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Being at peace with yourself: Psychological Approach towards Acceptance and Serenity

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Imagine what your reaction would be if you saw your Muslim brother or sister verbally and physically abusing another Muslim that was feeling very depressed for making a mistake?

What if you heard them yelling, “ YOU STUPID IDIOT…..can’t you do anything right? Then punching him and saying, “YOU’RE ALWAYS MESSING UP!”  As he  tries  to catch his breath, he kicks him and says , “You are so WORTHLESS!”

Your heart would be overflowing with sympathy for the one oppressed and with absolute rage at the oppressor. The natural response would be to protect the oppressed, help him up  and tend to his wounds.  You would comfort him by explaining that we all make mistakes and we can always change.  As your nurturing slowly takes effect, your anger would be directed at the cruel, heartless person standing before you.  That person could be yourself.

This is the way we usually react towards ourselves when we make mistakes and when we fall short of our expectations.  We beat ourselves up with abusive language which causes scars that last much longer than physical scars.  Negativity and hostility envelops us and we repeatedly kick ourselves until we are immobilized.  How is it that we were so sensitive and understanding towards our Muslim brother or sister yet we can’t tolerate the smallest mistakes from ourselves?  Why is it so easy to see the abuse of others and yet we are so blinded by the abuse we commit to ourselves on a daily basis?

There are many times when we may not feel good about ourselves.  It could be that we feel disappointed from repeatedly falling into the same error or extremely frustrated that we are not fulfilling our duties.  Sometimes we are not content with our personality – we may feel caged in by our shyness or out of control by our anger.  If it is not frustration or disappointment we are feeling, then it’s anxiety.  Many people suffer from anxiety which stems from fear of the future or fear of the unknown.   Whatever the circumstances may be, the reactions are usually the same.  We demoralize ourselves with negative self-talk which leaves us feeling miserable and hopeless.  Each time we make a mistake we are harsher and more severe which leaves us feeling more depressed and less peaceful.

This pattern has got to STOP.  We need to explore the many things that destroy our peace and techniques to use in order to gain that peace back.

Peace Slayers:

Dwelling Over The Past

There are times when people can’t forgive themselves for mistakes of the past.  It could be due to hurtful things they have said or done.  They spend all their time regretting the mistakes they have made. Some people can’t forgive the mistakes of others. Show forgiveness, enjoin what is good, and turn away from the misguided. Surat Al-Araf 7:199  They have somehow been wronged either by their parents, spouse, relative, friend or complete strangers and they can’t go beyond this incident.  They end up clinging on to grudges and  they vow to never forgive the perpetrator. Living in the past prevents you from enjoying the blessings of the present.  By dwelling on the past and not being able to overlook the mistakes of themselves or others, they will rob themselves of the serenity they deserve.

2. Anxious About The Future

There are people who spend every waking moment worrying about the future. “Verily, We have created man in toil (a state of struggle and stress).” Surat Al-Balad 90:4 When will I get married?  Will I have kids? Will I pass my exam?  Am I going to get a job?  How will my kids turn out?  How will I pay for their tuition? Am I going to get sick or get a disease? What will happen when I retire?  The worries go on and on with no end in sight.  This constant preoccupation with the future makes them miss out on all the wonderful events of the present.

3. Comparing

Another way that people destroy their peace is by comparing themselves to others.  They look at the polished exterior of others and feel inadequate about themselves, their spouse and their children since they are aware of all their own flaws and shortcomings. Each person is a package deal so accept the whole package.  You may be admiring a person’s good looks not knowing how their heart is diseased. The wealth and possessions of others may impress you when you are unaware of the tests they may be encountering. And He has raised you in ranks, some above others that He may test you in that which He has bestowed on you.  Surat Al-An’am 6:165   Look not with your eyes ambitiously at what We have bestowed on certain classes, nor grieve over them. Surat Al-Hijr 15:88 Each time we compare, we are left feeling unhappy and anxious, depriving ourselves from being aware of all the wonderful things  in our lives.

 

The only time it is recommended to compare is when it has a positive impact on our lives.  We can compare ourselves to people more knowledgeable or more charitable in order to get us inspired to be a better person. Narrated by Abu Hurairah the Prophet (peace and salat upon him) said, “Do not wish to be like anyone except two men:  A man whom Allah has taught the Quran and he recites it during the day and night and a man whom Allah has given wealth and he spends it on charity.  Another permissible comparison is looking at people who are much worse off than us in wealth and health.  By doing this we instantly feel grateful and pacified.

4. Rejecting your destiny

The worst way of slaying your peace is by rejecting your destiny.  This is when a person is absolutely angry, upset and frustrated from the events of their life.  It may be that they have not gotten married or were divorced, they are unable to get a job, they have medical issues or they are unhappy with their spouse.  Whatever the circumstance- they are mad.  They feel it’s unfair.  They question why others have it easy and their life is such a mess.  It’s vital to realize that Allah is the Most Wise and if a person questions their life they are implying (Astaghfirullah) that they know better than Allah.  When people reject their destiny, they sentence themselves to a life of misery.  You may hate something when it is good for you, and you may love something when it is bad for you.  Allah knows, and you do not know.  (Surat al-Baqara, 2:216)

Ways to attain peace:

1.Relationship with God

When people have a strong, healthy relationship with their creator, they attain an infinite amount of peace.  It is Allah who sent peace and tranquility into the hearts of the believers, that they may grow more in their faith. (Surat al-Fath 48:4)  Their perspective is broadened.  They don’t only look at the circumstances and difficulties of their lives and despair.  Certainty in the promises of Allah fills their heart which makes them persevere with an unequivocal amount of patience when faced with the most unimaginable tests.  When people know the names and attributes of Allah – I mean really know them and understand them not just list the names- then they will not fall prey to the slayers of peace because they will not dwell over the past, won’t be anxious about the future, won’t compare and they definitely would not reject their destiny.  Without a well established relationship with Allah which involves obedience and commitment, no one can have true peace.  Behold! Verily on the ‘Awiliyas’ (friends) of Allah there is no fear, nor shall they grieve; those who believe and constantly guard against evil.” (10:62-63)

2.Acceptance

Acceptance is one of the most critical aspect of attaining peace.  There needs to be genuine acceptance  of everything in your life and that includes  your past, your present, your looks, your circumstances  and your destiny.  If you are unable to accept an event in your life and if you dwell on why things happened the way they did, then you will be filled with grief and anxiety.  Don’t grieve at the things that you fail to get, nor rejoice over that which has been given to you.  Surat Al-Hadid 27:23 As soon as there is acceptance, the peace immediately follows.  The focus of therapy in many instances is to help the client accept themselves and their lives.  It is amazing how a person transforms when they stop metaphorically having a tantrum by kicking and screaming and finally accepting their portion in life.

3. Internal Validation

Majority of people have very low self-esteem and the only way they can feel good about themselves is to try to gain the approval and acceptance of others.  This can be a very slippery slope depending on the people they are trying to impress.  Many teenagers are so desperate to gain recognition and approval of their peers that they will do absolutely anything. This of course is the extreme example where individuals put their ethics and beliefs aside simply to gain acceptance.  However; there is a more subtle, psychological issue which involves being unhappy unless a person receives compliments or validations.  They simply can’t feel adequate unless they get another person’s approval.  This will make a person extremely needy of others and they will never feel content or even peaceful unless another person gives them validation. That is why it is of paramount importance to give internal validation ; feeling good about actions because they are pleasing to Allah. There is no need to be dependent on others to feel good or worthy.  And they give food for the love of Him to the poor, orphan, and the captive saying, “We feed you seeking Allah’s Countenance only.  We wish for no reward , nor thanks from you.” Surat-Al-Insan 76:8,9)

4.Self-Talk

The dialogue people have with themselves has been estimated to be about 600 words a minute!  What’s all the chatter about ?  Studies show that 85% of the self-talk is negative.  Once the self-talk is seen as a way to program the mind, it can be used to achieve peace.  When a person says comforting things to themselves rather than beating themselves up they will be in a much better state to reach their goals.  It is important to remember to be kind and understanding when mistakes occur and to always be aware of the internal dialogue.  When the self-talk is positive then a person can overcome any obstacle – if it is negative they will propel in a downward spiral of depression.   Whatever is said in this internal dialogue will determine the mood, the level of peace and the ability to achieve any goal so watch the self-talk.

