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Redoing My Duas – Mental Illness and Worship

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By Ethar Hamid

I feel genuinely uncomfortable at the beginning and ending of every supplication. Ever since I was told that I should begin and end my du’a by praising Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) and sending peace upon the Prophet, I have had a gnawing at my mind before and after the prayer.

Praise be to Allah, praise be to Allah, praise be to Allah, I would repeat in a murmur (or in a thought, of course). Then, I would reflect on what I had just expressed, just to make sure that it was solid. You know—to make sure the words were really there. Then, I would pray. That part was usually ok. At the end, though, I always felt somewhat imprisoned by the mantra that was supposed to give me relief; praise be to Allah, and may peace be upon the noblest of the Prophets and messengers…

I had no clue that OCD symptoms can manifest themselves in religious practices, before I experienced the illness, myself. I had always thought of religion as a peace-granting institution, shielded from any worldly pain or discomfort. The idea that negativities present in life can intermingle with and taint Islamic rituals we carry out is…distressing, to say the least.

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That being said, mental illness is a formidable opponent…it can ruin life to an unimaginable point. And it doesn’t mind if you are a pious, God-fearing Muslim, or not. (Sometimes, being firm in faith is actually the driving force behind its strike; it tries to shake your faith in Allah through its blows.) Mental disorder will clutch you in a most painful grasp, and will refuse to let go until either you give up, or it sees that your sabr is stronger than its hold.

My own disorder and I have wrestled some rough brawls. I have suffered through psychosis, depression, and OCD at the hands of mental illness. And yes — I have wondered such thoughts as “why me?” and “when will this end?” in the midst of the battles. But I have learned through my war with mental illness that a good Muslim is not one who never distresses, or who doesn’t ever waver in her faith (for, if there was such a Muslim where would Allah’s test be in the life of that person?); a good Muslim is one who, after falling down in spirit, rises back up, again, and again.

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“Or do ye think that ye shall enter the Garden (of bliss) without such (trials) as came to those who passed away before you? They encountered suffering and adversity, and were so shaken in spirit that even the Messenger and those of faith who were with him cried: “When will the help of Allah come?” Ah! Verily, the help of Allah is (always) near!” the Qur’an teaches us (Qur’an, 2:214).

~

I have the painful fear of my prayerful words fading away into oblivion, when I make du’a. The fact that words do not fade away into oblivion (what does that mean, anyway?) does not help me, while I’m in the moment. While I’m in the moment of making du’a, I am afraid that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). will not answer me, because I may not begin (or end) the supplication with “praise be to Allah, and peace be upon His prophet” sincerely enough…hard enough. So, I repeat the words, over and over, concentrating, firmly, on them. I know that this is irrational, but this is part of my illness. It’s a part of my test. And Allah loves those who endure their tests, patiently. Alhamdulillah, for that.

 

Writer Ethar Hamid is a Sudani-American who finds inspiration in her mental illness and says “the issue of mental wellness is not one of being forever free from mental distress, but one of coping with and thriving despite of mental health issues”. She writes creatively about her mental health struggles on www.muslimbipolar.com.

 

29 Comments

29 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Aminu ibrahim yusuf

    October 1, 2015 at 11:00 PM

    My Allah bless all Muslim brothers on this work amin

    • Avatar

      Ethar Hamid

      October 3, 2015 at 5:58 PM

      Ameen, ya Allah!*
      jAk for the lovely comment…

  2. Avatar

    anna

    October 1, 2015 at 11:41 PM

    I don’t understand.. how did you link your regular prayers with OCD ? are all people who pray all prayers eligible for OCD? it’s very intriguing and would appreciate if you tell more about it.

    • Avatar

      Z K

      November 12, 2015 at 11:29 PM

      The constellation of OCD symptoms relating to religion are called scrupulosity.

      OCD has been called “the doubting disease”. One of the symptoms which this article describes is doubting if the prayer has been done correctly. That’s the O in OCD. Then the person feels forced to repeat things to make sure to do it correctly. That’s the C part.

      It doesn’t have to be about prayers. OCD can manifest in many ways.

      Also important to note that the OCD sufferer may recognize that the fears and doubts are irrational but still feel compelled to act on them.

  3. Avatar

    Nuraini

    October 2, 2015 at 12:26 AM

    Assalamualaikum, sister, beautifully written. As a person battling with major depressive disorder, I can relate to you in this sense. At times when it struck, the only thing I could say for my du’a was “Please Allah, forgive me! forgive me! help me!”. I felt that if I don’t ask for forgiveness hard enough, Allah will not listen.. It is illogical, and I know it… yet it terrifies me so much.
    Hugs, sister.. may Allah swt make it ease for you and I, and all that suffers the same.

  4. Avatar

    Amir

    October 2, 2015 at 5:26 AM

    May Almighty Allah gives health to all of us Muslims and forgive us. I also like to praise be to Allah after the Dua.
    Thanks for sharing with us.

  5. Avatar

    Umm Hadi

    October 2, 2015 at 1:38 PM

    Allahumma aafini fi badni, allahumma aafini fi saamii, allahumma aafini basari , la illaha illa anta
    O Allah, grant health in my body, O Allah, grant health in my hearing, O Allah, grant health in my sight.

    • Avatar

      Abdullah

      November 6, 2015 at 11:28 PM

      Is it aafini fi basari?

  6. Avatar

    Arjmand

    October 3, 2015 at 10:08 AM

    Assalamu alaykum,

    Wow, I also have the same thought process when I am making duas but I never guessed that it could be some kind of a problem! Praise be to Allah who brought me to this page. Jazak Allah khair for sharing this!

    You didn’t mention how you cope with this? Any tips?

