Connect with us

#Life

The Myth of the Depression-Proof Muslim

Zeba Khan

Published

on

There’s this article I haven’t written yet, the one where I confess to struggling with depression.

In that soul-baring masterpiece I finally admit to sleeping too little and breaking down too often. I talk about having a child with autism, a rare genetic disease, and the heart-breaking pain of watching my children develop the same disease too.

I cry while writing it, you cry while reading it. Its completion gives purpose to my years of private struggle but – but I haven’t written that one yet. So I’m writing this one instead.

We Muslims have some pretty ridiculous myths about depression, and the worst is that somehow there is “no depression in Islam.”

O mankind, there has to come to you instruction from your Lord and healing for what is in the breasts and guidance and mercy for the believers. – Qur’an 10:57

Allah calls the Qur’an the healer of hearts. If depression doesn’t exist, is Allah referring to coronary heart disease?

This myth’s existence is based on the idea that depression is a form of ingratitude or low faith. Therefore, a person in depression mustn’t be “in Islam” so to speak.

Do people think that they will be left alone because they say: “We believe,” and will not be tested?  Allah asks this of us in Surah Anqaboot. You think being a believer means never being stressed? Wrong.

We did test those before them, and Allah will certainly know those who are true from those who are false. – Qur’an 29:2-3

Allah tested believers before, and He’ll test believers now. To say that depression is a sign of weak faith is to imply that those with bad lives are guilty of being bad Muslims, and this completely contradicts what we know about the most righteous people. In fact, the more righteous you are, the more likely you are to be tested.

Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqaas, may Allah be pleased with him, once asked, “O Messenger of Allah, which of the people are most sorely tested?”

The Prophet ﷺ said: “The prophets, then the next best and the next best. A man will be tested in accordance with his level of religious commitment. If his religious commitment is strong, he will be tested more severely, and if his religious commitment is weak, he will be tested in accordance with his religious commitment. Calamity will keep befalling a person until he walks on the earth with no sin on him.”

For as long as people have been unhappy, the human mind has struggled with understanding the difference between a test and punishment. A person can suffer and instead of seeing their suffering as temporary opportunity, they wonder what they did to deserve such punishment.

Shaitaan loves this train of thought, because it travels due south. I’ve done everything Allah asked me to. I know I’ve messed up, but I said I was sorry. Why is He is doing this to me? Either Allah’s not fair or Allah’s not really there. Either way, this sucks and I don’t wanna do this anymore.

That’s a dangerous ride to take, and if you don’t change direction before going too far, your options become limited to loss of faith or loss of life. You either give up on Allah and find other reasons to continue living, or discontinue living entirely.

No fatigue, nor disease, nor sorrow, nor sadness, nor hurt, nor distress befalls a Muslim, even if it were the prick he receives from a thorn, but that Allah expiates some of his sins for that.  – Prophet Muhammad ﷺ

Life is painful and unpredictable and complicated, so when it comes to knowing the difference between a punishment and a test, all you have to remember is this: How are you reacting to it?

If you find yourself faced with depression and you fight it with the help of Allah and all the means He puts at your disposal, it is a test and you have passed it even if you NEVER fully defeat depression. As long as your keep your faith and stay patient, you have shed sins the way a tree sheds its leaves in fall. You trade some pain in this life for reward in the next, that other believers will be halal jealous of.

However, if you find yourself faced with depression and you resent Allah for it, allowing your state to push you farther from Him and closer to any sinful thing you can use to distract yourself from it, then your test has become your punishment. Your response increases your pain in this life AND the next.

Say: “Nothing shall ever happen to us except what Allah has ordained for us. He is our protector.” And in Allah let the believers put their trust. – Qur’an 9:51

A dear friend of mine called me once, knowing that I was struggling. She had been taking a class on the names of Allah, and when she read up on Al-Jameel, she just had to tell me about it.

“Zeba listen!” she said excitedly, “Allah is Al Jameel, He is Beautiful! He creates beautiful things! He loves Beauty!”

I thought of flowers and fractals and fish. I didn’t see the relevance. “And?”

“Don’t you get it? Al-Jameel wrote your Qadr with beauty too. He wrote autism into your son’s Qadr. He wrote beauty in all of it, even in your pain.”

If that hit you in the heart the way it hit me, make dua for Mona. I think of that phone call often, because it was the first time I began to see pain as part Allah’s plan, rather than my own failure at the emotional invulnerability that I believed all good Muslims were supposed to have.

I wasn’t hurting because I was a bad Muslim, badly managing Allah’s punishment for my badness.  I was hurting because Allah was allowing me to experience hurt, and hurt forced me to seek Allah out for healing.

How wonderful is the affair of the believer, for his affairs are all good, and this applies to no one but the believer. If something good happens to him, he is thankful for it and that is good for him. If something bad happens to him, he bears it with patience and that is good for him. -Prophet Muhammad ﷺ

Being depressed feels like sitting underwater in the bottom of a well, hating the darkness but starving for the air and strength needed to swim toward the surface. It’s cold and lonely and desperately hopeless down there. Depression feels so very far away from Allah, but it forces me to fight my way closer to Him. And I feel safer and less afraid knowing that Allah put me at the bottom of the well the same way He put Yusuf down there, peace be upon him.

Allah knows I’m  down here. He knows I can make it out. I don’t have to know everything that He knows, I just have to trust Him.

In my other article- I’ll write it one day maybe – I have this totally neat, emotionally satisfying and perfectly well-rounded conclusion. I put depression in its proper context by calling it a test, not a punishment or curse for weak Muslims. I let on that I was depressed before but I’m ok now, and if I can make it out of depression then you can too.

That’s in my other article though. In this one, I’ll be frank. I get sad sometimes, I get really, really sad. And then, I feel guilty for feeling sad. Not because I’m blaming myself for not being “Muslim enough” to get happy already, but because I when I look at my first world life and my first world problems, I feel as if I am making a big stink. Like oh pity me, I’m chronically sick but happily married, well supported, and have a good healthcare plan that covers most of my deductibles and I also don’t live in a war zone. 

