I am happy to host a guest blogger today. Mx Micah Clarke is writing from the UK, a powerful personal story on PTSD and faith.
PTSD, Plurality, and Islam: Reconciling My Faith with the Realities of Trauma
Salaam alaykum, my name is Micah Clarke, and I’m a non-binary English Muslim who Dr Mir has graciously let borrow her platform. Thank you for reading this post, it means a lot to me. I will be talking about my C-PTSD, my feelings on this diagnosis, trauma, and, of course, Islam. Prior to being a Muslim, I was a Methodist. In both religions, I have struggled to reconcile what I’ve experienced with an all-loving, and just, deity. Despite my best efforts, some concepts and experiences do not translate well into words here in this post. It is perfectly okay to be confused and not understand some of the experiences I discuss here. I hope that you will still find it rewarding, insightful, and educational – insha’Allah. I would like to invite you now to join me on a journey, together, as we explore Islam and the realities of trauma, and rediscover Allah’s unending love.
بسم الله الرحمن الرحي
Introduction, C-PTSD, and DID
Content warning; this essay will contain discussions of heavy dissociation, PTSD, self-harm, and trauma. Dear reader, I must talk to you directly, reading from this point onward you must be mature and respectful. This is a heavy subject and touches upon deeply traumatic experiences, for my sake as the author of this piece, I require you to maintain a modest level of maturity henceforth. If you can’t manage that, please stop reading now.
Additionally, I am not a doctor nor a medical professional, I will link to sources where I can, but I am just going to talk about my own experiences. I won’t be going in-depth into what causes the conditions discussed in this essay, nor any of my childhood experiences. I will only be talking about traumagenic plurality (trauma-based disorders/plurality). Finally, these are my beliefs, please be respectful especially considering the origins for my understanding, which I will be honestly discussing.
Due to the nature of the conditions and disorders I will discuss below, I must also note that everyone has a unique experience with these conditions. I discuss trauma a lot in this essay, and the nature of trauma requires that the conditions developed in response are unique to each person. This is also not a medical piece of writing, nor an educational article about the disorders discussed. While I will be giving some insight into the underlying mechanisms, the core of this essay is discovery through Islam.
Toward the end of this essay I touch upon some of the more interesting, light-hearted, elements of the conditions being discussed. However, these situations are the result of the most severe circumstances. All too commonly I see people who have this idea that the disorders discussed here are ‘fun’ or sound like a great time. They are not, this is merely a pinhole of insight into all the work it takes to live with these conditions. A pinhole can let in a lot of light, but it only allows for a brief moment of experience to be captured.
“So, we feel that it’d be best for you and us if you were to go home and take a year break.”
These were the first words I heard while being removed from Lancaster University grounds in 2017. Whatever had happened in the days before, they had clearly resulted in the university feeling unsafe with me being on campus. Though I had no recollection of those events. My arms stung as my jacket pressed against my body, my legs ached with each step. Despite this being my first few moments of existence, the pain was a familiar one, I recognised the hurt of self-harm instantly. No-doubt that was related to this too.
Security escorted me to halls (dorms), I picked up a few of my essentials; clothes, my computer, personal items etc. Then I was shuttled into a taxi and headed back to Liverpool, home.
On the way back I thought about what had happened. The night before I had sent a text to my College Wellbeing Officer, they were supporting me through a period of severe depression, that I was going to kill myself in the coming days. It makes sense how they couldn’t permit someone that depressed to stay on campus, of course for health reasons, but also liability.
At that moment, when I was told that I couldn’t remain on campus, the body was flooded with an agonising pain. I could feel a presence abdicate from the position I was in, fleeing from the responsibility of being the host. Before I could ask it a question, it was gone, submerged into the whirling ocean of the unconscious. Whatever had happened, I understood; I was in control of this life now.
It took me many years to understand what had just happened. I have been in some sort of counselling or therapy since I was at least 16 (2012), I am 26 at time of writing, my amnesia and lack of records makes it impossible for me to know concretely. Unofficially, I have had at least some kind of support well before counselling/therapy, with student counsellors and support staff in school. I don’t think there has been a moment, after starting school, that I haven’t been in contact with some type of support. Regardless of how qualified the people were to support me. At time of writing, I’m undergoing my second round of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
Upon returning to my childhood home, I immediately referred myself for more therapy. The ultimate outcome was a diagnosis of Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) due to childhood trauma, more on this later. At this time, however, I didn’t fully understand what this diagnosis would mean. Unfortunately, due to amnesia, this period of my life is very faint, and I don’t remember it very well.