    • Avatar

      Cool_Guy141

      October 6, 2015 at 12:30 AM

      Assalamu ‘alaikum warahmatullahi,

      If one can internalize that no one will enter Jannah, including Rasulullah (salAllahu ‘alayhi wasallam), except if Allah bestows His Mercy upon that person, then religious OCD should go away. Thinking like this could convert the ‘ibaadah into something that is done out of love of Allah (swt) or out of submission to Him. Now the good news is that Allah has given us hope through verse 39:53 and 2:186.

      In other words, OCD partially stems from having if-only then thoughts. “IF I praise Allah and send the salawat to Rasulullah salAllahu ‘alayhi wasallam before making dua, ONLY THEN my dua will be accepted.” We need to change that. Rather than thinking of thoughts as if-only then, it might help to think those thoughts as submission-acception. “I submit and I praise Allah and send the salawat to Rasulullah salAllahu ‘alayhi wasallam, so that my duas are accepted.” This is a shift in mindset that you are actually not in control, and rather depending on Allah’s Mercy.

      And Allah knows best.

    • Avatar

      Cool_Guy141

      October 7, 2015 at 5:39 PM

      Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah’s Apostle (salAllahu ‘alayhi wasallam) said, “The deeds of anyone of you will not save you (from the (Hell) Fire).” They said, “Even you (will not be saved by your deeds), O Allah’s Apostle?” He (salAllahu ‘alayhi wasallam) said, “No, even I (will not be saved) unless and until Allah bestows His Mercy on me. Therefore, do good deeds properly, sincerely and moderately, and worship Allah in the forenoon and in the afternoon and during a part of the night, and always adopt a middle, moderate, regular course whereby you will reach your target (Paradise).” (Bukhari)

  7. Avatar

    Saman

    October 3, 2015 at 4:50 PM

    To my surprise I came across this article right after I finished making a short dua with the same kind of anxiety. I’ve OCD as well. I’ve been through years of depression & isolation to the point where I wasn’t able to sleep at night because I hadn’t spoken to anyone besides my parents the whole day. Those nights were very depressing & never ending. At some point my mind became very limited, it was like the world only consisted of a few things.

    What really hurts the most is when you tell someone about your mental health and they deny it and say it’s all in your head. It’s the worst thing one can say to a person who already does not have control over their own mind.

    Alhumdulillah, I’ve observed that this topic has started to be discussed on some Islamic sites/blogs. It gives me hope and makes me realize that I’m not alone and that there are people in far more worse situations. Also, I had been living with the misconception that the level of my piety was a cause of this disorder to some extent, which was recently cleared because of an article on this website, Alhumdulillah this has allowed to embrace myself and motivated me.

    In the end, it feels really good to share my experience with those who are going / have been through a similar situation. May the Almighty, our Creator cure us & grant us a speedy recovery. Ameen.

    • Avatar

      Ethar Hamid

      October 3, 2015 at 5:55 PM

      Dear Saman,
      I’m really sorry that you’ve suffered so much with your own ocd and depression…It has been hard for me, too…but the hadith that says “Even if a believer is (only) pricked by a thorn, that will take away some of his/her sins, for him/her” comes to mind, here, for me! (As well as the hadith of the lady who came to the Prophet p.b.u.h. complaining about her epileptic seizures…the Prophet told her that he could make du’a for her that Allah cures/relieves her of her illness, or that she could be patient, and her patience will take her to Jannah. (The lady preferred to be patient and to go to Jannah, so she took the second option…) I like to think that this hadith pertains to anyone suffering any illness, too, like our own OCD and depression (*though it could be that the Prophet’s statements were specific for this lady, at that specific situation…–I’m not quite sure.)
      At any rate, Allah s.w.t. uses illnesses to get His servants closer to Him! So aH (in a way) for our conditions…
      also; I totally agree with you that it’s not good at all for someone to downplay someone’s mental illness, or brush it under the rug! Mental disorder is an illness like any other…but I think misunderstanding and stigma makes it hard for people to see that…
      Also; of course* you are not alone! I don’t think allah s.w.t. has ever given a person a test that no one else has experienced, before, in some way….and; know that you’re pain is also my (and every Muslim who reads your comment)’s pain…When a Muslim is suffering, the entire* Ummah (of righteous Muslims) is in pain, too. :(
      May Allah s.w.t. give you and every Muslim struggling with mental health issues (and me) a full and speedy recovery, like you said. ameen, ya Allah.
      also, ~thank you~ for commenting on this article and sharing your lovely thoughts.
      may allah bless you and make thinsg easy for you (aameen).
      -Ethar Hamid

  8. Avatar

    Zoya

    October 4, 2015 at 1:18 AM

    Jazakum Allahu khayran for this post! Mental illness is a real issue that many Muslims are struggling with, and it is one that needs to be addressed increasingly in our communities. Thank you for sharing your story. May Allah ease your struggles and reward you immensely for your patience.

  9. Avatar

    Yusuf

    October 4, 2015 at 9:08 AM

    Blessings to you sister. I also struggle with mental illness and it affects my deen. I think the more we Muslims speak out about this, the more help we can get. We also should talk about addictions. I’m glad MM is bringing these topics up, since they can provide relief and insight for many.

