Reflection on the event ”Islam and the Big Questions” hosted by MAC Youth Vancouver and SFU MSA

By: Hamza Malik

 

I had a proper wake-up call yesterday. Well, more like a full-on affirmation of something I had initially felt in my gut a few months ago. We do a great disservice in how we frame the potential of the everyday young Muslim. Let me explain what I mean. You know how so many Islamic preachers/du’aat and scholars/’Ulema today will rail on about how Muslims have left the teachings of the religion and stopped caring to the point where they don’t even care to learn the basics? How we’re so far gone and off the path of guidance, that it’s no wonder our mosques are empty? That it’s no surprise, due to our complacency, that the current and coming generations of young Muslims are having identity crises which in turn may or may not lead to them to leave Islam? Among other things. Now, they’re not entirely wrong of course. But they’re not entirely fair in these sorts of passe assessments either. Yesterday evening, I attended a program hosted by the SFU MSA. The topic itself was titled ‘Islam and the Big Questions’ by bro Bassam Abunnadi and covered a host of critical foundational questions relating to the existence of God, the critical role of rationality in arriving to truth and even covered the epistemic limits of the scientific method. The event itself was really an introduction to the subject of kalaam and the philosophy of science. For a 90 minute talk to condense all of these themes in one sitting was no small undertaking. So Masha’Allah, overall, the event and content covered was rock solid and well explained. May Allah SWA bless the organizers and Ustadh Bassam for his time. What truly surprised me was the turnout. The room was jampacked (left side snapshot below) I’d say it may have been in the ballpark of over 100 students. Primarily young people. The classroom could only accommodate 60-70 students. For an SFU MSA event on its secondary campus, with minimal advertising? That’s a massive turnout. I want to share another short account with you before I get to the main thrust of my idea, so as to drive my point home: Last December, myself and a few other local du’aat were invited to speak on what we felt were some of the key relevant issues ailing the Muslim community at a local masjid. The turnout that masjid got just for that 1 event was apparently some of the highest they’ve ever seen for a halaqa/youth gathering. 300-400 people between both men and women. (I’m sure part of the reason was the free food). And the topics we covered? Dealing with doubts, why we believe, a conversion story to Islam and clearing basic misconceptions on some apparently violent verses of the Qur’an. In terms of actual content, it was honestly really basic material in a very short period of time. After repeated instances and events of this nature, I came to the bittersweet realization that I had alluded to above: 1) the bitter: An overwhelming turnout for events of this nature, speaks to a deeper issue within our communities. What I am about to say is nothing new and has been pointed out by an increasing number of our du’aat and scholars: A large reason why so many adolescent and young Muslims feel disconnected from the masjid, from typical halaqas and religious gatherings/institutions is because rarely are they exposed to an in-depth critical, relevant overview of Islam that can ground their practice beyond blind faith. Rarely are Muslims actually engaged at an early age and in adolescence, on how to navigate and deal with challenging counter-philosophies, religions, Western thought, and other competing truth claims and worldviews. How to ground our emaan (belief) in Allah, in sufficient reason from first principles (not to be conflated with popular Christian apologetics). There is little incentive placed on us at an early age to go out of our way to want to learn about our Deen. Its strictly protocol because parents said so (in the cases where they even care to teach the basics to begin with). All we are left with secularized, ritualized Islam that’s only manifested in Ramadhan and in the confines of ones home. Is it any surprise people become disengaged and apathetic? Our masaajid and most of our Ulema and madrassa graduates frankly just don’t possess the background let alone even a basic understanding on how to tackle serious existential crises, ideological