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10 Tested Ways To Overcome Porn Addiction

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By Ahmed J.

A well-meaning religious counselor once advised me to consider getting married in order to overcome my porn addiction. After no luck giving it up, I considered marriage and pursued a courtship – only to realize half way in the process that I was still watching it. If I couldn’t stop while I was in a relationship with a real woman, who’s to say I would stop if we got married? I knew at that point that my behavior wasn’t just a bad habit; it was an addiction that had a life of its own – I was completely powerless over it and I couldn’t stop no matter how bad I tried.

It’s a common misconception that providing a halal avenue to carry out ones’ sexual needs will get rid of one’s desire to watch pornography. I realized that wasn’t the case for me and didn’t’ go through with the marriage. I turned to religion and spirituality for help, sought sacred knowledge and the company of scholars. I even travelled abroad and spent time studying in Africa; I thought if I’d cut myself off from the world and immersed in spirituality, I’d be cured. People started calling me a ‘student of knowledge’ and seeing me as a pious person because I was around old religious men all the time. Little did they know that I was around the scholars because I was in a far greater need of them than anyone else; were it not for their company, I would have gone completely astray.

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Unfortunately, none of this directly helped me cure my addiction to pornography. Yes, I gained beneficial knowledge and I believe it was the blessings and prayers of the righteous that eventually put me on the path to recovery. However, my addiction to pornography remained and I continued to indulge in it by night. The feeling of guilt and hypocrisy only grew with time. I almost lost all hope as I had tried everything in my will to cure this problem. And then it hit me, the most obvious thing which I had never bothered trying, and the one thing that has made all the difference: getting help from another person.

The embarrassing nature of this addiction had meant that I never honestly confided in anyone the true nature of my problem. I was relying on myself to give it up, I never turned to another person to ask for help for this specific problem. Wonderous things happen when you swallow your pride and accept your powerlessness.

I am a recovering sex addict, and here are the steps I took to achieve sobriety from pornography, compulsive masturbation and other unwanted sexual behaviors:

1) Get help from other people

This addiction thrives in secrecy and isolation; you must end this secrecy to start the process of recovery. For years I made the mistake we all addicts make: trying to quit it on our own. After realizing I needed help, I started with the obvious things: self-help websites and online programs that cater to Muslims, like Purify Your Gaze. While these helped me get an understanding of my problem and gave me a guide that I could potentially follow to sober up, it ultimately did not work. Why? Because I still had to rely on myself to stay sober and follow through with the regimes they laid out. Online programs give you access to a web forum where you can chat with other addicts, seminars to listen to and the occasional call with a councilor which comes with a hefty price tag. However, at the end of the day, you are still alone and stuck with a computer and the internet – these are the very things I was trying to get away from!

This is when I started looking for off-line recovery; somewhere I could find local people who I could work with towards sobriety. I started exploring anonymous 12-step programs designed for sex addicts. I was hesitant at first and my ego kept getting in the way; I thought I wasn’t as bad as ‘those addicts’, but since nothing had worked, this was my only hope. There are several 12-step sex recovery programs out there with various definitions of sobriety and cater to different audiences. I finally found one that works for me and I believe it will for most Muslims. It is called SA: Sexaholics Anonymous

SA is a fellowship of addicts who admit to being powerless over their lusts and work together to overcome addiction to things like pornography, masturbation and illicit relations. They define sobriety as having no form of sex with one-self or with partners other than the spouse; “spouse” is defined to be one’s partner in a marriage between a man and a woman. Given this strict definition, most people that attend SA meetings have a religious background. Luckily for me, the fellowship in my neighborhood is made up almost entirely of strict Hassidic Jews! It is ironic that of all the religious company that I sought, it is the company of an orthodox Jew, my current sponsor, that finally put me on the path to recovery from pornography.

In the SA fellowship, I’ve found all that I was looking for in a recovery program. It is completely free of cost and has introduced me to committed people within my neighborhood who I can work with. Since I live in a big city, we have several anonymous meetings a week that I can attend at my convenience; they are held in churches, synagogues and in rented community centers. Most recently, a fellow Muslim member of SA started meetings at an Islamic community centre as well. The program has forced me to physically get out of the isolation of my dark room and has given me a support network of some incredible people I can rely on. SA has worked for me, and the remaining wisdoms I share below will be based on my experiences in the program.

2) Find a sponsor and call them daily

A sponsor is someone who holds you accountable for your sobriety and helps you work through the 12-steps. Two months of attending weekly SA meetings, I found they alone were not helping me stay sober. I had to find someone who I would commit to working the program and building a personal relationship. In SA meetings, senior members who’ve accumulated decent sobriety usually volunteer to take on new members. If you choose not to join SA, find someone from your social circle you can rely on: this can be a friend, Imam, spouse, family member etc. I highly recommend getting the White Book and Step-into-Action and working through these with your sponsor.

In early stages of your recovery, you must call your sponsor every day to check-in with them. Checking in means to give them a call and let them know how you’re holding up that day and if you’ve stayed sober. If you’ve lost sobriety, you MUST tell them what happened. You can’t recover unless you start being honest. Your sponsor is supposed to talk you through what triggered you and figure out how to avoid it again. If you don’t share with them that you acted out, you’ll never recover. This step of sharing with another human being my darkest secret was the hardest thing for me to do – and it is the one thing that helped me stay sober. Every time I wanted to act out, I would think about the embarrassing experience of telling my sponsor that ‘I did it again’. I could no longer keep acting out in secret; this crucial change has made all the difference for me.

3) Set a sobriety date and take it one day at a time

SA’s matra of being sober is: one day at a time. It is one of the most powerful concepts I have found in my recovery. While we must intend that our long-term goal is to give up pornography for good, as someone who’s deeply addicted, it is foolish to set a ‘quit date’ where you decide to give it all up and pretend like you’ll never return to it. Truth be told, our claim of quitting is often insincere because part of us can’t bear the thought of never watching porn again. I pretty much vowed never to return to porn on a weekly basis for seven years; I would relapse with a far greater sense of guilt and depression every time because I felt I had betrayed a promise I made to God. Forever seems too long for us and never is just too hard. Like they say in SA, ‘Stopping is easy. Staying stopped is the hard part’.

Taking it ‘one day at time’ means your goal is to stay sober for just one day – only 24 hours. No long-term sobriety targets of going for two weeks, a month or six months without porn. You just have to stay sober for a day. At the end of the 24 hours you are free to choose: do you want to stay sober for another 24 hours or no? If you decided yes, then you put your energy into staying sober for another 24 hours. Going through the daily sobriety renewal with your sponsor during your daily call is an excellent practice. The practice of taking it one day at a time means you’re never under the illusion that you ‘quit porn’. You’re always on thin ice and you’ll fall right back to where you started if you don’t actively work on taking care of yourself. To track your progress, you should set a ‘sobriety date’. This is the date you last acted out and it should be renewed every time you relapse. With God’s grace, you will see that the period of time between each relapse will grow longer and longer as you progress in your recovery.