    • Avatar

      Ethar Hamid

      October 6, 2015 at 5:41 PM

      Jazak Allah kheir, brother.
      I hope Allah s.w.t. gives you patience with your disorder, healing, and happiness in your life. (aameen.) It can really hard with mental illness–I know–but the person that Allah has decreed a happy and good life for–forget it. It will def. happen! May He write a life of blessings for both of us (and for everyone with mental illnesses-and everyone, in general).
      You’re absolutely right that the more we Muslims speak out about these things, the more help can come. I think it’s especially hard for Muslims to speak out about mental illnesses, because of the stigma that surrounds the topic (due to stagnation in scientific progress, and such)… But a few people can/should speak out, to get the ball rolling/to get the conversations started. ..
      Anyway, jAk again for your comment and kind words.
      May Allah write a full recovery for you,
      aameen,
      -Ethar Hamid

  10. Avatar

    Nicole MS

    October 6, 2015 at 3:05 AM

    Thank you SO MUCH sister Ethar for publishing this! I too suffer from an at times disabling mental illness which has the potential to disturb and at worst obliterate my ibada. I have recently come out of hospital (shortest ever alhumdolilah) and am back to work and determined to strive harder in the deen inshallah. I will definitely check out your Muslim bipolar site when I get home from work! I came across Muslim Matters via my workplace so alhumdolilah for that. Barakah to all and salaam allaikum.

    • Avatar

      Ethar Hamid

      October 6, 2015 at 5:17 PM

      Wa alaikum as salam, sr. Nicole :) Thanks so much for commenting on this!
      firstly, i’m really sorry that you are struggling with mental illness–I definitely feel your pain, and I pray that things go easy for you (may Allah s.w.t. help you in every way–aameen).
      Alhamdulillah you are out of the hospital, now…
      May allah s.w.t. alleviate any hardship/pain you face! and create a speedy recovery ] (and do the same for me, and for everyone else.)
      Thanks* for saying you can check out my site (although muslimbipolar is actually not my site… :P I know it looks kind of decieiving, where it says the name of that site, at the bottom… Although muslimbipolar.com is an amazing site, and I recommend it! (I just contribute stuff to that site). But here is my actual site: https://etharhamid.contently.com/
      ~
      May Allah reward you for sharing some of your experiences/thoughts!! Really appreciate your comments/thoughts/kind words… :)
      ~fee amaan illah

      -Sr. Ethar

  11. Avatar

    umabd

    October 7, 2015 at 1:37 AM

    Dear brothers and sisters who are struggling with this issue of mental illness, please consider what the deen has prescribed as cures: cupping by someone professional, 7 dates followed by honey mixed eith water first thing in the morning, surah baqarah recite/listen *daily*. Do lots of dua. Read this surah on water and drink daily. Do the same on olive oil and apply all over body and scalp daily. Use misk. And never lrave mornig and evening adhkar. By Allah’s permission, you may see a big difference in your condition.
    But besides this take every means possible to ensure mental health. If your self says to isolate then go against it. Keep fighting the good fight and choose your well being over your own inclinations.

  12. Avatar

    Amir

    October 10, 2015 at 2:26 PM

    It was nice to read this. Yes, ocd for sure can manifest in the religion. I think it’s probably the easiest thing to manifest in. Something that is the closest to your heart.

    I too have this ocd problem , and it escalated into a shaitanic influence, where it no longer became simple ocd, but something much different. They call it mass-al-shaitan, and waswaas al qahri. And the symptoms are clearly different, and much more confusing and difficult to deal with. Nevertheless, there’s a cure for all of it.

    Anyways, come join me at what I like to call the official anxiety community from a muslim perspective. http://www.EducatedAnxiety.com
    I hope to see you all there.

  13. Avatar

    Frederik

    October 10, 2015 at 2:35 PM

    Isolation is a feature of modern society coupled with intense pressure for getting consuming and achieving externally. Along with a pollutant environment, people affected in different ways.

    In addition, lack of nurturing parenting and failure to instill trust in children especially results in a lot of “mental illness” which often stems from a combination of above factors and also especially lack of connect with parents. This is an issue if cannot be solved with parents then to continue connecting with others and other role models.

    Without healthy social circle and a rope to hold onto one becomes immersed in their core beliefs of themselves being weak and insufficient (parenting).
    Schizophrenia for example from Islamic perspective is seen as jinn from western as chemical imbalance and irrational thoughts. In common though, schizophrenic patients often talk about spirituality and often have in common delusions to do with “dark forces”, paranoia, as well as often people struggling with this often have severe issues with their mothers.

    Muslim community needs to have local friendship circles and groups for those without social support to stay together and make friends. Mosques fail at this. Place of communal gathering a refuge to discuss ideas without fear of judgment and to seek help. Maybe more special circles for those struggling with various mental health issues.

    For op, I find two things helpful. One thing – this is just in my head. There is a whole world out there it just happens so I am one person struggling with one pain. Second thing look at those worse off than you and just be thankful you don’t have their problems. Try see positives from ur OCD. Do you maybe even benefit from having it because u get secondary reward from having it? For me, realized gave me an ” outlet” when I was lonely or wanted reassurance from someone. Back to having bsocial circle important.

    Most importantly try not to fight it. Try focus on the meta of ur pain without judging urself for it. Where is the pain (in my head) how does it feel?(running speed) how does it make me feel “obsessive with pain in the head” how can I feel better? Maybe even start meditating on how your toes feel. Of course this wouldn’t work for serious cases but techniques could be used preventative or beginning.

    One other thing really really helps me. I think, this life is temporary and one day the pain will be over. Long as I’m not acting out my thoughts there’s nothing to worry about. God will help me band keep me on the right path.

    Be hopeful of God and He will give u what you need. I believ I read as well that ocd is a feature of an overdeveloped nafs but I’m not sure. Few books on how to tame the nafs.

  14. Avatar

    zaman

    October 11, 2015 at 9:43 AM

    Interesting that much misunderstood mental illnesses are discussed here with lot of empathy and from a religious perspective.

