By Sis. Saisa Neel
She is the youngest of four daughters born to her father, Assistant Imam Mujahid of Al Baqi Masjid and Sister Katara Aleem in Springfield, Massachusetts. Her mother, also an educator, is one of the founders of the Al-Nur School in Springfield. Later she and her mother relocated to Maryland. They have been active members of Masjid Muhammad—The Nation’s Mosque in Washington, D.C. She is the mother of an 8-year-old child. Both she and her mother teach children at the Masjid’s Weekend Islamic School. Sis. Inshirah instructs the 6-8 year olds and participates on the School’s planning board. Her name was taken from Surah 94 in the Holy Qur’an and she truly reflects the theme of that Surah.
When Inshirah was 15, she was diagnosed with a severe form of bipolar disorder. She became paranoid and slipped into a psychiatric coma. In what she calls “a part of my journey”, she was detached from reality. In 2012, she published a book about this adolescent period in her life. Her memoir, She Smiles and Cries, is a compilation of the events that led to the deterioration of her mental health at that time. Inshirah credits Allah with bringing her out of the deep depression and helping her positively re-shape her life. Currently she is working on getting her second book published. It will detail her life from high school to college graduation. On its website, Amazon states that “her memoir captures the possibility for us all to rise above pain. . . . .to smile after we cry.” She Smiles and Cries includes poetry and prose.
After recovering from her paranoia, Sis. Inshirah completed college studies. She now holds a Masters in Special Education. For the past 7 years she has been teaching 4th and 5th graders at a DC public charter school.
In spite of her writing and teaching achievements, her “passion” is working to help people understand mental illness and its impact on individuals and their families. She wants to decrease the stigma of having a disorder that the patient did not cause and for which, there may be few solutions. Sis. Inshirah remembers being a teenager and unable to verbally explain her feelings and thoughts. She used her Allah-given gifts of poetry and prose to write her first book of reflections and hopes to continue inspiring others when she publishes the second book.
A large part of her life is spent working either as a paid staff member and a volunteer for a national organization called the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI). Through a format called “In Our Own Voices”, Sis. Inshirah teaches the general public about mental illness. NAMI was started by Harriet Shetler and Beverly Young, two mothers who had sons with schizophrenia and who found few resources to help their children. In 1979, they met with other concerned persons and formed NAMI. The organization has grown to over 1,000 chapters represented in all 50 states and is headquartered in Arlington, VA.
More recently, Sis. Inshirah has launched her own enterprise, called “Finding Our Voice”. Similar to the NAMI workshops, she encourages those with mental health illness and their caretakers to do role-playing, dialogue, interactive activities, and to use other modalities to teach the general public. The Masjid’s Health Team Committee and Sis. Inshirah are currently planning a workshop later this year. Within our own community, we recognize the need for more information and greater understanding of mental health illness and for extended assistance to those families dealing with often debilitating and frightening disorders.
To order Sis. Inshirah’s first book of reflections, access Amazon or contact her at her website, www.inshirahaleem.com.