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Shattering The Stigma of Mental Illness

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Devastated and broken while suffering for years in silence, a 20 year old girl spent her short life misunderstood and ridiculed not only by her peers, but sadly by her own family members obliterating her self-esteem. She pleaded with her parents for professional help, but her grievances were never taken seriously. Overwhelmed by feelings of inadequacy and alienation, the darkness of depression took over. Her unbearable loneliness left her feeling as if she didn’t have a choice but to try to end her pain the only way she knew how, by taking her own life. Alhamdulilllah, it was a failed attempt, which jolted her parents to wake up from their delusion and finally act.

When the family came in to see me they had no idea that the solution could be so simple. Alhamdulillah we were able to turn her life around in just a few short sessions. She learned to understand her depression, ways to cope with stress and restore the relationship with her parents.

“There is no disease that Allah has created, except that He also has created its treatment.” (Al-Bukhari)

Many people are suffering in silence with depression like the girl in the story, but they are not seeking help because of the fear and the stigma associated with mental health. They are either apprehensive about being labeled or they are ashamed to admit that they have a problem. It is about time we start prioritizing mental health and giving the same kind of medical attention as we do with physical illness. If your child broke his leg would you ignore it and hope it will just get better on its own or will you rush him to the emergency room to align the bone and put a cast on it? What would happen if the broken bone was ignored and not treated? It would obviously become a bigger problem leading to a lifetime of difficulty when it could have been so easily treated. Parents who wouldn’t treat a broken bone would be seen as negligent and unfit parents. They would even be categorized as abusive. Then why do we ignore the emotional wounds of our loved ones? Why do we assume that they will get over it? Bones will not heal sporadically without an orthopedist; a cavity will not go away on its own without a dentist and mental illnesses will not be healed without seeking psychological help from a professional. There are some people who may have limited finances, but in the same way we come up with the funds needed for surgery we need to come up with the funds to treat our family with mental health issues.

  • Fear of the unknown
  • Stigma associated with mental health
  • Apprehensive about being labeled
  • Ashamed to admit their problem
  • Financial limitation

How Mental Health is Generally Dealt With

Mental health is often completely disregarded and trivialized in our communities. Since the symptoms of the disorders may not be as visible as physical diseases, it can be easily dismissed as being made up or unimportant. Due to a lack of education in mental health or experience, many parents prefer to sweep the problems under the rug denying that it is of any significance. Unfortunately, sticking your head in the sand will not make the problems disappear. Pretending that mental illness does not exist only exacerbates the problem. Untreated mental health issues can proliferate and completely take over the life of a loved one. Sometimes this can manifest in extreme depression, anxiety or hallucinations, which can be scary for family members, who then may resort to yelling, threatening and shaming their loved ones into silence. At their most vulnerable and frightening time when they are desperately in need of support, understanding and professional help, they are often ostracized and humiliated. 

Summary: How Mental Illness is Generally Dealt With:

  • Disregarded
  • Trivialized
  • Dismissed
  • Pretend it doesn’t exist
  • Yelling
  • Threatening
  • Shaming
  • Ostracizing
  • Humiliating

Benefits of Early Detection

And We sent not before you, [O Muhammad], except men to whom We revealed [the message], so ask the people of knowledge if you do not know. (Surat Al-Anbiya, 21:7)

In seeking medical attention for our family, we spare no expense to get the most renowned cardiologist or neurologist in the country for advice and treatment. When it comes to psychological advice, though, anyone will do. There is a total disregard for education, experience and competence. It is important to find a professionally trained counselor who is qualified to provide the specific type of treatment that is needed.

I can’t tell you the number of times I have seen extremes in people seeking treatment. There have been those who come for therapy in their fifties confiding in someone for the very first time in their life that they were abused at the age of four. These individuals delay their healing process and live with pessimism, rancor and resentment throughout their lives. Then there are those who quickly recognize there is a problem and they seek help to prevent it from escalating. These individuals learn to navigate through tumultuous waters of life with grace and confidence, knowing that they took the necessary steps to seek help. Amongst the elite are those exceptional individuals who come before they even detect a problem for premarital therapy, pre-parenting tips and preparation for loss of a loved one. They equip themselves like professional campers in avoiding dangers of conflict in marriage, putting out the fire of anger in parenting, preparing for the inevitable and making the most of their adventurous journey of life.