challenges and social issues in a principled, substantive way. Whether it be naturalism, materialism, secular humanism, evolution, homosexuality, sex ed, Islamic ethics, Islam and politics, the miracles of the Qur’an, contending with popular arguments posed by agnostics/atheists, etc. In a nutshell, a large reason for such a disconnect and apathy towards our religious institutions is the fact that most youth don’t see the relevance of the masaajid or their Qur’an/maktab teachers beyond fulfilling a basic ritualistic conception of Islamic practice, relegated to recitation of the Qur’an, wudhu and Salaah. All done because our parents said so. Usul al-Jahiliyya, the ways of the ignorant. Maybe a learning of the 5 pillars of Islam and the articles of faith. But *nothing beyond that*. It’s all reduced to khutbahs on the importance of obeying ones parents, the greatness of Allah, stories of the Prophets, other minor polemical issues (I.e. is music halal? Should we follow a Madhab?! The virtues of fasting, etc). You know exactly what I mean. All of these themes are important no doubt. These are the faraa’idh. But that’s all we’re left with. Which nicely transitions me to my second point: 2) the sweet: bearing the above considerations in mind, people really are yearning to connect with Islam, with the truth in a meaningful way. With real depth and profundity. Events like the one we had yesterday are almost always extremely well attended and well received (if done well) because we are THIRSTY for forums like these in an environment where these kinds of programs are in such shortage. Our knowledge production in these sorts of fields has been largely abysmal, so we’ll take any chance we can get to make it out to anything that seeks to dig deeper beyond the standard fare of grade school level Islamic pedagogy.. We are starving for these sorts of discourses in our circles. Balance your programs, your halaqaat, your events between the ritualistic and the relevant (not a true dichotomy but you get what I mean). Give the generation a reason to connect in substance. In content. People WILL come. Don’t underestimate the collective zeal of our generations to want to learn and understand. We don’t need snazzy marketing. We don’t need long, eloquent speeches. We don’t need AAA celebrity preachers. We don’t need bitesized motivational reminders. We don’t need comedy da’wah and edutainment. Some of my most cherished moments as I learned the Deen and those with the most profound impact on my growth were those teachers and intellectual heavyweights who are hidden from the public eye. Who go unnoticed but have done great things in service of the Deen. Give the fellow laypeople a chance and they will yearn for the substance. The ‘real stuff’. Why? Because seldom are these themes ever tackled outside of the halls of a university setting or the odd YouTube debate featuring some prominent Islamic personality. I’m talking grassroots stuff. If we want to keep telling our youth and kids that ‘Islam is a complete way of life!’ but never take an active effort to demonstrate or showcase WHY, don’t be surprised when you get apathy in return. If you want to ram into youth and kids that the Qur’an is infallible, that Allah necessarily exists, that Muhammad (sws) was indeed a Prophet of Allah, that the story of Yusuf (as) was the best of all stories, don’t just TELL them, show them why! Show don’t tell. Belief in the fundamentals of truth was not meant to be blind. So that is why we should come to realize that the problem ahead of us is a longstanding one. Uneasy to overcome but possible nonetheless. We need to *stop* writing off our current generation of Muslim youth. That’s not to say that apathy among the general public doesn’t exist. Of course it does. But it’s a two way street. WE should make a collective effort to work with one another to ensure that we can have such forums/gatherings and see an improvement in our institutions for the coming generation. Like I said, with the right mindframe, the youth can be reached. It’s entirely possible. All it requires is a reframing in our approach and our thinking and a geared cognizance of the pressing issues that afflict the every day Muslim on the ground. PS excuse the length as always. Just some passing Saturday morning thoughts.                                      *** 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.

