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Evil Whisperings Affect My Pious Daughter

20 November, 2018
Q As-salam alaykum Dr. Bachmeier. I am married; my family lives in India and I work abroad. My eldest daughter is 14 years old and is studying in a reputable school. She is a practicing Muslim and prays five times a day. I regard her as a very studious, obedient, and God-fearing child. Since their return from a vacation spent at their maternal grandparents, she has been going through a very difficult phase of her life. I noticed her prayers have become much longer.

When I asked her about it, thinking that she must be practicing the long surahs, she said she was reading the short ones only but was trying to pronounce the words correctly, therefore the prayer took longer time. Sometimes, due to her prolonging the salah (ritual prayer), she was unable to complete the prayer fully as the time for the next prayer came up. She got confused. I tried to tell her to do only what she can, but she said her Arabic teacher had asked her to practice correct tajweed (rules of Quranic recitation), else it would be a sin.

One day, she came to us crying. She said she got many bad thoughts which seemed to be her thoughts, but were deviant ones. I consoled her that those were only whisperings of Satan trying to stop her from worshipping. Then she told me also that while doing ablution in her grandma’s home, she didn’t remember if she had cleaned her hands properly. Therefore, she repeated her wudu’ which made her spend a lot of time in the bathroom.

Then she was scolded by her mother because of it. She doesn’t intend to spend that much time in the bathroom, but she always gets the thought that she has not cleaned herself properly. These days she is having problems with using the toilet as she feels confused about whether she cleaned herself properly after it. This makes her even more confused about whether her earlier prayers would be accepted. She says after the toilet she has to wash half of her body, otherwise, she does not feel comfortable. So, she ends up spending about an hour when she goes to the toilet.

She has been too obsessive with such thoughts and is now unable to concentrate on her studies. She’s become quite depressed lately. I explained to her that those are just evil whisperings and need to be ignored, but she says they are as if they would be her own thoughts. Now, she is unable to go to the toilet alone and needs her mother to be with her to wash her. Her mother is very irritated due to this and is losing her patience.

Could you guide us, as parents, how can we deal with this situation? I want my child to overcome this hardship. JazakAllah khair.


In this counseling answer:

The important thing is to create a family atmosphere where your daughter feels accepted as she is. With that said, you might suggest her to set apart a special time each day for “learning” the correct tajweed, and correct wudu’ apart from her regular prayers. You might even offer to help her with this. (She needs attention and support from both her mother and her father at this age). This will take the pressure off her while allowing her to pray her best during prayer time, and to not worry.”

As-Salamu ‘Alaykum,

First, I want to talk about the possibility of an anxiety disorder, and/or obsessive-compulsive disorder to consider when observing your daughter and trying to determine if you need to get additional professional help. Then we will talk about some of the practical issues and toss around some ideas that might help your daughter manage her practice of Islam.

First, the age of 14 is a very stressful age for a young woman. The unknown future and the demands of leaving childhood with all of the hopes and dreams of a girl who is soon to become a woman can be very frightening in and of itself. What likely began as a way of coping with the stresses of entering into adolescence with all the changing identities and new responsibilities that go along with that seems to be actually creating more anxiety than before. I am so grateful that this young woman has a father who loves her.

It is possible that your daughter’s anxiety about being a young woman in a culture that is different than her own has overwhelmed her. If she is like many young women, she is thinking about boys and marriage, her future, her identity, and she is also worried about fitting in, being liked, and keeping the love of her parents while exploring herself as an individual.

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It is good that she is turning to prayer to find her answers and guidance. However, she seems to be overly worried to the point where her worry is interfering with her ability to live a normal day to day life. Let’s explore Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and anxiety so that you can decide if you want to take her to a professional to seek out some treatment.

With Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, an individual has recurring thoughts of images that he/she tries to suppress with compulsive behavior. Regarding your daughter’s situation, it is possible that she is thinking “normal” thoughts (for a young woman at her age), but she is afraid that they are “bad” thoughts. Therefore, she is so focused on suppressing them that she feels compelled to suppress them by using wudu’ (ablution) and salah ( ritual prayer) as a means of “deleting” those thoughts. Yet, this is not the appropriate use of wudu’ and salah. The thoughts that she is having are bothering her so much that she is experiencing extreme anxiety, and the behavior of washing is being used (unconsciously) to relieve that anxiety. Indeed, if your daughter were not experiencing so much anxiety, it is likely that she would find memorizing tajweed (rules of Quranic recitation) easier.