As with all illnesses, early detection and treatment of many mental disorders could be managed and cured. It could be the difference between having a fulfilling, peaceful life or living miserably and destroying the happiness of others. When someone learns to overcome their issues, they are more capable of having meaningful relationships. Early detection could mean more empathy for the one suffering and it could increase their self-esteem by having an in-depth understanding of their disorder. Sometimes it could be life and death.

Let’s not wait until it’s too late to seek treatment for ourselves and our loved ones.

Summary: Benefits of Early Detection:

  • Manage the illness
  • Cure the illness
  • Peaceful life
  • Better relationships
  • More empathy
  • Increase self-esteem
  • Better understanding of the illness
  • Prevent suicide

What Needs To Be Done?

EDUCATION. EDUCATION. EDUCATION.

Did I mention education? The more we inform our communities about the importance of treating mental health, the more we can prevent tragedies and help people live a fulfilling life regardless of their mental and emotional challenges. There is a need for Friday sermons across the country discussing our responsibility as practicing Muslims to treat ourselves and our families for mental illness. In order to create a safe environment to discuss mental illness, we have to be less judgmental and more supportive of one other as a community. We need to talk more openly about it without feeling ashamed. Instead of humiliating and ostracizing those with mental illness, we need to have prophetic patience, a heart full of compassion and the willingness to provide reliable treatment. If we adopt all these new strategies, then maybe we can change the current statistics. Sadly, 56% of adults in the 4.5 million people who suffer from mental disorders do not get treated. Let’s educate ourselves and our communities to shatter the stigma of mental health once and for all.

Review: What Needs To Be Done?

  • Education
  • Khutbas about mental illness
  • Less judgmental
  • More supportive
  • Talk openly
  • Prophetic patience
  • Compassion

http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/issues/state-mental-health-america

http://www.newsweek.com/nearly-1-5-americans-suffer-mental-illness-each-year-230608

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.

8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Zahra Fazal

    March 16, 2017 at 7:40 AM

    Assalamu alaykum sister Haleh

    I was just wondering if thinking too much is a mental disorder? I am almost always thinking or reflecting about something that happened or I want it to happen , no sadness, nothing of that sort alhamdulillah but just can’t stop thinking. Is there any solution to this?

    • Avatar

      Haleh Banani

      March 16, 2017 at 3:42 PM

      Wa alaikomos salam,
      Many people are consumed with over thinking. As long as you are not disturbed by your thoughts and they are not making you anxious or depressed you should be fine insha’Allah. If the thoughts are interfering with your life where you are unable to sleep or work, it could be classified as obsessive thoughts. You can be trained to control your thoughts in order to empower yourself with cognitive behavior therapy.

  2. Avatar

    Mirela

    March 16, 2017 at 2:25 PM

    It is definitely true that mental illness should not be a “lonely path” to take… And Muslims somehow think that they are immune to this disease …. As a caregiver to my mother, who has a from of mood disorder, now popular as bipolar disorder, I can tell that is a true jihad. It is a long story, involves PTSD from Bosnia war time, but all I can say that my mom condition was highly induced by pharmaceuticals. From Haldol ( this drug should be banned), Paxil, Prozac etc She suffered greatly until I decided to take her to America to live with us. Mental illness has many choices for treatment and counceling definitely helps, aknowledging your own problem, taking herbal treatments ( in my experience in a long run much better option than modern medicines), and overall positive attitude, lots of dua of course and a will to get better, is a key to “get out of tunnel” insha’Allah

    • Avatar

      Haleh Banani

      March 16, 2017 at 7:02 PM

      I appreciate you sharing your personal struggle of taking care of your mother with bipolar. It can be very demanding and emotionally draining. May Allah reward you for your patience and care for your mother. I’m sure it will weigh heavily on your scale of good deeds. I highly recommend a gluten free diet with little to no sugar to help with the symptoms of bipolar. Thank you for your feedback!