4) Define Sobriety: Don’t try to separate pornography and masturbation

One of the biggest mistakes I was making when trying to give up porn on my own was that I defined staying sober as ‘staying away from porn’. But porn and masturbation are inherently related for most addicts – one eventually leads to the other. Masturbation is always accompanied with lustful fantasizing which either leads to pornography or other forms of unwanted sexual behavior. You should instead use the following definition: staying sober means no sex with one-self or others except the spouse. This technically means you could watch porn and stay ‘sober’ but that is just being dishonest and there is only so long before you end up masturbating. If you are the rare breed that is only addicted to watching porn (and not masturbating), you should modify your sobriety definition with your sponsor to include pornography in it as well.

5) Read this prayer when lustful thoughts come to you

One of the spiritual sages I met advised me to recite the following prayer of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him):

O Ever-Living, O Sustainer! I call upon Your mercy for and I seek refuge from Your punishment. Rectify all my affairs and do not entrusts me to myself or to any of Your creation for even the blink of an eye. 

Yā Ḥayyu yā Qayyūm, bi-raḥmatika astaghīth, wa min ʿadhābika astajīr, aṣliḥ lī shaʾnī kullah, wa lā takilnī ilā nafsī wa lā ilā aḥadan min khalqika ṭarfata ʿayn.

Another very useful prayer is the following:

My Lord! I seek Your protection against the insinuations of the devils and I seek your protection against them approaching me. (23:97-98)

I recite these repeatedly whenever I am triggered or lustful thoughts enter my mind. I have found consistently that these thoughts go away and I get distracted by something else after reading the prayers. These prayers can be found in many collections of daily supplications. I personally recite it from the collection of Imam al-Haddad called Wird-al-Latif. If you don’t already have a routine of reciting supplications, I highly recommend incorporating this collection in your daily routine. It has all the important prayers the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) advised for daily recital and takes only a few minutes to complete.

6) Install the K9 Web Filter on your computer

Of all the filters I experimented with, this is the most effective one and comes free of cost. I installed it on my machine, set a jumbled-up password I couldn’t remember and then put my parents email as the recovery account. There’s no way I am calling them in the middle of the night to recover my password; the time I am usually most vulnerable.

7) Your smart phone has to go; ideally, the internet in your house too

I resisted this for the longest time; I thought I could manage to hold onto my smart phone. I tried all kinds of filters, locks and productivity applications. I would find a loop hole every time and ultimately realized that my sobriety mattered far more than being able to use google maps, check my emails or respond to WhatsApp groups. Plus, these phones provide access to non-pornographic material such as YouTube and Instagram which can act as triggers. So, the smart phone went away and I got an old-fashioned phone (I managed to find one with a keyboard) which I only use to make old-fashioned phone calls. After I made progress in my recovery, I only allowed myself a smart phone at work and I still only use the non-smart phone when at home.

In addition, for the first several months into the program I did not have internet at my house. It was challenging but necessary, as I simply couldn’t be alone with the internet at that time. My house then became a safe space and I was completely off the grid: no internet, no smart phones and no distractions. After accumulating some sobriety, I did allow myself cable internet. However, I still don’t have a Wi-Fi connection at home as I fear I might use handheld devices to act out.

8) Stop feeding your lust

‘I’ll act out this one last time and get it out of my system so I can focus again’, this was a common justification I would use to give into my cravings. There’s no ‘one last time’. The more you feed your lust, the stronger the cravings will be the next time the temptation returns. Imam Busiri’s words in his famous Burda are the best piece of advice in this case:

Don’t attempt to break the desires by indulging in disobedience

For food only strengthens a glutton’s craving

The self is like a child -if you leave it, it will grow up

wanting to suckle

But if you wean it, it will lose its desire for the breast

Once you stop feeding your lust through hardcore porn and masturbation, you will incline towards feeding it using other means. This could include activities such as: voyeurism, stalking people both off-line and on social media, engaging in virtual sex and fantasy, watching ‘softcore’ material, visiting strip clubs and seeking out illicit relationships. So, after getting a degree of sobriety from the hardcore pornographic material, you must slowly work towards achieving sobriety of the mind by eliminating these behaviors. If you don’t fix these, you will slowly fall back into the hardcore material and will return to square one.

9) Work on purifying your heart and removing your character defects

Attaining physical sobriety is only the beginning of the recovery process. Years of exposure to pornography has deeply damaged our hearts and spirits. We have to purify our hearts by increasing our zikr and prayers on the Prophet. Like other forms of addiction, the nature of this problem has only intensified our preexisting poor character. We must confront our selfishness, dishonesty, pride, anger, inconsiderateness and arrogance. Steps 4 to 9 of the program our designed to help us take a moral inventory of our actions, address our shortcomings and make amends with those we’ve wronged. This is the heart of recovery; so be sure to work through these steps slowly and carefully with your sponsor.

10) Don’t be fooled by early success; sobriety is a lifelong commitment.

Once I attainted some decent sobriety, I stopped going to meetings and working the program. Why put all that effort in when I no longer watch porn? I could go on for months without watching it now. I thought I was ‘cured’. All I had to do now was just get married and I won’t have to work so hard on staying celibate.

So, I went out looking for a spouse again thinking I was cured. I relaxed the strict rules I had imposed on myself, allowed myself masturbation periodically and stopped keeping track of my sobriety date. I soon realized after going ‘out there’ that getting married isn’t a simple business and it doesn’t just happen with the snap of a finger. I grew frustrated, I stopped taking care of my recovery and slowly but surely, I fell right back to the dark place where I started. For us addicts, ‘reduction’ is simply not an option – we allow ourselves ‘one drink’ and that’s enough to get us back to square one.

Don’t make that mistake. I had to pick myself up again, recommit to sobriety and started taking active care of myself. While reasons for committing to sobriety are obvious when your life is out of control, this becomes more challenging as you progress and your temptations are not as intense as they used to be. I am sober today for different reasons. I am sober because I’ve come to accept that I might never be ‘cured’ and I need to keep track of my sobriety to ensure I don’t go back to where I started. I am sober because I know it takes time to find the right person and I must learn to control my desires – lest I rush into a marriage for lowly reasons. More importantly, it is because I realize I have to exercise control over my lust even after marriage. I am no longer under the illusion that marriage is some form of unrestricted access to sex which will satiate all my base desires. If I can’t control my desires as a single person, I won’t be able to control them after marriage either and will end up engaging in sexually unwanted behaviors. Ultimately, my sobriety is for God’s sake and to earn His pleasure – these practical reasons outlined are simply a functional tool, for those of us weak in faith, to make the connection to our motivation more accessible.