None of my self-deprecating objectivity seems to work. I can imagine all the children dying in Syria and Palestine and Burma and South Sudan, but when mine cries in my lap because she’s not feeling well for the 99th day out of the last hundred, I feel like my heart is broken.

I’m trying to remember that my heart is NOT broken though. It’s working perfectly well and doing the things my heart is supposed to be doing. It is aching out of sympathy for the love of my children, because they too are being tested by the will of Allah. My heart is struggling and in pain, and I will use that pain to seek healing by the will of Allah. Because that is what my heart is supposed to do. Hearts are supposed to hurt.

Because Allah has promised to heal them.

Zeba Khan is the Director of Development for MuslimMatters.org, as well as a writer, speaker, and disability awareness advocate. In addition to having a child with autism, she herself lives with Ehlers-Danlos Sydrome, Dysautonomia, Mast-Cell Activation Disorder, and a random assortment of acronyms that collectively translate to chronic illness and progressive disability.

30 Comments

30 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Samir

    March 14, 2017 at 7:33 PM

    You’re not alone sister. I was seeking knowledge in the East, praying all my prayers in congregation, reading Arabic books in Islamic knowledge when I was hit with panic/anxiety and almost fell into depression as I was upset about being unable to study at the level I was before.

    Although I’m not as familiar with depression as I am with anxiety and panic, the key to remember is that these mental disorders have a biological component as well and are related to your nervous system. It’s not purely spiritual.

    A big mistake in thinking among many Muslims, even some du’āt and scholars is that depression and anxiety disorders can be cured by just fixing one’s spiritual habits.

    There is some truth in this, not being alone with your problems and keeping righteous company helps A LOT, as well as just slowing down and taking the time to have ikhlās and khushū in your daily actions, spending more time in tawakkul and sujūd and less worrying/ruminating etc.

    But the biological component of these disorder is still there, as well as the psychological. It is highly imperative to be able to speak to someone qualified to counsel you. I highly advise you to find a good therapist (preferably one with personal experience with depression and who is understanding of your need to be a faithful Muslim). If not, or if it doesn’t help much then medication is plan B.

    Do not continue on your own. Seek help, seek understanding and righteous company, and seek professional treatment. It’s been just over a year for me and I’m almost out of mine alhamdulillah.

    • Avatar

      MalikSaabSays

      March 15, 2017 at 8:20 PM

      As a healthcare Pro, the “medication” isn’t really medicinal, and proof of it is in the cure rates after accounting for other variables.
      The power of belief reigns supreme. Belief can effectively ​bring about physical and biological changes – and it does. Neurotransmitters start depleting when negative & irrational trains of thought are left unchecked. Those who check and remove them (whether by self or through help) their neurotransmitters get back up to speed again.

      Brain, mind. The One who designed it hasn’t left it without a service manual. And for sure we did not design it, nor it designed itself, and for certain it’s degree of specificity and precision is not a product of randomness …

    • Zeba Khan

      Zeba Khan

      March 18, 2017 at 4:45 PM

      JazakAllahuKheiran for sharing your experience Samir. You’re 100% right about there being two parts to depression, one that we can influence through our spiritual input, and one that’s plain ole biology. Having strong religious practices certainly can’t prevent depression, but it definitely helps mitigate it. :)

  2. Avatar

    dhaakirah

    March 14, 2017 at 9:17 PM

    I thank you for sharing your heartfelt thoughts with us. jazakillahu khairan.

    We have all been created unique & different and so our struggles & tests are also unique and tailormade for us. Our syrian bros and sis’s have their own tests, as do our Burmese, Palestinian, Sudanese and all the rest of humanity. They may see our struggles in the ‘free’ (non war-torn) world and be thankful for theirs while we see them and may feel guilty about ours. But Allah knows us all, every single one of us and so has gifted each of us with our very own personal pains that we can bear and overcome…(no soul is burdened with what he cant bear).
    (O Allah let them overcome their soon aameen).

    The Best of Planners has a plan for you and your family and maybe part of that is for you to get close to Him in this way, after feeling so far away, so that your children will emulate you and thus leave a beautiful legacy for yourselves.

    I recently learned that everyone in Jannah will each be there for a unique and different deed – maybe this is your unique path to Jannah.

    Imagine the unique depression of Yunus AS in the depth of the ocean and darkness of the whale when he made his dua of desperation, and then he is saved. I find that incident so inspiring and encouraging whenever I feel like I’m slipping into the proverbial well.

    Make dua the rest of us quickly find the direction on our paths and we meet among the Gardens.

    Sincere duas for you all from across the pond :)

    • Zeba Khan

      Zeba Khan

      March 18, 2017 at 4:47 PM

      This was a lovely thought and I will definitely hold on to this: “I recently learned that everyone in Jannah will each be there for a unique and different deed – maybe this is your unique path to Jannah.”

      And I love the mental image of Yunus AS in his darkness. I can only imagine what must have been going through his mind. May Allah have mercy on us all.

      • Avatar

        N

        March 11, 2018 at 5:54 AM

        I’ve tried to understand it but I can’t. How can you feel hopeless if you trust Allah, if truly internalise it its impossible. There’s a difference between sadness and depression. Depression is a hopelessness and that is why Yunus A.S made taubah a hundred thousand times for his hopelessness. If you believe your negative thoughts shaitan wins. I hate negativity. Know Allah and know happiness.

  3. Avatar

    Sofekul Allum

    March 14, 2017 at 9:40 PM

    Aa, A very interesting and beneficial article. The articles benefit me greatly in understanding mental health, depression etc.

  4. Avatar

    Alia

    March 14, 2017 at 11:09 PM

    Jazaki Allah Khair sister. I’m feeling your pain and I’m glad I read this. But Allah also asked us to take care of our health which includes our mental and emotional health. And our beloved prophet Asws “Tadawoo” use medication to heal. It’s obvious you are going through enourmous stress and sadness and it’s important that you seek professional help. It’s part of faith to care for yourself. I love you.

    • Zeba Khan

      Zeba Khan

      March 18, 2017 at 4:47 PM

      Jazakillah sis :) I love you for the sake of Allah, and ask that Allah make you among those most beloved to Him.

