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

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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The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Karen Michelle Kaiser is a native of Washington, DC. She grew up in Silver Spring, MD, where she attended elementary through high school. After college, she became a mother to three children, a blogger, and a mental health advocate.

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    #Life

    Mental Health & COVID-19: Light, Guidance, & Much Love | Part 1

    Insha’Allah, you and your loved ones are safe & healthy. May Allah swt protect us all from COVID-19, Ya Hafidh, and open the way for our spiritual growth, Ya Fattah Ya Rabb. No doubt, we are living in very challenges times, and many in our community are suffering. As such, my intention for this two-part series is to provide some beneficial perspectives and practical strategies that will make your emotional journey safer & easier, insha’Allah.

    And a journey it surely is. We are on a very long hike up a very steep mountain. And we have only two choices about HOW we approach this challenge: unskillfully or skillfully. If we wear flip-flops, and fail to pack water and snacks, we will have a very difficult time reaching the summit. And if we do, we will be in very bad shape. If we wear good socks, sturdy hiking boots, and our backpack is well-stocked, not only are we likely to reach the summit, but reach it in great shape. This is what I want for our beloved community, insha’Allah.

    As Muslims, it is crucial to remember that the ultimate summit is the hereafter. Truly, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is our goal and pleasing Him is our aim. Truly, everything we do or fail to do here has an impact there. For many people, this haqq is much more difficult to remember and actualize when their day-to-day challenges are daunting. This is why historically and traditionally, in times of crisis, Muslims have always sought the nasiha of wise elders. Imam Muhasibi, the father of Islamic Psychology, developed this crucial, beautiful science in response to the human needs of his students. Sadly, the loss of these teachings as a widespread living tradition has contributed in large part to the widespread mental-health problems that have been plaguing our community for a very long time, which have now been exacerbated by COVID-19.

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    Here’s a good metaphor. The science of nutrition teaches us about our body, the properties of different foods, what to avoid to prevent disease, and the vital nutrients we MUST ingest to attain optimum physical health. Likewise, the science of mental health teaches us about our heart and mind, the impact of specific activities, what to avoid to prevent disease, and the vital psychological nutrients we MUST ingest to attain optimum mental health. Lack of knowledge about Islamic Psychology and the absence of the vital psychological nutrients have taken a huge toll on our community. The stories I hear would probably shock you. They would certainly break your heart. Especially the stories of our young people, who are my top priority. Insha’Allah, the wake-up call of COVID-19 propels us to reclaim en masse this lost part of our spiritual heritage, so we can reclaim our vitality and nobility as the Ummah of Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him).

    To continue with the metaphor. Working one-on-one with an experienced nutritionist is very different than reading a book about nutrition. With the former, your nutritional program is specifically tailored to your particular problems, challenges, habits, and temperament. The same is true when it comes to mental health. So I must manage your expectations honestly and honorably by saying that it is not possible for me to do in two articles for the general public what I do one-on-one in my private practice as a psychotherapist, life-coach, and spiritual mentor. Truly, there is a palpable, powerful, fitrah-based alchemy that can only happen when two human hearts link-up in real time. That said, in the same way that reading and learning about nutrition is very beneficial, so too reading and learning about mental health, especially now.

    Working Skillfully with Difficult Emotions

    No doubt, COVID-19 has unleashed a wide range of very difficult emotions. People are struggling with tremendous anxiety, uncertainty, fear, sadness, loneliness, depression, helplessness, hopelessness, anger, frustration, confusion, grief, despair, and in some cases, a full-blown crisis of faith. So let me explain a little bit about emotions and how to work with them skillfully  

    One of the foundational principles of cognitive-behavioral psychology is called ‘reframing.’

    It is the process of deliberately thinking differently about our situation. Reframing it. The fact is, the lens through which we view our circumstances makes all the difference in the world insofar as how we feel. Thoughts are like the front wheels of the car and feelings are like the back wheels. We must be in the driver seat, steering intentionally. Whichever way the front wheels turn, the back wheels follow. So paying attention to our thoughts moment by moment, and making sure they are aligned with the Qur’an and Sunnah, is crucial. The mind is a like a muscle that MUST be trained through specific exercises, and our tradition is rich in the techniques for doing so. Truly, we must hit the spiritual gym regularly. The heavy lifting of muhasiba (self-reckoning) and muraqaba (mindfulness/meditation) are not optional. If these are not already a consistent part of your spiritual practice, NOW is the time to take them up. You will be so happy you did!

    Here’s a good metaphor. If you are a longtime couch potato, even a flight of stairs leaves you huffing and puffing. If you are in good shape, you’re able to jog around the block easily. If you’re in great shape, you’re able to leap over the hurdles like a gazelle. For many, COVID-19 has been like asking a couch potato to run a marathon. So we need to get in the best spiritual shape possible as quickly as possible. To that end:

    The Centering Exercise 

    Every time you notice that you are feeling sad, anxious, fearful, angry, hopeless, helpless, impatient, frustrated, confused, or depressed, here’s what to do.  

