On Saturday 15th July, Inspirited Minds held its first Mental Health Training Programme with Imams.
One in four people in the UK will experience a mental illness and this proportion is higher if you are from a minority group. There are a multitude of factors which may cause this within Muslim communities, some of which include: misconceptions about mental health and Islam (the most common being Muslims can not have mental health problems and if they do, they are due to a lack of faith and are a punishment from God); the increased stigma, stereotypes and prejudices we put on ourselves; the identity issues exacerbated by misrepresentation, discrimination and isolation; and the irony that so many of us pursue careers in the fields of health and medicine yet there is a lack of faith and culturally sensitive support services available for mental health.
Oftentimes those struggling with a mental illness find it more difficult dealing with the stigma than dealing with the actual illness itself. Sadly, when someone breaks their arm everyone runs to sign the cast, yet when someone says they have a mental health problem everyone runs the other way, and so nobody sees their pain, nobody hears about their pain and ultimately nobody feels their pain.
As a community it is our responsibility and obligation to change this. Imams play a pivotal role in our religious and spiritual growth and often take on additional roles within the Muslim community, they perform marriages, mediate between disputes and are regularly the first people we go to for advice and guidance. Many Imams have felt ill-equipped to give advice on mental health problems that they were frequently approached with. Therefore, in collaboration with Mind (the UK’s largest mental health charity), Inspirited Minds decided to pilot a 3-day Mental Health Training Programme which would balance the professional and spiritual perspective and engage, educate and empower Imams in their roles within the community.
The training programmes was attended by 15 Imams who had come from all across the UK. The training programme was led by psychiatrists, medical students and counsellors highly experiences and knowledgeable in mental health practice.
Additionally to this, Shaykh Shahnawaz Haque a Psychotherapist and Imam presented his model of an Islamic-based approach to mental health and illness which has evolved from the psychotherapeutic work he has been doing within the Muslim community over the last 20+ years. It included an understanding of how and why Islamic principles and practices can be deeply therapeutic to people suffering from psychological and emotional problems.
Providing a safe space allowed Imams to speak openly and honestly about the issues they face, discuss, debate, ask questions and get support in a non judgmental environment. By the end of the training the Imams explained how they felt inspired and motivated to raise awareness to reduce the stigma around mental health issues and also how they now felt better equipped to support their communities. Imams are uniquely placed in that they have a platform to reach out to hundreds if not thousands of Muslims every Friday during their khutbahs (sermons), most of whom will be men, who are generally harder to reach and less likely to talk about their issues. As part of the training we wanted Imams to feel confident in giving khutbahs on mental health.
It is clear that more training similar to this pilot is needed. The time has come for us to work together and strive to be at the forefront of tackling these issues. Whether there are hundreds or thousands of people within our spheres of influence or just a few, it will take the efforts of every single one of us, each unique and important in their own way, to create that society where those experiencing mental health challenges receive understanding, recognition and are empowered to live fulfilling lives.
Some of the reflections of those who attended can be read below:
Imam Mirazam Khan from Bangor Islamic Centre said,
“Firstly let me thank Allah swt for allowing me to attend this blessed course which discussed the important topic of the rooh and psychological health issues. Also let me congratulate you all at Inspirited Minds for your efforts and we ask Allah swt to reward you in this world and especially in the hearafter. As we mentioned at the end of the course, the 3 day program was indeed intense but very informative and beneficial for us Imams, as the needs and demands of the Muslim community in the UK are increasingly evolving- especially in issues relating to the mind.”
Imam Fakhrul Islam from Hockwell Ring Mosque said,
“As an Imam and a member of the community we should focus on the misunderstandings within the society where those who are suffering with any mental illnesses feel that the only cure is spiritual healing and medicine is not required. People sometimes relate any aspects of mental illnesses to jinn possession and want to rely solely on spiritual healing but people need to know that taking medication is not contrary to the spiritual treatment or to the core belief of Islam. In addition, mental illness and physical illness are both illnesses. The community need to treat and respect it as an illness in order for the stigma of mental illnesses to be overcome”
Mufti Muhammad Umair of Gravesend Mosque said,
“Thank you very much for organising such a uniquely beneficial course. It was very inspiring indeed to see young professionals like you catering for such a fundamental aspect of our Deen which no Imaam can survive without. My perception and interest in Psychology has totally changed and Insha Allah I will try to help as much as I can in linking Quranic realities with mental health and wellbeing so that we can help Allah’s creation recognise the Creator.”
Hafiz Abdullah Muhammad from Beacon Tree Mosque said,
“I would like to thank Inspirited Minds for organising this unique and wonderful course for Imams. As leaders of the community we need to know and be trained in issues facing the community so we can fulfill our roles better. Mental health problems are at a rise in society, particularly stress, and this is reflected in the Muslim community too. This is very often ignored or attributed to supernatural elements such as Jinns and the problems are left unresolved. So Inspirited Minds play a vital role in providing a faith-faith solution to Muslims facing mental health problems. Over the course of three days we were able to learn about various mental health conditions, how to recognise the symptoms and how to use faith-based CBT to help individuals to minimise or overcome their problems and make referrals where necessary. During the course we not only got to learn from expert practitioners but also exchanged ideas with fellow Imams from all over the UK coming from places such as Bangor, Oldham and Luton. Thank you again for organising the wonderful course“
Shaykh Abdul Majid Iltaf from Al-Hidayah Academy said,
“I found the course extremely beneficial and very much needed for Ulama/Imams and Khateebs. As this is a taboo subject, the aforementioned can do a massive service in breaking the stereotype and providing hope and guidance to their congregations/communities. This is indeed a much needed khidmah”
This article has been extracted from a reflection blog posted on Inspirited Minds. To read the account in full and read more reflections from the Imams that attended, follow this link.