Redoing My Duas – Mental Illness and Worship


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.

 

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29 responses to “Redoing My Duas – Mental Illness and Worship”

  1. Aminu ibrahim yusuf says:

    My Allah bless all Muslim brothers on this work amin

  2. anna says:

    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.

    • Z K says:

      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. Nuraini says:

    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. Amir says:

    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. Umm Hadi says:

    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.

  6. Arjmand says:

    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?

    • Cool_Guy141 says:

      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.

    • Cool_Guy141 says:

      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. Saman says:

    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.

    • Ethar Hamid says:

      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. Zoya says:

    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. Yusuf says:

    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.

    • Ethar Hamid says:

      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. Nicole MS says:

    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.

    • Ethar Hamid says:

      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. umabd says:

    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. Amir says:

    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. Frederik says:

    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. zaman says:

    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. Aisha says:

    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!!!

    • Zaina says:

      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. tariq Aziz says:

    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

    • Ethar Hamid says:

      ~
      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. Hashim says:

    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??

    • Zaina says:

      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. Waqas Mansoor says:

    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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