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Frequently Asked Questions – Social Justice Series

In this series, Shaykh Walead Mosaad speaks about defining social justice in the Islamic paradigm. In this segment, he answers some frequently asked questions about the topic.

Q: Should we partner with groups with whom we have some differences of opinion?

A: The Qur’an tells us to co-operate in good and God-fearingness. Is it not wrong to ally with someone on a just cause, however you should take care. Many times, these issues are political in nature, with a sense of “we do something for you, you do something for us.” If you do go into an alliance with such a group, you should go in with eyes open and be clear on which points you agree and don’t.

Q: How should we act as a Muslim minority?

A: For most of Islamic history, Muslims have been the minority, in places like Egypt, the Arabian Peninsula, Iraq, and more. Places that do have a Muslim majority, such as Somalia, Indonesia, Kenya and Mozambique, became such without a single Muslim army entering them. Being a minority group is nothing new in Islamic history.

Q: How should we navigate unjust laws? 

A: We need to make a distinction between the laws that we can accept, and the laws that we absolutely cannot accept. For example, if a government makes a low forbidding people from praying five times a day, then we need to do something about it. However, if the law relates to things that are not required by Islam, we should follow it, but can oppose it or work towards it.

Q: How should we view the idea of civil disobedience?

A: On one hand, if we agree to live in a society, we should abide by the law. However, there may be situations that arise when we might need to take action, such as when Rosa Parks protested racial segregation. Civil disobedience does not always mean breaking the law, but we should be careful not to harm the people we seek to convince. For example, having a protest that shuts down an airport, will do the most harm to people who need to fly for medical reasons, or to meet important deadlines. We have to consider what we will be doing, and whether it will actually help the outcome.

Q: What should we do if we are called to jury duty?

A: There is nothing impermissible about being a member of the jury, and it is generally a civic duty. However, you could do what many scholars did, which was to avoid being judges. Once, Imam Abu Hanifa and two other scholars were called to be interviewed for the position of Qadi, or judge. The first pretended to be insane, and Abu Hanifa declared that he was unfit for the post, which caused the ruler to dismiss them both. The third was confused as to what to say, and became the Qadi by default.

Q: What advice would you give to parents of children who feel marginalised?

A: We cannot shield our children from the world, and we should teach them that these things are going to happen. We need to give them a good sense of identity. From a young age, we should instil in them a sense of self-worth, and that the dunya will necessarily include tribulations.

Q: Why is speaking about social justice important, while most Muslims lack even basic tawheed (creed)?

A: Questioning peoples tawheed is questioning their Islam, so that is not a fair assessment to make. If a person believes in Allah and His Messenger, part of their tawheed would necessarily be upholding social justice, as well as the rest of the Prophetic teachings.

About the Series

Social justice has been the focus in recent times of Muslim activists and communities. More often than not, the methods and objectives employed in Muslim social justice work has drawn from practices of other communities and traditions not necessarily rooted in Islamic principles. Does the Islamic tradition contain relevant principles that can be drawn upon to inform social justice work?


“Too Embarrassed to Talk About It”: Pornography Addiction and Some of Its Effects on Muslim Marital Life

“Too Embarrassed to Talk About It”: Pornography Addiction and Some of Its Effects on Muslim Marital Life – Ibrahim Long

Pornography addiction is a rapidly growing condition affecting thousands across the world. The addiction has grown tremendously alongside advances in internet speeds and usability that make more accessible the internet’s reportedly 4.2 million pornographic websites.[1] At any given second there are estimated to be over 28,000 people worldwide viewing online pornography, and a growing number of families (in some surveys nearly 50 percent) are reporting that pornography is a problem in their home.[2] Among the many ill effects of pornography addiction are those that bring strain to marital relationships, and these effects are not absent from the American Muslim community as well. To respond, American Muslims need to better understand the nature of this addiction and develop creative ways to prevent addiction and help those affected.

THE GROWING PROBLEM

Over the last decade, pornography has played a staggering role in the breakup of marriages (with most recent American statistics suggesting that it has contributed in part to 2 out of 3 divorces).[3] The American Muslim community has not been immune to these startling trends. Muslims scholars have reported an increasing number of inquiries related to pornography use and related ailments; several even informing me that they receive more questions on this topic than any other. A simple search through some of the more popular Islamic websites providing answer services confirms this.[4]

Muslim legal scholars on these sites and others agree to the impermissibility of viewing pornography; often citing the Qur’anic verses,

[Prophet], tell believing men to lower their eyes and guard their private parts: that is purer for them. God is well aware of all that you do. And tell believing women that they should lower their eyes, [and] guard their private parts… Believers, all of you, turn to God so that you may prosper. [5]

To those who fall into this sin, Muslim scholars often encourage to make a sincere repentance; including a firm resolve never to commit the act again. This is, of course, a sufficient response to the sinful aspect of the action, however it leaves much still to be addressed regarding the psychological and sexual damage such acts, if repeated, may bring into a present or future marriage.