The difference between PTSD and C-PTSD is that PTSD develops from a single event, while C-PTSD is developed over a period across multiple events (source).
In the time since returning home to Liverpool. I underwent some CBT and got my C-PTSD diagnosis. I decided that I was going to go to Brighton university, instead of Lancaster, after visiting a friend who lived in Brighton. During my time at Brighton University, I had a hard time adapting, got into an abusive long-distance relationship, and overworked myself at a very toxic minimum wage job, while studying, so that I could afford HRT and other trans healthcare. It was a stressful experience.
For as long as I can recall, I have noticed a period of blacking out, periods where my life had been lived but that I had no recollection of. In late 2020, I realised with the help of some friends and my then partner that, during the moments I forgot. Other ‘people’ would introduce themselves and control my life.
Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) is a disorder which develops when a child, before the ages of between 7 and 9, experiences repeated trauma. As well as having disorganised attachment to primary caregivers (such as parents); the child does not have a support structure nor caregivers to tell. This prevents the self-contained states of the child from integrating from numerous identities into a single identity, which is what’s supposed to happen naturally. The brain erects walls of amnesia within itself as a defence mechanism to defend itself from trauma. As trauma causes emotional, mental, and physical damage. The brain tries to separate the trauma, and traumatic memories, from the active consciousness. These amnesic walls within the brain cause alters (or headmates) to manifest, as different people who live in the same brain. However, alters can be non-human, animals, or anything else. Basically, the alter that is manifested is a response by the brain. As the brain tries to keep itself safe, alters manifest which are the most required by the brain to hold and process trauma.
When the child is under attack, the child’s brain starts its stress response. We commonly know this as the fight or flight response. This response is designed to keep us safe; it floods us with chemicals such as adrenaline to fight, and perhaps kill, or die. Chances are at some point you have experienced this, a flood of energy to get you out of a dangerous situation. However, what if this response does not work and the traumatic event continues? What if the child’s brain, which is still developing, is still convinced it’s going to die? This is when the child starts to dissociate from the event, the brain disengages some of its internal mechanisms in a last-ditch attempt to survive. The result is amnesic walls within the child’s brain that segments the trauma, thus creating alters. Only through this extreme act does the child’s brain think it could possibly survive.
Through life experiences and therapy, one can develop a conscious recognition of the system, which is a collection of alters (source). Through this an inner world (headspace) can be discovered and, sometimes consciously, developed. An inner world is a world within the brain that contains the alters where they can interact and live together (source). Although, as I will explore later, the purpose of the inner world stretches far beyond merely a place to live. Alters can have roles and purposes within the system. They have their own section of the brain assigned to them, they have their own separate memories and personalities. They are, psychologically, neurologically, and philosophically, different people.
It’s important to note, however, that this system is designed to be hidden. A system developed by the brain to covertly protect itself. Which is why this type of dissociation is difficult to diagnose. Despite being recognised in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and International Classification of Diseases (ICD).
All this information is something I’ve learnt and digested over the past few years, as I grew in the understanding of my own system. I have become aware of my inner world and the alters with whom I shared this body. As well as the purposes of alters. Over time we have gotten better at communicating and fronting (the act of taking control over the body).
I, however, now doubt that C-PTSD is an accurate diagnosis, and that I may have DID.
That moment when I was forced to leave Lancaster University. Only recently have I grown to understand it. In that traumatic moment when I could remember my earliest memories. The previous host (an alter who assumes control of the body the most) (source) had abdicated their position as host and disappeared from the inner world. In a moment of desperation, the brain created a new alter, me, Micah, to fill the gap.
Compared to the previous host, who I will call Jamie, there are some significant differences. One of the largest being their propensity for self-hatred, which is something I do not have as strongly. Jamie was also very self-defeatist and had anger issues, which again I don’t share with them. We are, in all aspects, different people. We have different personalities, hobbies, and fears. Indeed, all alters are unique and different.