    • Turn off your devices and put them in another room.
    • Close your door and put a “Please do not disturb.” sign on the doorknob. Lay down.
    • Close your eyes. Turn your attention to your heart. Remember the Hadith Qudsi, “Heaven and earth cannot contain me but the heart of my faithful believer is where I reside.” Truly, Allah is closer than our jugular vein. (50:16)
    • Take some slow-deep breaths. On the out-breath, silently recite “La illaha.” On the in-breath, silently recite “il Allah.” After a few minutes, notice the shift in your state. Notice the deep connection between ‘self’ and ‘breath’, not just experientially, but also etymologically. They both derive from the same Arabic root, transliterated nfs.   
    • When you are centered, mentally review what you had been thinking about that gave rise to the difficult emotions.  Then do a ‘search and replace,’ deliberately and intentionally replacing your dark thoughts with the Light of The Qur’an or Hadith. Here is one example: Search: “I’ll never get through this.” Replace: “Allah never burdens a person with more than he is well able to bear.” (2:286)

    As individuals, we each have our own particular dark thoughts. NOW is the BEST time to fix them. I lovingly encourage you to get a blank journal, so that each time you do The Centering Exercise, you can make note of what you observed, what you learned about yourself. Write down each dark thought and then write down each Rx of Light from The Qur’an or Sunnah. Having a personal journal gives you a concrete means of reinforcing your new thought patterns. 

    We know from our neuroscience that the human brain possesses ‘neuroplasticity’, which is the capacity to be shaped, molded, changed. As such, the more often you do The Centering Exercise, the more your thinking patterns will change. This is how Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) created us, mash’Allah! It’s really quite amazing to realize that the Qur’an we’ve been given provides Light upon Light from The Lord of The Worlds. And the Sunnah is that Light fully actualized to perfection, mash’Allah. The fact is, no matter how dark a room may be, if we light just one candle, it illuminates the space. Mash’Allah!

    Parents, once you get the hang of The Centering Exercise, please please teach it to your children! Insha’Allah, make it the new normal in your household, transforming discord and upset into harmony and peace.

    Say “Ameen!”

    Divine Reminders

    Insofar as reframing COVID-19 in the broader sense, I offer you this lens, this Divine Reminder, with much love. May it shift your state from embittered to empowered. My beloved sisters and brothers, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is our Rabb, our Teacher, and COVID-19 is the Test we’ve all been given. Every single human being on the planet. We all woke up one day, walked into the classroom of Life, and got handed a pop quiz. The purpose of which is to show us the places where we weren’t prepared. This is great! Because the trumpet is absolutely going to sound, and we surely want to be ready. As long as we’re breathing, we have time to prepare. This is great!

    Say “Ameen!” 

    Beloved ones, we have the incredible privilege of being students of The One Who Knows Everything, including The Future and The Unseen.  It is very bad adab to question the teaching methods of our Teacher or to complain that we don’t like the Test.

    This was the fatal mistake of Bani Israel that we are reminded 17x/day not to emulate. On the contrary, what we want to be asking ourselves is: “What must I do to pass this Test with flying colors, to ace this Exam?” Our beautiful Qur’an teaches us: “Not without purpose did We create heaven and earth and all between.” (38:27)  This pandemic is not some random event. It has a divine purpose. There is deep meaning in it. 

    There is also enormous rahmah in it. Our beautiful Qur’an teaches us: “…My mercy embraces everything.” (7:156) The Divine Physician has dispensed this bitter medicine to heal us. To heal the whole world from its longstanding imbalances and injustices. Surely, it is no accident, the timing of COVID-19 vis-à-vis the murder of George Floyd and the global response it has galvanized.  Surely, every human being wants to and deserves to breathe.

    COVID-19 is a wake-up call for the whole world. Ours to do as students is to be fully present in each moment, to practice mindfulness (muraqaba), so we can be deeply receptive to the Lessons we are meant to learn (muhasiba). Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.” (13:11) Beloved ones, NOW is the time for global tawbah (repentance). As the Ummah of Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), this is our Divine Assignment, individually, collectively, institutionally. 

    My vision and personal commitment is that we wind up stronger and better-than-ever on the other side of this, insha’Allah. I can say this with great confidence because first and foremost, I know that COVID-19 or no COVID-19, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is not out of business! The presence of The Presence, the power of the Names & Attributes, are as robust as ever. 

    We are being summoned to recognize our hubris and turn our hearts in humility toward The One Who Is In Charge, The One Who Calls The Shots, to The One Whose Decree we surrender. Humbly. Readily. Insha’Allah, NOW is the time to actualize the last part of Hadith Jibreel about qadr. The fact is, what’s happening around us is what’s happening, and this is always in the hands of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). HOW we respond to what’s happening is entirely up to us.

    What I want for our community is the best possible response, the most skillful and beautiful response, the response that will be of maximum benefit here & hereafter, insha’Allah.

