Community Hot Topics Overcoming Hardships

The Night Before Eid: Substance Abuse in the Muslim Community 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.

  1. Admit there is a problem—even if it is a small one, substance abuse tends to have lots of collateral damage.
  2. 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.
  3. Create free spaces in centers for recovering addicts, and those still struggling with addiction, to meet and support each other.
  4. Sponsor workshops that address the signs and dangers of addiction for communities.
  5. Pray for addicts.
  6. 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.

About the author

Suhaib Webb

Suhaib Webb

Suhaib Webb is a contemporary American-Muslim educator, activist, and lecturer. His work bridges classical and contemporary Islamic thought, addressing issues of cultural, social and political relevance to Muslims in the West. After converting to Islam in 1992, Webb left his career in the music industry to pursue his passion in education. He earned a Bachelor’s in Education from the University of Central Oklahoma and received intensive private training in the Islamic Sciences under a renowned Muslim Scholar of Senegalese descent. Webb was hired as the Imam at the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, where he gave khutbas (sermons), taught religious classes, and provided counselling to families and young people; he also served as an Imam and resident scholar in communities across the U.S.

From 2004-2010, Suhaib Webb studied at the world’s preeminent Islamic institution of learning, Al-Azhar University, in the College of Shari`ah. During this time, after several years of studying the Arabic Language and the Islamic legal tradition, he also served as the head of the English Translation Department at Dar al-Ifta al-Misriyyah.

Outside of his studies at Al-Azhar, Suhaib Webb completed the memorization of the Quran in the city of Makkah, Saudi Arabia. He has been granted numerous traditional teaching licenses (ijazat), adhering to centuries-old Islamic scholarly practice of ensuring the highest standards of scholarship. Webb was named one of the 500 Most Influential Muslims in the World by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center in 2010.


  • One important thing this author forgot to include was to alert all that there are12 step-groups that cater to Muslim Addicts they are called: Millati Islami, for the Philadelphia area contact Bro. Ameen Abdur Rasheed 215-514-6692 and for New Jersey area contact Bro Duran Abdullah 856-488-1885 or Bro. Abdul Malik 856-662-8739, they also have women groups check with these brothers for more information!

  • This is a very critical issue withing the community. A lot of younger believers as well have substance abuse problems. We need to be loving and firm by facing it head on.

  • Brother Webb, you are my most favorite Imam in the entire world. It is a shame you had to leave the bay area, but I am glad to see you are helping out the Boston community.

  • Yes, it is. My best friend has suffered from addiction for over ten years. He’s gone to the brink several times and we have managed get him back. All of his original friends that did the stuff with him during the early years when we were teenagers but we stopped as we grew up. But he has made younger and non-muslim friends that still party. He goes drinking with them and they do drugs too. He had family issues that drove him to drugs for relief but now thank Allah those issues are pretty much over. But he won’t let go those friends and drinking. Currently he is a social drinker a beer now then, couple stoches here and there. But when he encounters a significant stressor that cannot be easily resolved he turned to pot, x and cocaine. And he thinks he’s a know it all because he is doctor but he screwing his life. He has to let go those friends go or convert them into non-abusers of alcohol and drugs. He is unwilling and just says I’m at the mercy of Allah(sbt) and Allah will forgive me. You have to do something too. Ironic thing is I used to drink a bit here and there and I was getting used drinking daily and chatting up the cute bartender chicks near my place. But I still prayed but this friend mine told me this hadis that whoever drinks his prayers will not be accepted for 40 days. I was shocked and checked the hadis and found it was valid. I prayed nafals for forgiveness and never drank again. It’s been 5 years since I touched a drop. I could have died in sin and not even known about and he just ignores it… I’m like you are the one who told me; why are you risking it? Ah, well . bs bs bs. I love him but I would like to give slap on the head.

  • A very excellent article and I hope it can trigger a sort of response from the Muslim community. I know people, family members even– very near and dear to my heart who are Muslim and addicted to alcohol. They only stop consuming for Ramadan and start right back up again.

    They don’t seek help via the Muslim community because of fear of being labeled, judged and so on and so forth and they don’t go through the general ways of combating addiction (rehab, etc.) because they may not have the means or a sponsor.

    Some of these family members of mine feel its a lost cause, they are stuck with this disease and can’t fight it and are just hoping Allah forgives them or that they’ll just take their punishment in the afterlife as if they can tolerate it like a punch in the face. It pains me that they have this mentality.

