Ramadan and Mental Health: A Time to Reflect and Connect
Guest Blog By: Najeeb Kamil, MSW, MPA and Laurel Benhamida, Ph.D.
Over a billion Muslims worldwide are observing the lunar month of Ramadan from the evening of June 5th to the evening of July 5th. Najeeb Kamil, MSW, MPA and Laurel Benhamida, Ph.D. share information about Ramadan and its connection to mental health.
Q: What is Ramadan and how is it observed?
A: During Ramadan, participating Muslims neither eat nor drink from dawn until sunset. According to the tenets of Islam, fasting is for the sake of God while also intended to teach patience, sacrifice and humility. Muslims make efforts to practice self-control and purify the body and mind through good deeds. They ask for forgiveness for past sins, pray for guidance and for help in refraining from everyday evils, such as speaking crossly when tired, and from serious ones, such as backbiting.
Ramadan helps Muslims feel the peace of spiritual devotion while nurturing fellowship. Community socialization increases as all ages gather for Iftar (dinners) and for Taraweeh (evening prayers). In Ramadan, Muslims will assess their overall wellness. The arrival of Ramadan is greeted with anticipation and affection.
Q: It’s not uncommon for people to struggle with feelings of isolation or mental health challenges during other religious holidays. Is there a similar trend during Ramadan?
A: Some Muslim immigrants, migrant workers, prisoners, foster children and refugees experience overwhelmingly sad feelings of homesickness and loss. People who are culturally stigmatized due to mental illness and physical disability may feel isolated. Some widows and divorcees may be ignored by old “friends”, while some ethnic groups stigmatize other groups, people who have dark skin, are from low castes or are LGBTQ. Islam teaches that these attitudes and practices are wrong. Evening prayers and community dinners open to all may help them find a new path to wellness.
In addition, converts to Islam may be estranged from family and old friends. Referrals to convert support groups may help. Muslims excused from fasting may feel sad. Counselors may suggest reframing feelings by helping with decorating houses, cooking, doing errands, driving and volunteering at community meals.
Q: What strategies or resources might be helpful to help Muslims coping with difficulties during the holiday?
A: For some Muslims, mosque, dars and halaqah (study groups) and support groups maintain wellness. The AMALA Youth Hopeline is a volunteer peer warmline offering accessible and culturally competent counseling and resources for young Muslims.
Just as Ramadan is a time to ask God for forgiveness, people also ask for forgiveness from each other. Special efforts, such as counseling or mediation, are made to mend fences with people they are estranged from. Increased wellbeing may result.
As the new moon approaches, Muslims say they will miss Ramadan as it leaves for another year.
For more information about the AMALA Hopeline, visit amalahopeline.com or call 855-95-AMALA (Open Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday from 6 -10 p.m.).
Najeeb Kamil, MSW, MPA has been working in the field of child welfare for the last eight years and has experience in both rural and urban social work. He has a Masters degree in social work from California State University, East Bay, where he was a Title IV-E stipend recipient, and has a Masters in public administration from San Francisco State University focusing on the area of policy making and analysis. For the last three years, Najeeb has been a child welfare trainer for Alameda County. He recently joined Santa Cruz County Family and Children Services as a Senior Human Services Analyst providing analysis and support to department-wide initiatives and performance outcomes. He has provided trainings on Muslim Mental Health issues and approaches to various classes and organizations. Najeeb is most interested in the intersection of child welfare, community organizing and macro social work. He has been a REMHDCO Steering Committee member for the last 2 years.
Laurel Benhamida, Ph.D. has been a founding member, a volunteer peer counselor, board member and committee chairperson for Muslim American Society-Social Services Foundation in Sacramento. She has served on the Sacramento County MHSA Steering Committee, the MHSOAC Cultural and Linguistic Competence Committee and the REMHDCO Steering Committee. She has a Masters degree in teaching English as a second language and a Ph.D. in second language acquisition and teacher education from the University of Illinois, Urbana. Her focus was on the social use of language, language planning, policy, politics, education and interpreters and translators. Currently, she volunteers at the intersection of those interests and mental health policy and services.
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