Muslim With Psychosis: A Road Towards Compassion And Understanding

Health and Wellness

Within the last few years, as a community we have begun to talk openly about mental health.

Conversations about depression and anxiety have began to circulate in spaces where they were once  often ignored. While some headway is being made there are still a few diagnosis still thought, too taboo to speak of even in these “ safe spaces”.

Schizophrenia, Bi- Polarity, and Multiple Personality disorders are just a few medical conditions that have all been left out of the discussion when talking about Mental Health. Many mental health professionals do not fully understand what causes and, how to treat these illnesses. It is understandable then, that the layman only draw their conclusions from the history of the handling and subsequent portrayal of people with more severe mental health concerns.

A Bit Of Education

Schizophrenia as described by the National Institute of Mental Health

Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness that affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves. People with schizophrenia may seem like they have lost touch with reality, which causes significant distress for the individual, their family members, and friends. If left untreated, the symptoms of schizophrenia can be persistent and disabling. However, effective treatments are available. When delivered in a timely, coordinated, and sustained manner, treatment can help affected individuals to engage in school or work, achieve independence, and enjoy personal relationships.

Onset and Symptoms

Schizophrenia is typically diagnosed in the late teen years to the early thirties and tends to emerge earlier in males (late adolescence – early twenties) than females (early twenties – early thirties). A diagnosis of schizophrenia often follows the first episode of psychosis, when individuals first display symptoms of schizophrenia. Gradual changes in thinking, mood, and social functioning often begin before the first episode of psychosis, usually starting in mid-adolescence. Schizophrenia can occur in younger children, but it is rare for it to occur before late adolescence.

The symptoms of schizophrenia generally fall into the following three categories:

Psychotic symptoms include altered perceptions (e.g., changes in vision, hearing, smell, touch, and taste), abnormal thinking, and odd behaviors. People with psychotic symptoms may lose a shared sense of reality and experience themselves and the world in a distorted way. Specifically, individuals typically experience:

  • Hallucinations, such as hearing voices or seeing things that aren’t there
  • Delusions, which are firmly held beliefs not supported by objective facts (e.g., paranoia – irrational fears that others are “out to get you” or believing that the television, radio, or internet are broadcasting special messages that require some response)
  • Thought disorder, which includes unusual thinking or disorganized speech

In an effort to remove stigmas and offer understanding Haute and Muslim sat down with sister Asmaa  Radwan, Students With Psychosis Ambassador  to talk candidly  about living as a Muslima with psychosis and, her advocacy work.

Thank you for your work as a Mental Health advocate. Can you tell our readers  a little bit about you?

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk about this necessary topic! 

My name is Asmaa Mahmoud Radwan. I am from Egypt, and I am a student at The Faculty of Arts, in which I study Arabic language and its literature.
I joined Students With Psychosis as a student leader back on the 26th of August 2019.
Even before that I have been writing posts on my Facebook account about my journey with Schizoaffective disorder, and sharing many articles about Schizophrenia, and Depression.
One of my goals is to become a writer.I write prose poems in Arabic, and I translated some of my poems into English  to share them on the open mic by S.W.P. I participated in 3 open mic events till now.

What are some symptoms common with Schizoaffective Disorder?

Well, that’s a long topic to talk about.
I am going to focus on some of the very weird symptoms I had while having Schizoaffective disorder, depressive type. 
_I used to believe there was a tiny device implanted in my body, and it was connected to something like a small television. On its screen the bad guys were watching all my thoughts, and anything that my eyes see.It’s like my eyes were cameras.This tiny device was also able to let them hear everything I, and the ones I talk to, say. 
_ I used to feel some changes that happened in my body, especially my brain, and my backbone. It is like I was transforming into someone who is much stronger, and into the most genius person in the world.
_ I used to smell weird, very bad, and sometimes very fragrant smells for moral things, such as sanctimoniousness, and sincere faith.
_Sometimes I couldn’t eat certain types of food, and even water tasted really bad that I was avoiding drinking water for long periods of my day.

Did these symptoms signal red flags for you and your family?

Most of my symptoms were actually red flags for me, and my family.
The delusion that I was chosen by God for a holy mission, made me believe for many years that I was some kind of prophet. That’s of course contrary to our belief as Muslims.
Additionally I was having abnormal sexual desires which were very confusing for me.
I also had thoughts which weren’t  appropriate about Allah. Those thoughts were insulting the divine_self every time I heard parts of Quran or the Adhan for prayer.
I used to blame myself badly for all these symptoms, but my Psychiatrist told me not to feel guilty, and not to blame myself as these symptoms are out of my control and part of my illness.

