I am an 18-year-old male, and for the past year or so I’ve been having bouts of awful existential angst. I’ve been getting thoughts such as “what if Islam isn't true and there is no afterlife?” and I end up feeling like life is pointless like a typical nihilist view.
It all started about half a year ago when I began investigating why I believe and such and realized that I actually have to justify my beliefs beyond wishful thinking and cognitive dissonance. At the time, I began locking myself in my room to search for answers to my questions online and searching for proofs and such.
It would fully occupy me daily. I also started to suffer from anxiety due to this general angst and would throw up constantly and was basically debilitated by the barrage of questions that left me so restless.
Eventually, it got better. I think that Allah healed me from it, and I stabilized myself by continuing with my practices. However recently, it returned. One thing I’ve kept a habit throughout all of that is that I continue to watch Islamic videos and learn every day, and I’m starting to think that it’s a way.
Now, I am restless, filled with anxious thoughts and, overall, I am quite lost and unsure what to do. I feel like I'm engulfed in a mental fog and I am just so unmotivated to do anything besides trying to answer this existential question and gaining certainty about Islam.
Finding questions that cause doubts to arise really don't help and just exacerbate the issue. At this point, I don't know what's going on with me and my base feels unstable. Could it be something like OCD? I don't think so, but there’s probably some anxiety to it.
Generally, I really don’t have anything against Islam, I think the barrage of negative and anxious thoughts just makes me feel this way about it and leaves me unable to fully rationalize everything. Do I seek knowledge and just try to remain patient? Do I talk to my Imam for the second time and discuss some methods to approach this better?
It’s absorbing all my time and thoughts and it burns me out day after day. I got out of the last episode half a year ago, but now that it's back I'm afraid that I'll need help as to what I even have to do. The problem obviously deals with the spiritual need for affirmation in Islam, but also with the constant mental barrage, this need brings.
I know many youths going through something similar and it is definitely isn’t pleasant. Please advise me on what I should do. Thank you.
In this counseling answer:
• Self-talk. I encourage you to challenge your own negative thoughts. Imagine if someone else asked these questions, how would you respond to them?
• Identify a positive coping skill to implement when you have these thoughts, such as exercising for 30 minutes, reading Quran, praying, or painting.
• Write down any questions that you feel are rational and require a scholarly answer.
• Increase your dhikr during such moments.
• Make duaa.
• Consider counseling.
• Set a limit on your Islamic video consumption. Do things step by step, in a moderate manner.
Assalamu alaikum wa Rahmatullah wa barakatu, brother,
Thank you for trusting us with your concerns and reaching out for help.
It is my understanding that you are struggling with anxiety related to your beliefs in Islam, finding definitive proof, and feeling overwhelmed with doubts. It is also my understanding you used to spend a lot of time watching Islamic videos as a means of coping.
Dear brother, please take some comfort in knowing it is not unusual to have doubts or questions about your faith. While Islam has many rational and evidenced tenants, ultimately faith takes a level of being just that: faith. Asking questions and being critically minded is not a bad thing, but one question can easily lead to another and morph into a cycle that keeps going if someone’s faith is suffering.
Firstly, let us talk about anxiety. Anxiety is essentially fear of the unknown that begins to take over our thoughts and can be intrusive. Many forms of anxiety exist, and you are correct that this it not unusual for Muslim youth.
Here are 6 steps to help deal with anxiety and intrusive thoughts:
Self-talk. I encourage you to challenge your own negative thoughts. Imagine if someone else asked these questions, how would you respond to them? Ask yourself if it is a rational thought, and why or why not? How likely is it to be true? What is the most likely answer to this question? Write down all of your answers to better help you identify irrational vs. rational questions and help you in challenging them in shaa’ Allah.
Identify a positive coping skill to implement when you have these thoughts, such as exercising for 30 minutes, reading Quran, praying, or painting. Do any positive activity that allows you to let go of these thoughts and focus on something positive. Over time, it will train your mind to avoid the negative and make it easier to challenge intrusive thoughts.