An overexposure to pornography has been a contributing factor for many Americans—including those from the Muslim community—in their forming of serious mental health problems, so it is important to address this issue as soon as possible and not allow prolonged use to cause more damage.[6]

UNDERSTANDING THE ADDICTION

Pornography addiction may develop when it is used to manage difficult feelings, stress and underlying emotional conflicts in one’s life.[7] If an individual has become reliant on pornography as a means to cope with stress and anxiety, they are already exhibiting high-risk behavior.[8] Misuse of pornography (and masturbation) as a “quick fix” for emotional difficulties may appear to the user as “harmless” at the time, however there are damaging psychological effects to their action. As the individual repeatedly commits the act, they grow more and more dependent upon the endorphins and adrenaline released in the brain in relation to the act.[9]

Addicts often refer to the rush they feel from pornography (and masturbation) in ways that makes it sound like a drug. The user may feel an initial “high” or “numbness”, but these feelings are soon followed by shame and frustration; particularly if the user has been trying to refrain but failed.[10] Internal conflict, both emotionally and morally, may then drive the user to repeat the action, as the action itself has become like a coping mechanism for their life’s difficulties. If this behavior continues the user may already be, or is danger of becoming, addicted.

Pornography addiction, like other addictions, is marked by five essential characteristics:

(1) Tolerance,

(2) Symptoms of withdrawal,

(3) Self-deception,

(4) Loss of willpower,

(5) Distortion of attention.

The first, tolerance, is the increase of desire for more of the addictive behavior in order to feel satisfied.[11] If the behavior includes the use of pornography, a tolerance may also grow for the types of sexual acts they view—driving the user to seek out more and more extreme forms to achieve the same level of satisfaction. Symptoms of withdrawal may include feelings ranging from mild uneasiness and irritability to extreme agitation in the absence of the behavior.[12] This is, in fact, the body’s stress reaction to the deprivation of something it has become accustomed to.[13] The third, self-deception, includes the denial by the user of their destructive behavior. This may also be accompanied by a rationale for why they engage in it.

An all too common excuse for pornography use (and masturbation) is that, though they have tried, they have not yet been able to marry.[14] While it is true that many Muslims in North America have been finding it difficult to marry—and communities must find and be open to creative ways to remedy this—by engaging in such behavior they are at risk of developing habits and conditions that may bring harm into any future relationship. If the user develops the habit before marriage, there is no guarantee that the behavior will cease once married. In fact, it is precisely because this behavior does not cease for many that simply getting married cannot be presented to the user as an alternative to their addiction; they may simply be adding another casualty to those affected by their habit. Getting married is not the solution to the problem, it is simply adding to it.

Addiction also includes loss of willpower; or the feeling of inability to cease one’s behavior. One may tell themselves that they can “stop at any time” and “I won’t need to view pornography or masturbate once I get married”, but too often this is not the case. If a user says they can stop at any time, ask them to perform a simple test: go ahead and stop. If they pass this test and successfully cease the behavior, then there is no addiction. If they fail, no amount of rationalization will change the fact that addiction exists.[15]

Finally, pornography addiction is also characterized by a distortion of attention, or perhaps the consuming of one’s attention by their addiction and that which is related to it. Adverse affects of such a consumption of one’s attention is that it is less available for others, including ones spouse and other loved ones.[16] However, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

THE AFFECT OF THE PROBLEM ON MARITAL LIFE

Pornography use creates a multitude of wedges between the user and their spouse, including emotional and sexual ones. These wedges strain the relationship and often lead to divorce. Here I will speak briefly about just a few of them.