5. Self-worth

A person’s self-worth is not based on some number – it’s not how much is in the bank account, IQ, size, GPA or salary.  When people start equating their worth based on these things they can feel extremely discouraged.  Self-worth is the ability for people to see themselves as competent, successful individuals that are able to deal effectively with the demands of their lives.  One of the biggest stumbling blocks to success is a lack of self-worth. The best way to feel worthwhile is doing everything in your life to please the creator. Verily, my prayer, my sacrifice, my living and my death are for Allah, the Lord of mankind Surat Al-An’am 6: 162 In this way the action is done purely for Allah without longing for any recognition or approval from anyone else.  It is essential to establish an exemplary character which truly makes any individual an invaluable asset to have in any setting.  To foster a feeling of self-worth is to set small, achievable goals that will bring about a feeling of confidence.   Contributing time, money and talent in helping others will also develop a strong sense of self-worth.  Whosoever intercedes for a good cause will have the reward thereof Surat An-Nisa 4:85.

 

6. Forgiveness

The key to having peace within ourselves and with others is to be forgiving.  Grudges and animosity gradually diminish our state of tranquility just as a pristine piece of metal steadily rusts in harsh weather. If we view each event in our life as a test and we focus on passing the test then it is much easier to forgive.  When we forgive to only please Allah and to pass our tests peace descends upon our hearts. It is so incredibly liberating when we can let go of the hurt, throw out the emotional baggage and move on.  It will free our heart, our mind and our soul if we forgive and forget.  The recompense for an evil is an evil like thereof; but whoever forgives and makes reconciliation, his reward is with Allah.  Surat Ash-Shura 42:40

When you are faced with difficulties and disappointments make sure you avoid the peace slayers.  As you stay away from the things that rob you of peace, work hard on attaining it back through the above mentioned suggestions.  Each item in this article requires another article to elaborate on the topic in depth; however I wanted to give an overview of how peace can be attained since so many people struggle with it. There are multitudes of ways to gain peace – these were just a few. Share with us the ways you go about attaining peace.

Haleh Banani has a Master degree in Clinical Psychology with 20 years of experience working with couples and individuals. She was a featured expert on Al-Jazeera international, Huda TV, Islamic Open University, Mercy Mission and Bayinnah TV. Haleh is an instructor for Ilmflix and Qalam Institute. She is an international speaker and writer.

95 Comments

95 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Syma Kashif

    April 18, 2011 at 5:33 AM

    JazakAllah khairan
    I really needed this reminder now!
    I already feel good Alhamulillah!
    JazakAllah once again! :)

  2. Avatar

    Amad

    April 18, 2011 at 8:20 AM

    Awesome mashallah.

    • Avatar

      Haleh

      April 19, 2011 at 4:07 PM

      Jazakallah khair!

  3. Avatar

    Sister

    April 18, 2011 at 8:35 AM

    Mashaallah..Jazkillahu khairaa ..Excellent article sister.

    • Avatar

      Haleh

      April 18, 2011 at 1:58 PM

      Alhamdulillah that it’s beneficial.
      Glad to hear that you’re already feeling better!

  4. Avatar

    Farhan

    April 18, 2011 at 9:29 AM

    AMAZING article. Very VERY good. There should be more things like this.
    Accepting Qadr is one of the most painful things I’ve ever had to do. Its difficult. But once you get past that, mistakes of the past are less painful and you can get through them with greater ease.

    • Avatar

      Haleh

      April 18, 2011 at 2:03 PM

      That’s excellent that you have had the strength and wisdom to accept your qadar and move on. It is so critical in attaining peace & happiness.

    • Avatar

      imran

      April 19, 2011 at 2:49 PM

      Accepting is easy, the problem is our family and friends. We can accept, but they will never or most likely accept because most of them don’t believe in qadr and are attached to the worldly life.

  5. Avatar

    Muhammad

    April 18, 2011 at 9:45 AM

    Jazakillahu khaira. I needed that.

  6. Avatar

    UmmSarah

    April 18, 2011 at 10:08 AM

    I love the cartoon, hilarious.

    • Avatar

      Haleh

      April 18, 2011 at 5:24 PM

      I know… I loved it too :)

  7. Avatar

    Abdelrahman Yehia

    April 18, 2011 at 1:04 PM

    Thank you for a great article.
    JazakAllah khairan!

  8. Avatar

    Humble Muslim

    April 18, 2011 at 1:35 PM

    Salam

    What if you have an Islamic failing which you never seem to get over? A classic example for many people, myself included, would be getting up regularly for fajr. Trying any of the above solutions to get over the bad feelings which that leaves one with would be a cop out of your responsibilities toward the deen.

    • Avatar

      Haleh

      April 18, 2011 at 5:32 PM

      No one is saying to take your responsibilities lightly, but beating yourself up is destructive regardless of circumstances. You can feel remorseful, make tauba and take action to fix the problem. For instance you can do the following for waking up for fajr:
      1. Put multiple alarms and place them far away where you have to get up to turn them off.
      2. Have a reliable friend call you to establish the habit
      3. Sleep early so waking up will be easy
      4. Make your intention to wake up at night and ask Allah to give you tofiq

  9. Avatar

    The Shardul of Allah

    April 18, 2011 at 2:29 PM

    An excellent article. Jazakhallah. This was a much needed article for me.

  10. Avatar

    Umar Abdul latif

    April 18, 2011 at 3:18 PM

    JazakAllah khair 4 the advice, very nice, my problem is I percieve im gettin treated badly everywhere I go, not sure why. I went to the opticians and I know she was busy and couldnt be bothered dealing with me, but I got the feeling she was annoyed with me. I feel abit worhless, I know, I shouldnt and dont need anyones approval to be happy, but it would be nice 2 hav som company sometimes u know, how can I stop annoying people??

    • Avatar

      Haleh

      April 19, 2011 at 5:09 AM

      Something important to keep in mind is that it’s nothing personal. All the people you come in contact with each have their own set of problems and they are each in their own world so if they are not being kind or they act annoyed it might be that they are having a bad day. Try to make excuses for them.

      If you find that this happens only to you and the same person is kind to others and it’s not prejudism then ask a trusted friend or family member if they can be honest in giving you constructive criticism. Sometimes we may not realize how our actions affects others so we need someone who cares for us to tell us.

      Never ever feel worthless- you are created by Allah and you deserve to be kind and loving to yourself. Find ways to contribute to people who need it and see how empowered you will feel.

  11. Avatar

    Basheera

    April 18, 2011 at 3:28 PM

    Shukran I really needed this life has really been rough, jazakhallah khaira may ALLAH reward you both in this lufe and the hereafter

    • Avatar

      Haleh

      April 18, 2011 at 5:34 PM

      Ameen! The tougher life is the more coping skills you need to make it through.
      May Allah strengthen you and lighten your load.

      • Avatar

        kareem

        May 3, 2011 at 9:37 AM

        Very motivating words, thank you.

  12. Avatar

    shibly

    April 18, 2011 at 5:33 PM

    Alhamdullilah – I usually dont comment – reading this i couldnt leave without saying JazakAllah. Just amazing..

  13. Avatar

    shibly

    April 18, 2011 at 5:33 PM

    Alhamdullilah – I usually dont comment – reading this i couldnt leave without saying Jazak Allah. Just amazing..

    • Avatar

      Haleh

      April 19, 2011 at 3:46 PM

      Wa iyyakom. Alhamdulillah that its useful.

  14. Avatar

    Maria

    April 18, 2011 at 5:38 PM

    Masha’Allah, very beautifully written!

  15. Avatar

    Omar

    April 18, 2011 at 6:20 PM

    MashAllah, awesome and very beneficial article,
    Jazakallahukhaira

  16. Avatar

    ummmanar

    April 18, 2011 at 9:16 PM

    mashallah very good article.I am trying so hard to forgive and forget by reading quran,going islamic classes,but every time I thought I am there something happens that puts me backward,Any advice how to achieve peace by forgiving others?

    • Avatar

      Haleh

      April 19, 2011 at 4:15 PM

      The act of forgiving requires a person to take several steps:
      1. Ask yourself what will happen if you hold on to this grudge? How will you feel about yourself?
      2. Now ask How will your life be different if you forgive? How will you feel about yourself and how will it effect your iman and your status with Allah?
      3. Once you realize the benefit of forgiveness wake up for tahajud and ask Allah to remove the anger, pain, hurt etc. and replace it with forgiveness.
      4. Then sit quietly, breathe deeply and make the decision to forgive with every ounce of your being
      5. Let it go…..don’t think about it and don’t bring it up

      Hope that helps you and anyone else who needs to forgive.

  17. Avatar

    SabrunJameel

    April 18, 2011 at 9:22 PM

    “And Remind for verily a reminder benefits the believer”

    MashAllah, GREAT reminder and post.
    May Allah reward you. Ameen.