  3. Avatar

    Mustafa Mahmud

    March 16, 2017 at 5:20 PM

    Two questions

    Did depression occur among the Sahaba?

    If so, did they consider it a mental illness?

  4. Avatar

    Muslim101

    March 17, 2017 at 9:22 AM

    Thank you very much Haleh. We definitely need more awareness about it in our societies. I have few questions I hope you get some time to answer:
    1. What is the limit where one can differentiate between normal struggle and an illness; can it include study stress as well? Like if someone is not able to take exams on time and feels stressed out to be extent that he cannot focus on study and keep thinking about past and does not finish degree on time.

    2. Can such disease also affect relations? Can there be an OCD where one person keeps his own love and affection for his spouse? If there is something like this, how can one differentiate between normal marriage problem and such OCD.

    3. Are there different types Psychiatrists dealing with specific problems? And considering the state of many muslim societies, how can one know which Psychiatrist is best for him. Or are there some specific online Psychiatrist available which can help deal with the situation. And can something like OCD can be treated through online sessions?

    Jazakallaho Khair

  5. Avatar

    Muslimah

    March 18, 2017 at 3:11 PM

    One question I have is how do we know what the difference is between bad thoughts which cause you anxiety and get you down being from was was of the shaytan or yourself. If you have seeked ruqyah and are practising alhamdulilah do you assume it is yourself and go about conventional psychological therapies.

  6. Avatar

    Abu Aaliyah

    March 22, 2017 at 8:21 PM

    I remember a brother who attended a local masjid once. He suffered from a severe mental illness. On this particular afternoon, he couldn’t help talking to himself loudly in the masjid. Unfortunately, he was judged and ostracized for this. In particular I remember one brother telling him, “Hey, did you take your meds or what?”, while snickering.

    I mention the above story because as a Muslim Social Worker working in the field of mental health, I am a strong advocate for raising mental health awareness, especially within our community. I find that mental health stigma is much greater in the Muslim community.

    Facts are that we DO have mental illnesses in the Muslim community. We DO have suicides in the Muslim community. We DO have anxiety, depression and other mental diseases that are NOT jinn possession, in the Muslim community.

    We should never brush these issues under the rug. And we should lead the fight against the stigma.

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Our Struggles – Mental Health And Muslim Communities | The Family and Youth Institute

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mental health

By Elham Saif, Sarrah AbuLughod and Wahida Abaza

Fariha just started her freshman year at university. Overnight, she was separated from her support system of family and friends and thrust into a foreign environment. She was facing many new challenges, including a heavier workload, new friends, student clubs and organizational responsibilities. She was drowning in endless assignments, exams, and meetings.

Fariha never thought much about mental health issues beyond the few “mindfulness” posts that she’d scroll through on her Instagram feed, but recently she was starting to feel out of sorts. She started to feel anxious as a hijab-wearing woman on campus especially after hearing about anti-Muslim incidents on the news. All of the possibilities of what could go wrong played over and over again in her head–and kept her up at night. Everything was beginning to feel overwhelming. She started having trouble getting out of bed in the morning and was losing motivation to complete her assignments. She felt confused and at times, even afraid. 

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, close to 50 million Americans suffered from mental health issues in 2017. One in 5 adults in America is living with a mental health illness at this very moment. American Muslims are not an exception to these statistics. According to different studies, like Fariha, 15-25% of American Muslims report suffering from anxiety disorders and 9-30% report mood disorders. Many of these mental health issues in the Muslim population go unaddressed and unresolved because of lack of knowledge, stigma and shame experienced in many Muslim households and communities. 