Emotional Wedges

  • “Small Lies”. Pornography use almost inevitably entails the hiding of one’s habit behind a veil of “small lies”.  This behavior leads to an unhealthy level of mistrust in the relationship and can be especially damaging when a spouse finally discovers the user’s habit.[17] At this point the spouse may feel betrayed, angered, hurt and, if the relationship is to continue, they will have to work together to address the damage the secret behavior has caused the relationship.[18]
  • Loss of Time. Furthermore, if each partner works, or one or the other is attending school, supporting a pornography habit may also take a serious toll on the family and the spouses’ time together (which, if they have busy life schedules, can be especially precious). Time spent viewing pornography could have been better spent completing tasks and freeing up one’s schedule to allow more time with one’s spouse.[19]
  • Unaddressed Sexual Insecurities. Unfortunately, pornography’s dissociation from real-life pressures, emotional entanglements, and commitments is one of its major attractions.[20] An individual may be drawn to pornography due a feeling of sexual insecurity. If that is the case, the user may see pornography as a means for the expelling of their sexual energy without having to face the expectations of another and reveal one’s own vulnerabilities. By getting used to expending one’s sexual energy in this way, they may come to rely on pornography which will be seen as an easier means to an end. Even if a pornography user is in a marriage with a spouse not only willing but desiring sexual relations, a user may still be drawn to pornography because they find it to be an emotionally and physically easier means to sexual satisfaction than having to deal with another human being.[21] In these cases, a wife might even complain that although her husband is obsessed with sex (i.e., viewing pornography) she is not “getting any”.[22]

Sexual Wedges

  • Skewed Expectations. Exposure to pornography, and especially prolonged use, may skew the user’s expectation of sex with their spouse. Skewed expectations affect not only how the user desires his wife to dress, but also how her body should look, the type of sexual acts they should engage in, and how the woman should perform sexual acts. Wives who discover their husband’s porn use are also led to wonder if they are “just not good enough”, causing many who may have never felt self-conscious before to begin worrying about whether or not they are “too fat” or “not sexy enough”.[23] This is troublesome not only in the demands on the wife that the pornography user might make, but also that he has come to believe that thisis what sex is supposed to be like; limiting the unique sensual chemistry that exists between a husband and wife to what the user has viewed online.
  • Objectification of Women. Women portrayed in pornographic videos often have had a lot of cosmetic surgery, setting unrealistic expectations for a wife to live up to. Such expectations have even led some women to complain that most men today just don’t have a realistic idea anymore of what a normal woman’s body looks like.[24] Pornography addicts place significantly greater emphasis upon physical attributes over others, they also find it difficult to be around women in professional relationships without either becoming uncomfortable, or making the other person uncomfortable.[25]
  • Focus on Male Gratification. Pornography portrays the sexual act as primarily revolving around male gratification and less about pleasing the woman. Some women complain that pornography users seem “distant and unconnected” during sex, appearing more self-interested and as if the woman was merely a “masturbatory accessory.”[26] In fact, pornography teaches—and reinforces through repeated use—an incorrect image of what sex should look like, its etiquette, and the expectations of one’s spouse.[27] Pornography does not portray how real women are, so if the viewer believes that repeating the same acts they have seen will result in the same responses in their partner the user will become, as one woman put it, “horrible lovers.”[28] Merely imitating what one sees on video also detracts from the couples own unique exploration of each other’s desires and fantasies, which may help the couple to maintain and enhance their relationship.[29]
  • Regular Marital Relations Becomes Less Stimulating. Prolonged exposure to pornography may also lead users to view sex with their partner as “boring”. Repeated use of pornographic stimulants takes an emotional toll on the user, making it more difficult to achieve the sexual highs they once felt. Unable to feel satisfied, boredom sinks in.[30] Furthermore, the material which is available online is diverse and tailored to appeal to people of varying sexual persuasions and fantasies.[31] Due to this, online browsing may even lead the user to become curious about other expressions of sexuality that are also available on pornographic websites, including child pornography, rape reenactments and homosexuality; though they may have never expressed an interest before.[32] If such behavior continues, it can eventually contribute to the users inability to maintain intercourse with his spouse; either by his inability to become aroused (without a pornographic stimulant), possessing a weak erection, or ejaculating too soon. If the damage is not too severe, and there are no other contributing causes, it may be possible for him to regain his sexual capability after practicing natural and religiously permitted forms of intercourse.[33] However, throughout this process the user and their spouse may have to address some of the effects that the prolonged use of pornographic stimulants has had on the user’s expectations and ability to be intimate.

A USEFUL QUESTION

If someone is wondering whether or not they are addicted to pornography, a simple question to ask them (or one’s self) is: “Do you believe your sexual behavior negatively affects your sense of integrity?”, or “How does your sexual behavior make you feel about yourself?”[34] If one believes that their behavior is in conflict with their moral beliefs concerning the issue, yet continues to engage in the activity, they may have an addiction.

To imams and chaplains I respectfully ask: If anyone says “yes” to this question and is genuinely seeking help, how do you expect to assist them?