    I have known relatives who have different levels of OCD and other serious mental illnesses.These people are not freely admitted to family groups and events and kept isolated. Even advice from Doctors relevant to the patients are kept confidential and are filtered. Rarely did I see positive support from the family except for minimal understanding of the illness and adequate supply of medicines. Some cases of interference from close relatives look dangerous when they insist on alternative treatments which are actually harmful as the modern medicines from Allopathy are not given to the patient. Perhaps we, the immediate family, also develop some negative mindsets and need therapy as well.

    Though in the practice of Islam, many exceptions and waivers are available for mentally ill Muslims, it is surely beneficial to encourage such patients to take up Salaat, Zikr and Fasting in small doses which do not burden them, Best perhaps is short Duas.

  15. Avatar

    Aisha

    October 12, 2015 at 1:20 AM

    Thank you so much for writing this. I was actually diagnosed with OCD, but mine was with wudu. I just got to the point where I stopped praying completely because it was affecting not just my eman but my career, family and social life. I do take medication but I was afraid to even go back to prayer because I was scared of relapsing. Yes I know many people think Oh you’re just being lazy, but, unless you’ve experienced OCD you have no clue. After having spiritual counseling with an amazing Imam; I now feel I am on the path to getting back to my prayers. I am taking baby steps and am so happy that I can at least do Isha now with no panic attacks. Yay!!!

    • Avatar

      Zaina

      November 12, 2015 at 11:36 PM

      Hugs. My mom banned me from praying when I was 10 years old for the same reasons. Being a doctor, she was concerned about giving strong psych meds to a child. So she treated the symptoms. I’d been spending hours wuduing.. For each prayer.

      Even now as an adult, I can go months without praying when things are bad and not praying makes me feel guilty on top of sick.

      I think I may start praying without wuduing to start because not praying is surely worse.

      I also only do the absolute minimum wudu now. When u was younger no one told me the three times thing was optional.

  16. Avatar

    tariq Aziz

    October 15, 2015 at 11:14 AM

    I am in some state don’t know what it is but its terrible to deal with now are clinical anti depressant helpful its tough for me to get help

    • Avatar

      Ethar Hamid

      October 15, 2015 at 7:48 PM

      ~
      As salam alaikum, brother Tariq. I’m so sorry to hear that :(
      I wanted to say that, yes, antidepressants and other psychiatric meds can be real lifesavers! (next to Allah, of course–He is the real grantor of shifaa, without doubt).
      Anyway, since you feel quite bad, maybe you can see a therapist (or a mental health counselor, or psychologist? Or a psychiatrist? (I see a psychiatrist and a social worker, myself…) the mental health specialist will provide you with the meds you may need.
      I just wanted to say that I know what it’s like to feel very bad—I suffer from psychotic depression, ocd, and anxiety, all of which were going untreated, when they first developed (of course). Even for four or five years after that all came upon me, I wasn’t receiving the correct treatment/taking the right meds, because doctors were still trying to figure out what was wrong with me.  so I lived in a very bad place…it was a nightmare. **But things get sooo much better. For everyone…I ask Allah to help you.
      so iA you can get a therapist/psychiatrist. If you decide to see a mental health specialist, I actually recommend seeing one who works in a public, government-funded practice, as opposed to one who works at a private practice. In my experience, mental health specialists who work in public, government-established clinics are more professional. Plus, the service (of treating you) will probably be a lot less, because they get most of their payment from the state/local government (as opposed to private practioners, who receive their payments from the clients/patients). For example, I pay only a small amount to see both my psychiatrist and social worker that I see, and I get my meds for free, too. (though I think my free meds are because of the patient-assistance that I receive through the medication company’s financial assistance program, and not the clinic.) I do all of this because who wants to pay a lot of money for necessities, like medication/doctors/psychiatrists/food/water, etc? A pool in my backyard—ok…I get why that would be expensive. But not the fundamental things, in life! :/
      ***by the way, sorry* if you already knew all of this. Consider it a reminder. 
      ~
      By the way, if you live in the U.S., this website is great for finding a therapist (if you choose to get a therapist, over a psychiatrist…though both can be helpful, too): goodtherapy.org

      Also, don’t forget to keep up with the Islamic acts of worship—iA that will comfort you and bring you a form of peace (though they might nor cure a mental health condition. But then again, allah is the ultimate giver of recovery and healing, so a du’a from a sincere heart will help you).
      I love the following du’a, and use it often:

      O Allah, I am Your slave, the child of Your male slave, and the child of your female slave. My forehead is in Your hand (i.e., You have control over me). Your judgment upon me is assured, and Your decree concerning me is just. I ask You by every Name that You have; that You have named Yourself with, revealed in Your Book, taught anyone of Your creation, or kept unto Yourself in the knowledge of the unseen that is with You, to make the Qur’an the spring of my heart, the light of my chest, the banisher of my sadness, and the reliever of my distress.
      ~
      May allah give you a full and lasting recovery! I hope you feel better…please reach out for help from a professional (and family/friends) if you need support/help.
      ~*~*~
      ~fee amaan illah (I leave you in the care of Allah),
      Ethar

  17. Avatar

    Hashim

    November 12, 2015 at 6:54 AM

    Read this article and it brought tears to my eyes. I’ve also been going through something similar for a long time now. Everytime I start praying Salah, I feel that shaytan will grab a hold of me and ALLAH will not accept my prayers if I do not say “Bismillah” 16 times before the start of prayer and during prayer, if my thoughts go elsewhere, I feel obliged to repeat the rakah. I know it is irrational and I am quite aware that what I am doing is wrong but I cant seem to help myself, feeling that something terrible would happen if I dont succumb to these obsessive thoughts. I was diagnosed with OCD 5 years ago and it has been getting bad ever since, so much so that I have to repeat the ablution 3 times each time I pray. Even more depressing is that, being a final year medical student, I am aware that anti-depressants wont help me, I have tried but they dont improve my symptoms. Is there any dua to help me??

