By Naureen Ahmed
My parents married each other in the late 70’s in Karachi. They moved to Brooklyn, NY, where my mother gave birth to my two sisters in a span of 13 months. My father, a surgeon, was going through residency at the time.It wasn’t easy being a wife of a busy resident, in a new country, with two small babies to look after. She was soon diagnosed with “baby blues” also known as post-partum depression. My father now shares with us scary stories about her violent fits in their small one-bedroom apartment.
A few years later, they moved to a small town in Arkansas, where I was born. My father says they went through 3-year cycles–first year was good, second-year bad, third-year worse, rinse, repeat. This continued for the 9 years of their marriage. So if I do the math, I guess I was born in a bad year. They were legally separated, then reconciled, but ultimately divorced in 1986.
My mom was stuck in 1986 until the day she died.
My father remarried a few years later, and this triggered my mother’s first psychotic “nervous breakdown”. She was in a psychiatric hospital for a few months. I remember visiting her in the hospital, looking at her vacant stares, forced smiles as she showed us the pottery she had created for us. But we couldn’t tell our father. We were warned that we’d never see our mother again if we did.
So it was a secret. If we told anyone, there would be consequences.
My sisters and I carried on through life telling people she had “chemical imbalance and depression.” I never heard the word schizophrenia until I was 25.
She came back home. From the moment my mother would wake up, she’d pace the house–bedroom, living room, kitchen, and back….and forth…until she fell asleep again at night. And she wasn’t quiet while she paced. She ranted and raved about all the wrong everyone had done to her in her life.
And then there were the psychotic fits…brandishing knives, threatening to kill herself. She would violently attack my grandparents and sometimes us. The three of us, scared, would either lock ourselves up in our bedroom, or sit on the top steps, peeking and watching her lash out at anyone and anything in her path.
We were neglected. There was no one to calm us down, tell us it would all be alright: “Sojao, go to sleep, everything will be fine in the morning.”
Some nights she would kick all of us out of the house. We would sneak into the backyard and watch her through the curtains as she wailed and cried and screamed for hours on end.
Life went on, and we just dealt with it, learned how to manage her. My grandparents moved out, they were too old to take her physical assaults. They would pick us up and take us to school in the mornings and drop us home in the evenings with food. But mostly, we were left alone with her.
Some days, she was happy, blaring Bollywood music on the stereo, singing in her beautiful sing-song voice, with freshly brushed hair and red lipstick. She loved makeup. She loved fashion, wearing beautiful shalwar kameez. At times she would even raid my sisters’ closets. Those were good days. I loved those days. Cherished those days.
But most days were spent pacing, or sitting in bed with wild hair and bloodshot eyes, crying and begging us to tell her everything would be okay. Us, her children….. we were now the parents, and she was the child.
I hated her. “Snap out of it!” “Stop being depressed!’ “Can’t you just be my mother?!?”
She didn’t take care of me. She didn’t cook, didn’t clean, didn’t come to Parent/Teacher conferences, didn’t make my class cupcakes on my birthday, or come to my basketball games. She was a shell. There was no one inside. My sisters taught me about puberty. My sisters cleaned up our room. My sisters packed my lunches until I could do it myself. My sisters and I did our own laundry. I barely learned to read the Quran, and had only memorized 3 surahs by the time I was 17.
We grew up too fast, like animals, just trying to survive.
The school was my outlet. I was popular, loved to laugh and spend time with my friends. But no one could come over. I learned my lesson trying to do that once. Having my friends over meant them asking, “Why is your mom walking back and forth? Why is your mom staring at me?”. I would try to laugh it off as my mom just being an immigrant.
All of us were top of our class, somehow. Through all the madness, we focused on our studies. It was our only way out. Study, go away to college, find a job, get married, get away, whatever it takes.
So we did. We all got married within 9 months of each other. I was the youngest bride at 19 years of age. My sisters stayed in Arkansas, but I moved as far away as possible, to Chicago. I visited my family every year, for a week here and there. I could only handle her in small doses.
I found Islam
I stopped hating her after I found Islam. Especially after my sister read about schizophrenia and confronted our family with her newfound facts. They had no choice but to admit her diagnosis. Then I read everything, and I understood. And I was more compassionate towards her, more patient.
But then she died.
What was the point of her life? All she did was suffer! My grandparents suffered. We suffered. I SUFFERED! But she suffered….. she was so beautiful, innocent, affectionate, artistic…. why God, ya Allah, why?
So we took that pain, and we created SEEMA: Support Embrace Empower Mental health Advocacy. SEEMA was created to support families like ours, who are shamed by the stigma of mental illness, are isolated by their communities, and are suffering alone. Through support groups and workshops, SEEMA will make sure no one suffers alone anymore.
By the way, did I mention my mother’s name was Seema?
