British Muslims and non-Muslims gathered for the annual British Asian Trust Iftar at the JW Marriot Grosvenor House London ballroom on Friday, April 15.
As something rarely spoken about loudly, the evening theme of mental health captured the audience’s attention.
Opening the program, Imam Shabbir Hassan recited verses saying that with every difficulty comes ease.
His chosen words for the night were a motivational reminder that inspiration, confidence, and courage are the tools required to address the anguish brought on by mental health.
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Richard Hawkes, chief executive of the British Asian Trust, took to the stage, observing that when we, as people of different faiths and nationalities, come together, we can make a much better world.
He gave the example of BAT’s mental health program, which began ten years ago and has reached 28 million people through SMS and social media, delivering services to an impoverished but mobile-tech-literate society.
The guest speaker was Pakistani superstar Mahira Khan, an ambassador for the charity. She shared that 1 in 4 in Pakistan suffer from mental health, making the poignant observation that while some may donate large sums of money to support the charity’s work, if any person leaves the night with a better awareness of mental health, such that they simply check in on a friend to see that they are ok, then that in itself is a success.
Guests on the night included Arif Anees, who has just received the Freeman of the City of London award, entrepreneur Suleman Raza, Pakistani cricket legend Azhar Mahmood, MP Rushanara Ali, and many more.
Taking to the stage, Sanaa Ahmed, the mental health manager for Pakistan, also encouraged people to offer their support in any way possible.
Mental Health Advice
All in all, the evening brought to the forefront a subject area often dismissed and ignored. It tied into the mental health advice tendered by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), whose focus went beyond the function of faith, drawing into enriching the spirit of faith.
You see, even for Prophet Muhammad, there was a time to rest the mind, a time to entertain the soul, and a time to find inner peace.
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) himself suffered severe mental anguish when his wife Khadija and his uncle Abu Talib both passed away, and there was a social and economic boycott of Muslims in Makkah. This period was known as the Year of Sorrow.
Another example is the verse in the Qur’an in Surah al Kahf, where God says: “Then perhaps you would kill yourself through grief over them, [O Muḥammad], if they do not believe in this message, [and] out of sorrow.” Saheeh International
This was rhetorical of course. Yet, the point God made is that despite the Prophet’s feeling and knowing truth, the Prophet was unable to help others see that same truth and that caused him emotional pain.
If mental health issues do not affect you personally, you likely know someone affected by them. And it is this reality that gave the evening relevance and meaning, particularly after two years of a pandemic that saw many suffer all over the world.
Back to the theme of the iftar, positive words, encouraging support, and fabulous food, made a wonderful evening. A reminder that when we as people come together, we can fulfill our obligations, not just to God, but also to one another in our shared and common humanity.