Mental health no longer taboo in Muslim communities, say UK specialists 

Special There has been a significant increase in the number of people accessing mental health services in the last year, according to the UK National Health Service. (Shutterstock)
There has been a significant increase in the number of people accessing mental health services in the last year, according to the UK National Health Service. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 11 March 2022

Mental health no longer taboo in Muslim communities, say UK specialists 

Mental health no longer taboo in Muslim communities, say UK specialists 
  • The pandemic has made mental health more visible, while mental health issues have increased as a result of COVID and its implications, experts say
  • Supporting Humanity charity says they have seen a sharp increase in calls to their helpline in the last 3 months

LONDON: Discussing mental health is becoming more acceptable among Muslim communities in Britain and misconceptions are being properly addressed, experts have claimed.
“Mental health has been around for a long time, but we have not accepted it or actually sought help, and now we need to get minority communities in the UK, and globally, to understand that mental health is not a stigma, it’s not black magic or jinn possession, it is actually an illness,” Mohammed Kothia, an emotional support specialist, told Arab News.
“There’s a realization now that it’s ok to not be ok, it’s better to speak and address the problems one has, rather than suffer in silence or brush it under the carpet,” he said.
Another common misconception is that non-religious mental health professionals will impose their views on you and undermine your Islamic beliefs, Kothia added.
Muslim communities tend to go spiritual healers who may have no mental health background, rather than skilled, qualified professionals who have ethical obligations and a code of conduct.
“It’s important to seek help in the correct place, and I think as a community, maybe we have failed at times to do that,” he said, adding: “If Islam and your spirituality is an important factor in your life, then you should have an open discussion with your therapist or counselor.”
Kothia said that Muslims have the same issues as everyone else.
For example, the COVID-19 outbreak and lockdowns have caused stress, anxiety, depression and isolation to affect all groups. Families have struggled with death and grieving, especially when they were unable to see loved ones during the final stages of their lives or to perform normal funeral rites due to government restrictions.
Kothia said financial implications may become more severe in the months to come due to the pandemic, a rise in inflation, unemployment — especially among youth — cost of living, and a worsening energy crisis.
Personal wellbeing in the UK during the first and second wave of the pandemic was among the lowest levels in a decade, the Office for National Statistics said in its annual report earlier this month.
There has been a significant increase in the number of people accessing mental health services in the last year, according to the UK National Health Service, and as a result, a number of charities and organizations have taken a proactive focus to address the core of the problem.
Kothia, who is also heavily involved at his local mosque in east London and sees the issues in the community firsthand, said in the last five years, there had also been a massive rise in Muslim and other minority counselors and emotional support volunteers that are “breaking barriers,” and the next stage is to get more Muslim specialists in the field.
The other positive is the youth are now being taught about mental health, with hopes that it will not be stigmatized.
This comes down to education, Kothia said, which is why “awareness in the Muslim community and the wider society, will lead to more of us working in the field, and the more awareness we can bring to our communities, then naturally, that collective work will lead to a positive outcome.”




Muslim communities tend to go spiritual healers who may have no mental health background, rather than skilled, qualified professionals who have ethical obligations and a code of conduct. (Shutterstock)

The London-based mental health and bereavement charity Supporting Humanity runs a free emotional support helpline, and said in the last three months they have seen a sharp increase in calls.
Many people feel they are not heard and are worried of being judged, so the key is active listening, anonymity and confidentiality, Kothia, who also volunteers at the helpline, said. “We underestimate the power of lending an ear and listening.”
Supporting Humanity, which was set up at the start of the pandemic and has trained nearly 30 people to be mental health advisers, said the elderly were among their top callers.
“The pandemic has left a lasting impact on our elderly, and their anxiety and depression levels, and I think the government hasn’t addressed this issue that ‘shielding’ has had a massive impact on our society,” Kothia said.
Levels of loneliness in Britain have increased since last spring, and 5 percent of people (about 2.6 million adults) said that they felt lonely “often” or “always,” and that proportion increased to 7.2 percent of the adult population (about 3.7 million) by February, the ONS said in April.
“Some of them have been struggling for years and they talk about how they thought about committing suicide numerous times, how they trap themselves in a room because they’re embarrassed or scared to go and talk to other people, there’s so many people out there with various different mental health issues,” said Idris Patel, the charity’s CEO.
He also said more marketing campaigns and outreach programs are needed in community centers, schools and universities, businesses, GP surgeries as well as religious centers and mosques as they are “catchment areas” for people who are suffering or contemplating suicide.
The charity also regularly trains imams to explain the differences between black magic and mental health, directing people to professionals and charities, and highlighting free services.
Suicide and attempted suicide rates in the Muslim community have increased, particularly among youth, which account for half of the British Muslim population. A report released in July by the Better Community Business Network, a Muslim-led organization supporting mental health and positive wellbeing of Muslim communities across the UK, in partnership with the University of East London, found that 64 percent of Muslim youth said they experience suicidal thoughts and nearly one-fifth said they had turned to no one when undergoing difficulties.
Addiction is another major issue, Patel said, as parents are not tackling the root of the problem, are embarrassed to admit their child has a drug or alcohol problem, and do not seek professional help. So is domestic violence, he added.




