On Erasing Mental Health Discrimination at the Masjid

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I have an unusual relationship with all my Muslim communities, save one. That particular communities’ Imam takes care of me and my family, and supports me as an African American Muslimah living with mental illness mA. He’s told me repeatedly over the years to come join his community. He even said I should explain my mental illness to the tight knit group of sisters there, so we wouldn’t have any personal issues because of my health. And that if there were further concerns about my mental health episodes, sisters should come to him immediately and directly so that he could explain my mental disability to them in depth. He said he’d vouch for me in case of any problems.

I cried that day upon hearing this. It was the first time I truly felt supported, understood, welcomed and loved. He didn’t say if I acted out in public that I’d be publicly backbitten or that my character would be assailed, like usual. And this was after he knew exactly what things I’d done during mania and psychosis. Instead, he said I should never give up hope in Allah and that this was only my test in life. That made me cry more. He almost cried with me I think, too, knowing how hurt I was and how humiliated I felt. When he asked me the toughest medical questions about my illness he was upset, not in judgement or anger, but in emotional pain with me as his muslim sister. That’s when I knew I was home, alhamdulillah.

What preceded this private conference with him was a conversation with my ex husband, letting him know that mental illness is quite real and common worldwide, and that anyone can get sick like this. It’s not a western phenomenon as I was erroneously led to believe before. Anyone can become psychologically unwell, as Allah sees fit. This Imam was knowledgeable about my illness and he taught me what I needed to know about my deen and mental illness. This was the first time since I’d been Muslim that I didn’t hear racial or cultural stigmas attached to mental health; and only Islamic issues.

In this community I learned new info about mental health in Islam. It felt safe for me. Maybe because the imam is a doctor also. It felt much like the hospitals I’d been in to be honest. I feel masajid should be sanctuaries for the mentally disabled. A place of respite where they can come hear the word of Allah. Not a place of hardship and judgment. When I hear stories of mentally ill muslims who felt unwelcome at the masjid, to the degree that they left certain centers and the deen altogether going unchecked, I don’t understand. Why is this happening so often?

We as a community have to talk about this phenomenon. Address it. Change this unwelcoming culture.

Here are some pointers on how to help mentally ill muslims in our communities inshaAllah:

Take people to the hospital when unwell or exhibiting symptoms.

Visit them when sick and shut in due to their illnesses

Cook for people who may need it

Offer to clean and organize people’s homes who may be too unwell to care for their homes when ill

Make sure basic needs are met regularly

Make sure families/kids of mentally ill parents are ok and taken care of

Take them to the imam and dr when needed for check ups and counseling and treatment

Call people regularly so they’re not isolated.

Take Islamic videos and lectures to those who can’t get out or go to the masjid due to their illness

Call or check on those you haven’t seen for a while.

If someone is ever suicidal, refer them to the er immediately for emergency psychiatric care, or at the very least to their imam/physician. Don’t ever wait, lecture and or interfere with suicidality, & don’t personally advise unwell patients. This is an issue for professionals only.

If you’ve never done any of these helpful things for mentally ill muslims, now is the best time to start, inshaAllah. These are the things we actually need and more. Actual physical help from our communities.

*Even communities that have full health/mental health clinics, pls remember to check on your bros/sisters in need. Make dua!

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