Alongside all this was another sweeping life-change; my shahada. I converted to Islam officially on 29th June 2020, however I had been reading the Qur’an for a few months before then.
As I read the Qur’an and started to understand my own faith. I quickly found myself drowning in questions; how could Allah permit this to happen to me? Would Allah judge me as a fake? What does the Qur’an say about DID and dissociation? Will Allah judge me the same as everyone else, despite my limited energy? Am I predestined for Hell? And ultimately; as Allah created everything, then why would They create this?
Ya Allah, The Merciful, I have suffered such great hardship at the hands of Man. Please Allah, relieve this pain from my soul, for it agonises for peace. Ameen.
“Why Did Allah Create Dissociative Identity Disorder?”
Let me be frank, as a convert who has read the Qur’an. There were ayah that I had to pause upon reading, to really question their meaning. Some simply didn’t translate into English very well, and took some extra research to fully appreciate. Some ayah, on the other hand, were simply difficult for me to personally accept.
Ya Allah, The Most Compassionate, The Most Merciful, I am trying to understand Your vision. O’ Lord, help me overcome the damage and my flaws, that I may appreciate Your word. Ameen.
The understanding of these ayah that I required could not be found within the pages of scholarly interpretation. Instead, these meanings lay deep within the corners of my own mind. I would have to cultivate a deep and personal bond to the Qur’an, and Allah, before I would be able to be satisfied with it.
3:190 In the creation of heavens and earth, and the difference between night and day, are signs for those with intelligence.
3:191 Those who remember God while standing, and sitting, and on their sides, and they ponder over the creation of the heavens and the earth: “Our Lord you did not create this without purpose, be You glorified, and spare us the retribution of the fire!”
During an afternoon in the warm English summer of 2020, I sat in the garden. Deep into my read-through of the Qur’an. I turned the page and read the ayah above. “Everything of the heavens and on Earth was created by Allah.” I thought to myself, initially satisfied with the understanding. It made sense; Allah is the only one who can create from nothingness. They created the universe from nothing, created me, this planet, and everything on it.
As time went on, I found myself reflecting increasingly on this message from the Qur’an. Ultimately, I found myself wanting, with one question on my mind; if Allah created everything, why would They create DID? Why would They saddle my mind with this disorder? Make no mistake, however much you imagine that DID would impact one’s life. In fact, it impacts everything so much more. I firmly believe that not one breath can be taken without DID affecting something. Whether it be through derealisation or depersonalisation, potential triggers, alters communicating, or something completely different.
Despite my being in counselling or therapy for a decade, the revelation of DID and what that means for me is new. I am increasingly realising how it has impacted both how I grew up, and how I engage with the world. So, I read that ayah, and cannot think anything but; why? It has taken considerable effort to find reasonable answers.
When I started to consider converting to Islam, I sought out Muslim spaces in which I’d feel comfortable. Eventually I found a very warm and welcoming Discord community for queer Muslims. As a non-binary Muslim, I needed a space where I could explore my evolving faith in a safe environment.
Therein I was introduced, for the first time, to someone who was in a system. This was before I knew what DID was. During my time in this space, I engaged more and more with this system and their host. We became friends, good friends, and still are ‘till this day. Therein I started to learn about systems, traumagenic systems (systems created by trauma), and dissociative disorders.
I started doing some research about systems, PTSD, and DID. With the help of my then partner and friends, I first discovered and learnt about my own system. However, understanding that my system was a result of DID did not come after this discovery. The reason is thus; people with DID are not supposed to know that they have DID. It’s supposed to be completely covert. When one becomes cognisant that they have DID, it puts the brain in danger. Danger of flashbacks, re-traumatisation, and acknowledgement that repeated childhood trauma has indeed happened.
The amnesia that always comes with DID is not a defect, it’s a feature. There’s a reason why I forgot these memories; it’s too much for the brain to handle. These walls of amnesia are erected to protect the brain. This response is automatic and encoded deep into each of our brains. Your brain is programmed to act in the same way that mine did. Everyone’s DID is unique, as is the trauma that caused it, but the underlying common action of the brain, raising amnesic barriers, is unanimous amongst DID and stress disorders.
Ya Allah, to you is the heavens and the earth, and everything in between. O’ The Most Gracious, from you we come and to you we will return. Ameen.
