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All About Waswasa and How to Overcome It

21 February, 2017
Q Salam. There are so many questions about the issue of waswasa - the negative whispers of Shaytan that take the shape of obsessive compulsive thoughts especially when one goes deeper into being religious and nearer to Allah. These waswasa usually come in areas like purity and the correct performance of purification acts like wudu and ghusl, it good come in the form of the feeling of being bad and far away from Allah and that one would never reach the good stance that Allah likes. It also could come in negative thoughts about Allah and about Islam and Prophet Muhammad that makes the person feel that he is going into kufr or shirk. Could you please give advice to all people who experience such type of waswasa, especially when they decide to move nearer to Allah and Islam?



As-Salamu ‘Alaykum,

We have to distinguish between two different types of conditions.

One is an actual clinical diagnosis of Obsessive Compulsive DisorderPeople who have this disorder often become religious to the point of developing a disorder as well. This is called religiosity. Don’t get that confused with being very, very devout. These are actual mental conditions that cause the individual’s mind to obsessively think about something to the point where they cannot think about other things. It causes them to be dysfunctional and unable to function normally throughout their day. This condition is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. This is why so often the use of serotonin reuptake inhibitors combined with symptom management is often helpful.

On the other hand, sometimes people are simply going through a spiritual development process and feel the weight of their sin. They are in a process of cleansing themselves. In such a situation, if they are surrounded with mature, loving spiritual friends who can teach them about the love, forgiveness and all-embracing comfort of Allah (swt), they can pass through this spiritual development phase well.

The extra focus on making sure you are doing things “right” is part of the learning process. Once mastered, the person can relax and will feel better about him or herself.

The spiritual development should be rising toward a personal relationship between the individual and Allah (swt). The more connected people feel to the Creator, the better they feel about themselves. They will be able to experience themselves as pure.

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Spiritual growth is natural, and most of us on the path have felt the weight of our wrong doing, been motivated to change, and had a fervent desire to be with Allah (swt). Once we feel confident that we have changed, we perceive ourselves differently. Once our focus is no longer on our own self but is on Allah (swt) and how to please Him, we have all of our burdens lifted and relax.

Still, there are some individuals who believe that Allah (swt) is a cruel and merciless being out there only to catch us doing something wrong. An anthropomorphic view of a tyrant Allah (swt) can cause an individual to become very fearful and live life chained to that fear. Scripture attests to the love and mercy of Allah (swt). Scripture refers to Allah (swt) as our Creator, Benevolent, and our Friend. To help a person who perceives Allah (swt) in a negative way, we can show this individual the scriptures about how much we are loved by Allah (swt) and that our suffering is measured by the distance between our heart and focus from Allah (swt).

The extent that we perceive anything to be about our own self is the exact extent that we will suffer. Not because Allah (swt) is a bad God, but rather because this is a universal law and basic spiritual principle, much like gravity is a law of this Planet Earth.

When we read about the laws of Allah (swt) and understand them in this way, you will also understand that the revelation of His laws are only for the purpose of saving us from heartache and suffering because following them brings us closer to Him. Natural consequences of failing to follow a law of Allah (swt) do not mean that we are being abandoned by Him. It only means that we failed to follow the law. We can self-correct, with the love and guidance of Allah (swt). This is the grace of Allah (swt).

Connect your heart and your soul back to its source. Connect to Allah (swt) and focus on Him, and you will greatly reduce your suffering and see your own self as a beautiful creation of Him; a spiritual being here on this Earth for a short while, only to do His will. Contemplating your place in the world in this manner will reduce the negative thoughts and beliefs that a person has about Allah (swt) while adjusting his/her own self-perception as well. By putting things in perspective, we can try to be kind to ourselves and relax, allowing our spirituality to naturally unfold and grow in the way that Allah (swt) would have us grow. Allah (swt) is All-Knowing, so, undoubtedly, He (swt) knows where we are in our soul development.

With that said, if our intention is good and we love Allah (swt) with all our heart, our actions follow. We can only do the best we can with the tools that are available. If Allah (swt) can have such great love for us, then we can stop worrying about our own condition so much and shift our focus in joy to serving Allah (swt). All that we desire for His sake will be given to us. These are attitudes to adopt and they will increase a person’s ability to relax. It is in reducing the worry and self-judging and fear based on false beliefs that will change the patterns of negative thinking.

A person can also use thought stopping and thought replacement, and that is what I mentioned when I discussed using positive scripture. A person can make a conscious effort to be aware when he/she is thinking in the negative manner and pull out a scripture that reminds him/her of this love and kindness of Allah (swt). Keeping little papers with scriptures written on them handy so that once you become aware of having a negative thought, you read it. It can help you erase the negative patterns in your mind and replace them with the truth.

By changing your thought patterns, your behavior will also change. If you do not have a chemical imbalance, but only negative conditioning in your mind, you can easily do this work. However, if you have been conditioned to believe that you are a bad person or unworthy of the love of Allah (swt), you will also want to work on reframing your self-perception. You might want to get counseling for this so that you can have help challenging your distorted self-beliefs and replace them with the truth about who you are as a human being.

Remember, at our core, we are pure as we were born pure and good. Everything that Allah (swt) created is good. It is uncovering the layers of ignorance that we acquire through the years, getting back to this core self where we are pure and learning how beloved we are as created beings of Allah (swt). Realizing this will change your thought patterns and your behaviors and free you to live for Allah (swt) without becoming obsessive or compulsive. It will strengthen your faith, and you will have protection from the whispers of Shaytan. It is a journey of discovery but well worth the travel. You will get there by putting one foot in front of the other.



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About Maryam Bachmeier
Dr. Bachmeier is a clinical psychologist who has been working in the mental health field for over 15 years. She is also a former adjunct professor at Argosy University, writer, and consultant in the areas of mental health, cultural, and relationship issues.