Islam’s story of Equality; Sayyid and Non-Sayyid

By Usama Naeem Toor

Sufism, or the mystical version of Islam, rose to prominence from the 9th century and became a driving force of conversion since then. Its acceptance was widely appealing to the Non-Arab population, the most famous of which would be the Persians and the Turkic Tribes of central Asia, who would later go on to establish the Ottoman, Safavid and Mughal Empires. The very fact that the Non-Arab Muslims widely accepted Sufism was one of the major indications of why it gained prominence. Sufism rose as a counter to the Umayyad Empire’s brag about the Arab identity, as being the “Superior Muslim.” For them, being the first to accept Islam and being the conquering nation meant that they were God’s chosen people, just like the Israelites believed, and had to be accorded for a higher status amongst the Muslim Ummah. This notion, however, was against Islam, the very component upon which they boasted their identity. The Prophet of Allah, Muhammad (A.S) said, “All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor does a black have any superiority over a white except by piety and good action.” While Islam outrightly renounced any classification amongst humans based on religion, race, colour, ethnicity, the conquering Arabs in their arrogance had forgotten the Islamic message. Unfortunately, the harm of such a perception was far more extensive than what might have been expected.

Sufism in India rendered a very significant role in the acceptance of Islam amongst the wider population. It was the various Sufi Tariqas (Orders) and Murshids/Pirs (Masters) who led the Islamization of people in India which by the time of the partition would account for 1/4 of the entire Indian population. Unfortunately, even under these Sufi Masters, who advocated the message of Humanity amongst the people, the concept of Arab superiority rose, and classification of humans on the basis of means other than piety and righteousness still maintained ground. A popular and comprehensive form of this notion was observed in the case of Sayyids and Non-Sayyids, Sayyids being the descendants of the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W). Being a Sayyid held immense value, so much so that Sayyids sometimes refrained from marriages outside the family, fearing of having marital relations with Non-Sayyids, a course that still continues till today in modern-day Pakistan and India. While it is true that Sayyids hold a respectable position amongst the Muslims, it does not permit discrimination against the Non-Sayyids. This phenomenon was countered brilliantly by two Sufis of the 17th century, the Master, Shah Inayat Qadri, and the student, S Abdullah Shah, famously known as Baba Bulleh Shah. Their relationship of Mentor-Apprentice would be rival to that of Shams Tabrizi and Mevlana Rumi, and Nizamuddin Auliya and Amir Khusrou, respectively.

Legend has it that Bulleh Shah, after completing his formal education in Islam, departed for Lahore in search of a Sufi Master, as was the trend in those days. Having found Shah Inayat Qadri in Lahore, Bulleh Shah accepted him as his Murshid or Master to guide him on his spiritual endeavour. However, difficulties for Bulleh Shah began for his acceptance of a Non-Sayyid Murshid. Bulleh Shah’s family were relentless in not accepting Shah Inayat as his Master; a Sayyid guided by a Non-Sayyid was deemed to be a huge embarrassment. Reason being that Shah Inayat was an Aarain, an indigenous Hindu Caste and recent converts to Islam. In those days, indigenous Muslims of India had a lower social status than that of Muslims from Arabia, Persia, Central Asia and Afghanistan, and in the case of Sayyids, this was a more outrageous circumstance. Nonetheless, Bulleh Shah remained faithful to his Master as he had become his discipline by his own personal conviction. As a counter to the criticism by his family, Bulleh Shah wrote a Punjabi Shair/Poem, destined to become popular amongst those seeking equality in the newly converted lands;

Bullay Noun Samjhawan Ayaan

Bheynaan Tay Bherjaiyaan

Man Lay Bulleya Sada Kena

Chad Day Pala Raiyaan

Bulleh Shah’s sisters and sisters-in-law came to convince him,

Listen to us Bulleh Shah and leave the company of the Aarain (Shah Inayat Qadri).

Aal Nabi Ullad Ali Noun

To Kyoun Leekaan Layaan

“Jeyra Saanoun Sayyid Saday

Dozukh Milan Sazaiyaan”

Why do you insult the name of the Prophet Muhammad and Imam Ali’s lineage (The Sayyids)?

To which Bulleh Shah replies,

The one who pronounces me as Sayyid will suffer the punishments of Hell,

Raain, Saain, Sabhee Thaain

Rab Deyaan Bay Parwaaiyaan

Sohniyaan Paray Hatayaan Tay

Koojiyaan Lay Gall Laiyaan

Aarain and Masters are born at every place, God doesn’t discriminate,

Beautiful people (with bad heart) are put aside, while the ugly ones (with good heart) are embraced

Jay To Loorain Baagh Baharaan

Chaakar Hoo Ja Raiyaan

Bulley Shah Dee Zaat Kee Puchni

Shakar Ho Razayaan

If you desire the gardens of Heaven, be the servant of the Aarain

Why do ask the lineage of Bulleh Shah? Instead be grateful in God’s will.

(While the translation provided is from the author’s knowledge of the Punjabi language, the translation is different in various places; the meaning, however, remains the same)

Bulleh Shah’s confidence, and poetic response, would go on to pursue his family to let him remain under the Mureedi or Guidance/Teaching of Shah Inayat Qadri. His sincerity and truthfulness for his cause and loyalty to his Master became the reasons for such a development. Even Bulleh Shah’s sister went on to support him in his spiritual journey. Later on, it is said that Shah Inayat got furious with Bulleh Shah to such an extent that the annoyance lasted for 12 years in which Bulleh Shah adopted several methods to convince his Master. To redeem his Master’s love, Bulleh Shah became a part of the lowest members of the society, based on social class, for 12 years, eventually succeeding in his task of obtaining the love of his Master. For his Master, in another one of his poetry, Bulleh Shah proclaimed,

“Listen to the tale of Bulleh Shah, he has found a spiritual guide and shall have salvation. My teacher, Shah Inayat, he will take me across”.