Idris Patel, CEO of Supporting Humanity, was awarded the British Citizen Awards and the British Empire Medal by Queen Elizabeth II in October for his work in the community. (Supplied/Supporting Humanity)

Shamam Chowdhury was introduced to the charity after her 22 year-old son was murdered and needed funeral services, and was also introduced to mental health and emotional support.
British-Bangladeshi Mohammed Aqil Mahdi, an accounting and finance student at Greenwich University, was found stabbed to death in east London on Nov. 6. An online fund has been set up in his memory to raise money for a mosque in Egypt.
“I was very overwhelmed because I’ve never been in this kind of situation and one, I’ve just lost my son, which was shocking itself, and second, not knowing or understanding anything,” she said.
With police inspectors contacting her for statements, and then finding out she would not be able to see her son until after the postmortem examination, the 45 year-old single mother felt lost and alone.
The charity stepped in and handled all the paperwork, logistics, postmortem, the ghusl (the washing process Muslims have to undertake before burial), the burial and the funeral (janazah) prayer, as part of the end-to-end bereavement services its offers to help people focus on grieving.
“When you are in that kind of situation where you’ve just lost, I would say, your most valuable thing in this world, and then being in a situation where you have no clue how to go about these things,” she said, describing the torment of her experiences, but added that an emotional support adviser made her feel “like there was a light at the end of the tunnel.” 
She continued: “(The counselor) would take his time in the conversation to give me that emotional support, just simply by listening, asking simple questions like ‘how are you feeling today?’ And then from the Islamic side, he would give examples of hadith or Qur’anic verses that gave me comfort and content, it made a huge difference and it gave me confidence,” Chowdhury said.




British-Bangladeshi Mohammed Aqil Mahdi, an accounting and finance student at Greenwich University, was found stabbed to death in east London on Nov. 6. (Supplied/Shamam Chowdhury)

Describing herself as a strong woman, and the family sharing a tight-knit, unique bond, his sudden death hit them quite hard, having never experienced mental health issues before, the whole situation was unfamiliar to them.
Chowdhury also received emotional support for her two daughters, Anjuman, 25, and Hidayah, 10, and the eldest also became involved in some of the charity’s work, “because helping others meant that would help her to overcome it as well.”
She added that she has no problem paying for mental health services, but thinks the majority of services give “false hope,” charge extremely high prices, and in most cases don’t produce qualitative results.
Chowdhury, who is self-employed and has been teaching the Qur’an for 18 years, said talking, sharing and getting that support is so important, and urged people not to be afraid and not to let society take over.
“Our Muslim society plays a big role in people seeking help, because they make them feel it’s something that you should just get on with (and) we all feel sometimes that seeking help, or seeking support, or sharing is a sign of weakness, but it’s not, it’s is actually a sign of strength.”


Brazilian ex-model, Peshmerga sniper killed in Russian airstrike

Brazilian ex-model, Peshmerga sniper killed in Russian airstrike
Updated 10 sec ago

Brazilian ex-model, Peshmerga sniper killed in Russian airstrike

Brazilian ex-model, Peshmerga sniper killed in Russian airstrike
  • Thalita do Valle had fought among Kurdish forces against Daesh in Iraq
  • 39-year-old was killed in Ukrainian city of Kharkiv

LONDON: A Brazilian former model who fought against Daesh in Iraq has been killed in a Russian airstrike in Ukraine, Metro newspaper reported on Wednesday.
Thalita do Valle, 39, was killed while serving in the city of Kharkiv on June 30. She had traveled to the conflict zone earlier in June with former Brazilian Army soldier Douglas Burigo, 40, who was also killed in last week’s airstrike.
Metro said Do Valle had experience in other warzones, including a period spent in Iraq fighting among Kurdish Peshmerga forces against the terror group Daesh, another conflict that attracted thousands of foreign volunteers.
She was given sniper training by Kurdish forces that were a key Western ally in the international coalition to defeat Daesh.