  18. Avatar

    Carlos

    April 18, 2011 at 10:03 PM

    Every day is a new beginning. If you failed to live up to your own expectations yesterday, use that as your motivation to carpe diem.

    • Avatar

      Haleh

      April 19, 2011 at 3:50 PM

      Masha’Allah that’s a nice, positive attitude!

  19. Avatar

    zaynab

    April 19, 2011 at 12:51 AM

    Excellent article! Well researched and beautifully written mashaAllah. May Allah increase you.

  20. Avatar

    Yasir Qadhi

    April 19, 2011 at 7:51 AM

    Ma sha Allah, great stuff!

    I look forward to more articles of this nature.

    Yasir

    • Avatar

      Haleh

      April 19, 2011 at 4:01 PM

      Jazakallah khair Sheikh Yasir – insha’Allah there will be many sequels.

  21. Avatar

    Sophina

    April 19, 2011 at 8:01 AM

    Masha Allah and Jazak Allah Khair for such a brilliant article. I can relate wholly to it and have experienced many of the feelings expressed herein. I can’t describe how much of a positive impact it has had as I related to each and every point personally, as if I was speaking out loud! Barak Allah Fik. Keep up the great work insha Allah.

    • Avatar

      Haleh

      April 19, 2011 at 3:53 PM

      Jazakillah khair for your encouraging words. Insha’Allah that the positive impact lasts and you can pay it forward.

  22. Avatar

    Shiraz Mahkri

    April 19, 2011 at 1:40 PM

    Amazing article, incredibly beneficial! The tips are very practical and I hope to apply them as much as I can. Waiting for more stuff on that.

  23. Avatar

    Danish S.

    April 19, 2011 at 2:44 PM

    Two thumbs up!

    • Avatar

      Haleh

      April 19, 2011 at 5:35 PM

      :)

  24. Avatar

    Zakwan

    April 19, 2011 at 2:50 PM

    This is a great article especially for us who are striving towards changing ourselves yet falls occasionally to the challenges of this dunya. Barakallah =)

    P.S: Oh, and I’d like to point out a teeny mistake there (under Ways to attain peace: 2. Acceptance), Surah Al-Hadid is chapter 57 and not 27

    :) Salaam wa jazakallah khair.

    • Avatar

      Haleh

      April 19, 2011 at 5:34 PM

      Jazakallah khair for making the correction- must have been a typo!

  25. Avatar

    Ibn Adam

    April 19, 2011 at 4:02 PM

    SubhanAllah, understanding and accepting Qadar is indeed one of the hardest things to cope with. I hope that we can see more articles dealing with this issue!

  26. Avatar

    kfa

    April 19, 2011 at 5:37 PM

    mashAllah great article!!
    one thing about forgiving is that we want Allah to forgive us of all our sins(major/minor)
    but we r not willing to overlook any mistakes of people around us

  27. Avatar

    Suzan

    April 19, 2011 at 8:26 PM

    Masha’ALLAH, masha’ALLAH, masha’ALLAH – yet another very useful and relevant topic. We all can, and should, continue to strive for and maintain inner peace and you have suggested so many practical ways of doing this!

    Thanks for opening up the discussion at the end of your article for all of us to share how we attain inner peace.
    One of my favorite ways is simply giving to others – time, a helping hand, a listening ear, a shoulder. Being in tune to the needs of others and trying to fulfill them actually results in more self fulfillment and inner happiness.

    Jazakee ALLAH khair my dear sister. :)

    • Avatar

      Haleh

      April 20, 2011 at 6:11 PM

      Thank you for your continuous support Suzan. You are absolutely right about gaining peace and fulfillment from altruistic acts. Nothing comes close to that helper’s high. You truly have expertise in being there for everyone masha’Allah!

      It’s awesome to have a sister like you!

  28. Avatar

    CW

    April 20, 2011 at 5:02 AM

    As been mentioned before

    “And Remind for verily a reminder benefits the believer”

    Jazakum Allah khairan for great topic & presentation

    Hope fore more topics with reflections on our lives, as what is our roles, how to be part of the ummah, organizing &helping each other in projects through different skills,..

    If possible to include quotations for all verses so to distinguish the beginnings

  29. Avatar

    Quaiser Abdullah

    April 20, 2011 at 7:54 AM

    Subhanallah…

    This is excellent stuff… Anyone who is reading this and has an opportunity to relay the information, should try to share it…

    I look forward to more of your work!

    • Avatar

      Haleh

      April 20, 2011 at 6:36 PM

      As Allah says in the Quran: Raad: 11

      Allah does not change the condition of the people until they change themselves

      If each of us gets engrossed with improving ourselves then Allah will not only ease our path, but improve the entire ummah insha’Allah…..So pass it on!

  30. Avatar

    Sadaf Farooqi

    April 20, 2011 at 9:24 AM

    Excellent article, Haleh! Like a soothing balm for all kinds of emotional wounds on the soul….
    May Allah place barakah in your work. I look forward to reading more such wonderful pieces, insha’Allah.

    • Avatar

      Haleh

      April 20, 2011 at 6:15 PM

      JazakAllah khair

      Like a soothing balm for all kinds of emotional wounds on the soul….

      I like it – very poetic
      I’m going to use it ;)

  31. Avatar

    azan

    April 20, 2011 at 9:28 AM

    Masha Allah a very helpful article…
    But we should make sure dat we give our best for everything we do in life and then accept Qadr. We should not be lazy and inefficient and then go on saying we should accept Qadr…

    • Avatar

      Haleh

      April 20, 2011 at 6:21 PM

      I’m so glad that you pointed that out. It is essential to strive to do our utmost in every situation. Striving and accepting have to go hand in hand or else it will be learned helplessness.

  32. Avatar

    Mouyyad Abdulhadi

    April 20, 2011 at 11:29 AM

    Mashallah, Great article, this is very valuable in our ever changing world. Achieving peace in our daily lives is what helps us progress forward. These are also great lessons to be learned in leadership and future leaders that represent our community. We try to instill these values in our Young Leaders Summits ( http://summits.mpac.org ) and help our future leaders effectively carry themselves in order to effectively represent the community.

  33. Avatar

    umm_ismael

    April 20, 2011 at 12:18 PM

    Asslam u alaikum wr wb
    JazakALLAH Khair- my husband calls me a tension magnet- really need such reminders all the time :)

  34. Avatar

    Bisma

    April 20, 2011 at 1:09 PM

    I’m depressed, and doubts are just making it worse.
    I don’t think Allah will ever forgive me, I’m such a terrible Muslim.
    It’s just impossible for me to even think about thinking positive.

    Jazakum Allah Khairan for the article.

    • Avatar

      Haleh

      April 20, 2011 at 6:27 PM

      It’s never too late to make a change. If you reflect on all the verses that emphasizes mercy and forgiveness along with all the hadith on forgiveness your heart will be softened. You will see that there is always hope. All it takes is to do the following:
      1. Make tauba & be sincere
      2. Forgive yourself
      3. Make a fresh, new start from this moment (regardless of what you have done)
      4. Surround yourself with support (righteous friends that will inspire you)
      5. Busy yourself with LOADS of good deeds

      Before you know if you will be feeling much better inshaAllah

  35. Avatar

    umeabdallaah

    April 20, 2011 at 4:57 PM

    This is what ShayTaan wants you to feel sister Bisma, Allaah swt says:
    Say, “O My servants who have transgressed against themselves [by sinning], do not despair of the mercy of Allah . Indeed, Allah forgives all sins. Indeed, it is He who is the Forgiving, the Merciful.” [Zumar: 53]

    Do not ever lose hope in Allaah’s forgiveness.

  36. Avatar

    Carlos

    April 20, 2011 at 7:11 PM

    The first sentence of the article reads . . .

    “Imagine what your reaction would be if you saw your Muslim brother or sister verbally and physically abusing another Muslim that was feeling very depressed for making a mistake?”

    Why is the word “Muslim” necessary in this sentence? Would you not feel sympathy and rage if the victim (or the perpetrator for that matter) was non-Muslim? Would you feel less sympathy and rage? Why or why not?

    Is in-group morality moral?

    As to Bisma, cheer-up, sister. Every day is a new day. If you failed to live-up to your expectations yesterday, make that your motivation to try harder today. You can’t change the past. The future is a different matter.

    • Avatar

      Omar

      April 20, 2011 at 7:31 PM

      Good question Carlos. The simple answer is a Muslim cares for all humanity, but a special care and bond is given to other Muslims, who submit to their unique creator. Hence the concept of the Ummah, the global Islamic family.

      peace

      • Avatar

        Carlos

        April 21, 2011 at 1:04 PM

        Thank you, Omar, for your clarification. This article reminds us that it is important not to beat ourselves up just because we are not perfect, as long as we make sincere efforts to improve ourselves.