***

Usama Naeem Toor is a student of Economics and Business at Simon Fraser University. Born and raised in Pakistan, Usama’s main interest is understanding the central intricacies of the socio-economic situation of Pakistan, and to find its solutions. However, Usama possesses an interest in a wide range of subjects including World History, Islamic Philosophy and Jurisprudence, and current affairs. In his free time, Usama likes to read books, play videogames and sports such as Football, Cricket and Table Tennis, and hang out with friends.

Reflections on the Nisa Helpline Fundraiser – Reconstructing Our Notions of Gendered Issues in a Principled Way

By Hamza Malik

Incoming semi-rant. This may or may not be controversial but I’ve been simmering on this issue for some time now. Granted, I’m no stranger to controversy so here goes…

It’s not a habit of mine to broadcast what I do in my personal life or where I happened to go on what particular day. Nor is this post in line with the type of content I typically tend to post. This time however, I wanted to share something that I felt warranted some attention and serious introspection. As a disclaimer, this is regarding the Muslim community and aimed at the Muslim community. If this doesn’t apply to you, happily ignore.

This past Sunday, I attended a fundraising dinner hosted by the NISA Helpline. For those who don’t know, the NISA Helpline is a non-profit organization that seeks to provide anonymous, free, social and faith-based counselling to self-identified Muslim women across North America, facing a myriad of struggles and hurdles in their life, ranging from emotional and sexual abuse to mental health issues to substance abuse, depression and even suicide prevention.

The event ran well. The keynote talks and appeals to donate were timely, inspiring, much-needed and most importantly, grounded within the Qur’an and the Sunnah (Prophetic tradition). It was a great night all around, Alhumdulillah.

But there was one glaring issue, that became immediately apparent, as soon as I entered the venue.

90% of the event comprised of women. And of those women (and men) I’d reckon that roughly 70% of the attendees were active volunteers or contributors to the NISA Helpline in some capacity or another. Moreover, a good chunk of the folks who turned up were young – somewhere between the 17-35 demographic. I could be wrong. I hope I am. But other than, say, 4-6 guys at our table, and a few male volunteers, it was just us. Other than a few aunties and a few middle-aged men, it was just us.

Now, I’ve got to be honest: I went to the event on a whim, largely because a friend of mine was also going.

To the other men, uncles, aunties and fellow community members out there who may be reading this, please pay heed to the following:

Organizations and outlets such as the NISA Helpline exist because of our collective failure to acknowledge the serious problems in communication that exist within the confines of our already fragmented and diverse Muslim community when it comes providing an open space for women to reach out and/or open up about the abuse, turmoil and hurdles they are facing.

These outlets exist because our cultures are steeped in poisonous and outdated notions and models of honour/’izzat that stifle the ability of women to speak out when they are being legitimately oppressed, when their fundamental God-given rights are being trampled upon with little objections from within the internal hierarchies of families and extended families. When ‘Liqn Loag Kya kaing gay/But what will the people say??” take precedence over *basic* moral considerations, what does that say about us?

I’ve lost count of the number of accounts I’ve been privy to firsthand of women having no recourse, no outlet, no single one person bearing wisdom or good advice to turn to when facing deep-rooted turmoil. It’s not an anomaly. It’s far more common than we’re even willing to acknowledge.

I’ve lost count of the accounts of women remaining silent so as not to undermine their familial ties and upset their family cohesion. Of being unable to connect with the often-awkward dispositions of their parents, unable to get through to them. In turn they are shunned as unjustifiably being rebellious byproducts of a hyper-individualistic culture. God-forbid that a woman has any semblance of God-given agency.

I’ve lost count of stories shared of women whose abuse is swept under the rug as a personal in-house problem – Granted, this isn’t exclusive to the Muslim community.

So it’s a damning indictment and a sad sign of us as a community when we see such little support (At least in my observations) on the ground for orgs like the Nisa Helpline.

Why is it that these venues and events attract women and strictly women? Why are ‘women’s’ issues constructed strictly as issues by women and strictly for women? Why does any semblance of introspection and serious consideration by a man get cast away as nothing more than an attempt to score brownie points, to be cast away as another ‘white knight’ liberal feminazi?

Make no bones about it. This isn’t some cheap attempt to score respectability points or Facebook cred. God alone knows my intentions. Nor am I speaking on behalf of the Nisa helpline. These thoughts are strictly my own. I’m tired of our passe attitude towards something that is so endemic, so undeniable and which the disparities are so huge as it relates to the overall culture of physical and psychological abuse towards women in Canada alone. The stats on violence against women alone are damning and the Muslim community is anything but immune to these problems.