    • Avatar

      Zaina

      November 12, 2015 at 11:41 PM

      Have you tried ERP?

      I know scrupulosity is one of the toughest symptoms to treat.

      I find it really hard to pray too.

      One thing I do is the bare minimum wudu. Also talked to imam and even if its *Wrong*, do it once. Similar to say if you had anither issue that broke wudu. Finally, I do the extra sAjda at the end of the prayer to cover mistakes.

      Right now I actually haven’t been praying for a while, my next step will probably be to pray sans wudu. Because that’s probably better than not praying at all.

  18. Avatar

    Waqas Mansoor

    January 4, 2017 at 2:53 PM

    Recently diagnosed with memory and thought related ocd . :( I pray that I get better . I am a very big dinner and I ask for forgiveness .. I hope Allah helps me .. I would start praying no matter what

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The Unexpected Blessings of Being Alone

Juli Herman

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My seven-year old son sat on the ground, digging a hole. Around him, other children ran, cried, and laughed at the playground.

“He’s such a strange kid,” my oldest daughter remarked. “Who goes to the playground and digs holes in the ground?”

In an instant, scenes of my ten-year-old self flashed through my mind. In them I ducked, hiding from invisible enemies in a forest of tapioca plants. Flattening my back against the spindly trunks, I flicked my wrist, sending a paper shuriken flying towards my pursuers. I was in my own world, alone.

It feels as if I have always been alone. I was the only child from one set of parents. I was alone when they divorced. I was alone when one stepmother left and another came in. I was alone with my diary, tears, and books whenever I needed to escape from the negative realities of my childhood.

Today, I am a lone niqab-wearing Malay in the mish-mash of a predominantly Desi and Arab Muslim community. My aloneness has only been compounded by the choices I’ve made that have gone against social norms- like niqab and the decision to marry young and have two babies during my junior and senior years of undergrad.

When I decided to homeschool my children, I was no longer fazed by any naysayers. I had gotten so used to being alone that it became almost second nature to me. My cultural, religious, and parenting choices no longer hung on the approval of social norms.

Believe it Or Not, We Are All Alone

In all of this, I realize that I am not alone in being alone. We all are alone, even in an ocean of people. No matter who you are, or how many people are around you, you are alone in that you are answerable to the choices you make.

The people around you may suggest or pressure you into specific choices, but you alone make the ultimate choice and bear the ultimate consequence of what those choices are. Everything from what you wear, who you trust, and how you plan your wedding is a result of your own choice. We are alone in society, and in the sight of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) as well.

The aloneness is obvious when we do acts of worship that are individual, such as fasting, giving zakah, and praying. But we’re also alone in Hajj, even when surrounded by a million other Muslims. We are alone in that we have to consciously make the choice and intention to worship. We are alone in making sure we do Hajj in its true spirit.

We alone are accountable to Allah, and on the Day of Judgment, no one will carry the burden of sin of another.

مَّنِ اهْتَدَىٰ فَإِنَّمَا يَهْتَدِي لِنَفْسِهِ ۖ وَمَن ضَلَّ فَإِنَّمَا يَضِلُّ عَلَيْهَا ۚ وَلَا تَزِرُ وَازِرَةٌ وِزْرَ أُخْرَىٰ ۗ وَمَا كُنَّا مُعَذِّبِينَ حَتَّىٰ نَبْعَثَ رَسُولًا

“Whoever accepts guidance does so for his own good; whoever strays does so at his own peril. No soul will bear another’s burden, nor do We punish until We have sent a messenger.” Surah Al Israa 17:15

On the day you stand before Allah you won’t have anyone by your side. On that day it will be every man for himself, no matter how close you were in the previous life. It will just be you and Allah.

Even Shaytaan will leave you to the consequences of your decisions.

وَقَالَ الشَّيْطَانُ لَمَّا قُضِيَ الْأَمْرُ إِنَّ اللَّهَ وَعَدَكُمْ وَعْدَ الْحَقِّ وَوَعَدتُّكُمْ فَأَخْلَفْتُكُمْ ۖ وَمَا كَانَ لِيَ عَلَيْكُم مِّن سُلْطَانٍ إِلَّا أَن دَعَوْتُكُمْ فَاسْتَجَبْتُمْ لِي ۖ فَلَا تَلُومُونِي وَلُومُوا أَنفُسَكُم ۖ مَّا أَنَا بِمُصْرِخِكُمْ وَمَا أَنتُم بِمُصْرِخِيَّ ۖ إِنِّي كَفَرْتُ بِمَا أَشْرَكْتُمُونِ مِن قَبْلُ ۗ إِنَّ الظَّالِمِينَ لَهُمْ عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ

“When everything has been decided, Satan will say, ‘God gave you a true promise. I too made promises but they were false ones: I had no power over you except to call you, and you responded to my call, so do not blame me; blame yourselves. I cannot help you, nor can you help me. I reject the way you associated me with God before.’ A bitter torment awaits such wrongdoers” Surah Ibrahim 14:22

But, Isn’t Being Alone Bad?

The connotation that comes with the word ‘alone’ relegates it to something negative. You’re a loser if you sit in the cafeteria alone. Parents worry when they have a shy and reserved child. Teachers tend to overlook the quiet ones, and some even complain that they can’t assess the students if they don’t speak up.

It is little wonder that the concept of being alone has a negative connotation. Being alone is not the human default, for Adam 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) was alone, yet Allah created Hawwa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) as a companion for him. According to some scholars, the word Insaan which is translated as human or mankind or man comes from the root letters that means ‘to want company’. We’re naturally inclined to want company.

