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Disbelief, Trauma, & Betrayal: 3 Tips To Healing

Disbelief, Trauma, & Betrayal: 3 Tips To Healing

The Day they will appear before Allah, nothing about them will be hidden from Him. He will ask, “Who does all authority belong to on this Day? To Allah—the One, the Supreme! (Ghafir 40:16)

To learn that a trusted friend and community leader has been keeping tabs on you, your loved ones, or your community can lead to many emotions, including hurt, anger, betrayal, and confusion. [1] When a trusted leader in the community is found to be involved in spying on the community for a long period of time, then those feelings are amplified even further. Spying on the Muslim community is not a new phenomenon. Nearly one out of five American Muslims report experiencing government surveillance. [2] It is important to acknowledge the impact of repetitive traumatic stress on the individual and the community. When spying is carried out by an individual who works for an organization that advocates for the civil rights of American Muslims, then the trauma, stress, and shock is overwhelming and the damage can last a long time. This is what has happened in Ohio with the termination of CAIR-Ohio executive director after learning that he committed egregious ethical and professional violations. [3] The sections below offer a pathway for individuals and communities to consider as they process the recent events and begin the healing journey when they are ready.

Pathway for healing after a traumatic event:
Acknowledge the impact → Ground yourself spiritually & reframe
→ Channel your energy

Acknowledge the impact

Cognitive dissonance refers to the mental conflict we experience when a person’s behaviors don’t match their beliefs, which has an emotional impact and destructive effect on a community’s cohesion. [4] Events that are hard to make sense of can distance people from their faith, community, leadership, and institutions. In describing the impact of surveillance from law enforcement among the NYC Muslim community, Dr. Arshad Ali states, “The fabric of political mobilization had been ripped apart, and repair was not easy” [5]. The impact? People did not know who to trust anymore, and individuals who knew the betrayer felt shock, puzzlement, confusion, betrayal, hurt, and cautiousness.
spying quote
To achieve healing, we need to unpack the implications of surveillance, acknowledge the impact and have the tools to process our situation. Each person may react in a different way to a traumatic or stressful incident in the community. The differences in everyone’s reactions are based on each person’s past experiences and ways of coping. You can begin to acknowledge the impact of the incident on you by identifying the physical, emotional, and spiritual symptoms you may be experiencing. Here are some experiences you may be having:

  • Low energy
  • Aches and pain
  • Stomach issues
  • Sleep issues
  • Changes in appetite
  • Difficulties concentrating
  • Shock, denial, disbelief
  • Anger
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Feeling sad and depressed
  • Numb and disconnected
  • Despair, anxiety and fear
  • Questioning why is this happening
  • Fearing the actions of people more than The Creator
  • Losing hope and trust in Allah and others
  • Difficulties accepting Allah’s wisdom and Qadar (destiny) behind such incidents
  • Fear of involvement with Muslim institutions

Then, process your emotions to make meaning of what’s going on for you. Make sure you acknowledge and accept your feelings, process your emotions, and channel your energy (see more on this below).

  • Be careful of ignoring your emotions through intellectualization. This means using facts and logic to distance yourself from what you may truly be feeling, like anger, hurt, and hopelessness. Instead, acknowledge and accept your emotional and physical experiences.
  • Be careful of spiritual bypassing or using faith to shut down and avoid emotions. Just as the Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessings of Allah be Upon Him) grieved after the loss of his son, be open to processing your emotions so that you can grow.
  • Be careful of ruminating or repeatedly thinking about why and how something happened. Trying to make meaning and gain control may make you forget the things you do have control over, like using your words and actions to care for yourself and those around you. It also makes you vulnerable to mental and physical exhaustion, feelings of depression, grief, and fear. Instead, channel your energy towards efforts in your community.
The Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessings of Allah be Upon Him) reminded us:
“The strong believer is better and more beloved to Allah than the weak believer, although both are good. Strive for that which will benefit you, seek the help of Allah, and do not feel helpless. If anything befalls you, do not say, “if only I had done such and such” rather say “Qaddara Allahu wa ma sha’a fa’ala (Allah has decreed and whatever he wills, He does).” For (saying) ‘If’ opens (the door) to the deeds of Satan. ” (Ibn Majah)
  • Acknowledge and accept your feelings
  • Process emotions
  • Channel your energy
  • Intellectualization
  • Spiritual bypassing
  • Preoccupation over why