  5. Avatar

    Saara

    March 14, 2017 at 11:41 PM

    insh’Allah may He give you the ease after your hardship. I relate to what you wrote so much.
    Depression among other mental illness has a biological component, so I hope you know that prayer helps us deal with going through life with illness but it’s definitely not a because of a lack of faith. We don’t say that about other illnesses I hope the Ummah comes to know this about mental illnesses too.

    • Zeba Khan

      Zeba Khan

      March 18, 2017 at 4:49 PM

      You know Saara surprisingly sometimes we do say the same about other illnesses… and it’s not great there either. I’ve been told that if I made more dua my son wouldn’t have autism anymore. It’s important to recognize that people mean well, even if they are accidentally tearing holes in your heart without realizing it. Alhamdulillah. :)

  6. Avatar

    Shine

    March 15, 2017 at 12:46 AM

    Asalaamualaikum… Hey sister you are not alone. i have been there. And i admit i do sometimes revisit that well again and again. But as you said it should take you closer to Allah swt not away from Allah swt. It doesnt matter whether it is trail or punishment, what matters is how we deal with it.. What matters is the consolation that it was written in our Qadar. And we muslims believe in Qadr. What is apparently bad to us has many hidden dimensions that are known only to Allah swt. And we have this consolation that overall whatever Allah swt plans for us is the best. We may not always know the wisdom behind the trails, but we need to be assured that all trails have deep wisdom behind them. Sister nothing that happens in this world is futile, nothing is redundant. Everything that happens, even the leaf that falls has a deep wisdom behind it. You see Allah swt is not concerned with end results. You and i are depressed, thats perfectly okay but inspite of that even if we try to come out of it and struggle to fight it .Even if you may not come out of it but you tried and struggled with it . Thats called effort. and thats what Allah swt values. He values efforts rather than end results. I am sure sister you know all this but we need to keep reminding ourselves again and again because REMINDER BENEFITS THE BELIEVER. In the end we all need reminders sometimes even those that were written by us only.
    http://www.abezsez.com/2013/11/dear-not-a-loser/
    I pray May Allah swt ease our trails and give us best in this Life and Akhirah. Aameen

    • Zeba Khan

      Zeba Khan

      March 18, 2017 at 4:56 PM

      Hey sis, of course I remember you! < > Jazakillah for the reminder, reminders are awesome.

  7. Avatar

    Ali Saeed

    March 15, 2017 at 10:06 AM

    So much truth in your powerful ending: “Hearts are supposed to hurt….Because Allah has promised to heal them.” – makes you wanna cry in sajdah

  8. Avatar

    Mariam

    March 15, 2017 at 5:06 PM

    I hope you also get to finish your other article with a good ending inshaAllah. And also an ending with a never-ending joy and contentment of the Hereafter, ameen.

  9. Avatar

    Mubashira Ajmal

    March 15, 2017 at 6:49 PM

    Assalamualaikum

    Jameel..also, as in, Sabrun Jameel.. a beautiful patience. Duas for u, ur little one, n those fighting the hard times everywhere

  10. Avatar

    Zenubia

    March 15, 2017 at 11:48 PM

    If the believers didn’t feel sad or depressed there wouldn’t be a chapter in the seerah called Aam Ul huzn – the year of sadness.

  11. Avatar

    umm ismael

    March 16, 2017 at 1:11 AM

    Asslam u alaikum
    May Allah Alleviate your burdens and May He Make ease in your affair and may He Grant you from His endless bounty. May He Heal and cure you and Provide you from where you did not even imagine ameen

  12. Avatar

    Waffles

    March 16, 2017 at 2:23 AM

    I loved that you shared this. I think as Muslim communities, we always share good things or accomplishments. I think it’s harder to share loss, grievances, or just daily struggles. But this is what Muslims are about. We are there for each other thru thick and thin. More than that, we believe Allah is there thru it all.
    Thank you for your beautiful words and pointing us all back to Allah (swt).

  13. Avatar

    Amatullah

    March 16, 2017 at 2:35 AM

    Your fear for your children reminds me of Yaqoob AlayhiSalaam. He was so much in depression after the temporary loss of his child – Yusuf AlayhiSalaam. He cried until his eyesight got weak. But Allah delivered Yusuf AS “beautifully” back to his father, SubhanAllah.
    La Ilaha Illa Anta Subhanaka Inni Kuntum Minazzallimeen.

    • Zeba Khan

      Zeba Khan

      March 18, 2017 at 4:58 PM

      Beautiful reminder Amatullah- Yaqoob, may Allah bless him, lived for years in sadness and cried until he went blind and of course he was a proper Muslim, he was prophet of Allah!

      SubhanAllah :)

  14. Avatar

    Simeen

    March 16, 2017 at 12:30 PM

    Subhanallah, Zeba! This is so beautiful, I’m lost for words. Barakallahu feeki. May Allah ta’ala bless you and your family With His best both in this life and The Hereafter.

  15. Avatar

    Farah

    March 16, 2017 at 6:55 PM

    JazakAllah so much for sharing your thoughts and story. You are so strong. May Allah make all your hardships easier, may He give you sabr through the hard days and the ability to find little precious joys amidst the sad moments. May Allah grant your children health amd happiness and guide them to all that is right and good. Ameen.

  16. Avatar

    amtullah

    March 17, 2017 at 4:28 AM

    New Atheist Fantasyland?
    Quick question before I start exploring your blog: U an atheist?

  17. Avatar

    Abu Aaliyah

    March 22, 2017 at 8:10 PM

    I am a Psychiatric Social Worker and can confidently state that there is no such thing as a depression-proof Muslim. Anxiety and Depression are very common in the Muslim community. Thank you for taking the courage to write about your experience and raising self-awareness on this issue. Thank you for being vulnerable and using it as a tool to let others connect with your experience(s). I want to share with you an article on vulnerability that you may find useful.

    http://www.thismuslimreads.com/read/daretobevulnerable

  18. Avatar

    Mahmoud

    April 19, 2017 at 1:30 AM

    Dear Zeba,
    As said by others, your will not walk alone. Once in a while i do get down for no reason. But possibly worth sharing is that i have been struggling with an anxiety disorder for over 30 years. My outsider demeanor is that of a calm and composed Muslim but inside there is periodic storm! Though i am aware, Alhamdulillah, about my excellent articulation of of issues, speaking publicly coherently is a arduous task, not withstasding the pounding heart. It may sound ridicuous even after self positive talk about the absurdity of that current emotional being.To flavour the challenge, there is this ringing ear (tinitus) which occassionally roars.
    This is part of the tests we will all be subjected. In sha Allah, as one sister mentioned it may be the ‘dog’ that will propel you to Jannah.