How Grandparents Can Be Of Invaluable Help In A Volatile ‘Me First’ Age
I grew up in a small rural village of a developing country during the 1950s and 1960s within a wider ‘extended’ family environment amidst many village aunties and uncles. I had a wonderfully happy childhood with enormous freedom but traditional boundaries. Fast forward 30 years, my wife and I raised our four children on our own in cosmopolitan London in the 1980s and 1990s. Although not always easy, we had a wonderful experience to see them grow as adults. Many years and life experiences later, as grandparents, we see how parenting has changed in the current age of confusion and technology domination.
While raising children is ever joyous for parents, external factors such as rapidly changing lifestyles, a breath-taking breakdown of values in modern life, decline of parental authority and the impacts of social media have huge impacts on modern parenting.
Recently, my wife and I decided to undertake the arduous task of looking after our three young grandchildren – a 5½-year old girl and her 2-year old sibling brother from our daughter, plus a 1½-year old girl from our eldest son – while their parents enjoyed a thoroughly deserved week-long holiday abroad. My wife, who works in a nursery, was expertly leading this trial. I made myself fully available to support her. Rather than going through our daily experiences with them for a week, I highlight here a few areas vis a vis raising children in this day and age and the role of grandparents. The weeklong experience of being full time carers brought home with new impetus some universal needs in parenting. I must mention that handling three young grandchildren for a week is not a big deal; it was indeed a sheer joy to be with these boisterous, occasionally mischievous, little kids so dear to us!
- Establish a daily routine and be consistent: Both parents are busy now-a-days earning a livelihood and maintaining their family life, especially in this time of austerity. As children grow, and they grow fast, they naturally get used to the daily parental routine, if it is consistent. This is vital for parents’ health as they need respite in their daily grind. For various practical reasons the routine may sometimes be broken, but this should be an exception rather than a norm. After a long working day parents both need their own time and rest before going to sleep. Post-natal depression amongst mums is very common in situations where there is no one to help them or if the relationship between the spouses is facing difficulty and family condition uninspiring.
In our trial case, we had some struggles in putting the kids to sleep in the first couple of nights. We also faced difficulties in the first few mornings when our grandson would wake up at 5.00am and would not go back to sleep, expecting one of us to play with him! His noise was waking up his younger cousin in another room. We divided our tasks and somehow managed this until we got used to a routine towards the end of the week.
- Keep children away from screens: Grandparents are generally known for their urge to spoil their grandchildren; they are more relaxed about discipline, preferring to leave that job to the parents. We tried to follow the parents’ existing rules and disciplinary measures as much as possible and build on them. Their parents only allow the children to use screens such as iPads or smartphones as and when deemed necessary. We decided not to allow the kids any exposure to these addictive gadgets at all in the whole week. So, it fell on us to find various ways to keep them busy and engaged – playing, reading, spending time in the garden, going to parks or playgrounds. The basic rule is if parents want their kids to keep away from certain habits they themselves should set an example by not doing them, especially in front of the kids.
- Building a loving and trusting relationship: From even before they are born, children need nurture, love, care and a safe environment for their survival and healthy growth. Parenting becomes enjoying and fulfilling when both parents are available and they complement each other’s duties in raising the kids. Mums’ relationship with their children during the traditional weaning period is vital, both for mums and babies. During our trial week we were keenly observing how each of the kids behaved with us. We also observed the evolution of interesting dynamics amongst the three; but that is a different matter. In spite of occasional hiccups with the kids, we felt our relationship was further blossoming with each of them. We made a habit of discussing and evaluating our whole day’s work at night, in order to learn things and plan for a better next day.
A grandparent, however experienced she or he may be, can be there only to lend an extra, and probably the best, pair of hands to the parents in raising good human beings and better citizens of a country. With proper understanding between parents and grandparents and their roles defined, the latter can be real assets in a family – whether they live under the same roof or nearby. Children need attention, appreciation and validation through engagement; grandparents need company and many do crave to be with their own grandchildren. Young grandchildren, with their innate innocence, do even spiritually uplift grandparents in their old age.
Through this mutual need grandparents can transfer life skills and human values by reading with them, or telling them stories or just spending time with the younger ones. On the other hand, in our age of real loneliness amidst illusory social media friends, they get love, respect and even tender support from their grandchildren. No wonder the attachment between grandparents and grandchildren is often so strong!
In modern society, swamped by individualism and other social ills, raising children in an urban setting is indeed overwhelming. We can no longer recreate ‘community parenting’ in the traditional village environment with the maxim “It needs a village to raise a child’, but we can easily create a productive and innovative role for grandparents to bring about similar benefits.
Our Struggles – Mental Health And Muslim Communities | The Family and Youth Institute
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 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.
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.
Loving Muslim Marriage | Is it Haraam to Talk About Sex?
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.
– 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
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.