My fellow addicts, don’t give up on your recovery. Sobriety is possible and it is a beautiful thing; I am living proof of that. Follow what I have outlined above and you will see that change is in fact possible. It will take time: I spent seven years struggling on my own and have been on the SA program for almost three years now with real results. Don’t make the mistakes I made; get help and work with someone to overcome this sick addiction. There’s hope for all of us and with God’s help, all is possible. I remind myself of the words of Imam Busiri when I am short on hope, I pray you find comfort in them as well:

O soul, do not become despondent due to your grievous sins –

When God forgives, even mortal sins become mere blunders.

Perhaps the mercy of my Lord when handed out,

Would be distributed in proportion to one’s sins.

My Lord! Don’t make my hope in you deterred,

And don’t leave my expectations unfulfilled!

Ahmed J. is a porn addict in recovery and a member of Sexaholics Anonymous. He blogs about his experiences in recovery at Jihad Against Porn

 

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9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Ahmed J.

    February 28, 2018 at 2:29 PM

    Aslamalaykum
    Thank you to MM for publishing this; truly grateful. The Arabic versions of the dua’s above were left out, so I’ve included them below:

    1)
    يا حي يا قيوم برحمتك أستغيث ومن عذابك أستجير أصلح لي شأني كله ولا تكِلني إلى نفسي ولا إلى أحد من خلقك طرفة عين.
    2) From Surah Mu’minun:97
    رَّبِّ أَعُوذُ بِكَ مِنْ هَمَزَاتِ الشَّيَاطِينِ
    وَأَعُوذُ بِكَ رَبِّ أَن يَحْضُرُونِ

  2. Avatar

    Ismail

    March 1, 2018 at 5:08 PM

    This is such a powerful piece. May Allah reward you. Ameen. I will be sharing this with a client I know struggling with this issue.

  3. Avatar

    nochance?

    March 3, 2018 at 3:27 AM

    Salam

    Jazak Allah khair for this brilliant piece.
    I am a porn addict and also have weed and cigarette problem. Just to give a quick background about me. I come from a religious family. I memorised Quran by the age of 16. I have 2 degrees and currently working within the health care profession, Alhamdu Lillah.
    My journey to recovery has been slightly different from you and I wanted to share them. I was introduced to “nofap” 4 years ago and that was when I first realised that I could give this up.
    My first attempt at recovery ended with a “streak” of 450 days. During this period, for the first time in my life, I shared my troubles with my family and friends. To no surprise, a lot of brothers / cousins / friends were also stuck. And without even realising, we had created a small kind of support group, where I had apparently assumed a mentor type role.
    After my first big relapse, for many months, I struggled to gain a foot hold and found myself in long abstinence-relapse-binge cycles. I realised this “streak” chasing was becoming quite destructive. I moved on to tracking my behaviour on spreadsheet format. This is without a doubt a much better tool where the idea of taking it one day at a time can be applied.
    I have been tracking my weed, cigarettes and porn habits for the past two years and alhamdu lillah have seen a massive drop. For example I have not smoked a cigarette in 18 months. 620 days have been free of porn and 14 months free of weed. Those bad behaviours have been replaced with reading books, praying namaz, planning, reading Quran, journaling and building on my relationship with Allah and the people who are important to me. Ultimately, this is the difference between abstinence and recovery.
    One major paradigm shift for me was that Porn was NOT the cause of my problems – it was simply a symptom of the deep spiritual and emotional problems I had. Its always a sign that I am not dealing with my internal problems and I am trying to run away instead of addressing the pains of my heart. It is for this reason that I stopped hating porn. I then found myself not blaming porn for my problems. I became responsible. I understood my weakness. I found that I was able to cry again to my Lord and be weak in front of Him and ask Him for guidance. I could be weak in front of my family and I found nothing but love and support. I have experienced this to such a level that I now truly know the only way to facilitate other peoples recovery is through love and support.
    Years and years of addiction cannot be cured over a few days or weeks. It takes a long time to form new habits and relationships. It takes a lot of mistakes. But a much better life is possible, where a person can be much closer to their heart and of course their Creator.

  4. Avatar

    An

    March 4, 2018 at 7:36 PM

    Thank you for writing and sharing this. The information here will help many people.

  5. Avatar

    Mohammed

    April 15, 2018 at 10:23 AM

    Asalam alaikum wa rahmatullah,

    I am on the same boat as the author. Online programs especially the likes of purify your gaze never worked me. 12 steps are working for me as the sobriety definition coincides with the islamic definition of sobriety. I had to travel from India to Canada to seek face to face meetings as the virtual meetings were not helping me as I still had to use Internet.

    I want to remind you of the tradition that we never identify ourselves publicly with SA in press, TV and films, nor does anyone speak for SA.

    It would be better if this article was posted as “Anonymous” or by a guest. I’d request MM to not identify the author as member of SA.

  6. Avatar

    SY

    June 7, 2018 at 4:30 AM

    Salam Ahmed,
    Please tell me how you can use 2 cellphones wo paying for another line, I’m really interested in that.

  7. Avatar

    Pandit

    July 28, 2018 at 4:26 AM

    Thank you for this!!

  8. Avatar

    Joe

    November 26, 2018 at 10:23 AM

    I understand that adiction exists and so bad habits, I had a bad habit of watching porn a lot, I’m sure that there are levels of it, and for deferent people it will take deferent approaches to get rid of it, the way I did deal with it was with replacing the bad habits with good ones, I started exercising very important, reading very good for you, and making new friends perfect to keep yourself busy, and just like that the bad habit of porn was replaced with good and very useful new habits.
    If anyone needs help or more advice I’ll be happy to help.

  9. Avatar

    Michael

    January 23, 2019 at 10:12 AM

    I know the Muslims have their differences on Mutah, but once I discovered it, that works fine for me. This is good advice starting out, but I believe we should seek something real even if its short term.

    It would be nice to see a strong anti porn movement coming from the Muslim community, like actually to bring pornography to an end.

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#Current Affairs

Politics In Islam: Muslims Are Called To Pursue Justice

Imam Asad Zaman, Guest Contributor

Published

The pursuit of justice is a core Islamic value. One of the important roles Allah, the Exalted, assigned to His messengers is the task of establishing justice among the people. Allah, the Almighty, emphasized the importance of justice when He prohibited Himself from oppression and declared it forbidden among us humans. Allah is the Lord of all justice and fairness. In His fairness, He commands us to not allow our anger or hatred towards any group lead us to injustice against them. “Be just,” He commands, “it is closer to righteousness.”