What age were you officially diagnosed?

I was diagnosed between the age 18 and 19. That was in 2012.

Many illnesses are first diagnosed as depression. Was this true for you?

Well, I was first diagnosed with Acute Psychotic Episode. My psychiatrist told me if these symptoms lasted more than 6 months, I would be diagnosed with another illness.
I also would like to mention that I kept thinking for more than a year that I was too lazy to study, and to go to my classes.
That was depression, but I wasn’t aware I needed medical help at that time.

Are there any resources that were of help to you, that you wish to share?

I like the book called “Understanding and Helping the Schizophrenic” a guide for the family and friends. It is by Silvano Arieti. I found it very useful. 
There’s also this very helpful, handout about Schizoaffective disorder 

Did you have support or any challenges with family?

My mother, my brother, and many of my friends are my biggest support, although I was blamed all the time for talking about my diagnosis.Many of my relatives, and friends still blame me for talking about it. 

Research has proven that proper medication and therapy can greatly improve ones quality of life. What advice do you have for people fearful of getting professional help?

I had to see many psychiatrists to get my accurate diagnosis. 
Many psychiatrists diagnosed me with schizophrenia while I was having severe depression too
They didn’t treat me for depression, and all their focus was on schizophrenia, especially the visual, and auditory hallucinations.
Also they used to give me very high or very low doses of anti-psychotic medication. Both doses weren’t right for my condition. 
And when I told them I tried to take my life more than once, they didn’t take me seriously when I deeply needed to be hospitalized. 
I have been having difficulties with concentration on studying, and memorizing my study subjects. 
For 4 years while I was in the faculty of dentistry. I used to understand the lectures very well. The problem was when I got to open the book in some subjects to start studying. I could never fully understand or memorize any paragraph of the first page in order to turn to the next page, and the rest of the book. I chose to leave this faculty as I couldn’t pass the exams except for the first year. 
I got my diagnosis accurately only 3 years ago.

Many communities accuse the ill of being possessed, was this your experience as well?

Actually yes. Many of my relatives, and friends told me this could be a type of possession, envy, or even black magic. I never listened to their mythical justifications. 

Living with constant hardship that we do not understand can make life feel bleak at times. How has your faith pulled you through? What advice do you have for others?

Don’t let the stigma in society, or even self_stigma stand in the way of your well_being. Don’t let your illness stand in your way to have great opportunities for a much better life. 
I believe that God gave me the greatest gift. It is experiencing life, and my gratitude for being alive is to appreciate this gift , and not to give away my life no matter what. I still believe in my abilities, and in my willingness to have a better life because I believe in Allah.

Have you implemented Dhikr, or Hijama ( cupping with recitation) as part of your self-care?

Dhikr and recitation are a daily routine for me. When I am not able to read some parts of Quran, I listen to one of my favorite readers. It makes me feel peaceful, and it gives me the will, and the power to keep moving. 

Is there a Dua you wish our readers to make for you?

My favorite Dua which I would like readers to make for me is:

اللهم إني أسألك علمًا نافعًا، ورزقًا طيبًا، وعملًا متقبلا.                                                                     آمين

(O Allah, I ask you for beneficial knowledge, a good sustenance, and acceptable action. )

Haute and Muslim would like to thank Sister Asmaa for sharing her story. It is our Dua that this article is beneficial for the reader and our Ummah.

Listed below are additional resources.

Muslim Wellness Foundation

Institute for Muslims and Mental Health

Muslim Youth Hotline Naseehah.Org

National Institute For Mental Health

Students With Psychosis


Ameenah Muhammad-Diggins is an award winning American Entrepreneur and Business Coach. Her best selling book " Bashirah and the Amazing Bean Pie" made history when it became the first Islamic Children's book to be adapted into a play by a major U.S. museum. She founded Haute and Muslim in 2020 to answer the need for a faith based inspirational lifestyle brand. She has been featured in Essence Magazine, Huffington Post, Rolling Out , Philadelphia Magazine and SJ Magazine. Have an idea for an article? Email ameenah@muhammaddiggins.com IG @ameenah_diggins


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