Simply put, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) can also take the form of moral or religious perfectionism, known as scrupulosity.

To understand scrupulosity, it is important to know it is a subgroup of OCD – a broad disorder that is characterised by unwanted, intrusive thoughts and anxiety (obsessions) about something and the behaviours (compulsions) that people who suffer from the condition use to relieve the anxiety.

Unlike genuine religious discipline, scrupulosity is a state of tormenting anxiety, arising from doubt about possible sins or unknown imperfections due to the individual being fixated on obsessions that are based in religion and/or religious beliefs, or around beliefs concerning morality.  The anxiety felt when individuals are “unsure” about their moral or religious standing is so great that they go to great lengths to arrange their lives, so that doubt is minimised and are no longer feeling “impure” or sinful. People who experience this form of OCD suffer from obsessive religious doubts and fears, unwanted blasphemous thoughts and images, as well as compulsive religious rituals, reassurance seeking, and avoidance. This particular anxiety disorder represents a very serious condition that often grips the victim’s mind with fear and, in a very real way, controls their lives.

It is estimated that anywhere between 5% and 33% of people with OCD may experience scrupulosity and the number likely rises to between 50% and 60% in OCD sufferers who come from within strict religious cultures. Even people who are not particularly religious can suffer from scrupulosity because they feel hyper-responsible to their moral standards or about being morally compromised or unintentionally offending others. A common theme with those affected with scrupulosity is the linking of thoughts and actions: people with scrupulosity believe their thoughts are the same as actions, so they worry not just about what they have done, but also about what they have thought.

The fact is that understandably once in a while, individuals with a faith or with high moral standards may experience doubts, guilt, remorse and even some anxiety but usually move past that. However, those affected by scrupulosity feel stuck, with a need of constant reassurance from others and themselves, with their thoughts not matching their values.

The Prophet ﷺ mentioned we should:

“Leave that which makes you doubt for that which does not make you doubt, for truth leads to reassurance and lies lead to uncertainty.”
~ Tirmidhi

As with other forms, treatment for religious OCD involves cognitive behavioural therapy. In some cases, medicines are combined with this type of exposure and response therapy. A patient should not be asked to give up his religion when undergoing therapy, instead given ways to face his triggers and live within his faith and religious traditions.

Unfortunately, misinformation and misunderstandings whether it’s from the GP or religious advisors/leaders may delay treatment. According to the International OCD Foundation, it can sometimes take between 14 to 17 years from the time OCD begins for individuals to access the right treatment. Quite often, those experiencing scrupulosity create their own rituals to decrease their guilt and anxiety. They don’t realise that their incessant need for reassurance and forgiveness are OCD symptoms.

Most likely religion and faith brings individuals happiness, peace, and calm. That’s one of its purposes, isn’t it?

“Allah intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship”
~ Qur’an 2:185

In Islam, we should remember that the middle path in matters is preferred*therefore we should not overburden ourselves by living in perpetual guilt, assumptions through anxiety nor are we expected to be perfect, so that the love and tranquillity religion/faith can bring into your life can be felt

*The middle course in religious matters is to hold fast to the way of the Prophet ﷺ (Sunnah)while being excess in religious matters is to exceed it, and deficiency is not to attain it.

Hamida Moulvi

Hamida Moulvi

Hamida has a BSc (Hons) Psychology degree, having studied modules concerning Emotions and Mental Health. She is passionate about giving back to the community as it is important to benefit others - every little helps, in inspiring changes and raising awareness, especially within Muslim communities where many cultures can believe mental health isn't a real problem. She has a love for the way Islam guides, inspires and heals (HasbunAllahu w ni'mal wakeel) and is also interested in languages, being multilingual. She believes words have a powerful impact whether that be in written or spoken form, and that we are all here to learn, implement and share so helping write articles would achieve this also.

4 Comments

  • Ahmed Omer says:

    This is an eye-opener. OCDs are everywhere, but we need to understand more like you said. Scrupulosity – cant pronounce – i believe exists! Please keep this kind of discussions coming!.

    Please keep this going.

    Thank you very much.

    Ahmed Omer –
    From Hargeisa.

  • Rahman says:

    Assalamualikum
    How are you hope doing well n thank you soo much for the above
    Take care of ur self n be safe always

  • Javed Ahmed Malik says:

    Thanks for your lovely message I am really impressed .and I really appreciate it Regards

  • Tamara says:

    Peace be with you,

    I am interested in psychology which is why I am writing to you about this topic.
    This seems like an interesting view on the ways some people are practicing their beliefs. In your opinion, how harmful can scrupulosity be? And what could an individual troubled with this issue do?

    In my opinion, religions are put strictly with their advice and warnings (here I’m talking about Judaism, Christianity and Islam because I don’t know much about the other religions). This might cause the individual to feel anxiety when trying to live by them. This can also be the reason why it is so difficult for them to relax and know the correct ‘dose’ for a fulfilled living which would also make the God happy and satisfied with them.

    I tend to try to emapthise with people and this topic may be of a high value for decreasing social disturbance and misunderstanding. It seems interesting to talk about this and I would like you to tell me some more about this.

    Kind regards,

    Tamara

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