Allah, the Most High, commands us to be witnesses for justice, even against ourselves. The concept of “even against ourselves,” is an open call to all people of faith to rise to the occasion, especially where we see systemic or structural oppression. In most such cases, the oppression is carried out in our name, usually by our elected government.

Allah’s emphasis on justice leads many Muslims to worry that if they vote for a president who transgresses against another country, the fault falls on everyone who voted for him. This fear paralyzes Muslim engagement in the American political system. Let us examine the circumstances of responsibility in such cases.

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To be clear, the present governments of almost all countries on Earth, including the so-called Muslim countries operate with corruption and oppression. Taking Egypt as an example, the government’s domestic policies have led to the unjust death and imprisonment of thousands of Egyptian citizens, and their foreign policy enables the perpetuation of Gaza’s destruction. This, however, does not require the average Egyptian Muslim citizen to reject all relationship to the nation of Egypt. The question then arises: how responsible is the Muslim for the actions of his government? Likewise, when the American government acts with injustice at home and abroad, how responsible is the American Muslim for the actions of his government? When the average citizen is not consulted before the execution of military operations, to what degree are we held responsible?

Allah’s Messenger provided for us a balanced approach to engaging with the injustice around us. Abu Saʿīd al-Khudri narrates that he heard the Prophet say,

“Whoever sees evil should change it with his hand; and if he is unable to do so, then he should change it with his tongue; and if he is unable to do so, then he should hate it with his heart—that is the least of faith.”

Let us take a practical example:

In 2001, President George W. Bush decided to invade Iraq. To justify his action, he invented a series of lies that Iraq possessed nuclear capabilities. It took him more than a year to align the power brokers in America and Europe to enable this evil action to occur. Neither the opinions nor the interests of the American population were taken into consideration.

Before the invasion, the public had two concerns: that the justification presented for the war was speculative and unfounded, and the war would result in countless unnecessary deaths. These worries quickly materialized into realities as time proved them to be true. However before the war, various politicians, pundits and opinion makers helped sell this unjust action to the people in order to gain their consent. They are undoubtedly guilty of murder and should be remembered as peddlers of death.

But what was the duty of an average American Muslim? The hadith mentioned above lists three levels of engagement:

Level One:

Someone who was part of the military or legislative authority had a duty in front of Allah to attempt to stop the invasion with action. If he was a congressman, he had a moral duty to vote against the war. If he was a member of the military, any intelligence agency, or government policy group, he had a moral duty to challenge the claims of the war’s proponent’s and provide information to the public so that they can know the truth. This duty applied to the person despite the likelihood that such a course of action would have probably jeopardized their career or their life.

Level Two:

Most Americans were not in the position described in level one. In their case, their duty was to speak out against this act of injustice. They could have written letters to their legislators, participated in protest rallies, held events in congress, and even spoken to their neighbors, classmates and colleagues about how wrong this action was. Any American Muslim who was not under threat of arrest for speaking out, but chose to remain silent still, failed to fulfill his duty to protest the evil.

Level Three:

There is little likelihood that the approach of silence would be justified for most American Muslims. There are countries (such as Saudi Arabia), where people can be arrested, tortured, even murdered if they speak out against the government. A Muslim living in one of these societies has a duty to at least engage with the injustices around them on an internal level, detesting the action from the core of their heart. As for the Muslim who does not detest that millions of innocent people are killed, they should check their heart; they would be missing what the Allah’s Messenger described as, “the least of faith.”

What faith is left in the heart of the Muslim who is not bothered by the death of more than a million Muslims?! Even if his mind is polluted with patriotism, tribalism, nationalism, or an inclination towards military culture, there is no excuse for the lack of humanity that is required for this level of apathy.

Considering the hadith above, our minimum duty is to stand and speak against the use of our tax dollars for such acts of injustice. There were indeed many Muslim and non-Muslim voices of dissent that protested the American invasion of Iraq. In addition to the spiritual duty of speaking out against injustice, it was clear to many what was later proven to be true: the invasion was not good for America. The financial and human loss incurred by this war has not made neither America, nor the world safer.

Many propose that Muslims should react to the injustices in their countries by leaving them. But this evasive approach fails to actually address the injustice. There is a greater, though more challenging, expectation of addressing the injustices from within, especially in a country like America where criticisms are tolerated and protest can lead to policy that is felt around the world. A large amount of the pain, and suffering that is happening to the Muslims today can be stopped from inside America. Our brothers and sisters in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Syria, Jordan, Somalia, Kenya, Yemen, Iraq, and Sudan are hoping that we will do something from our positions that will alleviate their suffering. They need our help.

Exonerating ourselves because our government acts without our consent may appease our consciences, but is of no benefit to our global Muslim community.

Such an approach is contradictory to the teaching of the Prophet as made clear by the hadith above. We have the opportunity and ability to speak out against evil, so passive dissent is not an option.

Allah tells us the story of Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) and al-Khadir 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him)  in Surah al-Kahf (peace be upon them both). When they boarded a ship of some men who agreed to give them a ride to their destination, Khadir pierced the boat’s basin, damaging their source of livelihood. Confused, Musa criticized this action, as it seemed like an injustice towards people who readily did a favor for them. What Musa didn’t know was that the men would encounter a tyrant king who had sent his men to seize all boats that were sound and intact. And as these men had helped Musa and al-Khadir, he wished to help them evade this king’s oppressive policy; the minor damage saved them from losing their boat!

The king was an oppressive tyrant. Musa and al-Khadir (peace be upon both of them) did not possess the power to remove the king or prevent the king from his evil action, and so they took action according to their ability. They knew that though they could not save everyone from the injustice, it was still their duty to act within their capacity to reduce the king’s injustice.

The Story of The Secret Believer

Allah also tells us the beautiful story of the secret believer in the Quran, who worked in the unjust government of the Pharaoh at the time of Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him). We know he had a fairly high status in the government because he was part of their most confidential meetings. This secret believer did not exit the government after he saw the many evil deeds of the Pharaoh’s government. During the discussion in the Pharaoh’s cabinet where they decided that Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) was to be killed, this believer rose up and voiced his objections to the injustice, citing historical, logical, and emotional appeals. The meeting, however, concluded with the decision to execute Musa. Having been unable to stop this royal decree, he still made the effort to warn Musa so as to give him the chance to flee.

Allah tells us the beautiful story of the secret believer in the Quran, who worked in the unjust government of the Pharaoh at the time of Musa Click To Tweet

Instead of condemning him for participating in a government founded upon unbelief, Allah exalts his mention in His glorious book. He is our example of speaking truth to power, and the reason for Musa’s 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him)safety from Pharaoh’s plot. This man used his position to obstruct oppression, not perpetuate it.

