What the Muslim community must do for women with breast cancer
Sat, 03 Oct 2009 16:35:01 GMT
Aisha, the wife of Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, once praised the women of the Ansar. These people of Madinah had welcomed their fellow Muslims, the Muhajirun, when the latter escaped from persecution in Makkah. The praise though, in this particular case, was not for their exemplary hospitality and generosity.
“Blessed are the women of the Ansar," she said. "Shyness did not stand in their way of seeking knowledge about their religion." (Hadith).
The Prophet also once said: "There is no shyness in matters of religion."
What about issues relating to life and death? I think you already know the answer. The Quran and Sunnah both emphasize preserving life, staying healthy and seeking treatment for sickness.
Breast cancer is the second most common cancer that affects women in the United States, after skin cancer, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. While some factors like genetics and family history may raise a woman's risk of getting this specific type of cancer, it is 100 times more common in women than men.
Muslim women are not immune from it either. Factors like pollution, lack of exercise and advancing age put all women at a higher risk.
When my aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer over 20 years ago, a woman who had no family history or genetic predisposition to the disease, I was never told exactly what was wrong with her. She was simply "sick", my mother explained and said no more.
Even visiting her in the hospital after her operation, a mastectomy, I was not told what she had undergone and why. I do remember the looks on my cousins' faces, the fear and worry, as they saw their mother slowly regain consciousness, wondering about her fate, and theirs. Watching your parent so close to death is terrifying.
My aunt was a single mother of two teenagers at the time, and the sole supporter of her family. At most, she may have confided in her female family members and friends about her breast cancer. She also turned to Allah frequently in prayer. No doubt, all of these helped.
There was no other Muslim breast cancer sufferer or survivor she could talk to who could offer the spiritual support and comfort she needed. There was no Imam she felt comfortable enough to seek Islamic guidance from at that difficult time. She no doubt also felt a sense of shame in discussing her specific type of cancer, something so particular to women and embarrassing for many women even today to discuss.
The Muslim community can do so much more for women suffering from breast cancer and their families. We can organize support groups for survivors and victims and we can arrange educational seminars for women in our masjids on breast cancer prevention. Imams can devote khutbas to the need for not just women to take care of their health, but for men to encourage their female relatives to stay healthy and learn more about diseases that affect them, including breast cancer. We can set up support groups for young Muslims with a mother suffering from breast cancer.
Let us no longer allow any Muslim woman and her family to suffer alone because of a sense of shame related to breast cancer. Let us be like the women of the Ansar, who strove to learn the truth about matters, even while retaining a sense of modesty.
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