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Viewpoints
Lessons Amid Tragedy
Psychiatric News
Volume 36 Number 19 page 18-28
Anchor for JumpAnchor for JumpOn September 11 our nation experienced unprecedented death and destruction as terrorists flew hijacked planes into the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. Millions watched their TV sets in dismay as the World Trade Center towers burned and collapsed onto fleeing occupants and rescue workers, and a section of the Pentagon smoldered.

The national reaction understandably has been one of alarm, anguish, and outrage at the carnage and destruction resulting from these acts of terror. There is also an outcry from Americans to identify, capture, and bring the culprits to justice as soon as possible. When the terrorists were identified as members of a fundamentalist Islamic group, a few people engaged in aggression against fellow countrymen who are either of Arab descent and or are Muslims.

Islam is being projected by some as a religion that encourages violence through Jihad (holy war) and terrorism, thus spreading outrage and suspicion against the approximately 9 million Muslims in the United States. This view, although held by only a few, is based on a lack of knowledge and misinformation about Islam and Muslims.

In the ensuing paragraphs I would like to summarize the basic tenets of Islam for the benefit of APA members, many of whom are Muslims and are of Arab descent, and make a few suggestions to address the current needs of Muslims in this country.

The word "Islam" in Arabic means "peace" and "submission to the law of God." These laws were revealed to Mohammad over a period of 23 years beginning in the year 610 AD and are preserved in the Quran. Only through the submission to the will of God and by obedience to His law can one achieve true peace and enjoy lasting security. Three key terms in the Quran (Islam, Iman, Taqwa), which relate to human conduct, mean "to be at peace and safe and to be integral and sound." The task of the Islamic community is defined as "commanding good and forbidding evil with faith in God" (Quran 2:142:110).

Equality in Islam is not just a matter of constitutional right; it is an article of faith that is deeply rooted in the tenets of Islam. The Quran states that all humans are equal in the eyes of God. "O’mankind verily, we have created you from a single pair of male and female (Adam and Eve) and have made you into nations and tribes that you may know each other. Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God is the most righteous" (Quran 49:13).

The Quran asserts that all humans are created by one and the same God, who is just and kind to all his creatures. The Quran states that all humans are equal in the eyes of God. He is not partial to any race, age, sex, or religion. The Quran proclaims "one God and one humanity."

Islamic civilization was therefore the first international civilization on an almost global scale involving people of different faiths, races, and nationalities. As such Islam is the genuine precursor of modern Western civilization. It is not surprising to find striking similarities between Quranic laws and the U.S. Constitution. This is also why Muslims seek to migrate to the United States, where they can practice their religion freely. Many Muslims see the United States as a country of people who naturally live out the Islamic principles.

Jihad (holy war) in Islam mostly refers to fighting against one’s own temptations and evil desires that would compromise one’s values. Jihad is not intended to mean war with other countries. Such war is allowed only for self-defense. Islam strongly prohibits terrorism and mandates the preservation of soul, bodies, and property and warns against any transgression upon any human. Islam considers this preservation as a covenant that always exists between Muslims and non-Muslims. The Quran dictates, ". . .and seek not mischief in the Earth; Indeed God loves not those who commits mischief" (28:77).

Suicide under any condition is prohibited in Islam. The Quran emphatically states, "Do not kill yourself for God is merciful to you."

In summary, Islam offers a comprehensive methodology for solving mankind’s spiritual, intellectual, and day-to-day problems. God is the absolute transcendent creator and the master of all things. A total submission to His will and a trust in His mercy provide eternal peace. His laws are aimed at achieving peace, safety, and tranquility and to inculcate a healthy, moral, safe, and peaceful society. Misfortunes may occur as God tests his people, and enduring these misfortunes with patience and piety elevate one’s status in His eyes.

In conclusion, the terrorist attacks of September 11 have a profound adverse impact on American Muslims. Like other Americans, Muslim Americans feel vulnerable and enraged at those who brought this horrific calamity upon our nation. But unlike other Americans, they are feeling an additional threat—perhaps more serious than the direct hit—from some of their countrymen, who in their confusion are displacing their anger at them. Muslim Americans have become fearful of the safety of their children and their families. These fears have begun to take psychological tolls on them. Many are reporting anxiety, sleep disturbance, and despondency. Others are concerned about their future in this country.

As psychiatrists and members of APA, we have a duty to ensure that American Muslims do not become victims of prejudice, violence, and hate crimes. We also need to be mindful of Muslims’ special psychological needs during this rough time in their lives. District branches that are so admirably engaged in meeting the psychological needs of their local communities should make extra efforts to reach out to their Muslim population. Psychiatrists may use their influence in their communities to mobilize compassionate support from the community, government agencies, and religious institutions.

The plight of American Muslims underscores the need for cultural sensitivity for all ethnic groups living in the United States. This includes the need for better residency training in cultural competence.

Further information about Islam is available in the chapter written by the author in the book Handbook of Religion and Mental Health, edited by Harold G. Koenig (Academic Press, New York, 1998). The title of the chapter is "Religion and Mental Health From the Muslim Perspective."

Dr. Husain is a consultant to APA’s Committee on Psychiatric Dimensions of Disasters and president-elect of the World Islamic Association for Mental Health.

Anchor for JumpAnchor for JumpOn September 11 our nation experienced unprecedented death and destruction as terrorists flew hijacked planes into the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. Millions watched their TV sets in dismay as the World Trade Center towers burned and collapsed onto fleeing occupants and rescue workers, and a section of the Pentagon smoldered.

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