As Muslim Americans, we live in a non-Muslim country. The decisions and actions of our government impacts all of us living in this country. Disengagement will allow selfish people to make decisions that will result in harm to our communities.

Participation will allow us to follow the examples of proactive engagement so as to prevent harm and ultimately change corrupt systems from within. An all-or-nothing approach will almost always lead to nothing.

Allah, the Exalted, provides these examples so that we can understand the practical role of Muslim in an overwhelmingly hostile society. Even though our environments have not reached that degree, we can still relate to the feelings of being oppressed and ostracized for our faith. Allah’s lesson to us in these stories is that our faith shouldn’t prevent us from trying to change these circumstances.

And to Allah is the end of all matters.

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Our African American Siblings Are Speaking, Are We Listening? Here Are 15 Things African American Muslims Want You To Know

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African American Muslimss

In the Fall of 2018, we surveyed Muslims of Hispanic/Latino descent and asked what is the one thing they would want the Muslim community to know about them. We gathered 25 responses and released an article called, “25 Things Latino Muslims Want you to Know.” The purpose of the piece was to educate the general Muslim body about the Latino Muslim community and its dynamics, to debunk common stereotypes about Latinos, and to lend a voice to a marginalized sector in the Islamic community and in the United States.

Now, with the current climate of racial tension in the U.S. and the revival of the national movement for Black rights, I thought it not only imperative, but seriously overdue to put together a similar list of reactions from our African American brethren. Moving away from the obvious fact that there should be no racism in Islam, we want to open up about the racism and anti-blackness that unfortunately does exist within the Muslim community and how that affects our relationships with each other and hinders the struggle for change.

When I was collecting responses for this article what I found was that, unsurprisingly, Latino Muslims and Black Muslims have similar messages to send to the general Muslim community. Our shared experiences fuel a mutual call for justice and equality in society and within our own places of worship. I also had a difficult time gathering the same amount of feedback, because I began at a time when images of the murdered Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Rayshard Brooks were still circulating social media as a constant reminder of the injustice happening all over the country, specifically the targeting Black men and women. These wounds, so deep and raw were gaping in the collective psyche of African Americans, both Muslim and non-Muslim, fueling sentiments of anger and mistrust, and rightfully so. Many people refused to comment while others could not find the right words to use to address the Muslim brothers and sisters who have often failed them, as well.

The following is a list of 15 things the African American community, not only want you to know, but have been saying for decades. Are we listening?

