As I sit here preparing a course on client centered therapy, I realise that my experiences during Ramadhan were a great example of the underlying theory behind this psychological approach. I often find it quite frustrating being in the minority as a Muslim in a non-Muslim country (Ireland) and often yearn to be somewhere where I will live in a neighbourhood full of other Muslims. I find peace however every Friday when I attend the Masjid for Jumu’ah. I love to be in the company of my sisters, even if it involves a 30 minute drive to another county and is only once a week.
During Ramadhan, as is often the case, the number of attendees significantly increases. Last year was particularly special as we also got together on Fridays for iftar, followed by taraweeh. The sisterhood of Islam was simply inspiring every single week. I looked forward to each Friday, excited to meet up with my sisters for the sake of Allah (SWT), Alhamdulillah. I felt a mixture of emotions when we got together for our last Iftar; I was so happy and at peace for having the chance to have got together each week with a beautiful group of sisters that I have created some amazing friendships with, but saddened that as Ramadhan was coming to a close we would no longer be meeting up in this way each week. It must be said however, that now, after some time has passed I have made some brilliant new friendships that will remain with me forever, insha Allah, and this continues to bring me much happiness.
According to the client centered approach, or more generally to humanistic psychology, a person becomes psychologically disturbed when there is an incongruence between the actual self and the ideal self. In other words, when there is a discrepancy between who a person actually is and who they desire to be, they become distressed. It is said that the ideal self or desirable self is a self that is constructed based on the opinions of others. That is, we desire to be the person that others say we should be and we will continually strive to reach this state to get the conditional attention and acceptance of others. According to this approach, the greater the distance between this perceived ideal self and the person we actually are, the greater the distress we experience. You might wonder what this has to do with sisters meeting every Friday for iftar and taraweeh during Ramadhan?!
Why did I find so much peace every Friday? According to the client centered approach there are a couple of things at play here. If, according to the client centered approach, our definition of the ideal self is based on the opinions of others and the desire to be accepted by them, then every Friday when we got together we were all confident and secure in the knowledge that we all shared the same goals. We were in the company of sisters that share the same goal Islamically and we all strive for that same ideal self according to the definition given by Islam, regardless of the background we come from. Secondly, the fact that our meetings occurred within the Masjid made this goal even more salient than if we were meeting outside. Relating this back to the client centered approach, every Friday that we were meeting up, the distance between the actual and ideal self was therefore significantly reduced resulting in feelings of contentment; a far cry the frustrations I mentioned before that I have frequently experienced living in a non-Muslim country.
Allah gives us blessings in ways we do not even know, and my experience last Ramadhan has made me find a secret blessing within things that had previously frustrated me – specifically, being a minority Muslim, alhamdulillah. I wouldn’t have had this enriching experience if I had been in the neighbourhood full of Muslims that I had previously longed for. Living in Muslim-majority countries people are generally all from the same country, but being in a minority like this, members of our congregation come from all the corners of the world, united together for the same purpose. There was no animosity, despite that fact that we all came from completely different backgrounds and have had completely different upbringings. All eating from the same plate, standing side by side in prayer for the sake of Allah (SWT). Simply beautiful! That is the beauty of our deen. Every single family was from a different country, none of us knew each other before, but that didn’t matter. Who would believe we are practising the same religion that is portrayed so negatively in the media? Me, an English woman standing next to Lebanese woman, next to an Algerian who was stood next to a Moroccan, who was standing next to a Nigerian, who was next to a Saudi, next to an Egyptian, next to an Irish woman, next to a Pakistani woman, next to a Palestinian, next to a Libyan. All the colours of the rainbow, United Nations, all united. Physically very different, from completely different backgrounds, but all with an identical purpose. Like the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said, “All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action. Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood.” (Prophet Muhammad’s last sermon)
And in the Qur’an it says, “O mankind! Lo! We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye may know one another. Lo! the noblest of you, in the sight of Allah, is the best in conduct. Lo! Allah is Knower, Aware.” (Qur’an Al-Hujurat :13)
Every Friday during Ramadhan my actual and ideal self were so close together that I felt the most amazing inner peace and drive to get closer to Allah (SWT). Naturally, people seek to regulate their emotions and when people experience positive emotions they will strive to keep this feeling as much as possible. The lasting friendships that I made during Ramadhan has assisted me in maintaining these positive emotions due to heightened congruence between my actual and ideal self. Friendships with sisters who share the same goals; friendships built on unconditional positive regard for each other. That is the beauty of sisterhood (and brotherhood) in Islam, united in one Ummah. I sincerely hope and pray that all of you reading this experienced the same happiness and contentment last Ramadhan and that, inspired by our Deen, your actual and ideal selves become more congruent, united as an Ummah through identical goals in the worship of Allah (SWT).
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Hannah Morris is originally from the UK, but is currently living in Ireland. She converted to Islam in January 2007, is married with 4 children. Founder of ActiveMindCare (www.facebook.com/activemindcare) promoting psychological wellbeing in the Ummah, she is also working as a Muslim Youth Counsellor and instructor for the BSc Psychology for the Islamic Online University (IOU). With a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a Masters in Health Psychology, she has over 10 years of experience working in health and social care settings in the UK, USA and Ireland.