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Incoporating Islamic beliefs and practices when supporting Muslims who experience addiction

How Islamic beliefs and practices can be incorporated into support for addiction to Muslims, based on experiences as a Muslim practitioner
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I think that really varies between our clients. But when I think about one particular case study how their faith, their deen, their religion affected their addiction. I think it was a comforter for some, and for one particular individual who was engaged in gambling. It was something that he could find solace and peace with to manage the anxiety of withdrawal. So when an individual is in the throes of addiction, then they need to occupy the time that they used to spend thinking about taking or actually taking drugs, or drinking, or gambling with something else.
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And I think for many people, especially the clients that I have supported, praying, engaging in humanitarian activities or volunteering in the community, in the mosque or around the community was satisfying as a way to give something back. So that I think what addiction does to a person is make them selfish. It’s all about me or all about them. And what individuals feedback to me in the work is that they feel good for giving something back, you know they feel positive because now it’s not just about that negative gambling self or the one that’s taking drug, but now I’m actually contributing to my faith, to my deen.
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So that’s one effect of how how Islam, how the deen, can kind of affect the addiction. The other is,
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for some people, it’s made them more isolated, you know, from their faith because it let them down. You know, for example, why did Allah, or why did God, put me in this situation? I’ve tried, you know. I felt like that as well. So this case study could be about me a bit where I really felt let down. You know, and I think that was, at that time, I was in a dark place and I felt I’ve tried a lot in my life to do good, to try and do good. But why am I in this very difficult situation? So it made me distant from my faith Somewhat, not totally, but somewhat.
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And I think it was only after mental health practitioners, Muslim mental health so imams who were aware of mental health being a real thing, talked to me in a way to say that Allah is compassionate. And they referenced an incident with one of the people in the time of the Prophet who was drinking a lot and he then would be lashed. But then the Prophet also was very praiseworthy of him, he is a good person. So that kind of said that addiction doesn’t define you. And then I started to see the Quran. I started to research into addiction and Islam. And I found that, you know, it’s just a struggle and you’re rewarded for your struggle.
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You know, even if it’s a struggle against drugs, alcohol, gambling, any kind of addiction. So I think it could be from the client it can vary and based on the case studies sometimes it’s a positive factor in them being abstinent and teetotal.
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Asma: And sometimes it can make them feel more isolated? More isolated because their experience of religion has been very black and white. So either you’re praying, or you’re not. You can’t be in the middle, you know, you can’t really be in the middle, struggling. Either you’re praying, or you’re not. So even I think a lot of people who experience that stigma struggle to belong to the community. So when you’ve been drinking, or taking drugs, or engaging in that behaviour, there’s a mistrust in the community about these individuals or people who engage in that behaviour. So so that isolates them more so. So, for example, people’s experience of the religion generally come from the people who are part of that religion.
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So my experience of deen is predominantly by engaging with Muslims. And that’s what happened. I did feel that isolation and that stigma that shame. And it was predominantly from people, it wasn’t from the Quran. It wasn’t from the text of the scriptures or my praying. It was actually from Muslims, fellow Muslims. So I think, me working as a practitioner who is a Muslim but then
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projecting the values of the Quran, the true values of empathy, compassion, forgiveness, I think that’s really important because these values will be exposed to struggling individuals. I think there is just one single statement which defines addiction for me, and it was quoted by Gabor Mate, the famous addiction therapist, and he said, Don’t ask why the addiction, ask why the pain. So I always think that behind addiction is a person suffering. And then that could be due to adverse childhood experiences and trauma. So it’s linked to, you know, it centres around that for me, and that’s my understanding of addiction. That, you know, it’s a lack of fulfilment, it could be neglect, it could be abuse.
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And many people from the community don’t want to discuss this. As Muslims I think we don’t see that. We don’t see that. And we struggle to connect to trauma. And I think sometimes people feel embarrassed and hesitant to make excuses for their addiction. And I think obviously personal responsibility is there. But in order for a person to be at peace, then they need to you know, I think unresolved traumas and adverse childhood experiences need to be experienced.
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And I think sometimes, especially when you don’t have those Muslim practitioners or mainstream services involved in the community or localised, then people don’t make that connection that for example, within communities, within households, if there’s a wall of silence and that could be generational. So the brushing under the carpet, not talking about experiences could be generational. And the families could be dealing with that for years upon years.
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Asma: Thank you. And how does your understanding of addiction now, how does it, how does it sit with or live alongside with your Islamic beliefs? Yeah, I think it’s I regard it as a test from Allah, from God. So it’s part and parcel of me. It’s something and a lot of people, you know, it is not something I think about every day, you know, and people are worried about, you know, is it something you live with? Many people think it’s a disease. It’s genetic. So there’s all these different things. But spiritually, and in terms of my Islamic faith, I see it as a struggle in terms of that’s a test from Allah.
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If I have the urge etcetera, then I turn to him. And if I relapse, then I still turn to him. So it doesn’t define me. It’s not because I am weak, it’s just a struggle. It’s a struggle. You know, like a jihad. You know, our jihad is our own personal struggle. So that’s how I see it. And I also see it as a, not as a reason to be distant from your deen, to to to maybe say, oh, it’s not working for me. Not at all. You know, it’s it’s a way to be closer in terms of forgiveness and repentance.

In this video, Suhayl describes how Islamic beliefs and practices can be incorporated into support for addiction to Muslims, based on his experiences as a Muslim practitioner in a mainstream service and his lived experience of gambling addiction.

Suhayl advises Muslims to use religious practices such as prayer and service to the community to manage anxiety related to withdrawal. While addiction can make people selfish, giving something back, to God and the local community, can be a counterbalance.

Suhayl observes that Muslim communities can have ‘black and white’ understandings of what it means to be Muslim – you are either a good Muslim who prays, or you are not. He feels that there is no middle ground that people who are struggling with their mental health and aspects of their faith can occupy.

People experience Islam and being Muslim as part of a religious community. From his own research and observations, Suhayl sees that mental health stigma comes from fellow Muslims and not from scripture. In his mental health practice, Suhayl tries to embody what he sees as the true values of the Quran – empathy, compassion, and forgiveness.

Suhayl tells us that addiction is linked to trauma and references the work of Gabor Mate. Whilst personal responsibility is important, unresolved traumas and adverse childhood experiences need to be examined too. Trained mental health practitioners, Muslim and non-Muslim, can help individuals and families talk about and understand the effects of trauma.

Suhayl tells us that addiction makes people feel distant from their religion because they feel let down by God. Reminding them of the compassion of God can help them to overcome this. Suhayl sees his own experience of addiction as a test from God, but it does not mean that he is weak, or that his faith is weak. He describes addiction as a jihad – his own personal struggle. He lives with addiction and turns to God when he faces challenges. He does not see addiction as a reason to be distant from his faith, but a way to be closer to God through seeking forgiveness and repentance.

Signposting

Find out more about the work of Gabor Mate.

For support around gambling addiction visit Gamblers Anonymous.

Mind’s guide to addiction and dependency support.

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Understanding Muslim Mental Health

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