Category Archives: Recovery Matters

Sex, Drugs & Broken Souls – Recovery in the bedroom

wedding_handsThis page is intended to discuss how addiction has impacted our relationships with our spouses, focussing mainly on the bedroom. Sex is not often spoken about by Imams and Islamic teachers. Muslims often shy away from this subject. Sex is a part of our lives as married Muslims and as we enter into recovery from addiction this is a very important matter to discuss.  Before we go any further, let us take a look at the science behind sex, what happens in the brain and how the body responds, in order that we might reflect on why this is such an important aspect of our lives – especially when in recovery from addiction.

It’s all about chemistry 

From the first point of thought – not always conscious – a chemical reaction is taking place. Men and women produce these chemicals differently, each partner having a different yet unifying experience as those chemicals play unique roles in preparing the person, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually for this unity. Not only do the chemicals ready the body for the act of sex but those chemicals that are produced thereafter have a cementing effect on these two souls coming together and staying together. The mainbrains players are dopamine, the reward hormone; prolactin, the hormone of satiation; oxytocin, the ‘cuddle hormone’, and levels of androgen receptors, which all powerfully affect our mood, our desire for intimacy, the way we feel about our spouse, stress and anxiety levels as well as our susceptibility to addictive activities and substances. These hormones play very different roles, yet are also interlinked to one main role – the desire to keep having sex! Let us look at how they all work:

Love-HormoneDOPAMINE:  Dopamine is the hormone responsible for feelings of pleasure and reward. Its the feel good hormone that the brain releases during times of pleasure. It is the neurotransmitter produced when we take drugs. That is what can potentially make sex so addictive. Just as we might continue to crave drugs or engage in gambling, we can also crave the feeling that dopamine gives us through acts of sexual pleasure. It is the neurotransmitter that tells us that a reward is imminent. The body will respond to the expectation that the reward will arrive soon, in this case an orgasm. This expectation of reward is what causes the person to crave sex, to seek it out or to turn to impermissible means in order to relieve oneself of that urge. In marriage, this reward expectation can sometimes be triggered through the use of certain words, expressions on ones face, or generally through the flirtations of each spouse towards the other as well as visual triggers. Once the hope of this reward has been triggered, dopamine continues to secrete  and the sexual urges become stronger. During sexual activity dopamine levels steadily increase until the ultimate release of the highest ‘explosion’ of dopamine during orgasm – the reward.

After orgasm dopamine levels fall sharply and can cause  withdrawal symptoms similar to that of one craving their drug of choice. This reaction tends to be immediate in males and delayed in females. As dopamine levels fall the brain begins to counteract the withdrawal symptoms, including a drop in feelings of pleasure and contentment, by producing a different chemical that helps bond the couple together, oxytocin. We shall come back to this shortly.


The male hormone responsibly for sexual urges and desires as well as strength, bravery and the ability to fight and be aggressive. Build up of testosterone can cause the male to feel greater urge to have sex. Once he has achieved that goal and reached orgasm, the levels of testosterone dramatically drop. Low testosterone is associated with irritability and anger. 

With a drop in both dopamine and testosterone levels following sex is it any wonder that some men in recovery have claimed that they often crave their drug of choice following sexual activity. This is an important factor to think about when in recovery from addiction.

Substances and other addictions can lead to the damage of the part of the brain2014-06-03-6-unwanted-symptoms-of-low-testosterone-1 responsible for producing dopamine. Levels can remain low for many months as the brain takes time to repair the damage caused by addiction. This often means recovering addicts can take a while to begin to enjoy the activities they used to do prior to their drug use. With lower domapine levels it may mean that the sex drive is lower or less enjoyment is experienced in the bedroom with their partner. This can lead to feelings of frustration and also cause problems with emotionally connecting as the partner may sense that they are not really interested or enjoying this moment together. This can leave recovering addicts vulnerable to going back to their addiction. The best advise is to have patience and realise that this is one of the consequences of ones addiction. Considering the damage that has been caused is something that ought to incite relapse prevention.

How often have you heard things like “men think with their penis”? Well it is true that in many cases once a man becomes aroused he can find it difficult to control his actions. Testosterone has men doing things they don’t even know they’re doing, like getting erections. According to Louann Brizendine in The Male Brain, “These reflexive erections are different from true sexual arousal because they come from unconscious signals from his spinal cord and brain, not from a conscious desire to have sex. The testosterone receptors that live on the nerve cells in a man’s spinal cord, testicles, penis, and brain are what activate his entire sexual network. Women are surprised that the penis can operate on autopilot and even more surprised that men don’t always know when they’re getting an erection.”

testosterone-boosters-effects-1With this in mind is it any wonder the Prophet of Allah, saws, said “O young men, whoever among you can afford to get married, let him do so, and whoever cannot afford it, let him fast, for that will be a shield for him.” (Agreed upon, from the hadeeth of Ibn Mas’ood, may Allaah be pleased with him. Al-Bukhaari, 4778; Muslim, 1400). No 4695 Narrated Sahl bin Sad. Fasting helps one control our desires and therefore helps the young man to overcome his urges for stimulation through sexual activity. Perhaps, the one who is unmarried and in recovery from addiction, especially sexually addictive behaviours, may benefit greatly from incorporating fasting into his recovery programme as well as those who are in the early stages of repairing the relationship with ones spouse and sex is not quite on the cards yet. 


Also known as ‘the cuddle hormone’ Oxytocin helps to counteract what would feel like a downward decline of emotions what with the sudden decline of both testosterone and dopamine. What goes up must come down and preventing a painful crash,  oxytocin is what brings you down to that warm, fuzzy, post-coital place and makes the couple feel loving towards each other. Oxytocin also counteracts fear, which is associated with high cortisol levels and stress, which is why sex can be a great sex-buster too. oxytocin-chemical-molecule-hormone-_love_trust_bond

Oxytocin leads to strong pair-bonding and is the same hormone that is released during breastfeeding to help bring a connection between mother and baby. Similarly that post-sex feeling of closeness is brought about my oxytocin and helps couples feel more emotionally close and trusting of each other, something that we often need to build in when in recovery. Oxytocin is also a pain-relieving chemical, hence also why we feel that warm feeling that some of our drug of choices can offer (without the nasty withdrawal).


Serotonin is often nick-named the happy hormone and is released during sex. This hormone is responsible for lifting our mood and making us feel good.

So all these chemicals combined have the capacity to help us feel happier, closer to our partners, relieve pain, life mood and avoid depression, feel pleasure and bond to our spouse. This all has a very relaxing effect on the person too. The part of the brain known as the prefrontal cortex winds down after ejaculation. This, along with the release of oxytocin and serotonin, causes an overall feeling of relaxation, and in men especially, a feeling of sleepiness and reduction in worry about the here and  now day to day life struggles.

So as you can see, Allah has created us in such a way that sex can produce a chemical experience. It is Allah’s way of providing us a space to almost lose ourselves, momentarily, with our spouse. During sex, we forget all our problems, we receive pleasure as well as take pleasure from giving pleasure. This is something Allah has given us to reach a state of consciousness that is out of the ordinary – something we as addicts we are constantly seeking. So in the right way, sex can provide us with this escapism we are seeking. With all these chemical changes happening, no wonder sex can be addictive for some. As Muslims, we live in balance, without taking anything to the extreme and when it comes to making love, it must stay within the limits and boundaries of Islam.

Sex is a spiritual thing

B_siroWWcAAFrXqAs Muslims we believe all acts that are permissible are acts of worship. When we make love to our spouses we do so with the intention that this is pleasing to God. One day the Prophet Muhammad, pbuh, informed his companions that they would be rewarded when making love to their wives. One of the companions asked him “Oh Messenger of Allah! A person would be rewarded while satisfying his sexual need? Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) replied: Yes. Isn’t it that he would be punished had he practiced sex illegally? The same applies if a Muslim practiced a lawful intercourse with his spouse. As such, he would be rewarded” (Ahmad)

Studies have shown that sex has similar effects on the brain as do acts of worship such as prayer and meditation. In particular aJefferson University neuroscientist Andrew Newberg scanned the brains of praying Catholic nuns and meditating Buddhist monks and found some overlap between their neural activity and that of sexually aroused subjects (as seen in scans from other researchers). “The correlation makes sense, according to Newberg. Just as sex involves a rhythmic activity so do religious practices such as chanting, dancing and repetition of a mantra. Religious experiences produce sensations of bliss, transcendence beyond one’s self and unity with the loved one that is very like the ecstasy of orgasm. That may be why some mystics, such as St. Teresa, describe their rapture with romantic or even sexual language.”

Therefore, as we do our best to steer clear of substances or behaviours that we were addicted to, forming a healthy sexual relationship with our spouses can help to achieve this spiritual state, physical pleasure, togetherness and bonding, belonging and sensuality. All those things we would crave through drink, drugs or gambling. The difference being that there are no negative consequences to the escapism sought through two consenting spouses in love-making.

Damaging effects of Drugs on the Sex drive: 5245146_orig

Cocaine: Although cocaine has a reputation as an aphrodisiac, end up having the reverse effect. It increases sexual desire while impairing or delaying orgasm. However, a symptom of heavy cocaine abuse is a massive decline in sex drive and activity. Chronic cocaine use can impair sexual function in men and women. In men, cocaine can cause delayed or impaired ejaculation.

Marijuana: Overall, scientific research seems to discredit the drug’s ability to heighten sexual stimulation and arousal. Marijuana may distort users’ sense of time, thus, creating the illusion of prolonged arousal and orgasm. Marijuana usually transcends each partner into his or her own personal space, therefore, emotionally distancing partners instead of bringing them closer.

Heroin/opioids: Generally opiate users lose interest in sex and find it difficult to engage in sexual activity. It can also have a detrimental affect on the reproductive organs for both male and females meaning it can be difficult to conceive. Opiates stop the hormone testosterone from being released, hence causing secondary psychological problems such as lack of motivation and can lead to low mood and depression.

Drugs do over time damage the parts of the brain responsibly for producing all the hormones we have discussed above, which can not only take the enjoyment away from sex but can reduce libido so that a person can lose interest in sex all together. This can then cause more difficulties in the marriage as well as lead to other psychological problems such as depression and anxiety and perpetuate a cycle of issues that further break down the relationship with one self and each other. The good news is, with abstinence, the brain does often repair itself and the neurotransmitters can begin to be produced again naturally as they did before drug use began.

How to improve sexual relationships in recovery

broken heartFirst, we need to remember that our drug use and behaviour has been the cause of a break down in our marriage and our partner may not be ready to resume things with us in the bedroom. A healthy marriage is built upon trust and love. Where trust has been questionable one partner may lose the desire to fully let themselves become available sexually. In our recovery, it is important to understand that we have hurt our spouse and that we need to make amends with them on an emotional level and begin to rebuild trust and accept that this might take more time than we anticipated.

Husbands need to understand that there is one particular saying of the Prophet Muhammad that is often misused in order to try and coerce their wife into making love with them. Abu Hurayrah (may Allaah be pleased with him) said: “The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: ‘If a man calls his wife to his bed and she refuses, and he spends the night angry with her, the angels will curse her until morning.’” (Reported by al-Bukhaari, 4794). The understanding of this hadith is that this relates to a woman who refuses her husband for no good reason other than to upset him. This does not relate to a woman who has good reason, even if it is that she is not emotionally available to him to be able to engage in this. Husbands will do well to also remember the saying of the Prophet, pbuh, who also said;

“When you approach your wife, do not come to her like the animals do, but send a messenger before you. The companions asked, “And who should be this messenger?” The Prophet (SAW) answered, “A kiss, a caress, some kind words.” 

Recovery, is about changing the dynamics of our relationships, especially with those closest to us. Our spouse is most deserved of our kind words and sensitivity and we must put effort into rebuilding our relationship with them. Allah describes the spouses as supporters to each other and in such a beautiful way as calling the spouse our garment.

“Your wives are a garment for you, and you are a garment for them.” (2:187)

This means we protect each other, comfort one another and be as close as we can be to each other just like our clothes touch our skin. When Adam was in Paradise, he had all that his heart could desire but without Eve, he felt something was missing. He felt a sadness within him that was only cured when Allah gave him Eve.

“It is He who created you from a single soul, And made its mate of like nature in order that you might dwell with her in love….” (7:189)

 Recovery, is all about balance in all things. As addicts, we can often have the urge to dodeen even the halal things in excessiveness. It is important that we begin to take enjoyment from the natural ways to induce happiness in a way that is not out of balance. We must seek refuge in Allah from turning to the forbidden ways of relieving our urges. Allah has given us the opportunity to have this halal chemical change that is naturally good for us. As addicts, we must not abuse this nor our spouse and also be aware of how drugs effect our brains in more ways than we like to realise. Thinking of how they damage our sexuality and reflecting on this can motivate us to prevent relapse. Drugs will never give us that sense of contentment and pure happiness that lying in the arms of your spouse, loving you and you loving them, can give you on an emotional, physical and spiritual high.

By Lynne Ali-Northcott (Addiction Counsellor)


Islamic ruling on sexual etiquette islamic ruling on oral sex

‘Disciplining The Soul’ reflections from the work of Ibn al-Jawzi

12914752_10153282617236504_129960154_oIbn al-Jawzi (d. 597 AH) may Allah have mercy on him, was born approximately in the year 509 AH took a keen interest in learning about Islam from a very young age and began preaching as a child. He dedicated his life to learning and became a very respected and honoured scholar. He really had great wisdom with the matters of mankind, our psychology and behaviours. He became famous for his works around the matters of the soul with many of his books and works helping mankind to learn to cope with our hearts whims and desires. This article is a reflection of the chapters within ‘Disciplining the Soul’ and not only provides us with understanding the battle that goes on with our mind and desires but also provides us with tips and solutions to win the fight.

“Every breath we take is taking us closer to death. The time we spend in this world is short, the time we are held in our graves is long, and the punshment for following our lowly desires is calamitous”  (Ibn al-Jawzi)

Chapter 1: The Mind Ibn al-Jawzi describes the mind as a leader. The intellect is a gift from Allah. Through our mind we recognise Allah, we came to believe in Him and our faith in Him, His Laws and our norms and values are withheld in the mind. It is what makes us human and differentiates us from the animal world. It is our mind that, when healthy, governs the limbs and the heart and prevents us from giving in to our lusts and whims.

Chapter 2: Hawwa (desires) refers to the part of the self that pushes the person to obtain what it wants. This can sometimes be a good thing – as we crave ‘the good things in life’ that are healthy in both worldy terms, like good nourishment and sleep, or spiritually, like prayer and strengthening family ties. When Hawwa can be problematic for us is when we crave the things that are not good for us in both worldly and spiritual matters. I’m sure most of us can relate to this and the struggle we can have with our hawwa to give up the bad stuff and strive towards the things we know are good for us but might be difficult for us to do. A battle of the desires. “Exhibiting patience in the face of vice is a merit of the inner self by which a person endures both goodness and evil. Therefore, whoever lacks patience and allows his Hawwa to lead his mind has then made the follower be followed and the led a leader (page 23)”.  The sad part of this is – the Hawwa promises us that the bad things we seek will lead us to happiness, fulfillment, contentment – but the truth is that never is the reality. What is even sadder is many of us fail to give up on that promise, forever chasing it with false hope, while knowing deep in the mind that its a lie.

