Internalizing Islamophobia: My Battle With Depression and Anxiety

Hatred towards Islam is not exclusive to the Alt Right and Trump-types. So how does propaganda, poor mental health and haram police feed into the creation of an “islamophobic Muslim”?

My Story

I was born and raised in South Africa and for the most part, things were great. I went to an all-boys school, played a lot of sport and excelled in my academics. As a part of this athlete world, there existed this strong culture of proving your masculinity, usually through acts of defiance and general misdemeanor. I was known for disrupting class by cracking smart jokes to gather laughter and I would constantly “roast” my peers at any opportunity I had. However, my notoriety took a hit when 9/11 happened and I was faced with an unexpected hurdle. For the first time, when I attempted to be funny in class, I got roasted and shut down. Apparently Osama Bin Laden was now a relative of mine…

Propaganda

My peers and their low-hanging-fruit terrorist jokes quickly became annoying because I had no comebacks. I felt emasculated and began hating my religion for placing a burden on me that quite frankly, felt unfair. Identifying as a Muslim felt embarrassing and the misportrayal of Muslims in movies, TV shows and the news made my shame grow stronger by the fay. Islam was getting in the way of how I wanted to be treated by my peers, and in a desperate attempt to appear normal, I began diluting my traditional beliefs and practices. If asked, I told people I didn’t really follow Islam, I stopped bringing my mom’s smelly Pakistani food to school and I would not utter a word of Urdu if anyone was around. I didn’t realize it then, but my attitude reflected what you would refer to as “islamophobia internalized”.

Mental Health

In 2010, my dad accepted a job offer and my family immigrated to Canada. Then began, at 16 years of age, my lengthy battle with depression and anxiety. The combination of culture shock and not having a social circle left me with an unforgiving homesickness for South Africa. Everyone in my new high school had a clique, forged over many years of friendship, which made it impossible for a Pakistani, South African-born Muslim, with a strong foreign accent, to break in. I lost all sense of hope and constantly worried about being likable at school. I had no one to talk to and my family never had conversations about our feelings or hardships. Even though they too were facing difficulty with the new scenery.

Haram Police

At this stage of my life, I was not practicing Islam and only performed the movements of salaat during Friday jummah prayers, which I hated going to. The Muslims occupying the mosque would constantly critique my every move. I wasn’t allowed to talk in the mosque, I was making wudhu incorrectly, my clothing was inappropriate and my hairstyle was haram. Isn’t Islam supposed to be a compassionate and accommodating religion? Even if I was in the wrong, those Muslims drove me further away from the deen at a time I needed it the most. I was convinced hell was my final destination.

In Today’s World

Muslims need non-judgmental spaces where they can express themselves, be heard and relate to others with similar struggles. Youth centers, get togethers and online spaces like Tumblr and Reddit are playing a pivotal role in breaking through the false dichotomy of “good Muslim” vs. “bad Muslim”, and are helping remind us that we are all a work in progress. I recently launched a gratitude journal for Muslims that will encourage Muslims to build a positive daily routine around their Islam and be closer to Allah. Constructive outlets for self-expression, such as writing, art and dialogue, can do wonders for Muslims struggling with their identity, mental health or spirituality. I know because I tried it, and all I needed was to find something that worked for me and I stuck to it.

This article is written by Hamza Ahmad. 

Written by Mvslim

Mvslim

In the mixed society we live today, we went looking for the ideal platform for Muslims. And of course, we didn’t find it. So we made one ourselves.

  • Amina

    I think they, the “haram police,” were well-intentioned and wouldn’t have acted that way if they knew how it would affect you, i.e. understood from the get-go that their advice was going to do more harm than good.

  • Cake123

    Stay strong…. a lot of this comes from little minded ignorant people that seem to have a habit of painting people with the same brush of terrorism i can relate a lot to your post, but as I struggled I realised that allah was always with me for indeed in every hardship comes ease. However the hate that people seem to give me made me reflect on my religion- in fact it made it stronger I volunteered at a local mosque and met wonderful sisters there! Who all share the same common ground as me, it allowed me to broaden my horizon and see the world from a different perspective, I use humour and jokes when they start their anti Islam speech lol half of their comments make me laugh 😂😂😂 because it’s so stupid and obviously inadequate, hmm my favourite one that people seem to bombard me with ‘I bet you have a bomb under there that’s why you don’t take it of’ and guess what my reply was 😂😂 ‘I bet you have a bomb on your underwear’ it was sooo funny when you make that one person look idiotic in front of everyone well now it’s their turn to start turning red lol

    On a serious note as I lay down on my bed I was scrolling down my instagram page, and I came across this video saying ‘who gives a f*** what people think’ curiosity got the best of me as I played the video seconds later it hit me hard…to the core, it investigated the psychological reason behind it and no matter why you do even if you (change your religion/culture) people will always have something to pick on we are human beings at the end of the day right??? And nobody is perfect we all have our flaws here and there but what matters is your deep down (yes your heart) connection with god (allah) is a must for me, as I love to talk to him without judgement.

    Oh and one thing ignorance is cancer it kills the human heart and we begin to have these false assumptions on people based on their religion/race.

    I hope you overcome your anxiety and come to terms that your not the only one that has dealt with this and be proud of where you come from I know it’s hard but you have to show them your true colours weather they like it or not they have to see it tough! That’s what I’m like and I hope allah gives me the strength to stay like this.

    Thanks for sharing your story
    From Isra ❤️