If you are in crisis, please call the suicide and crisis hotline at 988. For other emergencies, please call 911 or visit your nearest hospital.

Collective and Vicarious Trauma

“We have learned the lessons of martyrdom and defending the truth from Imām Ḥusayn (ʿa)… Palestine has endured 75 years of oppression. Since that day, the blood of Imām Ḥusayn (ʿa) continues to flow on this land. The blood of Imām Ḥusayn (ʿa) was shed on the soil of Iraq, and today the Palestinian fields are soaked with the blood of their champions… The blood of Imām Ḥusayn (ʿa) has ignited fervor in this Palestinian soil. My son Muhammad al Durrah’s martyrdom is a reflection of the path and lesson from the children of Imām Ḥusayn (ʿa)”

-Father of Durrah whose son was killed on his lap 23 years ago now mourns the loss of his wife, daughter, and two brothers as a result of the Israeli bombing of the Gaza Strip.

A Painful Parallel in Palestine

This deep connection we feel towards Imām Ḥusayn (ʿa) is no coincidence. As Ali Shariati says, “Every day is Ashura and every land is Karbalāʾ.” When we see a two year old whose screams echo throughout the world, the look of fear when he hears a bomb, the blood and tears on his innocent face, we get reminded of our own children and ʿAlī al-Aṣghar who was thirsty on the plains of Karbalāʾ and brutally killed.

When we see Palestinian children playing and being bombed for just existing we see lessons of Karbalāʾ happening in front of our own eyes. It hurts to see these images. It hurts to see bloodshed. It hurts to see Palestinian children’s lifeless bodies. Bodies that have no grave. Bodies that have no janaza. Bodies that are unnamed.

These losses transcend beyond physical destruction, rather they have destroyed hopes, dreams, memories, and identities. These traumatic images and videos we see in the media can create collective and vicarious trauma, otherwise known as second-hand trauma. 

Understanding the Weight of Witnessing

The term collective trauma refers to the emotional and psychological impact experienced by groups facing distressing events together. These shared experiences can create long-lasting effects on individuals.

Oftentimes, we can also experience vicarious trauma, which occurs as a result of empathic engagement in traumatic experiences especially when they share values and identities.

Being a witness as well as an audience through social media can trigger feelings of anger, fear, depression, anxiety, stress, cognitive interruption, social withdrawal, and underperforming at work/school. The traumatic incidents on social media can create feelings of frustration and helplessness. This may be overwhelming for many and people might be minimizing their own mental health or putting themselves on the “back burner”.

They could also experience “survivor’s guilt”, since the battle of the Palestinians is so much larger comparatively, and in doing so, they may be denying themselves the care to recognize their own voice in the collective trauma that they have been experiencing.

Finding Purpose Amidst Pain

We all have seen numerous tragedies on social media, with the loss of countless lives, babies, and even entire families. When we’re exposed to these heart-wrenching images or videos of children in distress, the sound of explosions, or the sight of people losing their homes, it leaves a deep impact on us.

Sometimes we feel as if we aren’t doing enough. Sometimes we feel guilty that we are living privileged lives while we know that there is a three year old child who is looking for his dead mother. And sometimes we feel as if others will hurt us for standing up to the truth.

And if you are feeling guilty for living a “normal” life while people are suffering, know that this guilt is a sign that your heart is beating and that you care about the oppressed.

Thank Allah that you feel guilty. Thank Allah that you feel anger. Thank Allah that you are deeply concerned and want the liberation of the Palestinian people.

The Impact of Collective Trauma on Mental Health

Sadly, this collective trauma can also be a breeding ground for Islamophobia. Being subjected to the systemic and individual experiences of Islamophobia, while witnessing the atrocities that the Palestinians are facing can exacerbate secondary trauma and emotional distress.

If someone is experiencing this distress and does not have a safe space to reflect, recuperate and recover, the emotional distress can then be overwhelming, and can lead to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.

It is crucial to have regular check-ins with someone we trust and to heal in safe spaces.

