News & Islam From the Imam’s desk... Healing hearts and minds – there is hope By Afshan Khan, Islamic counsellor at Sukoon Healing Ramadan is the month of mercy and is a blessed time for introspection, forgiveness and focus. It fills us with renewed hope that we have improved and strengthened our relationship with Allah – by knowing that we are closer to Him (SWT), it provides healing for our hearts. By the end of Ramadan, after much contemplation about our own lives, we may come face to face with questions or issues from either our past or present that have come to the forefront of our minds, which we would hope to resolve, and find closure. The past has the future in its hands From my experience, it is often the case that a person’s struggles in life comes from deep seated trauma of their past. The emotional baggage is carried into their adulthood and influences many aspects of their future, for example their marriage, work and social life. The emotional baggage may be derived from childhood negative experiences, either in the home or educational establishments. For example, many people trace their trauma back to their relationship with their parents. Difficult situations shape who we are. Some people grew up with absent parents; where either or both of the parents are not emotionally present for the child, so no bonding takes place and the child may grow up to be emotionally needy. Others grow up abandoned by one or both of the parents, so they develop trust issues. Some might have both parents who are involved, but they may be very short-tempered, who would explode at the slightest issue and constantly shout at the child, which would cause them to live with anxiety and constant fear. Or, unrelated to parental issues, someone who hasn’t come to terms with bullying that they may have faced at school may go on to suffer from anger issues in their adulthood. In adulthood, these may develop into more serious conditions, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, or high anxiety, which causes them to have regular panic attacks. What has happened is in the past and it cannot be changed, but today – the present – is in our hands. In understanding and reflecting on our past and its effects, we can take the steps to find solace and closure that will help us heal. By the aid of Allah, we can take revolutionary steps to self-compassion, self-care and self-forgiveness; a vital combination in healing the traumas of the past. Ramadan and our relationship with Allah Ramadan is a time for self-reflection, a time to focus on our relationship with ourselves and our Creator. Reflection is an ongoing process that is beneficial no matter what time of the year it is, but it can be even more effective in Ramadan. It never ceases to amaze me, every time Ramadan comes around, how everything in our lives springs into focus. It is truly a blessing from our Rabb (Lord) Who created us and knows that our hearts and minds slip into ‘low-power’ mode for the rest of the year! However, there are times when this focus can cause pain and we should use this opportunity to resolve issues and not continue to keep them buried for the rest of the year. The leap of faith Intention The first step to healing is simply wanting to heal. Your intention has to be pure and sincere, and you must have the desire to succeed. Have certainty in Allah, that He will bring you out of your pain in whatever way is best for you. You have to be dedicated with your action and your heart, it cannot be something you purely utter from your tongue, rather you have synchrony and an agreement with all your actions. Through this commitment will come the healing. We know as believers how important Ikhlaas (sincerity) is and having good intentions in everything we do, so the same applies to our own personal journey. Reflecting on our ultimate goal Remember that this life is temporary, and our ultimate goal is to reach Jannah (Paradise). Focus on the bigger picture, and the smaller blemishes will seem irrelevant. We must believe that we will reach our final abode, a most beautiful haven that our Lord made for us, where grief and loss will be forever lifted. Reflecting on the ultimate goal, having tawakkul (trust) in Allah and knowing we are on an ultimate journey towards our Lord will always instil hope and true dedication. As Muslims, we must be focused and hope that one day by the will of Allah, our final destination will be the gardens of Jannah, in which all pain, trouble, grief and losses will be terminated and forever lifted, where the fruits and blessings will be eternal and Salam will be spread and given at every opportunity. Jannah is the place where every servant of Allah is blessed with and which their hearts yearn the most. Reflecting on the blessings and gifts of Jannah - this gives us hope. Acceptance Acceptance is one of the biggest steps to take when it comes to healing. It is very hard to heal unless we accept that we have a problem or issue. We have to be brave in accepting that there is a problem. The day you accept that you have a problem, the