When these issues go unaddressed, people report that the pain and suffering they experience rises and that overall their problems tend to get worse. Sadly, their struggles can snowball into additional illnesses that were not present before, such as self-harm or addiction. According to the research, mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder are sometimes not considered to be “real” illnesses. Community members often see mental illness as a sign of weakness, a mark of poor faith, or something that doesn’t affect Muslims. They may also see it either as a “test from God” or sometimes as possession by evil spirits. Even when there is an awareness, many of these illnesses and issues are culturally stigmatized as shameful and kept hidden within the person or family. People may be concerned about the reputation of their family or their marital prospects should a psychiatric diagnosis be disclosed. 

The irony is that Islam ought to be more of a protective factor given how intertwined Islamic history is with the fields of psychiatry and psychology. The contribution of Islamic scholarship to the field of psychology is documented in our history and legacy from health promotion in the Quran and Sunnah, to early scholarly diagnosis, treatment, and intervention. Alaa Mohammad, FYI researcher and co-author of the chapter “Mental Health in the Islamic Golden Era: The Historical Roots of Modern Psychiatry” in Islamophobia and Psychiatry points out that,

“there was a lot of focus on concepts like ‘sanity’ and the significance of mental capacity as well as the general mental/emotional state in many of the early Islamic texts especially in regards to Islamic rules and law.”

Early Islamic scholars described the “cognitive components of depression and sadness, anxiety and fear, obsessions, and anger in detail and suggested a variety of therapies and treatments.” Learning more about this rich history and pulling from these stories in the Prophet’s (SAW) seerah is a key step towards opening the way for people to get the help they need and learning how to support one another. 

Fariha knows that she needs help. She was considering seeing one of the mental health workers on campus, but she’s afraid of what her parents would say if they found out she shared so much with a stranger, especially one that is not a Muslim.

What can parents do?

Research has found that in the face of rising Islamophobia, supportive parenting serves as a protective factor and helps strengthen young Muslims’ sense of identity while unsupportive parents who don’t help their children navigate their experiences end up weakening their identity, which then increases their chances of participating in more risky behavior. 

When Fariha finally shared her fears and anxieties with her parents, she was surprised and relieved to hear that they took her seriously. They listened to her and she didn’t feel like they were ashamed of her, only concerned for her well being. They were eager to find her the help she needed to feel like herself again. 

As Muslims, we need to shift our mindset around mental illness and the effects of Islamophobia. Like Fariha’s parents, it is imperative that we listen carefully and look more deeply at the issues facing our youth. It is through this openness that we can reduce the stigma and encourage more people to seek help. 

The Family and Youth Institute recently released an infographic that talks about some of the struggles facing our American Muslim communities. They teamed up with Islamic Relief USA to get this infographic printed as a poster and will be sending them to over 500 masajid/community centers around the United States in the coming months. 

What can you do to help?

  • Reduce the stigma by sharing this article and infographic and starting a conversation with your friends and family members. The more we talk about it, the more we normalize and destigmatize mental illness and move towards mental health. 
  • Organize a community conversation around the issue of mental health. Invite a mental health specialist to come speak to your mosque youth group or parent group. 
  • Seek therapy when needed. Connect with SEEMA and the Institute of Muslim Mental Health for a list of Muslim therapists. If you are seeing a clinician who is not Muslim, share this book Counseling Muslims: Handbook of Mental Health Issues and Interventions with them to give them a better sense of the specific religious and cultural needs of their Muslim clients. 
  • Educate yourself – There is a plethora of information out there about mental wellness and wellbeing. For help navigating through it all, sign up for The FYI’s daily article share to receive vetted infographics, articles and videos on this topic. Mental health affects our whole life. Whether you are struggling with bullying, helping a loved one with depression, living with and caring for an elder or wanting to build the best environment for your new baby, we have a resource for you! 

These steps are just small ways we can begin to shift the conversation away from shame and stigma and towards help and healing. Mental illness and mental health issues can be scary, but they do not need to be faced alone and in isolation. As the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)said, “The parable of the believers in their affection, mercy, and compassion for each other is that of a body. When any limb aches, the whole body reacts with sleeplessness and fever.” Together, we can fight the existing stigma and misconceptions, provide support, educate the community and advocate for our brothers and sisters suffering with mental illness and their families. 

