Written by Stephanie Siam
She sits with her rolling chair turned slightly away from the desk, listening patiently as I explain my symptoms and current state of health. When I’ve finished, she smiles kindly. I’ve seen the smile a hundred times. Not on her. On the others.
“So, you’ve been diagnosed with . . .”
I repeat my diagnosed conditions, again, more slowly this time.
“I see. And where … ?”
Again, I tell her I’ve been treated in various countries: the US, Saudi Arabia, and now Oman. I remind her I also go to the university hospital.
“Oh, so you see Dr. Maha?” She looks up, as though my seeing this particular doctor provides evidence of the reality of my claims.
“Saw. I saw her. She discharged me from her clinic.” I say it as politely as possible, but I can feel the loathing inside. Let’s just say, it was a mutual discharge.
“Ahhhh,” she murmurs.
My husband is sitting on the examination table across from me, waiting for the doctor to say what all the rest have.
“Do you exercise?” she asks.
His eyes light up. Bingo!
“Not regularly. No. I hurt. All the time. Everywhere. Everything. All day long.” I’m there for a referral. But before I can get one, I have to play the game of, “You Should Lose Weight”.
It’s like every person who tells me believes they’ve come up with the answer to my problems. What a novel idea. Lose weight? Why, thank you. I never thought of it.
She hands a piece of paper to my husband. “Can you take this over to the other clinic to make the appointment?” She’s referring me to another clinic, but it’s not the one I want.
He takes the paper and leaves the room.
The doctor leans back in her chair and smiles warmly. “Maybe all of it is related to stress. If you don’t think about the problems, they could go away. You know, I knew this person before who always thought she had serious health condition. Eventually, she thought herself into having it.”
I feel myself rolling my eyes. It’s inevitable. The “Mind Over Matter” speech. The “You Should See a Psychologist” monologue.
“I’m not saying you don’t hurt. I’m sure you do. But…..”
I wait for her to share her enlightened epiphany.
“You have to have faith. You have to believe Allah will take care of you and give you what you need.”
“I do. I do believe Allah will take care of me.”
“But … Allah would never give one person so much pain to deal with!”
My brain all but stops working. Of all the trite, flippant, dismissive things I’ve been told over the past several years on my journey to discover the source of all my medical issues, this is the first time somebody has told me this.
I’m reminded of Prophet Job (Ayoub in Arabic). And, no, before you jump to conclusions, I am not comparing myself to Job. It just so happened his story came to mind as soon as she declared God would never give one person so much suffering.
For those of you who may be unfamiliar with Job’s story, here’s a brief synopsis.
In fact, throughout history, many people have suffered nearly-unbearable pain and loss, but their unshakable faith kept them going in the face of adversity. For some, their relationship with God and belief that He is merciful, and will match each trial with ultimate reward in the Hereafter, is the only sanity they have.
So, lemme back up here a minute — I want to share with you a story from a terrifying post I read in passing on Facebook this afternoon:
A Muslim woman was taken to the hospital complaining of severe, unrelenting migraines. The pain would not let up for weeks, and she needed medical intervention. When she went to the hospital, they ran tests; unfortunately, the results only showed she was suffering from severe migraines of an unspecified nature. (I’m not sure what kind of tests they did, but the results were inconclusive nonetheless.)
When she still couldn’t find relief, a local sheikh was called in to perform ruqiyah. His conclusion: she was afflicted with a serious case of jealousy and envy. Now, whether this meant she was suffering from jealousy and envy, or someone else was jealous or envious of her, I don’t know. But it doesn’t matter. Her migraines did not subside.
Come to find out, she has a brain aneurysm. She also has an infection, but her condition is serious due to the aneurysm and difficulty in treating anything from fear of rupturing it.
Now, I’m not judging the sheikh on his intentions or actions; however, there is a limit to a non-medical professional’s qualifications. Alhumdulillah, she returned to the doctor in a timely manner and the underlying cause of her migraines was determined.
