Muslims Muse

She called.

By Faria Malik

She’s tired of fighting, she’s closing her eyes;

Her mind drifts to all of the things that she tries

And fails to complete but the struggle is real.

She has no one to turn to. She’s starting to feel

Like the weight of the world is just weighing her down,

And she can’t rise above it, or stifle her frown.

And she wants to be better and she wants to be good

But sometimes it’s not about changing her mood.

She can’t flip a switch that prompts her to say,

“Today is the day that I won’t feel dismay!”

It’s just not that simple. There’s no easy fix!

She can’t hold her breath and just count to six.

Her problems are mounting, surmounting, and piling;

Her heart aches with worry and lists that she’s filing

Away from the surface, to simmer and boil

Within her until she can’t handle the toil.

She’s scrolling online, and she passes it by,

She scrolls back towards it and gives it a try—

She clicks on the link and reads through the site

She wants it to work with all of her might!

“Our helpline can help you, no judgement,” it reads.

“Anonymous counsellors can help with your needs.”

She’s doubtful about it, how good could it be?

“Do they really think that they can help me?”

A few days go by and she feels like she’ll break

From all of the issues that make her heart ache.

She picks up her phone and she calls them real quick,

She hits the red button and hangs up with a click.

Her heartache is building. Her courage is shot.  

She thinks of the help that she wished she had sought.

She tries it again and she picks up the phone,

She doesn’t hang up when she hears the dial tone.

The minutes fly by and she’s baring her soul,

Her eyes well with water, she starts to feel whole.

She weeps for the problems she’s kept bottled in,

She pours out the stories she could barely contain.

The counsellor listens, her voice soft and kind,

She’s very attentive, she does not seem to mind.

She does not exude judgement or seem like she’s bent

On keeping the caller from trying to vent.

And on go the stories ‘til finally she’s spent,

She’s explained all the issues that cause her torment.

They say that when problems weigh down your soul,

Talking it through can lessen their toll.

But finding an ear that will listen is hard,

When you feel like you always must be on your guard.

She’s found a safe space where she’s free to just speak,

Where no one will judge or call her a freak,

Where counsellors listen and offer advice,

And everyone acts resoundingly nice.

Solutions take time, but she has some reprieve—

She’s finally found a sense of relief!

***

At Nisa Helpline, we have been providing a safe space for women to call and receive peer-to-peer counselling since 2014. We believe in fostering resilience and building up our women. We support women of all ages, from all walks of life. Our helpline is 100% confidential, non-judgemental, and anonymous, and we provide optional, faith-based counselling to those who require it.

We listen, we care.

Call us at 1-888-315-NISA (6472)

www.nisahelpline.com

Instagram: nisa_helpline

Twitter: @NISAHelpline

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/NISAHelpline/

***

Faria Malik is a Political Science student at SFU and a content writer for Nisa Helpline. She is an advocate for community engagement, youth dialogue, and female empowerment. When she’s not working, she spends her time reading prolifically, and baking sporadically. Her cakey creations can be found on instagram, @fariam39

 

On Saving the World

By Amal Abdullah

Our world holds more than seven billion people — seven billion complex lives with stories and experiences as vast and intricate as our own. Out of the seven billion, a good chunk lives in suffering. There is so much hurt in the world, so much that needs fixing, each problem a grain of sand in an endless dessert. One could devote an entire lifetime, from the zealous ambition of youth to the greying years of old age, and just barely make a dent in the barricade of problems that plague the modern world.

Yet, we are entrusted by Allah (swt) to do our part, to add what little twigs and sticks we can collect in our small efforts to patch up our dam against the increasingly strong current of problems. We are told in the Quran that we are خَيْرَ أُمَّةٍ أُخْرِجَتْ لِلنَّاسِ, the best nation to have been brought forth for the people, because تَأْمُرُونَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَتَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ الْمُنكَرِ, we enjoin good, we forbid against evil, and above all, وَتُؤْمِنُونَ بِاللَّـهِ, we are guided in the work we do by our faith in Allah (swt) (3:110). As well, we are told that وَلْتَكُن مِّنكُمْ أُمَّةٌ يَدْعُونَ إِلَى الْخَيْرِ وَيَأْمُرُونَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَيَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ الْمُنكَرِ ۚ وَأُولَـٰئِكَ هُمُ الْمُفْلِحُونَ, that there should be, among us, a group that calls to good, enjoins what is right and forbids what is wrong, and it is them who are the successful.

