All Things Jinn- My Masters Thesis

What comes to mind when you think of Jinns….. perhaps fear, maybe that Jinn story your cousin told you as a child, black magic, the unseen world, maybe even genie from Alaadin.

Most Muslims and even Non-Muslims that are from Africa or Asia come from cultures were the belief in the unseen, spiritual world is the very present and important in everyday life. As a trainee therapist juggling between my Black, Muslim, Nigerian and British identity I’ve always been curious about the world of the Jinn. I mean I didn’t have much of a choice as my interest in psychology and mental health has at times between viewed with suspicion, fear and disregard.

I have had comments like….

“What will be the effect of spending time with too many “mad” people ?”

“All this psychology and mental health, it’s all white people stuff we don’t have those sort of issues ?”

“These people have demonic spirits in them”

Yet I couldn’t help notice that amongst Nigerians and other Muslim cultures when someone does experience mental distress they will go to a faith healer, get a deliverance, ruqya, go to a traditional healer it’s just not seen as medical or psychological instead it’s roots belong to an unseen world were only these healers can access. This does have an impact in real life as many mental health services find it difficult to engage with BAME populations as services are not designed to tackle these sort of complexities.

But for most Modern educated Muslims like myself that believe in the unseen world and the influence of Jinn although the degree of belief of how strong this influence is varies from person to person. On a whole most Western Muslims are able to have this belief along side their belief in biological/psychological/social-historical factors of mental health issues.

I knew I wanted to do research in the field of Jinn but I had many ideas racing through my mind. At first I thought about interviewing Muslims that have had experiences ruqya or even raqis themselves and gain an insight into their how they felt about it and if they found it useful. But then I was told my by tutor that getting ethical approval would be difficult and also it has to be more explicitly related to clinical practice. Then I started reading lots of papers any literature I could find about Jinn. I found that the field of anthropology has carried out a lot of research on Jinn, however it was mainly done through the lens of the white gaze going into another culture trying understand their “primitive” ways especially most of research done pre -1970s.

However I also found that there are Muslim researchers who were studying the prevalence of belief in Jinn within a UK context and why some Muslim decide to go to for ruqya treatment. Additionally I looked at psychodynamic/psychoanalytic theory that looks at possession through a lens of different internal objects and projections taking over the mind. Posssesion is also viewed as a defense mechanism that allows a person the ability to behave in ways that is usually unacceptable in that society i.e demanding certain goods and items that the “jinn” would ask for in order to leave the victim bodies.

This eventually led me to focus my research on how Muslim therapists using a psychodynamic approach work with clients who believe they are possessed.

I interviewed six therapist that composed of clinical and counselling psychologists, counsellors and psychotherapists working in public an private practice.

Using IPA analysis I found three main themes:

1.Being in two worlds: This reflected how therapists juggled their professional identities with their Muslim identity in the UK. There were many components, the therapist own belief in Jinn, the beliefs of the wider Muslim community views of possession and the support or lack of support they had within their workplace to work with Jinn. The therapists varied in how they integrated these parts of their identities some finding it easier than others. A lot of therapist mentioned the impact of Islamophobia on their clients and also on themselves in their professional environments especially because Jinn is a symbol of difference, a signifier of Muslim identity that is also much like Jinn viewed as dangerous and misunderstood. However, Jinn also represented a sense of mutual “muslimness” which Muslim therapists and their clients find meaningful, for some clients more meaningful than using Western mental health diagnosis.

2. Making meaning and integrating- This theme expressed how the therapists understood and worked with their client in the room. Some therapist understood the Jinn as a metaphor, as a cultural and/or religious way of expressing a sense of helplessness and powerlessness of feeling over taken. Rather than the belief in Jinn creating a rigid meaning, the therapists spoke about co-creating with their clients what the meaning of Jinn meant to them in the context of their lives and spirituality. Therefore the meaning of Jinn is unique and subjective.

3. Islamic faith as a source of healing- Most of the therapist worked with their clients by combining their Western training with their Islamic knowledge using duas, understanding the client’s spiritual self through using Islamic psychology looking at aspects of their nafs (self), qalb (heart) and the ruh (soul) . Examining the client’s relationship with God and if a rupture maybe the cause of their distress.

I believe my study shows that Muslim therapists have a clear advantage in working with these clients, as they can understand the psychological as well as the spiritual aspects of their client’s experience. Although it’s not all Muslim therapists that automatically feel confident in working with Jinn, as many of us have been told so many Jinn stories which compose of a mixture of folk tales, culture and Islam. Many of the therapists I interviewed spoke about having to do their own research, speak to scholars and attend programs on Islamic psychology in order to form their own style of working with Jinn as most training programs in the UK do not teach trainee therapist about how to work with spirituality yet alone Jinn.