Sources:

Aftab A., & Khandai, C. (2018). Mental Health Facts for Muslim Americans. APA Division of Diversity and Health Equity, Washington, DC. 

Basit A, & Hamid M. (2006). Mental health issues of Muslim Americans. The Journal of Islamic Medical Association of North America, 42(3), 106-110.

Ciftci A., Jones N., & Corrigan, P.W. (2013) Mental health stigma in the Muslim community. Journal of Muslim Mental Health, 7(1), 17-32.

Hodge, D.R., Zidan, T. & Husain, A. (2016). Depression among Muslims in the United States: Examining the role of discrimination and spirituality as risk and protective factors. Social Work, 61(1), 45-52.

Zong, X., Balkaya, M., Tahseen, M., & Cheah, C.S.L. (2018). Muslim-American Adolescents’ Identities Mediate the Association between Islamophobia and Adjustment: The Moderating Role of Religious Socialization. Poster session presented at the biennial meeting of the International Society for the Study of Behavioural Development, Queensland, Australia. 

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Loving Muslim Marriage | Is it Haraam to Talk About Sex?

Saba Syed (Umm Reem)

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Loving Muslim Marriage

Female sexual nature and female sexual desires are often misunderstood, especially among Muslims. There are some classes and seminars by Muslim speakers that offer advice to Muslim couples about intimacy but unfortunately, the advice is not exactly aligned with correct female sexual nature.

So we decided to come together to clarify these misunderstandings and explain the sexual nature of women and their desires, so we can help build healthy intimacy within Muslim marriages leading to happier Muslim marriages.

This is going to be a series of videos that we will release every week, inshaAllah.

What should be expected out of these videos?

Each video will address a specific myth or misconception about either female sexuality, or Muslim marriage to help men better understand women. We will also explore male sexuality and other subjects.

We hope

– to help better quality marriage
– to help couples- both men and women- get a more satisfying intimate life
– to help women navigate intimate life in a manner where they are fulfilled, paving the way for involvement and desiring of intimacy; breaking the cycle of unsatisfying intimate lives for both husband and wife

Disclaimer:
Please keep in mind that these videos are for people with normal sexual desires — they are not meant to address asexuality.

The content of these videos is a mean to provide marital advice based on mainstream orthodoxy as well as best practices and relationships.

Some experts joined us in these videos to offer their expertise from an Islamic and professional perspective:

Shaikh AbdulNasir Jangda: He was born and raised in Dallas, Texas and at the age of 10 began the road to knowledge by moving to Karachi, Pakistan, and memorizing the entire Qur’an in less than one year. After graduating from high school, he continued his studies abroad at the renowned Jamia Binoria and graduated from its demanding seven-year program in 2002 at the top of his class with numerous licenses to teach in various Islamic Sciences. Along with the Alim Course he concurrently completed a B.A. and M.A. in Arabic from Karachi University. He also obtained a Masters in Islamic Studies from the University of Sindh. He taught Arabic at the University of Texas at Arlington from 2005 to 2007. He served as the Imam at the Colleyville Masjid in the Dallas area for three years. He is a founding member and chairman of Mansfield Islamic Center.

He is the founder of Qalam Institute and he has served as an instructor and curriculum advisor to various Islamic schools. His latest projects include Quran Intensive (a summer program focusing on Arabic grammar and Tafsir), Quranic analysis lectures, Khateeb Training, chronicling of the Prophetic Biography, and personally mentoring and teaching his students at the Qalam Seminary.

In these videos, Sh. Jangda helped present the Islamic rulings and corrections of various misconceptions regarding intimacy and female sexuality.

Dr. Basheer Ahmed: He is a Board Certified Psychiatrist with 18 years of teaching experience at various medical schools. He started off his career by teaching at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York as a Psychiatrist in 1971. Then he started his own private practice in 1984 till the present time. Meanwhile, he continued to teach at various universities around the U.S.
He is also the Chairman of MCC Human Services in North Texas.

In these videos, Dr. Basheer explained several psychological conditions that women may suffer through when they are sexually dissatisfied in a marriage.