Not everyone needs to put aside their life to save the world, but we all need to do our individual part, small as it may be. And the smallest thing we can do is support with our money and our duas. That requires the lowest effort — anyone can do it, everyone should do it.  

There are so many avenues one can pursue when carrying out their duty to make the world a better place, so many causes and issues that require our attention. The lists are endless: we could focus on the greater problems of poverty (8% of the world’s population lives in extreme poverty), or of healthcare (half of the world’s population does not have access to basic healthcare), or environmental sustainability (by 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250 000 additional deaths per year).

Within these larger issues, there are an infinite number of sub-issues that one could pursue. Take healthcare: you could devote your life to finding a cure for cancer, or helping sufferers of diabetes, or so much more. You could work in combinations of issues too: you could work in public health and research, improving policy and education to keep the population in good shape. You could become a doctor and keep people healthy in everyday life.

 

Take poverty: you could work on homelessness, or food security, or employment skills and services or more. There are different levels of poverty too: from extreme poverty in the developing world to the kind that exist right here in our own backyards. The way this all branches out goes on indefinitely.

On top of this, we also need everyday heroes, our family doctors, our counselors, our donors, and our volunteers who work tirelessly to make things regular operations like Masjid and MSA programs, organizations like NISA Helpline and NISA Homes possible. This is needed too.

Then further still, we have the roles that Allah has given us personally as friends and family members. This role, to raise and live in good families, comes first. We are told that they are the prime way we do our part in maintaining the world. We learn from multiple ahadith that the morsel of food one puts in their spouse’s mouth is charity, or that the money one spends on their family is charity.

There are essentially an infinite number of things we could be doing to pay our rent in this borrowed life on this borrowed planet with this borrowed time and body and energy. Everyday, at every moment, all of these opportunities for good present themselves to us if we care to look. At the root, all of this encourages us to follow the Quranic advice of فَاسْتَبِقُوا الْخَيْرَاتِ, to race and compete with each other in doing good (2:148), and to وَسَارِعُوا إِلَىٰ مَغْفِرَةٍ مِّن رَّبِّكُمْ وَجَنَّةٍ عَرْضُهَا السَّمَاوَاتُ وَالْأَرْضُ أُعِدَّتْ لِلْمُتَّقِينَ, to hasten to forgiveness from our Lord, and jannah, the width of which is heavens and the earth, prepared only for the righteous (3:133). If we don’t see these opportunities for good outright, then we’re encouraged to وَابْتَغُوا إِلَيْهِ الْوَسِيلَةَ وَجَاهِدُوا فِي سَبِيلِهِ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُونَ, to seek out the ways of good in order to gain nearness to Him, and to strive in His cause so that we may be successful (5:35). We need to race, race to do good deeds (2:148). You never know what little good will tip the scales in your favour.

If this isn’t enough to convince us, we should remember that إِنَّ الْحَسَنَاتِ يُذْهِبْنَ السَّيِّئَاتِ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ ذِكْرَىٰ لِلذَّاكِرِينَ, that indeed good deeds wipe away bad deed, and that this is a reminder for those who care to rememeber (11:114). And Lord knows we need this.

There are so many people around the world who need help from the privileged among us. If you are reading this, there is a high chance you are among the ones that Allah has given privilege. We have no excuse not to do something for others.

Is it one of the naiveties of youth to think you can save the world? It might be. I would imagine that once one has had greater experience in seeing the tragedies of life, in experiencing the hurt and sorrow that is part and parcel of this complex journey called we call living, one would be less enamoured by the fairytale fantasy of gallantly riding in one’s shining armor, ready to defend the voiceless, to cure the sick, to heal the hurting. Does that mean we should stop daydreaming of an ideal world in which justice, prosperity, and peace can thrive? Certainly not. It is up to us, the youth of today, to reclaim the God-given duty that has been entrusted to us, and do our part, be it only a dent. It is our small, collective dents that we create when we hack away at the barricade that we create the revolution we’re all waiting for.