Putin's aide warns US against pressing for war crimes court

Putin's aide warns US against pressing for war crimes court
Updated 06 July 2022

Putin's aide warns US against pressing for war crimes court

Putin's aide warns US against pressing for war crimes court
  • Dmitry Medvedev denounced the US for what he described as its efforts to “spread chaos and destruction across the world for the sake of 'true democracy'"
  • “That's why the rotten dogs of war are barking in such a disgusting way"

MOSCOW: A top Kremlin official warned the U.S. Wednesday that it could face the “wrath of God” if it pursues efforts to help establish an international tribunal to investigate Russia's action in Ukraine.
The Russian lower house speaker urged Washington to remember that Alaska used to belong to Russia.
Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy secretary of Russia’s Security Council chaired by President Vladimir Putin, denounced the U.S. for what he described as its efforts to “spread chaos and destruction across the world for the sake of 'true democracy.'"
“The entire U.S. history since the times of subjugation of the native Indian population represents a series of bloody wars,” Medvedev charged in a long diatribe on his Telegram channel, pointing out the U.S. nuclear bombing of Japan during World War II and the war in Vietnam.
“Was anyone held responsible for those crimes? What tribunal condemned the sea of blood spilled by the U.S. there?”
Responding to the U.S.-backed calls for an international tribunal to prosecute the perceived war crimes by Russia in Ukraine, Medvedev rejected it as an attempt by the U.S. “to judge others while staying immune from any trial.”
“It won't work with Russia, they know it well,” Medvedev concluded. “That's why the rotten dogs of war are barking in such a disgusting way."
"The U.S. and its useless stooges should remember the words of the Bible: Do not judge and you will not be judged ... so that the great day of His wrath doesn't come to their home one day,” Medvedev said, referring to the Apocalypse.
He noted that the “idea to punish a country with the largest nuclear potential is absurd and potentially creates the threat to mankind's existence.”
The warning follows a series of tough statements from Putin and his officials that pointed at the Russian nuclear arsenals to warn the West against interfering with Moscow's action in Ukraine.
Medvedev, who served as Russia’s president in 2008-2012 when Putin shifted into the prime minister’s post due to term limits, was widely seen by the West as more liberal compared with his mentor. In recent months, however, he has remarks that have sounded much tougher than those issued by the most hawkish Kremlin officials.
In another blustery warning to the U.S., Vyacheslav Volodin, a longtime Putin aide who serves as the speaker of the lower house of parliament, warned Wednesday that Washington should remember that Alaska was part of Russia when it freezes Russian assets. Russia colonized Alaska and established several settlements there until the U.S. purchased it from Russia in 1867 for $7.2 million.
“When they attempt to appropriate our assets abroad, they should be aware that we also have something to claim back,” Volodin said during a meeting with lawmakers.


Germany eases path to permanent residency for migrants

Germany eases path to permanent residency for migrants
Updated 06 July 2022

Germany eases path to permanent residency for migrants

Germany eases path to permanent residency for migrants
  • The new regulation applies to about 136,000 people who have lived in Germany for at least five years
  • Those who qualify can first apply for a one-year residency status and subsequently apply for permanent residency