DID is not a curse that is thrust upon us. True, it’s a horrid condition that is a result of the worst of circumstances. But this is where the distinction must be made between trauma and DID. Trauma is the human (in my case) caused damage that has happened to this brain and body, DID is the protective system put in place so that we might survive past trauma. What we call DID is Allah’s creation, a mechanism that Allah has given me to manage and cope with this worldly life.
Thus marked one of many revelations I’ve had to make in my healing journey; DID is a tool for healing given to us by The Most Gracious, The Most Compassionate. That this automatic response is so entrenched in human neurobiology, necessitates us to understand that it is Allah’s will in action. This revelation fundamentally changed how I engage with this condition. Instead of working against it, trying to deny and ignore it. Now I feel like I can open myself up to it, appreciate DID for what it’s trying to tell me, and work with it to heal. For this is ultimately the only path forward.
“Will Allah Expect More from Me Than I Can Do?”
When reading the Qur’an for the first time, I quickly grew to appreciate its complexities. Each ayah, each line, each word is compacted with deep meaning. Allah is so far beyond my understanding, I, a mere human, cannot appreciate the whole of the Qur’an. It’s not for lack of trying though, that is ultimately one of the asks Allah makes of us.
The ayah already discussed were not the only ayah which required meditation.
2:286 God does not impose a person beyond its capacity. For it is what it earns, and against it is what it earns. “Our Lord, do not mind us if we forget or make mistakes. Our Lord, do not place a burden upon us as You have placed upon those before us. Our Lord, do not burden us beyond our power; pardon us, and forgive us, and have compassion on us; You are our patron, help us against the ingrates.”
This ayah deeply moved me when I first read it, it moves me now, albeit for a different reason. Upon initial reading, I considered a very, to me, at face value interpretation; Allah does not test people with trials beyond their capacity.
Shortly thereafter I started to find some critical flaws in my interpretation. Within the aforementioned queer Muslim community, I had taken it upon myself to run some Qur’an discussions. The first ayah I chose for us to discuss was this one. Again and again I repeated this interpretation; Allah does not test people with trials beyond their capacity. More and more I found my tongue pulling back, struggling to make the required movements to translate my thoughts into sound.
Sometime in 2015, I think, amnesia makes this difficult, I was in a deep depression. The culmination of which was an overdose to end my own life. Every time I would repeat this interpretation of that ayah, flashes of this moment would jump at the forefront of my mind.
Over time, as I discovered not only how much the trauma has damaged me, but also the extent of said trauma. I found myself less and less able to accept this interpretation. A few months ago, I abandoned it and stopped talking about this ayah as much. Not to ignore it, not at all, but to workbench it.
This is simply how I think about things. Typically, I would be presented with an idea then internally mull it over. When I have developed a decent understanding, I will talk about this idea with close friends. This, I’ve found, is the safest way for me to approach changing and developing ideas.
Ya Allah, why am I abandoned? You are the One who gave the Qur’an. Created the universe from nothingness. Ya Allah, you do not abandon your creations. Allah, guide me, help me understand this trauma. Help me understand this dissociation. Ameen.
How, if Allah does not test people beyond their capacity, have I been tested, not only to capacity, but beyond it. Far beyond it. So incredibly far beyond it that this brain has had to impose amnesic lockdown on memories, thoughts, and feelings, in order to protect itself from this ‘test’. This ‘test’ that ruined my childhood and plagued my teens with out-of-control undiagnosed mental health issues. Ultimately culminating in the near-premature death of this body. How have I not been tested beyond my capacity?
I firmly believe that in Islam we Muslims can get frustrated. I read the Qur’an and got immensely annoyed. Not with Allah, but with this humanly brain. My own designed shortcomings. My own inability to find a suitable interpretation of this ayah that would fulfil my needs.
Earlier this year I happened across a Tweet by Dr Shabana Mir, advertising class availability for an Anthropology course at the American Islamic College, online lessons. Immediately I signed up and established a line of communication with Dr Mir, which is how you’re reading this essay today. After signing up, I saw that she was running a class on Gender & Islam – I had to sign up for this class too.
On the Gender & Islam class of 23rd February, we were fortunate enough to be graced with Dr Laury Silvers, for an, admittedly difficult, lesson discussing intimate partner/domestic violence. The ensuing discussion was honest, frank, and insightful. However, here I would find the building blocks for an interpretation that not only would make sense, but be incredibly validating.