You might think, “What about the social aspects of Islam? Being alone is like being a hermit!” That’s true, but in Islam, there is a balance between solitary and communal acts of worship. For example, some prayers are done communally like Friday, Eid, and funeral prayers. However, extra prayers like tahajjud, istikharah, and nawaafil are best done individually.

There is a place and time for being alone, and a time for being with others. Islam teaches us this balance, and with that, it teaches us that being alone is also praiseworthy, and shouldn’t be viewed as something negative. There is virtue in alone-ness just as there is virtue in being with others.

Being Alone Has Its Own Perks

It is through being alone that we can be astute observers and connect the outside world to our inner selves. It is also through allowing aloneness to be part of our daily regimen that we can step back, introspect and develop a strong sense of self-based on a direct relationship with Allah.

Taking the time to reflect on worship and the words of Allah gives us the opportunity to meaningfully think about it. It is essential that a person gets used to being alone with their thoughts in order to experience this enriching intellectual, emotional and spiritual experience. The goal is to use our thoughts as the fuel to gain closeness to Allah through reflection and self-introspection.

Training ourselves to embrace being alone can also train us to be honest with ourselves, discover who we truly are, and work towards improving ourselves for Allah’s sake. Sitting with ourselves and honestly scrutinizing the self in order to see strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement is essential for character development. And character development is essential to reach the level of Ihsaan.

When we look into who we want to be, we are bound to make some decisions that might raise eyebrows and wag tongues. Being okay with being alone makes this somewhat easier. We should not be afraid to stand out and be the only one wearing praying or wearing hijab, knowing that it is something Allah will be pleased with. We should not be afraid to stand up for what we believe in even if it makes us unpopular. Getting used to being alone can give us the confidence to make these decisions.

Being alone can strengthen us internally, but not without pain. Emory University neuroscientist Gregory Berns found that people who dissent from group wisdom show heightened activation in the amygdala, a small organ in the brain associated with the sting of social rejection. Berns calls this the “pain of independence.”

All our prophets experienced this ‘pain of independence’ in their mission. Instances of different prophets being rejected by their own people are generously scattered in the Quran for us to read and reflect upon. One lesson we can extract from these is that being alone takes courage, faith, conviction, and confidence.

 

We Come Alone, Leave Alone, Meet Allah Alone

The circumstances that left me alone in the different stages of my life were not random. I always wanted an older brother or someone else to be there to rescue me from the solitude. But the solitude came with a blessing. Being alone gave me the time and space in which to wonder, think, and eventually understand myself and the people around me. I learned reflection as a skill and independent decision-making as s strength. I don’t mind being alone in my niqab, my Islam, or my choices. I’ve had plenty of practice after all.

Open grave

You are born alone and you took your first breath alone. You will die alone, even if you are surrounded by your loved ones. When you are lowered into the grave, you will be alone. Accepting this can help you make use of your moments of solitude rather than fear them. Having the courage to be alone builds confidence, strengthens conviction, and propels us to do what is right and pleasing to Allah regardless of human approval.

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Why Israel Should Be ‘Singled Out’ For Its Human Rights Record

Unlike other countries, ordinary citizens are complicit in the perpetual crimes committed against defenseless Palestinians.

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israel, occupied Palestine

Why is everyone so obsessed with Israel’s human rights abuses? From Saudi Arabia, to Syria, to North Korea to Iran. All these nations are involved in flagrant violations of human right, so why all the focus on Israel – ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’? Clearly, if you ignore these other violations and only focus on Israel, you must be anti-Semitic. What else could be your motivations for this double standard?

This is one of the most common contentions raised when Israel is criticized for its human rights record. I personally don’t believe in entertaining this question – it shouldn’t matter why an activist is choosing to focus on one conflict and not others. What matters are the facts being raised; putting into question the motives behind criticizing Israel is a common tactic to detract from the topic at hand. The conversation soon turns into some circular argument about anti-Semitism and the plight of the Palestinian people is lost. More importantly, this charge of having double standards is often disingenuous. For example, Representative Ihan Omar has been repeatedly accused of this recently and her motives have been called ‘suspicious’ – despite her vocal criticism of other countries, especially Saudi Arabia.

However, this point is so frequently brought up, I think that perhaps its time activists and critics simply own up to it. Yes – Israel should be singled out, for some very good reasons. These reasons relate to there being a number of unique privileges that the country enjoys; these allow it to get away with much of the abuses it commits. Human right activists thus must be extra vocal when comes to Israel as they have to overcome the unparalleled level of support for the country, particularly in the US and Canada. The following points summarize why Israel should in fact be singled out:

1) Ideological support from ordinary citizens

When Iran and North Korea commit human right abuses, we don’t have to worry about everyone from journalists to clerics to average students on campuses coming out and defending those countries. When most nations commit atrocities, our journalists and politicians call them out, sanctions are imposed, they are taking them to the International Court of Justice, etc. There are instruments in place to take care of other ‘rogue’ nations – without the need for intervention from the common man.

Israel, however, is unique in that it has traditionally enjoyed widespread ideological support, primarily from the Jewish community and Evangelical Christians, in the West. This support is a result of the historical circumstances and pseudo-religious ideology that drove the creation of the state in 1948. The successful spread of this nationalistic dogma for the last century means Israel can count on ordinary citizens from Western countries to comes to its defense. This support can come in the form of foreign enlistment to its military, students conducting campus activism, politicians shielding it from criticisms and journalists voluntarily writing in its support and spreading state propaganda.

This ideological and nationalistic attachment to the country is the prime reason why it is so incredibly difficult to have any kind of sane conversation about Israel in the public sphere – criticism is quickly seen as an attack on Jewish identity and interpreted as an ‘existential threat’ to the nation by its supporters. Any attempts to take Israel to account through standard means are thwarted because of the political backlash feared from the country’s supporters in the West.