This post has barely scratched the surface but the point is this: Our Deen demands that we become purveyors of good and the removers of evil and harm. It requires us to be outspoken, active and vocal opponents of oppression and injustice. My personal appeal is to support these local organizations which are doing an immense service for the community.

May God open our eyes and keep us firm upon the Truth.

Disclaimer: Please do not conflate this appeal with the toxic and Godless culture of social activism pervading our mainstream discourses.

***

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.

How to Use Salah to Improve Your Mental Health

By Mishaa Khan

Prayer, or salat, the third pillar of Islam, is an obligation prescribed by Allah (SWT) upon every Muslim to seek Allah’s pleasure. However, it may be from among Allah’s blessings and signs that he has put other benefits in prayer besides spiritual salvation. Evidence from numerous studies suggests that prayer has multifaceted effects on mental wellbeing by increasing relaxation, improving coping strategies, helping with depression and anxiety, and as a preventive health care measure amongst the elderly population.

Whenever we take time out of our day for prayer, we are focusing on the relationship between us and our Creator. By doing this, we are able to temporarily change our perspective from this world to the hereafter. Modern technology has made it possible to measure and more clearly observe what effects this engagement elicits in our brains. Doufesh, Faisal, Lim & Ibrahim (2011) used electroencephalography (EEG) to measure brain waves of individuals using the four prayer postures: standing, bowing, prostrating, and sitting.  They measured alpha waves, which are waves which indicate cortical inactivation and relaxation, and they appeared to be present in a greater magnitude. The greatest magnitude of alpha waves was during prostration. This study shows that prayer — and particularly prostration, which is said to be the point at which one is closest to Allah spiritually — has a significantly relaxing effect on people.

A second study by Doufesh, Ibrahim, Ismail, & Ahmed (2014) also used EEG and ECG when Muslim men were praying and they came to the conclusion that the alpha waves detected indicate relaxation, decrease in tension, increased focus and stability between the mind and body. Additionally, the parasympathetic (part of the nervous system used when a person is relaxed) system’s activity increased while the sympathetic (psychological fight or flight switch) system’s activity decreased. In the fast-paced turmoil of the modern era, prayer gives us the opportunity to rise above the worldly chaos and turn our attention upon our Creator, regaining a sense of perspective and peace. Relaxing can improve mental health because it allows a person to step back from their worries and be present in the moment.

Hardships and trials are a fact of life and are often difficult to deal with. By using prayer to rely on Allah, it can ease the difficulty one is facing. For example, one study found the act of prayer as having a notably positive effect on Bosnian war veterans (Pajević, Sinanović, & Hasanović, 2017). The participants were 100 Sunni Muslim front line soldiers who were between the ages of 24 and 45, were mentally healthy and had completed secondary school. They were divided into two groups: those who prayed five times a day and those who did not pray at all.  After using the Minnesota Multiphase Personal Inventory (MMPI), Profile Index of Emotions (PIE), and Life Style Questionnaire (LSQ) to evaluate personality profile, emotional profile and defense orientation, they discovered that those who prayed had lower levels of depression, histrionic, psychopathic and paranoia compared to those who did not. The results also indicated that those who prayed were significantly more incorporating and self-protecting. Their counterparts, on the other hand, performed greater in levels of uncontrollability, opposition, and aggressiveness. The researchers concluded that “those who prayed were more sociable, affectionate, obedient, cautious and shy.” Religious principles are believed to provide a coping mechanism when dealing with painful emotions because they forbid actions which can bring harm. This indicates that prayer can be helpful to deal with mental trauma as can be indicated by the Quranic verse “O you who believe! Seek help with patience and prayer; indeed Allah is with the patient.” [Al Baqarah, 2:153]. Another reason the Bosnian soldiers who prayed regularly were more likely to be resilient is because they were most probably more religious than their counterparts. In Islam, patience and reliance on Allah are qualities that are encouraged and thus, those who practice these ideas are more likely to be God-conscious. Eliminating negative stimuli and increasing dependence on Allah during hardships can lead to a better ability to stave off issues such as depression and anxiety. Further studies support the conjecture that praying helps create overall better mental health.

