Stop the war coalition local demonstrations for Gaza in November 2023 / Photo: AFP

By Rania Awaad

In the past month and a half, we have seen the rise of resilience and the fall of humanity as we witness a genocide against the Palestinian people. For many of us who have been closely watching the developments, a storm of intense emotions has clouded our daily lives and even our ability to function.

Despite our relentless efforts to protest, boycott, advocate and call for a permanent ceasefire, we might be feeling helpless in the face of an unrelenting genocide. We dread that no matter what we do, these circumstances may not change.

We may also be feeling the need to deprioritise our needs so that we can amplify Palestinian voices. We may be experiencing burnout that is immediately followed by a sense of guilt. We may belittle our exhaustion as we compare it to the reality that our Palestinian siblings may not survive another night.

This emotional turmoil is natural as we traverse systems whose policies devalue human dignity, justice or empathy towards the oppressed. Such disparities can lead to profound sadness and a perpetuation of collective trauma—an emotional wounding that is experienced in community when facing gross injustices on a global scale. It’s also frustrating to witness the systemic silencing of our advocacy and to perform a balancing act so as to not cause harm to ourselves, our positions or our employment.

Another phenomenon afflicting us is an overwhelming sense of cognitive dissonance due to the paradox of witnessing these injustices in our local and global communities whilst having to pretend that life is normal.

We have become more attuned to our privileges as family members, professionals and students, while mourning the loss of these opportunities for Palestinians, including freedom of movement, housing security, steady education, safe learning environments, opportunities for academic enrichment and cultivation, employment access, and labour market stability.

Gaza. Photo: AFP

Additionally, there exists a disconnect between our current lived experiences and the mainstream narrative. Increased levels of Islamophobia, biased media coverage, doxing, censorship, and a political climate that is complicit in the Palestinian genocide are all realities that have a detrimental impact on our mental health.

Disenfranchised anger and grief, when not publicly acknowledged or socially accepted, builds up, festers, exacerbates and complicates the trauma that is already intensely felt by so many of us.

Our emotions are a language through which we can understand our needs. Sadness, for example, is a response to a profound sense of loss: loss of our previous sense of safety, loss of those we had once considered allies and friends, and loss of trust in leadership. These losses indicate our need to connect to loved ones, community, and to God.

Another common emotion many of us have felt in these past several weeks has been anger. Anger is a response to the injustices of allowing, aiding, and excusing the massacre of children and innocents, as well as the continual vilification of those advocating against war crimes. Anger is a mobilising force which flags our need to take action and to take it now.

People participate in a Free Palestine Family Walk in Durban

In fact, when channelled in the right path, every emotion we are currently feeling can help us in our cause for justice for our Palestinian brothers and sisters. Before this can happen, however, we must understand how to navigate our heavy emotions, shared by Muslims across the world.

Turning to the Quranic verse, “God does not burden a soul beyond what it can bear” (2:286), we have the capacity to grapple with these painful emotions by enlisting the helpful strategies below:

1) Engaging in contemplative meditation and other Islamically informed practices to alleviate heavy emotions. These approaches have been shown to help reduce feelings of anxiety and depression, and are believed to result in heightened attention and care for actions, thoughts, emotions and inner states.

Seeking solace through prayer and worship, as well as connection through dhikr (remembrance) and reading of the Quran are some ways to do this. The resilience of Palestinian Muslims has inspired many Muslims and non-Muslims alike to read the Quran recently wherein they have found comfort, inspiration and guidance in this difficult time.

A woman prays while holding the Quran during the Friday prayers in Tehran. Photo: Reuters

For those who do not identify as Muslim, secularised contemplative and mind-body practices can aid in regulating emotional and mental well-being by balancing emotional equilibrium and eliciting a sense of solace.

Mindful meditation and other mindfulness-based stress reduction practices entail focusing attention on breathing patterns and present feelings and sensations, without judgement and can help relieve stress, manage emotional turmoil and relieve burnout from witnessing protracted violence.

2) Prioritising self-care on both an individual and community-centred level in parallel to our advocacy. This is essential to upholding the amanah (trust) we have towards our own wellness, our communal wellness, and to the Palestinian cause. Do this by acknowledging that each human experience is unique and therefore needs to be approached with compassion.

Do not guilt-trip yourself for needing to take pauses or for coping differently than others around you. Do not allow external pressures or internalised stigma prevent you from seeking out professional support and help when needed. Reflect on the idea that fostering perseverance requires a proactive commitment to self-care practices.

Seeking support from our communities through healing circles and community prayers can facilitate safe spaces that prevent one from carrying the emotional burden alone, thereby promoting collective resilience.

3) Being in a community allows members, namely those with family and friends in Palestine, to help parse through the onslaught of disinformation in the media and separate truth from distortion. This grounds members in reality and facilitates an understanding of the most effective allocation of collective resources.

Additionally, our communities are rich with diverse abilities and strengths. The positions we hold, the degrees we have, the sectors we work in, the talents, skills, and knowledge we possess, can all be mobilised for the Palestinian cause. Drawing from our collective knowledge and wisdom, we can advocate for justice through varied efforts that find strength in unity.

By healing in our communities, we can present holistically, preserve traditions and uphold our narrative which is currently being threatened and dehumanised by mainstream media. In our own communities, we retain the right to celebrate our own stories, histories and heritage, and be safely seen and understood without having to fight for or prove our humanity.

4) Prioritising sustainability by remaining flexible, self-aware, and engaged in measures that support Palestine, while our needs and personal capacities may shift. This entails exploring how we can most meaningfully engage in conversations for healing, education and wellness based on our social location and ability to implement change. Remember that systemic change requires time. Despite our best collective efforts, we require endurance to continue engaging in these efforts.

Despite our hurt, or perhaps because of it, we have recognized the need to advocate for the plight of the Palestinian people and have mobilised ourselves in collective resilience. We are showing up en masse to call out what António Guterres, Secretary-General of the UN, has labelled “unprecedented and unparalleled” civilian mortality occurring at a “historic pace” due to weapon use tactics not seen since the 1977 expansion of international humanitarian law.

United globally in our demand for justice, we are using our voices and resources in pursuit of an end to violence and human rights abuses. The Palestinian people deserve that we show up as our full selves in this fight against injustice, equipped with coping mechanisms to foster enduring sustainability.

Above all else, we are harnessing the contagious strength and unwavering faith of the Palestinian people in our own lives and advocacy. To sustain these efforts, we must address our needs in parallel to our advocacy so that we can continue upholding the amanah (trust) we have towards both our own wellness and to the Palestinian cause.

The author would like to acknowledge the contributions of her team members from the Muslim Mental Health and Islamic Psychology Lab at Stanford University: Heba Khan, Mawdah Albatnuni, Haneen Hammad, and Nadira Baig.

The author, Dr. Rania Awaad M.D., is a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the Stanford University School of Medicine where she is the Director of the Stanford Muslim Mental Health & Islamic Psychology Lab as well as Stanford University's Affiliate Chaplain. In the community, she serves as the President of, a holistic mental health nonprofit serving Muslim communities, and the Director of The Rahmah Foundation, a non-profit organisation dedicated to educating Muslim women and girls. Prior to studying medicine, she pursued classical Islamic studies in Damascus, Syria, and holds certifications (ijaza) in Qur’an, Islamic Law, and other branches of the Islamic Sciences.

Disclaimer: The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT Afrika.

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