Ground yourself spiritually & reframe

While we may feel shaken, our faith can spiritually ground and guide us to re-frame the current situation to be resilient.
Allah (The Most Glorified and Most High) reminds us that,

Misfortunes can only happen with God’s permission––He will guide the heart of anyone who believes in Him: God knows all things (Al-Taghaabun 64:11)

Yes, this is hard for our community and us. We know that Allah (The Most Glorified and Most High) controls everything. If this happened, it was for a reason. Reflect on your past.  Think of a time when you initially thought something was awful, but it was better for you in the long run. It may be difficult to see the “big picture” right now. However, with time and new information, things may change. Ask yourself:

  • How can we use this as an opportunity to identify the benefit that has come from this?
  • What have we learned?
  • How have we and our community grown from this experience?

Remind yourself of Allah’s (The Most Glorified and Most High) promise,

And [remember, O Muhammad], when those who disbelieved plotted against you to restrain you or kill you or evict you [from Makkah]. But they plan, and Allah plans. And Allah is the best of planners.” (Anfaal 8:30)
  • Put your trust in Allah (The Most Glorified and Most High).
  • Reflect on the names that are most meaningful for the emotions you are experiencing.
  • Acknowledge Allah (The Most Glorified and Most High) and allow His attributes to emotionally support you through this challenge.
  • He is Al-Khaaliq, The Creator
  • He is Al-Muhaymin, The Guardian, The Witness, The Overseer
  • He is Al-Qahhaar, The Subduer, The Ever dominating
  • He is Al-’Aleem, The All-Knowing
  • He is Al-Khabeer, The Acquainted, the All-Aware
  • He is Al-Hafeedh, The Preserver, the All protecting
  • He is Ar-Raqeeb, The Watchful

Channel your energy

Disbelief, Trauma, & Betrayal: 3 Tips To Healing
Spying has a chilling effect on our sense of safety as individuals and as a community, which is the intended impact. These tactics are meant to silence and disrupt communities and decrease community connections. Remember Allah’s promise,

Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is within themselves. (Ra’ad 13:11)

We need to channel our energy and double up our efforts! We are not alone in these experiences and can find solidarity with others seeking equality and justice. Shaitan (Satan) breeds fear and wants us to be afraid of our fellow Muslims, neighbors, and anti-Muslim hate groups. However, Allah (The Most Glorified and Most High) reminds us.

It is Satan who urges you to fear his followers; do not fear them, but fear Me, if you are true believers. (Al-Imran 3:175)

Do the opposite of what the anti-Muslim hate groups want.

  • Learn about the impact of anti-Muslim hate groups and surveillance on our communities
  • Connect with your community: go to the masjid, check in with your friends and neighbors, etc.
  • Engage in efforts to rebuild community trust
  • Support Muslim institutions making a difference through your words, on social media, and donations

And remember the hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessing of Allah Be Upon Him)

Be mindful of God, and He will take care of you. Be mindful of Him, and you shall find Him at your side. If you ask, ask of God. If you need help, seek it from God. Know that if the whole world were to gather together in order to help you, they would not be able to help you except if God had written so. And if the whole world were to gather together in order to harm you, they would not harm you except if God had written so. The pens have been lifted, and the pages are dry (Tirmidhi)

Content Creators: Sameera Ahmed, PhD, Hanan Hashem, MA, Sondos Al Sad, MD, Ayaz Hyder, PhD, and Madiha Tahseen, PhD

  1. The term “institutional betrayal” is often used to describe these feelings when a violation of trust takes place between a community and the leaders they trust. (Smith, C. P., & Freyd, J. J. (2014). Institutional betrayal. American Psychologist, 69(6), 575.)
  2. O’Connor, A. J., & Jahan, F. (2014). Under surveillance and overwrought: American Muslims’ emotional and behavioral responses to government surveillance. Journal of Muslim Mental Health, 8(1).
  3. https://www.cair-ohio.com/an-important-community-message-from-cair-ohio/
  4. Takaku, S. (2001). The effects of apology and perspective taking on interpersonal forgiveness: A dissonance-attribution model of interpersonal forgiveness. The Journal of Social Psychology, 141, 494–508.
  5. Ali, A. I. (2016). Citizens under suspicion: Responsive research with community under surveillance. Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 47(1), 78-95.