  19. Avatar

    Maria

    September 25, 2017 at 7:15 AM

    Thank you sister for this article.
    I thought I was the only one who thought that being depressed is unislamic and proof of my weak eeman, being ungrateful for what I have and that my anxiety issues are a result of little tawakkul. It turns out I was wrong.
    May Allah bless you and give you lots of strength.
    P.S.
    What I found hugely helpful was a self help book “Manage your mood” by David Veale & Rób Willosn. It’s about using Behavioral Activation techniques.

  20. Avatar

    craig turton

    December 7, 2017 at 9:26 PM

    You are right, I too have experienced what you have. But what has lead us back, our-believe in the God of Abraham, brings us back and stronger!

  21. Avatar

    anne

    March 21, 2019 at 5:53 PM

    This has helped me so much. I am feeling so lonely at the moment.
    I am married, have good healthy kids Alhamdolillah, not going through what you are with your child, and not living in abject poverty or in a war zone, but I am so terribly in a bad place, that there are times where I will sit alone and stare into space, not wanting to do anything.
    Maybe I have depression, but why? What have I got to be depressed or sad about?
    Yet here I am, day after day, wondering why am I sleeping so much, always feeling tired and lethargic, and I don’t even know what am I feeling sad about.
    I have this feeling of my own personal black cloud filled with gloom hovering over my head. Everyone seems to be getting on with things, but I am feeling useless. I get invited to places, but the mere thought of attending fills me with anxiety and stress. I feel I have to act happy and the effort to do small talk with others fills me with dread.
    I have such low esteem, and I don’t know how I can get my confidence back.
    I feel I am no good at anything. I miss my parents and siblings who live quite far from me, but yet I have a husband and children, so nothing to really be complaining about.
    I listen to Islamic talks whilst I am alone at home, am chirpy and smiley when I do meet people, but it is just a mask.
    I feel all alone. Your article has given me hope that maybe this is only a test, and I should be optimistic that it will be my turn to shine one day. I don’t feel I am of any real use to anyone anymore. If I cry I chastise myself for feeling sorry for myself when I should not have any real reason to cry. I can’t talk to anyone because they too will think it strange, when I have nothing to feel depressed about. I am grateful for everything I have but am stuck, like you described, on the cold floor at the bottom of a well, peering through the blurry water, but not making any progress to rise above it.
    Everyone tells me to get a job or a hobby or do something, I wish I could.
    The first step seems to be the hardest hurdle, I feel I need to do something, but cannot motivate myself to do anything.
    So I will carry on, being the stay at home mum that so many will envy. You are so lucky they say, and I am, so why am I still feeling sad and unfulfilled? Am I so ungrateful? I don’t want to be.
    I hope this feeling passes, and until then, I will just put on my happy mask for my kids sake, and hope for the true healing of my heart, and all of yours too.

    • Zeba Khan

      Zeba Khan

      March 27, 2019 at 4:46 PM

      Anne habibti, I feel you. Depression doesn’t make sense and it’s not the same as being sad because you lost something or you’re missing someone. It’s something your brain does regardless of whether there’s a reason to or not, and maybe that’s your jihad. Allah reward you for the struggle and the patience, Ameen! < <>>

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

#Life

How To Be Positive In Hard Times

Amina Malik, Guest Contributor

Published

on

How to be Positive

We all know that we should be grateful. And we definitely know that we should be certain that whatever happens is good for us as believers. However, when we are tested -as we inevitably are-, many of us crumble. Why is that? Why are we not able to ‘pass’ these tests, so to speak? Many of us after a tragedy become hapless, sad, depressed, angry, or bitter.

The essence lies in knowledge that is beneficial, and the best form of knowledge is that which an individual can apply to their day-to-day life on their own. Here are a few tips to increase your patience in hard times. Like building muscle at the gym, it takes time to exercise this habit, but becomes easier over time:

Manage Stress:

Unfortunately, stressful events are abundant in our lives. People under stress can find themselves falling into thinking errors. These thinking errors include -but are not limited to-: black and white thinking, mind-reading, self-criticism, negative filtering and catastrophizing. Together this can affect how we perceive reality. Next time you are tempted to make a catastrophe out of a situation, stop and ask your self two questions:

  • Is this really a big deal in the larger scheme of things?
  • Are there any positives in this situation?

Have a Realistic Perspective of Qadr:

Although it is part of our creed to believe in divine destiny, personal responsibility is still of importance and we cannot simply resign ourselves to fate; especially if we have some sort of influence over a situation.

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says in the Quran:

لَهُ مُعَقِّبَاتٌ مِّن بَيْنِ يَدَيْهِ وَمِنْ خَلْفِهِ يَحْفَظُونَهُ مِنْ أَمْرِ اللَّهِ ۗ إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يُغَيِّرُ مَا بِقَوْمٍ حَتَّىٰ يُغَيِّرُوا مَا بِأَنفُسِهِمْ ۗ وَإِذَا أَرَادَ اللَّهُ بِقَوْمٍ سُوءًا فَلَا مَرَدَّ لَهُ ۚ وَمَا لَهُم مِّن دُونِهِ مِن وَالٍ 

For each one are successive [angels] before and behind him who protect him by the decree of Allah. Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves. And when Allah intends for a people ill, there is no repelling it. And there is not for them besides Him any patron. [Surah Ar-Ra’d;11]

This puts the responsibility on us to change ourselves. Notice the word, themselves. We are not responsible for events beyond our control. These events include the behavior of our spouses, the affinity of our children to the religion, the love in the hearts of people, the weather, the gender of our child (or how many we have), or even the amount of money we will earn in a lifetime -to name a few. Often we become stuck and focus on our conditions, rather than focusing on our own behavior.