I hope this is just the start and I would love to do further research on client’s experience of possession and what they have found helpful.

This article is just a brief reflection of my journey if you would like to read my full thesis please contact me.

Book review of the River Between by Ngugi wa Thiong’o

download (1)

I first heard of Ngugi wa Thiong’o through social media and knew he was my kind of guy, I love any book about Africa, identity and colonisation. So, I picked up one of his smallest books I could find in my university library only 152 pages long.  The river between is written in 1965, it is a fictional story based on real life events of the coming of Christianity and colonialism in rural Kenya in the 1920’s and 30’s. It follows the story of the coming of age and early adulthood of Waiyaki a young man destined to be a leader and a messiah to his people that would help to unite the tribe’s traditions with the new ways of Christianity. As the story evolves, we are taken through a journey of where we can see the people becoming more separated with one group being the followers of the new religion and the other group of the old traditions. This is symbolised through the use of nature and landscape. The book begins by setting the scene of two valleys with a river in between  

“when you stood in the valley, the two ridges ceased to be sleeping lions united by their common source of life. They become antagonists. You could tell this, not by anything tangible but by the way they faced each other like two rivals ready to come to blows in a life and death struggle for the leadership of this isolated region.” 

I really like the way Thiong’o uses nature, it almost takes you to that place you can visualise the world the characters inhabit.  

Waiyaki’s father prepares him for leadership by sending this son to the school of the white man, even though his father doesn’t necessarily trust the white man and predicts the gradual colonisation of their peaceful rural life. He wants his son to be prepared to attain the skills he will need to lead to tribe. However, this leaves Waiyaki with a sense of confusion, loneliness and loss of identity. He doesn’t fit into either faction he doesn’t consider himself to be a Christianity neither does he fully consider himself to be a traditionalist. You can sense his sense of despair …

was life all a yearning and no satisfaction? Was one to live , a strange hollowness pursing one like a malignant beast that would not let one rest?…Waiyaki was made to serve the tribe, living day by day with no thoughts of self but always of others” 

It also made me think about how leadership can someone be a very lonely place to be as true leadership demands servitude to your people. 

Another theme in this novel was about how women navigated the struggle between the ways of the old and new. The story follows two sisters who are the daughters of a zealous Christain preacher Joshua. He has completely left the ways of the tribe and is the leader of the community in Makuyu. His daughter Muthoni isn’t allowed to be circumcised because she is a Christian. But she escapes to her aunt in Kameno to undergo the ritual. This theme really surprised me, because we are living in a time where there is a lot of campaigns about stopping female genital mutilation (FGM) worldwide. So reading about a character that wanted it done so badly, that risks her life for it, challenged the narrative that I had that it’s always a forced practice. What I realised is that the symbolism of what circumcision meant in her own community and the sense of belonging and identity it gave her was extremely powerful and created a deep yearning. She says  

“I want to become a woman. I want to be a real girl, a real woman, knowing all the ways of the hills and ridges.” 

 “I want to be a woman made beautiful in the tribe” 

It shows that it’s not about the actual circumcision, that in itself is painful but it’s the status she gained from it.  Traditions no matter how vile, barbaric we may think they are give people a sense of meaning and purpose. Therefore, we shouldn’t be so quick to judge at least until we have given them alternative. 

Thiong’o summarises this beautifully towards the end of the novel 

 a people’s traditions could not be swept away overnight. That way lay disintegration, such a tribe would have no roots, for a people’s roots were in their traditions going back to the past….A religion that took no count of people’s way of life, a religion that did not recognise spots of beauty and truths in their way of life, was useless. It would not satisfy. It would not be a living experience, as source of life and vitality”. 

This point is very interesting for me, it’s considering how Christianity and Islam are the main religion of most Africans. I have observed how most Africans have adapted these religions with their traditions and formed their own middle ground blending the two. I mean if we look at the way African churches and European churches practice, there isn’t a difference necessarily in scripture or beliefs but in the way they choose to express their belief which is mediated by culture. But there is also the issue that somethings are completely incompatible for example in Islam the polytheist nature of most African religions is against the core belief of one god. So how do we take what we perceive as good and leave what bad is the question I’m left with. Yes I’m African but I’m my chosen way of life is Islam, so for me that’s my the filter I use to navigate the complex map between tradition and religion. But sometimes it’s not easy and it can leave one feeling lost just like Waiyaki searching through the skies to find a sense of belonging.

