Islamic faith-based treatment center helps Muslim addicts

Stephenetta Harmon/MSR News

“Alcohol and drugs don’t discriminate,” said Al-haqq Zayid, founder of what he says is the Twin Cities’ only Muslim-focused treatment center.

While there are Christian faith-based programs, as well as culturally-specific ones aimed at African Americans (Turning Point), Latinx (Comunidades Latinas Unidas en Servicios), and LGBTQ communities (PRIDE Institute), Zayid said there was none specifically dedicated to those of Islamic faith. 

That’s why he started the Zulu Islamic Treatment Institute. 

Launched this past March, Zulu is housed in the Masjid An-Nur mosque in North Minneapolis, providing outpatient chemical dependency services, including rehabilitation and relapse prevention, along with Muslim-centric activities that allow for prayer times. 

Minnesota’s Muslim community is fairly large. The Minnesota Council on Churches reports there are approximately 150,000 Muslims living in Minnesota (for context, there are approximately 300,000 Blacks in Minnesota).

Based on rapid growth from Bosnian, Somali and other East African refugee communities over the past few decades, 38 percent are immigrants and 45 percent are first-generation Americans. Only four percent of Minnesota’s Muslims are Arab.

Faith-based centers allow patients to connect their spirituality and beliefs to treatment, making recovery easier for many, as well as helping strengthen their faith.

Contrary to the mistaken belief that Muslims don’t suffer from addiction, Zayid said they represent a high population of recovery patients. In his work, he said he’s seen anywhere from 20 percent to as high as 60 percent of patients who were Muslim.

“Right now, I am pretty much going from place to place to build awareness and help our people.”

“Yes, it’s haram, meaning forbidden, for alcohol or any kind of drugs, but you come [to the U.S.] and it’s wide open,” which, he said, puts many Muslim immigrants in a position of temptation they had never before experienced. 

“You got liquor stores on every corner, and then advertisements of liquor. Then you go to work, you got happy hour.”

He said this often results in those needing services being shunned by their elders and the community. “They don’t know about rehabilitation, so they disown them,” said Zayid. That leads many to seek out services not necessarily geared towards them.

“I’ve been in the addiction field since 2014,” he said, working at several treatment centers throughout the Twin Cities. 

Throughout his work, he observed, “I noticed Muslims were coming in addicted, but there was no accommodation for them.” Noting that he himself was a recovering addict, he added that many “never completed treatment because their needs weren’t being addressed. Sometimes, there was Islamophobia towards them, but being a counselor, there wasn’t too much I could do.” 

That prompted Zayid to reach out to Imam Makram El-Amin at his local mosque, Masjid An-Nur, to get the wheels turning. “I saw there was a need for Islamic faith-based treatment, and [the mosque] agreed,” he said. “It took me three years to get through the paperwork and get it done.”

“There are men and women who do not seek help because they feel they have let down their religious community,” said Imam El-Amin in a letter of support for Zulu. “This service will allow these individuals to receive necessary care without stigmatization.”

Classes are scheduled twice daily at the mosque. “We can have up to 16 clients per group,” said Zayid of the four-hour group sessions. It takes about two-and-a-half months to complete the program, which includes 200 group hours and 20 one-on-one session hours.

Zayid said he is currently building up his clientele, doing outreach in various communities, including those in St. Paul, Hennepin County, and Somali-based organizations. “Right now, I am pretty much going from place to place to build awareness and help our people.”

While he was not aware of the new program, Turning Point Director Dr. Peter Hayden welcomed the idea of a treatment center focused around the Islamic faith. 

“I think it’s great,” said Dr. Hayden. With its African American focus, “Turning Point is a leader in getting people to understand better the whole culturally specific service side,” he said. “But, just because we look alike doesn’t mean we need the same delivery of services.”

Noting the high percentage of Somalis who are Muslim, Hayden said, “the Somali [and broader Muslim] communities have a whole different set of circumstances. I try to learn on a daily basis, but I don’t know enough about that culture. They come from a different place, they use drugs differently, they commune differently, so I think it’s just great.”

Hayden also welcomed the idea of future collaborations. “As [founder of] the only African American program in the state of Minnesota,” said Hayden, “I would like to give him some of the benefits that I’ve had of over 43 years of working with the system” to strengthen their efforts. 

Zayid welcomed the support. “Dr. Hayden is a beacon in the community for this kind of work. I interviewed him when I was in school to get my degree,” he added. “I’ve got high respect for him and welcome his input.”

Zulu Islamic Treatment Institute is housed at the Masjid An-Nur, located at 1729 Lyndale Avenue N. in Minneapolis. For more information, call 612-245-2860.