Dr. Farha Abbasi is an assistant professor of psychiatry at Michigan State University; she established the Muslim Mental Health Conference, and is the managing editor for Journal of Muslim Mental Health, hosted at Michigan State University.
I was scared to move to the United States. Now, since becoming a psychiatrist, I talk about it. I was very reluctant to move. I was in my 40s. We were very well settled, established. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to continue my career as a physician. We gave up that life to start a life all over again.
If I think back, I realized I got very depressed. There would be days I did not feel like opening my window, looking out, because it was scary for me to find a completely new scene and new faces. I felt a loss of identity. It was like somebody had cut my hands and feet and put me in a corner, and I was waiting for them to grow back. That’s how helpless you feel, even if you have family or can speak the language or have an education. Immigration is traumatic, even if it’s out of choice.
9/11 happened a few months after we were in the country. That, I think, was kind of a defining moment. I could foresee that this was a moment to become more loved and visible, and transparent in some sense. I realized we needed to go and reach out. That this is the only way to fight paranoia, fight stigma.
The first thing I did was reach out to the neighbors and then school, and then I needed to be part of the civic situation—whatever was happening in the community, get involved there. So I started talking to my Islamic center, to the community. They were telling us not to dress a certain way, not to show that you’re a Muslim. But I wasn’t comfortable with that. That was not me.