Zeba Khan: She is the Director of Development for MuslimMatters.org, as well as a writer, speaker, and disability awareness advocate.

She helped address the uncomfortable myths and misconceptions throughout these videos and helped provide the correct perspective of female and marital intimacy for Muslim couples to enjoy a better marriage.

Usman Mughni: He is a Marriage & Family Therapist and holds a Master’s of Science degree
Northern Illinois University and a B.S. in Psychology from the University of Maryland, along with a degree in diagnostic medical imaging. He worked as a therapist at Alexian Brothers Behavioral Health Hospital in the Center for Addiction Medicine. Usman has experience providing counseling to individuals, couples, and families at Northern Illinois University’s Family Therapy Clinic along with experience working with individuals, couples, and families struggling with chemical dependency and mental health diagnoses and running psychoeducational group therapy at Centegra Specialty Hospital’s partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs.

Since Usman enjoys working with couples to help bring tranquility back into the marriage and providing premarital counseling to couples who hope to have a successful marriage at a time when divorce seems to be on the rise, he especially joined us in this series to offer his expertise. He highlighted the most common intimacy issues in Muslim marriages that he has observed throughout the years of his experience as a therapist. His insights and knowledge has helped us clarify many misconceptions not only regarding female sexual nature but also about men and marital intimacy.

Ustadha Saba Syed: She has a BA degree in Islamic Studies. She studied Arabic Language and Literature at Qatar University and at the Cairo Institute in Egypt. She also received her Ijaazah in Quranic Hafs recitation in Egypt from Shaikh Muhammad al-Hamazawi.

She’s been passionately working towards empowering Muslim women through the correct and untainted teachings of Islam. She is a pastoral counselor for marriage, family, women and youth issues. She has hosted several Islamic lectures and weekly halaqas in different communities all over U.S and overseas. SHe also hosted special workshops regarding parenting, Islamic sex-ed, female sexuality, and marital intimacy.

She took the initiative of putting together these videos because through her pastoral counseling experience she realized that there are many marital intimacy problems in Muslim marriages, mainly due to the misunderstandings and misconceptions regarding female sexuality and female sexual nature.

Hence, with the speakers above, and with these videos we hope to clarify and explain as many myths and misconceptions that we believe have become a hindrance to happiness and success in Muslim marriages. We welcome your comments and suggestions in order to make this series more successful.

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Losing Our Parents, Finding Ourselves

Hiba Masood

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losing parents

“To lose one parent is misfortune. To lose both looks like carelessness.” – Oscar Wilde

If I am to take Mr Wilde’s words to heart, I’ve had an extremely careless kind of year. Despite our utter devotion to our extremely beloved parents and our best efforts to hang on to them, my siblings and I still went ahead and lost them both about ten months ago.

A long-drawn-out, physically and mentally ravaging illness in which he (and us) suffered for over a decade, took my brilliant, generous, math genius of a laughing, twinkly-eyed father. Upon which, a day after his funeral, my wise, gentle, hostess in chief, caregiver-supreme of a mother promptly contracted a deathly cancer of her own and within a few rollercoaster months, went out like a shooting star.

In between, just to keep things interesting, I also unexpectedly lost a beloved khala (my maternal aunt), a dear long-time family doctor, and our pet cat, who in perfect health one day, dropped dead on our front door the next morning, without any warning whatsoever, completing what was certainly a most eventful year.

I like to think my sister, brother and I, we took all these losses with patience and resilience, in more or less stride…holding fast to the rope of Allah, understanding His qadr and accepting His will as better and wiser than anything we could’ve willed for ourselves. We did this not because we are unfeeling robots or super-mu’mins but because this is how our parents raised us. They raised us to be strong and smart and strong, smart people don’t crumble in the face of what life throws their way. Doing so would be a betrayal of who we were as a happy family and we loved each other just too much to betray.

At least, that is what I loftily tell myself during daylight hours, when the sun is shining and the business of living takes precedence over the philosophy of dying. Because at night, when the house is still and quiet, when my children are curled up in their own beds when the work is done and I put my head to pillow, it is a lot trickier to be so practical-minded.

