Just three weeks into his seventh year at Beckfoot Upper Heaton, 11-year-old Asad Khan died just moments after being found unresponsive at his home in Bradford, West Yorkshire, England last Wednesday, Sept. 28. Several family members stated that Khan told them he had been tormented by bullies upon entering the school year.
Coming home from school, Khan was said to have gone straight to the bathroom before going to his room. His mother, Farheen Jan, who was home at the time, called out for her son. With no response, she went upstairs to check on him. After forcing the locked bedroom door open, his mother found him hanging. Just hours prior, he told her how he wanted to change schools because he was being beaten by bullies.
While paramedics tried everything they could to save this young man’s life, his time of death was pronounced shortly after arriving at Bradford Royal Infirmary.
Ishtiaq Ahmed, former Bradford City Councillor, stated, “Family members tell me he told his mum he was having problems at school before he took his own life. The whole community — the whole city — is in shock. He came across as a very confident young man, so he must have been experiencing real issues at school for him to take the action that he did.”
Thousands of mourners are lining the streets of Bradford today to pay tribute to Asad Khan. While investigators continue to examine the claims of bullying, it is important to continue to discuss this topic within the Muslim community.
Trigger Warnings. Trauma. Anxiety. Panic Attacks. Depression. All of these mental health illnesses, and several more, are viewed as taboo when it comes to our community. Although more attention has recently been brought to the mental care of Muslims post 9/11, many followers still cling on to the stigmas attached to mental health.
We’ve all heard the term ‘boys will be boys’ used to normalize the bullying of peers. Likewise, the terms ‘its all in your head’ and ‘if you pray, it’ll go away’ have been coined to neglect an individual’s emotions and/or mental state. Be that as it may, it is necessary to discuss that avoiding a situation isn’t synonymous with teaching resiliency. When and if an individual approaches you with an experience that has triggered them, responding with ‘it’ll pass, it’s part of life’ or ‘we all go through it’ does nothing to alleviate their hurt. The message we send to our children when dismissing their emotional and/or mental state is that of a neglectful nature.
By being dismissive of mental health in the Muslim community, we are spreading the message that ‘it’s not that serious’. Thus, this may potentially lead to victims of mental illness blaming themselves. When no one acknowledges these emotions within the community, the sufferer begins to look for solutions to relieve the pain.
The disconnect between the Muslim community and mental illness derives from the fact that we, as an Umma (Muslim community) simply don’t know how to involve ourselves in this conversation. If we don’t know how to teach our kids how to cope, why do we expect them to know how to? Thus, young kids, like Asad Khan, frequently believe that taking their own lives would solve all the problems and ease all the hurt.
It is vital we understand the need to listen to each other. We must look beyond the “confident” image presented to us and truthfully engage in conversations about our well-being. All our thoughts and prayers are with Asad Khan, his family, and community during this heartbreakingly difficult time.