A place to start may be Purify Your Gaze.

Here Zeyad Ramadan, initially trained as a life coach, provides a unique online program which walks members through a series of steps that first explain aspects of the addiction, and then provides means by which one can overcome it.[35] Ramadan’s work should be known and supported, and communities should consider offering in addition education in healthy sexual habits and lifestyle.

A PROPHETIC REMINDER

Before I conclude, there is a notable instance from the life of God’s Messenger ﷺ that I would like to draw light upon and I pray we can also take example from. A young man once approached the Prophet ﷺ asking for permission to commit fornication.

Hearing this request, people nearby started to rebuke him and advised him not to ask such things. The Prophet then asked him, “Would you like such permission to be granted so that another man may lie with your mother?” The young man said, “Absolutely not!” The Prophet ﷺ then said, “Neither do others wish that.” The Prophet then asked, “Would you like such permission to be granted so that a man may lie with your daughter?” The young man replied, “No, absolutely not!” The Prophet ﷺ then said, “Neither do others wish that.” The Prophet then continued asking, “Would you like such permission to be granted so that a man may lie with your sister?” The young man replied “No, absolutely not!” The Prophet ﷺ again reminded him, “Neither do others wish that.” The Prophet then asked, “Would you like such permission to be granted so that a man may lie with your aunt?” The young man replied, “No, absolutely not!” The Prophet ﷺ then gently reminded him, “Neither do others wish that.” Thereupon the Prophet placed his hand upon the young man and prayed, “O Allah! May you forgive his sins, purify his heart and make him chaste.”

The Prophet ﷺ did not simply say to the young man “this is ḥarām” and turn him away. Rather, he took the time to explain to him the nature of his request. Perhaps we should also consider this as well; not simply explaining the religious ruling of pornography when asked but also the fact that it is exploiting other people’s mothers, daughters, sisters and aunts. Of course, the Prophet did not stop at simply answering the young man’s question. After advising him he also prayed for his forgiveness, purity of heart, and divine assistance to overcome his problem. We as a community should also take a similar approach.

CONCLUSION

Habitual pornography use—whether done before or within a marriage—can have damaging affects for present and future marital relationships. A pornography user may not even realize that they cannot stop until they try repeatedly to end the behavior; at which point their addiction only then becomes evident. An addict or at-risk user may even disagree morally with their own behavior, so reminding them of its impermissibility may not be enough.

Unfortunately, many sites that Muslims write to simply provide pornography’s legal ruling—ḥarām (religiously prohibited)—but do not provide serious steps for the questioner to overcome an addiction; though we cannot be too critical of these sites for their primary role is to respond to legal questions. In a sense, people are turning to lawyers (jurists) for counseling since they do not know to whom else to turn.

Since most pornography users feel too ashamed to seek help from the community, it is the community that should seek to help them.We must  provide programs to assist those looking for a way to overcome their addiction, as well as provide parents with information on how to prevent it in their home.

I pray that this article is used and read as a step towards that direction, and to those facing this addiction I pray that Allah forgives them, purifies their hearts, and makes them chaste.


[1]               Media, Family Safe, “Pornography Statistics,”http://familysafemedia.com/pornography_statistics.html#anchor4 (accessed 17 March 2012).

[2]               Ibid.

[3]               In 2003, the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers reported that pornography played a significant role in nearly 2 out of 3 divorces. A staggering number since no less than a decade ago pornography played little to no role in most cases. See Divorce Wizards, “Pornography: Divorce Statistics,”http://www.divorcewizards.com/Divorce-Statistics-Pornography.html (accessed 17 March 2012).

[4]               Using the word’s “pornography” and “masturbate” in Qibla’s (formerly Sunnipath) search engine brought up as many as forty related questions with their respective answers. A similar search on IslamQA produced over seventy. It is actually quite common for such sites to receive many of the same questions and simply publish a portion of their answers, or direct new inquirers to already published answers. So, the actual amount of questions they receive is indeterminable. For an example, see Muhammad al-Munajjid, “IslamQA,” (accessed 17 March 2012).

[5]               Q. Light; 24:30-31.

[6]               Including: sexual addiction or hypersexual disorder, depression, shame, anxiety, as well as misogyny and pedophilia. See Hosai Mohaddidi and Nafisa Sekandari. “Internet Pornography: Destroying Us From Within,”http://mentalhealth4muslims.com/2010/04/28/internet-pornography-destroying-us-from-within/ (accessed 17 March 2012).

[7]               Ibid.

[8]               Pamela Paul, Pornified: How Pornography is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2005), 218.