“When a person does not accept the judgement of his mind and abides by the judgement of his Hawwa, the beastly animal becomes better than him” (page 24)

Ibn al-Jawzi explains that the battle we have with our Hawwa and when we restrain it is actually easier than the unhappiness and regret that follows after those time we give in to it. The person of sound mind understands that the short struggle of fighting the cravings is far easier than the habitual loss of control that comes about by giving in to desires. “Being accustomed to something allows it to become an addiction; such as those addicted to sexual intercourse or alcohol (page24)”. 

ibn al-Jawzi recommends that one of the most effective ways for us to reject our Hawwa is to take time to deeply reflect upon oneself. By engaging the mind (our leader) we come to realise that we were not created by Allah to follow our Hawwa and we take an intelligent decision to try to restrain ourselves and go back into battle.

Chapter 3: Perspective of Mind Vs Perspective of Hawwa 

  • Hawwa calls to pleasure without contemplating consequences
  • We know if we follow Hawwa it will bring about more regret than pleasure, but we follow it anyway.
  • The mind knows we will stop getting  pleasure from the good things, but we follow hawwa anyway.
  • Hawwa stops us from using the mind to think until habits are formed and addictions develop.

The solution is to engage the mind. “He should be patient upon what the mind orders him to do, because knowing the excellence of the mind is enough for him to favour it (page 27).

Ibn al-Jawzi’s tips for the mind Vs desires struggle:

  •  Thinking about the consequences of giving in to desires, using the mind, is often enough to stop us in our tracks and not go ahead with chasing our desires.  This is certainly a technique taught to addicts in recovery in many clinics and rehabilitation centres internationally.
  • To reflect on what his desire is calling him to. And to admit that his satisfaction is never fulfilled by giving in to the urge. I’m sure many of us can relate to this constant need to try to satisfy the urge yet never truly able to.
  • Remember that by giving in to desire we find ourselves disgraced and humiliated and in deep regret.
  • To realise that by not giving in to Hawwa and overcoming it we will feel honoured, elated and victorious. Oh how wonderful is that feeling of happiness when we do not give in to our cravings!
  • To know that the more we stop giving in to our desires the stronger we become.

In the remaining chapters ibn al-Jazwi begins to outline the different kinds of addictions or behaviours in which following our desires might manifest. As we begin to recover from following our Hawwa perhaps we begin to become more aware of some of those secondary addictions or behaviours that have become part of our nature. As Muslims we must continue to use our mind to overcome these as much as we can.

Chapter 4: Averting Passionate Love (‘Ishq) This chapter focusses on how to prevent and cure excessive or unlawful sexual desire. The first step ibn al-Jawzi explains is to lower the gaze, stating that prevention is far better than cure and if one can begin to implement the lowering of the gaze, protecting our eyes from looking at the forbidden fruit we will refrain from eating it. He makes a rather scary warning about how if we leave ourselves indulging in Ishq it can lead to a very strong possibility that the cure will not benefit us.

“Therefore whoever wants the cure should hasten to it before this illness becomes deeply rooted and that is by blocking the means leading to it (lowering the gaze and by enduring it with patience” (page 28).

Modern research shows us that sexual deviants today rarely are fully rehabilitated, many of them failing to obtain parole and staying on the sex offenders list until they die. With sexual deviance, it rarely happens overnight, but through the continued exposure to forbidden sexual cues and experiences the person becomes sicker and sicker until often, as al-Jawzi states, the cure is of no benefit to them. So let us take heed and always protect others from the potential harm of sexual deviants.

Tips for overcoming ‘Ishq, sexual/love obsessions:

  • “Indeed self-restraint and strength are the best of cures (page29)”.
  • Aid self-restraint by increasing fear of Allah
  • Think of the humilation and regret following giving in to ‘Ishq
  • Think of how once you have indulged your sexual desire your lack of interest in the person/object of desire afterwards.
  • Think of the flaws and bad points of the one you desire
  • Think of the good qualities within our own selves and also in other people who might be able to help us get out of our obsession and meet our needs some other way. (e.g very often when we seek out sexual pleasure it is because of an unmet need such as a desire for friendship or to feel loved and worthy)
  • Strive to love Allah over all else and prefer His love over the love and affection of His Creation.

Chapter 5: Averting Gluttony (Sharah) focusses on 4 ways in which greed can manifest itself in an addictive way;

1) Excessive eating:

“Know that the wise must eat to survive, on the other hand the ignorant would rather live to eat. (page 32)”

Ibn al-Jawzi explains that Sharah can lead to us over-eating in a way that is not pleasing to Allah. He explains that the tips provided in the previous chapters are enough to engage the mind in order to overcome the hawwa. What he means is, it is the same process by which we become excessive in our eating as it is excessive in the other areas of our lives. It stems from the same place – obeying hawwa and disobeying the intellect. This is the case with all actions that are displeasing to Allah. We obey our own lusts in replacement of fighting them in order to obey Allah.

2) Excessive Sexual Appetite

ibn al-Jawzi states that there is a danger in having too much sexual intercourse, even if it is carried out in a halal way with a legitimate spouse. He warns against the physical damage that can be caused by excessive overuse of the sperm channels, putting strain on other major organs. He also warns of spiritual harm to the person stating “it becomes a habit that is done for the mere sake of satisfaction and enjoyment then one is practically competing with animals (page 33). As addicts in recovery, we understand nature of our obsessive behaviours and how over indulging in one area of our life can mean there is a significant loss to other areas, putting things out of balance wholistically.

 3) Hoarding Wealth

Ibn al-Jawzi warns of the obsession around hoarding money beyond what is necessary to sustain oneself and our family. He makes mention of the kinds of behaviours that can stem from this habit – working unneccessarily to obtain more wealth. What we might call ‘Workaholism’ today.  He refers to some classical poetry:

“And he who spends days in hoarding money

for fear of poverty, then what he did is poverty”

Tips for overcoming greed of wealth and workaholism from ibn al-Jawzi:

  1. Think of those who die having never benefitted from their wealth
  2. Understand, that which we seek, we never actually use for our or anyone else’s benefit.
  3. Reflect on the purpose of gaining wealth i.e to balance oneself yet hoarding and over-striving for it only puts us at a loss and not a gain.
  4. Consult with ones mind “whoever is overpowered by the disease of hoarding money will perish in the desert of greed and the only inheritor will be the mount and packsaddle (page 32)”.

4) Extravagance

Extravagance can manifest itself in different ways – often through overspending on our homes, clothes, ‘fine branded horses’ in other words todays luxury cars. Overspending is addictive in nature and stems from following the hawwa. We give in to the desire for new or numerous possessions until we often find ourselves in great loss or debts. As we get caught up in ‘shopping addiction’ it can be hard for us to stop.

Tips for overcoming greed in extravagance:

1) To think about how we will be accountable to Allah for our earning and spending of every dime, dirham, cent, penny, euro, dollar etc.

2) To know that Allah does not love over-spending

3) To consider those who are below us but also those role models of our past, who may have had wealth but chose not to use it to decorate their own selves, homes etc.

4) To think of the reward for holding back and to think of the ultimate reward in Paradise, where we shall wear clothes we cannot imagine and live in palaces our eyes have never seen.

“This world is a bridge and a bridge should not be taken as a home Thus whoever fails to be aware of this knowledge will be afflicted with the disease of sharah, and should cure himself by seeking knowledge, and contemplating the biographies of the wise scholars. (page 34)”

Chapter six: Refusing to take a Position of Authority in this World

“Know that the inner self loves superiority over its kind (page 35)”. However, there are many risks involved in taking a position of leadership. We have all heard about career ladders and progressive careers and heirarchy. In some of us, their is a disease that is constant in seeking out higher status. It means that when a position of authority is reached, the soul ought to be happy and satisfied with that, however it begins to crave a position even higher and is therefore not content. This type of person puts themselves and risk of falling into sin. Perhaps we have all met people like this, who do anything, at any cost, no matter who they hurt in the process to try and get to the top. A soul like this must break free from this thoughtless obsession with achieving by reflecting on his condition and how he is behaving at what cost.

Abu Darr approached the Prophet Muhammad, pbuh, and asked “Oh Messenger of Allah! Wont you make me responsible for anything?” so he touched my shoulder with his hand and said, “O Abu Darr! You are weak, it is a trust, on the Day of Judgement it is a humilation, a regret, except for whoever took it rightfully and fulfilled his obligations towards it.” (MUSLIM)

 Chapter Seven: Averting Stinginess

‘Abdullah ibn ‘Amr narrated that the Prophet, pbuh, said, “Be cautious of parsimony (reluctance to spend), for it has destroyed those who lived before you. It ordered them to sever the ties of kinship and they did, it ordered them to be stingy and they became stingy, it ordered them to indulge in dissoluteness (indulging in their immoral appetites) and they did.” (Abu Dawood)

He also said, “Two traits are not combined in a believer, stinginess and bad morals” (Tirmidhi)

We see from these two ahadith that stinginess and bad morals are linked together. Each stems from the same place, as have all in the above mentioned chapters – obedience to hawwa.

Ibn al-Jawzi states the cure for stinginess as follows; “.. is to contemplate, as one will then realise that poor people are also ones brothers, he is favoured over them and that they were made in need of him; therefore one should thank the One Who blessed him by consoling his brethren. One should also reflect on the honour of generoisity; for people should know that yuo enslave free people when you do them a favour and that evil people will ravage your state when you are stingy. such a person should be certain that everything will remain in his hands obnoxiously. Therefore, it would be better leave it before it leaves him (page39)”

Chapter Eight: Prohibition on Squandering

A person who spends their money quickly and without much thought is a spendthrift. This demonstrates that a person is not using their intellect or having a purpose to their management of money. Allah warns us against this in Surah al -Isra: “But spend not wastefully your welath in the manner of a spendthrift”. Ibn al-Jawzi suggests the cure for such habits is to reflect on the consequences of living in regret once the money has gone and being in the state of loss.

Chapter Nine: Elucidation on the Amount of Earnings and Expenditure 

This chapter almost sums up the previous above chapters regarding earning and spending. “The earnings of a wise person should be more than what he actually needs, and he should keep some savings aside to recompense for his loss lest a misfortune occur…for this is what the mind that reflets on consequences, commands, and what Hawwa that onbserves only the present state, is not concerned with (page 41)”

In other words, all the desire care about is the here and now – indulging and satisfying the immediate cravings. The mind thinks long term and weighs up benefit and loss with wisdom. A reflective mind will not succumb to the desires.

Chapter Ten: Dispraise of Lying 

Hawaa calls to lying and when we are stuck in our addiction very few of us will protect our addiction without lying to our loved-ones about what we are doing. “The cure of this disease is to know Allah’s punishment for a liar and to be certain that wen a person continuously lies he will eventually be exposed one day, then he will be disrespected in such a way that cannot be averted; his shame will increase, ear people’s disprespect to the extent that they will not believe him even when he is truthful, and their disturst will exceed beyond what he lied about (page 42).” Sound familiar? Addiction takes us to this place where no one trust us or believes us and the habit to lie takes over even when we could be truthful. Lies in themselves become an addiction and make us become a dishonest person. It is a habit that must be broken as we enter recovery.  ‘Abdullah narrates that the Prophet, pbuh, said:

“A man keeps telling lies and endeavors in telling them until he is written a liar with Allah” (Muslim)”

Chapter Eleven: Averting Envy

Envy is to wish that the blessing of a person be removed. It “causes insomnia, malnutrition, paleness, mood swings and continuous depression (page 44).” As addicts sometimes we allow ourselves to feel as though Allah has dealt us a rough hand and feel like everyone else is more blessed than we are. If we allow it, envy just keeps us stuck in our self-loathing and hatred for others too. It keeps us stuck in our addiction and eats away at us giving us justifications to keep on using/acting out our addictive behaviours. We must overcome this in order to secure our recovery. Thinking of those who are below us as well as loving for our brothers and sisters in Islam, what we love for ourselves will help cure us of this disease.

 Chapter Twelve: Averting Resentfulness

In many recovery rehabilitation programmes in the West, we often hear that resentments are the number one cause of relapse. When we allow the traces of other peoples bad deeds to remain in our hearts it can cause us to feel bitter and spiteful. These resentments can eat away at us if we are not careful. Ibn al Jazzi tells us that the cure is to try to forgive. This is not always easy so he suggests we try different ways to acheive the forgiveness of those who have hurt us or done us wrong. “First is to know the reward of someone who forgives, second to that the One Who made one be in the position of the forgiver and the other in the position of the one who errs (page 50).” We must always remember that any hurt that comes to us is destined by Allah, to test our patience or to wipe away a sin we may have done. Cleansing our hearts of resentments will help us feel freer and will aid our recovery.

Chapter Thirteen: Averting Anger

Allah placed us with the ability to become angry to keep us defended from harm. When it becomes problematic is when anger becomes excessive “as it disturbs ones soundness, makes one unbalanced and immoderate, such a person starts making wrong decisions which may even affect he who is angry more than the person he is angry at (page 52).” Anger stems from the desires, usually associated with arrogance, and causes a heat within the body that can lead to wrong actions. The one who becomes angry is best off removing themselves from the situation and reflecting on the excellence of controlling the anger for Allah praises such a person who does. The Prophet Muhammad, pbuh, also praised the one who represses anger:

“The strong  is not the one who overcomes people by his strength, but the strong is the one who controls himself when angry.” (Bukhari)

 Anger can lead to harming ourselves or others. Throw drugs or excessive cravings into this mix and you have a lethal cocktail. It is so important in our recovery that we learn to manage our anger in order to prevent relapse. Angry thoughts often lead to giving ourselves unreasonable excuses as to why it is okay to go and relapse.

Chapter Fourteen: Averting Arrogance

“Arrogance is glorifying one’s self and disdaining others (page 56)”. Although, most addicts spend a lot of time feeling guilty and lowly compared to non-addicts there are times when our addiction can lead us to feel higher or mightier than others. Sometimes we compare ourselves to other addicts who we think are worse than us and consider ourselves “not as bad as them” in order to safeguard our addiction and think we are controlling it. Sometimes we look upon others as more sinful than ourselves in order to think of ourselves as less sinful and justify our actions and tell ourselves “Im not hurting anyone”. To cure this thinking we need to honestly reflect on the flaws of the self. We must also fear the words of the Prophet, pbuh, when he said in a hadith narrated in Muslim:

“Whoever has an atoms weight of arrogance in his heart shall not enter Paradise.”