Amal is a second-year SFU student who enjoys writing in all genres, save for the the autobiographical. She occasionally blogs at ajabdullah.wordpress.com.

Transcending the Transient

By Hamza Malik, Fourth Year Political Science

Day in and day out, we draw His ire,
Aloof to Paradise, unaware of His Fire,
Drenched in sin, spiritually mired,
For our Lord, without knowing, has become our own desire,
When the legacy of the Beloved ﷺ fails to inspire,
Written off as desert tales, of his story we tire,
Despite lip services of love, priorities rewired,
The Sunnah forsaken, old habits hardwired,
The ephemeral world is mistaken for the eternal,
For it is the former one seeks to acquire,

Now standing upon the precipice,
Divine Mercy awaits,
The sacred month approaches,
Al-Rayyan opens its gates,
Welcoming all, be they blessed or debased
Where once doors stood firm,
Now lies the Garden’s warm embrace,
For an exponential reward,
Mankind retreads the annual race,

Unabated, bliss descends,
And the Devils are chained,
From constant carnal cravings,
Does one aspire to abstain,
The wandering eye, the corrosive gaze
Self-control now harnessed, one is Impelled to refrain,
From idle and raucous ravings,
Loose tongues now restrained,

His book recited in excess,
So too are His Blessed Names,
In so doing, tongues now re-trained,
In the Hands of God alone,
Unimaginable bounty remains,
For the one who has fasted,
Therein lies immeasurable gain

***

Hamza is a 4th year political science student who possesses a keen interest in philosophy, religion and politics as a whole. When he’s not working or at school, he enjoys spending his free time reading, gaming and partaking in a variety of grassroots projects in his community.

The Neuroscience of Fasting

By Mishaa Khan, First Year Behavioural Neuroscience

Ramadan is a holy month of the Islamic calendar in which Muslims all around the world abstain from eating, drinking, and engaging in sexual intercourse from the early morning prayer (before dawn) to around sunset. In many Muslim societies, there are changes in work and school timings but the same cannot be said for Western societies. This leads to Muslims fasting while trying to keep up with their busy school and/or work lives and because of this, many do not look forward to this month as much as their counterparts in majority-Muslim societies do. In this short essay, the implications of fasting on neurological and psychological functions are discussed.

Since there is limited data on the specific neurological changes observed when a person undergoes a traditional Ramadan fast, this essay will primarily discuss research findings of intermittent fasting (IF); IF is when a person limits their calorie intake to a small window of time of their day. Unlike Ramadan fasting, those who take part in IF will consume water and possibly other liquids throughout the day, and it is often done for health reasons instead of religious reasons. IF has shown to improve learning and memory in animals (Li, Wang, & Zuo, 2013; Anson et al., 2003). These conclusions were made based on studies in which mice were put through IF and tested using a maze and fear-based conditioning (Li,Wang, & Zuo, 2013). Imaging technologies also showed an increase in thickness in the CA1 pyramidal layer (Li,Wang, & Zuo, 2013), which is a part of the brain (hippocampus) responsible for learning and memory. The thickening of this layer could potentially indicate neurogenesis, or the formation of new neurons, taking place in the CA1 pyramidal layer. Alternatively, the thickening may be a result of the prevention of “chemically induced” degeneration of neurons in the hippocampus (Qiu et al., 2012) or a combination of both. IF has also proven to reduce brain aging in mice by reducing oxidative stress (Li,Wang, & Zuo, 2013) which happens as a result of an imbalance in free radicals (oxygen with uneven electrons) and antioxidants. Reduced oxidative stress results in an improvement of brain functions and structures (Li,Wang, & Zuo, 2013) due to an increase in the brain’s plasticity, the ability of the brain to “shape” itself according to the owner’s experience. (Murphy, Dias, & Thuret, 2014). The major distinction between intermittent fasting and Ramadan fasting is that IF includes drinking liquids (usually water) throughout the day while the latter does not. Dehydration negatively affects cognition, since dehydrated individuals have been observed to have to work harder to complete a task compared to hydrated individuals (Kempton et al., 2010). The study only focused on adolescents, but similar conclusions can be drawn about other age groups too. It is important for Muslims to ensure that they are consuming enough liquids during the period when they are not fasting.