Nourish Positive Thinking:

How to Be PositiveIn order to be able to have a wise and calculated response to life’s events, we must learn to interpret these events in a way that assign positive meaning to all. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is after all, how we perceive Him to be. Shaytan interferes with this process through waswaas (interjecting thoughts that are based on negativity and falsehood). His goal is for the Muslim to despair in Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) mercy. The goal is not to be happy all the time; this is unrealistic. The goal is to think well of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) as consistently as possible.

  • Create a list of what you are grateful to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) for daily.
  • Remind yourself everyday of the positive aspects of situations when your mind falls to default negative thinking. Self-criticism will will only encourage you to take full responsibility for negative life events and become depressed, or at the opposite end take no responsibility whatsoever; either mind-set does not help us improve our self.

Remind yourself as well as others of the benefits of Positivity:

  •  On an individual level, once we begin to think positive about ourselves and our life, we become optimistic. This positivity will then also effect our perception of others. We become more forgiving, over-looking, and patient with others when we can see the positives in any situation.
  • Increased rizk and feelings of well-being
  • Reduced likelihood of reacting in a negative way to life’s events; increased patience.
  • Increased likelihood of finding good opportunities in work, relationships and lifestyle.
  • Higher energy levels and motivation to take on acts of khayr and benefit.

10 Steps to Happiness!

Practice self-care as a daily routine:

Our bodies have rights on us. Our souls have rights on us. Our family has rights on us. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has rights on us. Often, when there is an imbalance in one area, our whole being can sense it. This creates anger and resentment towards those around us and life in general.

  • Take care of your body, feed it well and in moderation and exercise in a way that makes you feel relaxed.
  • Pray your prayers, read the Quran, maintain the rights Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) and your own soul have on you.
  • Take care of your tongue by avoiding back-biting and complaining.
  • Take regular showers, comb your hair, brush your teeth, and wear clean clothes; even if you are at home.
  • Take care of your mind by doing dhikr as much as possible and letting go consciously of ruminating on situations.

A Powerful Dua for Happiness

Do not over-rely on your emotions:

Our emotions are a product of our thoughts. Our thoughts can be affected by slight changes in the environment such as the weather, or even whether or not we have eaten or slept well.

 

كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ الْقِتَالُ وَهُوَ كُرْهٌ لَّكُمْ ۖ وَعَسَىٰ أَن تَكْرَهُوا شَيْئًا وَهُوَ خَيْرٌ لَّكُمْ ۖ وَعَسَىٰ أَن تُحِبُّوا شَيْئًا وَهُوَ شَرٌّ لَّكُمْ ۗ وَاللَّهُ يَعْلَمُ وَأَنتُمْ لَا تَعْلَمُونَ 

“And it may be that you dislike a thing which is good for you and that you like a thing which is bad for you. Allah knows but you do not know.” [Surah Al-Baqarah;216]

How To be PositiveUltimately, our perception can be manipulated by our thoughts, shaytan, and other factors. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is not limited in His perceptions due to stress, emotions, or circumstances and moods. Therefore, we should be humble to defer our judgements to Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) ever-lasting judgement. Far from naval gazing, the more we are aware of our internal perceptions, emotions, and motives, the more able we are to practice Islam in its full essence. Our forefathers understood this deeply, and would regularly engage in self-assessment which gives you a sense of understanding and control of your own thoughts, emotions and actions.

The Art of Overcoming Negativity

Continue Reading

#Culture

Go Visit Bosnia

Amad Abu Reem

Published

on

Visit Bosnia

I have been to 35 countries, from Japan and China in the Far East, to Mexico and Columbia in South America, to Egypt and Morocco in North Africa, and there has not been another trip that was as profound in so many ways as my last trip to Bosnia. Go Visit Bosnia.

Besides Bosnia’s natural beauty, affordability and hospitality, the enrichment that comes from learning about a different culture, its cuisines, its complicated politics, and a genocide not yet 25 years old, is one that turns tourism into an experience not easily forgotten.

To the last point, why do human beings travel? What is it about a new destination that is appealing to us? Fun can be achieved in your neck of the world, so why wander? There are those who live in picture-perfect Switzerland but love to travel to remote deserts of Africa or the beaches of Indonesia. That is because traveling through new lands is a human instinct—a yearning to experience different cultures, foods, and environments.

Moreover, there is nothing more precious in life than experiences. Those who have had a sudden onset of terminal disease at an early age have an important perspective from which we can all learn. Why? Because the knowledge that you are dying quickly ends any sense of immortality, and what truly matters is crystallized. When asked what is it that they cherished most in their lives, pretty much all of them mentioned how the satisfaction from experiences such as travel beats the enjoyment of material riches any day.

What is an experience? Is it a fun week at Disney? Is it an adventure-filled trek through mountains? Is it going to a place to learn a new language? Actually, all of them are experiences, and it is not just going to a new place, but it is what you make out of that travel. If it is just fun, games, and shopping, have you really enriched your own life? Or have you missed out?

So when we planned our trip to Bosnia, many in our circle were a bit surprised as Bosnia is not on most travelers’ bucket lists. Muslims generally have Turkey and Malaysia in their must-visits “halal trips”, but after my trip to Bosnia, I feel that all Muslim travelers should add Bosnia to their short-list. Bosnia is a Muslim majority country, but barely so with about 50% Muslims, 30% Serbian Orthodox Christian and 15% Croat Catholics. I know this concerns many people, so let me add that food is generally halal unless you are in a non-Muslim village. Your guide will ensure that.

However, let me add that Bosnia is not just good for Muslims (just as Turkey and Malaysia appeal to everyone); people of all faiths can enjoy from the enriching trip to Bosnia.