        I have some follow-up questions, Omar, if you would be so kind as to enlighten me some more:

        So, if the victim of this physical and verbal abuse is wearing a taqiyah that is embroidered with the words “100% certified member of the Ummah,” it is appropriate for a Muslim to be fully sympathetic and outraged, correct? If the victim is not so attired, the level of sympathy and outrage should be, say, three-fifths? Is that close? If the victim is wearing a necklace with a cross or a Star of David, and his T-shirt says “Authentic Person of the Book,” should the level of sympathy and outrage increase to, say, four-fifths? What if the victim, while being beaten, yells to the witness that his paternal grandfather was Muslim, and that he sometimes reads quranic passages for inspiration?

        For each of the categories of victim above, is the appropriate response of a good Muslim to:

        (A) Run fast to intervene, and offer aid and comfort;
        (B) Walk briskly to intervene, and offer aid and comfort;
        (C) Walk at a steady pace, express stern disapproval to the perpetrator and sincere words of sympathy and encouragement to the victim, both for his plight and for his spiritual journey toward Islam; or
        (D) Shout to the victim to hang in there while the witness goes to consult appropriate Islamic scholarly texts to determine the correct amount of sympathy and outrage the witness should feel and act upon?

    • Avatar

      Haleh

      April 21, 2011 at 4:53 PM

      Hello Carlos and welcome to the discussion! 
      In Islam we see everyone as our brother and sister in humanity. If we see anyone in any form of danger or harm we would react regardless of their beliefs or creed. This is exemplified in the verse of the Quran surah( chapter) 5 verse 32

      If anyone was to kill one person it is as if he has killed all of mankind but if was to save one person then it is as if he saved all of mankind.

      You may have missed the point with the introductory story- it was all a metaphor about destructive and abusive self-talk – it did not imply any violence towards another person -it was just an approach for people to look  within and since the majority of the readers are Muslim I specified that for effect.

      Hope that clarifies things!

      Haleh 

  37. Avatar

    Annie A

    April 21, 2011 at 7:12 AM

    As Salamu Alaikum wa Rehmatulahi wa Barakatuhu

    JazakAllahu Khairan… A very good article.
    My heart attains peace through reading Quran… it lightens the burden, lifts my spirits and gives me liveliness, pleasure, hope, energy and peace and I look forward optimistically and cheerfully to the upcoming days.

  38. Avatar

    mariam nabeel

    April 21, 2011 at 9:47 AM

    Bismillah

    AsalamOwarehmatullah

    MashAllah very well written article . You hav done an excellent research on this self improvement topic and provided such useful solutions aswell. . very informative .

    jazakallah khair for sharing.

  39. Avatar

    Caroline

    April 21, 2011 at 3:29 PM

    Jzk. I really needed to read this.

  40. ibnabeeomar

    ibnabeeomar

    April 22, 2011 at 1:48 AM

    great article, looking forward to more like this inshallah

  41. Avatar

    lost

    April 23, 2011 at 4:21 AM

    Salamu Alaikum Haleh, I really loved your article mashaAllah. I have a question to ask you. I am constantly worried about two things: becoming a kaffir one day and thus dying a kaffir; and that the bad things happening to me are punishments for Allah and not really trials to test me. This is causing me much depression and anxiety that it makes me cry and lose sleep at night. What do you recommend so that I can achieve internal peace?

    JazakaAllah kul khair

    • Avatar

      Haleh

      May 7, 2011 at 3:58 PM

      Wa alaikomos salam,
      Thank you for your comment. As far as your fear of becoming a kaffir I have three pieces of advice:
      1. What you spend your time thinking about will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Let me ask you this: what would happen if you constantly feared getting into a car accident? Your fear would probably decrease your self-confidence which could lead to an accident. Therefore this kind of thought process is self-destructive.
      2. Strengthen your iman – channel that fear to doing more acts of worship and surround yourself with righteous friends.
      3.Keep in mind that this fear is from the shaytan to immobolize you and make you hopeless so the best way to combat this is to take positive action & have hope in Allah.

      As far as the fear of being punished versus being tested I ask you if you have repented for any past mistakes? If you haven’t then do so now and if you have then your sins are forgiven and you will not be punished. It seems that you are in the habit of beating yourself up – ease up on yourself, do your best and put your trust in Allah.

      Wishing you peace,
      Haleh

  42. Avatar

    Cucumberr

    April 27, 2011 at 1:37 AM

    Wonderful piece mashaAllah. Loved the pictures :)
    Can’t wait to read more.

    Jazakillah Khair :)

  43. Avatar

    Mehreen

    April 29, 2011 at 11:26 AM

    JazakAllah Khair for the amazing article. I think the hit point of the article is the ‘forgiveness’ part. Most of the times, we are not just willing to let go, to forgive others, and be at ease with ourselves. It’s just incredible how forgiveness can do wonders for you. And you should always be expecting from Allah, not from people.

  44. Avatar

    SoLost

    May 5, 2011 at 5:21 AM

    Jazak Allah khair for this amazing article which came in time to remind us of what we should be.
    But I think we can’t skip past totally coz mistakes or bad choices will always haunt us, I made one bad choice and got married to a person who doesn’t have a strong faith in Allah in addtion he practices all what mentioned above on me (peace slayers) the result my relationship with Allah is weakening day by day and I’m not able to find a solution.

    • Avatar

      Haleh

      May 9, 2011 at 5:39 AM

      Your so welcome! You have brought up a very important issue of being married to a non-practicing spouse. This can really effect a person’s motivation and decrease the level of iman. First, we need to realize how critical it is to choose a spouse that is already righteous not one that you will somehow change.

      Since you understand your mistake now you need to learn to cope. One way is by surrounding yourself with righteous sisters, attending halaqas, attaining Islamic knowledge & listening to CDs or DVDs. Try to increase in your worship even if he is not very active. Tell yourself that you will only be effected by the positive things you see and hear from others and that will create an invisible fortress that will protect you from the negativity and apathy of your husband. Get up and pray tahajud and ask Allah to guide his heart – it is amazing what supplication in the middle of the night can do.

      Haleh

  45. Avatar

    sabah

    May 9, 2011 at 9:28 AM

    Lovely piece of article, mashallah! :) I have gone through anxiety, depression for a certain in my life, but alhamdulillah, thankful to Allah from keeping me away from bad, evil acts, n hope my relationship with Allah strengthens inshallah!

    May Allah bless our entire ummah! inshallah!

    Need prayers for my well-being :)

  46. Avatar

    Bint Alam

    June 15, 2011 at 2:19 PM

    Excellent mashaAllah, may Allaah accept it from u sister, perfectly suits my situation now :) Indeed I am proud to say that Islam and only Islam has given me the strength to change that inner self of demoralisation to a personality who can now be never stopped for any work illaa maa shaa Allaah….truly Islam has changed my life Alhamdulillah…may Allaah make us die on the straight path, ameen.

    • Avatar

      Haleh

      June 15, 2011 at 6:55 PM

      Alhamdulillah that you have found your strength in Islam to gain more peace. May Allah keep you and all of us strong on the straight path!

      Haleh

  47. Avatar

    struggleswidasmile

    June 16, 2011 at 8:38 PM

    JazakAllahu khairan sister Haleh….wonderful and timely mashaAllah….I was feeling down in the dumps the last couple of days…but Alhamdulillah this article lifted up my mood a bit…lots and lots of work to do… :)

  48. Avatar

    Haleh

    June 17, 2011 at 3:56 PM

    Alhamdulillah :) when there is a lot of work to be
    done it’s time to get EXCITED because you are getting
    ready to grow on many different levels. I wish you the BEST!

  49. Avatar

    sameera

    June 21, 2011 at 4:28 PM

    This is the absolute perfect article for me. I always feel so insecure of myself and worrying and regretting ALL THE TIME. I don’t want to hurt myself anymore.

    • Avatar

      Haleh

      June 24, 2011 at 8:12 PM

      Good for you Sameera! Once you decide to be good to yourself, the peace will envelop you inshaAllah and you will attract more positive people in your life :)

  50. Avatar

    Mohamed

    June 30, 2011 at 6:31 AM

    Salaam Sr. Haleh,

    It’s indeed one of the most amazing articles I read. I need your help. I am not sure how can i get a hold of you but my email is listed. May you please email me your contact info.

    May Allah reward you the best of the best, Ameen

  51. Avatar

    Portiagalore

    February 6, 2012 at 11:07 AM

    Brilliant article!!