 Arrogance is also to reject the truth. As addicts we know we are doing wrong and going against Allah’s Pleasure, and often hurting our loved-ones, yet we continue to deny the truth and lie against it in order to stay in our sinfulness. We often do not admit our flaws, make excuses and lie to our own selves about where we are going wrong. The first step to changing this, is to start being honest with our own selves before Allah.

Chapter Fifteen: Averting Conceit

Conceit is an excessively favourable opinion of one’s own ability. How many addicts tell themselves “I can stop any time I want” or “I can handle just one drink, I will stop there”? This conceit stops us from entering recovery because it stops us from admitting our own flaws and incapabilities. Ibn al Jawzi tells us a wise man once said “A mans conceit of himself is an enemy of his mental capacities, and how harmful is conceit to the merits (page 61).

Chapter Sixteen: Averting Riyya (Insincerity and showing off)

The opposite of Riyya is to do all actions seeking the Pleasure of Allah and none else. As addicts in recovery we must acknowledge that all good is from Allah, every day we are clean is because of Allah and every good action we do is because Allah helped us to do that, inspiring our hearts. We do not seek the pleasure of people. We must get our intention correct as to why we are trying to come out of our addiction, because if we are doing it solely for ourselves or to make a human being happy then we are seeking pleasure from the creation and not the Creator.

“The general cure for this disease is to know Allah truly. For whoever knows Him, will make all his actions sincerely for Him, and would not see anyone besides Him (page 62)”. Coming out of addiction is not an easy thing and can be easy to fall into Riyya if we are not careful. Therefore, we must remain humble and remember that it is Allah Who helped us to get into recovery and every day we stay clean is because of Him pushing us along.

Chapter Seventeen: Averting Excessive Thinking

Or ‘Stinking Thinking’ as we might hear in the rooms of addiction recovery groups. “Know that thinking is needed…however if thinking is about that which is not fruitful it will be harmful, and if it is excessive it will exhaust the body (page 67).” 

Chapter Eighteen: Averting Excessive Sadness

Grieving over this worldly life causes us to forget the fear of the Day of Judgement. We should feel sad about what we are grieving but at the same time already make a decision on how we can rectify things. A Muslim is forward thinking. As addicts, by dwelling on the past we often get stuck in our addiction and keep relapsing. By focussing on the future and having an action plan we prevent relapse. “The best of cures for sadness is to know that one cannot bring back what he has missed, rather by feeling sad he is adding another misfortune to the already existing misfortune, ultimately making two misfortunes (page 70)” It is Hawaa that calls to sadness, not the mind, because the mind does not call to that which is not useful. The cure for sadness is to use the mind to busy ourselves in distraction and to try our best to be positive and push the sadness away. By dwelling on sadness, we cannot move forwards.

Chapter Nineteen: Averting Ghamm (grief) and Hamm (Worry)

“Ghamm occurs due to a misfortune that happened in the past while hamm occurs due to an expected misfortune in the future.”

Grieving over past sins will benefit us as we shall be rewarded  for that regret. As addicts it can lead to harm if we wallow in it. Worry should instead be redirected towards worrying about how we can achieve good deeds in order to receive reward with Allah. However, grieving for something we have lost from this world will not benefit us. We must know that it may never be returned, accept this and move on or else it will begin to harm us. Recovery from addiction is about forward thinking, not dwelling on the things we cannot change and having hope for the future.

Chapter Twenty: Averting Excessive Fear and Cautiousness of Death

“Fear and cautiousness occur in matters related to the future. A resolute person is he who prepares for what he fears before it befalls him, and avoids excessive fear of what must inevitably befall him, because (in this case) his fear does not benefit him (page 76).” Excessive fear can prevent us from taking action. It can cause us to become stuck. How many of us were afraid to come into recovery because change was scary. Or perhaps we were afraid to go to the mosque. Fear can prevent us from doing good deeds. Excessive fear can cause all kind of obsessive behaviours and even stop us from doing all the good things we want to do.

Section One: Excessive Fear

As addicts we may often feel “what’s the point of change? I’m doomed for The Fire anyway.” This kind of thinking is a negative way to be. Sometimes this can make us think about death negatively in an excessive way or can cause us to deny it all together. Recovery is about finding that balance. To think of death often enough to motivate us to change but not excessively to make us too afraid to do good deeds.

“If the thought of leaving this life saddens the heart, then the cure is to know that this world is not a dwelling of satisfaction, rather its pleasure and satisfaction is in departing it, therefore this is not something that one should compete to possess (page 77)”. What ibn al Jawzi means here is that the sadness is leaving the good deeds behind. Recovery is about wanting to leave this world with good deeds on our backs and striving to wipe out all the bad things we have done.

Section Two: Curing the Whispers

Shaitan, the accursed devil and his army, throughout our lives whisper to us to tempt us to indulge in those things that displeases Allah. And at the time of death he never gives up, trying to make us turn away from Allah. “As for the cure for these trials we should first mention that whoever is mindful of Allah while in good health, Allah will protect him when he is ill, and whoever observes Allah in his thoughts, Allah will protect hi when he moves his bodily parts (page 79).” As we come into recovery from our addiction, the more we turn to Allah and remember Him often, the more He will help us in overcoming the temptations of the shaitan. Ibn Abbas narrated from the Prophet, pbuh,  that he said;

“Be mindful of Allah and He will protect you. Be mindful of Allah and you will find Him before you. Know Him while in prosperity, He will know you in distress”. (Tirmidhi)

Chapter Twenty One: Averting Excessive Happiness

“Happiness should be moderate so that it equals sorrow (page 84).” Being overly happy and spending too much time in laughter leads to heedlessness, recklessness and forgetfulness of Allah and our duty to Him. We need to strike a balance as with all matters in recovery because “Surely Allah does not like the exultant (triumphantly happy)” (Quran Surah Qasas 28:76)

Chapter Twenty Two: Averting Laziness 

One of the most common supplications of the Prophet Muhammad, pbuh, was “I seek refuge in Allah from grief (ghamm) and distress , old age and laziness” (Bukhari). In recovery, it is important that we take a proactive approach because laziness can be very harmful to us and can cause relapse. (click here for article on relapse prevention around laziness)

Ibn al Jawzi teaches us that the cure for laziness is to reflect on the regret we shall feel when we miss our goal. The worst of punishment is to see the fruits of others labour while we have nothing. In recovery terms we need to consider that without motivation, striving and hard work we shall remain in loss and regret while others get clean and serene and achieve contentment.

Chapter Twenty Three: Identifying One’s Flaws

A successful recovery begins with us admitting to ourselves that we have flaws within ourselves that we need to rectify. Without this acceptance we cannot change nor can we get out of our addiction. It is only natural that the self will struggle with this (addict or non addict we all have lusts and desires to overcome). Ibn al Jawzi suggests some solutions when we cannot always achieve this by our own selves. One of those is such; “A person should take the wisest, most prudent of all the people he knows as a friend, as him to tell him about his flaws and inform him that in doing so he does him a favour. Then, when this friend tells him about them he should rejoice in that, and should not show any sadness, so as not to encourage his friend to stop telling him about them. He should inform his friend ‘If you hide anything from me I will consider you a cheater'” (page 90).

Chapter Twenty Four: Motivating a Low Endeavor 

What this chapter is discussing is how to bring the motivation level up. Something we need lots of in recovery, as discussed in Chapter 22. The solution is to look up to those with high motivation. In recovery, it is important that we surround ourselves with people who are highly motivated towards pleasing Allah. We must attach ourselves and find a sense of belonging with people who have a sense of purpose. Perhaps a charity organisation or an educational class or circle in the mosque.

Chapter Twenty Five: Self Discipline

“The basic principle is that mankind’s nature, disposition is sound and healthy. Whereas disease and defects are extraneous (not part of the natural self), every child is born upon the natural fitra (pure state)”.

Ibn al Jawzi states that within every human being there exits three capacities: a lingual capacity, a lustful capacity and an anger capacity. Allah has favoured us over the animals by way of our lingual self and by which He also shared a common characteristic with the angels. The wise person

“should make this self capacity predominant over the other two capacities. so that it becomes like a rider, his body becomes like a horse due to his elevation, s he be able to lead it where ever he likes and he should be able to slaughter it if he so wishes (page 95).”

Ibn al Jawzi states that “the lingual capacity should be dominant over the other two capacities, using and ceasing to use them as it likes and whoever is like that truly deserves to be called a human being (page 96).” Just as Plato also said “A true human is he whose ‘lingual self’ is stronger than the rest of his other types of selves, because if lustfulness is excessive, a person becomes an animal”.

We, as Muslim addicts in recovery, must reflect on this and begin to train ourselves so that our ‘lingual self’ – our minds, our intellect – become the governor over our lusts and physical states.  As Plato says; “Hence, one should tame his inner self by opposing lustfulness, controlling anger and following the lingual capacity, so he may become like the angels and avoid worshipping lust and anger (page 96)”.

Section One: How to Discipline Oneself

1) Discipline of the self is achieved through moving from one state to another: in our case from addiction/sinful for excessive behaviours to recovery/balance and working to good deeds that please Allah. The person must combine both hope and fear to achieve this. “He strengthens this discipline by keeping good company, leaving bad company, studying the Quran, beneficial stories, thinking about Paradise, Hell and reading the biographies of wise people and ascetics (page 96)”. 

2) Having a strong resolve and intention to ones self is the marker to change. We need to have a firm talk with ourselves and make a commitment to our recovery. “Know that if the self knows that you are serious it will also be serious and hardworking, it it knows that you are indolent it will become your master (page 97).”

3) Bringing oneself to account and judging our own actions is among the practises of disciplining the soul, otherwise known as ‘Muhassabah” in Arabic. (click here for articles about Muhassaba). In recovery, as Muslims, we must bring ourselves to account for every action in order to keep checking on what direction we are headed we need to keep track of ourselves.

Thus, this article has attempted to reflect on how this book relates to our lives today, as addicts in recovery on the path of Islam. If you made it to the end then say “Alhamdulillah (all praise is for Allah)” for helping us reach the end. My thoughts are that it is as though Ibn al Jawzi was alive today, writing this for us, not for those who lived beside him 1000 years ago. Islam is Islam. The scholars of the past knew and understood the nature of man, where we go wrong and what we need to do to get back on the Straight Path. He truly was “The Scholar of The Heart” may Allah have Mercy on him and raise his ranks. The biggest obstacle to change is our own selves. If we can discipline our souls and be constantly aware of the dialogue that goes on between our minds and our desires then we can take the path to betterment. Remember your mind is your leader. The mind is in charge. The mind is the boss of you and me. May Allah help us all to discipline our souls and keep walking the Straight Path to Recovery.


By Lynne Ali-Northcott (Addiction Counsellor) 

 Download the book for free here 


Is Addiction Recovery Possible?


recovery-relapse-roadsign212Because it just does not feel possible does it? Real talk now. Either yourself or your loved one has been trying desperately for years to give up the addiction or addictions and failed over and over again. We have seen friends try and fail or even die in awful ways. We’ve tried rehabs, day programmes, meetings, books, spiritual interventions, marriage/divorce, geographical moves, career changes, fasting, praying, new friends. No matter what we have tried to do, we take 1 step forward and 2 or more back. Is it any wonder we give up on hope. Is it any surprise to anyone that sometimes just carrying on with the addiction just seems easier. It hurts less to not be let down again – or so we think. National statistics show success rates in addiction treatment clinics are painfully low. Very few make it.

The top search terms that lead visitors to this web site are “dua” and “Allah makes the impossible possible”  and variations of those spellings. As Muslims, our knowledge and our spirit tells us that these two things are our survival to keep hope alive. It is these two beliefs that keep us giving recovery another go because we hang onto that glimmer of light, cast down to us from Allah. We cling to it, never giving up on the fact that dua (prayer and supplication) with the certainty that Allah can make it happen is what can turn our situation around. The only problem is like all our other dependencies, we rely on it coming true without being consistent about the part we ourselves play in it. We think one prayer called out in regret will solve everything and don’t understand why we keep slipping when we yearn for Allah so sincerely. So we stop asking. And hence why we give up on hope and begin to ask “is recovery possible?” And this takes us to a very dark place.

This leads us to negative and ruminating thoughts like “I will never get better” or “I amisolated-youth destined for Hell. Allah could change all this if He wanted to but He must want me this”. We begin to despair of Allah and sometimes we even blame Him. The belief that Allah can do all things makes us angry because we think Allah is choosing for us to stay in our sinfulness. We no longer think Shaitan made me do it, or my nafs made me do it – we are led to dangerous thinking – Allah made me do it. And this is a very rocky tract to stand on. Carers are on a similar thinking train, full steam ahead with thoughts like “My addict will always be an addict – they will never change”. And all the carers stop caring, abandoning the addict, giving up on the advise, meeting them with silent disappointed stares. Marriages and relationships break down. Mothers bear the guilt of breaking away from their sons. Daughters rejected by their addicted fathers left asking “why does he choose drugs over me?”

What a terrible thing is addiction and what a sorrowful state for the addict and all those around him or her. How lost we become. Lost until the point we see no way of returning.

waySo the verse on the left from The Qur’an where Allah tells us that He will get us out of any difficult situation can both aid us in our recovery and aid us in our addiction. “What a strange thing to say” you may be thinking. There is nothing so strange as the addicted brain. We are in a constant fight between our rational thinking and our addictive thinking as well as our soul that yearns for Allah and our desires that yearn for sin. The head and heart double battle. We know this verse is meant to give us hope, and it has many a time. But we want it quickly and easily. Instant gratification. We feel let down by Allah when think He has turned away from us. We know He can get us out of this hardship and yet here we are years and years later still stuck in this life. But we have to fight this negativity. We have to stop those blaming thoughts. We have to realise that Allah is always providing a way out, and always has done – we have just failed to walk through the opening.

Think back! Think back to every situation you were in before you sinned. No matter evennotleft for a split second – you had a choice. There were two paths laid out before us. One was one straight and one was crooked. We chose the crooked path. Every time it was like an opening was there but we decided to cloud it out, ignore it or pretend it was not there. Why else do we carry so much guilt? Because deep down inside we know we took the wrong path. We allowed that guilt to eat us up until it gave us another reason to just use, to blanket it out, to not see the door that Allah had just swung right open for us. So then we realise this – and then we blame ourselves. And then the self-loathing has set in. We look in the mirror and cannot catch our own eyes. “You disgust me” we think. Pain upon pain. And we allow this self hatred to keep us right where we are at. Throwing dirt at ourselves only buries us deeper. But do you really think Allah hates the one who sincerely regrets?

helpWhat a battle we have. What a busy mind full of thoughts and arguments with ourselves. Is it any wonder we lost sight of ourselves until it feels like we are drowning in confusion. Do you think Allah will turn away from such a soul who is fighting so hard to keep their head above the dark waters of despair? Do you think Allah would let go of a heart that continually questions, fights and yearns? Allah loves the soul that battles to stay close to Allah and cries when it thinks Allah has abandoned it. Always remember Allah never abandons any soul in this world.