2) Unconditional political support of a world superpower

The US is Israel’s most important and closest ally in the Middle-East. No matter what war crimes Israel commits, it can count on America to have its back. This support means the US will use its veto power to support Israel against actions of the UN Security Council, it will use its diplomatic influence to shield any punitive actions from other nations and it will use its military might to intervene if need be. The backing of the US is one of the main reasons why the Israeli occupation and expansion of the colonial settlement enterprise continues to this day without any repercussions.

While US support might be especially staunch for Israel, this factor is certainly not unique to the country. Any country which has this privilege, e.g. Saudi Arabia, should be under far great scrutiny for its human rights violations than others.

3)  Military aid and complicity of tax-payers

US tax-payers are directly paying for Israel to carry out its occupation of the Palestinian people.

Israel is the largest recipient of US-military aid – it receives an astonishing $3 billion dollars every year. This aid, according to a US congressional report, “has helped transform Israel’s armed forces into one of the most technologically sophisticated militaries in the world.”

Unlike other countries, ordinary citizens are complicit in the perpetual crimes committed against defenseless Palestinians. Activists and citizens thus have a greater responsibility to speak out against Israel as their government is paying the country to carry out its atrocities. Not only is this aid morally reprehensible, but it is also illegal under United States Leahy Laws.

4) The Israeli lobby

The Israeli lobby is one of the most powerful groups in Washington and is the primary force for ensuring continued US political support for the nation. It consists of an assortment of formal lobby groups (AIPAC, Christians United for Israel), think-thanks (Washington Institute for Near East Policy), political action committee or PACs, not-for-profit organizations (B’nai B’irth, American Jewish Congress, Stand for Israel) and media watchdogs (CAMERA, Honest Reporting). These organizations together exercise an incredible amount of political influence. They ensure that any criticism of Israel is either stifled or there are serious consequences for those who speak up. In 2018 alone, pro-Israel donors spent $22 million on lobbying for the country – far greater than any other nation. Pro-Israel lobbies similarly influence politics in other places such as the UK, Canada, and Europe.

5) One of the longest-running occupation in human history

This point really should be the first one on this list – and it is the only one that should matter. However, because of the unique privileges that Israel enjoys, it is hard to get to the crux of what it is actually doing. Israel, with U.S. support, has militarily occupied the Palestinian territories (West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem) since 1967. The belligerent occupation, over 50 years old, is one of the longest, bloodiest and brutal in human history.

Israel continues to steal land and build settler colonies the West Bank – in flagrant violation of international law. It has implemented a system of apartheid in these territories which is reminiscent of the racist regime of South Africa. The Gaza strip has been under an insufferable siege which has made the living conditions deplorable; it has been referred to the world’s largest ‘open-air prison’. In addition to this institutional oppression, crimes committed against Palestinians include: routinely killing civilian protesters, including teenagers and medics, torture of Palestinians and severe restrictions on the everyday movement of Palestinians.

The brutality, consistency and the duration for which Israel has oppressed Palestinians is alone enough reason for it being ‘singled out’. No other nation comes close to its record. However, for the reasons mentioned above, Israel’s propaganda machine has effectively painted itself as just another ‘liberal democracy’ in the eyes of the general public. Any attempt to bring to light these atrocities are met with ‘suspicion’ about the ‘real’ motives of the critics. Given the points mentioned here, it should be evident that the level of support for Israeli aggression is uniquely disproportionate – it is thus fitting that criticism of the country is equally vocal and unparalleled as well.

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This Article Could be Zakat-Eligible

Who Accounts For This Pillar of Islam

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Co-written by Shaykh Osman Umarji

As writers on MuslimMatters, it came as a surprise when the website we write on marked itself zakat-eligible on its fundraiser for operations in Ramadan. This website has previously highlighted the misuse and abuse of zakat for vague and dodgy reasons, including instances of outright fraud by nonprofit corporations.  We have lamented the seemingly inexorable march from zakat being for living human beings in need to financial play-doh for nonprofit corporate boards.

Estimated global zakat is somewhere between $200 billion to $1 trillion.  Eliminating global poverty is estimated at $187 billion– not just for Muslims, but everyone.  There continue to be strong interests in favor of more putty-like zakat to benefit the interests of the organizations that are not focused on reducing poverty. Thus, in many ways, a sizeable chunk of zakat benefits the affluent rather than the needy. Zakat, rather than being a credit to the Muslim community, starts to look more like an indictment of it.

No, it’s not ikhtilaf

The recent article on this website, Dr. Usama Al-Azmi seemed somewhat oblivious to the cavalier way the nonprofit corporate sector in the United States treats Zakat.  The article did not do justice to legitimate concerns about zakat distribution by dismissing the issue as one of “ikhtilaf,” or a reasonable difference of opinion, as it ignored the broader concern about forces working hard to make zakat a “wild west” act of worship where just about anything goes.  

It’s essential to identify the crux of the problem. Zakat has eight categories of permissible beneficiaries in the Quran. 1 Two are various levels of poor, distribution overhead; then there are those whose hearts are to be inclined,  free captives, relieve indebtedness, the wayfarer, and the cause of Allah (fisabilillah). The category of fisabilillah, historically,  the majority of scholars have interpreted as the cost of jihad (like actual fighting). However, in recent times, Muslim nonprofit corporations, with support of learned Muslim leaders, have adopted an increasingly aggressive and vague posture that allows nearly any beneficial cause to get zakat.   

