As the last moments of Ramadan made their swan song, worshipers at the mosque I serve in Boston began to shine a sense of happiness, relief and accomplishment that lit the building. After the sunset prayer, people began to hug each other, congratulating each other for a blessed month of fasting, charity and prayers–a heck of an accomplishment. As for me, my work was far from over. While worshipers experience a spiritual high, for the staff and clergy of Islamic Centers, Ramadan is a mix of quick moments of spiritual bliss met with trying to meet the flooding demands and concerns of the communities they serve. Coupled with that was another challenge, the Eid sermon.
The Eid sermon cooked in my soul for the last two weeks, but for some reason I could not land it. In moments where I find my creative wall towering over me, I run to worship at another place, the gym. It had been a while, almost a month, since I visited it, but I decided that I needed to hit the treadmill and get an interval workout in as both usually help clear my head and soul. I grabbed a protein shake after prayers and headed into the soft Boston night, rushing between calls to kids and friends, wishing them all Eid blessings while trying to navigate Boston’s finest traffic. One hour and a lot of sweat later, there was one problem: protein shakes can only last so long. I was starving.
Boston has some of the best “non-franchised” restaurants. Home cooking is a blessing and Boston has lots of blessings. The challenge was to find a place that was quiet; that would allow the small creative space I had carved in my mind at the gym to grow. I settled for a cozy southern restaurant deep in the city. Not only is it quiet, but the fish and greens are something to write back to Oklahoma about. As I walked to the eatery, I passed by a bar and heard a small commotion. As I looked in, I saw a circle of people and heard a very loud voice. Not uncommon for a bar mind you, but I knew this voice. I recognized the soul that carries that voice. As I looked in, I noticed that a man was begging at the counter. I glanced at him and began to walk toward my fish when something caught my eye: he was wearing a kufi. Not any kufi, but one I knew very well. “Miss, what is going on here?” I said to the waitress in the bar. She responded, “That drunk is asking for alcohol.” I felt like all the blood in my body was draining into my shoes. No doubt, the happiness I saw in the bar contrasted to the happiness I witnessed earlier had an impact. One was pure, the other distorted and false. But finding a brother drunk hours after Ramadan gave its final greetings of peace was hard. I asked her if she could tell him to come to me—“Tell him a friend wants to see him. Please tell him to come to me at the restaurant next door.”
Drug Addiction within our Communities
What ensued over the next 2 hours was one of the deepest conversations I have ever had. It was a story of addiction, homelessness, blame, tragedy, triumph, theology and repentance. But, most importantly, it was a story of neglect. As he talked I thought, “How do we as Muslims allow these folks to fall through the cracks?” Don’t get me wrong, there is accountability on both sides, but I can only think of one substance abuse program that is operated out of an Islamic Center. One in all of America!
“Imam, I thought I made it, but two hours after prayers I found myself in a dope-house! May Allah forgive me.”
“Imam I have tried to quit—I did once for six months, but I keep falling. May Allah forgive me.”
“Imam, please don’t judge me. May Allah forgive me.”
“No, dear soul.” I thought, “May Allah forgive me. May Allah forgive us.”
Towards the end of our conversation I reassured the brother that “I am not here to judge you, but to help.” I explained that we all have our issues; it is about surrounding ourselves with the right treatment, circle of friends who can help and having the internal drive to fight back. He turned to me and said:
“It is something: Allah sent an Imām to me in a bar of all places! In a bar, man! There is a sign in this!” I said to him, “First, I wasn’t in the bar. I was headed for some fish.” We laughed and I said, “Listen, you know what the deal is! You know what God has said about this! I am here to help you and walk with you across this bridge. I will be your crutch, but you have to take advantage of the services available to you at the masjid!”
At the ISBCC in Boston we are trying to offer those services to those who need it. I implored him to come see me, and I would put him in touch with the right resources that if he prayed and worked hard, could help him overcome his addiction; professional counselors who could help guide him, by God’s will, subhanahu wa ta’ala (exalted is He), to a path of recovery.
Taking Steps to Address Addiction
Here are a few things Islamic Centers (MSA’s as well) can do to address this issue practically.
- Admit there is a problem—even if it is a small one, substance abuse tends to have lots of collateral damage.
- Imams should team up with health care professionals to offer spiritual, physical and mental health treatment to their flocks. I recall being asked a year ago, “If I shoot heroine does it break my fast?” Immediately a doctor came to me saying, “Ask that person to see me. I can prescribe something to him that will help him with withdrawal–I can find him other sources of help as well.” As the challenges facing our community begin to diversify, Imams will have to coalition build with professionals in their communities if they hope to truly serve them.
- Create free spaces in centers for recovering addicts, and those still struggling with addiction, to meet and support each other.
- Sponsor workshops that address the signs and dangers of addiction for communities.
- Pray for addicts.
- Join neighborhood associations that can keep you up on the drug problem in your community.
May Allah (swt) help us to be humble enough to confront our own weaknesses. May He (swt) help those struggling with addiction issues, and help us to help them.