Relating forms of escapism to Islamic practices.

When we feel overwhelmed by the world, sometimes we’ll seek an escape in watching movies or reading a book which diverts our attention completely from the world around us, and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. 

In moderation, exploring fantasy worlds and cultivating our imagination can be de-stressing and have a positive effect on our wellbeing but it can also be a real distraction if we aren’t disciplined. Escapism has many forms and it’s even possible for something that seems good and righteous to be a form of escapism. As Muslims, we believe that Islam is the truth and that it is only through the lens of faith that we can see the true reality of the world whilst also knowing that Islam actively encourages us to take part in life and not seek to escape. 

Fundamentally, man is an entity that has been created for a life within a society, and his material and spiritual development can be achieved within a social life. This is evident in the fact that there is no monasticism (simply put, this means those solely focusing on only religion alone in life) in Islam. Instead of seeing family life and taking part in society as a distraction we must completely avoid, as Muslims we are encouraged to see these parts of our fundamental human nature as a means to get closer to Allah, whilst being fully aware of how it has the power to distract us and putting into place efforts to refocus on Allah and loving for the sake of Him.

“But the Monasticism which they invented for themselves, We did not prescribe for them, but (they sought it) only to please Allah therewith, but that they did not observe it with the right observance.”

Qur’an 57:27

Therefore, it is important to make sure we don’t turn spiritual practices into a form of escapism. Because spiritual growth is an innately positive thing, sometimes we cannot see that we may be hiding behind religious practices to avoid things that we fear or dislike or which we feel we cannot face yet. Some examples can be people going to Islamic events and using this as justification for the fact that they aren’t seeking professional mental health counselling – it may be that Allah SWT has repeatedly sent well-reputed mental health professionals our way which have advised us to seek professional help but we have put this off because of fears or worries. Some people have certainly seen benefits to their mental health and wellbeing by attending Islamic events or going to Umrah or Hajj and it is undeniable that these practices are inherently valuable but we must be careful to not use these practices as an excuse for not doing something which may also be in our best interest. 

There are many examples of not reflecting upon intention or when the understanding of these practices is not correct or in full:

  •  If you are for example, someone who wants to get married because you want someone to rely on to keep you firmly on a straight path, it may be useful to realise that your desire to get married may be linked to a desire to escape your personal responsibility for taking care of yourself, your faith and your soul. Realising that this desire to escape is not just misguided but that you cannot escape this responsibility will help you to purify intentions. On the opposite side, we shouldn’t seek to avoid parts of our human inclinations (like marriage or parenthood) out of fear and justify this using religion. 
  • If you have an essay to do and find yourself procrastinating by thinking “why am I writing this essay, it is more beneficial for me to read the Qur’an for 4 hours straight” be careful that you might be using religion as a form of escapism. 
  • If you feel anxious about going to a certain event and justify not going by saying “If I go I will most likely miss my prayer”, it is probably possible for you to both attend and pray on time so be sure you aren’t using prayer as an excuse to avoid something which may actually be useful for you ultimately.

This topic is sensitive because in no way should someone decide not to do an action like praying or implementing hijab or going to Umrah/ Hajj because intentions are a worry.
Do not let fears about intention or seeking to escape life prevent from doing something inherently good. This article is simply an encouragement to reflect and work on purifying our intentions so we can get the maximum benefit from these actions In Sha Allah.

There’s a balance in everything and the life of the Prophet Muhammad embodied that balance – he prayed, worked and spent time with his family. He went to sit in a cave for contemplation for hours sometimes but he did not renounce society and live there long-term alone as a hermit! Seeking refuge in Allah from the hardship and evil in this world is important but Islam was never intended to be a means of escape but a way of living life, there is no way to hide from this world and Allah SWT, and in reality, this can both inspire fear and comfort.

“And to Allah belongs the east and the west. So wherever you [might] turn, there is the Face of Allah. Indeed, Allah is all-Encompassing and Knowing.”

Qur’an 2:115

What are your ways of getting a good balance?

Farida El Kafrawy

Farida El Kafrawy

Farida is an undergraduate student studying social and political science at UCL. Having seen many struggle with their mental health, and having experienced poor mental health herself, she believes that it is important to speak up, destigmatise the topic and, inshallah, help others to understand what is happening, and how they can help themselves and others. As a regular reader of the Inspirited Minds blog, she knows first hand how reassuring it is to read an article addressing what you are experiencing with your faith in mind, and she hopes she can help reassure and support others in turn.

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