A study found that 32 Malaysian men who underwent IF for religious reasons showed a decrease in tension, anger, confusion, and depression (Hussin, Shahar, Teng, Ngah, & Das, 2013). One might think that remaining hungry and thirsty for long hours of the day while working can result in the average person being “hangry” or irritated. Despite this, the study showed that the Malaysian men experienced the complete opposite effect. The reason for this may be due to a transformation of their spiritual state; Ramadan is meant to be a month where Muslims become closer to their Creator and if done correctly, it can improve their psychological state as well. Indeed, this effect may be a manifestation of Allah’s wisdom in prescribing fasting as an act of worship.

This makes sense since people who are more spiritual happen to have a lower risk of depression according to a study conducted in China, India, and the United States (Portnoff, Mcclintock, Lau, Choi, & Miller, 2017). The fact that the results were consistent in three different countries with three different predominant religions shows that this is a universal trait. One of the reasons for this may be having a sense of purpose.

Even though the lack of glucose in your brain might make you think you will perform poorly in a given task, research studies have shown that fasting in mice has a positive effect on learning and memory; because of genetic similarities between mice and humans, the same could apply to humans. So, don’t let the next test, project, presentation or any major assessment scare you during Ramadan.  With the blessings of Allah (SWT) and the effect of intermittent fasting on the hippocampus (part of the brain responsible for learning and memory), you will do well insha Allah. As Muslims, we often get caught up in our everyday lives and forget to remember our Creator as much as we should. We should use Ramadan to get into the habit of relying only on Allah (SWT) because He is the best of planners. And Allah knows best.

 

Misha’a Khan is a Behavioural Neuroscience student at SFU. She is an international student who who was born and raised in Saudi Arabia, but is originally from Pakistan. Her interests include public policy, mental health, criminal rehabilitation, neuroplasticity and neurogenesis.

***
References

Anson, R. M., Guo, Z., de Cabo, R., Iyun, T., Rios, M., Hagepanos, A., … Mattson, M. P.

(2003). Intermittent fasting dissociates beneficial effects of dietary restriction on glucose metabolism and neuronal resistance to injury from calorie intake. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 100(10), 6216–6220. http://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1035720100

Hussin, N. M., Shahar, S., Teng, N. I., Ngah, W. Z., & Das, S. K. (2013). Efficacy of Fasting and Calorie Restriction (FCR) on mood and depression among ageing men. The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging,17(8), 674-680. doi:10.1007/s12603-013-0344-9

Kempton, M. J., Ettinger, U., Foster, R., Williams, S. C., Calvert, G. A., Hampshire, A., . . .

Smith, M. S. (2010). Dehydration affects brain structure and function in healthy adolescents. Human Brain Mapping,32(1), 71-79. doi:10.1002/hbm.20999

Li, L., Wang, Z., & Zuo, Z. (2013). Chronic Intermittent Fasting Improves Cognitive Functions and Brain Structures in Mice. PLoS ONE, 8(6), e66069. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0066069

Murphy, T., Dias, G. P., & Thuret, S. (2014). Effects of Diet on Brain Plasticity in Animal and

Human Studies: Mind the Gap. Neural Plasticity,2014, 1-32. doi:10.1155/2014/563160

Portnoff, L., Mcclintock, C., Lau, E., Choi, S., & Miller, L. (2017). Spirituality cuts in half the relative risk for depression: Findings from the United States, China, and India. Spirituality in Clinical Practice,4(1), 22-31. doi:10.1037/scp0000127

Qiu, G., Spangler, E. L., Wan, R., Miller, M., Mattson, M. P., So, K., . . . Ingram, D. K. (2012). Neuroprotection provided by dietary restriction in rats is further enhanced by reducing glucocorticoids. Neurobiology of Aging,33(10), 2398-2410. doi:10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2011.11.025