Blog Author:

Hanan Hashem

Dr. Hanan Hashem is a Researcher and Community Educator at The Family and Youth Institute. Dr. Hanan Hashem is also an Assistant Professor in the Clinical Psychology Department at William James College in Boston, Massachusetts, where she specializes in teaching topics concerning cultural considerations in the field of psychology; lifespan development; psychopathology; and psychological research methods.

Sondos Al Sad

Sondos Al Sad, MD, MPH, NCMP is a Researcher at The Family and Youth Institute. She is also a Clinical Assistant Professor at the Ohio State University and a family medicine physician. Dr. Al Sad completed her medical school in Jordan, finished her Family Medicine Residency at the University of Kentucky, and holds a Master’s in Public health and Epidemiology.

Madiha Tahseen

Dr. Madiha Tahseen is the Research Director and a Community Educator at The Family and Youth Institute. She holds a Ph.D. in Applied Developmental Psychology from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Her research expertise is in positive youth development amongst Muslim-American youth, particularly focusing on the role of cultural and religious contexts in character development among minority populations.

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Sameera Ahmed

Dr. Sameera Ahmed is the Executive Director and Founder of The Family and Youth Institute. She holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Fairleigh Dickinson University. Dr. Ahmed is a leading expert on American Muslim youth and has produced numerous groundbreaking publications, including The State of American Muslim Youth, Uplifting Black Muslim Youth, Prevalence of Risk Behaviors of US Muslim College Students, and Alcohol Use Among US Muslim College Students.

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Zakat eligibility of The FYI

The Family & Youth Institute, or The FYI, is a well-known Muslim organization in the United States. It works to promote mental health and wellness by strengthening and empowering individuals, families, and communities through research and education. It has been working for many years to bring Islamic perspectives to understanding and promoting mental health in our communities.

It is dedicated to serving and supporting Muslims – safeguarding our deen, our families, and our future generations. Therefore, the work of The FYI comes in the category of ‘fi sabeelillah’ or the Path of Allah, within the eight categories where Zakat money can be used.

Zakah expenditures are only for the poor and for the needy and for those employed for it and for bringing hearts together [for Islam] and for freeing captives [or slaves] and for those in debt and for the cause of Allah, and for the [stranded] traveler – an obligation [imposed] by Allah, And Allah, is Knowing and Wise.”
(Al-Tawbah 9:60)

According to scholars who widen the meaning of fee sabeelillah to include any activities that promote Islamic growth, The FYI is indeed eligible to receive part of the Zakat funds for its programs and services. I urge Muslims in America to support this organization through their donations, general charity, and through their Zakat. I ask Allah swt to strengthen and guide The FYI to continue its good work in supporting Muslims.

Shaikh Ali Suleiman Ali, PhD

About Shaikh Ali

Sh. Ali Suleiman Ali was born in Ghana where he spent his childhood studying with various Muslim scholars. He then moved to Saudi Arabia and enrolled in the Islamic University of Madina.  He graduated with a degree in both Arabic and Islamic Studies. Dr. Ali went on to complete his Ph.D. in Islamic Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Sh. Ali serves on the Advisory Council of The Family & Youth Institute. He is the Senior Imam and Director of the Muslim Community of Western Suburbs in Canton, Michigan. Additionally, he serves as the Director of Muslim Family Services in Detroit and is a council member of the Fiqh Council of North America (FCNA). He is also a member of the North American Imams Federation (NAIF) and the Association of Muslim Jurists of America (AMJA).