  • I think people should know that civility (avoidance of controversial topics for the sake of being polite and getting along) undermines anti-racism work. Anti-racism demands frank discourse, active listening, and reflection. None of that can take place if we cannot clearly define the problems we face. – Candice Elam, Nurse, New Jersey
  • Our culture is not the antithesis of Islam. We do not come from broken homes. Umm Layyan Zainab, Mental Health Counselor/Recovery Specialist, Brooklyn, New York
Our culture is not the antithesis of Islam. We do not come from broken homes. – Umm Layyan Zainab, Mental Health Counselor/Recovery Specialist, Brooklyn, New YorkClick To Tweet
  • We are not your religious underlings. Many foreigners, especially Arabs and Indo-Paks, feel as though they have religious and cultural superiority over us. Just to list a few reasons they may feel this way: Firstly, they never really took the time out to learn and understand the history of oppression the indigenous people have been going through for over 500 years. But when it comes to them and their people back home, it is a top priority and the world must hear about the tears of the people of Palestine, Yemen, etc. This mentality is counterproductive to our religion of Islam because our beloved Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was a mercy to mankind, not just one nation, but all nations. Secondly, we are viewed as guests in their religion so, therefore, we should follow and adhere to their way, like somehow, we lack the ability and capability to understand and apply the teachings of Islam. I have always said that the slave master said we were 1/3 of a human, but now in the eyes of some Muslim foreigners, we are 1/3 of a Muslim. Our shahadahs are not truly recognized in their eyes. Thirdly, I believe some foreigners have the disease of racism in their hearts and it is present in their own countries towards dark-skinned people. What I am saying is based on what I and others have experienced. Abu Taahir Jalal, Islamic teacher/Youth Advocate/Mental Health Coach, Yonkers, New York
  • One thing I would like non-black Muslims to know is that not all African Americans are the same.  We have differences in culture depending where we are from.  I grew up in the Midwest. Our culture is vastly different from those who grew up in the South compared to those who grew up in the North. Then you have those who are Muslim compared to those who are not.  Lifestyles are different.  People do not realize this. – Zaneta Trent, Homeschooler/Health Educator, Baltimore, Maryland
  • All Black Muslims are not African American. There are also Afro-Latinos, Caribbean Muslims, etc. Halleemah Munoz, Educator, Atlanta, Georgia
All Black Muslims are not African American. There are also Afro-Latinos, Caribbean Muslims, etc. Halleemah Munoz, Educator, Atlanta, GeorgiaClick To Tweet
  • I would like the immigrant and/or non-Autochthonous Muslim community to understand that the Indigenous/Autochthonous “Black American” community facilitated the changes in the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization laws through the Civil Rights Movement and we are the reason why your family was able to immigrate and prosper here. Therefore, we should be acknowledged and respected for our struggle for equality that led to your presence. Additionally, you need to understand that your opportunities here lie solely on the U.S.’s agenda to make us a permanent bottom caste and to deny our right to equal opportunity, reparations for chattel slavery and upwardly mobility. This is called the racial wealth gap inequality where, through structural racism, we have been denied equal opportunity and access to wealth accumulation and resources. Please do not conflate our poverty with lack of drive, lack of self-determination, laziness, or apathy. Please do not believe that we are criminals and vagabonds. On the contrary, we built this country and through our blood, sweat, tears, struggle, and resistance, you have benefitted. – Elenia Norman, disabled, former Educator, Baltimore, Maryland
  • All black Muslims are not converts/reverts to Islam. – Shareefa Carrion, Designer/Entrepreneur, Atlanta, Georgia Designer/Entrepreneur
  • We did not become, and we do not remain Muslim to switch slave-masters. We do not “convert to Islam in jail/prison en masse.” We do not aspire to be Middle Eastern/Arab, Desi, African, Asian, etc. via our religious adherence to al-Islam. We support #Blacklivesmatter. – Gareth Bryant, Chaplain, Muslim Afro-American, New York
  • I want all Muslims, and people in general, to know and understand that Islam and Muslims are not “new” or “foreign” to America. In fact, Muslims have been in America since BEFORE it was even a nation by way of over 400 years of the African Slave Trade. Some scholars have estimated that between 30%-40% of the Africans brought to this country were Muslim. Slave traders actually identified those who were Muslims and sold them for higher prices because they were educated. Therefore, African American Muslims were the first Muslims in the United States of America. So, there are African American Muslims who have been Muslim for generations here. Kyosanim J., Assistant Martial Arts Instructor and NASM-CPT, Maryland, USA
  • Another thing we would like everyone to know and understand: Just because we are African American, and not from a “Muslim country,” do not assume we know nothing about Islam. Do not think that our knowledge is somehow “less than” someone from a “Muslim country” or that of our Arab and southeast Asian brothers and sisters. Many of us are well educated in Islam; many times even more so. Especially when it comes to areas of how to navigate being Muslim in America. We are way more equipped to answer these questions than someone coming from outside who does not understand the subtle ins-and-outs of this country, its laws or its history. The majority of African American Muslims, mainly those of us who have slave-trade ancestry (not with an African homeland e.g. Nigerian, Somalian etc.), don’t get caught up and lost in semantics, culture and traditions considering the Quran and Hadith. Therefore, we take the message as it is. Islam is Islam period. No cultural or traditional baggage attached. No matter what time you live in whether it is 6th century, present, or future.  Kyosanim J., Assistant Martial Arts Instructor and NASM-CPT, Maryland, USA
  • We are not new to Islam. Our ancestors were the vanguard of Islam in the Americas, starting with the Spanish occupations of the Caribbean in the 1500’s to the mass exodus of African Americans into Sunni Islam in the 70’s due to the influence of Islamic leaders such as Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, W. Deen Muhammad, and even members of the Black panthers. Abu Yazid Dumas, IT Tech, student of religious studies, Detroit, Michigan
We are not new to Islam. Our ancestors were the vanguard of Islam in the Americas, starting with the Spanish occupations of the Caribbean in the 1500’s to the mass exodus of African Americans into Sunni Islam in the 70’s due to the influence of Islamic leaders such as Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, W. Deen Muhammad, and even members of the Black panthers. Abu Yazid Dumas, IT Tech, student of religious studies, Detroit, MichiganClick To Tweet
  • I want people to know that Whites, Pakistanis, Indians, and Arabs do NOT speak for me as a Black American Muslim Woman. I have my own voice. WE have our own voices. Furthermore, I am tired of news outlets and reporters thinking that THE ABOVE ETHNIC GROUPS, especially Arabs, Pakistanis, and Indians are the ONLY voices of Islam. Moreover, NOT every Black American MUSLIM embraced Islam via the Nation of Islam or the Warith Al-Deen community. Barbara L., Islamic & ESL/EFL Teacher, Chapman University Graduate Student, Anaheim Hills, California
  • If you are truly sincere about helping in the battle against oppression in this world (and only Allah knows the hearts of His servants), I’ll say this: Whatever you do, understand that truly standing up against oppression has two battlegrounds. your internal world, and your external world. There is no standing up for justice in the truest sense without both of these aspects working together, and simultaneously—at all times. This is true for all social justice work, anti-racism or otherwise, and it is true irrespective of your “work experience” and ethnic background. If a single one of us—whether Black or non-Black, privileged or underprivileged—subtracts any one of these two components in our fight against oppression, then our efforts are false, insincere, or steeped in harmful self-deception. There really is no exception to this rule. Not a single one. This rule applies to every ethnic group, even amongst those who are underprivileged and oppressed, but it applies most especially to those who are benefiting from the system of oppression, even if they wish to live in self-denial about this. Umm Zakiyyah, Author/Educator, Baltimore, Maryland (Read more about how you can help fight oppression and anti-blackness in “First, Remove the Chains from Your Heart” on her blog: uzauthor.com)
  • Because our people were once enslaved, does not make us “less than” and somehow not worthy of marrying your son or daughter. Which, unfortunately, is how many of our other immigrant “Muslim brothers and sisters” view and treat us. Many of our Muslim “Brothers and Sisters” need to go back and read the last sermon of our beloved prophet Muhammad (SAWS) where he touches on many points, one of which is race relations, where he says plainly, “An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab…a white person has no superiority over a black, nor does a black have any superiority over white except by piety and good action.” (Agreed upon) Kyosanim J., Assistant Martial Arts Instructor and NASM-CPT, Maryland, USA
  • As Autochthonous American Muslims, we deserve respect because our struggle has carved out a space for you among a predominantly White Anglo-Saxon Protestant Christian hegemony that would otherwise reject your Muslim immigrant identity. Join us now in the fight against anti-Black racism, anti-Muslim bigotry, White Supremacy, and Imperialism. Help us reach White Americans in the academic and medical institutions we have been locked out of with the message of la ilaha illallah instead of choosing the decadence of wealth acquisition, suburban comfort, and cozy seating  at the banquet table of White Supremacy. – Elenia Norman, disabled, former Educator, Baltimore, Maryland
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According to a 2017 Pew Research Center Survey, non-Hispanic or mixed-race black people accounted for 20% of the Muslim population in the United States, meaning 1 in every 5 Muslims is Black, and that is not counting Afro-Latinos or Americans of mixed-race backgrounds. Just a little under half of that 20% are converts to Islam, and this also highlights the obvious fact that Black Muslims are not newcomers to our communities. In fact, they are pioneers who have been here since before the establishment of this country and paved the way for immigrant Muslims to migrate here to settle and build Islamic centers and schools. To deny our brothers and sisters fair treatment, companionship, or support based on the color of their skin is delusional and self-destructive.

If we are not pained and haunted by the images of African American victims of police brutality and hate crimes, then we need to take a long look in the mirror and really check ourselves. Our Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, clearly defined true brotherhood when he stated, “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.” (Bukhari and Muslim) Right now, we should all be breathless, we should all be restless. Until anti-Blackness is eradicated from our own families and communities, we should not feel comfortable to worship freely and go on about our lives. We may not be able to extinguish the ugly flames of racism worldwide, but we can start with ourselves.

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Drowning In Bottles: My Muslim Story Of Addiction And Substance Use Disorder

Karen Kaiser

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I want to talk about a topic that I haven’t been able to discuss openly for most of my adult life; alcohol addiction and acute substance use disorder. I’m an African American Muslim and I grew up in the Washington, DC area. My intention is mainly to discuss my alcoholism, how it began, why I felt so secretive, and how I pulled myself out of it. I want this to be a source of strength and support for others like me who may feel hopeless or helpless in the face of such a situation.

I was addicted to alcohol. It wasn’t because I liked drinking, it’s because being drunk made me forget the things that made me sad and anxious. I drank to calm my nerves in social situations or because I didn’t know how to say ‘no.’ Or maybe because I felt I couldn’t say no. Additionally, if I became embarrassed in public or anything, drinking was my way out. Right before you lose your balance and your inhibitions, being intoxicated is like being at a carnival. 