BERLIN: Tens of thousands of migrants, who have been living in Germany for years without long-lasting permission to remain in the country, will be eligible for permanent residency after the government approved a new migration bill Wednesday.
The new regulation, endorsed by the Cabinet, applies to about 136,000 people who have lived in Germany for at least five years by Jan. 1, 2022.
Those who qualify can first apply for a one-year residency status and subsequently apply for permanent residency in Germany.
They must earn enough money to make an independent living in the country, speak German and prove that they are “well integrated” into society.
Those under the age of 27 can already apply for a path to permanent residency in Germany after having lived in the country for three years.
“We want people who are well integrated to have good opportunities in our country," Interior Minister Nancy Faeser told reporters. “In this way, we also put an end to bureaucracy and uncertainty for people who have already become part of our society.”
The new migration regulation will also make it easier for asylum-seekers to learn German — so far only those with a realistic chance of receiving asylum in the country were eligible for language classes — with all asylum applicants getting the chance to enroll in classes.
For skilled laborers, such as information technology specialists and others that hold professions that are desperately needed in Germany, the new regulation will allow that they can move to Germany together with their families right away, which wasn’t possible before. Family members don't need to have any language skills before moving to the country.
“We need to attract skilled workers more quickly. We urgently need them in many sectors,” Faeser said. “We want skilled workers to come to Germany very quickly and gain a foothold here.”
The bill will also make it easier to deport criminals, includes extending detention pending deportation for certain offenders from three months to a maximum of six months. The extension is intended to give authorities more time to prepare for deportation, such as clarifying identity, obtaining missing papers and organizing a seat on an airplane, German news agency dpa reported.
“In the future, it will be easier to revoke the right of residence of criminals,” Faeser said. "For offenders, we will make it easier to order detention pending deportation, thus preventing offenders who are obliged to leave the country from going into hiding before being deported.”


In Pyrenees, Spain police hunt French double murder suspect

In Pyrenees, Spain police hunt French double murder suspect
Updated 06 July 2022

In Pyrenees, Spain police hunt French double murder suspect

In Pyrenees, Spain police hunt French double murder suspect
  • The pair were shot dead on Monday afternoon in a village near the town of Tarbes
  • Since then police had been carrying out "a full search" of the area around Jaca

MADRID: Spanish police were hunting the central Pyrenees on Wednesday for a man suspected of killing two teachers in a French village across the border, a spokeswoman said.
The pair were shot dead on Monday afternoon in a village near the town of Tarbes, where they both worked, with the suspected gunman fleeing on a motorcycle, a source close to the French inquiry told AFP.
His motorcycle was found abandoned on the Spanish side of the border in the northeastern Aragon region, prompting Spanish police to pick up the search on Tuesday, a source close to the inquiry told AFP.
Since then police had been carrying out “a full search” of the area around Jaca, a town that lies about 200 kilometers (124 miles) southwest of Tarbes, a police spokeswoman told AFP.
The search continued through the night and “is ongoing,” she said, without giving further details.
Neither French nor Spanish police gave any details about the suspect’s identity.
The teachers were shot dead in Pouyastruc village on Monday, prosecutors said.
The first victim, a 32-year-old woman, was found lying in the street by neighbors, while other, a man of 55, was found dead in his home, just meters away, the prosecutor said.
The suspect, who is in his 30s, was the woman’s former partner, a source close to the inquiry said.
They had two children together and were in the process of separating, suggesting the murders may have been a crime of passion.
The woman, identified as Aurelie Pardon, taught French at the school in Tarbes while the man, Gabriel Fourmigue, was a sports teacher at the same establishment who was known for representing France in bobsleigh at international level in the early 1990s.


UK’s Johnson battles to stay in job after top ministers quit

UK’s Johnson battles to stay in job after top ministers quit
Johnson made the remarks in parliament in response to a question from a lawmaker in his own party. (AFP)
Updated 06 July 2022

UK’s Johnson battles to stay in job after top ministers quit

UK’s Johnson battles to stay in job after top ministers quit
  • Johnson made the remarks in parliament in response to a question from a lawmaker in his own party