So what can we do to make the impossible seem more possible? We believe in Allahs attribute that He is Capable of All Things but what we need to start doing is believing that WE are capable of all things with Allahs Help? Addicts have very low self esteem – even before our addictions took hold of us. beleive-in-yourselfIt was low self-worth that led us to make choices that took us to dark places. Most of us had a tough childhood with little praise or When you grow up without feeling truly loved you tend to give up on yourself pretty soon into adolescence. Once we set the path of addiction we are frowned upon by society and family, colleagues and neighbours. We begin to feel like the lowest of the low. An outcast. It is hard to set your sights so high when you are peeling yourself off the rock bottom dirty ground. It is hard to ever believe we can achieve recovery when we have told ourselves so often that life will always be this way and when others have told us we shall never change.

But without believing truly, deeply and ever lastingly that change is possible – it cannot be possible. We have to never give up the belief that we will make it to recovery. That we can do it with the Help of Allah.

changeNothing changes unless we make the changes. BE THE CHANGE. We must not think that crying to Allah from time to time, no matter how sincere, is enough to get us out of this dark hole. We have to know that if we are at the bottom of the well, Allah always leaves a ladder on the side. It is us who has to take the first step on the bottom rung. Once we place our feet upon it, we have to trust that it will not break and Know that Allah will help us take the next step, then the next and the next. We must never look back, unless it is to remind ourselves of how far we fell. We must keep moving up the ladder and never stop. Because every time we have paused in the past, we have fallen back down. And if we lose our footing from time to time, keep hold of the ladder with your hands and get back up. Never let recovery out of your grasp and never let the way out of your sights. The way out has always been there. We just haven’t had the belief in ourselves to make our way towards it. If you have kept reading this far – then now is the time.

Is recovery possible? Yes! So start making it possible. Because miracles do happen for those who believe in Allah and those who believe in themselves!


“Allah help me, I’m addicted to drugs and using in Ramadan!”

dua (1)Checking this websites dashboard today I was looking up all the search terms that people have been putting into google or other search engines that lead them to this website. One stuck out for me. “Allah help me I’m addicted to drugs and using in Ramadan”. Wow! The desperation of this statement – which is in fact a dua (prayer/supplication) to Allah – comes through tremendously. I can feel the pain of this individual. This person tapped out this prayer into the search engine and Allah guided them to this website. Who knows what that person will do next. Allah knows how helpful this website is to that person. It is Allah that surely Helps and Guides. Let us all just raise our hands right now, as you read this – yes, now – and say “Oh Allah guide this person, help them and shower them with Your Mercy and Forgiveness. Help this person and to overcome their addiction and help them to increase in those actions that build their faith. Fill their heart with eeman (faith) and taqwa (consciousness of Allah) and let them hate their sin and love to worship you. Ameen, thumma Ameen, Ya Rabb”.

So this led me to think about what do we need to do now in Ramadan if we are still using. Maybe we did not get off to the best start. Maybe we had great intentions but we fell, we relapsed, or things are not going as well as expected. Maybe we could not fast this year due to being on some kind of medication and we aren’t feeling the spirit of Ramadan and that is pulling us back. Here are a few steps to help us think about how we can make the most of what is left insha’Allah. Let us not give up so long as we have breath in our lungs.

1) Embrace the regret and then let it go regret

Regret is good. Regret is what lead that person to our page. Regret is what disturbs the soul and makes us think and stop and reflect. Let’s face it, in the passions of our addiction we get little time to stop and think. We use on the guilt to try and push it away before it becomes regret. I invite you to embrace regret. Give it the biggest bear hug you can because that regret is from Allah. The soul who sins yet does not feel sad before Allah is a very lost soul indeed. If Allah places regret in your heart that you are blessed because this is Allah calling you back to Him. So hold it and let it be the motivator for you to change. And then once you take those steps to change – Let it go! Hanging on to it for to long holds us back. Let it fulfill its purpose and then move on.

2) Make a firm intention never to return to sinfulness

hqdefault (1)Scholars say there are three conditions of making ‘tauba’ (returning back to Allah). The first is to sincerely regret what we have done. The second is to give up that action immediately and the third is to make a firm resolve never commit those sins ever again. As addicts, we have been here many times before. Crying to Allah, begging Him to help us change. We have been desperate, we have been humbled – but we have relapsed again and again and each time we feel more guilty and less hopeful that we will ever achieve sobriety. Never let shaitan take us to that state of thinking again! Some say Shaitan has not won when he gets us to sin. He has won when he convinces us that Allah will never forgive us. So we need to make those intentions again, firmly and with confidence that this time will be different. We make a promise to Allah thatsay-bismillah-and-believe-in-allah-1 we WILL do our best to give up on all those things that displease Allah. Western psychologists also state that a firm intention is the catalyst to change. So let us make it today. Renew our intentions. Let us do this for Allah and only for Him and then Allah will facilitate all the rest.

3) Do things differently

The chances are if we have relapsed or are still using in Ramadan then we are not doing enough. Ramadan is a time when the whole Muslim Ummah (world wide community) are trying to give up sins and become better people. We all have our addictions and vices in some ways. For some people its shoe shopping, back biting, working too hard, neglecting family, watching too much TV etc. In some shape or form most Muslims are striving to be better people. But isn’t going to happen if we don’t do things differently to how we normally do the rest of the year. It is all the new things we are doing that help to facilitate that change – going to the mosque, praying more, spending time with pious people, spending less time on social network, reading the Qur’an or listening to Islamic lectures. If we are fasting and all we are doing is abstaining from food and water, without changing our behaviours, then how do we expect to change? The Prophet Muhammad, pbuh, said;

“Perhaps a fasting person will gain nothing but hunger and thirst from fasting.”(Ibn Majah)

Ramadan is much more than just not eating and drinking it is about changing our whole lifestyles and that is what recovery is all about! The good thing about Ramadan is, that we have company while we do it! The rest of the family and community is also trying to change, to abstain to become better. That should make it easier for us, not forgetting the added bonus that shaitan is locked up so it is just me and you and our desires to handle.

So this is the answer – if we are using in Ramadan – do things differently. Increase in all those good actions that Allah loves. This is nourishment for the soul, cleanses the heart and distracts the mind – the greatest of relapse prevention rolled into one.

4) Seek help from Allah

“Allah help me” said that brother or sister that inspired me to write this post. If we are not asking Allah frequently for His Help, Guidance and Understanding how do we expect to get better. Dua dua dua! Keep asking and never stop. Allah guarantees us that He will answer every dua. He averts calamities that were destined for us on account of our making dua. That time we could so have easily bumped into a drug dealer or someone from the drug using community but Allah averted our paths – why? On account of our prayers! So many times it could have been so easy for us to have relapsed but Allah helped us, sometimes we may have been completely oblivious to what Allah has saved us from.


“And your Lord says, “Call upon Me; I will respond to you.” (Qur’an 40:60). So let us ask!

5) Get help from the people

Recovery is not an easy thing to do alone and neither is just being an ‘ordinary’ Joe Bloggs Muslim. This Straight Path is not meant to be walked alone. We need help and support from people too. Ask Allah to guide you to good companions in this life. Our company is vital for living a good spiritual life. The Prophet Muhammad, pbuh, said “You are upon the way of your friends”. Your vibe attracts your tribe and vice versa. We need to seek out those people who are good for us, help us to remember Allah and live good clean and healthy lifestyles. We naturally gravitate to those people that serve our interests. Birds of a feather, flock together.  If we are just interested in getting high, we will naturally flock to those who do too. If we want to make the most out of what is remaining of this month – run to those who are! So if we have been shy of the mosque up until now, we need to get down there. Make an effort, give salam (Islamic greeting) to others and extend our hands to shake them. Confide in someone about the struggle you are having – we do not always need to go into details and reveal our sins but we can seek out people and ask them to knock for us, call us, or meet up for iftah (breaking of the fast). The wolf devours the lone sheep.

So these are just five tips to get us thinking about how we can kick start our belated Ramadan. We must not feel so downtrodden that we give up. It is not too late, so long as the death rattle has not reached the throat, the doors to repentance are wide open we just need to move our feet towards them. May Allah help all of those of us that are struggling with addiction and help us to reap the benefits of what is left of this beautiful month and help us to gain Your Forgiveness and Mercy, Ya Allah. We are in need of Your Help. Ameen”


Lynne Ali-Northcott (Addiction Counsellor)

The Ramadan Buzz

Once upon a time if someone said the word “buzz” I would automatically think they were talking about getting high. That is what it used to mean to me. As a Muslim addict in recovery from substance addiction, that word no longer has the same meaning. “Buzz” to me means totally different things, as I now live in a way that values the natural high, the spiritual cry, the family tie. And that is just the way I like it. And the biggest high of all in this life is that moment when I feel connected to Allah and I literally feel my heart softening and my skin tingling and those moments come most frequent of all during Ramadan.

So let’s take a moment to compare the fake buzz of addiction to the real buzz of turning to Allah.

Buzz 1 – Squad Goals

Fake Mates So you think you have your crew, the ones that will have your back when the isolated-youthproverbial goes down or hits the fan. You think these childhood mates will be your mates forever and they love you, “I bare love you man”. Wrong! Addiction generally takes us to a solitary place. Not only do we end up losing our families and sober friends but we also end up drinking and using drugs on our own in the end. Addiction takes us to a selfish place, where often those people we thought would stand up for us when we needed them, don’t ever come to our aid. And in those times we try to get clean and overcome our addiction, they pull us back. If they really cared, they would not help us to relapse.

Real Deal “A muslim is the brother to another Muslim” so our Prophet taught us,  loving for eachsquad.goals2 other what they love for their own self. A friendship built on love for the sake of Allah is the strongest. In Ramadan, as we remember that the entire global Muslim community is fasting, squad.goalspraying and making a conscious effort to get closer to Allah it becomes easier for us to also step things up. We are not the only ones who returned back to the mosque, we don’t feel like a stranger when there are so many other new faces around. As we stand shoulder to shoulder with our brothers (or sisters) we feel as though we belong. Warm smiles, hugs and hands shaking salam bring the soul alive – that’s genuine love. The best squad of all is the family. Ramadan is the perfect time to improve ties and seek forgiveness and make amends with those we love and who deserve our affections the most. 

Buzz 2 – Guilt Free Prayer

The sinners prayer – So we hear often the people tell us that Allah accepts all prayers, no matter how much we have sinned. So why do we feel so guilty in front of Allah. Some of us feel so guilty about all the stuff we have done that we cannot even go to pray to Allah because we feel so ashamed before him. When we do pray, we might think “Why wouldallah.hate.sin Allah want me, why would He answer me, who am I kidding that He will help me this time when I just keep messing up.” Shaitan loves to fill our heads with these thoughts to keep us away from turning back to Allah. Allah does not love sin, but He loves the sinner who repents. We know this, but still we cannot shed this feeling of guilt – often a ‘reason’ to just keep using.

The Ramadan Prayer Ramadan gives us the opportunity for all our previous sins to be forgiven insha’Allah. When we fast all day and make that sacrifice for Allah the feeling of sincertainty that Allah will accept us is almost guaranteed. We no longer feel like we are different to other Muslims. So many of our friends and family, who are not addicts, start talking about seeking forgiveness and having hope in Allah that He will forgive them. We are all seeking the same goal. Suddenly, those guilty feelings don’t feel so strong anymore and where all those tough emotions lurk in dark places within, Allah allows the light of faith to enter. As we touch our foreheads to the ground we feel closer to Allah than we did outside of Ramadan and our hope in Him as our Forgiver just gets higher and higher. 

Buzz 3 – A sense of achievement

Useless Being – Let’s face it, when we are active in our addiction we feel pretty much aimagesnot-totally-useless waste of space, useless, liability to the rest of the world. We feel lack of purpose and when
we do try to do something good it can often go unappreciated, unwanted or just go terribly wrong. Addiction makes us low in self esteem, feel worthless and all this leads to depression and negativity about ourselves. It can be hard to get out of this mindset and this is often what prolongs us in our addiction and prevents us from finding the motivation to pick ourselves up and try again (and again, and again and again). 

A sense of purpose – Ramadan gives us an opportunity to have things to do, people to see. purposeWe begin to busy ourselves with the things that we know will help us to gain that spiritual high. We listen to talks, we go to the mosque, we recite or listen to Quran, we meet family for iftah, we pray. We begin to feel a sense of being back “I’m back!” as our mind clears and we start to feel as though we have found a purpose again – we find Allah again. This adds meaning and depth to the things we do and how we spend our time. As we begin to feel a sense of ‘normality’ again and begin to embrace life and faith we start to feel good about ourselves. A Muslim who realises their purpose in life will have increased self-esteem as they begin to understand that Allah has chosen us for something better. 

Buzz 4 – The physical buzz

Lost in the fog – Being caught up in sin and addiction is a bit like being caught in the fog and just feeling our way around, looking for a way out. We feel lost and confused. Wefog cannot see or think clearly. The arabic word for “Khamr” means something that “befogs” hence why we often feel that way. The phsyical buzz that we seek  out in addiction, is short lived. We are forever chasing the first buzz, the high of the early days when we first started getting smashed. We spend years, some decades, trying to chase that initial high – deceived by the thought that it is possible, yet knowing deep down that it is not. The fake high of our addiction brings only misery with it, what goes up must come down. And we hit the deck hard and manage to smash up all loved ones and everything we own on the way down. The body begins to die, the heart begins to die, the mind begins to die – we die. 

I can see! Ramadan helps brings clear skies. The actions we perform in this Holy Month, Rose-Colouredour efforts to come closer to Allah, help us to start living again. Our bodies begin to detoxify, throwing out all those nasty chemicals that were killing us. We spiritually feed and nurture ourselves so that our hearts are purified and our mental well-being begins to heal. There is no bigger buzz than starting to notice the birds singing again, the colours of nature, the sound of our own laughter. It is like coming back to life with new passion. 

Buzz 5 – Hopefullness

The ‘No hopers’ Addiction takes us to a place of such depression and sadness that we begin to lose hope day by day. Every time we have tried to sort things out, we have fallen.hopeless Each time we fall, the bump on the way down is more and more painful. Hope begins to vanish. We feel doomed in this life and doomed in the Hereafter. We begin to start giving up on everything and everyone, even Allah. 

This is it! Ramadan brings hope back into our lives at a time we thought we had nothing else to live for or even die for! Our spirits are lifted, our faith is increased, our family encourage us. This is our moment! Ramadan teaches us that anything is possible when we have Allah. We begin to think that Paradise is possible for us. We begin to think – maybe I am not so worthless after all and we KNOW yes KNOW that Allah does love us after all. 

The Prophet saws said: “…there are two moments of joy for a fasting person, one at the time of breaking his fast, and the other at the time when he will meet his Lord…” [Bukhari]

So let us embrace this Ramadan and if we put in the effort and try our best we will definitely feel the buzz! There are a few moments where we can say we can get a spiritual high, and Ramadan is one of the best of them. So seize the moment and do your best!

