Muslim Student Association Zoom Meeting

Iman Saymeh, a clinical social worker and CSUF alum, spoke to students about mental health in Islam on Wednesday. (Screenshot / Daily Titan)

Muslim students opened up about the stigma surrounding mental health in the Islamic community at a Cal State Fullerton Muslim Student Association event on Wednesday.

Iman Saymeh, a clinical social worker and CSUF alum, spoke to students about the generational gap between them and their parents, and how discussing topics like anxiety and depression in Muslim households can be difficult.

“When some parents saw the flyer on my social media they were like, ‘can you tell them about rebelliousness, can you tell them about respect,’ and I was like no we’re going to talk about what they want to talk about and we’ll go from there,” Saymeh said.

With this in mind, Saymeh opened up the workshop with some questions to put students at the center — How is your heart and what have you attached your heart to?

She talked to students about the most important matters in their lives and what happens when they form new friendships and relationships, specifically focusing on support systems and how those people show up for them when they are feeling distraught.

In Islam, Muslims are encouraged to follow the guidance of God and refrain from seeking acceptance from external sources. This can be in the form of material objects or through other people.

However, for some young Muslims, this can be a challenge.

Saymeh noted how the cultural differences between the religion and American culture can often result in loneliness.

She compared the communal culture of Islam to the individualism seen in America, where Muslim identities are connected to a whole community and an American culture where individuality is dominant.

“We need to connect, we need to be part of something bigger than you,” Saymeh said. “So Islam is not something that is here to oppress you or take anything away from you.”

Because of this cultural divide, Muslim youth find it difficult to open up to their parents about their mental health.

Despite this, Saymeh is hopeful for the next generation.

“I’m seeing openness with parents, especially with immigrant parents, in learning more about mental health and it really makes me happy because I know if we break a cycle that’s where healing starts to emerge and that’s where communication starts to get better,” Saymeh said.

Saymeh told young Muslims about this feeling stemming from the need to be perfect or from times when they had been betrayed. While encouraging students to reflect, Saymeh also proposed attending therapy, an uncommon suggestion due to the stigma surrounding mental health in Islam.

“I know that Allah has full control over everything, but I still find myself trying to take control of as much as I can and I don’t know how to let go”, said Selwa Hassen, a second-year CSUF student and Muslim Student Association member.

Even with more personal spiritual questions, students opened up about their faith with Saymeh, regarding God’s planning and how it can lead to negative emotions and uncertainty.

“How do we know when we bring things for ourselves if something negative happens in my life, how do I necessarily know if it’s from Allah or if I’m the one that caused it?” said Saana Khairi, a second-year CSUF student.

Questions like these not only encourage a safe space for Muslims to ask questions that otherwise would not be talked about, but it helps bring the CSUF Muslim community closer.

Saymeh said that speaking to Muslim youth was one of her favorite things to do because that generational gap allowed people to realize that perhaps the coping mechanisms their parents had implemented were not the right match.

“Not from a place of right or wrong, not from a place of rebellion, not from a place of ‘I hate my parents’, from a place of ‘It’s time to talk. It’s time to communicate on a deeper level, it’s time to do things differently,’” Saymeh said.

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