I’m Too Empathetic and Sensitive

06 November, 2016
Q Assalmu Alaykum. I feel lost. Recently, I’ve been drifting away from religion a lot because I have conflicting values. I have egalitarian views; I believe in Allah, but I feel like Muslims are an elite group. I recently read a really moving book about the holocaust and I can't believe that those Jews after all the tragedy they went through will go to hell purely because they weren't of the Islamic faith. This brings me onto my second point aside from being someone who thinks a lot and deeply. I am too empathetic/sensitive/intuitive. I pick up on people’s moods and emotions and can tell when people dislike me, so sometimes I prefer my own company. I want to be a social worker, but my friends and family are discouraging me. I did Istikharah and since then I’ve felt certain about social work, but I am also aware that I need to protect myself from becoming burnt out again, but how?



As-Salamu ‘Alaikum sister,

Thank you for your wonderful question. It is dear to my heart being a social worker myself (although I am now attached to a university and not directly involved in social work at the moment). You’ve actually raised a lot of issues in this one short question, so I will try to address them in the order you presented them.

Firstly, let’s dissect a bit your views about Jews and egalitarianism. There is no other faith on earth that is more egalitarian than Islam. From our teachings, and the Qur’an is crystal clear about this, we know that Allah (swt) judges each individual on their own, regardless of which community they are from. Each person will be judged according to what they know, believe, and practice.

Furthermore, it is not really any of our business to try and figure out where people are headed, i.e. whether they are destined for heaven or hell. The idea is for us to focus on ourselves and feel compassion and concern for others by helping them as much as we can. Our fate is determined by Allah (swt), and there is no point trying to determine where everyone is headed because we don’t know anyway. That’s totally the business of the Judge of Judges, Allah Almighty.

Rather, by spending our time and energy trying to do good to others, we become vessels of mercy in the footsteps of our beloved Messenger (saw). It is not for us to try and predict where this person or that person is headed. Let’s just do what we have been asked to do in terms of sharing the message of Islam both in word and by example, and by doing good to others.

Too many people out there love to spend their time playing the role of God (swt) as if they can predict the future and the unseen. Allah (swt) warns us about this very sternly in the Qur’an when He (swt) says that only He (swt) is the knower of the unseen.

Feeling compassion and trying to help those who have not yet realized Islam (and this includes many Muslims as well) is a more constructive way to spend your time. And, of course, we must always remember the responsibility we have to ourselves first as we are in most need of Allah’s (swt) help and mercy.

We can never let Shaytan fool us into thinking that we have “arrived” and, therefore, we are somehow better than others and not in need of help. That is the easiest way to fall into the trap of arrogance and egoism. Too many Muslims fall into this trap of superiority complex, rather than being humbled by the gift they have been given. That gift is an amanah; a responsibility to make use of for the benefit of others, or face the consequences. It is in no way a license to feel elite or superior to others!

The great Sheikh Abdul-Qadir al-Jilani was once tempted by the Devil who appeared to him one day as a voice from the heavens. The Devil told the Sheikh that he was so learned and his station was so high that he had no need of following the Shari’ah any longer. The Sheikh, knowing that Allah Almighty would never make such a proclamation, immediately read the ta’awwuz (seeking refuge in Allah), realizing that it was a trick from the Devil. He ordered his students who were alongside him to ignore the command and replied that everything he is, and everything he has is due only to the grace of Allah Almighty, and none of it is of his own doing.

The Devil then appeared to the Sheikh and, while looking defeated, he said he was able to trick 70 learned men with that same ploy, but he could not trick Sheikh Abdul Qadir due to the Sheikh’s greatness.

Again, the Sheikh, realizing the Devil was again trying to trick him, sought refuge in Allah (swt) and repeated that none of it was by his own doing, but all was from the help of Allah (swt). The Devil left him in utter disgust realizing that he failed to trick the Sheikh.

This takes me to your second concern/point about social work. What a great choice! Especially for someone like you who feels the natural urge and desire to help others. You should definitely honor your fitrah (nature) as well as what Allah (swt) has revealed within you by pursuing this course as best you can.

With this honor that Allah (swt) has bestowed on you in terms of having the desire to help others through social work, you must always remember that our bodies also have rights over us that must be honored. This means that we have to have limits in terms of the extent to which we can give of ourselves. I am referring to the issue of “burning out”, of course.

You should have learned from your previous experiences and realized your limits so that you don’t fall into the trap again of not maintaining a proper balance in your life. You should be aware of the indicators and have some idea as to when you need to pull back and take time/space away from your work to rejuvenate.

There are many resources in the social work field on how to do this and how to avoid “burnout”. As a Muslim, we have the gift of the spiritual tools/practices of Islam to help us maintain perspective and to receive the support we need from Allah (swt) to keep us balanced and healthy.

The religion itself is a protection for us, as well as the multitude of spiritual practices that can be added to our daily rituals to help keep us balanced. Zikr, zikr, zikr (invocation) as well as lots of du’aa’ (supplication) are important keys to attracting this help from Allah (swt). It would be best to consult a learned Sheikh to get more insight into how to do this.



Disclaimer: The conceptualization and recommendations stated in this response are very general and purely based on the limited information that was provided in the question. In no event shall AboutIslam, it’s volunteers, writers, scholars, counselors, or employees be held liable for any direct, indirect, exemplary, punitive, consequential or other damages whatsoever that may arise through your decision or action in the use of the services which our website provides. 


About Dr. Abd. Lateef Krauss Abdullah
Dr. Abd. Lateef Krauss Abdullah is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Social Science Study’s Community Education and Youth Studies Laboratory, Universiti Putra Malaysia. He received his B.A. from the University of Delaware (U.S.), his M.S. from Columbia University (U.S.) and his PhD from the Institute for Community & Peace Studies (PEKKA), Universiti Putra Malaysia in 2005 in the field of Youth Studies. Abd. Lateef is an American who has been living in Malaysia since 2001. He is married and has 2 children.