  52. Avatar

    Bilal007

    February 13, 2012 at 5:56 AM

    Mashallah, May Allah reward you for helping us all and give you more knowledge so you can pass it on to others in your special way.. I have learnt many lessons from reading your article and they will be with me forever, i dont normally leave comments but i have been truly inspired and am already using what iv learnt into practice.. Jazzakallah/Thankyou!

  53. Avatar

    Brother

    March 4, 2012 at 1:03 PM

    For some reason, I feel the article might have been corrupted a little, there seems to be a lot of unnecessary symbols that make the rea a little less enjoyable, and I would appreciate if it was cleaned up. JAK

  54. Avatar

    Anika bintee Siddique

    March 14, 2012 at 8:11 PM

    masAllah …jazakillahu khairan

  55. Avatar

    Zeehaun Choudhary

    March 24, 2012 at 12:27 PM

    Thanks you sister for your article it is going to change my life, May Allah s.w.t give you a long life so you can keep doing your good work.

  56. Avatar

    Kathy

    July 15, 2012 at 9:58 AM

    Best article Ive ever read thanks

  57. Avatar

    kugan pillay

    September 14, 2012 at 4:24 AM

    loved the article,,although it seems to be based (and i say seems) at Muslims, i as a hindu feel that all said is true, we as humans(irrespective of faith colour or creed) should look deep within our selves and we will find the true person that we are and realise that we can achive more by just being at peace with ourselves..this a 5 star article..

  58. Avatar

    Talibatul 3ilm

    December 22, 2012 at 9:23 AM

    Sister Haleh,

    May Allah reward you in abundance insha’Allah.
    These articles are greatly beneficial and it’s truly inspiring to see a Muslim woman in the field of clinical psychology. It is my ambition to work towards that and, by the will of Allah, be a guide to our youth in the future insha’Allah.
    Make du’aa that Allah makes it easy for me, since i lack hope and optimism at times!

  59. Avatar

    Maryam

    March 23, 2014 at 3:45 PM

    As Salaamu Alaikum. May Allah reward you for your helpful advice. A question though. How do you forgive someone who is still constantly, purposely, hurting you? Others make excuses for them, as I imagine I should as well, but it can be difficult to do when you are their emotional target.

  60. Pingback: What’s The Matter? | Everyone Else Around Me Has it Together, BUT Me | MuslimMatters.org

  61. Pingback: Being at peace with yourself: Psychological Approach towards Acceptance and Serenity - Haleh Banani

  62. Avatar

    riasat hussain

    December 16, 2014 at 4:20 AM

    Sister Haleh,

  63. Avatar

    riasat hussain

    December 16, 2014 at 4:32 AM

    Sister Haleh,
    I am a practising muslim having full faith in Allah. However, from past two years I am facing acute financial difficulty and finding it hard to meet my ends. I am losing my inner peace and do not see any way out at the moment. Creditors are haunting me and I am being embarrassed. I am crying for help to Allah; however Allah seems to be angry with me. Please suggest as I am losing it day by day. I always remain irritated and depressed.

  64. Pingback: Being at peace with yourself: Psychological Approach towards Acceptance and Serenity | Haleh Banani

  65. Avatar

    Rebellious believer

    June 28, 2016 at 11:23 PM

    Great article, may Allah give you reward for this effort.

  66. Avatar

    Jassim

    March 22, 2018 at 10:46 AM

    Mashallah.. Beautiful article.. Helped me a lot.. May allah bless you.

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#Life

On Prophetic Wisdom and Speaking to Children in Times of Distress

Rania Awaad, M.D.

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By Rania Awaad, M.D.

A remarkable trademark of the Prophet Muhammad, may peace be upon him, was that he spoke to children at their age-appropriate levels. To draw inspiration from the Prophetic wisdom on how to speak to young people, particularly in times of distress, one need only reference the Prophet’s gentle interaction with his young companion, Abu ‘Umayr, upon recognizing the child’s grief about the death of his pet. Perhaps the most striking lessons we learn from this interaction was that the Prophet, peace be upon him, recognized the child’s distress, inquired about it, then approached the child with gentleness, validation and in a non-blaming manner that both recognized and healed the emotions the child was experiencing.

It is imperative that we engage our children and teens in their moments of distress and avoid shying away from discussing difficult topics. When a disaster strikes our families and communities, it is very likely the young ears in our homes have heard snippets of our conversations and picked up on our own distress and that of other adults around them. While it may not be age-appropriate to give children the full details, hushed conversations coupled with little reassurance is a definite recipe for more fear and confusion. Here is a set of tips that we as parents can implement to help quell the fears and anxieties of our children and teens related to distressing news:

  1. It starts with us: Unplugging from social media, centering ourselves, processing our own emotions, debriefing with those whom we trust, being conscious of what we say and how. The way we react will have an impact on our children- our reactions cue them in on how they should react too. It is okay for our children to see us in a controlled state of frustration or sorrow as long as we are able to help them feel secure. It is also okay for us to delay the conversation with our children in order to give us time to process our own emotions- so long as we are able to get back to reassuring them.
  1. Prepare: How we talk to a 5-year-old will be different than how we talk to a 15-year-old. Simple language can be used with younger children while a more detailed discussion may be needed for older children. Educating ourselves about various angles of a tragedy helps us gain a sense of control and enables us to convey a balanced perspective to our children. In the Islamic tradition, we believe that good can emerge from any tragedy. Before talking to our children, it would be best to consider the key messages and values we want to express ahead of time.
  1. Inquire: Even young children may have heard about a horrific tragedy. If we have children in different developmental stages, we might consider talking to the entire family first at the youngest child’s level and then individually with each child.
    1. Ages 3-6: Avoid sharing horrific news with children in this age group if they are unaware of it. Only if we suspect they know something (like mentioning it to an older sibling or while playing, for example), should we ask children 3-6 if they’ve heard about anything that upset them.
    2. Ages 7-12: Wait and see if they ask us. There is no need to discuss horrific news with this age group unless we suspect or know they will be exposed to it. Signs of distress like regression or not wanting to go to the school or the masjid after news of a shooting, for example, are signs to invite them to talk.
    3. Teens: Assume they know- but don’t assume their knowledge is complete. We will need to fill in the blanks and correct flawed or misleading information they received from friends or through social media.
    4. Children with developmental delays or disabilities: Gear questions to the child’s developmental level or abilities, rather than their physical age. If the child is aware of the events, provide details or information in the clearest and appropriate manner possible.
  1. Listen: It is important that we first understand what is going through our children’s mind so that we can understand what they might actually worried be about. Many parents jump right to troubleshooting and problem-solving mode. Yet in doing so we may increase our child’s anxiety by projecting onto them our own adult-level fears. Listening with more than our ears helps keep us tune into our children’s non-verbal communication. Listening also means removing distractions like phones, computers and the like. It’s important to note that children may need to talk about what they are hearing and feeling for a number of days in order to process the implications.
  1. Validate: Open up the conversation by asking a simple question like, “What things are you concerned or upset about?” Once the child responds, validate their concerns even if they don’t match our own or make sense immediately. For example, “It sounds like you are feeling (name the emotion). I can understand that.” In trying our best not to minimize their fears, we allow our children to properly express their emotions. Children and teens often need help naming what they are feeling- labeling emotions (upset, angry, scared, disgusted, disappointed, etc.) helps bring them back to a balanced state.
  1. Simplify and Correct: Abstract ideas can complicate matters and scare young children. Using familiar terms and not over-explaining are both helpful for young children. For a mass shooting one may say, “A very confused and angry person took a gun and shot people. The police are working to making sure people are safe again.” Tweens and teens are more likely to hear news from unreliable sources, so they need the truth to come from us. They are more likely to respond better to us if we accept their sources but give them the tools to view the information critically. When we teach them to ask questions about what they saw or heard, it helps them think beyond a clickbait headline or meme.
  1. Model Hope and Faith: As parents, we need to model hope and strength in our identity as Muslims. Conveying pride in our Muslim identity and seeking solace in our faith is crucial to our children’s development. This is an opportune time to remind ourselves and our children that Allah is in control of everything and is the best of planners. Putting trust in Allah and channeling feelings of hopelessness into meaningful contributions to the world around them is one of the most important forms of healing. When children and teens feel that they can make a positive impact, it restores the soul and boosts the resiliency they will need their whole lives.

Most Common Mistakes:

  1. Minimizing: Suppressing the conversation or minimizing children’s reactions or fears can manifest itself in physical symptoms. Some signs to look for that they are having difficulty adjusting include:
  • Physical: Children may complain of feeling tired, having a headache, stomachache, or generally feeling unwell.
  • Emotional: Children may experience sadness, depression, anxiety, or fears.
  • Behavioral: Look for signs of social regression, acting more immature, or becoming less patient and more demanding. Children who once separated easily from their parents may become clingy. Teens may seek assistance to their distress from substance use.
  • Sleep: Watch for trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, difficulty waking up or nightmares.