When I was drinking, my tongue was looser and my jokes funnier. I was the life of the party. I sucked up the oxygen in the room until there wasn’t anymore. And then I kept going. It’s as though my stomach was bottomless. I drank until a trapdoor opened and all the contents of my stomach dropped out onto the floor; along with the bile and my guts. It’s a painful experience. But then, so is alcoholism. 

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I remember taking sips of my parents’ wine from their glasses at holiday parties as a teen, feeling like I was doing something wrong, but excited at the same time. I loved holding my father’s mugs and thinking I was as adult as he was. 

He kept his liquor in a cabinet on our entertainment center, right above his records. The cabinet made a creaking sound when you opened it. The pull of alcohol was really strong. I liked how it made me feel and how it numbed my emotions. I felt ashamed that I was taking something that didn’t belong to me; something I didn’t have permission to consume. But regardless, it became a routine. 

Beginning in 9th grade, I often slept through my classes, because of poor mental health and exhaustion. Even as an athlete, I felt rundown on a constant basis. I later found out I have excessive daytime sleepiness and narcolepsy. It took years of tests to receive a proper diagnosis but by then, my life had been so disrupted by sleeping that I’d become severely overwhelmed. This caused me to feel worse about myself. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, I drank as a result of how I perceived my health status. Drinking was my escape. 

There were a few times where I got blackout drunk. This kind of thing started in my third year of high school. I wanted to numb my feelings and feel happy, but I’d drink too fast and too much. I’d consume alcohol until I got physically ill. Drinking like that is extremely dangerous. I realize now that I was passively suicidal and severely depressed. I was also dealing with many impulsive behaviors and had no safety net. 

At my mom’s house I used to collect bottles of beer in large plastic trash bags in my room. I was ashamed for anyone to discover I was drinking, so I hid it. I’d finish a six-pack and shove the empty bottles into the bag hoping that somehow hid my ‘crime’. Eventually when the bag got too full, I’d sneak outside when no one was looking and stash it in the trash can. I got tired of that routine and I got tired of thinking people would find out. Sometimes I’d keep the bags in my room. I would hoard 3 and 4 bags of bottles at a time. I was drowning in my alcohol addiction. I couldn’t see my way out. 

By college, my narcolepsy got much more debilitating. It was exacerbated by bipolar depression, anxiety and my response to trauma. I was bullied so much throughout childhood that my self-esteem suffered. No one knew how much I hated myself, and they didn’t know I had been molested and sexually assaulted at least three times in my life. My mom suspected something, but wasn’t sure who the culprit was. I couldn’t talk to my father or other family members because I was too shy and introverted; though my father was always supportive. So I drank to hide my pain.  

During beach week I drank until I passed out, but before I blacked out, I went canoeing at midnight. I could have fallen overboard. I want this to be a lesson for my kids and other youth. When I woke up, there was so much vomit on my shirt and on my face. I was crying. My friends said they couldn’t stop me from getting sick and they didn’t know what to do. They tried turning me over during the night, but I still woke up on my back. 

What they don’t tell you about an alcohol overdose is that it hurts. By that I mean it’s physically painful. It’s as if you can feel your cells shrinking, trying to get away from the poison of the alcohol. I’ve felt this too many times to count. When you OD or have alcohol poisoning you first feel really bad, like something is going to happen. It’s an aura, of sorts. You know you went too far with the drinking, and you wish you could take it back. 

But it’s too late at that point. You feel queasy and you start sweating. You feel hot and dizzy. Your skin gets clammy too; first your hands, your upper lip, and then the rest of your skin. You start to experience a cold sweat even if you’re hot. Then your stomach starts to hurt. Like all the way at the bottom. You realize the vomiting is inevitable.

It took me two days to fully recover and sober up. My parents didn’t know where I was or who I was with. I’ve never felt that awful before. Unfortunately, even after that, I still drank. This cycle is how substance use disorder and addiction work, and it’s deadly. I went through this painful ordeal many more times in college and even afterwards, subhanAllah. 

I always found a liquor store or a beer and wine place wherever I lived. I knew exactly where to go and what time they closed depending on what part of the area I was in. You become a slave to your addiction. People think you’re a low life or you’re just a bad person if you drink. They think you have poor character and that your parents raised you wrong. I hate that mentality. Addiction doesn’t discriminate. It isn’t a character issue. It’s about trauma and a lack of proper coping skills. It’s about connection, and for some of us it’s also about impulsivity and self-will. And an underlying mental illness makes things more complicated. 

Religious Conversion

I was 21 years old when I converted to Islam. I felt as though I didn’t have anyone to turn to in order to share my past. I was scared that people would find out how chaotic my life had been, so I didn’t tell them anything. That left me feeling like I couldn’t trust anyone in my Muslim circles early on. 

I think this was irresponsible, even if unintentional. I think I should have been counseled by a licensed therapist and Imam, screened for mental health concerns and substance use disorders, and formally welcomed to a community.Click To Tweet

When I converted, people told me to forget my old life. They said it wasn’t necessary to think about what had happened and that Allah had forgiven my past mistakes, but nobody asked me if I had any trauma, addictions,or  mental health issues. I think this was irresponsible, even if unintentional. I think I should have been counseled by a licensed therapist and Imam, screened for mental health concerns and substance use disorders, and formally welcomed to a community. And furthermore, I should have been guided in what to do if I developed any of these issues subsequently. That would have been ideal anyway. 

Since none of that happened, I ended up trying to quit alcohol cold turkey, several times, and trying to manage my addictions and substance use issues without professional help. I tried to hide my trauma and anxiety and was not forthcoming with clinicians when I did finally find them. This was dangerous and proved almost deadly to me on multiple occasions. 

I thought quitting cold turkey was best for me and my Iman. For some reason, I thought Islam distinguished me from other addicts because I’d only ever heard of recovery from a Christian perspective. 

I remember my first Ramadan when I was in college. I stopped drinking so I could pray and fast, but I didn’t have guidance, so I didn’t know how to taper and pray as a dry alcoholic. I’d go back and forth, wrestling with my alcohol addiction. I’d stopped going to parties of course, but memories of the alcohol kept attacking my psyche. I still had strong cravings and some withdrawal symptoms. It was so hard to put the bottle down, metaphorically speaking. Sometimes, I’d make a mistake and take a drink. 

When I met my future husband, I’d pushed all this down and forgotten it happened. I’d repressed memories of the abuse, my visits to the psychiatrist, my sexual assaults, the alcoholism, and so on. Anything I did remember, I kept to myself out of fear of judgment and shame. We didn’t have marital counseling; in fact, it wasn’t even recommended to us. At that time, there was no counseling center at the masjid, and of course, no place to discuss addictions or alcoholism. My marriage was set up to fail, in a way. 