Making a Spectacle of Recovery

No matter what stage of recovery you are in, or perhaps you are a carer of an addict, I invite you to think about what kind of glasses you are wearing…

almost-rose-tintedRose tinted glasses: Seeing the positive in things is important but being unrealistic is not helpful. We need to be honest about where our flaws are and think deeply about what needs to change in our lives to make things a better place. Very often, it is the early stages of recovery, when we might be over-confident about staying clean, or we begin to dismiss the signs of an impending relapse that the rose tinted glasses come on. Or it can creep in at any stage when we are reluctant to work hard to overcome our challenges and become lazy – or worse, still fall, into denial. Carers too can often wear these glasses because the thought of their loved-one relapsing or using is just to painful to face up to. If we see things with too much optimism and fail to see the difficulties then things will go on without being changed. Over time our rose tinted glasses may fall from our faces and then it can be overwhelming, the moment we realise things aren’t so peachy after all.

Dark Shades: Opposite to rose tinted glasses, dark shades give us a world view that is dark and cloudy. Day time may look like night time as the shades shut out the light. In our addiction we felt as though great darkness had descended upon us, far removed from the light ofdarkshades Allah and the happiness that being clean and practicing Islam can bring. In recovery, if we fail to lean towards this light we can fall into the trap of negative thinking, often prediciting the worst case scenarios and becoming afraid to make changes that can be positive. These glasses are often worn by celebrities when they are either worse for wear or coming out of the gym without their make up. In other words they have something to hide. We can often hide behind the dark shades as a defense mechanism and keep others out. In our addiction, we may have become isolated or secretive, shutting out friends and family. Recovery is about letting people in so that we can come out of our isolation. As the Prophet peace be upon him said, “The wolf devours the lone sheep”. Being alone leaves us vulnerable to the whispers of Shaitan, where negative thoughts are born. Or maybe we are a carer, and we have become so used to living in darkness that it can be hard to feel hopeful. Having felt let down over and over again we stop allowing ourselves to feel hopeful that our loved-one will come out of their addiction, afraid of getting hurt. But this can be an obstruction, that just leaves us stumbling around the dark. Let there be light.

mirrored.Mirrored lenses: When people look at us, all they see is their own image. We haven’t found our own identity, or maybe we are not comfortable enough around certain people to just be our own self. When our self esteem is low, we begin to take on the personalities of those around us because we feel we are more likely to be accepted. We push the true self down, lock it away, or deny it all together. Prolonged periods of wearing these lenses may mean we forget who we really are, to the point we don’t even know who we want to be. This is a sad state to be in. Recovery, is about finding out who we are and beginning to show our true selves to the world, and to be consistent with that personality, not changing our selves depending on our company. As carers of addicts we can often change our own lives around to fit into the recovery of our loved one, sometimes meaning that we no longer get to do the things we like to do. We become so locked in, obsessed even, by the behaviours of the addict in our lives that we lose sight of our ownselves. As Muslims, we need to connect with our own self in order to strive towards pleasing Allah and following the sunnah of our beloved Prophet.

The wrong prescription: Have you ever tried on a friends glasses just for fun and thought “Woah, that feels weird”? Maybe your head was spinning, and you felt a bit confused and disorientated. Sometimes we can look towards other people in recovery or on the dean and think – “yeah, I want a piece of what they’ve got”. We try to emulate their recovery programme, Eye_Test-1matching them meeting for meeting, going gym, reading the same books or generally copying their routine. But we find when we do it their way, it just doesn’t feel right. It can be really confusing and sometimes upsetting when we try out an example of someone elses recovery and find it does not work for us. Recovery is not a ‘one size fits all’ thing. We need to get our own prescription. People practise Islam in different ways. Yes we all aim to follow the Quran and Sunnah (way of the Prophet, peace be upon him) but we are not all robots doing the same thing every day. There are many ways to catch a fish. So we need to get our own prescription and find our own way to stay clean on The Dean.

T1649Comedy Glasses: No one said life has to be serious all the time. Being stuck in the addictive cycle can be depressing and soul destroying. But at the same time, recovery is no joke. We need to make time for fun, play and laughter but at the same time, we must remember that it is easy for us to get caught up in that. Sometimes the feeling of happiness we get in early recovery can make us lose sight of the bigger picture. Maybe our social life begins to widen as family and friends welcome us back into their lives. Family begin to give us more responsibility as they feel they can trust us now. We begin to say yes to invitations and suddenly the world can feel like our oyster. This is wonderful and amazing but we need to take our recovery seriously and always make sure that within the fun and socialising we make time to reflect and contemplate on ourselves and where we are heading. May Allah keep our feet firm upon The Straight Path.

So these were just a handful of examples of the kinds of glasses we wear in recovery, or while caring for an addict. We will find that over time we become comfortable with our pair, that things seem clear and things work. But as we grow and develop and our vision in life changes we may need to think again about what glasses we have on. We need to strive to keep our sights clear in recovery, always looking ahead and only looking back to remind ourselves how grateful we need to be to Allah for having taken us out of that place. So head up, look straight and we thank Allah for giving us the ability to see and we know that;

” It is not the eyes that are blind, but it is the hearts” (Qur’an 22:46)


By Lynne Ali-Northcott (Addiction Counsellor)

Understanding Anxiety and How to Manage it by Amar Ali

 Amar Ali is a former substance misuse practitioner with years of experience working with drug users in London, UK. His article below offers an explanation of what anxiety is and what we can do to cope better during periods of suffering and how we can prevent relapse. There is also valuable advise for carers and loved-ones of those with anxiety-related symptoms.

Understanding Anxiety and How to Manage it

In this article, we will explore behavioural definitions for anxiety, the impact it can cause on individuals, how you can manage your symptoms, and a number of coping skills which may help you to reduce symptoms. All advice must be treated as such, if you have concerns about your welfare or that of others, it is important to seek professional medical advice. Just because you can relate to certain symptoms, does not necessitate you are suffering from a disorder, medical advice must always be sought.

Behavioural definitions for anxiety include

1       Excessive and unrealistic worry that are difficult to control the caring more days than not about a number of events or activities which may include

2        Excess tension e.g. restlessness, tiredness shakiness, and muscle tension. 

3   Excessive hyperactivity e.g. palpitations, shortness of breath, dry mouth, trouble swallowing, nausea, diarrhea 

4          Hyper-vigilance e.g. feeling constantly on edge, experiencing concentration difficulties, having trouble falling or staying asleep, exhibiting a general state of irritability.

The overall aims of reducing anxiety symptoms should be so that daily functioning is not impaired and importantly resolving the core conflicts which are at the source of the anxiety. Learning to effectively cope with the worries and anxieties and lastly learn to implement coping skills which may result in reduction of worry.

 In order to achieve a reduction of symptoms it is important to identify situations, thoughts, feelings and actions, which are associated with anxiety and worries. Furthermore by identifying thoughts feelings and actions, you will be able to assess the impact on functioning in order to resolve them. It is important to understand behavioural and emotional attitudes and how they impact on your anxiety therefore accessing professional medical advice to initiate treatment or self-help is of utmost important. The importance of motivation in changing behaviour is highlighted in many scientific studies and in clinical assessments because demonstrating ambivalence regarding the problem and reluctance to address the issue, may lead to unnecessary pro longing of symptoms.

If anxiety symptoms are caused by distress and trauma which are outside of your control i.e. cultural issues, marital issues and family problems, it is important to seek professional advice. If this is not possible, you can confide in people you trust. If anxiety symptoms are related to someone close to you, i.e. a partner, child or parent, it is important to understand that symptoms result in behavioural manifestations are underlined by mild, moderate severe, very severe impairments, therefore for your own well-being and the well-being of the concerned, it is important to speak to someone to access support.

Learning calming skills to reduce anxiety is another option which may help in managing your symptoms. Learning or calming skills may involve progressive muscle relaxation, mindful breathing and learning how to apply the skills to your daily life can provide relief. Understanding the role of cognitive biases which amplify excessive and irrational worry are important to understand. Cognitions, in simple terms, describe how we think about things therefore if excessive and unrealistic worry is making the problem worse, then we need to identify our unhealthy cognitions in order to minimise the impact on our behaviour.

Excessive worry can also lead to avoidance of a problem and can have an impact on physical health and lead to chronic tension. By identifying and highlighting fearful self-talk and negative thinking, you can replace it with positive, realistic and empowering self-talk, which is important as it increases confidence in coping with irrational fears.

Scientific studies have shown that gradual and repeated imaging exposure can help to reduce symptoms therefore by praying Salah and taking time to reflect can also be used as a coping mechanism. It is important to note that by praying and reflecting we do not associate a negative thinking patterns by unhealthy self-talk such as ‘I’m praying so why doesn’t God help me’, ‘if God loved me he wouldn’t put me through this’. These types of negative statements only perpetuate negative schemas and therefore avoidance of these is highly recommended and focusing on a positive mind-set no matter how hard it may be, would be more beneficial.

Finally learning to implement problem solving strategies for realistically addressing worries is a key element in reducing anxiety and stress. Problem solve by strategizing to specifically define the problem, generating options for addressing it, evaluate the pros and cons of each of those options, selecting and implementing an optional action, and re-evaluating and refining the action can provide empowerment as it helps to become proactive as opposed to reactive. These techniques and interventions which have been highlighted here are some options available to anyone suffering or supporting people who may be suffering. However it is important to stress that by seeking support by those you can trust and professionals will help to begin your journey into a healthy life for yourself and your families and those around you.

Perspectives on Drug Addiction in Islamic History and Theology

Dr. Muhammad Mansur Ali  studied classical Islamic studies and Arabic at Darul Uloom Bury, UK and Al-Azhar University Cairo, Egypt. He then completed an MA and a PhD in Middle Eastern Studies (Hadith studies) at the University of Manchester where he also lectured as a graduate teaching fellow. During this time he also worked as a Muslim chaplain at Ashworth High Security hospital in Liverpool. Shortly after completing his PhD, he worked on an AHRC/ESRC funded project on Muslim Chaplaincy in Britain alongside Dr Sophie Gilliat-Ray at Cardiff University. He then worked as post-doctoral fellow at Cambridge Muslim College where he completed writing his part of the book coming out of the AHRC/ESRC research project called ‘Understanding Muslim Chaplaincy’ to be published by Ashgate in 2013. During his time at CMC, he also edited a classical hadith text called Qawa’id fi Ulum al-Hadith to be published by Turath Publishing in 2013. Here is one of his most recent academic articles published in a journal called ‘Religion’.

Perspectives on Drug Addiction in Islamic History and Theology

Abstract: How does Islam view substance addiction? What happens to the soul of the person suffering from addictive disorder? What happens to their relationship with God? These are some of the questions that this article tries to answer. Three models on drug addiction from an Islamic theological perspective will be explored here. Two of them are preventative models based on an understanding of society rooted in shame-culture, while the third model, called Millati Islami, practiced in the USA, is founded on the Islamic understanding of tawba (repentance). Furthermore, drugs and addiction in scripture, as well as medieval Muslim society’s attitude towards them, are explored. As a whole, the models discussed in the article demonstrate that Islamic theology possesses the intellectual and theoretical tools to develop fully-fledged theological models of addiction. This paper concludes by suggesting that one model should be explored.

Keywords:Islamic theology; drugs; addiction; nafs; ruh; Millati Islami; Alcoholics Anonymous

1. Introduction

How does Islam view substance addiction? What happens to the soul of the person suffering from addictive disorder? What happens to their relationship with God? These are some of the questions that this article tries to answer. Three tentative models on drug addiction from an Islamic theological perspective will be explored here. Theological reflections on what Islam says about substance use and why people become addicted will provide a good starting point for religious professionals offering pastoral support to Muslims suffering from substance dependence. Identifying the belief system and theological stance of people suffering from addictive disorder may prove to be an advantageous point to begin from in order to understand how to help them [1]. The literature examining the theology of substance addiction in Islam is scarce; therefore, this is a tentative essay on the topic and a platform for the author and others to further develop their thoughts and writing.

From the outset, it should be made clear that within this article, drug use is intended to refer to recreational drug use and not as a part of medical treatment. It is argued that in order for drug use to take place, two preconditions need to be present: (1) predisposition and (2) availability. These conditions are necessary but not sufficient to explain why people use and abuse drugs. Various theories have been proposed to explain the causes of drug use from a variety of disciplines, such as biology, sociology, and psychology. One such model, which is controversial among scientists, is called the “disease model” [2]. The model’s central thesis is that addiction is a biological phenomenon and, thus, genetically passed from parents to children. One of the positive aspects of the model is that it helps to remove social stigma and blame from the addict and encourages the view that users are victims who need help and not condemnation [1]. In contrast to the “disease model”, an unpopular model in medical circles is the “moral model”. The focal point of this model is that people become addicts out of their own volition. It is criticized as being blindly prejudiced and judgmental, although it lays the burden of responsibility for rehabilitation on the shoulders of the addict [1].

These models are based on a Cartesian distinction between the body and the mind/soul. They do not take into consideration existential issues related to the nature of human beings, their religiosity and spirituality. Research has shown that spirituality and religion are protective factors ([3], p. 171) that can reduce substance abuse and function as mechanisms against relapse [4]. Cook contends that there is an intrinsic relationship between substance dependence and spirituality [2]. The former is a spiritual problem in the sense that it affects relationships and impacts values and beliefs. Similarly, religion has been associated with positive drug-related outcomes in a number of ways, such as altering behaviour-influencing value or by functioning as external control factors [5]. Studies show that people who believe religion is important are less likely to use tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drugs [5]. Research carried out on Muslim populations show that religiosity and spirituality benefit the mental health of Muslim adherents [6,7,8,9]. Muslims recovering from substance abuse found that rediscovery of their faith has often acted as the much-needed catalyst to abstain from drug use [4]. My own research has shown that for Muslims, talking about their religion and religious beliefs during therapy is welcomed and appreciated [8,10]. Malik Badri, a world-renowned Muslim psychologist, claims that the great majority of Muslims who practice abstinence from alcohol and drugs do so due to religious reasons [11].

How has religion understood addiction? What theological models are available to explain addiction? These can be answered by looking at the perspective of different faiths and religions. Most theories are found from within the Christian tradition [1,12]. Cook identifies a number of these, such as “addiction as sin”, which is similar to the “moral model”, and argues that people become addicts as a result of their sins [1]. Other models include incarnational theology, which is also known as the theology of presence [13]. There are a number of models in other faith traditions, such as Buddhism (cited in [1]) and Islam; however, these are few and far between. Badri proposes a model in which he blames the West’s liberal attitude towards sex as being the cause of drug addiction and even the AIDS crisis [11]. He argues that misuse of the word “abuse” has led to a toleration of drugs and substance use in the West; which can only be rectified by developing programs that are rooted outside of Western models of non-judgmental therapy, and which are based on solid Islamic foundations. This model, Badri argues, should not take a non-judgmental stance towards condoning promiscuity and substance use. According to him, Islam’s very purpose is to intervene in human affairs for the betterment of society. Some have criticized Badri to be an essentialist and his approach to be a mask for the Islamization of knowledge [14]. According to them, Badri’s approach is apologetic and should be read as a representation of Islamic opposition to Western modernity, a “Fanonian inversion of discourse” [14], as opposed to a theological model explaining substance addiction.