My experience of viewing The Judge with Amaliah LushX

 

am

I went to see the amazing screening of The Judge at LushX.  Who knew Lush had a film festival? And in true Lush style it wasn’t just a standard cinema, there was popcorn served in recycled lush pots, their bathroom full of lush products to pamper yourself. The screening room had a nice communal feel with pillows for comfort and most of all a great atmosphere full of like minded sisters.

The film follows the journey of Kholoud Al-Faqih the first female sharia court judge in the middle east. The importance of a film like this cannot be understated as it challenged so many aspects of what we believe Islamic law is about and the taboo of shariah law especially the common criticism that it doesn’t advocate for women’s rights.  As a Muslim woman I grew up believing that women are not allowed to take certain leadership position. That women are too emotional to think rationally and make a logical decision, however what we see in the film is that especially in the area of family law which covers divorce, inheritance and spousal support. The need for female empathy is needed greatly because these are areas were many Muslim women feel marginalised and that their needs are often silenced. This is illustrated in the film in the clip where a group of male lawyers were chatting and one of them said a man would never cause problems in his marriages therefore it’s always up to the woman to change and adapt.

Judge Kholoud’s journey isn’t easy and throughout the film she has to fight an ongoing battle to get respect. During the middle of the film we see how a change of chief judge completely changes her role and she is reduced to administration duties. Which leads to a reversal of the progress she has made and an undermining of her authority. As an audience we witness how the silencing of woman can have life threatening consequences. In a case where her rulings were ignored by the chief judge a female client is butchered by her husband in her own office. For me this is one of the most chilling and emotional scenes of the whole film. The message it relayed to me was that this woman lived in a society that told men that women were their property, therefore he would rather her dead than free. For judge Kholoud she sees it as her moral and religious duty to fight back and file a report against her boss making for and that he is held accountable for this lady’s death.

During the panel and Q&A session afterwards, the atmosphere was a mixture of hope, sadness, and admiration. One theme that kept coming up was that as a Muslim community we need more information about the right of a wife in Islam to be taught more explicitly in our communities to men and women. Often, we say Islam gives women rights and it ends there. But many of us don’t actually know what these rights are when it comes to divorce and spousal support. A lot of sisters have been misled by our leaders through the selective use of many hadith and ayahs which are used as a form of religious abuse and emotional blackmail. It’s important that more sisters enter the field of Islamic scholarship and specialise in these matters.  Knowledge is power is the key message in this film, if you don’t know your rights, we won’t ask for them to be given to you. Don’t miss your chance to see this thought-provoking film If you were unable to come to the screening, it’s not too late, it is showing in the doc house cinema.

African model of the psyche and psychotherapy

africa
When I read Dr Erica Mapule Mcinnis’s article Understanding African beingness and becoming in last month’s Therapy Today magazine. I became inspired to research more about African oriented psychotherapy and the history of the study. I discovered that psychologists and psychotherapists of African descent have been interested in studying the African psyche in land and in the diaspora since around the 1960’s. Where the narrative from a colonialist anthropological study of the African psyche to Africans studying themselves started to take place. This psychology isn’t merely about mental health on an individualist level but really about the overall social, economic health of African people as a whole and how the African psyche has been shaped by slavery, colonisation and traditional beliefs (Oliver 1989).

African American psychologist Naim Akbar after gaining his PHD in clinical psychology felt that the focus on intrapsychic factors (internal personality factors) did not adequately describe the external climate in which mental health issues developed in the Black man living in a white world. He created his own Black psychology course and went on to publish many books, that advocated a different approach. This approach looked to how indigenous African philosophy can be used to develop psychological therapy models that can be used by any practitioner working with African clients (Madu 2015). African therapists believe that regressing back to an Afrocentric worldview is essential in combating the many issues that people of African descent face around the world. They oppose the individualistic Eurocentric world view in favour of a collectivist cohesive social structure, that regards the value of the collective group as the key (Oliver 1989). In this article I’m going to brief detail some theories and treatment from Afrocentric psychology.

Theory

To illustrate the differences in what contributes to mental health disorders in the Black American population Akbar (1991) created four categories. Firstly, is the Alien self, someone who defence mechanism is denial of their true reality and rejects their own heritage in favour of becoming part of the dominant group which leads to a sense of alienation, confusion and loneliness. Secondly anti-self disorder which is a more severe version of the first, the person is more removed from reality therefore more out of touch with their authentic self. Thirdly is the self-destructive disorders, Akbar believed that oppression drives people away from reality. Because of the constant struggle for survival it’s easy for people to feel defeated. This then attracts people to deprecating behaviours like drugs and crime which helps them to avoid their harsh reality. Lastly there are organic disorders that come from biological factors. But Akbar believed that these have environmental origins and simply saying it’s organic downplays the role of society in creating mental instability. Therefore, the socio-political, historical context of a patients has to be looked at very carefully. Especially the definition of what is ‘normal’ and who has the power to decide who belongs or not to that category.