[9]               Ibid.,  216.

[10]             Ibid., 219.

[11]             Gerald G. May, Addiction & Grace: Love and Spirituality in the Healing of Addictions (New York: HarperOne, 1988), 26.

[12]             Ibid., 26-27.

[13]             Ibid.

[15]             May, 28.

[16]             Ibid., 29.

[17]             Paula, 165. For an example of a fiancé discovering a suitor’s pornography use prior to marriage and the advice given by a Muslim scholar, see Zaynab Ansari, “My Fiance Discovered Some Objectionable Files on My Computer,” https://seekersguidance.org/ans-blog/2010/11/15/my-fiance-discovered-some-objectionable-files-on-my-computer/ (17 March 2012).

[18]             Paula, 165. If there are other problems in the relationship, this may be especially difficult.

[19]             Ibid., 155. In addition to the time lost that could have been better spent with loved ones, researchers have shown that prolonged exposure to pornography even fosters an attitude of withdrawal from family life. One may even feel a greater aversion to getting married.

[20]             Ibid., 148.

[21]             Ibid., 153.

[22]             Ibid., 169.

[23]             Paula, 157-158.

[24]             Ibid., 159.

[25]             Ibid., 220.

[26]             Ibid., 233.

[27]             Ibid., 151.

[28]             Ibid., 151.

[29]             Ibid., 139.

[30]             Ibid., 224.

[31]             Mohaddidi and Sekandari.

[32]             Paula, 226.

[33]             Mahmoud al-Istambulli, The Bride’s Boon: Tuhfat al-’Arous, translated by AbdElhamid Eliwa (http://www.islambasics.com, PDF), 149.

[34]             Ibid.

[35]             For some success stories of Ramadan’s program,  (accessed March 17, 2012).

The Ansaar Project’s Srebrenica Initiative

The Ansaar Project’s Srebrenica Initiative

The Ansaar Project’s Srebrenica Initiative from AGCaustralia on Vimeo.

“…As the hatred being directed to Muslims becomes more pointed, and we pray that Allah protect us, but that could happen to us brothers and sisters and were it to happen to us, we would want someone to defend us, we would want someone outside to take a stand on our behalf and be a source of support for us. So now its our turn. And perhaps what we do for those brothers and sisters, mostly sisters and children (in Srebrenica) who we can assist through this project, will be the means by which Allah subhana wa ta’ala wards off from us similar tribulation. For as we read in the Prophetic tradition, “You are given Divine Aid and sustenance based on how you treated the poor and downtrodden amongst you.”

Al-Ghazzali Centre’s Ansaar Project is a member of ReliefWorks- a global initiative to address poverty.

The Ansaar Project is working to provide support and assistance to the victims of the 1995 genocide that occurred in Srebrenica, Bosnia. The Srebrenica Initiative will include humanitarian aid to the victims, ,mostly widows and orphans.

ReliefWorks is an initiative which is the facilitator of humanitarian relief efforts by empowering Muslim organisations involved in such projects anywhere in the world. It facilitates the raising of awareness, funding and builds capacity for positive action.

“What happened to Ahmad?”: Responding to Muslim Youth at Risk

“What happened to Ahmad?”: Responding to Muslim Youth at Risk

“Ibrahim,” he asked, “can you speak with me?”  Ahmad, 19, was a young Muslim man struggling with peer pressure at his community college to drink and engage in sexual activity.[1] I was not the imam, nor was I a chaplain at this time, but I could see in his eyes that he was desperately seeking some good advice and someone who would listen to him.  While Ahmad came from a practicing Muslim home, he did not feel comfortable speaking to them about the peer pressures he faced.  He confessed to me that he had been giving in to them and knew that what he was doing was wrong.  Though he had wanted to seek help for some time from his local imam, he worried that the most the imam would tell him was that what he was doing is ḥarām. Ahmad also felt the imam, who had been raised in another country, would not understand the pressures of growing up in an American society.  He wanted to speak to someone who, he felt, would understand the pressures he faced and not simply offer a legal verdict.

Ahmad approached me one evening outside our mosque after finding out that I was a convert.  He wanted to know what about Islam gave me the strength to leave behind the type of life I could have led had I not converted.  I knew immediately that this was not a normal “what brought you to Islam” question.  Ahmad was looking for something inspiring about the religion he had known his entire life, or some practical advice that could strengthen him against falling prey to these pressures.  For nearly an hour we spoke that night and I offered him the best advice that I could; yet it was not just advice he was looking for, he was also desperate just to find someone able understand his situation. Though I worried and prayed for him, since then I have not seen him. Two months after we spoke, however, I found out that his parents had asked him to move out of their home. They had discovered he used alcohol and dated women.  He has not appeared at the mosque since, and I have I heard nothing more.