The concerns about the abuse of zakat, and the self-serving desire by corporations to turn fisabilillah into a wastebasket Zakat category that could be “incredibly broad” has to do with far more than a difference of opinion (ikhtilaf ) about the eligibility of Dawah organizations. Let’s assume dawah and educational organizations are eligible to administer Zakat funds.  We need to know what that means in practice. What we have is a fundamental question the fisabilillah-can-mean-virtually-anything faction never manages to answer: are there any limits to zakat usage at all?

Show Your Work

We fully understand that in our religious practice, there is a set of rules.  In Islamic Inheritance for example, for example, we cannot cavalierly change the definition of what a “daughter” is to mean any girl you want to treat like a daughter. There is an established set of rules relating to acts of worship. For the third pillar of Islam, zakat, there seem to be no limits to the absurd-sounding questions we can ask that now seem plausible.  

Unfortunately, we have too many folks who invoke “ikhtilaf” to justify adopting almost any opinion and not enough people who are willing to explain their positions. We need a better understanding of zakat and draw the lines on when nonprofit corporations are going too far.

You can be conservative and stand for zakat as an act of worship that contributes to social justice. You can have a more expansive interpretation friendly to the nonprofit corporate sector’s needs to include the revenue source. Wherever you stand, if you don’t provide evidence and develop detailed uniform and accepted principles and rules that protect those people zakat was meant to help, you are inviting abuse and at the very least, opening the door towards inequitable results. 2

Can you feed the needy lentils and rice for $100 a meal, with margins of $99 a meal going to pay salaries to provide these meals and fundraise for them?  Why or why not?

Can a Dawah organization purchase an $80 million jet for its CEO, who can use it to travel the world to do “dawah,” including places like Davos or various ski resorts?  What rules exist that would prevent something like this? As far as we know, nothing at all.

Bubble Charity

In the United States, demographic sorting is a common issue that affects all charitable giving, not just giving by Muslims. The most affluent live in neighborhoods with other people who are generally as prosperous as they are. Certain places seem almost perversely designed to allow wealthy residents to be oblivious to the challenges of the poor.  There are undeniable reasons why what counts as “charity” for the wealthy means giving money to the Opera, the Met Gala, and Stanford University.

The only real way affluent Muslims know they supposed to care about poor people is that maybe they have a Shaikh giving khutbas talking about the need to do so and their obligation of zakat once a year or so. That is now becoming a thing of the past. Now it is just care about fisabilillah- it means whatever your tender heart wants it to mean.   

As zakat becomes less about the poor, appeals will be for other projects with a higher amount of visibility to the affluent.  Nonprofits now collect Zakat for galas with celebrities. Not fundraising at the gala dinner mind you, but merely serving dinner and entertaining rich people. Educational institutions and Masajid that have dawah activities (besides, everything a Masjid does is fisabilillah) can be quite expensive. Getting talent to run and teach in these institutions is also costly. Since many of the people running these institutions are public figures and charismatic speakers with easy access and credibility with the affluent. It is far easier for them to get Zakat funds for their projects.

People who benefit from these projects because they send their children to these institutions or attend lectures themselves will naturally feel an affinity for these institutions that they won’t have with the poor. Zakat will stay in their bubble.  Fisabilillah.

Dawa is the new Jihad

Jihad, as in war carried out by a Khalifah and paid for with zakat funds, is an expensive enterprise. But no society is in a permanent state of warfare, so they can work towards eliminating poverty during peacetime. Muslim communities have done this in the past.  Dawah is qualitatively different from jihad as it is permanent. There was never a period in Islamic history when there was no need to do dawah. Many times in history, nobody was fighting jihad. There was no period of Islamic history when there were there was never a need for money to educate people. Of course, earlier Muslims used zakat in education in limited, defined circumstances. It is not clear why limitations no longer apply.  

Indeed dawah is a broad category.  For example, many people regard the Turkish costume drama “Diriliş: Ertuğrul” as dawah.  Fans of the show can’t stop talking about the positive effects it has had on their lives and their iman. What prevents zakat from funding future expensive television costume dramas? Nothing, as far as we can see.   

No Standards or Accountability

Unfortunately, in the United States, there are no uniform, specific standards governing zakat. Anything goes now when previously in Islamic history, there were appropriate standards. Nonprofit corporations themselves decide if they are zakat-eligible or not. In some instances, they provide objectively comical explanations, which supporters within the corporation’s bubble pretty much always swallow whole. Corporations don’t have to segregate Zakat-eligible funds from general funds. When they do, they can make up their own rules for how and when they spend zakat. No rules make zakat indistinguishable from any other funding source since they can change their standards year after year depending on their funding needs (if they have rules at all) and nobody would be the wiser. It is exceedingly rare for these corporations to issue detailed reports on how they use zakat.  

The Shift to Meaninglessness

Organizations with platforms (like the one that runs this website) are going to be eager to get on the zakat gravy train. There is no cost to slapping a “zakat-eligible” label on yourself, either financial or social. It seems like everyone does it now. Some Zakat collectors are conscientious and care about helping the poor, though they are starting to look a little old-fashioned. For them, it may make sense to certify Zakat administrators like halal butchers.

Zakat used to be about helping discrete categories of human beings that can benefit from it.  It can now mean anything you want it to mean. In the end, though, without real standards, it may mean nothing at all.

Footnotes:

  1. The sunnah also highlights the essence of zakah as tending to the needs of the poor. For example, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) commanded Muadh bin Jabal, when sending him to Yemen, to teach the people that Allah has obligated charity upon them to be taken from their rich and given to their poor (Sahih Muslim).
  2. In Islamic legal theory (usool al-fiqh), sadd al-dhariya is a principle that refers to blocking the means to evil before it can materialize. It is invoked when a seemingly permissible action may lead to unethical behavior. This principle is often employed in financial matters.

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