I’m Muslim and I use drugs

November 21, 2015

herbs A Muslim drug user explains how his curiosity led him to a spiritual journey with drugs. Ismail Ali, a 25-year-old wearing earrings, combat boots and his hair up in a ponytail, greeted the audience at the 2015 International Drug Policy Reform Conference with "Assalamu Alaikum," a Muslim greeting that means "peace be upon you" in Arabic. Ali sat among four other panelists Saturday, to discuss prohibition and the 21st century drug policy at the annual drug policy reform conference in Washington, D.C. The Drug Policy Alliance, a drug reform advocacy group, hosted the conference and registered 1,500 people this year, according to the group's director of media relations Tony Newman. Tommy McDonald, the deputy director of media relations for the advocacy group, said people attended from all over the United States and the world. "I think drugs and drug policy affect so many people in so many different ways, not just people who use drugs," McDonald said. "I think we are all touched by the damage the drug war has caused in this country." Ali is one of those people. He came to the conference for the first time from Berkeley, Calif., where he studies law at the University of California and serves as one of the head coordinators for Students for Sensible Drug Policy, a student-led organization dedicated to ending the war on drugs. As the youngest panelist for the "Beyond Prohibition: 21st Century Drug Policy" session, Ali talked about how he first experimented with drugs. Ali was raised in a devout Muslim household, where he was expected to pray five times a day and attend Friday prayers at the mosque in Fresno, Calif. But after 9/11 and experiencing Islamophobia, Ali started to challenge the perspectives he had been taught. Part of that questioning led Ali to try psychedelic mushrooms for the first time at the age of 16. "It was really a powerful experience that awoke in me a very interesting kind of spiritual dynamic, which has informed a lot of choices and a lot of directions I’ve taken my life in, especially lately," Ali said. For Ali, drugs provide a sense of spiritual resilience, as he likes to call it. "I’m having this physical, emotional experience that’s directly connecting me to something that I have never felt connected to before, but feels more real and authentic than any other connection I’ve ever had before," Ali said. Cannabis and entheogens are Ali's drugs of choice. He said they expand his knowledge of what’s possible spirituality. Mariam Tanzilla, a 23-year-old Muslim, also attended the conference for the first time. She works for Open Society Foundations, a group that gives grants to people pushing for drug reform. Tanzilla says Islam's religious text -- the Quran -- prohibits the use of drugs. "I have never used drugs. I don’t plan on using drugs, but I don’t judge those who do use drugs," she said. Ali admits other Muslims are critical of his lifestyle, but he said the stigmatization he gets from the Muslim community is not any more than the stigmatization he gets from society in general.