Treatment

ubuntu

Ubuntu therapy comes from the ubuntu South African philosophy of god consciousness, the human self and relations within the family and wider community (Van Dyk & Matoane (2010). Spirituality is very important to majority of African people and the belief in a higher being is ingrained in the culture. Therefore, in relation to Ubuntu it’s about helping a client become more aware of their spirituality by understanding their purpose in life and their unique journey. This can be very helpful with people dealing with feelings of guilt, inability to accept destiny and anger at god. On the human intrapsychic level, ubuntu is about helping people deal with feelings of depression, separation anxiety, inferiority complex etc. Ubuntu combines Western talking therapies with traditional African ways of restoring balance such as aroma therapy, ritual cleaning, life script, dancing and purging. Lastly Ubuntu philosophy is about the importance of family relations and belief that a person is viewed through the lens of their social interpersonal ties. Therefore, helping clients to heal broken relations and grow a sense of responsibility for their community and how their actions can have an impact on the wider society.

In summary what these psychologists are really emphasising is that a lot of the social and psychological issues facing African people around the world is due to split in consciousness not being fully connected with who they are. What they propose is an integration that connects the African person with their purpose in life and community obligations to help form a cohesive sense of self. In addition, me reading about Afrocentric psychology, helped me to connect with who I’m. It made me realise that there obviously is an ‘African’ psychology. As someone who began my journey to studying psychology eight years ago, I never learnt about these psychologists in an academic setting so didn’t know this branch of psychology existed. Therefore, discovering this world has not only been interesting but also empowering.

References
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Na%27im_Akbar
Gideon A. J. van Dyk & Matshepo Matoane (2010) Ubuntu-Oriented Therapy: Prospects for Counseling Families Affected with HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa, Journal of Psychology in Africa, 20:2, 327-334
Oliver, W. (1989). Black males and social problems: Prevention through Afrocentric socialization. Journal of Black Studies, 20(1), 15-39.
Madu, S. N. (2015). Psychotherapeutic values for modern Africa. World, 1(8).

 

Book review of Natives by Akala

akala-2

I’ve been a fan of Akala for a while. I discovered him on BBC 1 extra fire in the booth and was immediately drawn to his powerful lyrics. His rap doesn’t follow the normal trajectory of modern hip pop instead he raps about class, pan-Africanism, colonialism and his Jamaican and Scottish roots. I always learn so much when I listen to him. His book natives is a continuation of all the issues he has been spitting out in his songs.

This book is about how the legacy of colonialism and white supremacy, how it still haunts everyday life in Britain for people of African descent and people of colour. I could relate to many of the issues he raised but there was a lot of learning I was gained especially in relation to the intersections between race and class. Akala uses history to illustrate what unique space he occupies in British society as a man of mixed heritage. He gives the hard truth of his reality which was far from perfect.

Akala begins the book by justifying why talking about race and class in the British context is important and goes through the typical ignorant statements that people commonly make. Such as “ if we stop talking about it (racism )it will go away”, “stop playing the race card”, “ why don’t you go back to where you came from”. He challenges readers that may be sceptical of the importance of this topic to reflect on their own privilege as well as the fact that Britain isn’t a racial utopia just yet therefore we need to have these challenges conversations in order to deal with the issues of gang violence, assimilation, terrorism etc.

He describes many of the issues he went through growing one of which was navigating the British educational system. He looks these issues through a wider analysis of the remnants of empire. For example, he describes an incident in his childhood when a teacher was so threatened by his intelligence that instead of encouraging him in his studies because of course working class black or mixed-race children cannot be naturally gifted. That she put him in a special needs class with kids who can’t speak English. Instead of simply just accusing the teacher of being racist, He writes “It is entirely understandably though still unacceptable that within that frame of reference she would feel like a traitor to her race, to her culture, to her nation if she was to encourage colonial migrants-members of the subject races to reach their full potential for excellence”.
It’s hard for many of us to believe that a teacher would act this way, however under the microscope. Akala shows that it is entirely plausible that a woman that grew up in the 1930’s learning about how great the British Empire is and how they are civilising the natives would feel surprised and threaten by black (although he is mixed the blackness is that problem) child that seems very confident about their intelligence. One could argue that it’s natural for her to want to put him in his place.