It might be wise to set aside some time to spend with your daughter and just talk. Don’t talk about her washing or prayer, or even her intrusive thoughts. Instead, try to make your daughter feel comfortable about talking to you about what is in her mind, in her heart, and about what she is experiencing on a daily basis. Ask her open-ended questions such as “how have you been feeling for the last few days?”, and see if you can gently lead her into a conversation to see if she is having thoughts, or feelings, or fears that cause her anxiety. When we have intrusive thoughts that interfere with our ability to complete wudu’ or prayer, often taking to someone we trust, who listens to us without judgment and accepts us unconditionally, will help relieve the anxiety and thus reduce the intrusive thoughts. If you are not able to be successful in this, consider getting some counseling for your daughter.

Also, I am not sure how long you have been in Afghanistan, but if India is the home your daughter is used to, and this has been a recent move, then she may be missing friends and family from India. At age 14, this can be huge, and she might need to have someone (like you or her mother) to talk to about her feelings and emotions. And again, she might be having difficulty with feeling a sense of belonging with new friends. The relationship is everything to a 14 years old girl.

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Also, at this age, she will have a “push-pull” feeling about her mother. She will have a natural desire to develop her own individuality and identity apart from her mother but will have a natural anxiety about that, because she is still very dependent on her. There are just a few things to keep in mind when trying to assess what might really be bothering your daughter.

The important thing is to create a family atmosphere where your daughter feels accepted as she is. With that said, you might suggest her to set apart a special time each day for “learning” the correct tajweed, and correct wudu’ apart from her regular prayers. You might even offer to help her with this. (She needs attention and support from both her mother and her father at this age). This will take the pressure off her while allowing her to pray her best during prayer time, and to not worry. Indeed, Allah is more interested in our intention. Eventually, when she does perform her “perfect prayer”, it will not matter that she did not perform each rak’ah perfectly in the past. As her father, you can teach her this.

Also, if you can find posters, or write down the steps of wudu’ on a large paper, you can put this in the bathroom. You can even make a poster for her with places to check off the boxes for each step of wudu’. She can use this until she feels confident that her wudu’ is “second nature” to her. This will help her cut down time in the bathroom. Indeed, perfecting her practice is very meaningful to her (and this is good), and she will likely gain confidence with this kind of 1:1 support from a parent who loves her so much.

Remind your daughter that Allah looks at her heart and teaches her the art and science of intention. The thoughts and images that cause us to be distracted should not be given room in our minds. Worrying about thoughts that are counter to what we want to focus on only gives the unwanted thought more power. Teaching this to your daughter at this young age will likely serve her well in the future.

In other words, when we are exposed to something that takes us away from our spiritual path, we simply recite a short surah or say praises to Allah to instantly renew our mind and move on. Our unwanted thoughts are like little birds which just fly away on their own if we leave them alone. We know this as adults, but a young woman as sincere as your daughter might need this assurance from her parents. Ignoring thoughts is actually a learned behavior, and we are exploring ways to teach your daughter how to do this successfully. It is more about letting them go.

Also, just a reminder: as your daughter becomes a woman, she needs to be reminded that having thoughts of boys is not impure; it is natural. This energy of budding womanhood is something that we want to learn how to manage, and not suppress. One day, she will marry in sha’ Allah, and she will not want to suppress this energy as a married woman! So, teach her about energy and what she is feeling, and that these feelings and emotions, in itself, are good and can be used for something very good.

Being exposed to degrading images are not a cause to feel one has sinned; practicing prayer and knowing surahs provide us with the tools of protection from the intrusive influences of the world. We cannot stop the world from being what it is. We can only use the tools that our Prophet Mohammad gave us to protect ourselves from the degradation of our environment. An intrusive thought does not mean that we have sinned. We all have them. They will not become a problem for us when we feel confident that we have the tools to keep ourselves on track (prayers, and affirmations of the Mercy and Love and Power of Allah).

Perhaps, if you can also provide me with more information about your daughter’s regular day at home and at school, I might be able to find additional suggestions to help her stop worrying about her intrusive thoughts and to feel more confident in her ambitions. Some of them might be thoughts worthy of ignoring, and other thoughts might need to be further explored, especially if she is experiencing some inner conflicts that she needs help to sort them out. It is essential for her in order to have a better sense of herself and to identify who she is in relationship to the world to find herself in.

I pray you have found some help or a direction to go in for increased understanding.



Disclaimer: The conceptualization and recommendations stated in this response are very general and purely based on the limited information provided in the question. In no event shall AboutIslam, its counselors or employees be held liable for any damages that may arise from your decision in the use of our services.

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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.