Growing up whenever I witnessed family drama, not just my own but also relatives and friends I naturally assumed this is the norm. This is simply how Brown people just are, problematic and dysfunctional. Our family unit structures seem to excel when it comes to external matters, such as ensuring family members have a roof over their heads, having clothes on our back and Allhamdulliah food in our bellies. But then why do I constantly hear about family fall outs? Or people complaining about strained child-parent relationships? I decided to investigate the matter, as I was tired of the blame-game and wanted a deeper answer to why particularly the Ummah and ethnic minority families in general seem to suffer so much.
After some research and pondering greatly on not just my own life experience but also the Ummah as a whole, colonisation and migration appeared to be a clue to the puzzle. Muslims up until Prophet Muhammad’s (SAW) migration in 622 CE to the late 13th Century, always had a secure and lofty position in society. We were masters in almost every field, trade routes ensured financial boom and social prestige, pioneering and establishing was seen as an holy endeavor, educating the masses was held with such high importance, as leaders understood the importance of preservation. So much so, that scholars were given special treatment. Endowment business were on a all time rise as many Muslims of the past took the religious duty to be of assistance to the destitute in communities very seriously. Conquering and expanding Islam into distant lands from the Arabian peninsula were all successful expeditions. This gave birth to more fruits, one of them was the belief that began to develop in people at the time, the notion that Islam must be the religion of God, hence the huge widespread in such a rapid time. From the Arabian peninsula to the Iberian peninsula, people were convinced there was something indeed divine about this new religion and that God Himself was certainly aiding the Muslims with these victories.
Furthermore, the Muslims of that time had rich inner identities and were well developed on a holistic level. Due to the mass migration to Muslim states, many cities were a cosmopolitan cradle of civilisation. People were in tune with their native custom, languages and traditions but were bound together by Islam and Arabic was the lingua franca. Which made It easy for different ethnicities and tribes to communicate and share resonance with each other in a harmonious way. However, the time for Islamic civilisation and the Islamic Golden Ages was coming to an end. Many civil wars between Muslim states and leaders, along with the fall of dynasties led to a collapse. The implication being total destruction and disunity of our once-upon time great booming Islamic civilisation. Conquering from the Mongols, the Europeans and America prowess brought an end to centuries of Islamic state power and in an unfortunate series of events, slavery and mass execution developed. Diminishing it to now empty historical mosques, libraries, gardens and palaces. A distant memory for those who do not read history and a painful one for those who do.
Colonisation has many detrimental effects on a mass societal level but also on an family and individual level. This is where the terms Epigenetics and Inter-Generational trauma can be discussed. Epigenetics is the study of how your behaviours and environment can cause changes that affect the way your genes work. This starts from our ancestors and develops through the family lineage. Today the hypothesis that an individual’s experience might alter the cells and behaviour of their children and grandchildren has become widely accepted. In animals, exposure to stress, cold, or high-fat diets has been shown to trigger metabolic changes in later generations. And small studies in humans exposed to traumatic conditions—among them the children of Holocaust survivors—suggest subtle biological and health changes in their children. The consequences of epigenetics are huge and can play a huge role in emotional development and also affect our family structures. There is no doubt as ethnic minorities suffered from most colonisation, the data stored in our DNA passed down from our ancestors will differ very much so, especially in terms of the stress hormone from someone for example of, Caucasian roots.
Taking this deeper, we now bring our focus to Inter-Generational trauma. This can be defined as any traumatic situation that results in a pattern of traumatic or unhealthy behaviours or beliefs through generations. A few examples of IGT are, a long lineage of unresolved emotions. Many of our parents had to migrate to different parts of the world, either willingly or unwillingly. Because of that there were real changes neurologically, biologically and psychologically. This migration process offered new pressures along with breakdown in communication and also identity. Many times, the first generation of migrants, tell stories of how they had to hide their true identities in order to match the identity of the host community. Also, the language barrier made communication difficult. Not being able to share what’s going on inside of them with a fellow neighbour who shares the same tongue, made our parents, and grandparents no doubt closed off, shy and hidden. Not to mention, very emotionally disconnected and even unstable. This then became internalised as a norm of behaviour and unfortunately passed down generations. This ties in nicely with the second example of IGT, which is indeed life-long parent child conflict and strained relationships. Causing mental illness, substance abuse, inability to communicate and poor relationships across the lifespan.
Some more examples of IGT are, unresolved psychiatric needs, generations of mental illness, generations of substance abuse, generations of narcissism and sociopaths, generation of secrets, generational operational defiance – gang violence, conduct issues, incarcerations, downward economic spiral, generations of poverty, lifelong intra-personal conflict – family members who do not how to deal with what’s going on inside of them, instead they hide it, push it back or minimise it. They have been taught throughout development and generations that its okay to be unseen and unheard. Finally, the ‘Content Mindset’, this is where families do not want a better education, learn to become more skilful, learn to own businesses as they believe they cannot get out of the “ghetto” so why even try, kinda attitude and mindset.
The above mentioned are all tale-tale signs of inter-generational trauma. All of this paints a harrowing picture but also provides me with a deeper answer to why the Ummah in a whole has so much family drama. With this, I now proactively teach myself to become more compassionate to not just my own family and linage but also when giving advise to friends who complain about their elders or the dynamic of their families, I now can give an answer that will educate them but hopefully also empower. The more we learn about IGT and dig deep, we can restore harmony. We can try to raise a new generation that is more healthy, more validated and can share and express easily without feeling judged or so vulnerable.
Also, we should all aim to read and study history. Once we begin to feel more connected with not just our roots, but also the amazing endeavors, inventions and civilisations our ancestors built, we naturally will feel more empowered. We would want to become proactive and conscious members of not just our families by the world at large, become key players in establishing and leaving legacies and spreading the prophetic message. Finally, many of us and our family members suffer from deep trauma, so I invite you to the possibility of exploring of options of therapy and going on a healing journey where you too are lost and found again.