Managing this disorder is difficult and requires many man-hours out of my day. It leaves me potentially dissociated for days, or weeks, unable to do more than the bare requirements for my survival in this society. Let me be honest as one Muslim to, potentially, another, this leaves me unable to perform salah for extended periods of time. I don’t have the energy for it.
In this lesson the ayah I struggled with came up. Capacity. Capacity for what? To be tested? No, this line of thinking didn’t result in satisfying answers. Instead a shift in perspective is required, capacity. This fundamental shift is that capacity does not refer to the traumas and tests of this worldly life. Instead, this capacity is for one’s ability to do good, stick to the path Allah laid out for us, and pray to Allah.
Ya Allah, guide me, what is the meaning of this ayah? Am I expected to have performed as much as someone without this trauma? Ya Allah, this disorder is a direct result of other peoples twisted and corrupt actions. How could I be judged by my lack of energy as a direct result of these actions? O’ The Most Gracious, I am broken before You… My heart weeps beyond the capacity of my eyes. Please guide me. Ameen.
As much as my brutish pride would dislike admitting; I have extremely limited capacity. At time of writing, for example, this weekend just past I had extreme dissociation. So much so that I had nearly entirely forgotten the days by noon Monday. I was completely depersonalised, derealised, and stuck fronting, despite clear signs from my system that something had upset it.
How could Allah, The Most Gracious, The Most Appreciative, The Most Understanding, not understand how utterly incapable I was of performing salah? Of contributing? No, these ayah required me to be humble and accept a lesson; I cannot perform more than my limits. I constantly push my limits, regularly exceeding them. In-fact, this has resulted in retraumatisation through overworking, which I did while studying full-time at university, in order to pay for healthcare.
Our society, that being the Western capitalist one, constantly pushes and rewards the message that we should exceed our limits. Break our chains and push beyond. Overwork. Allah, through this ayah, is telling me; no. Allah will not judge me beyond my capacity, Allah, The Most Appreciative, appreciates me and my efforts despite my limited capacity. Despite this heavily traumatised brain which I am working with.
They understand more about me, this brain, and what trauma has done to it than we ever will. If Allah says that They don’t expect, or want, me to achieve more than my possible capacity. That’s good enough for me. I will be judged by my intention and what I did with the capacity I had. I hope, They will not be found wanting.
Managing System Diversity, Discussions, and Alters
One thing about DID that continues to surprise me is thus; alters are their own people, they are real. Perhaps reading this you readily comprehended how complex DID is. Or perhaps, like I, it’s hard to comprehend. Each alter, however, is indeed their own person with unique ideas, wants, motives, and desires.
Ya Allah, The Most Compassionate, I am learning that I am not the only person for this body, for this mind. O’ Lord, please grant unto me clarity. That I may see clearly their wants and that we may communicate. Ya Allah, I do not know if we will exist like this come Jannah. Only You, The Highest, can know… I trust in You, that You will not forsake us. That You will grant us into the gardens with rivers flowing beneath them, where we can be free and unshackled from disorder. Ameen.
Some of us have their own partners, relationships, and friends that aren’t shared amongst others. Some of us have desires, career aspirations, family goals, and places they want to go with their lives. Some of us want to have a family and career, some of us, on the other hand, just want to eat pizza and play games.
Indeed, our differences are far more vast than simple ideas. Alters can be different across age, gender, sex, sexuality, race, or even species. In our system, for example, we have an alien in our system as well as several non-human alters. The diversity in a system of alters cannot be understated.
Even at time of writing, coming to terms with this is difficult. I have struggled with understanding how our system will work come judgement. Only Allah can judge. Rightly so. Perhaps it’s beyond my comprehension to think about, but I wonder, will we be seen as individuals? As parts of a whole? I trust in Allah that we will have a fair judgement, as They promised. Just as Allah forbade us from injustice, similarly She has also forbidden Herself from injustice. Allah has graciously provided to me an answer in the Qur’an, so that we wouldn’t be left wanting.
17:84 Say, “Let each work according to his own (عَلَىٰ شَاكِلَتِهِۦ). Your Lord is fully aware of who is best guided to the path.”