Muslim Youth at Risk

Like Ahmad, most American Muslim youth encounter biological, psychological, and social developmental changes which influence how they experience and perceive the world around them.  In addition to these—and the parental pressure to maintain cultural and religious customs—Muslim youth also experience peer pressure, like in Ahmad’s case, to participate in activities and behaviors contrary to their religious beliefs; such as dating, engaging in premarital sex, and abusing alcohol or drugs.  Muslim youth are often caught between having to choose either engaging in what they may see as “normal youth behavior” and risk being ostracized by their family and religious community, or acting in accordance with their family and community’s wishes and facing alienation, loneliness, and rejection by their peers due to their differences in lifestyle and beliefs.  Because of a perceived, or real, lack of support from their family and community, and alienation during these critical developmental stages in their life, many Muslim youth may actually become more predisposed to abuse drugs and alcohol.

While imams and Islamic centers can, and should, play a crucial role in providing health services, if the imam is not seen as being culturally sensitive to the pressures of American Muslim youth they may be less likely to seek his help when in need.  Imams are often times unfamiliar with health services; more capable of acting as a jurist than a counselor. Their religious education often focuses on the religious ruling of alcohol and its evidences and not how to counsel one fighting peer pressure to begin or continue using it.  In a study conducted of 22 mosques in New York City, none of the imams, except for one, had any formal pastoral training. Ninety-one percent of them were also foreign born/educated and reported having difficulty with language barriers and/or relating to second-generation Muslims.  This lack of connection with the youth may be related to the results of a recent Gallup poll showing young Muslims (aged 18-29) among the least likely to be satisfied with their local communities, and least likely to see their community as improving.  This dissatisfaction is even more disturbing when seen in light of the fact that many (41%) reported that they still attend their mosque at least once a week; 14% higher than the national average for worship-service attendance!

Imams can play a crucial role if they have the right training, however American Muslims presently lack any sufficient educational institution providing this training alongside other traditional sciences expected to be known by an imam.  One issue that also arises is that the position of imam is not one that is necessarily earned through an ordainment process or curriculum of study. Rather, the position may be granted to any individual the congregation, or those in management of it, deem qualified.  Often times looking for someone with pastoral training is simply not a top priority.  Many congregations require nothing more than knowledge of the sacred scripture (the Qur’an and Sunnah) and an ability to preach.  Due to this relative selection process the level of education for imams can also vary greatly, some graduating from prestigious Islamic universities and others primarily self-educated.

In response to the ever increasing American Muslim population a call for Muslim chaplains has been made by hospitals, the military, prisons, and more recently universities.  The Muslim chaplain position is a new one for both Americans and American Muslims to accept; however the position may prove useful not only for these institutions, but also the greater Muslim community.  The Hartford Seminary, the first graduate school to offer an Islamic chaplaincy certificate, provides education and training for Muslims interested in pastoral care.  Graduates of the program have also gone on to find jobs in hospitals, military units, prisons, and universities.  Their training and skill, however, should also be sought out as a rich asset to their surrounding Muslim community, starving for mental health services.

Due to a cultural stigma of Western mental health services and to the fact that many health services organizations are not all culturally sensitive to Muslims, mosques have become a primary resource for Muslims seeking mental health services.  Without having a professional on hand familiar with mental health services (how to provide them and/or direct someone to the proper service provider) mosques may be missing an opportunity to provide much needed help to their community.  The unique combination of religious studies and pastoral training makes the Muslim chaplain an ideal addition to mosques and Islamic centers.  In combination with the services the imam provides, a Muslim chaplain can administer more specifically to social needs of the community while able to work with the imam in his other duties.  The increasing reliance upon the mosque to provide not only religious services for the Muslim community, but also mental health and social, has shown that providing leaders who are trained in pastoral skills has become both needed and necessary.

Bibliography

Abu-Ras, W., Gheith, A., Cournos, F. (2008). The Imam’s Role in Mental Health Promotion. Journal of Muslim Mental Health, 3:2, 155-176.

Ahmed, Sameera. (2009). Religiosity and Presence of Character Strengths in American Muslim Youth. Journal of Muslim Mental Health, 4:2, 104-123.

Ahmed, S., & Akhter, K. (2006, August). When multicultural worlds collide: Understanding and working with Muslim youth. Paper presented at the meeting of the American Psychological Association, New Orleans, LA.

