blessings and peace) gave us a dua to guard against depression. Surely this, if nothing else, is a sign that mental, emotional and spiritual struggles are real, and something that can be remedied.

حَدَّثَنَا خَالِدُ بْنُ مَخْلَدٍ، حَدَّثَنَا سُلَيْمَانُ، قَالَ حَدَّثَنِي عَمْرُو بْنُ أَبِي عَمْرٍو، قَالَ سَمِعْتُ أَنَسًا، قَالَ كَانَ النَّبِيُّ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَقُولُ ‏ “‏ اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَعُوذُ بِكَ مِنَ الْهَمِّ وَالْحَزَنِ، وَالْعَجْزِ وَالْكَسَلِ، وَالْجُبْنِ وَالْبُخْلِ، وَضَلَعِ الدَّيْنِ، وَغَلَبَةِ الرِّجَالِ ‏”‏‏.‏

The Prophet (upon him be blessings and peace) used to say, “O Allah! I seek refuge with You from worry and grief, from incapacity and laziness, from cowardice and miserliness, from being heavily in debt and from being overpowered by (other) men.” [Bukhari]

Counselling

Jabir reported Allah’s Messenger (upon him be blessings and peace) as saying: “There is a remedy for every malady, and when the remedy is applied to the disease it is cured with the permission of Allah, the Exalted and Glorious.” [Sahih Muslim]

The dunya is a place of struggle. There is no shame in seeking help, and seeking a culturally-sensitive counsellor is one of the means of seeking help.  A calm and objective professional can help untangle difficult knots.

Practical steps

  • Renew our intentions daily.
  • Nourish our own spiritual lives through our connection to Allah Most High.
  • Stay connected to our children and build rapport from birth, and beyond. E.g. Create regular opportunities for authentic connection and honest conversation – do acts of worship together, play together, no phones at the dinner table, bedtime dua rituals etc.
  • Recognise when the problem is too big to handle alone and reach out for help.
  • Be part of a community that learns and grows together.

I pray that with education and a return to the Prophetic example of mercy, more Muslim families will see the wisdom in speaking to culturally-sensitive counsellors, and encouraging their children to do the same.

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Contemplating A Future Without Honey… Or Bees, by Saleema Umm Bilal

Saleema Umm Bilal reviews a documentary on the wholesale destruction of bee colonies that has shaken her to the core.

Just today, I was talking to my kids about the new, raw honey my husband bought us. It was thick, creamy and smelled so good. Bilal and Amina were eager to try some as I stirred it into my chai. I couldn’t help but spill out of my mouth, “Can you believe this comes from those busy buzzing bees??”… and then I paused and worried a little, which Bilal immediately sensed.

“What? What’s wrong?” he asked as I gave Amina a half spoonful.

“Well, it’s scary because the bees are having trouble finding flowers to drink nectar from and make honey. We aren’t seeing that many bees anymore.”

From that came a whole host of questions. In my simplified and, to be honest, ignorant explanation I started describing how all the smoke the kids notice from cars, airplanes, motorcycles, the one factory they’ve seen, etc is mixing with the beautiful clouds in the sky. When that happens, it’s like a blanket covering our Earth. They guessed that the Earth warms up, especially as the sunlight hits us. That sounds nice and cozy but it’s making the planet too hot, and causing problems. His face looked worried but we kept chatting. We got back to the issue of bees and honey when my son realized I might not be able to use honey anymore in my tea, something I enjoy so much. He almost laughed and then felt bad when he said, “You’ll have to use sugar…”

Then he quickly asked, “What about Shifa?” That’s the love of his life, his 4 month old sister. “Will she be able to taste honey?” (All this time, Amina is listening and enjoying the thick, sweet beautiful topic of discussion.) I had always heard those sentimental words, “I want my kids/the future to enjoy what I had…” And I always felt bit smug hearing them be used. But this time, it made me feel empty inside. I looked at her, in her swing, sitting a little bit from the kitchen table. I had hope God would let her taste something so pure like honey, one day. I did fear her kids would not. I knew I could not sit around status quo without doing my part to make sure they would.

We concluded that we need to make changes. Bilal suggested battery cars. I thought, less Amazon Prime. The solution is all that and much more. We have to live differently, dress differently, eat differently and spend differently… All the billions of people on this planet, if we want to keep enjoying and surviving. It starts with me and my family. and you and yours.

Later that same day, my sister sent me this video link. It had such an impact on me, I decided to send it to every email in my contacts list. Please watch, let it move you, and share with everyone you can. God is Great, the Most Merciful and Compassionate. I believe that and I believe He gave us free will to choose how we act.