17:85 They ask you concerning the Spirit. Say, “The Spirit is from the command of my Lord, and the knowledge you were given was but very little.”
17:86 If We wished, We would take away what We have inspired to you. Then you would not find for yourself with it against Us a caretaker.
In order to better understand how Allah sees my system, I had to delve into some Arabic. Here, in the Qur’an, Allah used the word “shakilah” to refer to one’s own work. Shakilah indirectly translates to ‘innermost nature’. As I work and heal, I am increasingly becoming aware of the different personalities of alters. They all act differently and have their own innermost nature.
In these ayah above, we can read that not only do we all have our innermost nature, but also that it is a creation of Allah. Therefore, each alter, with their own innermost nature, must also contain this spirit. They are also a part of Allah’s creation. Like all of Allah’s creation, alters deserve respect and compassion.
A thought that has been on my mind, which I don’t have concrete conclusions on yet, is that the ayah above emphasise that we have very little knowledge over our shakilah. Clearly, all alters have their own shakilah, identity, and personality. All of us alters, we are our own people, with our own shakilah. Therefore, I believe Allah sees us individually, we are Their creation, and They love us all.
We are all different, as per Allah’s creation. Thus, with it comes internal conflict, yes, alters can argue and fight, just as much as we can love and laugh with each other.
Thus, brings me on to one of the most difficult elements of DID; communication. Me and everyone in this system are all in the same boat. We are all sharing this body. It was difficult, especially to start, but we have learnt to communicate. We communicate our wants with the others, and we can discuss them and come to an agreement.
For example, early on it was agreed upon that, regardless of who was fronting, nobody will consume anything that’s haram for us to eat. Some alters lamented that they wouldn’t be able to enjoy what they used to, such as sausages. However, they still agreed, and I am extremely thankful to them. By communicating we have discovered suitable alternatives, such as lamb sausages, which taste very similar to pork ones.
Some alters are simply not interested in religion. Some are interested. I’m thankful that we all agree, and everyone is on-board, with Islam. This is not uniform for all DID systems, some systems have alters with radically different beliefs.
I have come to peace with that there’s some knowledge I can’t know. We humans cannot judge as Allah, we are not capable of such. We are supposed to trust in Allah, I trust that Allah is seeing my honest intentions. I am trying to walk the path They want me to, I will stumble, but I believe in Allah, that They will see my heart of intentio. That They can forgive my misgivings, and with persistent work on my half, I pray that I will be permitted to pass the gates, and unto Jannah.
I refuse to acknowledge a narrative that claims my dissociative disorder is anything but the result of sustained deeply traumatic psychiatric attacks. It didn’t just happen, and nor is it the case of my being ‘born this way’. No, accountability must be laid at the feet of humans, the people who have wronged the defenceless. Allah did not do this to me, people did. Allah will not expect me to answer for the sin of others. Similarly, my limited capacity, as a direct result of their actions, is not something I will be expected to answer for. I didn’t, couldn’t, have had any say in this.
“Did Allah Permit the Trauma to Happen?”
Ya Allah. You are The One who created the heavens and the Earth, and all in between… I struggle, Allah, to understand what happened to me. I need guidance, how could something You have created do such awful things to me? Allah, I love You, but I need help in my understanding of Your word. Ameen.
I hoped that by reading this far into the essay, around 4,000 words, it’s clear that I am trying to show an honest portrayal of DID, trauma, and being a Muslim. I, for the longest time, had a hard time understanding why Allah would permit this to happen to me. There is nothing that Allah cannot do, so they could have prevented this from happening.
My college classes have frequently brought up readings and investigations into classical fiqh. Think and learn about what some of the earliest, and influential, Muslims had to say. Naturally this has also led to the Qur’an. We have discussed the linguistic nature of the Qur’an, the interpretations of ayah, and their possible translations.
Specifically with the translations, the most interesting discussion arose. I learnt how some ayah contain words with many different definitions, and thus many different interpretations. This would start a trail of thought that would ultimately end in a more complete, and satisfying, relationship with Allah.
More than once since I started reading the Qur’an, I’ve asked myself why Allah didn’t intervene. Especially during dissociation or flashbacks, those moments when one relives through trauma again and again.