Fuller, R. C. (1996). Religion and wine: A cultural history of wine drinking in the United States. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press.

Gallup, Inc. (2009). Muslim Americans: A National Portrait. PDF.

Michalak, L., Trocki, K., Katz, K. (2009). “I am a Muslim and My Dad is an Alcoholic—What Should I do?” Internet-Based Advice for Muslims About Alcohol. Journal of Muslim Mental Health, 4:1, 47-66.

Morgan, J. H. (2010). Muslim Clergy in America: Ministry as Profession in the Islamic Community. 2nd Edition. MECCA Project.

Sheff, D., Larkin, W., Ketcham, K., Eban, K. (2007). A Disease of Young People. Addiction: Why Can’t They Just Stop? Holtzbrinck Publishers, New York, 85-117.


[1] Ahmad’s name and other identifying information has been changed, or withheld, to protect his identity.

Ibrahim J Long is a Muslim Chaplain at Choate Rosemary Hall in Wallingford, CT

Finding God Through The Chains Of Pornography Addiction

Finding God Through The Chains Of Pornography Addiction

By: Zeyad Ramadan, Founder of Imancipate and Director of the Purify Your Gaze Awareness Campaign. For more information, please visit: www.PurifyYourGaze.com

frustrated-man

“I hate Allah. HE DOESN’T ANSWER ANY OF THE IMPORTANT PRAYERS. Only the insignificant ones. You’re gonna cause someone close to me to die or make me die in a humiliating way. I probably deserve it. I just want to get married. IF THAT’S NOT POSSIBLE, than I WISH I WAS IN MY GRAVE. HOW HARD IS EITHER OF THOSE FOR YOU? I THOUGHT YOU’RE CAPABLE OF EVERYTHING. I am SICK of being patient and waiting. WHAT THE HELL AM I WAITING FOR. I give up…”

A client that I worked with in my sexual addiction recovery program sent me this above journal entry. You can read these words and be shocked by how any individual, especially a Muslim can display such rage or anger at his Creator and Sustainer, or you can read much deeper into it as I did.

To me, what I see beneath the anger are bottled up emotions of deep hurt, despair in the Mercy of Allah, and feelings of being abandoned by Allah.

One of the obstacles in the journey of an individual undergoing addiction recovery is coming to terms with a “Higher Power” and ultimately what it means to be spiritual. The pornography, the drugs, the alcohol becomes something like a band-aid to take care of that huge void in that individual’s life, and ultimately becomes their number one need.

What is very common in the psychology of an addict is visualizing and believing God to be a menacing, punishing and sadistic God who finds joy in their ruin and is out to actively cause more pain in their life, as was evident in the short journal entry excerpt above.

This anger may even lead to a state of denial in the existence of a Higher Power but beneath that ultimately is a story.

How did this individual become addicted to pornography and how did this individual come to such a state where there are immense feelings of anger at God?

The majority of these stories and perceptions about God and the anger directed at God are many times a deeper anger at the primary relationship right after God, which is the relationship that individual has had with his or her parents. Anger is an emotion of power, commands respect and helps the individual to cope with a deeper pain.

A critical part of understanding the development of this “Monster God” mentality and the development of an addiction comes down to one thing: an inability to accept and love ones’ self.

At a young age, all children are dependent on their parents for food, nourishment, acceptance and love, and it is thus inconceivable to see something wrong with the primary caregivers. Especially when the authority of the parents in Islam is misused and taken a little too far to keep kids in check through fear, and then backed up with religious evidences.

So if God is perfect and must be obeyed, and He instructed for the parents to be obeyed and honored for their sacrifices, then any conflict that arises between the parents and child must be completely the child’s fault, not the parents.

To add on top of that, too often parents show love as a reward for a child “achieving” certain bench marks with grades, religious devotion, athletic achievement, etc.

Success in all of these areas is certainly a good thing, one that should be encouraged, BUT when LOVE is conditional and based on these achievements, that’s when the dysfunction starts and a “perfectionist” is created and fueled.

By the same token this is passed on to God. When God’s love is perceived as conditional and fully based on whether we reach a certain level of “righteousness”–that’s when this resentment and feelings of hurt develop.

The resentment of God develops out of this frustration that one can never be good enough or perfect leading to a rejection of self. When this rejection of self becomes too painful to handle, it externalizes itself into anger at the parents and ultimately anger at God because He was the one that gave this authority to the parents.

