by Aïssatou Odia Barry in Identity on 28th February, 2023
Amaliah is mindful that ADHD symptoms do not manifest in the same way for everyone. The symptoms mentioned in this article are not a universal representation of what it is like to experience ADHD. If you resonate with some of the symptoms but haven’t gotten an official diagnosis, we recommend that you do not consider this article as a diagnostic and instead consult your general practitioner or personal doctor.
Although the pandemic is an unpleasant memory for most people, I remember it as the time I reconnected with Islam. Stuck in a room with confusing thoughts about a changing world, I understood that my only hope for purpose lies in a connection with Allah SWT – something I must go after. And I did. I pursued a version of myself committed to being Muslim, not just on paper, but in heart, in tongue, and more importantly, in soul. For a little while, it felt good. I was welcomed back into a world I longed for, a peace that felt like home.
But as the days passed, I struggled to stay on track. Soon enough, practicing the Deen felt like walking on a shaky bridge collapsing beneath my feet. I slid back into old patterns such as failing to follow-through on prayers, forgetting to perform Ghusl on time and putting off the spiritual practices that had previously set me free.
“Why am I like this?” I kept asking myself. “I must be a terrible Muslim.”
Negative thoughts flooded my mind, lowering my self-esteem as a Muslim woman. I viewed my struggles as a fault of character or, worse, a sign of low imaan. Desperate to understand why it was happening to me, I began to pay close attention to my behavior. After months of introspection, I realized one thing: the shaky bridge upon which I walked was not low imaan, it was undiagnosed ADHD.
Known as “Attention Deficit and Hyperactive Disorder”, ADHD is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects the executive function areas of one’s brain, impairing abilities for organizing, prioritizing, memorizing and self-monitoring (1). ADHD does not discriminate – no demographic is more at risk than another. Yet, there is so little space given to Muslim women with ADHD which leaves us feeling invisible not only by society, but our own Ummah.
As the muslim community grows more aware of intersectional identities, we must shed light on the experiences of Muslim neurodivergent women too. In addition, we must make an effort to incorporate ADHD-friendly resources that recognise our faith, our neurodiversity, and how they interact with one another.
That being said, here are four tips for Muslim women dealing with ADHD:
“We have certainly created man in the best of stature.” [Qur’an – 95:4]
Indeed, our physical bodies on this earth have a lot to do with our Creator’s Infinite Wisdom. It goes beyond science or rationality, for it pertains to Allah’s SWT choice for us, which we don’t always comprehend. Yet, we sometimes view our “bad” traits as afflictions to be healed from. While we all have some attributes that do need to be dismantled, ADHD is not one of them.
Despite the popular myths suggesting that ADHD is caused by watching too much TV or, worse, that it is a hoax created by big pharmaceuticals, ADHD is a much more complex condition. Researchers have found genetics are the most common factor in ADHD – with a 75% to 91% chance of passing ADHD from parent to child (2).
To embrace your ADHD, you must recognize that similar to your ethnicity and background, you did not choose it nor could you have prevented yourself from having it. It is ingrained in your very being by Allah’s SWT perfect vision for you – and anything beyond your control is not a fatality, for it is handled by the All- Knowing (Al-‘Aleem). So in order to thrive as a Muslim woman with ADHD, we need to have Tawakkul in His plan and His design. By doing so, we learn to appreciate our ADHD and view it as Allah’s ultimate decision.
Once I ceased to blame my ADHD for my struggles, I felt more aligned with my Creator. Now at peace with my neurodiversity, I interpret my ADHD as a superpower. Sure, it makes me zone out every second, but it also makes me creative, energetic, and perceptive. By giving me ADHD, Allah SWT has also blessed me qualities that I would not trade for anything in this world.
Salat is undeniably one of the most important aspects of the Deen. As the second pillar of Islam, prayer is yet another gracious opportunity Allah SWT has given us to remember Him. But for those of us who are just starting out, remembering to perform salat can be quite challenging – and if compounded with ADHD symptoms, it can become a real battle against self.
There is more to having trouble establishing salat than just being “lazy”. Several people with ADHD struggle with both short-term and long-term memory, which means we frequently forget some of our obligations, including the important ones (3).
Ever heard of the saying “out of sight, out of mind”? This is especially true for people with ADHD. Without sensory cues, we tend to forget things. A good example would be the strawberry pack I buy once in a while. If I stick it at the back of the fridge where I don’t see it, I will forget those strawberries even exist, allowing them to spoil without my knowledge. The same holds true for my salat. If I don’t have a visual reminder of it, it won’t be at the forefront of my mind. As a result, I can forget to perform it which could lead to a gradual erosion of my faith; the last thing I would want to happen.