Sometimes it can be hard to tell if a child is reacting in a typical manner to an unusual event or whether they are having real problems coping, and thus in need of extra support. If you are concerned, talk to your child’s pediatrician or mental health professional. If you prefer that your child speaks with a Muslim mental health professional, you can find ones in your locale here. Some Muslim counseling centers such as the Khalil Center offer both in-person and online therapy options. In all cases, do not wait for the signs. Start the discussion early, and keep the dialogue going. 

  1. Over-exposure: One of the most common mistakes is talking about horrific events in front of children and assuming they do not understand or will not be affected. The other major source of over-exposure is via media coverage of violent tragedies. Children age eight and younger have difficulty telling if what they hear and see on screens is fantasy or reality, and this ability develops gradually with age. This is why experts recommend against allowing children under age eight to view media containing any type of violence. Even after the age of eight, graphic or repetitive exposure to violence can cause children to virtually relive the event over and over. This can lead to children developing long-term anxiety, depression, anger, and even Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
  1. Feigned Indifference: It is possible that despite our attempts to use the seven steps above to engage your children, they might not want to talk to us about their concerns. That is okay, but we must offer them alternatives such as other trusted adults who can help them. Also consider teen help lines such as Khalil Center, Stones to BridgesAmala Hopeline, or Naseeha. At the very least, let them know that help exists.

Keep marching ahead:

Tragic events stay in our collective memory and may cause very real fear and anxiety. However, they are also teachable and character-building moments to reinforce our values within ourselves and our children. As parents, it is important for us to practice self-care. Overstimulation from constantly checking our news-feeds will likely raise our anxiety levels which our children will likely pick up on.  As families, it is imperative that we connect with communities that provide spaces for encouragement, support, and understanding and serve a healing purpose for each member of the family.

Finally, a parting reminder that we are created to worship Allah, Most High, recognizing that He is in full control and is the best of planners. We must hold fast to our principles and values, and be a forward-looking people who constantly work on improving ourselves and the communities around us.

Helpful Resources:

1. The family and Youth Institute: After a Tragic Event.
2- The Muslim Wellness Foundation: Coping with Community Trauma.
3- The Khalil Center Confidential Helpline: click here.
4- The Khalil Center: Faith and Community Leader Training: Mental Health First Response Certification Training

Rania Awaad, M.D. is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the Stanford University School of Medicine where she is the Director of the Muslim Mental Health Lab and Wellness Program and Co-Director of the Diversity Clinic. She pursued her psychiatric residency training at Stanford where she also completed a postdoctoral clinical research fellowship with the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Her research and clinical work are focused on the mental health needs of Muslims. Her courses at Stanford range from instructing medical students and residents on implicit bias and integrating culture and religion into medical care to teaching undergraduate and graduate students the psychology of xenophobia. Her most recent academic publications include works on Islamic Psychology, Islamophobia, and the historical roots of mental health from the Islamic Golden Era.

Through her outreach work at Stanford University, she is also the Clinical Director of the San Francisco Bay Area branches of the Khalil Center, a spiritual wellness center pioneering the application of traditional Islamic spiritual healing methods to modern clinical psychology. She has been the recipient of several awards and grants for her work.

Prior to studying medicine, she pursued classical Islamic studies in Damascus, Syria and holds certifications (ijaza) in Qur’an, Islamic Law and other branches of the Islamic Sciences. Dr. Awaad is also a Professor of Islamic Law at Zaytuna College, a Muslim Liberal Arts College in Berkeley, CA where she teaches courses on Shafi’i Fiqh and Women’s Fiqh. In addition, she serves as the Director of The Rahmah Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating Muslim women and girls. At Rahmah, she oversees the Murbiyyah spiritual mentoring program for girls. Dr. Awaad is a nationally recognized speaker, award-winning teacher, researcher and author in both the Islamic and medical sciences.

You can follow her on twitter @AwaadRania and on Instagram @dr.raniaawaad.

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#Life

Highly Educated, Willingly Domesticated

Laura El Alam

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Doctor.  Engineer.  Certified Nurse-Midwife. Writer and Literary Critic.  Lab Technician. Parliamentary Assistant. These highly-trained, respected careers are the culmination of years of intense study, training, and self-discipline.  Most people, upon achieving these esteemed positions, would happily dedicate the rest of their working years to putting their knowledge and expertise to use. They would gradually gain more experience, earn greater pay, and amass professional perks.  Most likely they would also, over time, assume leadership roles, earn awards, or become sought-after experts in their field.

What kind of person has all this at her fingertips, but decides to give it up?  Who would trade in years of grueling study and professional striving for an undervalued position that requires no degree whatsoever What type of professional would be willing to forgo a significant salary to instead work for free, indefinitely, with no chance whatsoever of a paycheck, recognition, benefits, or promotion?  

Who else, but a mother?  

While certainly not all mothers choose to give up their careers in order to raise their children, there is a subset of women who do. Stay-at-home-moms (SAHMs) may spend the majority of their days performing unglamorous tasks like washing dishes, changing diapers, and reading storybooks to squirming toddlers, but behind the humble job title are dynamic, educated, and capable women. They may currently have a burp cloth in one hand and a sippy cup in the other, but chances are, SAHMs have a mind and capabilities that reach far beyond the apparent scope of their household duties.  

What motivates a capable and ambitious woman to give up her career and stay home to raise children? Is she coerced into it, or does she choose it willingly? What is her driving force, if not money, status, or respect?  I had many questions for these women -my sisters in Islam and my stay-at-home “colleagues”- and some of their answers surprised me.  

For this article I interviewed seven highly-educated Muslim moms who chose to put successful careers on hold, at least temporarily, to raise their children. Between them, they hold PhDs, MDs, and Masters degrees. While the pervasive stereotype about Muslim women is that they are oppressed and backward, these high-achieving females are no anomaly. In fact, according to her article in USA Today, Dalia Mogahed points out that, “Muslim American women are among the most educated faith group in the country and outpace their male counterparts in higher education.”  Across the pond, The Guardian reports that more young Muslim women have been gaining degrees at British universities than Muslim men, even though they have been underrepresented for decades.”    

 

Ambitions and dreams

Every single one of the women I interviewed grew up in a household with parents who highly emphasized their daughters’ education. In fact, all of them were encouraged -either gently or more insistently- to pursue “top” careers in medicine, engineering, or science. Perhaps unsurprisingly, most of the women I interviewed were at the head of their classes at university.

In their school years, before marriage, all of the women I spoke with considered their career to be their main priority; motherhood seemed far-off and undefined. “When in uni,” explains Neveen, an endodontist who eventually put her career on hold to be a SAHM and homeschooler, “I never, ever thought I’d homeschool (nor did I believe in it), nor did I ever think I’d be a SAHM. I was very career-oriented. I was top of my class in dental school and in residency.”

“I absolutely thought I would be a career woman,” agrees Nicole, a mom of three in California who holds a Masters degree in Middle East Studies. “I never considered staying at home with the kids, because they were totally out of my mind frame at the time.”

“I expected that after graduation I would follow a research-based career,” adds Layla*, another SAHM in California who holds a PhD in Computer Engineering. “I never thought I’d stay at home because I believed it was fine for kids to be in daycare. I also thought SAHMs were losing their potential and missing out on so much they could otherwise accomplish in their lives.”

As young women, many assumed that if they ever chose to start a family, they would have assistants, nannies, or domestic helpers to lighten their load. Several of them believed they would put their future children, if any, in daycare. However, the reality of motherhood made each of these women change her mind.  

“My child was highly attached to me,” explains Sazida, an Assistant to a Member of Parliament in England, “and I could not envision him being looked after by anyone else despite generous offers from relatives.”  

“After I had my first child all I wanted to do was be able to care for her myself,” concurs Melissa, a Certified Nurse Midwife from New York.  

 

Other Motivations

It turns out that maternal instincts were not the only factor that made women choose to drop out of the workforce. Dedication to Islam played an enormous part in their decision-making.

“After having my first child,” explains Layla, “I decided that he was far more precious than working. He is a gift that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) gave me to protect and care for.”

“After I became Muslim,” shares Nicole, “My goals changed, and I hoped to marry and have children. I do think it was beneficial for my children to have a parent always there to depend on,” she adds. “I feel like I was the anchor in the family for them, and I hope to continue that role.”

“What’s important to me,” asserts Neveen, “Is to raise my kids as good Muslims who love -and are proud of- their life and deen.”