There is a lot of soul searching involved for anyone struggling with sexual addiction and genuinely wants to change to feel serenity rather than the agony of trying to satiate a quench that never ends.

What we need to keep in mind is having a heart of compassion for anyone in this situation and allow them the space to find themselves and to find God. It is a painful separation to depart from something that has brought you comfort even at a minimal level for so many years and let go of this false god so they may devote themselves in true sincerity to the One True God.

In this journey, there is confusion, there is fear and there is despair. If I cannot find comfort in my addiction anymore, will I ever find comfort? Which is why we see this anger directed at God here because ultimately deep down it is the fear that not even God will accept them for who they are and what they have gone through.

Based on my research and interaction with individuals who have begun recovery work, one of the greatest joys is being able to look back and actually thank Allah for this huge blessing in disguise and to see how Allah was there all along and had never abandoned them, and how this addiction was the best thing that ever happened to them.

Finding God through the chains of pornography addiction is a blessing in disguise for those who begin this journey.

The Prophet peace be upon him said, “Allah wonders at those people who will enter Paradise in chains.” (Sahih Al-Bukhari)

When we read this hadith, we primarily see it in the context of war referring to those captives who surrender their will to Allah by choice, and become righteous Muslims in their lifetime. Sometimes though this war is internal, and we are brought back to Allah as captives through the chains of our desires, and it is there we are blessed to taste humility leading us to surrender our wills to the One True God.

The biggest obstacle for an addict is to get help, they would rather solve it alone to stay safe. Moreover when the addict is Muslim and is struggling with something as sensitive as pornography it makes the obstacle even greater.

A client of mine told me that in order for him to get better he felt that he had to leave the Muslim community to find a place of acceptance and a place of healing. He could be accepted as an addict and be unconditionally loved, but no matter how hard he tried he could never be recognized and accepted as a Muslim by them.

I’ve began a community on Facebook of what I hope to be like minded individuals that would like for any Muslim in any situation to flee to the mosque and flee to the community when they have a problem. Pornography addiction, whether we want to admit it or not is one of the challenges we are facing in our communities, and not talking about will not make the matter go away. If you would like to join our community, I invite you to visit: http://www.facebook.com/PurifyYourGaze

I ask for the community’s support and encourage those who are interested in learning about my newest initiative which will be launched this month of Novemberr on the realities of pornography addiction in the Muslim community which I’ve called “Purify Your Gaze” (www.PurifyYourGaze.com) based on the Qur’anic injunction telling the believers to lower their gaze in order to attain purity to visit our website.

And from Allah comes all success.

United for Change Conference Photos

United for Change Conference Photos

Dr. Zainab Alwani, Dr. Mohammed Beshir, Shaykh Faraz Rabbani, Dr. Omer Abdelkafy, Mohammed Ashour

Dr. Zainab Alwani, Dr. Mohamed Bashir, Shaykh Faraz Rabbani, Dr. Omar Abdelkafy, Br. Mohammed Ashour

Imam Zaid Shakir, Shaykh Faraz Rabbani, Shaykh Navaid Aziz

Imam Zaid speaking

Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah

Sr. Rabia Iqbal, Shaykh Yasir Qadhi, Imam Zaid Shakir, Dr. Jamal Badawi, Br. Amadou Shakur


Islamic conference aims to build stronger families, communities – CTV news

With an aim to build stronger families and better communities, about 2,000 people took part Saturday in the largest Islamic conference Montreal has ever seen.

Taking place at the Palais des congres, the United for Change conference set out to thank the community and talk about often-shushed issues like parenting concerns, domestic violence and divorce.

“Divorces are going up, which is alarming. Historically in the Muslim society, divorces were almost unheard of,” said Tariq Subhani from United for Change.

Experts say happiness is about choosing love over faith and finding common ground.

“Human relations are based on love, mercy and just being a decent human being. And if you get that right, you’ll get the religious part right,” said prominent Imam Zaid Shakir.

Muslim activist Dr. Raiba Khedr said couples have to share common values.

“You have to have a foundation. If you don’t share a common bond through common values, there’s always a great struggle in a relationship,” said Khedr.

Beyond marriage, there’s parenting, where children have good role models. Good parents need to give their children the freedom to be who they want to be, said panelists.

Stereotypes and misconceptions about Islam will always exist, said Imam Dr. Yasir Qadhi, but Muslim parents need to send a clear message that being different is okay.

“Parents need to understand that their children who are born in this land, they are Canadian, and they better be proud of being Canadians, along with other identities,” said Qadhi.

Special thanks Br. Tariq Subhani for photo coverage