RALEIGH – Defying stigma attached to mental health problems, an Islamic center in Raleigh, North Carolina, is offering specialized service to its members.
“Our imams get hundreds of requests every week,” Azleena Azhar, a trained Muslim chaplain and one of the leaders of the referral initiative, told Sojo.net.
“It’s been very overwhelming for them. People are slowly finding out that if they don’t need to get advice from a religious scholar — they can come to the team and talk to someone there instead.”
In the United States, many Muslims are reluctant to seek out mental health professionals because of the stigma attached to mental illness or because they fear that a Western-trained therapist will not understand their culture or religion.
Receiving thousands of requests for mental health help, imams thought of a more professional and organized way to deal with these problems, especially with the rise of hate crimes.
The Muslim travel ban and the rise of nationalist rhetoric, which views immigrants as the unwelcome “other,” have contributed to feelings of being bullied, harassed, and otherwise treated with suspicion.
“There’s this collective feeling of being under siege,” said Dr. Hamada Hamid Altalib, a psychiatrist, and neurologist who is president of the Institute for Muslim Mental Health and chief editor of the Journal of Muslim Mental Health.
Yet, many Muslims are still wary of talking with outsiders about domestic violence or behavioral issues
“There’s an ambivalence about sharing these challenges outside of the community because it reinforces the stereotype we’re trying to counteract about who we are,” said Kameelah Mu’Min Rashad, founder, and president of the Muslim Wellness Foundation in Philadelphia.
Laird is convening a conference, “Moving Toward Defining an Islamic Psychology,” that will bring together Islamic scholars and mental health experts to hammer out what she called a “working definition of Islamic psychology.”
“There’s a lot of intergenerational trauma in our community — a lot of issues that come up that have gone unaddressed: depression, marital issues, suicide among youth, LGBT sexuality,” she said. “Our community is suffering.”
Other models, in less populated Muslim regions, are also emerging.
The Khalil Center, for example, is a Los Angeles area clinic that uses a faith-based approach to mental health rooted in the science of psychology while integrating Muslim theological concepts.
In some mosques, a mental health professional will set up office hours one afternoon a week or once a month.
In other places, such as Detroit, the Islamic Circle of North America has started a program called Muslim Family Services, which offers both individual and family counseling.