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BCMA Board of Women’s Affairs hosts Mental Health Awareness


Presented by the Vice Chairperson of the Social Services – Farida Bano Ali

LOCATION: Surrey Jamea Masjid - 12407 72 Ave, Surrey, BC V3W 2M5

In the Muslim community, mental health awareness has been a difficult topic for Muslims in

British Columbia, and one where cultural and physical barriers have impeded mental help. To Farida Ali, this was unacceptable. Post-pandemic, community distress has been amplified with constant negative information about the world. Because of this, Farida decided to host a series of mental health awareness programs. Farida has been deeply involved in the community for 20 years, with the belief that cognitive function was missing in discussions regarding mental health. Continuing through life without challenging your brain may make life easy, but subconsciously, issues with one’s mental health fester. As Muslims, we must be meaningful in life with our actions, as Allah, subhanahu wa ta'ala, has blessed us with all of our faculties. Compassion is one of Islam’s greatest stressors, and it is what allows us to cooperate as human beings. Our faculties are above animals, we can make a difference in life with our greater intelligence. These events will be a vessel to learn to use our lives meaningfully. This grassroots effort drew an audience of approximately 40 brothers and sisters, all eager to learn about resources in the community, and clear up any misconceptions regarding the relationship between physical and cognitive health. Three speakers led the event’s panel, that being: Dr. Farhan Haque, Consultant Psychiatrist - Farida Bano Ali – RN/Reg. Psychiatric/Forensic Nurse – and Mia Balawi BSW, RSW, CCTP TIIP (Level 1), and Sister Mary Asin, Chairperson of the Women’s Council welcomed the audience.

Dr. Farhan Haque initiated the panel with a presentation on common mental illnesses, their symptoms, causes, and how one learns to navigate the duniya. Important ideas to note, are that nearly 50% of individuals in the world experience a form of mental illness in their life. An issue that affects half the world’s population, yet there is an unsavory quality to mental health discussion in Muslim circles. Interestingly, Dr. Haque stresses that the biggest cause of any mental illness is genetics, and thus, it is not something that can be willed away or just ignored.

There is a link between physiological stressors and biology that affects human cognition. Therefore, any mental illness must stem from the physical brain, or another part of the body, and thus must be treated. Dr. Haque stressed that resources are available for any mental illness, whether it be counselling or medication, or even just a voice to talk to. Importantly, mental health is not your fault, however, it is your responsibility to mitigate and nurture your development and fostering an open discussion and community in the Muslim community would work wonders for cognitive improvement.

Counsellor Mia Balawi provided a speech next, and continuing the theme of mental health importance, discussed how to connect the deen to one’s mental health, and the benefits of spirituality in grounding one’s mentality. Mia discussed how a lot of modern counselling techniques have roots within the Hadith and the Quran, specifically deep breathing, and mindfulness. Conversation and community were stressors in Mia’s speech as well, saying that Muslims have an ingrained knowledge of faith in them, and this provides them answers for tackling their mental anguish. This metaphysical jihad is not to be conquered alone. We need our family, our friends, and resources to demolish any stigma and barrier to improving mental health or admitting weakness. Mia Balawi’s private counselling practice, Cozy Comfort Counselling, is British Columbia’s only faith-integrated form of counselling for Muslims, specializing in Muslim women.

Farida Bano Ali then concludes the panel with a Q&A, and the theme of the audience was a desire for more awareness for future mental health events for everybody in communities. This event was the first in a series of visits to mosques to gauge community involvement and bridge barriers and gaps within the Muslim community. The next event is proposed to be in January 2023, on Dementia, Alzheimer's, and Parkinson's Disease. This event will explore how these mental illnesses affect spouses and family members, and how to cope with individuals suffering from them. This program will feature Senior speakers and will focus on how Muslim elders are affected. We are looking forward to an engaged community response, as a healthy mind will lead to a healthy community.

We wish to thank Sister Nur Ram, the Women’s Director of Burial Services & Finance

Committee (Burnaby) for moderating the event. A huge thanks to Sister Zinnet Buksh (Burnaby Branch – Director of Sports) & Sister Sherene Khan for volunteering their valuable time for the event. A final thanks to the Surrey/Delta Branch Chairperson & Directors for facilitating the venue and providing technical support.