Muslim counselor takes a faith-based approach to addressing addiction

Raised on the west side of Chicago, Zayid Al-Haqq draws parallels in the cultural stigma he finds in black and Muslim communities when it comes to addiction.  Photo by David Pierini

Raised on the west side of Chicago, Zayid Al-Haqq draws parallels in the cultural stigma he finds in black and Muslim communities when it comes to addiction. Photo by David Pierini

This story is part of a series on how the opioid crisis has hit the Northside that ran in the 9/27 print edition of North News.

By Abdi Mohamed Staff Reporter

Most faith-based chemical dependency treatment programs in Minnesota are Christian. One local Muslim counselor aims to offer another option.

Al-Haqq Zayid, a licensed addiction counselor, sees the current treatment landscape as a defecit to his Muslim community. So, he founded his own organization, Zulu Islamic Treatment Institute Inc. where he serves as the Treatment Director to fill the gap.

Zayid came to this work through his own involvement with drugs. He was arrested in 2004 for drug possession and given a three-year probationary sentence. To avoid further run-ins with the law, he enrolled himself at the Minneapolis Community Technical College later that year. While there, Zayid took his shahada, a declaration of faith, making him a Muslim. In 2013, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Alcohol and Drug Counseling from Metropolitan State University and began a career in counseling.

Zayid’s experiences working in non-culturally or religiously specific treatment centers motivated him to establish his treatment program. While working at a Christian-based treatment center, he gave Muslim clients a place to pray in his office. Then he faced discrimination at work. In a meeting with staff, his supervisor joked that his church members were afraid Zayid would blow them up. Because of his faith, Zayid also did not partake in holiday parties that his employer put on or potlucks due to his religious restrictions. After three years of working, Zayid was terminated based on an “accumulation” of issues.

Zayid knew he had to start an Islamicbased program of his own.

To do that, he needed approval from Hennepin County and had to prove a need for an Islamic faith-based approach to treatment. Zayid gathered dozens of signatures from community and religious leaders to establish the need from a religious perspective.

The organization he founded, Zulu Islamic Treatment Institute Inc, is based out of Masjid An-Nur located on 1729 Lyndale Ave N. Zayid says that he’s enjoyed the support of the mosque’s Imam, Makram El-Amin. The name for the institute comes from Shaka Zulu, the South African anti-colonial ruler who Zayid wanted to highlight for the African heritage and Islamic to express the religious approach to his treatment.

The stigma that drugs have in the Muslim community was one of the reasons that Zayid felt that his institute was necessary. “In our culture, drugs are haram, meaning forbidden, so the older generations don’t know how to deal with addiction. They’re not familiar with the treatment process,” he said.

Having grown up on the West Side of Chicago, Zayid was familiar with the impact of drugs and alcohol on his family and community. He relates the Muslim community’s lack of understanding of addiction to that of his own family. “My father who is addicted to nicotine tried to criticize his brother for being addicted to crack. Nicotine is a drug which he had no knowledge of so when he accepted that, he became less critical of his brother,” Zayid said.

Al-Haqq Zayid fills a need in the Muslim community with culturally based addiction treatment.  Photo by David Pierini

Al-Haqq Zayid fills a need in the Muslim community with culturally based addiction treatment. Photo by David Pierini

Zayid’s approach to providing treatment has been a collaborative effort as he works closely with other organizations who also cater to predominately Muslim communities. Currently, he works part-time as a counselor at the Alliance Wellness Center in Bloomington. Yussuf Shafie is the founder of Alliance Wellness Center, an addiction center aimed at helping individuals of East African background find treatment for their drug and alcohol abuse. In the last year, Shafie has been able to receive 12 beds which helped his organization transition into serving as an in-patient treatment option for clients. Participants stay for 30-90 days depending on their treatment plan and are given different coping mechanisms to solve their chemical dependency.

Just as Zayid pointed out the fear of shame in the black community, Shafie relayed the same cultural stigma those dealing with addiction face in the African immigrant community. “We come from a community where addiction and mental health is not something we talk about,” he said. “The reality is that people are dying, and they don’t get help because they fear that they might be judged.”

Four years ago, when Shafie first opened his treatment center, many of his participants were older men dealing with alcohol addiction. Over the last two years he’s been primarily seeing young men between the ages of 19 and 30 dealing with prescription drugs like Xanax, Oxycontin and Percocet with some also transitioning to heroin use. Shafie says that he’s been to nine funerals in the last six months for young men East African backgrounds, many of whom passed away from drug-related deaths.

When speaking about Zayid’s program, Shafie shared that there was a need for faith-based services in the Muslim community. “Brother Zayid is a good dude, man. He’s been around the block a few times. There’s a lot of need for that program.”

Zayid’s treatment program is currently open for participants to seek treatment. Although the program is based on an Islamic approach, Zayid stresses that it is open to individuals of all backgrounds. Zayid implores those in the Muslim community seeking treatment to reach out to him directly at (612) 338-0889. He currently does outreach locally on W Broadway Ave. and is accompanying Imam El-Amin to prison visits in order to make Muslims who may be incarcerated for drug-related offensive aware of their options for treatment when they get out.

Abdi Mohamed