LONDON: A defiant British Prime Minister Boris Johnson battled to remain in office Wednesday, shrugging off calls for his resignation after two top ministers and a slew of junior officials said they could no longer serve under his scandal-tarred leadership.
Members of the opposition Labour Party showered Johnson with shouts of “Go! Go!’’ during the weekly ritual of Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons as critics argued the leader’s days were numbered following his poor handling of sexual misconduct allegations against a senior official.
But more damningly, members of Johnson’s own Conservative Party — wearied by the many scandals he has faced — also challenged their leader, with one asking whether there was anything that might prompt him to resign.
“Frankly … the job of the prime minister in difficult circumstances, when he’s been handed a colossal mandate, is to keep going,’’ Johnson replied, with the bluster he has used to fend off critics throughout nearly three years in office. “And that’s what I’m going to do.”
His fellow Conservatives listened quietly, but offered little support.
Johnson is known for his ability to wiggle out of tight spots, managing to remain in power despite suggestions that he was too close to party donors, protected supporters from bullying and corruption allegations, and misled Parliament about parties in government offices that broke COVID-19 lockdown rules.
He hung on even when 41 percent of Conservative lawmakers voted to oust him in a no-confidence vote last month and formerly loyal lieutenants urged him to resign.
But recent revelations that Johnson knew about sexual misconduct allegations against a lawmaker before he promoted the man to a senior position in his government have pushed him to the brink.
Many of his fellow Conservatives are concerned that Johnson no longer has the moral authority to govern at a time when difficult decisions are needed to address soaring food and energy prices, rising COVID-19 infections and the war in Ukraine. Others worry that a leader renowned for his ability to win elections may now be a liability at the ballot box.
Former Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who helped trigger the current crisis when he resigned Tuesday night, captured the mood of many lawmakers when he said Johnson’s actions threatened to undermine the integrity of the Conservative Party and the British government.
“At some point we have to conclude that enough is enough,” he told fellow lawmakers. “I believe that point is now.”
Johnson’s grilling in Parliament was the first of two Wednesday. He was also questioned by a committee of senior lawmakers.
How Johnson handles the questioning may determine whether the simmering rebellion in the Conservative Party gathers enough strength to oust him. Also looming was a meeting of the leadership of a powerful Conservative Party committee — and action there could signal whether lawmakers have the appetite to pursue another vote of no-confidence.
Months of discontent over Johnson’s judgment and ethics erupted when Javid and Treasury chief Rishi Sunak resigned within minutes of each other on Tuesday evening. The two heavyweights of the Cabinet were responsible for tackling two of the biggest issues facing Britain — the cost-of-living crisis and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
In a scathing letter, Sunak said “the public rightly expect government to be conducted properly, competently and seriously. … I believe these standards are worth fighting for and that is why I am resigning.”
Javid said the party needed “humility, grip and a new direction” but “it is clear this situation will not change under your leadership.”
Mindful of the need to shore up confidence, Johnson quickly replaced the ministers, promoting Nadhim Zahawi from the education department to treasury chief and installing his chief of staff, Steve Barclay, as health secretary.
But a string of resignations by more junior members — from both the moderate and right-wing of the Conservative party — that followed late Tuesday and early Wednesday underscored the danger to Johnson.
Former International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell said late Tuesday that the prime minister’s time was finally up.
“It’s a bit like the death of Rasputin: He’s been poisoned, stabbed, he’s been shot, his body’s been dumped in a freezing river, and still he lives,’’ Mitchell told the BBC. “But this is an abnormal prime minister, a brilliantly charismatic, very funny, very amusing, big, big character. But I’m afraid he has neither the character nor the temperament to be our prime minister.”
The final straw for Sunak and Javid was the prime minister’s shifting explanations about his handling of allegations against Chris Pincher.
Last week, Pincher resigned as Conservative deputy chief whip after complaints he groped two men at a private club. That triggered a series of reports about past allegations leveled against Pincher and questions about what Johnson knew when he tapped Pincher for a senior job enforcing party discipline.
Johnson’s office initially said he wasn’t aware of the previous accusations when he promoted Pincher in February. By Monday, a spokesman said Johnson did know of the allegations — but they were “either resolved or did not progress to a formal complaint.”
When a former top civil servant in the Foreign Office contradicted that, saying Johnson was briefed about a 2019 allegation that resulted in a formal complaint, Johnson’s office said the prime minister had forgotten about the briefing.
It was all too much for ministers who have been sent out to defend the government’s position in radio and TV interviews, only to find the story changed within a few hours.
Bim Afolami, who quit as Conservative Party vice chairman on Tuesday, said he had been willing to give Johnson the benefit of the doubt — until the Pincher affair.
“The difficulty is not overall the program of the government,” he said. “The problem is character and integrity in Downing Street, and I think that people in the Conservative Party and people in the country know that.”
Paul Drechsler, chair of the International Chamber of Commerce in Britain, said change is needed at the top if the government is going to address a growing economic crisis.
“I would say the most important thing to do is to feed people who are hungry,’’ he told the BBC. “The poorest in our society are going to be starving to death the second half of this year. That needs to be addressed.”