Before salat becomes a steady habit in our lives, we go through a phase where we need to be constantly reminded of it. Visual cues are a way of assisting our memory – by seeing the reminder, we will be aware of its existence and take it into account in our day-to-day life (4).
To remember prayer, identify the spots in your house that you frequent the most – the bathroom, the kitchen, the bedroom – and place colorful signs with the word “salat” written on them. You could use neon post-its or larger posters. Your goal is to make the reminder unavoidable. For instance, I place a neon post-it with “SALAT” written on it next to my laptop mousepad. Given that I am always working on my laptop, I constantly see this reminder, making me less likely to ignore my responsibility.
Here are suggestions for spots you can place a visual reminder:
This method is not limited to prayer. Whether you want to read more Quran or make duas more often, you can implement this tactic to remind yourself of the habit you want to make consistent. Allah tells us that “reminders benefit the believers.” [Qur’an – 51:55] After all, reminders are the primary step towards remembering our priorities, and ultimately, towards remembering Him.
Although we live in an individualistic world, Muslims have a responsibility over one another. Our religion reminds us that we are, first and foremost, an interdependent community defined by a sense of connectedness that should never waver.
The Prophet (ﷺ) once said, “Verily, the believers are like a structure, each part strengthening the other.” [Sahih Bukhari 2446]
As Muslim women with ADHD, it is crucial to remember that we are not alone. When we are struggling with the Deen, having a buddy to lean on can serve as an anchor to ground us in our spiritual duties. Whether it be a sibling, a parent, a friend or even a colleague, an accountability buddy is here to help you stay on track as you strive to improve in your Deen.
If you are comfortable doing so, tell a fellow Muslim about your struggles. Being open about your difficulties can help you remove pressure from your shoulders, and may be a means of helping someone else dealing with a similar struggle.
Nonetheless, merely complaining about how difficult it is for you to manage your ADHD symptoms and practice the Deen is not conducive to your progress. An accountability buddy is not a vent buddy. Hence, it is crucial to open up about your struggles in relation to the goals you’d like to reach. Be it memorizing a challenging verse, reading more Quran, or attending Jummah, tell your accountability buddy what you want to achieve, and if possible, how you would like to be supported.
Whatever your struggle is, do not shy away from requesting help because in the end, no ADHD symptom is more powerful than the bond of solidarity.
There is a common misconception that Islam requires immense effort and dedication. Earlier in my life, I often thought practicing Islam required superhuman levels of discipline which were at odds with my ADHD symptoms, in particular my executive dysfunction. But one day, I came across a hadith of our beloved Prophet (ﷺ) and my life changed.
Abu Huraira (ra) reported that the messenger of Allah (ﷺ) once said, “Take up good deeds only as much as you are able, for the best deeds are those done regularly even if they are few.” [Ibn Majah: 4240]
Although we must do our best to worship Allah to our fullest capacity, we must understand that our “best” looks different every day. On some early mornings, I feel motivated enough to pray Tahajjud, Fajr and indulge in long sessions of tasbih. On others, it takes me all the willpower in the world to just make wudu. Truth be told, capacity levels fluctuate all the time.The most important thing is to try your best, whatever that may look like.
Thus, taking up small and manageable actions is a great way of remembering Him on a daily basis. If you feel a bit fragile in your Deen, do not overwhelm yourself with more responsibilities. Start by focusing on the obligatory actions before moving up to optional ways of remembrance.
No good deed goes to waste. Even the tiniest act of remembrance or service is commendable. This is not to imply that Muslim women with ADHD should settle for the bare minimum when fulfilling spiritual obligations. Practicing within your capacity does not mean undermining your abilities. However, Islam should also not be a source of pressure.The Deen is not a competitive sport and approaching it from a quantitative standpoint will only result in more stress. Ultimately, the point is not to show up in front of Allah SWT without shortcomings, but to show up in spite of them.
“And as for those who strive in Our path — We will surely guide them in Our ways. And verily Allah is with those who do good.” (Qur’an 29:69)
Aïssatou Odia Barry is a student at the University of Toronto where she is currently completing her HBA. As of now, she is studying a Political Science major as well as a double minor in Cinema and Education, Aïssatou is also quite involved in the student journalism front. She has written many articles for The Varsity and The Medium, two student journals at her university. Both an avid film-lover and aspiring journalist, Aïssatou is passionate about subjects such as ADHD, pop culture, intersectionality, education and African literature. Being a native French speaker from Guinea, Aïssatou has been working as a part-time French tutor in Mississauga since 2019. After seeing the impact of receiving academic support on her students, Aïssatou has decided to expand her leadership to more disadvantaged communities in the GTA. In May 2022, she took her advocacy to the national stage and competed in the Miss Canada pageant where she placed in the top 10! If she is not writing or watching Old Hollywood movies, you can find Aïssatou bugging her roommates about her latest epiphany or napping in her cozy bed!