“Before the Flood,” captures a three-year personal journey alongside Academy Award-winning actor and U.N. Messenger of Peace Leonardo DiCaprio as he interviews individuals from every facet of society in both developing and developed nations who provide unique, impassioned and pragmatic views on what must be done today and in the future to prevent catastrophic disruption of life on our planet. The film was released on October 30, 2016 and made available free by National Geographic through November 8, 2016. The “Before the Flood” website shows ways in which you can watch the full movie. Video from KarmaTube.

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Parents – Your Door to Allah’s Acceptance, by Ustadh Uthman Bally

Sometimes a door to Allah is opened in the form of a good deed, such as praying or giving charity but then the door of acceptance is still closed. Through parents, this final door can be opened. parents the door to acceptanceUstadh Uthman Bally recounts story upon wonderful story of how the relationship with our parents can have a major effect on our futures.

From a companion of the Prophet who couldn’t say the kalima on his deathbed until his mother forgave him for his harsh tongue, to the grandson of the Prophet who would never share a plate of food with her mother for fear that he would take a piece that she wanted. Then there’s the people who gave joy to others that their joy became angels that praised God until the Day of Judgement, and the man who gave away his one good deed.

“You might do a very small act, which then becomes your opening.”

We are grateful to Ha Meem Foundation for this recording

Resources for Seekers

True Hunger vs. The Greed of Our Stomachs, by Shaykh Ibrahim Osi-Efa

Shaykh Ibrahim Osi-Efa explains the meaning of true hunger where your body is truly calling for food rather than being driven by your desires.

Resources for seekers

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How Muslim Scholars Contributed To Mental Health Care, by Dr Rania Awaad

Join The Mindful Muslim Podcast’s Meanha and her special guest Dr Rania Awaad as they explore the Islamic history of psychology and the works of early Muslim scholars which is only now being rediscovered.

Islamic psychology or Ilm al-Nafs, (the science of “the self” or “psyche”), refers to the medical and philosophical study of the psyche from an Islamic perspective. The contributions of many Muslim scholars of the past on studying the mind and proposing treatments for mental conditions is extremely important and underpins many of our modern techniques.

Dr Rania Awaad is a practicing psychiatrist based at the Stanford University School of Medicine. She also completed a postdoctoral clinical research fellowship with the National Institute of Mental Health. Prior to studying medicine, she pursued classical Islamic studies in Damascus, Syria and holds certification (ijaza) in Qur’an, Islamic Law and other branches of the Islamic Sciences and is a Professor of Islamic Law at Zaytuna College.

Resources for seekers

Why Muslim Women Must Return To The Forefront Of The Islamic sciences – Dr. Rania Awaad

As a woman in a hijab, Dr. Rania Awaad gets funny looks in the hospital ward where she is a Muslim psychiatrist but few people know that at the age of fourteen she hopped on a plane and went to Damascus to formally study Islam.

The experience of studying scripture that was neither bound by culture nor politics inspired her so much that she decided to go back. After convincing her parents, she went back in her senior year. In the post-colonial era, women were no longer put at the forefront of the Islamic sciences as they had historically. After her perseverance, she was awarded ijazah, or permission to teach the proper recitation of the Quran.

Dr. Awaad takes us on a fascinating journey through her travels to Damascus and the making of a deeply rooted society that didn’t separate between secularism and religion, that empowered women.

Resources for Seekers

Our thanks so Muslim Student Union at Stanford.

 

Seeking Out A Culturally-Sensitive Counsellor, by Ustadha Raidah Shah Idil

Working for the SeekersHub Question and Answer service constantly reminds Ustadha Raidah Shah Idil about the importance of looking after our emotional and mental health.

So many Muslims around the world are struggling with different forms of psychological imbalance. To name a few: anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and so on. These inward fractures mirror the outward fractures we see in our troubled world today.
We live in stressful times, and many of our trials begin in our family homes. Many families lack the knowledge and training necessary to deal with these issues, hence, difficulties often escalate.
I feel like in almost every question I respond to, I encourage the distressed questioner and his/her loved ones to see a culturally-sensitive counsellor.
What does that actually look like? Does he/she have to be Muslim? Not necessarily. That would be ideal, but it’s not always possible.
Some aspects of a culturally-sensitive counsellor are:

Understanding

A counsellor who understands Muslims and what is important to us would be much more in tune with your needs. It’s exhausting to need to justify and explain your stance to an ignorant counsellor. Most people who are at counselling are already tired and stretched thin.

Open-minded

An open-minded counsellor is able to support you even if his/her values are different to yours. This applies to both Muslim and non-Muslim counsellors.