Write down any questions that you feel are rational and require a scholarly answer. Write down questions you need answers to and reach out to someone with knowledge such as an Imam. You can also utilize the Ask a Scholar section on AboutIslam.
Increase your dhikr during such moments. Doing so can help you seek refuge in Allah (SWT) and increase your awareness of Him. You can do this with your hands, with beads, or however you prefer. Utilize any combinations of dhikr that best suit you such as saying “Alhamdulillah, Allahu Akbar” or you can repeatedly say “la ilaha illa Allah”. This helps increase your God-consciousness.
Make duaa. Always make duaa Brother, you can do this at any time and practically anywhere (not in the bathroom). Ask Allah (swt) to help you, to make it easy and grant you relief. Your duaa will not go unanswered inshallah.
Consider counseling. You can consider online or in-person counseling to help you with anxiety. As you are from Canada, you may be interested in Care Khalifah, which is an Islamic counseling from a licensed therapist who offers his services online and in person. Another suggestion is Noor Human Consulting. They are based in California and offer online counseling.
You mentioned watching videos, sometimes for the entire day. While it is great to watch Islamic videos, please bear a few things in mind. Everything should be done in moderation; Islam is defined as a moderate religion and we are a nation of moderation. We should avoid going to extremes with anything.
Think of those videos like sugar. Most people love sugar and it is great to have sweets, but it is not healthy to consume sugar all day.
Check out this counseling video:
My suggestion would be to limit this timewise, such as keeping it to a one hour maximum per day. You can pick a specific topic and watch a lecture on it from an educated source, then spend time to reflect about what you heard and look up relevant verses in the Quran.
Don’t just listen to what was said in the videos but take it as inspiration and do your own research to back it up. Additionally, don’t limit yourself to only one scholar online or only one school of thought. Allow yourself the freedom to explore varying perspectives, as it helps to increase your understanding and expand your perspective.
Take time to make duaa after watching the video and ask Allah (SWT) to increase your knowledge and understanding of the particular issue you were researching.
This is a very important question I want you to think about. What or who is the source of all these answers? Where does everything stem from? Who or what can actually give the best and most perfect answers?
Allah, and only Allah (SWT).
Part of defeating your anxiety is to outsource it to the one who knows you the best, and the one who created you in the first place. No matter how educated someone is or how impressive you think they are, ultimately, the only true answer comes from Allah (SWT). My brother, you can reach out to talk to Allah (SWT) whenever you like.
You will find that answers come to you in various forms. For example, you may ask questions then open Quran and subhan Allah the verse you see answers you, or maybe a few days later you witness something outside that aligns with the question.
In an effort to inspire you, I will share a specific story of my own. I struggled with wearing hijab in the USA and considered removing it as my family was worried I would be in danger. So, I reached out to Allah (SWT) and asked if I should remove it for safety.
Here was the answer given to me when I opened my Quran later that day to a random page.
“And Allah is most knowing of your enemies; and sufficient is Allah as an ally, and sufficient is Allah as a helper” [Quran 4:45]
Subhan Allah, I was answered via Quran that Allah (SWT) is my protector and I did not remove my hijab. Answers and signs are all around you. Allah (SWT) wants to connect more with you.
“We will show them Our signs in the horizons and within themselves until it becomes clear to them that it is the truth…” [Quran 41:53]
My dear brother, moving forward, here is a summary of your next steps.
- Challenge your intrusive thoughts
- Identify coping skills
- Take academic questions to a qualified scholar
- Increase Dhikr and Duaa
- Consider professional counseling
- Out-source your anxiety to the one who knows your heart the best, Allah (SWT)
- Set a limit on your video consumption
In shaa’ Allah, you can lessen your anxiety and, at the same time, increase your faith. May Allah (SWT) guide you and ease your struggles; Ameen.
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.