For Muslims and others in recovery, Millati Islami 12-step meetings are an inclusive alternative to groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.


As a practicing member of the Islamic faith and former attendee of traditional 12-step meetings, David Tomlinson said that Muslims can feel ostracized in meetings like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. Tomlinson, who has worked for 10 years in the addiction treatment field, said this ostracization can potentially deter individuals from attending peer support recovery groups.

“When you’re entering into these 12-step programs, the whole point is that you’re building a community,” Tomlinson said. “But now there are things within this community that are excluding you again, and then we put peoples’ prejudice on top of that … and now what do we have? We have you feeling excluded because you’re not part of what they’re pushing, and then you have the people themselves looking at you like ‘We’re Christian over here, and you’re that.’”

Tomlinson said that since Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How More Than One Hundred Men Have Recovered from Alcoholism was published in 1939, traditional 12-step programs have not adapted to reflect the beliefs of the diverse communities they could otherwise serve.

While traditional 12-step meetings aren’t as explicit in their references to Christianity, Tomlinson said that the different schools of thought in Islam, some of which are strict in their fundamental approach, may actually condemn Muslims for participating. For example, while some Muslims participate in prayer services with individuals of different religions, Tomlinson said a practice of the fundamental ideology of Islam would not condone a member praying with individuals who are not Muslim. This precept would block a Muslim of this ideology from participating in the prayers that take place in traditional 12-step meetings, including the serenity prayer, and occasionally the Lord’s prayer.

“In Philly, there is such a proliferation of 12-step meetings — it’s fantastic. [But] there will always be a handful of brothers and sisters who would like to go through the 12-step program from an Islamic standpoint.”

— Ameen Abdur-Rasheed, Person in recovery

For reasons like these, in 2006, after celebrating 17 years of recovery, Ameen Abdur-Rasheed made Hajj to Mecca, which is a religious pilgrimage that members of the Islamic faith make to Saudi Arabia. He returned to Philadelphia with a mission to establish and expand faith-based recovery options for the Islamic community.

“In Philly, there is such a proliferation of 12-step meetings — it’s fantastic. A large majority of churches have meetings, the YMCA has meetings, a lot of community centers have meetings, so in Philadelphia, most individuals can walk to a meeting,” Abdur-Rasheed said. “[But] there will always be a handful of brothers and sisters who would like to go through the 12-step program from an Islamic standpoint.”

The year after Abdur-Rasheed returned, he started a Millati Islami chapter in Philadelphia, which translates to “the path to peace.” It’s a 12-step program that shares many of the core principles of other 12-step groups. However, the Millati Islami literature also includes portions that specifically speak to Muslims.

“We look to Allah to guide us on Millati Islami. While recovering, we strive to become rightly guided Muslims, submitting our wills to the will and service of Allah,” Millati Islami’s literature states.

Though Abdur-Rasheed was compelled to start a Millati Islami chapter in Philadelphia, he faced some challenges in getting the attendance necessary to maintain the group. In some cases, Abdur-Rasheed attributed the challenges to logistics regarding leadership positions. In other cases, he felt there were deeper challenges regarding the wide availability of other 12-step groups and the privacy groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous offer Muslims from the Muslim community.

According to Abdur-Rasheed, the Muslim community in Philadelphia is more likely to attend Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous out of convenience and because of the anonymity that is sometimes lost in Muslim-exclusive sessions. He said the low turnout at Millati Islami meetings that were previously held in Philadelphia could be attributed to the fact that many individuals in recovery would like to keep their substance use disorders private from their Muslim community.

“Alcoholism is not a moral issue,” Abdur-Rasheed said. “It has been deemed a medical condition by the American Medical Association years ago, but if you read some Islamic literature about addiction, you could see that point being challenged because of Muslims’ stance on all substances.”

Also, Abdur-Rasheed said that for many Muslims, the guidance provided through Islam is enough to help them through their recovery. Still, he would like to start another Millat Islami meeting in Philadelphia in the future.

“My mind is open for information, as long as it’s coming from a God of my understanding … I can get the spiritual fulfillment that I need from both places. I don’t look at who’s delivering the message — I look at what the message is.”

— Khadija Akbar, Person in recovery

But for those in Philadelphia seeking Millati Islami meetings now, there are two meetings just over the bridge in Camden on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. at the Quba School and Islamic Center.

For close to eight years, Ali Thompson, a person in recovery, has chaired the Millati Islami meetings in Camden. In his recovery, he has chaired meetings in five different locations, including prisons. The average turnout at the Tuesday and Thursday meetings is between eight and 20 people, Thompson said.

According to Thompson, nearly all of the attendees, some of whom do not identify as Muslim, previously attended traditional 12-step meetings before attending the Millati Islami meetings.

“We encourage individuals from all different religious ideologies to attend because we are an open group,” Thompson said. “If an individual wants to say Allah or God, we don’t have an issue with that.”

And some of the Millati Islami attendees like longtime member Khadija Akbar also attend traditional 12-step meetings, too.

“I like both still today,” Muhammad said. “My mind is open for information, as long as it’s coming from a God of my understanding … I can get the spiritual fulfillment that I need from both places. I don’t look at who’s delivering the message I look at what the message is.”