This article attempts to fill this lacuna by first discussing attitudes towards intoxicants from the vantage point of scripture and Islamic society. It then deliberates on two models of substance abuse from a theoretical perspective and ends with exploring a third, called Millati Islami, which is modeled on the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and is used in therapy in the USA.

2. All Intoxicants Are Prohibited: Intoxicants in the Qur’an and Islamic Society

The Qur’an is reticent regarding drug use, although it discusses intoxicants (khamr) and, more specifically, alcohol. Any discussion on narcotics and addictions must start from the Qur’an, since it is the foundation of Islamic law, ethics, and theology ([8], p. 25). Alcohol is prohibited in the Qur’an for recreational reasons; the Qur’an calls alcohol the “Handiwork of Satan” ([15], al-Ma’ida 5:90).1 Prior to being forbidden by divine decree through a Qur’anic revelation, the early Arab Muslims indulged in wine and took much delight in inebriation. It was gradually forbidden in three phases [16], with the final prohibition being revealed in the fifth hijri (ca. 627 CE) after the siege of Medina, nearly seventeen years after the inception of Islam [16]. Initially, the Arabs consumed alcohol in their parties and gatherings. Some Muslims, seeing the effect that alcohol had on a person’s cognitive faculty and the social consequence of that, asked Muhammad to provide them with some Qur’anic guidance on it [16]. God responds in the Qur’an by saying, “They ask you (Prophet) about intoxicants (khamr) and gambling: say, ‘There is great sin in both, and some benefit for people: the sin is greater than the benefit.’” ([15], al-Baqara 2:219). After this verse was revealed, some of Muhammad’s followers, out of personal piety, refrained from drinking alcohol, since God mentioned that the harm in alcohol is greater than the good, while acknowledging that He did not prohibit it. Even then, many of Muhammad’s Companions still consumed alcohol. The second phase of prohibition was revealed when the leader of a prayer, after a heavy drinking session, recited the Qur’an so incorrectly, the act amounted to blasphemy [16]. God revealed, “You who believe, do not come anywhere near the prayer if you are intoxicated, not until you know what you are saying…” ([15], al-Nisa 4:43). This was the second phase of prohibition, where believers were able to drink so long as they were sober during prayer times. Muhammad’s Companions used to hold their drinking sessions after the night prayer, which gave them enough time to sober up prior to the dawn prayer. In one such night gathering, under the influence of alcohol, a person from one tribe recited offensive poetry about another tribe. The members of the second tribe were infuriated and retaliated, leading to a fight, which resulted in a person being hit on the head with a camel’s skull [16]. This was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. The final revelation came down, which made alcohol prohibited for Muslims.

You who believe, intoxicants (khamr) and gambling, idolatrous practices, and (divining with) arrows are repugnant acts—Satan’s doing—shun them so that you may prosper. With intoxicants and gambling, Satan seeks only to incite enmity and hatred among you, and to stop you remembering God and prayer. Will you not give them up? ([15], al-Ma’ida 5:90–91).

There are a number of points in this verse of the Qur’an that could be used to develop a model of addiction from the Qur’an; this will be explored later on in the article. At the moment, it is sufficient to say that this is the verse that has the final say on matters related to recreational alcohol drinking. The previous two verses have been made ineffective as far as social drinking is concerned through a process known as the rules of abrogation (al-nasikh wa al-mansukh). The rules of abrogation apply to certain verses and passages in the Qur’an, which had particular functions in the early days of Islam, but are no longer needed and are believed by Muslims to have been abrogated in their application by Muhammad through revelation from God. Nevertheless, Muslim practitioners see in the gradual banning of alcohol a reflection of Islam’s deep understanding of human nature, addiction and the possible negative effects of withdrawal symptoms. They take inspiration from the three phases of alcohol banning to develop a Qur’anic justification for rehabilitation, where the amount of alcohol one consumes or substance one uses is gradually decreased.

However, what does the Qur’an say about drugs and other forms of intoxicants? Some, such as the translator, Abdel Haleem, are of the opinion that the use of the word “khamr” (alcohol/intoxicant) in the Qur’an is a composite term, which includes all forms of intoxicants, despite the fact that the specific contexts in which the three verses were being discussed relate to alcohol drinking. Al-Tabari (d. 923) writes that “khamr” is every drink that intoxicates the mind, veils it, and covers it [16]. It may be that during Muhammad’s time in Arabia, alcoholic beverages, such as khamr (wine made from grapes or dates), bit’ (wine from honey), and mizr (beer from barley), were the only available forms of intoxicants [17]. There is no evidence of drug abuse resulting from recreational drug use, such as hemp (hashisha), henbane (banj) or opium (afyun), during the formative period of Islam [18,19]. The Qur’an does not mention them nor were they a social problem, such that Muhammad had to give specific guidance about them. However, there is evidence of their medicinal use in the earliest treatises on medicine in Islam ([18], p. 41). Cannabis (al-qinnab al-hindi) was introduced into the Arab mainland mainly from India through Persia and through acquaintance with Greek physicians [19]. Doctors considered cannabis and poppy as potent medicines only to be used when therapeutic need arose [19]. It was eaten rather than smoked, which assisted digestion (hadim al-aqwat) and brought clarity to thoughts (ba’ithat al-fikir) ([18], p. 25). There is also evidence to suggest that people died of drug overdose, for example from the drug used to treat forgetfulness; the drug is known as either baladhur (marking-nut) or habb al-fahm (the nut of apprehension) [20]. However, this was more a result of medical malpractice and incorrect dosage than drug abuse ([20], p. 234).

The sources do not provide us with evidence that proves that Muslims were using cannabis and other narcotics for recreational purposes during the formative period of Islam. They were not discussed by the legal scholars, as they were not seen as a legal and social problem [18]. However, by the eleventh century, there are textual sources that suggest people were gradually becoming addicted to cannabis. Al-Biruni (d. 1048), the polymath scholar, observes that this habit has also seeped in to the heart of the Muslim land, Mecca. He writes,

People who live in the tropics or hot climates, especially those in Mecca, get into the habit of taking opium daily to eliminate distress, to relieve the body from the effects of scorching heat, to secure longer and deeper sleep, and to purge superfluitie [sic] and excesses of humors. They start with smaller doses which are increased gradually up to lethal dosages (cited in [19], p. 240).

Hamarneh believes that this extract is the first documented evidence at our disposal of the use of recreational drugs and its harmful effects. The Persian historian, Abu al-Fazl Bayhaqi (d. 1077), claims that the famous Ibn Sina (Avicenna) (d. 1037) was an opium addict and may have died as a result of an opium overdose ([21], p. 98). According to Ibn Taymiyya (d. 1328), cannabis became widespread by the end of the 13th or the beginning of the 14th century as a punishment for Muslim indulgence in sins. He writes,

The news had first reached us that it (cannabis) appeared among Muslims by the end of the 7th or the beginning of the 8th century when Tatars came into power.2 Its emergence was concomitant with the sword of Genghis Khan. When people started to commit sins that God and his Prophet forbade, God gave power to the enemy to overcome them, and this wretched cannabis is its worst negative externality. It is worse than drinking alcohol in many ways, whereas alcohol is worse than it in other ways. In addition to its intoxicating effects it causes effeminacy (takhnith) and cuckoldry (diyatha) [22].

It was only when the harmful effects of drugs became a social problem that scholars began to take interest in it from a legal perspective. Some legal scholars made an analogy with alcohol to provide a basis by which to offer a legal ruling on drugs ([18], p. 105); others, without having any precedent to compare, engaged in drug use for themselves before passing a ruling [23]. Any religious prohibitions were often disputed by detractors on the basis that there is nothing unequivocally mentioned in the Qur’an or Muhammad’s words regarding drugs being forbidden. An oft-cited verse in favor of drugs has been mentioned by Rosenthal:

Hashish intoxication contains the meaning of my desire,

You dear people of intelligence and understanding.

They have declared it forbidden without any justification on the basis of tradition and reason.

Declaring forbidden what is not forbidden is forbidden ([18], p. 101).

The author of the above verses of poetry roots his contentions in an Islamic legal axiom. It is not within the juristic remit of a Muslim lawyer to declare something that is not forbidden by the shari’a as forbidden. This practice itself is illegal. Pro-hashish users exploited this fact to their advantage. Hashish was highly associated with Sufi guilds, who employed it to help them meditate [18]. Some believed that by taking hashish to meditate, one is visited by the mystical wandering dervish, al-Khidr (which literally means green man) [18,24], and that hashish connects the heart with God (musilat al-qalb) [18]. Even today, some shrines of Muslim dervishes, like the shrine of Data Ganj Bakhsh al-Hujwiri (d. 1077), are places where drugs and other forms of intoxicants can easily be found [25].

3. Models of Addiction in Islam

Within Islamic theology, a Muslim is both personally responsible to God and also part of the wider Muslim community. In addition to contributing to the life of the community, they derives their identity from it. Nasr writes:

In the debate between those who claim the primacy of society and those who emphasize the primal significance of the individual, Islam takes a middle course and believes that this polarization is in fact based on false dichotomy. There is no society without the individual; nor can the individual survive without society ([26], p. 159).

Community members’ support is not only confined to their immediate family, but extends to the wider community. “People are dependent on God”, said Muhammad, “and the most beloved to God are those who are caring towards God’s creation” [27]. Teachings like the above have influenced the way Muslims organize their lives vis-à-vis each other and vis-à-vis God. Cultural anthropologists have divided societies into two cultures: a shame-based culture and a guilt-based culture [28]. Scholars argue that both shame and guilt are emotions that occur when transgression has taken place (or is to take place), which will result in the doer being negatively evaluated. However, the emotions differ in their orientation to self and others [28]. Shame-based cultures have their deterrent mechanisms to do wrong exterior to the person. “What will people say?” is a common feature of a shame-based culture. The fear of being negatively exposed in front of people stops one from doing wrong. In contrast, guilt-based cultures have their mechanisms built in to the individual conscience, which leads to remorse, pity, and reparative actions.

Traditional Muslim societies are mainly based on a shame-based culture [29]. However, Islamic notions of shame include one’s sense of shame in front of God. For Muslims, God is fully aware of thoughts hidden in the deepest chasms of the heart: “No leaf falls without His knowledge, nor is there a single grain in the darkness of the earth, or anything, fresh or withered, that is not written in a clear Record.” ([15], al-An’am 6:59). Having shame (haya’) and humility, as well as being fully cognizant of God’s omniscience is to show etiquette (adab) towards God. In the case where one forgets this aspect of Islam, the fellow Muslim should function as a mirror. In this manner, Islam views a person suffering from an addictive disorder not only as an individual failing, but the failing of society as a whole. Guilt also has its place in Muslim societies. Once a sin/crime has been committed, a person is required to repent (tawba) to God for his or her sins. Tawba literally means to return. When person feel true remorse for their sins and try to reform themselves, according to the Qur’an, God accepts their repentance and gives them the ability to rectify the wrong done ([15], al-Anbiya 21:87). In the Qur’anic narrative, when the Prophet Jonah ran away from Nineveh, God’s punishment for his transgression came in the form of being swallowed by a whale. Having felt immense guilt at his offence, Jonah prayed to God in the belly of the whale:

And remember the man with the whale, when he went off angrily, thinking We could not restrict him, but then he cried out in the deep darkness, “There is no God but You, glory be to You, I was wrong.” We answered him and saved him from distress: this is how We save the faithful ([15], al-Anbiya 21:87).

The teachings in the above narrative are strong and clear: no one should despair from God’s mercy, as long as they understand their faults and try to rectify them. Below, three models of addiction according to the Islamic scriptures and the teachings of the theologians are provided. Two of these are preventative models based on a shame-based understanding of human nature. The final model is one that is currently being used in therapy and is a non-judgmental model based on the Islamic understanding of guilt, where the incentive to rectify comes from within the deepest recesses of the human being. No one model is without problems, but at least they are steps forward toward developing a fuller and more comprehensive Islamic theology of drug addiction.

4. Jurm: Addiction as Crime

Reference was made above that when the use of drugs became a social problem in traditional Muslim societies, Muslim scholars started to look into its legal status in the shari’a. Scholars have divided all actions into five categories, known as legal norms: either something is necessary (wajib) to do, forbidden (haram) to do or permissible (halal) to do. Those that are permissible are either recommended (mandub) or disliked (makruh) [8,30,31]. Violating any legal norms entails a sin, but not necessarily a crime. The punishment for sin is soteriological, and thus, God may forgive it out of divine grace when one sincerely repents. All crimes are deemed as sins, but are distinguished from sins in that they have legal, as well as theological implications. By way of example, sexual intercourse with one’s wife during her menstruation is seen as a sin that has no legal implications ([15], al-Baqara 2:222). In contrast to that, murder is deemed both a sin and crime, which is punishable by law. With regards to drugs, most scholars with the exception of a few (like al-Qarafi d. 1285) viewed hashish to be prohibited in the law; thus, it is both a crime and sin, since, according to them, it has the same intoxicating effects as alcohol. They used a number of criteria to establish that it is forbidden, such as: harm to health, harm to the health of others, waste of wealth, the presence of sedative effects, the taking of one beyond one’s senses, the distortion of rational thinking, intoxication and clouding of the mind, and distortion of physical and motor skill [4].

What are the legal consequences of drug intoxication? I will briefly discuss two of them. The Qur’an clearly mentions that the use of intoxicants is forbidden and is sinful. Muhammad stipulated forty lashes for one caught under the influence of intoxicants (al-Zarkashi, Zahr al-Arish, cited in [18]). Ibn Taymiyya is of the opinion that there is no difference between alcohol and all other types of intoxicants, and that the user is to be subject to corporal (hadd) punishment. He forcefully argues this point:

As for hashisha, the cursed intoxicant, it is similar to other intoxicants, and all intoxicants are prohibited (haram) by scholarly consensus. […] Consumption of intoxicants is subject to corporal (hadd) punishment. […] The Prophet’s words, “All intoxicants are forbidden” include the date wine that was found in Medina in his days. It also includes the alcohol found in the Yemen made from wheat, barley, and honey. Furthermore, his statement will also include all forms of intoxicants found after his days, such as alcohol made from horse milk by the Turks [22].

However, is drug use similar to the intoxicant “al-khamr” mentioned in the Qur’an? Some scholars are more cautious, since it has not been overtly mentioned in the sacred texts of Islam. According to the Hanafi school of law, discretionary punishment (ta’zir) is to be meted out to the person who eats3 hashish rather than implementing the corporal punishment (hadd) of forty lashes on him [32]. Nevertheless, in both cases, scholars agree that some form of punishment should be carried out.