Every night, every single night for the last 10 months, when I lie down in the dark, before I fall asleep, no matter how hard I try to not have it happen, my mind insists on playing a torturous film. First, I watch my dad die. I am catapulted, in the pitch blackness of my room, back to the night of him in his bed, his eyes closed, his chest slowly rising and falling, rising and falling. I see myself standing beside him, my hand resting on his heart. I see my mother sitting beside us, head bowed.

We are breathing with him, both willing and not willing each next breath. There is nothing different in his outward appearance to suggest the end is near, but the air in the room is holy and we know what’s coming. We don’t move from beside him for one hour, then two, then three. Somewhere past midnight, I see/feel/hear the absolutely deepest silence I have ever encountered. He is gone. So quietly, one would have missed it if they weren’t right there. I see myself exclaim through the tears, “All praise to Allah for He has rescued my Baba from pain.” and I hug my mother.

But my hug doesn’t last. Because, immediately after, it is my mother’s turn. She is in the same bed, the bright morning light flooding into the room. Everyone dear to her is assembled around her, praying and reciting, in aching disbelief that something so similar is happening so soon. Her eyes are wide open and she is breathing faster and faster. I am telling her “Allah loves you, I love you, you’re doing so great, don’t worry about us, we’ll be fine, straight to Jannah, Ma, straight to Jannah“. Suddenly, her whole face softens, relaxes, eases into a radiant smile. She recites the kalima, the room rings with Allahu Akbar and she’s gone.

Earlier, I used to always sob through this entire montage. Pity for myself, grief for who I had lost, the ache of missing them in every imaginable future that lay ahead, would fill my eyes and drench my pillow. The reality of our situation hitting me afresh in the gut: We are orphaned, the roof blown off our heads in a whirlwind of a year, wondering how exactly does one live without the people who taught them how to. Later, as a few months passed, I watched with a more grim, gritted teeth patience. I knew I had to get through this if I wanted to eventually fall asleep. More recently, and this is perhaps the evolution of grief, I have begun to watch with a tender fondness, a dawning understanding of how privileged I was to see the peaceful passing of two righteous people, how lucky I have been to be taught that to love someone, to truly love them, means to bear witness to their journey of becoming more and more human.

And is there anything, ANYTHING more essentially human than death? I bore witness to my parents’ humanity till their very last breath on earth. And because I am human, and I believe in being kind to myself, I finally know that I am not losing my mind or being weak when I keep revising and reviewing this film each night. Instead, I am taming and teaching my very human mind to accept, to submit. I know that all my mind is trying to do as it wrestles every night in the dark, is attempting to make the most beautiful sense out of a most necessary reality.

How do we love? How do we let go? How do we gracefully bear witness to the final moments of our beloveds? How do we prepare for our own final moments?

These questions will take a lifetime to answer.

Perhaps you, dear reader, are already facing these questions. If not, you will certainly face them someday. The truth is, we will all, each of us, one day lose someone we desperately love, despite our very best efforts and most valiant hopes not to. This is the reality of this world. It will not be misfortune or carelessness on our part…it will simply be Allah reminding us that we belong only to Him, that only He knows what is good for us.

If last year, for me, was the year of loss, then this year and all the years ahead are the years of making sense of this loss and deriving meaningful meaning from it. In losing my parents, I must find my self. That is the only thing that will help my parents now. Because, when they were alive, I think I tried my very best to do my due diligence in bearing witness to their humanity. Now that they are in their graves, I can only hope and pray that on the Day it really matters, I am able to bear witness for my parents again: “Oh Allah! Have mercy on them as they did on me when I was younger.”

This is what our loved ones need from us. Prayers, good works so that we may be sadaqa-jaariah, and a relentless testifying to He who listens to all aching, breaking hearts, both in day and night: They were good, Allah. They were good. Have mercy on them.

May Allah forgive our parents, elevate them and reunite us all in Jannah.

Sharing Grief: A 10 Point Primer On Condolence

Baba, The Quran and Me

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