    I can also say this with great confidence because time and again, working with Muslim refugees who have been through horrific trauma, I have seen with my own eyes how absolutely amazing human beings are. How resilient. How courageous. How creative. How capable of transforming sorrow into joy, lemons into lemonade, compost into roses. This is what I want for you, my beloved sisters and brothers.

    No doubt, on any long and arduous journey, in addition to having the right equipment and supplies, having an experienced trail-guide makes all the difference. There is dangerous terrain you want to avoid, and beautiful vistas you don’t want to miss. In my experience over decades, I have observed that human beings thrive when we are given the right tools and the loving encouragement to master them.  So let me give you now some very practical guidelines to help you navigate skillfully, so you can extract from these precious days of your life what is meaningful & transformational. 

    Practical Strategies

    When it comes to protecting our physical health from the pandemic, there are certain steps we MUST take. Likewise with our mental health. As such, here are some practical strategies, culled from thousands of pages of research and decades of experience. My focus is on parents, whose job has never been more difficult. And with the new school year right around the corner, this guidance is extremely timely. 

    Boundaries: Set clear boundaries regarding where and when devices can be used. This applies to everyone in the household, kids and parents alike. Parents, as your elder who loves you, I am reminding you that YOU are the CEO of your home. YOU are the policy maker. YOU are in charge. NOT your kids or their devices. So take charge!

    • No devices for kids 0-3. These guidelines are from the American Pediatric Association. 
    • No devices at the dinner table* or in the bedrooms.
    • No devices until after Fajr. Better yet, after breakfast.
    • All devices put away 1-2 hours before bedtime. Plugged in in the kitchen to recharge.
    • Limit on-line entertainment and socializing to 1 hour/day MAX.
    • Schedule tech fasts ½ day weekly, and 1-2 full days monthly, on a weekend.
    • An occasional family-time movie is fine on the weekend. Choose something meaningful, uplifting, thought-provoking, heart-opening. Pop some popcorn. Make tea. Engage in a special time afterward to really talk together about your experience. *Getting in the habit of real-time-face-to-face conversations is crucial. If you start when your kids are young, it will lay a strong foundation for their teenage years, when they desperately need wise, trustworthy, caring adults who really know how to listen from the heart.

    Nature: Spending time in nature is the very best thing you can do for yourself and with your family. There are reams of data about the stress-reducing effects of being outdoors, especially in the woods. There are also reams of data about the benefits of exercise, not only for physical health, but for mental health. Given all the extra sitting everyone is doing during COVID-19, regular exercise is not optional. 

    Furthermore, if your kids are schooling from home and you are working from home, everyone will surely need some breathing room, some physical and emotional space from one another, some time every day in solitude, unplugged from their devices. Spending alone-time in nature is the perfect solution. 

    For family-time activities, unplug from your devices and enjoy these delightful experiences. They will engender tremendous awe (khushu’) and deepen your heart-connection with your Rabb, The One Who Created you and all the beauty around you. Subhan’Allah.

    • Take a 15-30 minute family-walk every night after dinner before homework.
    • Go hiking, biking, rollerblading, kayaking, kite-flying, or camping on the weekend.   
    • Set up bird feeders in your yard. Learn their names and identify their songs.
    • Go out nightly to look at the stars. Learn the names of the constellations.
    • Watch as many sunrises & sunsets, moonrises & moonsets as you can. 

    As Muslims, our worship is guided by the natural cycles Allah put in place. The sun is our clock. It tells us when to pray. The moon is our calendar. It tells us when the new month begins. Sighting the moon is an act of worship, mash’Allah.

    Divine Reminders

    Our beautiful Qur’an teaches:“We will show them Our Signs (ayat) in the universe and in their own selves, until it becomes clear to them that this (the Qur’an) is the truth.” (Fussilat 41:53)

    In this ayah, we are taught the two beautiful gateways into the sacred: the macrocosm of the universe, and the microcosm of the self. Both of these gateways open into the direct experience of Allah’s presence. 

    As Muslims, we have been invited to spend time in this dunya in the company of The One Who is Love (al-Wadud). The One Who is Strength (al-Aziz). The One Who is Peace (as-Salaam). And on & on. What could be more beneficial during this time of crisis? Alas, calling upon our Rabb by His most Beautiful Names, with urgency & sincerity, is one of the Lessons we must learn from COVID-19.  My prayer for our community is that people do not squander the opportunity to connect in a deep, meaningful, intimate way heart-to-heart with Allah because they can’t put their phone down or turn their computer off. Insha’Allah, I will address the subject of digital addiction in the second article, as it plays a huge role when it comes to mental health issues.

    Closing Du’a

    Ya Habibi Ya Allah. Please grant us oceans of fortitude and mountains of strength Ya Sabur Ya Aziz. May we be dutiful beautiful students who strive with all our might in jihad al akbar to pass this test with flying colors, to ace this exam. May we, the Ummah of Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), love one another like he loves us, and strengthen one another every step of the way. May we wind up stronger and better-than-ever on the other side of COVID-19, reclaiming the standard of Insan Kamil as the Index by which we measure our lives. Ya Dhal Jalali wal Ikram.

    Say “Ameen!” 

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