Akala highlights the importance of having male role models and how going to a supplementary pan Africanist Saturday school was his saviour in many ways. One of which was being in an environment that was encouraging and raised the self-esteem of its students. He also exposed to a lot of culture growing up through this step-father who was the stage manager of Hackney empire.
His experience at the pan-Africanist school taught him a different version of history to that which he learnt at school, getting him in trouble with teachers. From the example of a teacher showing him a picture of William Wilberforce and said “this man stopped slavery” in which his seven year old self replied “what, all by himself don’t you mean he helped”. At that tender age Akala had already learnt about the maroons of the Jamaica and slave revolts therefore he wasn’t buying into this “white saviour” narrative of the end of slavery simply being due to abolitionist movements. The friction between Black people and the education system is something that affects the learning of many students and is one of the reasons for the creation of Black history month so that black children can learn about their history and empower themselves.

I can personally relate to the importance of being in an environment that facilitates your growth, I went to mostly went to a Muslim primary and secondary school growing up. One thing I really liked was that we were all pushed to achieve, when I was in mainstream school I was told this is your set you can’t achieve higher that then a C in Maths. But when I went to an Islamic school all of us were expected to do the higher tier paper, our teachers who were not paid would teach us extra classes on the weekend just to make sure would pass well. What motivated them wasn’t money it was the vision that these young Muslim women would grow up and become something. I believe that it’s very important to have teachers that relate to your experience in the world, as a student you will be able to see yourself in them and they will be able to themselves in you.

Nine things I’ve learnt from reading the autobiography of Malcolm X

Nine things I’ve learnt from reading the autobiography of Malcolm X
I’ve been re-reading a lot of my old favourites this summer. I believe our perception of a text is tainted by our beliefs, values and our current life circumstances. Therefore, each time I read a book I gain different perspective that I didn’t the first time round. A really good book can function as a good pick me up, and help you reflect deeper into society and yourself. So, although I didn’t experience any cliff-hangers as I already knew this story, the new lessons I’ve learnt this time around have been very enlightening and thought provoking. I will share my many reflections and lessons below:

· Don’t judge a book by it’s past.

When most of us read or see posts online about Malcolm X it’s usually about his lectures when he was part of the nation of Islam (NOI) or after he founded his own organisation. But when you read his autobiography you are reminded that this man started from the bottom he was a street hustler, pimp, burglar. Honestly when I read details of some of the things he did, I thought wow is this the same man that spoke so strongly, is this the same man that we still revere today? People can change, we should never look down on someone due to their past. As long as your alive and willing change can happen.

· From dope to hope.

One thing I found so profound was that all the skills he used on the streets later helped him in his new career as a community leader. He was a naturally very observant, strong willed, creative and charismatic man. He already had innate leadership skills inside him, however he only learnt to use them for good once he had gain spiritual, political and social enlightenment. I learnt that you can have vision and drive however in order to make long lasting change for yourself and others you need the discipline and strong faith. Which Islam provided for him.

· You need to go through darkness to see the light.

Sometimes god puts you in the darkest of places so that you can come out bright. For Malcolm that was prison his freedom completely taken away from him, but he was finally free. He able to come off the drugs and feel all the emotions that he had blocked out for so long which enabled to hear the message of god.

· Hate fuels hate and a limited worldview.

A lot of Muslims have a negative view of the nation of Islam due to its racist views. However, my reflections on the movement helped me to learn that inequality, poverty and discrimination fuels anger and hate. That’s why for Malcolm hearing that the white man is a devil when he reflected on it, it resonated with his experience in Jim Crow America and became an outlet to explain why Black people like him were in the gutter. This really reminds me of the modern-day rise is the far-right in the West, there is a reason why a lot of working class people follow the racist narratives of parties like EDL, they listen to them and explain their suffering and offer them solutions that other political parties aren’t willing to do.

· Remain true to who you are.

One of the many things I really admire about Malcolm. Is that he didn’t forget who he was when he rose to the top. “I knew that the ghetto people knew that I never left the ghetto in spirit, and I never left physically anymore than I had too. I had a ghetto instinct”. That was what made Malcolm different from a lot of other civil rights leader of his time, he had been in the bottom and moved to the top, but he still connected the most with the people on the bottom. He could easily go from speaking at Harvard university to street preaching in the streets of Harlem.

· Believe the truth when it comes to you.