Another reason many highly educated women choose to stay at home is because they have the opportunity to homeschool some or all of their children.  Remarkably, out of the seven women who answered questions for this article, five reported that they chose to homeschool at least one child for a few or more years.  

“I really enjoy my homeschooling journey with my kids and I get to know them better, alhamdullilah,” states Layla.

The opportunity to nurture, educate, and raise their children with love and Islamic values is the primary reason why these talented women were willing to put their successful careers on hold. “Hopefully Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) will reward us in Jannah,” muses Layla.

 

Challenges

Although none of the women I interviewed regrets her choice to be a SAHM, they all agree that it is a challenging job that is actually harder than their former career.  

One obstacle they must overcome is the negative perception others have about successful women who make the choice to put their career on hold.  “I soon learnt that casual clothes, a toddler, and a buggy don’t give you the same respect as suits and heels,” says Sazida.

One would expect, given their faith’s emphasis on the dignity of mothers, that Muslim SAHMs would enjoy the support of their family and friends.  Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

One mom explains, “My in-laws offered to look after my child, and my father-in-law couldn’t understand why I wanted to stay at home when there was perfectly good childcare that they were offering. After two and three years passed, he got more and more disheartened that I was not earning and complained about the lost potential income.”

“My non-Muslim mother told me that I wasting my education,” confides Nicole. “She did not support me staying home, though I think she appreciated that I was there for my children and have a good relationship with them.  She was a SAHM as well, so I am not sure where that was coming from, actually.”

Melissa’s mom was similarly skeptical of her daughter’s decision. “My mother didn’t love me being fully dependent on my husband,” she admits.  

“I was not at all supported by my family or friends,” laments Radhia, a Lab Technician with a BS in Microbiology with a Chemistry minor.

Other than being doubted and blamed for their choice, there are other challenges that SAHMs face. Accustomed to mental stimulation, exciting challenges, professional accomplishments, and adult interaction, many former career women find staying at home to raise youngsters to be monotonous and lonely. The nannies, assistants, cleaners, and other workers they had envisioned often never materialized, since hiring these helpers was usually too expensive. Husbands who spent the day working as the family’s sole breadwinner, were usually too tired to help with household duties.  A few women admitted that they felt guilty asking for help in the home when their husband was already exhausted from work. To exacerbate the problem, most of the women I interviewed lived far from family, so they could not rely on the help one normally gets from parents and siblings. That means the bulk of the childcare and housework fell onto their laps alone.  

“The main challenges for me,” states Nicole, “were boredom, and finding good friends to spend time with who had similar interests. I was also very stressed because the raising of the children, the housework, the food, and overall upkeep of our lives were my responsibility, and I found that to be a heavy burden.”

“I think the feelings of vulnerability and insecurity about whether I was a good enough mother and housewife was difficult,” shares Melissa. “All my sense of worth was wrapped up in the kids and home, and if something went wrong I felt like a failure.”

“It was not as easy as I thought it would be,” confesses Radhia. “It was overwhelming at times, and I did miss working. Emotionally and physically, it was very draining.”

“Staying home has been harder than I expected,” adds Summer*, a Writer and Literary Critic from Boston. “I didn’t realize how willful children could be. I thought they’d just do what I said. I’m still trying to get used to the individuality! It’s harder than my job was, only because of the emotional load, and the fact that the effort you put in doesn’t guarantee the results you hope for.”

 

Money Matters

Giving up their salary also put women in a state of financial dependency, which can be a bitter pill to swallow for women who are used to having their own resources.  

“I felt very dependent on my husband, financially,” says Radhia.

“Alhamdulillah, my husband does not refuse if I ask him to buy anything,” explains Layla. “However, I felt like I was losing my power of deciding to buy something for someone else. For example, if I want to buy a gift for my mother or my sister, he never refuses when I ask him, but still I feel internally it is harder for me.”

“Alhamdulillah my husband’s personality is not one that would control my financial decisions/spending,” shares Neveen. “Otherwise I would never have chosen to be a SAHM.”

“Giving up my career limited my power to make financial decisions,” asserts Summer. “I could still spend what I wanted, but I had to ask permission, because my husband knew when ‘we’ were getting paid, and how much. He paid the bills, which I didn’t even look at.”

“Asking permission,” Summer adds, “is very annoying.”

Re-entering the workforce was difficult for some women, while not for others.  The total time spent at home generally affected whether women could easily jump back into their profession, or not.  Some of the moms felt their skills had not gotten rusty at all during their hiatus at home, while others felt it was nearly impossible to make up, professionally, for missed time.  

 

Words of Wisdom

Although all of the women I interviewed firmly believe that their time at home with their children is well-spent, they do have advice for their sisters who are currently SAHMs, or considering the position.  

“If I could go back and speak to myself as a new mum, I would tell myself to chill the heck out and just enjoy being a new mum,” says Sazida.

Melissa offers, “I wish people understood how talented you have to be to run a home successfully. It’s a ton of work and it requires you to be able to do everything from snuggle and nurture, to manage the money, budget, plan precisely, be a good hostess, handle problems around the home, manage time, and meet goals all while trying to look cute.

“I would always recommend that women have their own bank account and money on the side,” advises Nicole. “You never know when you are going to need it.”

“Once their kids are in school,” adds Radhia, “I would suggest SAHMs start something from home, or take on part time work, or courses, if necessary.”

“For moms choosing to stay at home,” Layla suggests, “I would say try to work part-time if your time permits, and if you have a passion for working. Trust that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) will protect you, no matter what. Remember, you are investing in your kids, and that is far more important than thinking ‘I need to keep money in my pocket.’”

 

Support, don’t judge

As a Muslim ummah, our job is to support one another as brothers and sisters.  It seems people forget this oftentimes, and erroneously believe that we are entitled to gossip, speculate, and sit in judgement of each other, instead.  In our lives we will all undoubtedly encounter women who choose to continue their careers, and those who put them on hold, and those who decide to give them up completely. Before we dare draw conclusions about anyone, we must keep in mind that only Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) knows a person’s entire story, her motivations, and her intentions. Only He subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is allowed to judge.  

We must also remember that some women, for a variety of reasons, do not have the luxury of choosing to stay at home. They must work to the pay the bills. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) knows their intentions and will reward their sacrifices as well.

 

It is my hope that this article will not cause more division amongst us, but rather raise awareness of the beautiful sacrifices that many talented and intelligent women willingly make for the sake of their children, and even more so, for the sake of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He).  They are the unsung heroes of our ummah, performing an undervalued job that is actually of utmost importance to the future of the world.

 

*Name has been changed

 

 

For the past decade, writer Laura El Alam has been a regular contributor to SISTERS Magazine, Al Jumuah, and About Islam. Her articles frequently tackle issues like Muslim American identity, women’s rights in Islam, support of converts/reverts, and racism. A graduate of Grinnell College, she currently lives in Massachusetts with her husband and five children. Laura recently started a Facebook page, The Common Sense Convert, to support Muslim women, particularly those who are new to the deen.

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New Motherhood: When Mom Is Sad

Najwa Awad LCSW-C

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Becoming a new mother can be one the most rewarding experiences a woman can have in life, but it can also be incredibly challenging and overwhelming. New motherhood is typically associated with feeling incredibly blessed, a new sense of fulfillment and family bonding. There is a general expectation that new mothers should be happy and when they are not everyone is left bewildered as to why. What is a new mom supposed to do when there is a piercing angst wedged deep within her chest that won’t go away? Or when mixed clouds of frustration and sadness follow her everywhere she goes? How can a new mom tell anyone about her difficult feelings when she is supposed to be joyful? Well, the answer is- she doesn’t. New mothers often times keep their struggles to themselves and some end up falling into Postpartum Depression.

Getting help for depression has become more acceptable in the Muslim community over the past few years, however, Postpartum Depression (PPD) still flies mostly under the radar because of lack of knowledge about the subject and the associated shame. Myths about what causes PPD lead women to isolate and not reach out for help when family and community support can be exactly what new mothers need.

What is Postpartum Disorder?

Postpartum disorder is when a new mother experiences clinical levels of depression after having a baby; such as sadness, crying, major changes in appetite, sleep, irritability, feelings of no motivation, and hopelessness. Many research articles quote that depression affects 11% of women during pregnancy and 10-14% of women postpartum[1], but the range can be anywhere from 9-25% depending on risk factors and circumstances[2]. Women from minority backgrounds, which many Muslim women fall into, can have postpartum rates as high as 23%.[3]

It is assumed that PPD is caused by a woman not wanting to have a child, however, for the majority of women, it’s caused by a combination of physiological changes (e.g. falling hormone levels), being overwhelmed and not enough support. PPD doesn’t just happen for new mothers but can happen after any pregnancy or even during pregnancy (Perinatal Depression).