Our trip began with selecting a reliable tour operator. While people tend to skip operators, preferring to book directly, I firmly believe that a professional should organize your first trip to a relatively unknown destination. I can honestly say I would have missed 50% of the enrichment without the presence of Adi, a highly educated tour guide, who was such a pleasant and friendly person that we almost felt him part of the family. The tour company itself belongs to a friend who worked for a major international company, before moving to his motherland to become part of Bosnia’s success. At the end of this article, I am providing contacts with this tour company, which MuslimMatters is proud to have as its partner for any Balkan travel.

Travel Bosnia, Visit Bosnia

Coming to the trip, I am not going to describe it in the sequence of the itinerary, but just some of the wonderful places we visited and the memorable experiences. We had 10 days for the trip and I would say a minimum of one week is needed to barely enjoy what Bosnia has to offer. However, two weeks if available would make it less hectic and give more time to absorb most of what Bosnia has to offer.

Our trip started in Sarajevo, a beautiful city. Even though it’s Bosnia’s largest city, the population is around half a million. Remember Bosnia itself has a relatively small population of 3.5 million. An additional 2 million people in the Bosnian diaspora are spread throughout the world, mostly due to the Balkan wars of the 1990s. We walked through the old town and heard amazing stories from our guide. Although I have never been to Jerusalem, I have seen its pictures and can see why many people refer to Sarajevo as the “little Jerusalem”. We heard the interesting story about the assassination of the Archduke of Austria in 1914 (the Austria-Hungarian empire controlled Bosnia at the time) and the beginning of World War 1. We visited the Ottoman bazaar, the City Hall, the Emperor’s Mosque, and many other interesting areas.

Sarajevo

Sarajevo, capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, is a compact city on the Miljacka River, surrounded by the Dinaric Alps. Its center has museums commemorating local history, including Sarajevo 1878–1918, which covers the 1914 assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, an event that sparked World War I. Landmarks of the old quarter, Baš?aršija, include the Ottoman-era Gazi Husrev-bey Mosque.

Like most cities in Bosnia, a river flows right through the center of Sarajevo.

The magnificent building that houses Sarajevo City Hall is located in the city of Sarajevo. It was initially the largest and most representative building of the Austro-Hungarian period in Sarajevo and served as the city hall. During the siege of Sarajevo that lasted over 3 years, Serbs targeted this building, focusing on destroying a rich collection of books and manuscripts inside it, and it was essentially burned down. After years of reconstruction, the building was reopened on May 9, 2014.

As we were walking on the streets, I took a picture of a man sitting carefree on the bench near the garden. I found this man’s peaceful enjoyment of the weather fascinating. He was in his own world— eyes closed and smiling.

Visit Bosnia

As you go into the Old Town, you will find many shops like this one in the picture of metal-crafts. Bosnians have been historically folks with mastery in metal and wood crafts. One historic shop that still functions and has some fabulous wood pieces is shown in the pictures.

 

 

As you go through the city, you will find many graveyards as well, reminding everyone of the longest modern age siege of Sarajevo. One particular grim reminder is a memorial near the city center dedicated to the children who were killed during the war.

Visit Bosnia, SarajevoOur trip coincided with the annual somber anniversary of the beginning of the siege, April 5, 1992. Bouquets of flowers adorned the remembrance area.

Visit Bosnia

Another major graveyard (massive area) has graves of Bosnian Muslims, Bosnian Serbs (Orthodox Christians) and few Bosnian Croats (Catholics). They fought against each other with the oppressor by all accounts being the Serbs. Now they all lie together next to each other. The white tombstones are Muslims, the black ones Serbs. One pic shows a particular Serb person who lived 101 years, only to die in the first year of the war. Most of the tombstones indicated the year of death during 1992-95, the war years. Some of the white tombstones have “Sehid” written which means martyr. Interestingly, Serbs use Greek letters and other Bosnians Latin, so most signs are in both languages.

You can go up to a café in Hecco Deluxe Hotel, which is Sarajevo’s oldest “skyscraper” and just absorb a 360 view of the city.  I was able to take one picture that captured the signs of all three major religious groups in Bosnia, as labeled in the photo. However, this is also a reflection of a country divided with 3 presidents, one from each religious group. Remember that the massacres were conducted by mostly Bosnian Serbs (not Serbian Serbs) and at some point, the Bosnian Croats also backstabbed the Bosnian Muslims (for example by destroying the vital ottoman old bridge in Mostar). Croatia and Serbia were planning to divide Bosnia between themselves but the Bosnian Muslims held their own until finally, NATO stepped in. It remains shocking how genocide could happen in the 90s in the heart of Europe. And it says a lot about the hypocrisy of the “West” in general. Many Bosnian Muslims remain bitter about it and I find it amazing that despite living among their potential killers, no revenge attacks have taken place. The political situation remains stable but tenuous— extremely safe but one political crisis away from going downhill. However, everyone is war fatigued and in case of a crisis, most people intend to just leave the country than to fight again.

Visit Bosnia

A view from Hecco Deluxe Hotel, Bosnia

Visit Bosnia

In the old city, you will also find the famous Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque that was built in the 16th century; it is the largest historical mosque in Bosnia and Herzegovina and one of the most representative Ottoman structures in the Balkans. A very interesting facet of the mosque is the clock tower. This is probably the only clock in the world that starts at dawn and ends at dusk. Every day, a caretaker adjusts the time to reflect the actual hours. So whenever you look at it, you will know how many hours to Maghrib prayers!

Watering hole structure for stray cats and dogs

Another interesting feature and a reflection of the concern for animals is the watering hole structure set up for stray cats and dogs. It kind of looks like a toilet seat, with the purpose that an animal like a cat may climb the seat and drink from the small water reservoir that is constantly filled by the caretakers.

If you want to shop for normal stuff, there is the Sarajevo City Center (SCC). It has all the popular international brands, but what I found interesting is that the prices were in many cases even lower than American prices, which if you have been around, is quite rare. So if you are coming from the Middle East or Europe, definitely check this mall out.

Vrelo Bosne:

 

Just outside Sarajevo in the outskirts of the city, you a public park, featuring the spring of the River Bosna, at the foothills of the Mount Igman on the outskirts of Sarajevo. This beautiful park and the spring is a remarkable sight. It is a must see when you visit Bosnia. Crystal clear water allows you to see the entire waterbed. A beautiful white swan swam, followed by a couple of gorgeous ducks.