If anyone hated white people, it was Malcolm X and he wasn’t afraid of saying it. However, when he went to Mecca and learnt about the true Islam and was overwhelmed with the hospitality and brotherhood of his Arabian brothers, he couldn’t deny the truth. Even though he knew that NOI would hate him further and were likely to kill him, he followed the truth and was eventually killed for it. Most of us don’t have the courage and bravery that Malcolm had to stand for what he believed in and give it 120%, that is what makes him a true leader that transcends the test of time.

· Believe the message not the leader

Malcolm X loved Elijah Mohammed not just as a religious leader, but he represented a father figure and a representation of god on earth. He was the man that had saved him from the brinks of despair to becoming a leader in his community. However, when he found out that Elijah Mohammed was flawed and had committed adultery many times with young women who were his secretaries. He learnt that you can’t put a human being on the same level as good only god is flawless. This is a lesson that resonates with me, specially in light of the controversies we have had in recent years in the Muslim community regarding leaders being found to be not as holy as they should be. Some people lost their faith in god due to these incidents but we all must remember no matter how holy you think someone, no matter how much Islamic knowledge they have they are human. Learn from others but don’t make them immortal.

· Jealously is really a green-eyed monster

There was a lot of jealously about Malcolm’s rise to fame within the NOI. This was one of factors that caused Malcolm to be kicked out of the nation and eventually become assassinated. The NOI did great things for the black community in America, creating economic independence, education, spiritual and moral values in a way that hadn’t been taught before. However, the jealously that a lot of ministers (imans) felt destroyed that and contradicted that concept of black unity that they preached. Aspects of it reminds of the story of Yusuf (AS) and his brothers, being the favourite child can have deadly consequences.

· Leave a legacy.

This is the biggest lesson I took from this book, Malcolm was long dead by the time I was born but I and many others can still learn from his story and his work. It made me think life is not just about making money, buying a house, have kids and die. It’s about leaving a sadaqah jariyah (life long charity) that when you die your work lives on and can be a source of inspiration and goodness for generations to come.

How does nutrition affect our mental health?

Lately, I have been more conscious about what I feed myself and how it affects how I feel. A lot of the times when we talk about mental health we think about the social, economic, psychological and biological factors. But not often do we think about nutrition. Our second brain is in our gut, the lining of our stomach contains several neurotransmitters including serotonin which is often prescribed as an anti-depressant commonly known as SSRIs. It’s no surprise when we think about our common expressions such as “I feel butterflies in my stomach” to denote anxiety or nervousness. We have always known on some level that our stomach communicates with our brains.

Nutritional therapies are now being advocated through giving patients daily supplements which has been proven to help reduce symptoms. Research shows that most people suffering from mental health problems are deficient in the many vitamins, minerals and omega-3-fatty acids that our brain’s need to function to its optimal level (Lakhan and Vieira 2008). Common deficiencies are found in:

Magnesium, a nutrient that is key for neurotransmitter and normal hormonal function, low levels associated with depression, headaches, muscle cramps, psychosis and irritability (Wacker and Parisi 1968).

How to get it: Eating whole wheat, leafy greens like spinach and kale, nuts and seeds like cashew and peanuts.

Omega-3 fatty acids which help with the functioning of our central nervous system, when our levels are low it has been linked with low mood and poor cognition (Deacon, Kettle, Hayes, Dennis, Tucci 2017).

How to get it: Eating roasted soy bean, salmon, walnuts and flaxseeds.

Zinc, is essential to our neural functioning and cellular process, low levels have been linked to anxiety, depression and psychosis (Petrilli, Kleinhaus, Joe, Getz, Johnson and Malaspina (2017)

How to get it: Lamb, Pumpkin seeds, grass fed beef and cocoa powder

In addition, as a woman and for the women reading this our hormones can have a big effect on our mood and mental health. Many women suffer from some form of hormonal imbalance whether that be PMS (premenstrual syndrome)and PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome), experiencing very long or short cycles which really have a strong effect on our mood. Most of the time if you go the doctors the only solution they have is the pill. However, what I have been learning lately is a lot of these symptoms can be kept under control through our diet. Even if your predisposed genetically to a certain condition, the great thing is that research in epigenetics is showing us that every seven years we cell regenerate therefore theoretically we can change of faulty cells through nutrition (Vitti 2013).

In addition, Alisa Vitti’s book Womancode (highly recommend) introduced me to the concept of cycle syncing. Which basically mean that you’re in tune with what’s happening cycle and the symptoms you’re experiencing. Therefore, you are aware of what nutrients our body needs. At different times of the month our food needs different nutrients.