One of the biggest reasons PPD is not talked about by new mothers is shame and guilt. Around the world, and especially in Muslim communities, having a baby is expected to be a time of joy and celebration. It’s an encouraged sunnah, rite of passage and expected social norm- there is an expectation of experiencing a “magical feeling” due to the birth of this wonderful gift. When a woman feels that everyone around her expects her to be happy and she isn’t, that can cause shame, guilt, and self-doubt.

No woman wants to be labeled as ungrateful, unhappy or incompetent, and when a woman feels like she can’t talk to anyone about her vulnerable feelings without being shamed or belittled, her negative feelings are further compounded. A woman might be accused of being unappreciative for her child or life in general when she brings up her thoughts of PPD to family members. Confused spouses may grossly misunderstand PPD and turn on their wife calling her lazy or indoctrinated by Western or feminist values when the new mom says she needs a break from the house. When the new mother has nowhere to turn, she suffers alone in silence. Sometimes this suffering is well hidden behind fake smiles and at other times the pain cannot be contained and results in outbursts, chronic agitation or a complete emotional shutdown.

PPD symptoms are also many times overlooked because people have a hard time recognizing what symptoms are. A woman is expected to behave and feel differently when pregnant or after having a baby, but what is the difference between normal adjustment issues and clinical Adjustment Disorder? Does a mother have high agitation because her baby wakes up at all hours of the night, or because she is depressed? Does a first-time mother have a normal amount of anxiety because she isn’t experienced, or because she might have clinical Postpartum Anxiety?

When the new mother doesn’t know what signs to look out for then she misses opportunities to identify and address potential issues. Here are some signs to look for concerning PPD:

  1. Persistent sadness, anxiety, agitation, or distress for chunks of time throughout the week that lasts at least a couple weeks.
  2. Impaired functioning. This is tricky because many new moms will not be able to take care of certain aspects of her life like before, but when a new mom can’t keep up with the house, basic day to day activities, hygiene or friendships, etc. it could be a sign that she is struggling.
  3. Appearance that there is a big change in personality. Personality is innate and doesn’t tend to change over time. If someone seems like their personality has changed especially in a negative way this is likely because of a bigger issue at hand. It’s not that a once happy and social person is now pessimistic and solitary, it’s that the happy and social person is now depressed.

Why is Postpartum Depression Relevant to the Muslim Community?

Postpartum Depression is an important health and wellness issue for all communities but should be particularly noteworthy for Muslim communities as we place a lot of importance on respecting mothers and treating them well. When most people think about the significance of motherhood in Islam, immediate thoughts come up of taking care of one’s own mother – usually, the picture emerges of an old mother cared for by her now-grown children. But what about the significance of the role of motherhood itself? If we are to hold motherhood highly than we should also provide the support and resources needed for women to be able to fulfill their roles in the best way possible. When new mothers are supported, it not only helps them but also their children – the next generation of the Ummah. Healthy moms help make healthy homes and healthy communities.

In addition to giving mothers the appropriate support they need, we as a community also need to make sure that we are not giving mixed and contradictory messages to new moms about their contribution to the Ummah. Motherhood is simultaneously one of the most treasured and disrespected roles of our time. On the one hand, Islam puts mothers on the pedestal, while on the other hand modern day society indirectly disrespects motherhood all the time- especially for those who decide to stay home and take care of their children. It’s not unusual for some people to serve their mothers in a heartbeat yet go to their wife, daughter or friend and say the following:

 

“What do you do all day with the baby (or kids)?”

“It must be nice to stay at home and not go to work.”

“Why don’t you put your college degree to use?”

“Anyone can be a mother- you don’t need an education or any special qualities.”

 

As Muslims, it’s important for us to monitor our own healthy subconscious views about motherhood as we live in a global culture that promotes the opposite. How society views motherhood contributes to how mothers feel about themselves, and how they feel about the big responsibility of raising children entrusted to them.

Addressing PPD from a Multi-Level Perspective

Addressing the issue of postpartum depression comprehensively and systematically would be better suited for a longer publication, however for the purpose of this article, here are some simple strategies on an individual, family and community level that can help address PPD.

Individual Level

New moms are overwhelmed with many physiological, psychological and logistical changes, however, there are ways to get help if it’s getting too difficult to manage day to day functioning. One of the first places a new mom can turn to is her doctor. Obstetricians are very familiar with the ins and outs of regular adjustment versus clinical depression. If a new mom is not sure about Perinatal or Postpartum Depression, she can run it by her obstetrician at one of her pregnancy check-ups, at the hospital after delivery, or at the 6 week follow up visit.

Having supportive family and friends also makes a big difference. Many new moms are uncomfortable talking about their difficult feelings in social circles because of perceptions that they may be less than their peers. If one doesn’t have supportive friends or family members there are many new mom groups that can be a good substitute. These support groups can be found online, at hospitals and through OB/GYN groups. In the absence of a supportive network, new moms can reach out to a therapist to help them sort through feelings and identify local resources.

Self-care is extremely important. There are expectations by new mothers and those around her that she has to selflessly give herself and time to her child unconditionally. Motherhood is a never-ending job, but this doesn’t mean that a new mom shouldn’t carve out time in her schedule for herself. As a psychotherapist who has worked with countless new moms over the years, I truly believe you can not take care of someone else if you can’t take care of yourself. Getting alone time, uninterrupted spiritual time, taking naps, eating healthy food, getting exercise, being in nature and spending time with friends shouldn’t be looked at as luxuries, but as necessities for long-term wellbeing.

Family Level

It’s important for a woman to look after her mental health, however, this is not her responsibility alone. Families are meant to be interdependent and so husbands, grandparents, and siblings should also keep an eye on the new mom to ensure that she is taking care of herself while she cares for the new baby. If a husband notices that his wife has not been feeling well for some time, as the shepherd of his family, it’s his responsibility to assist her in getting the help she needs; mothers of adult daughters, aunts and sisters should do the same.

Families can help by being emotionally and logistically supportive. Kind words go a long way, but so does giving a helping hand. Assistance should be given freely with no intention of making the mother feel incompetent, or that she is failing. Letting new mom take a break without baby can do wonders for her and is not “selfish” of her.

Community Level

Obstetricians provide postpartum screenings in their office, but this is not nearly enough. Prevention and intervention on a community level is needed and masajid should promote support groups for new mothers and mothers in general. Having support groups takes minimal effort or upkeep as all that is usually needed is a space where new moms can meet consistently and a person to facilitate.

Additionally, masajid should make consistent efforts to make their spaces kid friendly. A new mother who previously attended many events at the masjid can find herself completely cut-off from the community if she cannot bring her baby or kids – likely worsening her depression. Kid-friendly components to masjid activities can be critical to a new mother and form one of the key pillars of community support she needs.

In summary, Postpartum Depression can be preventable and treatable with simple interventions like providing new mothers adequate emotional, social and community support. When we open up the conversation about PPD we take away harmful assumptions about why it exists and can help address the issue from a multi-dimensional perspective. When PPD can’t be prevented or managed by community and family intervention, it’s important to help a new mother in getting the support she needs from her doctor or a psychotherapist without feeling like she is a bad mother.

Najwa Awad is a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW-C) that has provided psychotherapy to individuals and families in the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area for over 10 years. She obtained a Bachelors degree in Psychology at George Mason University in 2005. In 2007 she received a Masters in Social Work at Virginia Commonwealth University specializing in the clinical treatment of individuals and families. Najwa also has post graduate education in the treatment of complex psychiatric trauma and telemental health (online counseling).  Her experience in the field is diverse and includes providing services at group homes, schools and in the foster cares system.  Most recently Najwa has been working and supervising in outpatient mental health settings providing psychotherapy to women, children and families. Commonly treated issues include trauma, mood disorders, behavioral disorders and anxiety. In addition to giving regular mental health workshops in the community, Najwa is also Fellow at the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research.

https://muslimmatters.org/2013/05/31/six-stories-down-when-its-more-than-just-the-baby-blues/

https://muslimmatters.org/2014/10/16/whats-the-matter-postpartum-or-more/

https://muslimmatters.org/2010/06/16/my-dear-sister-submit-for-your-babys-sake/

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3768229/

[2] Gavin, N.I., Gaynes, B.N., Lohr, K.N., Meltzer-Brody, S., Gartlehner, G., Swinson, T.(2005). Perinatal depression: a systematic review of prevalence and incidence. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 106 (5, Pt 1):1071-1083

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3768229/

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