We are social beings who naturally seek connection and social support to overcome trials and tribulations. Islam has enforced a community-based lens in several aspects of the religion including praying “Ṣalāt al-Jamāʿah”, the value of giving to the needy, and the importance of forming and maintaining connections.

Community is a great source of help to overcome adversities, and we need to rely on one another within the communities to be able to bounce back and stand tall from these hardships. Just as we suffer the secondary trauma with our Palestinian brothers and sisters in solidarity, we are also encouraged to come together and heal.

Path Towards Healing Can Include Some of These Comforting Verses From The Qurʾān:

“Never think that those who have been killed in the cause of Allah are dead. Rather they are alive with their Lord receiving provision” (Qurʾān 3:169).

Knowing that these angels are in a better place and Allah will avenge their deaths, as mentioned in the Qurʾān (43:41). Knowing that Allah is watching everything and the “help of Allah is near” and He “alone is sufficient [as an aid] and He is the best Protector” (Qurʾān 2: 214 and 3:173).

Knowing that “it is [the] army of chosen servants that prevails” (Qurʾān 37:137). Knowing that “Allah is aware of what the wrongdoers do. He only delays them [their account] for a Day when eyes will stare [in horror]” (Qurʾān 14:42).

While today “the guilty…laugh at the faithful, [on the Day of Judgement] the faithful will laugh at the faithless” (Qurʾān 83: 29).

And finally, knowing that this is a critical time to connect with Imām al-Mahdī (ʿaj) and supplicate for his arrival.

Some Other Coping Strategies Are:

  1. Taking breaks from social media when need be.

  2. Breathe and take mindfulness breaks.

  3. You do not need to engage with every opposing post.

  4. Understanding your emotions and acknowledging them.

  5. Connecting with Imām Ḥusayn (ʿa).

  6. Reading the Qurʾān/dua’s/tasbīḥ. It is recommended to read Duʿāʾ al-Jawshan al Sagheer written by Imām Mūsā al-Kāẓim (ʿa), which is read during times of oppression. Other dua’s include Duʿāʾ al-Faraj and Whispered Prayer of the Fearful and Hopeful by Imām ʿAlī as-Sajjād (ʿa)

  7. Donate towards the cause, give Ṣadaqah and Zakāh. Support Palestinian organizations. Continue speaking up. 

  8. Reach out and go to prayer/support groups.

  9. Safely attend protests.

  10. Get updates from reputable news sources.

Tawakkul in Times of Trauma

Amidst the discontentment and emotional distress, we must remember that the ultimate source of solace lies in our belief in Qiyāmah (Day of Judgment). We must then possess certainty that on that day, Allah swt will deliver justice. He will hold the oppressors responsible and will reward the oppressed.

And remember, there are those Palestinian children saying that this is a test from God and that they are not afraid, that this extreme difficulty is a part of their Qadr (destiny) shows us the tawakkul of God they have and this deep rooted connection that in times of trauma we connect with God. Like Durrah’s father, we connect our pain to Imām Ḥusayn (ʿa) and Karbalāʾ

We need to pray to Allah to strengthen our faith, and that He gives the Palestinians victory in this world and the next. “God helps those who help themselves.”

We owe it to ourselves and to our brothers and sisters in faith to come together as communities and fulfill our responsibility, be it participating in protests, writing petitions to our congressmen, or to heal in our safe spaces while we pray for the Palestinians to be victorious. We must show the oppressors that we are not weak. We are stronger than them, as we have Allah swt on our side.

Recognizing and addressing collective/vicarious trauma is vital for providing the appropriate mental health support and fostering community resilience. Remember that your feelings are valid, and that it’s okay to take breaks from social media if need be. Have mindful intention by taking the time to pause and think about your role in all this. Talk, listen, and support one another. And remember, we are one ummah. 

If Palestinians are hurting, we are hurting. 

Written by:

Fatima Jafri and Mariam Zehra Ali (AMFT)

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