    They only ask for people’s duas but don’t actively try to fight it themselves and do something about their addiction. I wish there was a program in the Muslim community all across the nation that could provide this service to those brothers and sisters of ours, those fathers and mothers who have gone astray and broke a a clear commandment of Allah and they can’t shake it off.

  • The mosques and their trustees in US do not want admit that there is a problem in the Muslim community. They not only will not have AAA type meetings at the mosques but they shun all those who have alcoholism or drug problem. AS a complete opposite, the churches encourage AA meetings in their establishments.

  • I always ask Allah SWT to send somebody to help my 18 years old son.He started from school and i didn’t know about until he was 17. I contacted MCA people and one Imam ,but no body tried to help or contact to me. It’s very sad and I believe some one should start a programe to help young people and their families.
    drug addiction is the worse nightmare for parents.
    Please Imam make Do’aa to my son Adam.

  • Assalam Alaykum

    Jak as always for your insight, may Allah(s) continue to enrich you with beneficial knowledge that benefits. There is a young man in the San Bernardino Area leading up a 501c(3) non-profit called the Sahaba Initiative that is focused on doing just that, helping Muslims who face this predicament. The community needs to support him.

    May Allah(S) make us triumphant over our struggles and give us tawfeeq in our endeavours (Amin)

  • Assalaamu’alaykum,
    This addiction disease (either to alcohol, drugs, cigarette, porn, etc) is something only those who’re afflicted with can understand. I think its not that they don’t know its wrong. The addicts know they’re destroying themselves, but perhaps there are just too many things stacked up against them. It doesn’t help that many fellow muslims are so quick to judge without even trying to understand or at least offer to help. I think at the end of the day, somehow, somewhere these addicts just have to dig deep inside themselves to want to change and stop or stay away. Yes its important to have the support, counselling and professional group, but that will within themselves is the key. The Imam and his team can do their level best to help but if they themselves refuse the help offered, I think we can only make du’a that one fine day ALLAH in HIS infinite Mercy, will shine HIS guiding nur to them before its too late. We can only do our best to help. The addicts have to play their part as well. They have to come meet halfway.

    Its akin to a teacher wanting his/her students to do well in the exams. The teacher not only pushes and motivates but used all the tricks in his/her bag to help the students understand and remember the concepts taught. But if the students themselves do not want to pass the exams, what else can the teacher do? Yes, just make good du’a for the students

    • Assalaamu’alaykum,

      My husband whom I love has an addition to drinking and smoking. I agree with the statements you made concerning the will of an individual. All we can do for them is pray, there are time I just want to give up, but I think about when I was out there 26 years ago ALLAH did not give up on me , as well as I did not give up on myself. There is a statement in the AA and NA rooms , and that statement is they just haven’t hit rock bottom yet. I pray that all who is going through this terrible disease, MAY ALLAH GIVE THEM STRENGTH, AND THE WILL TO OVER COME IT. Please keep my husband Ibrahhim in pray. Amin

  • Salaam Alaykum.
    Thank You.
    This covered so many topics I have been intent on involving in.Being from Sacramento,CA.I grew up seeing this.However, when I became Muslim & vowed to set up a program,Ienrolled in an NA meeting with my recovered Step Mother (who graduated a pilot program we will model ours after insha Allah) ,one of my closest & most influential brothers demanded (with good intentions) that I “get the hell out of those meetings.” And, that was the end of that. Now we see, more and more, especially with current world affairs (people losing their families to war), the need for this work. Thank you for this confirmation Sidi.Insha Allah it’s_on!

  • A worthwhile article. Certainly, the Muslim community in North America (and probably elsewhere) needs to admit that there genuinely is a problem. Some people, believe it or not, may come sincerely to Islam but have already had substance abuse problems before they arrive. Allah (swt) knows best, but in many, many instances, merely reciting the “magic words” of the Shahada does not automatically and instantly take away the problem. These people continue to struggle, usually in isolation, either because there are no Islamic programs in place to help them or because they are too ashamed and isolated to reach out for help even if it is there. (And if they do admit their problem, in many places they might more likely receive condemnation and rejection than help.)

    Also, of course, there are “born” Muslims, i.e., individuals born to nominally Muslim parents, who never really received any meaningful Islamic development and upbringing in the first place, so in a non-Islamic society they fall prey to substance abuse, again with no one to help them and unable or unwilling in the circumstances to reach out.

  • Salam, it is a very elaborative post about addiction. Addiction is menace to every society, and it is very unfortunate if a person asks a question like that, if he shoots heroine does it break his fast? Alas, it is lowest of Imaan.