Visit Bosnia

Museum Tunnel of War:

This small museum showcases the tunnel that was built underneath the airport tarmac by Bosnian Muslims in order to carry food, supplies and even arms. It was called “Tunnel of Hope” and constructed between March and June 1993 during the Siege of Sarajevo. While the Bosnian Serbs besieging the country were armed to the teeth with weapons from the ex-Yugoslavian army, an embargo of weapons was applied, essentially making Bosnian Muslims sitting ducks. Such was the treachery of the international community. This tunnel helped the Bosnian Muslims protect Sarajevo from total surrender. You can see the names of those killed here.

A truck driver on the “exit” side of the tunnel would then transport these supplies up and down some treacherous mountains. The driver’s wife is still alive and has a small shop that sells souvenirs—be sure to visit and buy some.

Blagaj

This is a village-town in the southeastern region of the Mostar basin. Here we relaxed and ate fresh fish at the source of the Buna River, right next to where the water sprung out from the mountains underneath a cave. This is one of those dining experiences where the scenery makes your food even more enjoyable than it would have otherwise been.

Travnik

Visit Bosnia

This is a town and municipality and the administrative center of Central Bosnia Canton. It is situated about 50 miles west of Sarajevo. Historically, it was the capital city of the governors of Bosnia from 1699 to 1850, and has a cultural heritage dating from that period. Here you see a pre-Ottoman Fort (1300s) is still in great shape. It stands on top of the hill with mountains behind it so no one could enter the city without being spotted. The scenery from the top is also fantastic as seen in the picture. The oldest mosque of the city was built here. There were 20 mosques were built in the city, of which 17 survived to date.

Jajce

It is situated in the mountains; there is a beautiful countryside near the city, rivers such as the Vrbas and Pliva, lakes like Pliva Lake, which is also a popular destination for the local people and some tourists. This lake is called Brana in the local parlance. In 1527, Jajce became the last Bosnian town to fall to Ottoman rule, and you will see the gate to the city that fell to the Ottomans.  The 17-meter high Pliva waterfall was named one of the 12 most beautiful waterfalls in the world.

Mostar

Visit Bosnia

It is situated on the Neretva River and is the fifth-largest city in the country. Mostar was named after the bridge keepers (mostari) who in the medieval times guarded the Stari Most (Old Bridge) over the Neretva. The Old Bridge, built by the Ottomans in the 16th century, is one of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s most visited landmarks and is considered an exemplary piece of Islamic architecture in the Balkans. The Old Bridge stood for 427 years until the Croatian army destroyed it in an act of treachery in November 1993. It was rebuilt and reopened in July 2004 with support from various nations.

 

Mostar is a beautiful city. You can also shop here and like all of Bosnia, you will not be haggled or conned (something that has become a feature of doing business in Turkey, unfortunately). There is one large shop that sells bed-sheets, table covers, etc. owned by a guy from Kosovo. You will not miss it if you are going through the bazaar. That is worth buying if you like such stuff.

Not far from the Old Bridge, you can climb up a narrow staircase to a top of a mosque minaret and have another breath-taking view of the city and of the Old Bridge itself. The climb is not terribly difficult but may be a stretch for the elder.

Visit Bosnia

Mostar Old Bridge (1567) (UNESCO World Heritage List)

Olympic Mountains Bjelasnica

Bjelašnica is a mountain in central Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is found directly to the southwest of Sarajevo, bordering Mt. Igman.  Bjelašnica’s tallest peak, by which the whole mountain group got its name, rises to an elevation of 2067 meters (6782 feet). This is one of the resorts that hosted the 1984 winter Olympics. The main hotel here serves delicious food. If you are a skier, then the many mountains of Bosnia make for perfect (and very cheap) skiing options.

Bosnia

Srebrenica

Visit Bosnia

Srebenica, Bosnia

Epicenter of the Bosnian genocide, where 8372 civilians were murdered as the world watched callously. This is a must when you visit Bosnia. The genocide museum houses stories and eyewitness accounts. It is in one part of a massive warehouse that used to be a factory for car batteries before it became the command post for the UN designated Dutch army, sent to protect the Bosnian Muslim civilians, but later turning into cowards who gave up thousands for slaughter.

We met a survivor whose to this date chokes as he recalls his escape, walking 60 miles sleepless, hungry to reach Bosnian territory. Shakes you to the core.

Till today, not all bodies have been found or identified. Some of the bodies were moved to secondary graves by the Serbs to hide evidence. The green posts are the discoveries between one July 11 anniversary to the next— to be converted to white tombstones.

 

This day trip by far was the most moving. A genocide that shook us 25 years ago, but that we only heard of, is brought to life here. The museum offers stories and footage of the genocide. The graveyard makes your heart sink.

Unfortunately, this genocide is mostly forgotten and is something that we must never forget. Just as visits to Auschwitz are important to remember the Holocaust, we must make Srebrenica a place to visit, such that it becomes a history that we must never forget.

Other places of interest (not all-inclusive by any means):

Woodcrafts in Konjic, Bosnia

On the way back from Mostar to Sarajevo, be sure to stop by Konjic where you can stop by a very old woodcarving shop that to this date provides fabulous woodcrafts.

Visit Bosnia

You can also stop by Sunny Land, a small park where you can ride an alpine roller coaster that kids (and adults) will definitely enjoy. A bit further from this location, you can see the remains of the bobsled structure, built for the 1984 Winter Olympics.

Visit Bosnia, Sunnyland

Our guide was The Bosnian Guide.

Continue Reading

#Life

Mindful or Mind-full? Going From AutoPilot to Aware

Avatar

Published

on

Mindful

Modeling Mindfulness

Mindfull

“Remember that God knows what is in your souls, so be mindful of Him.”

[Sūrat al-Baqarah 2:235]

Mindful or Mind-full?

Ever felt frustrated when you were trying to talk to your spouse, your children, your students, or your youth group and they would just not pay attention? This is a prime example of being on autopilot and getting carried away without actually being aware of what is most important in the present moment.