Going Without Alcohol 

The first few Ramadan’s were peaceful for me. I forgot my old life and never told anyone about my addictions. I didn’t seem to need any additional support. I was in a kind of mental health remission, but then I had my son and it triggered something in me. The stress exacerbated my symptoms and my addiction resurfaced. 

I had kids back to back, every two years. The hormones and stress of being a new mother made my bipolar disorder and anxiety return with a vengeance. I developed poor coping skills as a result. I wanted to drink, but couldn’t. I wished I had told someone that I’d been a heavy drinker in college, so I’d know what to do. When my midwives asked me about alcohol and substance use, I wasn’t honest. I also didn’t remember or realize the importance of the emotional issues I was dealing with. 

I found other ways to soothe my pain and anxiety. When my husband wasn’t home, if there were pills in the house, regardless if they were mine or not, I’d take them. I was right back into my addictive behaviors before I knew it. I didn’t know how to reach out for help. I realized later I was substituting one addiction for another. So quitting alcohol cold turkey, without a support system, didn’t do anything positive for me at all. I began to use my husband’s work tools to cut myself, resorting to a teenage coping mechanism I used to employ. Self-harm was something I indulged in when I needed help managing tough situations. I’d cut, scratch my face, wring my hands, wrap things around my neck, injure my limbs, or re-injure them. I did anything to feel pain or hurt myself. I still have scars on both arms.

This morning, I opened my nightstand drawers. They were a mess. I had pill bottles everywhere and drugstore receipts. I found a few loose trileptal pills (for mood regulation) too. Tops to empty bottles. Nail clippers. Trash galore. This is also a part of my addiction. It’s called hoarding and ocd. It’s a part of my ADHD and anxiety disorder, and it’s representative of my hectic life. I don’t drink anymore, but I’m disorganized. So I bought a lockbox, a pill minder, and pill pouches to organize things and it helped. 

I still have a long way to go though. I don’t know how to take my meds properly, therefore my behavior still mimics addiction. I have the lockbox, but I don’t yet use it properly. I can’t figure out how to tell my doctors I need help with this entire process. I want to make a difference for others, and I wish I’d met someone like me along the way. I wish I’d been to a place like the women’s shelter I was at in Texas much sooner. What I miss about that area is someone coming to my room and asking me to go to a meeting. It was such a nice feeling. 

Funny enough, when I was in Senegal, it felt much the same way. My family members would come to my door to give me attaya (Senegalese tea) or something. It’s about camaraderie and connection. 

People often tell someone like me to reach out for help when we’re struggling with mental ill health or having an addiction problem. Often hotline numbers are passed around as well. This is helpful, but only to a point. The person who is in need isn’t always ready or able to ask for help when they need it the most. And the people who need to help don’t always know instinctively to reach out to their loved ones and check on them without prompting. This causes a disconnect. Maybe instead of all of us simply saying “reach out” to one another and “take care of your mental health,” we can direct these phrases and make them more meaningful. We can explain how we want people to connect with one another, that way we’re working on community building skills and creating better experiences. 

They say addiction stems from a lack of connections. I’m noticing throughout my narrative, that what I’m often missing is a connection to family and friends, and a lack of a genuine connection with myself and to Allah. 

When my iman is higher, I don’t want to drink or give in to my addictions. My impulse control issues, even if they do come up, are easier to manage, and I’m less apt to reject help than when my iman is lower. When I’m away from my deen, though, this isn’t the case. 

It’s summertime as I’m writing this and getting pretty hot. I live close to two alcohol establishments. I don’t feel compelled to buy anything at the moment. But in the past I would have. I would have been so tempted to go grab an alcoholic beverage. I wouldn’t have been able to control my cravings. At times like this, it feels like my veins are reaching for the haram, day and night. I can feel it like I feel my heartbeat. It calls to me. 

With alcohol, I’ve experienced acute intoxication, extreme drunkenness and poisoning. I don’t like to think about how many times I’ve had alcohol poisoning because my behavior was so self-sabotaging.. Hopefully now I’m taking much better care of myself. And I don’t have the need to tempt fate or see how much punishment my body can handle.

Overdosing hurts. And I’m never sure if the last time will be my “last time”. I don’t want to keep thumbing my nose at Allah’s mercy without realizing how many times I’ve been saved before. 

When I notice a craving, I think back to the mindfulness steps I learned in therapy. Though a trigger can produce powerful results, I’m often able to get control quickly. Depending on where I am, I’ll sit down and meditate for a few minutes and notice my breathing and my body. I’ll sometimes close my eyes and just try to focus my attention on what may have happened to bring about the feeling of anxiety in that moment. By then, the craving has usually passed and I feel better. If not, I take steps to alleviate it. Thankfully I have a good community with whom I feel safe and comfortable and I can communicate when my needs properly. And I have a mentor who always reminds me about my prayer. This helps tremendously. 

I don’t think about drinking alcohol much anymore. By this, I mean I don’t fantasize about drinking when I’m alone. But sometimes when I’m out, I do get tempted. I don’t know what to do in those moments and sometimes I get nervous. The idea of getting drunk makes my stomach turn in knots, but when I pass a liquor store, I do check to see if it’s open. If I see the window sign flashing, my heart pounds. I actually feel butterflies in my stomach. I wonder if I’ll get the urge to go inside. 

I wouldn’t want people to see me walk into a liquor store as a Muslim and as a muhajjaba. So I think about altering my appearance. I’m sure people think that means I unequivocally know right from wrong, I sometimes do. But what they’re missing is the impulsivity and the compulsive disorder outside of my control, with mania and psychosis both significantly altering perception and judgment. You cannot consent to anything in those kinds of conditions. 

The first khutbah I ever heard was about depression and anxiety disorder. The Imam said if you need to take medication to stabilize your brain, you should feel free to do so. I enjoyed that lesson. But I didn’t think much about it at the time. I moved on with my life as a Muslim and forgot his words of wisdom. Years later, I remembered that sermon and regretted I hadn’t taken heed much sooner. Remembering that  khutbah might have saved me from heartache and turmoil. 

I want others in this situation to know it’s ok to embrace your feelings and own your relationship with alcoholism. It helps me keep going when I remember Allah’s mercy and ask my friends for help. A sober network can also be helpful. My long-term goal is to be a successful mentor for those with substance use disorders in our communities, particularly the youth and anyone dealing with trauma/anxiety.

Having Islamic resources for Muslims with addiction issues is important, because faith and spirituality can connect directly with recovery. I would like people to know that alcoholism is a lifelong illness which can affect people of any age. Someone can be an occasional drinker, a binge drinker or only indulge in social settings. As Muslims we need to educate ourselves about this issue and make sure those who need support feel safe to reach out to us.

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