    O ye who believe! Draw not near unto prayer when ye are drunken, till ye know that which ye utter, nor when ye are polluted, save when journeying upon the road, till ye have bathed. And if ye be ill, or on a journey, or one of you cometh from the closet, or ye have touched women, and ye find not water, then go to high clean soil and rub your faces and your hands (therewith). Lo! Allah is Benign, Forgiving. (4,43)

  • what a month of Ramadan is gifted by Allah Subahawatallh,spitual feeling of this month is on boom but we do concentrate these practices for the whole years then our life make so peaceful and joyful.

  • Islam teaches us that being rich in the heart is more important than being rich in the pocket.
    that is the main principle of our faith if we follow this rule we will never defeat in any stage of life.

  • I am amazed at the Imam’s empathy. As well as the brother’s continued clinging to at least his fundamental tauhid, and preserved honesty to himself that he is in fact sinning badly.

    I find myself wondering how many of the early Muslims might have struggled with the same. Obviously the ones who were able to quit immediately are famous. But given the Prophet’s problems with hypocrites and the Muslims who were weaker in faith, surely he would have had to counsel at least some with substance abuse too, given the centrality of alcohol in the culture of the time.

    • Salaam. “Weaker in faith.” Perhaps (Allah swt knows best) this may be a key. To be blunt, many Muslims, especially those in the west immersed all their lives in non-Islamic societies, are weak in faith. Maybe they were born to nominally Muslim parents but never really had any strong Muslim upbringing and support. Maybe they came to Islam in maturity and were totally sincere but were weak to begin with and did not receive any real nurturance in the faith.

      In either case, being swamped in a non-Islamic environment, whether they were not well formed to begin with or already had problems when they came to Islam, they develop or continue to have struggles in circumstances in which many adulate the “strong” and look down on the “weak.” What would Prophet Muhammad (saws) have done toward such individuals who have grown up in a society so different from that of the Companions? I will not presume to say.

      However, it is easy for some today to look back at the circumstances of the Companions and treat those who are suffering today as if this were fourteen centuries ago in a far, far different society. They may be quick to blame but slow to help compassionately. How many real programs are there in how many places to help Muslims suffering from substance abuse problems, however they came to have them?

  • Asalamualakum,

    Jazakullah Khair for addressing this very real problem which Muslims are in no way immune to. I am a therapist who works with addiction in one of the nation’s largest behavioral health hospitals. A few tips to keep in mind:

    1.) Understand that addiction is a disease which affects not only the individual but the entire family system. When seeking treatment, look for a treatment approach which works to help the family along with the person struggling with addiction.

    2.) Pointing fingers and harshly criticizing the person will not do any good and can often do more harm than good.

    3.) Understand that addiction is complex and is impacted by a persons environment, ability to manage emotion, life events, and chemical and biological factors among other factors.

    4.) After a certain point it is no longer a matter of will power. We call this chemical dependency. This is where a person will need a higher level of care beyond a supportive environment or talking to an imam. Some people may require medication (ex. opioid antagonists like naltraxone) along with therapy.

    5.) For certain drugs and depending on the amount it is dangerous for the person to try and stop (detox) on their own. This could result in the person becoming seriously ill or even dying.

  • very good message conveyed by this article good effort made by author.i appreciate your effort.a good concept discussed by author may Allah give you more time to clear more concepts like this.May Allah give you more strength to write articles like this this article has got a place in my heart. in these days Muslims has gone away from the true teachings of Islam. the authors like you can play a good role to create a society which would be based on the true teachings of Islam.i really appreciate you.

  • i appreciate the author for this good article .i learn much from this article . drug addiction is a serious problem of our community and all over the world . due to this many billions homes has discarded . this article has got a place in my heart.

  • This is a wonderful article to bring attention to the topic of drug addiction or alcoholism in our ummah. Unfortunately it is a serious struggle for so many Muslim and non-Muslim. My own husband is a recovering addict. He was two years sober Alhamdulilah and recently relapsed. I was with him when he reached out to an Imam who basically turned him away. Kindly, gently – yet still, turned him away. What saddened me most about this, is the Imam was actively involved in the community with community service, interfaith dialogue, etc but was unable to handle the situation of a recovering addict Muslim. Substance abuse and recovery is a very SCARY experience for anyone – let alone our brothers and sisters who deal with shame, depression, questions of whether they’ll be forgiven, if they are deserving, seeking help and being shunned etc. There really needs to be a more open dialogue about this, more resources, and we need to be better educated in our local communities about substance abuse and how we can help people in need. May Allah subhana wa taala forgive us all and keep us Ameen.

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