Mohammed Ashfaq, MBE, Managing Director at Kikit Pathways to Recovery (based in Birmingham), has written an op-ed about the issues surrounding drugs and alcoholism within the Muslim community. In particular, he looks at the reasons why drug offences in the Muslim community have risen – namely because the problem isn’t discussed enough in the community. He explains why this is and what the community and wider society should be doing in order to combat this.
About Kikit Pathways to Recovery
Kikit Pathways to Recovery is an organisation supporting health and social care needs of people from hard to reach and marginalised communities, including the Muslim community. They work predominantly with the BAME communities but their doors are open to everyone who needs help, whatever their colour or creed. They provide innovative community-based activities and structured treatment programmes that guide, mentor and support people to address issues including substance misuse, health and social wellbeing and community safety.
Amar told me he was closer to the devil than God. He started drinking at 17 and went on to smoke Cannabis. Before long he was hooked on heroin.
This is an all too familiar story and one which I hear regularly in my role as director at Kikit Pathways to Recovery, an organisation supporting the health and social care needs of people from hard to reach and marginalised communities, including the Muslim community.
I was therefore sadly not surprised when recent figures stated that the number of Muslims in prison for drug offences in England and Wales has jumped by 63 per cent over seven years, rising from 2,089 in 2010 to 3,406 in 2017.
In my opinion, the biggest challenge in addressing addiction in the Muslim community is how we talk to each other about these issues. Or, as in most cases, the fact we don’t talk. These issues are generally seen as taboo and are swept under the carpet. Those who are deemed to have any drug and alcohol issues are often shamed. But, of course, such stigma doesn’t only exist in the Muslim community. It is a problem in society generally, one which many drug and alcohol charities have been trying to change.
Breaking the taboo is therefore the first step that we need to overcome as a community. The second step is understanding the other challenges that addiction can lead to. Addiction can be linked to vulnerabilities such as mental health issues, involvement in crime and gangs. Another vulnerability, which can be overlooked, is a susceptibility to radicalisation. Every person’s circumstances are different and while it is not true of all cases, in my experience the two – radicalisation and narcotics – can sometimes be linked. I have sat with service users as they recount stories of being contacted by recruiters online, targeted because of their vulnerabilities and low self-esteem. One man was told that Britain was against him and that the “system” had put him on drugs. In another case, I have had to rip up a ticket to Syria after another addict, who had come to us for help, was groomed by radicalisers.
People who are at their lowest and are mentally fragile might be unable to rationalise their thinking or actions. That is why it is so important to not only offer rehabilitation services but look at the person holistically. Their background, personal situation and mental health may contribute to their drug or alcohol problem. It may also indicate their vulnerability to wider risks like crime and radicalisation.
Whilst it is true that not everyone with a narcotics problem will be vulnerable to these terrifying problems, it’s important that friends, families and professionals alike are comfortable talking about issues with addiction and its accompanying challenges.
So how do we get people talking about these problems and help them access the relevant health services?
Mosques and Imams have a responsibility to work with other services to promote efforts to remove the stigma of substance misuse and bring about a culture that gives people the space to feel they can discuss health problems. Many Imams already do this, so it’s important the message now goes even further. Imams are well respected and many parents seek advice from them. For parents, it is important to be aware of these issues and feel comfortable having conversations with their children or any family member if they notice a change. It is their support that can help loved ones access the services they need to beat addiction, and wider vulnerabilities such as susceptibility to radicalisation.
I have come across many families who don’t believe that drug addiction, crime or extremism are challenges that could ever happen to ‘their family’. The truth is, that these problems can affect people from all walks of life. Having these conversations can ensure there is no stigma in seeking help.
Whether it’s helping Amar recover from his addiction, or making someone understand that the world is not against them, the most important thing is to ensure that there is a culture that recognises these problems, and allows people to access the help they need.