One can hardly fault a sheikh for relying on faith and spiritual guidance in an attempt to help a fellow worshipper overcome their maladies.
Yet to assume, as a medical doctor, that a patient’s health issues stem from a lack of trust in the Creator is not only dismissive and condescending . . . it’s malpractice.
And, while, I would like to say the over-diagnosis of hysterical woman syndrome stems mainly from misogynistic men going through midlife crises, it is unfortunate that my (several) most recent experiences encountering this discrimination is with female, Muslim doctors.
So, coming back to the freshly-graduated doctor sitting before me — one who is younger than me and has acknowledged to being relatively “new” to the medical world — I am understandably “frustrated” at her simplistic solution to the source of more than a decade of searching, testing, explaining and pain.
Don’t get me wrong. Even I rolled my eyes at myself at another appointment recently when my husband started in on extolling my list of ailments to the doctor. I thought, “This is just stupid. It’s ridiculous. I don’t care anymore. I don’t care what it’s called or why I have it. I just want it fixed.”
But here’s the thing: I am a deeply spiritual person, alhumdulillah. I may not be the most religious or the strictest adherent; I do my best, Allahu allum (God knows everything). But I try to be positive about life and see the bright side and focus on what can and might be, not on what can’t or won’t happen.
In fact, as odd as it may seem to non-believers, I take solace in my health problems. Why? Because Muslims believe Allah tests those He loves.
Furthermore, Sahih Bukhari (7:564) narrated the following hadith:
I visited Allah’s Apostle while he was suffering from a high fever. I touched him with my hand and said, “O Allah’s Apostle! You have a high fever.” Allah’s Apostle said, “Yes, I have as much fever as two men of you have.” I said, “Is it because you will get a double reward?” Allah’s Apostle said, “Yes, no Muslim is afflicted with harm because of sickness or some other inconvenience, but that Allah will remove his sins for him as a tree sheds its leaves.”
In sha Allah, Allah will grant me forgiveness and strength as I continue on my journey.
But this post is not, as it may seem, about my health concerns.
No, dear readers, it is actually about something much more grave: the slippery slope of having faith alone vs. having faith and acting in our own best interests.
Yes, as Muslims we are commanded to trust in God, Allah, only. We should enjoin with Him no partners. We should seek refuge, peace, assistance and forgiveness through Him, the Oft-Forgiving (Al-Ghaffar) and Granter of Security (Al-Mu’min). When we want or need something, we should go to Him, the Provider (Al-Razzaq). Indeed, it is only He, the Responsive (Al-Mujib), who can answer our prayers and He, the All-Wise (Al-Hakim), who knows what’s best for us.
But, as I repeatedly remind myself and those around me, when some refuse to take initiative for their own success and/or safety, Allah also expects us to put in an effort.
Jami Al-Tirmidhi recorded that Anas (radi Allahu anhu) related the following story of Prophet Muhammad (saw):
A person asked Rasul Allah (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam), “Should I tie my camel and have Tawakkul (trust in Allah for her protection) or should I leave her untied and have Tawakkul.” Rasul Allah (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) replied, “Tie her and have Tawakkul.”
Tawakkul is having full reliance on God and His plan for our lives (qadr). It is considered equally important to, but not a replacement for, doing our best with what God gives us the ability to do.
But what is one to do when the “post” you try to tie your camel to patronizes and dismisses your concerns? Surely, if medical treatment is required and accessible, we are only fulfilling the first half of this hadith by actively seeking it out. Surely, I am within my
boundaries as a Muslim human to want to feel better. To be able to fulfill my other Islamic responsibilities that this current body prevents me from accomplishing.
So, contrary to several doctors’ beliefs, I do have tawakkul. I accept what God has given me as my qadr (preordained destiny). I also believe He provided for the human race to develop the capability to treat conditions so we need not suffer.
And, ultimately, I believe Muslims, especially those in the medical profession, should remember the words of our dear Prophet (saw) when they’re tritely telling their patients, “Don’t worry. Have faith. If you just don’t think about it, God will take care of everything.”
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