Islam and Eating Disorders in the Muslim World
For over fifteen years of my life I’ve suffered from the Eating Disorder, Anorexia Nervosa. I have had relapses, but keep on rising up with a belief that the Eating Disorder is an illness that can be defeated. I run a blog and offer support to anyone and everyone who needs support to defeat the demon of Eating Disorder. This blog specifically creates awareness of Eating Disorders in the Muslim world, and offers information and support for sufferers and their loved ones. My campaign started from home in Surrey, UK and has now spread to countries across the world. I’m grateful for this illness because it has given me life from a different perspective, it has helped me to gain in-depth understanding of mental illness and it has connected me to beautiful souls from various faiths, cultures and backgrounds across the world.
War Against Eating Disorders founded in 2012 – run by Maha Khan. Please visit: https://waragainsteatingdisorder.com
*Please note that my experience of my illness and my recovery is only that my-own. I share all of this because I know that what I went through is not confined to just me, it relates to others as well*
I have been asked lots of questions on the negative voice of the demon of Eating Disorder. So many of us struggle with this voice in our head and its evilness. How did I recover from this menacing voice, how did I shut out its evil whispers?
I spent many years living under the slavery of this voice. Yes, I prayed, but with an absent mind. There was no concentration in my prayers and my mind was always so tired. At times I felt too tired and would perform my prayers sitting down and sometimes lying down. Anorexia robs you off your physical and mental strength.
My first step to recovery was NHS outpatient therapy in UK. Despite an excellent therapist and a brilliant psychiatrist, I wasn’t getting better. I was then sent to an Eating Disorder Unit. Even after reaching a certain body weight, my mind was still stuck in its disordered phase. Physically I looked fine, but my mental health was another story in itself. (Like many people with anorexia, I never wanted to go to an Eating Disorder unit).
After discharging myself from the unit, I went back to London to do some voluntary work. It was a difficult time. I spent whole days staring at the computer screen with a blank mind trying to shut out the negative whispers of the demon of Eating Disorder. Other times I studied lunch menus and planned elaborate lunches. At a low weight, your mind can switch from being rational to irrational but with the weight gain, rational mind becomes slightly stronger and it’s more aware of your thoughts and self-destructive behaviours. It was this coherent spurt of rationality that made me embark on a journey of seeking help for my disordered mind.
I never talked about the negative voice to anyone, even in therapy I never acknowledged or admitted that I had so many thoughts going through my mind. I always gave an illusion that I was perfect and in perfect control of my emotions and my life.
So, I started looking for something, any Islamic place that would help me to defeat this voice in my head. I tried other methods of recovery as well; I went to Chinese Herbalists, Buddhist group, relaxation classes, yoga, to no avail. I considered going to Yemen, to Damascus, to a remote village in Pakistan, to Egypt, anyplace that would provide relief from the negative Eating Disorder voice in my head.
In 2012, I came across the Sufi School of Teaching on internet. I contacted my local group and told them of my interest in joining a group for meditation.
Me and the Sufi School of Teaching
The road to eating disorder recovery starts with admitting you have a problem. I acknowledged that my mind was troubled and that my thoughts were irrational. In recovery therapists and psychiatrists emphasize changing your brain through positive thoughts, affirmations and behaviours. I wanted to influence my mind with positive thoughts. I wanted to recreate my connection with God and mostly I wanted to silence the negative voice in my mind and fill my heart with the praises of Allah.
At the Sufi school of Teaching, my first practice was to do silent meditation for 45 minutes every morning and evening. The art of meditation in Sufi school is the art of being with yourself, connecting with your heart to connect with Almighty. The meditation is also a way for an individual to realise that they are not in full control of their life but God is.
The Art of Silent Meditation
You allow the thoughts to flow through your mind. There were many days when I found the practices very difficult. Our actions can never be divorced from the state of mind from which they spring. This is the basic idea behind meditation. As long as our actions are based upon the needs to satisfy the demon of Eating Disorder they will in the long term reinforce the very feelings of discontent we are trying to avoid and will keep us stuck in the horrible world of negative living. My Eating Disorder mind, which was my subconscious mind, was 80% of my whole mind and I hated those negative thoughts with sheer vengeance.
I used to think, what happens if I stop, if I take time out from doing anything other than serving the needs of the demon of Eating Disorder? I was petrified of making that discovery and then I learned that:
Miracles happen, your mind changes, and you become aware of yourself.
One evening I was meditating and all of a sudden negative menacing voice was there, telling me that I was worthless.
And to this day I will never forget how I responded to that voice in my head, “No! I am not worthless! Allah made me, He made me special, He never creates anything that is worthless, Allah mentions me in the Holy Qur’an, I am special, so go away”.
That was it! From that day, every time a thought crossed my mind, anything that was negative, I would talk back. I became increasingly aware of myself, my mind and my thoughts. As days turned into weeks and weeks into months, I realised that I was changing, my appearance was changing, my thinking was changing, there was a glimmer of life in my eyes and my mind was becoming free. Through the practices, meditation, Dhikr, and Durood my mind slowly changed and I realized the greatness and grandeur of Almighty Allah . Contentment surrounds your heart and your heart becomes engaged in singing praises of its beloved Almighty Allah. This positive change enabled me to build up a strong emotional positive attitude to life and those around me.
I began to have the strength to stand up for myself and tell people what I believed in. To this day people are shocked by my strength. When a wedding proposal came for me, I told the family about my illness and the phases I went through. In a culture where mental illness is seen as a taboo topic, my blunt honesty cost me a lot. I didn’t get married and it upset many people and alienated me further.
I am a living proof of a person who has spent all her life under the slavery of Eating Disorder and prevails. Fifteen years of Eating Disorder suffering is a lot, but all I know is I’m strong, by God I have so much strength. I hate all kinds of Eating Disorders, because all Eating Disorders are dangerous and can kill.
P.S.: We all are different. Our experiences are different. Recovery means different things to different people. Some people recover with the outpatient therapy, some recover in the inpatient settings and some recover at home. Some people recover with the help of spirituality, and some with the help of other coping tools. But for some recovery is a long arduous journey full of trials and tribulations. Please seek help for your Eating Disorder. Embark on a journey that you feel is best for you. A journey to recovery is a unique one, it’s a journey of self-discovery and ultimate happiness. How many of us are provided with this ample opportunity to rediscover ourselves in this world? Not many, I believe.