healing can begin. Be prepared to put in the hard work to resolve the issue. We must look in the mirror and acknowledge, “I have a problem.” Running away and trying to distract ourselves to escape as a defence mechanism will not aid us. Don’t forget, the most important relationship we have is the one with ourselves. Why is acceptance important? It is important to acknowledge our pain as it defines our relationship with our social environment as well as our Lord. To deny or refuse issues will have detrimental effects on our psyche that will debilitate us on many fronts. In finding self-forgiveness we also find a means of letting go of the past. Sometimes we need to heal the inner child. Du’a is the key of the believer Beseech your Lord most sincerely, with all your heart and by using His Beautiful Names. And if you are at a point where you are in too much pain to find the words, know that Allah knows your pain and what is in your heart. Sit and cry to Him and find comfort in Him. Allah will respond to the believer when he calls out to Him, have hope in His mercy. From the Qur’an, we know that the Prophet Yunus called to his Lord, in darkness upon darkness, from inside the whale swimming deep in the ocean, yet still Allah responded to him. We know that the Prophet ﷺ found peace and tranquillity in the prayer. Prayer with khushu‘ (concentration) relieves people of their fears and grief and creates a way forward for them to escape from the hardships of life and find tranquillity with their Lord. It is important that we regard our healing and future as a means to become closer to Allah. He is Al Lateef (The Most Gentle, the Most Kind), He is the One who has promised that through every hardship, there will be ease. Our relationship with Allah and the power of du’a (supplication) plays a huge part in moving forward. Having hope in Allah that things will change is an essential part of healing as well as tawakkul in knowing that the healing comes from Him. Reliance is upon Him alone, and there is great peace in knowing that being tested brings us closer to Him. There are those who have to hit rock bottom, who then turn to Allah knowing that only He can take us out of our turmoil, and Allah hears them and He responds. Feel the blessings in that He has chosen you to turn to Him with your heartfelt du’a. In Ramadan, we are blessed with many special days and nights and the multiplication of our worship, so continue to make du’a to your Lord. Worshipping Allah in the best way will bring peace and contentment to your heart. Taking the next steps Deeper issues and trauma often require people to seek professional help. Many people initially approach Islamic scholars. However, in some cases – whether due to reluctance to speak or open up about certain more private issues because of fear of judgement or simply shyness – the scholars do not have the all the information in front of them. Furthermore, most scholars are usually not trained in counselling and fatwas may not address or take into account psychological issues. Sometimes, women in particular, are asked to exercise patience, but patience is not a solution when dealing with deep-seated psychological problems or personality disorders. It requires a mental health advocate to see when intervention is needed. After all, if you have a toothache, you will go to the dentist, for an eye problem, an optician. Issues pertaining to mental health need the appropriate help and both Islamic scholars and medical professionals at large would urge anyone who suspects they have such issues or knows someone who has, to seek suitable help. Some hold a stigma against seeking any types of help, but people must remember that their life is their own and regardless of what society says, they must take ownership of their healing pathway; and if it is the case that they feel they require professional help, whether counselling or therapy, they should exert the effort if they seek healing and recovery. Family members and friends should do more to support this process however possible, they should keep an eye on the person’s wellbeing and nurture a good, honest and open relationship with them, while being sensitive to their needs. Every healing journey starts with one step. We just have to take that leap of faith and there is no more a blessed time to begin that journey than in Ramadan. There is hope Ease after every hardship, adversity has touched us, our hearts bleed, our minds in turmoil, we fall to rise again, imaan fervent with a promise of our Lord, our greatest weapon, dua and reliance in our Lord, martyrs’ souls are flying, green birds in paradise, our living and dying and sacrifice, is for our Lord. Afshan Khan is an Islamic counsellor and NLP life coach, CBT therapist, youth mentor and teenage counsellor, conscious parenting coach and a marriage counsellor who provides Islamic counselling and mediation service for Muslims. Author of two books on marriage and mental health: ‘Secrets to a successful marriage’ and ‘Healing hearts’. She has been working in the counselling field for over 35 years.