Reading through the Qur’an I encountered numerous stories of people, usually prophets, undergoing great hardship. Indeed, even the people chosen by Allah to carry Their message are not spared. Easily the most influential Surah I read was Surah Yusuf, where the prophet was subject to several stressful and traumatic events. When I read those ayah, I hope those prophets had any of their trauma relieved from them, taken from their minds. Allah may not intervene and directly stop traumatic events, but I hope that, as Allah has done with me, those prophets were guided into better places of healing.
Similarly, when, in class, we had a deep discussion about definition, interpretation, and the Qur’an. How could Allah have sent the Qur’an in the wording They did, knowing that it could be interpreted in potentially damaging ways? Such as the ‘permissibility’ of a husband striking his wife in the Qur’an. Why is that there?
Through our discussion many insightful and great voices were heard about this subject. Eventually an idea was presented to the forum that instantly grabbed my attention, the answer to this dying question. That Allah, when sending the Qur’an, understood the vast number of interpretations of ayah. However, this does not mean that an interpretation is a permitted one. The Qur’an is vast and gives us a lot of ‘wiggle room’ for personal circumstance, culture, or some other circumstance.
With this interpretation, I took it and applied it to the universe. All of creation. Allah created the universe and all in it with reason and purpose. They created this brain with built-in defence mechanisms. They understood what could happen to us, even the most defenceless of us all – infants. This test, indeed, I believe, our existence is based upon a free will that Allah chooses not to control. They can see into our hearts and our true intentions, but They choose to not exert utter control over our actions. We sin as a result and ask Allah for forgiveness.
After reading through the Qur’an, it’s clear to me that Allah cannot condone what happened to us. They have armed this brain with a method of coping with the trauma. This admittedly doesn’t make it easier to accept what humans have done and can do. However, this doubt has been assuaged.
Indeed, this interpretation helps me utterly understand. Insha’Allah, I pray that Allah sees and accepts my intention. I couldn’t have chosen trauma and dissociation; wallah I am trying my best.
Inner Worlds, Therapy, and the ‘Mind Metaphor’
If you have read thus far, let’s indulge somewhat into the weird parts of DID. Now we have learnt a lot about the condition, we can admit; it’s a weird condition. There are lots of strange things that happen on a regular basis.
Ya Allah, The Most Generous, this brain is tarnished by the stains of others. Ya Allah, please provide me a way through which I may understand this damage. Ya Allah, You who know more than any one of us could imagine, I need guidance. As ever, I am naught but blind amongst a sea of information, but my heart remains open to instruction. Provide them, and by Your will, I may receive them, enact them, and heal. To you is all the heavens and the earth, and all in between. Glory be to You, O’ Allah. Ameen.
However strange my DID experiences have been, each one I’ve had is filled with meaning. Make no mistake, the brain communicates to us all the time. DID makes clear when it’s trying to communicate, a key skill, however, is one’s ability to detect, parse, and understand these experiences and the messages therein. Most of my experiences will take place inside the inner world.
It’s worth noting that, while most of my experiences do take place in the inner world, not all communications from the brain are experienced through it. The derealisation and depersonalisation are also, I believe, a message from the brain. Though, despite the attempted communication, I’ve found that derealisation and depersonalisation to be the most difficult messages to interpret. What I have decoded typically translates into; “I’m triggered”, “Someone in the inner world is upset”, or simply “You have been fronting for too long.” Though derealisation and depersonalisation usually leaves me too dissociated to care about any underlying meaning, my energy is focused on getting through said dissociation.
The inner world is a world within the mind which houses all the alters. The inner world may make sense and look like something we’d see in the physical world, or it can be something completely different. However, this inner world feels real, incredibly so. For me the feeling of grass between my toes is no different in this physical world, than it is in the inner world. In our inner world, we have places that look like the physical world. Such as a manor that houses several alters. In our system, there are places that reside in ‘pocket dimensions’, which only specific alters can access. These places are usually not in accordance with what we’d expect from the physical world. They can be utterly strange and beyond our imagination. I, as an alter with the ability to travel into ‘pocket dimensions’, can access some of them.
