There are many who say that it is faith that gives their lives meaning.
What about when instead of bringing peace and balance to our lives, it consumes us instead, stopping us from being able to really be present in the lives of others and enjoy our own lives. Often we have a rush of emaan (faith/belief) at the beginning of finding our faith, for many born muslims, it can be a rediscovering of their faith, through new teaching and new understanding. For new reverts, perhaps a rush of feeling of acceptance and hope.
Just like emaan goes up and down, we come down from this high state, and though it is normal that it will not last long for many, we can struggle at this time with the feeling that we were so high in emaan yet now we are just performing our religious obligations in an almost robotic manner. We feel something is wrong with us. However we should not despair for it is advisable to carry on with our worship even when we don’t feel like it as we are still rewarded and with time our emaan will develop. Islam is a way of life, so when we build our life around it and make our worship part of our day, our deen becomes cemented and it becomes easier for us.
For some, the high is constant, and they can retreat from society, and unknowingly from their duties as a Muslim, and in doing so, stop giving rights to those who have rights over them. Also, the same high we were talking about earlier, is not as fulfilling or spiritually satisfying. This type of behaviour we can refer to as religious Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and refers to when we ‘have’ to do something, we almost have no control over this need and it is often accompanied with the fear of something happening if we do not complete the behaviour, such as praying for example. Remember,
“There is no compulsion in religion”
~ Qur’an 2:256
From the verse above we know that teachings in Islam are clear so that there isn’t a need for compulsion and additionally, intention counts for everything. Whilst there should be a certain fear of Allah SWT that prevents us from doing sinful or harmful things, we should feel at peace when praying or remembering Allah SWT, it should be something we want to do because we look forward to it, the rewards and understanding our reliance on our Creator – it should not be something that makes us feel in any way stressed or takes over our lives. Our free will should always be present, after all we can perform many religious duties but in every act our intention is counted for.
Prayer should be a connection to our Creator, a calmness and peace in the day, something we look forward to and helps balance our lives, it gives us benefit. If it is not helping us then we are possibly not reaping the true benefit of Salah (prayer). Allah SWT did not prescribe salah because he needs it from us but to benefit us, to keep us on the right path, and to give us a reminder five times a day that we are slaves of Him and to remind us of our higher purpose, as it is so easy to be distracted by the affairs of the Dunya (worldly life).
There needs to be an understanding in the Muslim community of religious OCD. Often lack of emaan is addressed in khutbahs but we don’t acknowledge anyone who is leaning the other way. It is so important to recognise this state of mind, because we praise faith in any form but when it is harmful to a person’s wellbeing.
There are many ways to treat religious OCD. Talking therapies such as CBT can be a helpful way of trying to get to the root of the thinking behind the behaviour and how to essentially break the habit of behaviour and install a new mentality and new behaviour that is more beneficial. Counselling may also help as there could be trauma that underlies the OCD and talking through this could help someone understand why they are behaving in the way they are and might help modify and resolve cognitive issues.
Finding faith can be a beautiful thing but it should bring with it peace and not be harmful to us so we should always seek balance. Islam teaches us moderation even in faith, and Allah SWT tells us,
“We have appointed you a middle nation (ummatum wasatun)”
~ Qur’an 2:143
The term ‘wasatan’ which is used here refers to the central point between two extremes and the classical meaning is ‘the best of’ referring to the best of people. So we see that we should neither be too lax nor too excessive in our worship, but instead we should strive to find the balance that brings us peace and contributes to our wellbeing and the wellbeing of others. So, if you ever feel yourself straying away from the middle path, reconnect with your faith and understand what Allah wants from you in that moment.