Another topic discussed by the scholars is whether a divorce that takes place under the influence of an intoxicant is valid. According to shari’a law, a couple does not need to obtain a divorce from a court of law. The right to divorce remains mainly with the husband, provided that the wife does not request having divorce rights or stipulates in the marriage contract that she wants divorce rights and the husband agrees. The divorce takes place by the husband merely announcing “I have divorced you” [33]. Scholars from the Hanafi school of law are of the opinion that the pronouncement of divorce by a person under the influence of drugs or other forms of narcotics is legally binding on the basis that it acts as a punishment for one’ crime, provided it is not taken for medical reasons ([32], 1:144, 3:239, 6:457).

This model is preventative and is based on a shame-culture. By emphasizing its legal implications over the theological, scholars attempt to protect society from the harmful consequences of drugs. The model may have functioned as a deterrent in Islamic societies, although Rosenthal’s study disagrees [18]; also, the model fails to provide a solution in the modern era. Currently, most Muslim countries do not carry out corporal punishment for crimes committed, and the ones that do implement it are discriminatory and selectively biased [34]. Second, this model may prove to be discriminatory against the wife. In the case when the intoxicated husband pronounces divorce, why should the wife be disadvantaged for the doings of her husband (unless she sees this as a means of getting out of the marriage)? As such, this model is unlikely to be instrumental in preventing substance abuse. A more robust theology is needed that addresses the users’ spirituality, as well as their religious conscience.

5. Mard Ruhani: Addiction as Spiritual Disease

In Islam, the physical heart is seen as the seat of the spiritual heart [29]. A clean and healthy spiritual heart is the recipient of God’s mercy and grace. The Qur’an says, “On the Day of Judgment no one is safe save the one who returns to God with a pure heart.” ([15], al-Shu’ara 26:89). In another verse, God says, “It is only through God’s remembrance that the heart becomes calm.” ([15], al-Ra’d, 13:28). Muhammad is reported to have said, “Surely in the breast of humanity is a lump of flesh, if sound then the whole body is sound, and if corrupt then the whole body is corrupt. Is it not the heart?” [17]. When does the spiritual heart become corrupt? In the same report Muhammad, says that prohibitions (sins) are God’s sanctuary, and grazing too closely to these sanctuaries will inevitably lead one to violate them [17]. The hypocrites are branded as spiritually diseased in the Qur’an, for they are perpetually committing sins due to their double standards. God says that as a result of their continuous sinning, he increases the disease in their hearts ([15], al-Baqara 2:10). This then begs the question, “What is it about the heart that so much emphasis is placed on it?” To answer this question, we need to explore how the Qur’an views the nature of human beings.

The Qur’anic human is a paradoxical being. It is written in the Qur’an that God created Adam from clay formed from dark mud ([15], al-Hijr 15:29). He then breathed in him His spirit, and all the angels and those present were ordered to prostrate to him. All, but Iblis, prostrated, who argued that he is better than Adam, since God created Adam from dirt and him from fire. God exiled Iblis from the heavens for this disobedience, and he became the rejected Shaytan (Satan). The nature of human beings, as described in the Qur’an, is paradoxical, although Satan has failed to grasp it. By focusing on human being’s earthly nature, Satan was able to make claims of superiority. The divine provenance in the human, God’s spirit, was not something Iblis recognized as part of human nature. In fact, human’s themselves often fail to realize this aspect of their nature, thus falling prey to the temptation of Satan. This is the contradictory nature of human beings in Islam. People are an amalgamation of the sacred and the profane: a holy union, which allows them to walk on Earth and yet to be saluted by angels in the heavens.

The earthly body easily succumbs to temptations and desires to commit sins. The Qur’an makes reference to Adam and Eve’s time in paradise and how both of them together were tempted by the whispering of Satan to transgress the one thing God forbade them to do. God banished them from the heavens for this transgression and decreed Satan the immortal enemy of Adam, Eve, and their progeny ([15], al-A’raf 7:20–24). The perpetual battle between good and evil, between Adam and Satan is mirrored in the human being, who is locked in an everlasting tension between the profane and the sacred. The profane aspect of the human being, known in Arabic as the “nafs” (self), desires unrestricted pleasure, even at the risk of committing sins, whereas the sacred spirit, the “ruh”, the location of which is the physical heart, desires to go towards its pure origins. Muhammad says that when a person commits sins, a black dot falls on his or her heart. If that dot is not washed away through repentance and asking for forgiveness from God, it starts to build up in the heart, until it overtakes it [35]. Yusuf [29] writes that when people commit sins, their ruh (spirit) is severed from the nafs (self). Committing a crime (which is also a sin) is first and foremost to commit a crime against the heart, which then has an effect on the whole person. The person enters a spiritual agitation, which is then covered (kufr, the same word used to denote disbelief) by agents, such as alcohol, drugs, and other illegal substances.

Having expounded quite extensively on the paradoxical nature of human beings in Islam, the discussion on drug addiction will be continued from the perspective of this model. The Qur’an calls intoxicants the “handiwork of Satan”; according to this model, substance dependence will mean that the addicted person’s “self” has succumbed to their satanic impulses, thus severing it from the “spirit”. A dead, spiritless heart does not remember God and does not yearn to return to God. The Qur’an says, “Is the one who was dead and then We revived [with faith] and made for him a light by which to walk among the people like one who is in darkness from which he cannot exit?” ([15], al-An’am 6:122). The exegetes have said that the phrase “Is the one who was dead” refers to having a dead heart [29]. Al-Zarkashi mentions in his famous tract on hashish called Zahr al-Arish that the evil effects that drugs have on the spirit are that:

It diminishes the powers of the soul, destruction of the mind (fikr), forgetfulness (nisyan al-dhikr), vulgarization of secrets, commission of evil actions, the loss of modesty (haya’), great stubbornness, the lack of manly virtue, the suppression of jealously, wastefulness, keeping company with the devil, the omission of prayer, and the falling into unlawful activities ([18], pp. 86, 89, 178).

This is echoed clearly in the verse of the Qur’an cited below where God says that intoxicants sever the relationship with God, as well as family and community. It views intoxicants as the cause for disruptive social behavior. It urges believers to shun and reject the habit, so that they may prosper both in their horizontal relationship with kith and kin, as well as in their vertical relationship with God. Furthermore, prosperity can mean both spiritual and financial prosperity, which are drastically affected, due to substance addiction. The Qur’an says:

You who believe, intoxicants and gambling, idolatrous practices, and [divining with] arrows are repugnant acts—Satan’s doing—shun them so that you may prosper. With intoxicants and gambling, Satan seeks only to incite enmity and hatred among you, and to stop you remembering God and prayer. Will you not give them up? ([15], al-Ma’ida 5:90–91).

It should be noted here that the “spiritual disease model” is different from the controversial scientific “disease model”, which suggests that addiction is genetically passed from parents to children. The “spiritual disease model” explored above is more in line with the “moral model” and like the “addiction as crime model” in that it is mainly preventative and based on a cultural (Islamic) understanding of shame. It explains what will happen to the human soul and spirit and their relationship with God and family in the case of substance addiction. Both models together should be enough incentive for God-fearing, God-loving Muslims to refrain from substance use. However, neither are they particularly helpful to those who are already suffering from drug addiction nor instrumental in changing people’s attitude towards those who are addicted to drugs. A practical model, based on guilt-culture and personal redemption, can work better for people wanting to escape from addictive disorder. Below, one such model that is practiced in the USA is explored with regards to its theological underpinnings.

6. Millati Islami: A Model in Practice

Millati Islami: the path of peace (MI) is a fellowship founded for Muslims suffering from addiction disorder in USA. Its 12 steps are modelled on the 12-step model of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and its sister fellowships, such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA), but rejects some of their points, which directly contradict the Islamic faith. Below in Table 1, the extent to which Millati Islami islamacized the AA 12 steps can be observed. AA began in Akron, Ohio, USA, in 1935 and was influenced by the Oxford Group, an evangelical movement, as well as being influenced by religious and medical thinking. Despite the fellowship’s Christian roots, its concept of turning to a Higher Power, whether it is Jesus, Allah, Jehovah, a Group of Drunks (GOD), one’s grandmother or an inanimate object, resonates well with many people [4]. However, some Muslims suffering from addiction disorder may find AA and NA’s emphasis on people being life-long addicts and their belief that addiction is a disease rather than a test from Allah as irreconcilable with their faith. A former Muslim heroin user on the NA 12 step-programme relates his experience with his non-Muslim counsellor:

Table Table 1. A comparison between the Millati Islami and Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step programmes.  Click here to display table

The counsellor told me that my belief in Allah as my Higher Power was not working for me and that I should be more open-minded towards choosing another God. We battled over this until it caused me to leave the rehab (cited in [4]).

MI was founded to pre-empt this sort of problem from occurring. The fellowship was founded by Zayd Imani in 1989 in Baltimore, Maryland [38]. In 1993, it held its first annual fundraiser, the proceeds of which went towards writing the handbook of MI 12 steps by the founder. By 1996, 42 MI groups had been established across 16 American states. Although their website has not been updated since then, a Facebook group created in 2012 is still active today [39]. In 2012, they had their 23rd annual conference. On their website, they write;

Just as Narcotics Anonymous was founded out of its need to be non-specific with regard to substance, so Millati Islami was born out of our need to be religiously specific with regard to spiritual principles [38].

They further comment that MI “is not for everyone, but truly for those who want to be free from addiction AND an Islamic way of life” [38]. Despite this commitment to Islam, any mention of God on their homepage is written as “G-D” [38]. It may be that although they want to be rooted within an Islamic paradigm, they do not want to exclude others from using their services. Below, their 12 steps are presented side-by-side with AA’s 12 steps for easy comparison. It can be observed that alongside modelling on AA’s 12-step program (which are worded to appeal to universal human values), their 12 steps are rooted in many points of the theological models discussed above. A brief commentary on some of the steps will help accentuate this point better.

7. Commentary on MI’s 12-Step Programme

There is a stark difference between MI’s and AA’s Step 1. MI emphasizes that addiction is due to humans neglecting their purpose of creation to worship God. By admitting their addiction, one comes to the realization that humans are dependent on many factors in their life. Children are dependent on their parents; this understanding leads one to the realization that their parents are also dependent on many things, including God. Coming to these realizations, one begins to feel that being dependent on substances and not Allah has caused their life to become unmanageable. They argue that their addiction is due to their not having read and internalized the Qur’anic guidance related to intoxicants, mentioned above in the “addiction as spiritual disease model” [40].

Step 2 directly mentions Allah, as opposed to a “Greater Power.” It contends that true belief in the powers of God, and his mercy, is the only thing that can save one from addiction. Not being mindful of God is what leads one into addiction in the first place. Step three is an interesting comparison. It can be noticed that the phrase “as we understood him” is missing from MI’s step. The authors argue that this phrase contradicts Islamic belief. In Islam, God is transcendent beyond all comprehension. The human brain is not capable of understanding God. The authors point out that trying to understand God without the guidance of scripture will lead one to catastrophes, such as drug addiction, unwed mothers, diseases, escalation in greed, wars, etc. [40]. Although this may be a theologically correct point, it lacks the personal closeness of God that one needs during times of crisis. I have argued elsewhere [8] that God’s immanence needs to be reclaimed back from his transcendence if we are to develop a model of pastoral care that emphasizes God being with people, rather than aloof from them.

The wordings of point four are the same for both programs. Taking stock of one’s actions and faults is a step towards recovery. AA fellows at this point emphasize resentment as the number one offender. The authors of MI identify the culprit to be sins and their own doing by quoting the Qur’an, “Whatever misfortune befalls you [people], it is because of what your own hands have done” ([15], Shura 42:30). Taking stock of this and being aware of this short-coming will lead one to repent (tawba) and return to God [41].

Point five is an interesting contrast. MI’s point omits the mention of “admitting to another human being.” This is rooted in the Islamic traditions, where it is highly encouraged that one’s sins are not to be made public. “God does not forgive the one who discloses his sins (mujahir) that He has concealed from people’s eyes,” said Muhammad [17]. Islam does not believe in confession of sins to others other than God. However, in a situation where one is grappling with addiction, MI authors suggest that they may find solace by expressing their emotions and feelings to their close and loved ones, but never to make their sins a public affair [41].

The model, as can be observed, is deeply rooted in Islamic teachings. It is a culturally sensitive and sensible program for those who take their religious beliefs seriously, even though they have fallen into a temporary lapse of judgment. One MI fellowship member shares her experience:

Being in this community offers me hope and allows me to understand that Muslims are not perfect. However, we strive to be pleasing to Allah. The literature reinforces the evidence that using drugs is not permissible or pleasing to Allah. It also provides me information on how to not use mind- or mood-altering substance. One of the most profound things for me in the MI literature is that “we recover from salat to salat [prayer to prayer].” I am more aware of Allah in the MI meetings than the other Twelve Step fellowship I attended (cited in [4]).

8. Conclusions

In this article, I attempted to explore three models that can be employed to understand drug addiction from an Islamic perspective. Viewing these models as an aggregate, it can clearly be observed that Islamic scripture and theology have the tools to develop robust theological models to explain addiction, which can then be used to develop programs to help Muslims suffering from an addictive disorder. The first two models are theoretical and, if developed fully, can be used to underpin a theologically-based program of therapy. The Millati Islami is a good working example of this. The choice to explore these models is purely functional. In the absence of any fully-fledged Islamic models, I have attempted to focus the models on the exterior of the human being (addiction as crime) moving towards the interior (addiction as spiritual disease); or to put it another way, I’ve focused on the “shame” aspect of Islamic theology, as well as its guilt aspect. Islam takes the protection of society from moral pollutants seriously; hence, it has stipulated corporal and capital punishment (hadd) where it feels that these boundaries have been violated; although the threat of corporal punishment in reality is often conceptualized as a deterrent and not to be implemented [8,42]. Similarly, the spiritual status of the human being is given primacy. The Qur’an mentions, “Prosperous are those who purify themselves, remember the name of their Lord, and pray” ([15], al-A’la 87:14–15). Sins are viewed as a fracturing of the self, the detachment of the human from its higher being. Once the self is detached from the spirit, it no longer takes pleasure from God and religion, but from artificial agents, such as drugs, alcohol, religion, but from artificial agents, such as drugs, alcohol, and other illegal substances. Together, both models address the social and spiritual aspect of the human being and can be used as good models of intervention and prevention, although the models fail on a number of levels, as highlighted above. The Millati Islami model is a good place to observe the Islamic theological model in practice. Its success as a practical Islamic model for helping Muslims deal with addiction-related problems can be gauged from the number of organizations, both within the USA and internationally, who have included it verbatim in their drug support programs. Some of these organizations include Texas [43] and California [44] correctional facilities, the Birmingham, U.K.-based Pathways to Recovery program (called KIKIT) [45], and the Australian, Sydney-based Mission of Hope program (called Hayat House) [46]. Nevertheless, it will be interesting to hear statements of those who have used the service and did not benefit from it. A more robust model can be developed that incorporates many aspects of the models discussed in this article by focusing on the Qur’an’s gradation of the self (nafs) in to different levels, such as: (1) the commanding self (nafs al-ammara); (2) the blaming self (nafs al-lawwama); (3) the inspired self (nafs al-mulhama); (4) the certain self (nafs al-mutma’inna); (5) the content self (nafs al-radiyah); (6) the all-pleased self (nafs al-maridiyya); and (7) the completed self (nafs al-kamila) [47]; the “commanding self” being the furthest away from spirit (ruh), while the “completed self” is the one closest to the spirit, which is living by Divine love [47]. This model will be explored in a subsequent article, as space does not allow an exploration of it here.