It’s worth exploring whether or not the benefits of salat to mental health hold true on a more regular, everyday basis. Ijaz, Khalily, & Ahmad (2017) found that 13% of the variance in mental health was due to mindfulness and perception of salat education. Their results indicated that those who offered salat regularly had better mental health than those who did not. This shows that regardless of whether an individual has suffered from a traumatic incidence, like the Bosnian war veterans, salat can still improve mental health. The reason behind this may be that salat can be used as a coping strategy to deal with anxiety and depressed moods. Because of the positive effects it has, Henry (2013) believes that prayer can be used during psychotherapy (curing of psychological diseases without medication) because it provides intimacy with Allah, inspiration, solution for problems, subjective well being, humility, interpersonal sensitivity, forgiveness from Allah, and decrease in stress. This is because it provides a connection with Allah and with the influence of faith, the benefits are augmented and diverse. Mental and physical health are tied to each other, so it is not altogether surprising that the health benefits of salah extend even beyond the aforementioned conclusions.

A study (Bai, Ye, Zhu, Zhao, & Zhang, 2012) conducted on Hui Muslims aged 60 and over who did not have any serious health conditions (including a history of neurological and psychiatric conditions) showed that praying had a similar effect on cognition as exercise. It is well established in the scientific community that exercise has been shown to improve both mental and physical wellbeing. The same holds true for prayer, according to this study. The researchers reached this conclusion after providing the participants with a physical activity questionnaire to assess the duration of physical activity and salat followed by a commonly used metric for cognitive function in older people (SCFOP) to evaluate the effects on cognition. The results indicated that there was a significant association between regular prayer and/or exercise and good cognitive functioning. Reza et al. (as cited in Pajević, Sinanović, & Hasanović, 2017) studied the musculoskeletal benefits of salat and concluded that salat provides muscle tone, improved circulation, and acts as a preventive measure for developing osteoarthritis. It also appears to improve cerebral circulation. Since salat and physical exercise have a similar effect on the body, they may also have a similar effect in the brain. Pajević, Sinanović, & Hasanović(2017) suggested that salat can increase a growth factor in the brain, which protects it by enhancing brain plasticity and the formation of new neurons, similar to one of the roles antidepressants play.

It is important to note that while scientific investigation has shown many benefits to salah, this is not the primary reason for our prayer, and nor are these benefits necessarily the reason Allah has prescribed prayer for us. We pray as submission to Allah and to seek his pleasure. We should take this information as encouragement and to feel a sense of wonder and appreciation for His wisdom and mercy, to be inspired with hope against adversity. We ask Allah to make us steadfast upon our prayers and grant us understanding of the miracles He has wrought in His creation.

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 academic interests include public policy, mental health, criminal rehabilitation, neuroplasticity and health care. In her free time, she likes to read, work out, hang out with friends and family, and explore nature.

You can read more of Mishaa’s writing here.

***

Citations

Bai, R., Ye, P., Zhu, C., Zhao, W., & Zhang, J. (2012). Effect of Salat Prayer and Exercise on Cognitive Functioning of Hui Muslims Aged Sixty and Over. Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journal,40(10), 1739-1747. doi:10.2224/sbp.2012.40.10.1739

Doufesh, H., Faisal, T., Lim, K., & Ibrahim, F. (2011). EEG Spectral Analysis on Muslim Prayers. Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback,37(1), 11-18. doi:10.1007/s10484-011-9170-1

Doufesh, H., Ibrahim, F., Ismail, N. A., & Ahmad, W. A. (2014). Effect of Muslim Prayer (Salat) on α Electroencephalography and Its Relationship with Autonomic Nervous System Activity. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine,20(7), 558-562. doi:10.1089/acm.2013.0426

Henry, Hani M. “Spiritual Energy of Islamic Prayers as a Catalyst for Psychotherapy.” Journal of Religion and Health, vol. 54, no. 2, June 2013, pp. 387–398., doi:10.1007/s10943-013-9780-4.

Ijaz, S., Khalily, M. T., & Ahmad, I. (2017). Mindfulness in Salah Prayer and its Association with Mental Health. Journal of Religion and Health,56(6), 2297-2307. doi:10.1007/s10943-017-0413-1

Pajević, I., Sinanović, O., & Hasanović, M. (2017). Association of Islamic Prayer with Psychological Stability in Bosnian War Veterans. Journal of Religion and Health,56(6), 2317-2329. doi:10.1007/s10943-017-0431-z

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

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Twitter: @NISAHelpline

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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.

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.

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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