by Faria Akram
It’s 9 AM on a Saturday morning and I’m lying in bed, trying to focus on breathing at a normal pace. My old friend, Anxiety, has stopped by for another visit and, despite my protests, has lodged herself in that familiar spot in my chest. Sometimes she brings a reason for visiting; other times, like today, it’s unannounced and unexpected, a damp cloud that keeps my nerves on edge and prevents air from flowing into my lungs without conscious effort.
Though normally an extrovert, on days like this I just want to disappear into my covers, preferably with a cup of hot cocoa and a good book to distract me. However, today’s not just any other day. It’s the first day of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting. Much more than just abstaining from food and drink, this month is one intended for spiritual reflection and growth.
We’ll be going to the masjid for iftar and taraweeh tonight. Oh man, I really don’t want to go. I just don’t want to be around so many people. Can’t I just eat and pray at home? I’ll have to convince Ammi and Abbu, but I think they’ll understand. It’s not like I’m fasting anyways. Oh and explaining that again to people. Yeah, I don’t think I’ll go. Does that make me a bad Muslim? *Opens up my phone to social media.* Look how excited everyone is about Ramadan on Facebook and Twitter. I’m excited too! I just…
And the thoughts continue.
[Read Related: It’s Not a Dirty Secret: 7 Truths About Mental Health]
Ramadan is a beautiful month full of communal sacrifice, love, and understanding. Families and friends get together to share meals, help those less fortunate, engage in extra prayers and focus on improving themselves as people. Along with food and drink, many Muslims attempt to refrain from negative habits such as cursing or gossiping. Contrary to popular belief, Ramadan is a favorite month for many Muslims, myself included.
However, among the beauty and blessings of this month is one group that often gets overlooked: Muslims with mental illness. While Islam promotes positive mental health and self-care, mental health in Muslim communities is often heavily stigmatized due to cultural misinterpretations of mental health.
If you prayed more, you wouldn’t be depressed. How can you have anxiety attending the mosque? You must not be a good Muslim. Don’t take medicine. If you make dua with a sincere heart, Allah will take care of everything.
Statements like these not only inappropriately attack a person’s level of spirituality but also invalidate the concept of mental health.
Now imagine these statements put to physical ailments:
If you prayed more, you wouldn’t have cancer. How can you have a fever attending the mosque? You must not be a good Muslim. Don’t take medicine. If you make dua with a sincere heart, Allah will take care your migraine.
It sounds ridiculous, right? Even when talking about mental health, we tend to forget an important part of that phrase: health. Whether it’s physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual, proactively taking care of your health is a responsibility important to your well-being.
That’s not to say attending the mosque or reading verses of the Qur’an are not beneficial to one’s mental health or cannot be part of one’s journey to attaining a more balanced state of mental health. But when we rely on religion as the ONLY way to heal a problem, and neglect modern-day medicine and techniques that are an appropriate solution to the issue, we fail to acknowledge the validity of mental health issues and discourage people from getting the help they deserve.
So as you go about your Ramadan, praying and eating next to your family and friends, also keep in your prayers the Muslims who struggle with mental illnesses, including:
- Muslims suffering from eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia, who may be triggered by Ramadan feasts
- Muslims taking anti-depressants/anti-psychotics who are, thus, unable to fast
- Muslims who struggle to complete prayers because they have difficulty even getting out of bed in the morning
- Muslims with social anxiety who are forced to attend large iftar parties and community gatherings
- Muslim converts/reverts to Islam who suffer from depression due to increased feelings of isolation
- Muslims who are dealing with or recovering from addiction and may find Ramadan difficult
Lots of love and Ramadan Mubarak (Happy Ramadan) to all <3
Faria Akram is a tiny and tough Texas native with a passion for helping others. She is a managing editor at Brown Girl Magazine and vice-president of marketing at MannMukti, an organization focused on South Asian mental health awareness. When she’s not working, Faria can be found choreographing dance routines in her room, planning adventures with friends, or watching “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai” for the millionth time. She loves sparkling water, reading, meeting new people, and sharing their stories with the world.
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