I would like to thank my student, Abdul-Azim, Jameel scholarship PhD candidate at Cardiff University, for reading drafts of this article and making valuable suggestions.

Conflicts of Interest

The author declares no conflict of interest.


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Mission of Hope. “Hayat House Street Outreach.” Available online: (accessed on 28 August 2014).
Sabnum Dharamsi, and Abdullah Maynard. “Islamic-Based Interventions.” In Counseling Muslims: Handbook of Mental Health Issues and Interventions. Edited by Sameera Ahmed, and Mona M. Amer. New York: Routledge, 2012, pp. 135–60. [Google Scholar]
1Reference to Qur’anic chapters and verses are given as chapter name chapter number:verse number.
2This corresponds roughly to the end of the 13th and beginning of the 14th Gregorian century.
3People used to eat hashish in the Muslim lands in the medieval period rather than smoke it.
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This article has been cited from: Religions 2014, 5(3), 912-928; doi:10.3390/rel5030912 and the full article can be found on the following link

Centre for the Study of Islam in the UK, School of History, Archaeology and Religion, John Percival Building, Cardiff University, Colum Drive, Cardiff CF10 3EU, UK; E-Mail:; Tel.: +44-29-2087-6297
Received: 31 July 2014; in revised form: 28 August 2014 / Accepted: 4 September 2014 /
Published: 18 September 2014

The Recovering Muslims Survival Kit for The Festive Season


‘Tis the season to be jolly – fa la la la la la  la la la la  La illaha illallah! 

Relapse season is about to start – oh yea even Muslims succumb to the Christmas indulgence! It is not just in the Western countries like UK or USA where Muslims may struggle to stay clean and serene during the holiday season. A visit to the Mall of Emirates, housing the worlds largest Christmas tree, hints (ok more than a hint) that it aint just a Western thing.  We don’t even celebrate Christmas but there is something about this time of year that sets off those cravings and relapses happen. Maybe its that annoying jingle jinglekeep-calm-and-bah-humbug-4 music in every shop we go in, that’s enough to send anyone crazy, or maybe that there is that atmosphere in the air where people start inviting you out to parties, movies on tv, adverts, triggers everywhere we look! The addict recovering from substances is suddenly faced with adverts for wine, office parties with punch and champers, even on the street level, the crack house has a bit of tinsel on the door! The obsessive over-eater cannot walk through the supermarket without all the tempting chocolates on offer, they even get the stuff offered for free as the lady in the pinny reaches out to them with a bit of Christmas pudding stuck on the end of a cocktail stick! For the sex addict, all he sees are pretty girls everywhere in sparkling dresses and this seasons version of red lippy (red is red right?), and it doesn’t really help if they’ve had a few drinks and getting flirty! For the shopaholic it can be turmoil to resist the lure of the sales, Black Friday, Boxing Day sale, everything must go, don’t miss out, ching ching ching. For a recovering addict, whatever your drug of choice is, there seems to be no escape from the various and many temptations on offer during the merriment that is Christmas and New Year. Sounds like we need our Christmas Survival Kit for Recovering Muslims! So let’s take a look inside ….

quranl.ight1) Your Book of Guidance – “My idea of a good night is to snuggle up with a good book” – How often do you hear that these days? Well let’s start with the basics of a recovery in Islam. Our way of life starts with the best of books – The Word of Allah, The Qur’an, in which Allah speaks directly to us. It is this very Book that is our survival kit for the rest of our lives, throughout our lives, day in day out, night in night out. The map to our world.

There was once a man who came back to his apartment, to find that his flat mate was having a party. Drinks were flowing and there were girls, willing girls. His friend waved him over to join in and in that moment he was torn whether or not to give in. The girls started calling him too. But he remembered Allah, he dashed to his room and he locked the door. He grabbed his Qur’an and he hurriedly opened it at any page and Allah spoke to him;

حُورٌ۬ مَّقۡصُورَٲتٌ۬ فِى ٱلۡخِيَامِ 

Fair ones, close-guarded in pavilions  Which is it, of the favours of your Lord, that ye deny? –  Whom neither man nor jinni will have touched before them –  Which is it, of the favours of your Lord, that ye deny?  (Surah Rahman )

In that very moment, Allah reminded him of Paradise. As Muslims we strive for those things in the Hereafter by abstaining from them in this life. By reading the Qur’an we will be reminded constantly of this and will help us to keep our vision clear and our goals for Paradise in sight. Through Allah’s Words, staying abstinent from this world becomes easy.

2) Your Shield of Taqwa!  Never leave the house without this important piece of armory.

taqwa.shield Taqwa (God-consciousness) is the very thing that keeps our recovery in tact. It is the barrier between our lusts and our sin. It is the stopping force between getting the thought to relapse and actually relapsing. During this season, triggers are everywhere. It is a time when people let go of their inhibitions and we are tested by people more so than we were throughout the rest of the year. Trying to be conscious of Allah at all times will help us to remember that Allah is Watching us, our angels are writing things down. When we are put in a position where relapse can happen, our souls struggle, we fight the urges and we feel uncomfortable and strained. Our soul cries out not to succumb to the cravings. Taqwa will make us of the winners, who hear our souls and who remain constant in the worship of Allah. And when we overcome that craving and turn back to our Lord, the soul is happy and contented. But if we fall that feeling of satisfaction will never come.


3) Good company! It is not always the case that we get invited to parties. Christmas day is historically the most common day for people to commit suicide. Loneliness can creep in and we feel like thehqdefault whole world is having a party without us. Even as Muslims we can feel isolated as we hear about the Christmas message of sharing joy and togetherness. Our addiction may have caused us to become alienated away from our families or community. We lost good Muslim friends because of our behaviour. So whether we are the party pooper or on everyone’s naughty list, its time we made an alternative to the we_love_islam_2__by_nayzak-d3d2e83Christmas Party! Now is the time to try and catch family and friends we have lost touch with while they are off work and taking time out. Perhaps our local mosque has some activities planned for the holiday period and we can find our way back into the community. Or maybe we can bite the bullet and invite people round to our homes for something to eat. Good company during the season of relapse is important. We need to stay in the company of those people who remind us of Allah and our purpose of life. This is the time to cling onto the good people and try hard to steer clear of those who will add to our craving. It is important we replace the forbidden actions with good halal permissible ones. Islam is not dull and boring and there is a time and place to have fun. Why not get together while everyone is off work? It is a good opportunity to reunite with family and old friends.

4) Nil by mouth sign nilFasting is not just for Ramadan. The Christmas holidays are theeating easiest time of year to fast, especially if you do not have to go to work. These are from the shortest days. Fasting strengthens the shield of taqwa and helps control our cravings and desires. The Prophet Muhammad, pbuh, said: “Winter is the best season for the believer. Its nights are long for him to pray in, and its days are short for him to fast in.” ‘Majma’ az-Zawa’id’ (3/203) and he also said: “Fasting in the winter is the easy prize.” (Ahmed)

dua5) Book of Dua’s Know that it is only Allah that gives strength to the  believers to keep them away from sin, so increase in dua’s. We must seek refuge in Allah from Shaitan and the evil within our own selves. The believer who begs of Allah for help and assistance is the one who is able to abstain from displeasing his Lord. Staying in constant conversation with Allah through our supplication will help us to strive towards pleasing Him and be mindful of those actions that take us away from His Path.

So its time to get ourselves in gear, hold onto the rope of Allah, cling on to our recovery and get ourselves strong to get through the party season, clean and dry and sober. Time to cling onto our dean and keep ourselves strong, avoid bad company and stay safe. May Allah keep us all strong and keep us on the Straight Path to Recovery. Ameen!

“Expand my chest”

anxiety2If ever any one of you has experienced severe or prolonged anxiety you will know how difficult it can make your every day living. That feeling when your chest feels tight or heavy, the heart feels like a solid rock, breathing can feel painful and the stomach churns constantly. We may have to take more trips to the toilet than normal and may even experience shaking or trembling or tearfulness. Things that we could normally do easily, like driving, trips to the shops, talking to strangers etc can feel overwhelming and frightening. If we doanxiety not treat this feeling of anxiety it becomes heightened and panic attacks can ensue. This has a ripple effect where we become more and more fearful and the anxiety increases. Throw an addiction problem into this mix and all this becomes much bigger and more scary and is often something that leads to relapse as the person seeks a way to just make that feeling go away, a feeling that we often associate or misinterpret as a craving. Carers of addicts also experience high levels of anxiety as they live in fear of the next relapse or become exposed to oppressive and unacceptable behaviour from the active addict in their lives. Anxiety begins to effect the whole family.

Allah tells us in the Qur’an about the anxiety that Musa (Moses) experienced when he was tasked with going back to Egypt to call the tyrant leader, Firaun, to worship Allah and set free the Children of Israel, who he was oppressing through slavery. Musa (as) became afraid and anxious. For a fleeting moment he doubted his abilities, his chest tightened and he lost hope in carrying out this task. He was overwhelmed. Allah tells us about his duah;

tumblr_inline_mxj3e0dLMa1qjcw8k“Lord! Expand my chest for me, and ease my task for me and And loosen the knot from my tongue that they understand my speech.” 

Musa asked for Allah to expand his chest, meaning that he felt as though his chest was tight and constricted, thus displaying the feeling of anxiety. He felt overwhelmed with his task, worried that he would find it hard so he asked Allah to make things easy for him. And lastly, his inadequacies seemed bigger to him, making him worried. He was afraid that the people he was going to would not understand him, due to a slight speech impediment, and therefore he asked Allah to remove this flaw.

There are so many lessons to be learned from this duah of Musa (as). This verse from the Qur’an teaches us that it is Allah who has the ability to remove our anxiety and make things easy for us when it all seems so difficult and frightening. It is Allah that can make things easy. The Prophet Muhammad, pbuh, taught us another beautiful prayer;

اللّهُـمَّ لا سَـهْلَ إِلاّ ما جَعَلـتَهُ سَهـلاً، وَأَنْتَ تَجْـعَلُ الْحَـزَنَ إِذا شِـئْتَ سَهـْلاً  “O Allah, there is no ease except in that which You have made easy, and You make the difficulty, if You wish, easy.”

Knowing that a great prophet like Musa experienced anxiety should help us to be easy on ourselves. Some people may say to us “Muslims should not feel anxious when they havedont-panic Allah” are grossly mistaken. We are but human beings, and most of us will experience anxiousness at one time in our life. When we get anxious, this is the time to remember that Allah is the One who can pull us together and help us begin to rely and depend on Him.

Another example of panic and anxiety in the Qur’an, is that of Musa’s mother when she placed her little baby in the river;

“And the heart of the mother of Musa became empty. She was very near to disclose her secret, had We not tied up her heart , so that she might remain as one of the believers”(28:10)

This Verse is so beautiful. This is a Verse of Allah that needs to give us hope when our heart is feeling broken and we experience trauma or emotional pain. Allah describes her heart as being completely emptied out. Anyone who has experienced anxiety will know that the heart empties out of all other matters except that one thing we are worried about.  Allah tells us here that He intervened to strengthen her heart. He ‘tied up’ the broken pieces of her heart and held them together for her in order to get her through this test and keep her faith in tact. Therefore we must know that it is Allah who ties back the heart together when we are feeling as though we are in tatters and falling apart, broken into pieces.

So it is a very natural thing to panic and feel worried and anxious from time to time but the solution to prevent it and stop it lies in turning to Allah and trusting Him to help us.

5 Steps To Overcome Anxiety

1) Make duah, call upon Allah for help

Use the duahs mentioned above as they are from the Qur’an and sunnah and also make duah from your own heart in your own language, knowing that Allah will help you. Musa called on Allah to expand his chest when it felt tight and He knew Allah could do that.

2) Breathe!

breatheOne of the main reasons we may have a panic attack, or experience chest pains is because we are not breathing properly. When we are nervous or anxious we tend to take shorter breaths or even hold our breaths without even realising we are doing this. If you watch a sleeping baby, you will see that it is there bellies that rise and fall as they breathe. Babies know how to breathe and we forget. If we take a deep breath it is often our chests that rise. However, our oxygen receptors are actually in the diaphram, close to the stomach. When you take deep breaths try to ensure that it is your belly that is rising and not your chest. If we do not breathe from here, the receptors send a message to the brain saying “we are not getting enough oxygen here!” thus sending the person into a state of panic and they may begin to hyperventilate. For more breathing tips please click here 

 3) Try to remove the cause of your anxiety and lighten your load

If you are experiencing prolonged anxiety, you need to consider removing that cause from your life if it is possible. Seek help from others to try to make things easier for you. Call on family or friends to help you ease your task. Musa (as) knew that he would struggle to complete the task that Allah wanted him to do so Musa asked Allah to make his brother Haroon his companion and help him, and so Allah made Haroon a prophet too and granted Musa’s request. No more soldiering on alone! Time to get some help!

4) Exercise Peaceful park in spring

The scientific cause of anxiety is the release of too much adrenaline. The brain has gone into an emergency state and realises this chemical so that the person can either fight or flee, known as “fight or flight” syndrome. The body is not designed to constantly live in this state. Excess adrenaline can be burnt through exercise. If you are not ready to hit the gym yet, then a pleasant walk in a local park can do wonders. It is also very spiritual to come back to nature and sit under a tree for a while and breathe in fresh air. Cardiovascular exercise is recommended for 20 minutes at least three times a week, and this may include a brisk walk and will help lift the mood.

5) Positive self-talk

It is easy to fall prey to the whispers of Shaitan, who want us to feel weak and lose self belief. Musa (as) became fearful of his speech problem, but he called on Allah to fix it. Sometimes, Shaitan can make our flaws and weakness seem much bigger than they actually are. Allah tells us in the Quran it is Shaitan that causes us to be fearful (3:175), therefore seek refuge in Allah from his whispering several times per day. We must stop focusing on the things we struggle with, and start strengthening the things we do well.

May Allah help us to overcome our anxieties and move forward to complete our tasks and get through our days and nights without fear. May Allah help us to stay focused on trusting Allah to keep helping us and guiding us. May we remember that Allah will smooth out our roads so long as we keep turning to Him and may Allah keep us away from all those things that He is displeased with and guide us to those actions that earn His Pleasure. Ameen!

The frequent supplication of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him
The frequent supplication of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him


By Lynne Ali-Northcott