These are a few general tips of how to create hormonal harmony:

1. Eat more whole grains and less refined sugars.

2. Eat more healthy fats. You can get this from avocados, fatty fish and dark chocolate.

3. Don’t over or under eat. As it has a big effect on insulin production and reduce insulin sensitivity.

4. Consume a diet high in fiber: Studies have found that it increases insulin sensitivity and stimulates the production of hormones that make you feel full and satisfied

5. Eat iron-rich foods such as lean meats. Such as skinless chicken and turkey. This helps keep your iron levels a float and replace the blood you’ve lost.

6. Eat a rainbow variety of fruits and vegetables but specifically focus on leafy greens. Such as kale, turnip greens or Swiss chard which are high in iron and B vitamins.

In summary it’s all about having a holistic view of our health, mental health just like physical doesn’t occur in isolation. I know it’s not easy to change the way we eat; the taste of refined carbs isn’t something I can fully abandon just yet. But just those small changes and being more observant about what we eat, I believe can empower us to feel more in control of our health.

References

Deacon, G., Kettle, C., Hayes, D., Dennis, C., & Tucci, J. (2017). Omega3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and the treatment of depression. Critical reviews in food science and nutrition, 57(1), 212–223.

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/balance-hormones#section7

Lakhan, S. E., & Vieira, K. F. (2008). Nutritional therapies for mental disorders. Nutrition journal, 7(1), 2.

Petrilli, M. A., Kranz, T. M., Kleinhaus, K., Joe, P., Getz, M., Johnson, P., … Malaspina, D. (2017). The Emerging Role for Zinc in Depression and Psychosis. Frontiers in Pharmacology, 8, 414.

Vitti, A. (2013). Womancode. Hay House, Inc.

Wacker, W. E., & Parisi, A. F. (1968). Magnesium metabolism. New England Journal of Medicine, 278(13), 712–717.

Understanding Suicide as a Muslim

Recently there has been a lot of press about suicide in the Muslim community due to the unfortunate suicide act in Mecca. Although it was very heartbreaking, it sparked conversations and raised more awareness about mental health in our communities. Particularly how faith and religiosity interacts with mental health.

As a MA student in psychodynamic counselling, I was interested in the psychological conflict that must have been going on in this individual. In addition, how we may try and understand suicidality using Islamic psychology and philosophy so that our communities are better able to understand and empathise with individuals. There are multi factorial layers that eventually lead an individual to take their lives and it’s not something that usually happens completely randomly. The international association for suicidal prevention says “Suicide is complex. It usually occurs gradually, progressing from suicidal thoughts, to planning, to attempting suicide and finally dying by suicide.”

There are a lot of pre-disposing social factors that may eventually contribute to a suicidal act. However, one common thing a lot of Muslims use to dismiss mental health issues is that it’s just a sign of low iman, all you need to do is pray more. At times it feels that as a Muslim we should be immune to mental health issues as faith should protect us from grief and despair.

However, having strong iman is dependent on multi-factors. In Stefania Pandolfo’s book Knots of the soul madness, psychoanalysis, Islam based on years of ethnographic research in about how Muslims in Morocco treat and cope with mental health problems. One of the interviewees an Imam that used ruqya to treat mental health issues said,

“There can only be faith and trust in god only if in the sense of humanly shared ethical action (amal), which is sorely lacking in a community reft by social exclusion, injustice and by form of death- in- life”.

Therefore, having faith in Allah is not simply determined by religious worship it’s also on our environment. As Muslim’s we don’t live in isolation we are part of a larger ummah, a brotherhood and sisterhood in which are supposed to support one another. Consequently, when there is political unrest, social injustice, injustice in the family home all these factors contribute to a sense of hopeless and despair.

Using concepts of Islamic psychology such as the nafs (self), qalb (the spiritual heart) and ruh (soul) the imam further explains what is going in the psyche of a person suffering from suicidal thoughts. He described that this sense of hopelessness leads to a choking of the soul (taqyiq al-nafs) aided through the wasawasa of shaytan. This happens when the nafs is overwhelmed with so much pain that the soul cannot see any drop of hope. Negative and destructive images are constantly being sent to the heart thereby blocking the hope of a different future, there is a complete sense of despair at present and despair forever. Which leads to suicidal thoughts about how to bring a close to their life.