A recent Harvard study shows that our minds are not present in the moment and wander about 47% of the time1. In a world of technology and continuous sensory overload, the lines between work and home, friends and family, necessity vs. purpose, world-centric vs. Allah-centric have become blurred. We are either living in the past or ruminating about the future, and in the process, we are forgetting to live, enjoy, cherish, and make the most of our present moments.

For parents, teachers, youth leaders, and anyone in the beautiful role of guiding, teaching, coaching, or mentoring others, we can make a huge difference by modeling Mindfulness ourselves. But where do we start? The answer is to go from autopilot to becoming aware.

Autopilot to Aware

Being on autopilot is when you are distracted in the present moment, where your mind is wandering into the past or the future, and you are less aware of yourself, surroundings, or others. Autopilot can actually be pretty helpful for your regular habits. Waking up, brushing your teeth, getting ready for your day, going to school or work – many of the things we do habitually every day can be done more seamlessly without having to think, and that is a good thing. But there are times when you have to learn to turn off your autopilot to become aware. But how?

Here is a Mindfulness tool that can be done in just a minute or two for you to become more aware.

Step 1: Breath as a Tool. Say Bismillah. Focus on your breath. See where you experience the breath – the breathing in and breathing out of your body. Is your breath stemming from your nostrils, your chest, or your stomach? Just bring your attention to your breath and relax and stay with it there for a few moments.

Step 2: Body as a Tool. Relax your body. We carry so many emotions in our bodies2. Our stress from the past or anticipation for the future sometimes finds its way into our necks, other times in our chest muscles or our backs. Pay attention to what emotions and sensations do you feel, and try to relax all parts of your body.

Step 3: Intention as a Tool. As you have centered your thoughts to the present moment through your breath and your body, ask yourself: “What is most important now? In this present moment?”

Just simply being aware makes us more mindful parents, teachers, youth and professionals – being aware makes us more Mindful of Allah SWT. Mindfulness is the ability to be aware of your mind and body and bring your attention to the present moment.

Mindful

Real Life in the Present Moment

You are an on-the-go parent: It has been a long day and you have to pick up the kids from school, but work is still pending. You’re picking up the kids from school, feeding them, and then shuffling everyone to their afterschool activities, be it Qur’an, softball, soccer, swimming, or the million other things that kids seem to have these days. You squeeze pending work in between drop-offs and pick-ups, and you function by living from one task to the next.

The Autopilot Impact: You’re getting a lot done, but are so engrossed in quickly moving your children along from one thing to another that you are unable to really cherish your time together.

The Mindfulness Suggestion: You can try to go from autopilot to awareness by focusing on your breath, paying attention to your emotions, and relaxing your body. As you do so, ask yourself: “What is most important now?” Make the intention to slow down, listen to the children more mindfully, and cherish and enjoy your time together.

You are a busy teacher: Last night you had to take all the grading home and spent two hours poring over students’ work. This morning, you woke up early to pick up some classroom supplies after dropping off your own kids to school. You’ve already had two cups of coffee and are trying to think through everything you have to do today. You like the idea of Mindfulness, living life in the present moment, and enjoying every day to its fullest, but your mind is not free to even enjoy the beautiful morning sunrise as you drive to school.

The Autopilot Impact: You want to listen and pay attention to every child’s needs, and enjoy the rewards of their growth, but you can’t. What’s more, you judge yourself for just trying to get through your activities for the day. You wish you could connect with your students better.

The Mindfulness Suggestion: Whenever you are stressed with an unpleasant parent or student interaction, think about breathing, relaxing your body, and asking what you need to focus on now. Try to do one thing at a time, and relax into what you’re doing.

You are an overstretched youth director: You are a role model. You have this major weekend event you are planning with the youth. Your budget is still pending from the board, you have to call all these people, have to get the graphics and remind everyone about the event, you have to visit all these masjids and MSAs to announce and remind people about the weekend.

This weekend’s theme is Living a Life of Purpose and you are super passionate about it. However, the whole week you have had a hard time remembering to even pray one Salah with focus. Instead, your mind has been preoccupied with all the endless planning for this weekend. You love what you do but you wonder how to also be mindful in your everyday worship while you are always prepping and planning engaging activities for the youth.

The Autopilot Impact: You enjoy shaping the youth but you are losing steam. You are always planning the next program and unable to focus on your own personal and spiritual development. It is difficult for you to pray even one salah without thinking about all the events and activities planned for that week.

The Mindfulness Suggestion: Get serious about taking some time for yourself. Know that becoming more mindful about your own prayers and self-development will also make you a better role model. Take a minute or two before every Salah to practice the simple, 3-Step Mindfulness Tool. You say Bismillah and breathe, focus your mind, and then relax your body. Empty your mind from everything else – what has past and what’s to come – and ask “What’s most important now?” to develop better focus in your Salah.

In Conclusion: Practice Simple but Solid Steps towards becoming more Mindful Muslims

Mindfulness is to open a window to let the Divine light in.

[Imam Al Ghazali]

Mindfulness gives us the ability to be aware. We can use Mindfulness tools to remember Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), refocus, renew our intentions, and engage with the present moment in a more effective and enjoyable way. Mindfulness also invites awareness of our potential negligence in being our best selves with both Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) and His creation. To put it simply, being more aware of our selves can help us be better versions of our selves.

Mindfulness is both an art and a science, with brain and behavioral science research validating the importance of Mindfulness in improving our health, managing our stress, navigating our emotions, and positively impacting our lives3. In today’s modern and distracted world, let us treasure every tool that helps us center our attention on what matters the most.

  1. Bradt, Steve (2010). Wandering mind not a happy mind. Harvard Gazette. https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2010/11/wandering-mind-not-a-happy-mind/
  2. Lauri Nummenmaa, Enrico Glerean, Riitta Hari, Jari K. Hietanen (2013). Bodily maps of emotions. National Academy of Sciences. https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2013/12/26/1321664111
  3. “What are the benefits of mindfulness,” American Psychological Association: http://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/07-08/ce-corner.aspx

To learn more about how to become mindful take the Define Course on Mindfulness and Emotional Intelligence.

Continue Reading

Trending