Empowering

Many people enter therapy believing that his/her counsellor will magically solve their problems. This does not solve the long-term issue of whatever caused the issue to begin with e.g. victim mentality, difficulty handling strong emotions etc.
The best kind of counsellor doesn’t tell you what to do. Rather, he/she will help you tap into your own values, and help you come to your own decision.

Good rapport

Trust your gut. If speaking to your counsellor makes you feel worse, then reflect on that. Is it because he/she is encouraging you to step out of your comfort zone? Or is it because she is being condescending? Not liking what a counsellor has to say can be a signal for growth, or it could be a sign of a mismatch. Be honest with yourself.

Empathy

The right counsellor feels for your pain, but does not do so from a place of sympathy and condescension. The right counsellor helps to hold you accountable for what you do, and believes in your ability to overcome hardship.

Finding the right counsellor

So now that we’ve covered some important qualities in a culturally-sensitive counsellor, how do we go about finding one? I wish I had an easy answer for that. The reality is that it’s a hit and miss process. Some counsellors will click with you, and others will not. Some people are able to find the right counsellor straight away, while others need to look for months, or even longer.
As with anything, start with asking Allah. Perform the Prayer of Need. When you do come across a potential counsellor, then perform the Prayer of Guidance. InshaAllah, Allah will make it clear to you.
To help you find the right counsellor for you, speak to Muslims who are working or volunteering in the mental health field. Ask your doctor. Do your research. Above all, place your trust in Allah, and in His promise that after every hardship, comes ease.
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Resources for seekers

How Not To Let Stress Get You Down. Lessons From The Sunna – Dr. Rania Awaad

Ustadha Dr. Rania Awaad guides us through stress reduction strategies and techniques drawn from the way of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him. Reducing stress in our lives can put our minds and bodies in a better state, God willing, to take advantage of the manifold spiritual opportunities life offers.


Ustadha Dr Rania Awaad has received a traditional license (ijazah) to teach Qur’anic recitation (tajwid) in both the Hafs and Warsh recitations from the late eminent Syrian scholar, Shaykh Abu Hassan al-Kurdi. In addition to completing several advanced texts of the Shafi’i school (madhhab), she is licensed to teach texts of Maliki jurisprudence (fiqh), literature (adab), and spirituality (ihsan). She is also a physician. Her medical interests include addressing mental health care concerns in the Muslim community, particularly that of Muslim women. Other on-going endeavors include the compilation of a manual addressing female-related medical issues from a fiqh-oriented perspective as well as a manual on raising Muslim children in the West.
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Resources for seekers

Ethics of Healing – Dr. Ingrid Mattson

We need to step back and look at our community holistically and ask ourselves: is this a healthy community? How is the Muslim community at a global and domestic level?

Join Dr. Ingrid Mattson at an interdisciplinary theological conference regarding the relationship between ethics and medicine and its direct impact on the Muslim community and  polity. She invites the listener to ponder on the relationship between ethics and medicine in the context of the community.

“As Muslims we are a work in progress as a community. Being a Muslim is fundamentally about becoming rather than being and there are times when we are in flux more than certainty and uncertainty makes humans anxious,” states Dr. Mattson.

Our age and communities have become defined by change and mobility. We have never been as mobile as we have been today, and it’s not going to end.  If there is no accurate understanding of the demographics of a particular community there can easily be corruption and wrong-doing even if it stems from well-intentioned minds and hearts. What defines our regulatory bodies? Our policies and concerns? What connects our communities in the hospital setting?

“Chaplains are equipped to be the bridge between medicine and ethics,” declares Dr. Mattson.

Chaplains bring the healing presence that the Prophet (SAW) represented. They bring full presence and the human touch. We have evidence that touch is healing, presence is healing and caring is healing and that is the tradition of the Prophet (SAW). These actions are the healing and human presence in the medical setting.

We are grateful to Initiative on Islam and Medicine for the video. Cover Photo by  Alex E. Proimos

 

Resources for Seekers :

Rethinking Our Identity as Western Muslims: A Black-and-White Dichotomy?

As turmoil increases around the world, the identity of Western Muslims is increasingly being called into question. On one hand, some people have little interest in their religious or cultural identities and are eager to assimilate into the monoculture. On the other hand, there are people who believe that contributing to mainstream society, such as through social concern or involvement is not possible.

Shaykh Dr. Ridwan Saleem of Ha Meem College in Hounslow, England, talks about political, social, and religious identity. He refutes both extremes, and proves that being involved in the good of the wider community is a part of Prophetic Practice.

Can’t get enough? Sign up for SeekersHub’s FREE course “Being Muslim: A Clear Introduction to Islam”, taught by Ustadh Amjad Tarsin, chaplain at the University of Toronto.

Resources for Seekers

We are grateful to the Ha Meem Foundation for this recording.