by Ethar Hamid
Iman contemplated swallowing every pill that she could find in the house. She wasn’t sure whether it would do the trick, but it seemed that it was worth a shot. She considered cutting herself, too. She had heard that it could offer some relief. But the thought of Allah, the one who loved His servants, stopped her. Allah wouldn’t want me to do that, she thought to herself. Besides, she continued, Allah exists. The thought of that alone made her feel better. So though she experimentally snipped a little at her finger with safety scissors, she never harmed herself.
Iman fretfully scurried from one class to the other until the day was over, with only one thing sustaining her-the phrase she would repeat in her head; “O Allah, send peace upon Prophet Muhammad, and upon all of his family and companions.” She remembered the story of the soldier who, complying with the order of his commander, ran through the battlefield after a skirmish to retrieve his army’s flag, amidst constant gunfire from the enemies. As he sprinted, he sent peace upon prophet Muhammad. And that was probably why he had survived. The moral of the story sustained Iman as she walked through her own battlefield; through seas of people who were “watching her, following her, and who could hear her thoughts.” In reality, there was no such battle being raged against her, nor war. But she never knew of this. And though she was emotionally scarred from her destructive thoughts, the oft-repeated words strengthened her.
The obsessive thoughts that consumed Iman’s mind were not completely impossible in their probability; they were not the likes of “I’m a 1950’s movie star, arose from the dead.” They had a more realistic, if not more distressing, nature. For example, she would think that her doting younger brother had hated her, and was, therefore, trying to make her life as hellish as possible-the most ordinary word her brother would say would set her off on a screaming rage. What disabled Iman’s functioning in life was the next-to-devout conviction that certain people (she could never say exactly whom) were stealthily watching and following her. For what purpose? She didn’t know. Her predicament was very much like that of a person convinced that the C.I.A. is after him, but is at a loss to explain what he did wrong, or what they want with him. So though Iman considered herself to be free from alluring intrigue, she still felt eyes that watched her, and still saw feet that pursued her.
The terror was that it could be anyone. And it was. One day, it was the person walking his dog on the sidewalk in front of her house. The next; the waiter who took her order at the pizzeria. It was the dentist who checked her teeth. Even the postman who came along on Mondays and Thursdays had it in for her.
Despite being driven to terror and anxiety at such beliefs (and even at things like the drop of a pin on the floor, for, certainly, even that was part of the conspiracy of some hidden forces), Iman would supplicate to Allah. She would implore Allah as hard as she could-Allah, please help me. Allah, please help me. Allah, please help me…
The medication that Iman took was no help in erasing the anxiety-inducing imaginings that ran through her mind in a consistent fashion. Iman’s parents took their daughter from one doctor to another, in hopes of finding an effective treatment. Throughout the years, Iman had seen several psychiatrists, and had taken the meds that each had prescribed. But nothing had worked for long. Yet time and tide wait for no man; by the time she had had her fourth doctor, Iman was no longer a depressed thirteen-year-old with suicidal thoughts, but a seventeen-year-old with acute mania, her waxing-and-waning condition having moved up in its spectrum.
After several meetings of hearing Iman describe her symptoms, which he recognized as distorted mentality, racing thoughts, and feelings of elation that were unrelated to the events of her life, the new psychiatrist proposed a plan, to which Iman and her parents had agreed to; to gradually get Iman off of her antidepressant med, for treatment under an antipsychotic drug. Effective-immediately.
Before long, antidepressant withdrawal syndrome had kicked in on Iman. She could hardly think, nor move a muscle…much less perform ablution and go through all the motions of prayer that were required of her, five times a day. Applying water to her limbs and then standing, bowing, prostrating, and kneeling were a tall order, when all she wanted to do was crawl into a corner and try to stop the wooziness. Despite this roadblock to accomplishing five prayers a day, Iman forced herself to offer most of them by performing dry ablution with a stone she had found at the gravel road near her house, and by praying sitting down. She hoped that Allah would accept this firm effort of hers.
Withdrawal pain had brought Iman to her knees so much that, one Friday afternoon, she took a pair of sharp scissors from her drawer, grabbed locks of her lovely, curly, dark hair, and hacked them off. She slashed on until she had a boy-cut. And before long, her room was coated with chestnut-colored tufts. She sat on her bed and stared at the dark material lying all around her, and tears rolled down her cheeks. Strangely, however, the only words that came out of her mouth were the repetition of the phrase “la illaha illa Allah.”
Iman lay in a heap of utter, defeated anguish. It had been two weeks since she had decreased her anti-depressant dosage; dizziness had her in its clutches, and her brain felt as if it was being zapped by electricity, persisting at five-minute intervals. As she was lying on the couch in the living room, her mom had said something to her. But Iman was in far too much pain to respond. “Iman? Can you hear me?” her mother had asked. Iman didn’t answer. It hurt too much.
Then, amidst her shivers of throbbing pain, and for no reason apparent to her, Iman remembered a chapter of the Qur’an that she used to listen to on her cassette tape when she was little, and she remembered the reciter’s style of reading it, too. She began to mutter the Arabic verses in a similar fashion, which the meaning thereof can translate to; “Indeed, those who say; our Lord is Allah, then remain steadfast, will have the angels descend upon them, who will say; fear not, nor grieve, and have the glad tidings of the Heaven which you were promised. We are your protectors in this life, and in the Hereafter. And therein shall you find all that your souls desire; therein shall you have all that you ask for…a gift from One Forgiving and Merciful. And who is better in speech than he who calls men to Allah, and works righteousness, and says that he is one who submits his will to Allah? And never can good and evil be equal-repel evil with that which is better, and the one between he and you is enmity will be as a close companion. And none will be granted this except those who have patience-none will be granted this except the extremely lucky.”*
“Iman? Iman!” Iman’s mother cried, afraid. She ran off to inform her husband (and Iman’s dad) that Iman was delirious. It was in the newfound quiet of the room, amidst almost unbearable pain, that Iman smiled a small smile. “Alhamdulillah,” she croaked out.
*Surat Fussilat, Ch. 41, vs. 30-35