Therefore what is happening in someone’s environment will influence their psyche and mental and spiritual health. This is backed up by hadith in which it is reported that Prophet Muhammed (SAW) also understood how social injustice can impact our iman. Anas (radiyallahu’anhu) reports that Rasulullah (SAW) said:

‘Poverty almost leads to disbelief.’ In addition, an authentic (sahih) Hadith: Sayyiduna Abu Sa’id Al-Khudry (radiyallahu’anhu) reports that Rasulullah (SAW) once made the following du’a: ‘O Allah I seek refuge in You from disbelief and poverty.’ Someone enquired: ‘Are these two equal?’

Nabi (SAW) replied: ‘Yes.’

When our basic human rights and needs are not being fulfilled it’s difficult to be the best version of yourself. Just as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs show to become self-actualised you need to have your basic needs met such as food, shelter, safety, security and a sense of belonging. The same point can be made from a spiritual angle from the quote from the imam that if a community and/or an individual is being faced with poverty, exclusion and lack of opportunity that can lead a sense of emptiness, ack of purpose in life and questioning why they are here.

As Muslims we know it’s important to try our best not to lose hope and to have endurance and remain patient. But the reality is some people do and as an ummah how do we help people if we don’t have an insight into what they may be going through. I hope that by writing this article I enlighten all of us to think about the multiple factors that can led someone to commit suicide. It is my believe that as brothers and sisters if someone in our community is scared to reach out for help it’s all a reflection on all of us. If we live in a supportive environment that will serve as a protective factor. So that if any of us are feeling that low there is an ear hope to listen.

References

Poverty and Kufr (Disbelief)

Pandolfo, S. (2018). Knot of the Soul: Madness, Psychoanalysis, Islam. University of Chicago Press.Chicago

https://www.samaritans.org/about-us/our-research/facts-and-figures-about-suicide

Under The Sun

Under the sun
Under the heat
Under this scorching summer breeze
I’m enveloped around an inferno
A raging blaze
Encircling my head
My neck
Is a piece of cloth
My hijab
My protector
My shield
My identity
Even though this fire wants to take me in
Wants me to become engulfed in my sweat
I shall be strong
I shall be true to myself
I shall not give in
As I know this flame is only a piece of the real thing

Surah Mujadila- The Pleading Woman

Recently I stumbled across a surah mujadila, a surah I’ve never heard of or read about. I was immediately intrigued by the title ‘pleading woman’. The surah begins by saying “Certainly has Allah heard the speech of the one who argues with you, [O Muhammad], concerning her husband and directs her complaint to Allah. And Allah hears your dialogue; indeed, Allah is Hearing and seeing.” This ayah alone tells us so much about the relationship between this Muslim woman and her creator, that her concerns were important to him. Secondly it shows us that during the time of the Prophet (saw) women constantly asked him about different matters however in these case he didn’t have a clear answer. Allah ends highlighting that he hears and sees all matters.“Those who pronounce zihar among you who separate from their wives – they are not [consequently] their mothers. Their mothers are none but those who gave birth to them. And indeed, they are saying an objectionable statement and a falsehood. But indeed, Allah is Pardoning and Forgiving”. Ayah two further elaborates on what the matter is concerning, which is a type of divorce called zihar which happened in pre Islamic Arabia. A man would say that “sleeping with you is like sleeping with my mother” and that would validate a divorce. Therefore this woman was worried that she and her husband would have to divorce even though he rebuked the statement later and probably just said it in the fit of anger. Allah clearly states the disgust at likening your wife to your mother and how inappropriate and disrespectful that is to their own mothers.
“And those who pronounce thihar from their wives and then [wish to] go back on what they said – then [there must be] the freeing of a slave before they touch one another. That is what you are admonished thereby; and Allah is Acquainted with what you do”. Allah then resolves the dispute by stating that in Islam that statement doesn’t constitute a divorce and it’s invalid. However, if you want to get back with your wife you have to free a slave. In the case that you can’t find a slave.., “And he who does not find [a slave] – then a fast for two months consecutively before they touch one another; and he who is unable – then the feeding of sixty poor persons. That is for you to believe [completely] in Allah and His Messenger; and those are the limits [set by] Allah. And for the disbelievers is a painful punishment”.

This story highlights a woman’s rights in Islam. Her husband is not allowed to walk away scotch free, he can’t just divorce her by making false statements and then get back with her if he choose. If he wants to he must either free a slave, feed sixty people or fast for two months. Not only are these punishments designed to sooth our nafs they would also be helping the community at large in particular the vulnerable and needy.For me the most important lesson or reminder that I feel that I have learnt from this ayats. Is that Allah truly listens to our pleading even when we feel he isn’t he emphasises his qualities that he is the all hearing and all seeing. Even in a domestic dispute such as this which some may see as unimportant.

*Orginally posted on my call of duty of muslimah blog March 2016