In one such ‘pocket dimension’ I found a new, unique, place. This place was massively different from other places in the inner world. It was a large room, with a floor, ceiling, and 3 walls. In the middle, a pillar, crowned atop it, a long fleshy chord. A thick nerve that’s directly connected to the inner world. It extends outward towards the open wall, then branches into two, then four, and quickly into thousands, hundreds of thousands, of nerves. They extend out of the room, far beyond where I can access, into whatever lay beyond.
What is this beyond simply something weird the brain has done? Well, this development comes at an interesting time.
As I mentioned at the top of this essay, I’m in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Last week, at time of writing, my therapist and I agreed to try a new therapeutic technique; flash technique – otherwise called blink technique. This is an evolution of another technique called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) (source).
During trauma, the brain receives a phenomenal amount of information. Traumatic information that it cannot process as it would for normal information, which the brain would turn into memories. Instead, the information is left unlabelled, simply; not a memory. Then it is left alone. However, if something triggers the brain to reconnect to this traumatic memory. It will not recognise it as a memory, but instead as new information, which needs to be processed. This is how a reliving/flashback occurs, the brain, traumatised again by this information, refuses to label it, leaving the information unprocessed.
Flash therapy attempts to process memories. Memories don’t only get locked in our brain, but also our nervous system. Flash therapy stimulates the brain and nervous system, then attempts to process traumatic information through these systems.
So, let’s look at what happened in my inner world again. We know that the technique I agreed to try last week would involve stimulating our nervous system. It’s my interpretation that this place, this pocket dimension room with this collection of nerves within it, is a ‘mind metaphor’ for where our nervous system connects with our brain.
A ‘mind metaphor’ is a term I have coined to describe such places or experiences. The inner world is our brain communicating with us, and ‘mind metaphors’ are the method through which it’s done. ‘Mind metaphors’ are not always so easy to understand. Some do not make much sense. That’s alright, Islam teaches that we are flawed, by design. Our brain is not perfect and will make mistakes, consider how damaged the brain becomes due to trauma. We, humans, are also not perfect and we will not be able to pick-up on every ‘mind metaphor’, such as we are incapable of picking-up on all the ways Allah influences our lives. But we try, we learn, and we strive to recognise more and more, so that we might become the most appreciative people.
When I initially lay my fingers upon my keyboard to write this essay, I didn’t know how I would, or even if I could, explain abstract concepts, such as; alters, inner worlds, and ‘mind metaphors’. However, now having completed the essay, I think, hope, that it is an interesting and insightful read. Educational but spiritually fulfilling. Whether you are a singlet (someone who is not in a system) or a system, I hope you have found this essay insightful, insha’Allah.
I can’t explain to you how it feels to be in this system, to be attached to this inner world, and all the people therein. However, for me, it’s a deeply spiritual experience. My spirituality, system, and relationship with Allah are so incredibly tied together. Allah has provided to me this system, and all the ‘mind metaphors’ therein, to help me heal. With work, patience, and guidance from Allah, I have, and continue to, deepen my relationship with the system, brain, the Qur’an, and Allah.
I have some big shout-outs. First, a resource that has massively helped in my understanding of DID and trauma. That’s the DissociaDID YouTube channel (recommended video), their system, their alters, and especially Kya. Their channel is priceless for my understanding, but also validation. Previously, I had been very self-conscious about not only switching (by which the currently fronting alter swaps with another) but dissociation in general. Thank you to Dr Mir for letting me borrow her platform and post this essay on their blog, and for being a great anthropology and Islam & Gender teacher. Finally, to all my friends who have supported me over the past few years. It has been traumatic, stressful, but also rewarding, and life changing. Thank you for being with me for this.
Throughout this essay I hope you can see my growth and understanding. Growing into a more comfortable position, not only with my trauma, but also with my faith and Muslim identity.
Ya Allah, The Most Knowledgeable, The Most Appreciative, The Most Compassionate. You, The Merciful, have granted me much insight, knowledge, and understanding of, not only the system, but trauma and the brain. Please Allah, accept from me this work which I have dedicated in Your name, as worship of Your creations. Your guidance continues to inspire me, Allah please continue to guide me onto the straight path. Between the East and the West is knowledge for those who take heed, O’ Lord, You inspire me to learn. Please forgive us, it is You who have created us, and to You we will be returned. We are damaged by the hands of man, but with You, The Gracious, we may heal… Anybody can heal. Ameen.
Plurality and Islam v2.0.html
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