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Dealing with Waswasa, Obsessions & Compulsions (Counseling Session)

Dear Brother/Sisters,

Thank you for participating in the session.

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Here are the 5 questions our counselor provided an answer for. If you do not find yours below, please submit it for one of the upcoming live session.

Thank you for your understanding.

Question 1. Severe waswas

For the past 6 months now I have had a problem that has grown into something very distressing. I started to worry about pronouncing things wrong when praying my daily Quran so I would listen to the part I prayed on YouTube, from one letter to every word and now praying Quran has become incredibly difficult, I used to be able to pray with ease and calmly and even when I’d be done and think what if I made a mistake , I’d say Allah will forgive me but now I repeat everything so many times thinking I’ve pronounced it wrong and I even start crying because I just want to pray well. It takes so much of my time (2 pages takes 15 min now) then I feel guilty for thinking I’m wasting time praying Quran. What’s worse is I’ve developed this thing where I think if I don’t pray Quran everyday or if I feel too tired then I am sinning and will be punished and force myself to, I have sleepless nights thinking I’ve prayed wrong or done something wrong and it’s seeped into everything I do. I spend 15 min making wudhu and repeat ayats in salah or even when I’m making normal dua, even other weird ocd things like if I don’t fold my prayer mat perfectly I am sinning. I don’t know how to stop being like this and the times I’ve tried to ignore and go on I become overwhelmed with guilt. I’ve become mentally and even physically exhausted from all this. It takes up all my thoughts. I just don’t want to be a bad Muslim who did not try my best in everything. Its gotten to a point where I feel like im losing my mind and I don’t know what to do

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Answer:

Salam alaikom dear sister,

Thank you for writing to us.

You are feeling very distressed due to a problem regarding your worship, which at first glance indeed, seems more like an obsessive-compulsive disorder related anxiety.

You detail that praying has become a source of struggle as you are unsure that your recitation and pronunciation will be accepted, along with your wudu, or whether you are sinful if the prayer mat is not folded “perfectly”.

Sister, I kindly but firmly advise you to seek a mental health professional. I cannot set up a diagnosis here, but you can go and ask for an assessment of possible OCD and anxiety-related disorders.

That would be very important, especially to do it as soon as possible, because with proper treatment your symptoms will decrease and you will be able to find comfort again in your worship.

To a certain extent, it is normal to worry about the quality of our worship, as we all make mistakes during our recitations and prayers, even if we strive.

But when this distress reaches a level that we are not able to continue with our day-to-day life and “have sleepless nights and cry,” as you say, then it is something beyond a healthy attitude.

The reasons for the onset of OCD are not exactly known, and there are various theories trying to explain it. Generally, it can be said that personal-environmental experiences, like stressful life events, certain personality traits, and sometimes biological predisposition, play a role in the formulation of the disorder.

You mentioned that you “used to be able to pray with ease and calmly,” so I suppose that something might have happened that has caused you more intense distress and ongoing anxiety. Do you remember, for instance, when you started to notice these symptoms that you describe in your letter? Can you relate it to some event that happened at that time?

You also mentioned that you try to fold your prayer mat “perfectly”. Personality traits like perfectionism and high standards are possible contributing factors in the development of OCD.

Religious people may experience this disorder related to their religious practice, namely as religious scrupulosity.

In this form of OCD, patients are “overly concerned that something they thought or did might be a sin or other violation of religious or moral doctrines.”

Sister, according to your letter, your symptoms are both related to compulsions (repeated prayer, Quran reading, mat folding, etc.) and obsessions (overthinking and worrying). So again, please seek treatment and let health professionals help you feel better.

What kind of treatment can you expect?

OCD can be successfully treated with cognitive behavior therapy and cognitive restructuring. These therapies are adequate for Muslims as well. You can seek a Muslim therapist as well as CBT for Muslims.

During therapy, you would learn to identify unhealthy thought patterns and replace them with more adaptive ones.

Check with, for example, the Khalil Center. They have developed a faith-based therapeutic method called TIIP—Traditional Islamically Integrated Therapy.

Your approach as a Muslim

Sister, the following tips are not intended to substitute adequate treatment but can help you from the perspective of religion.

Imperfect Creation

We, creations, are imperfect in front of our Creator, who is perfect. We know that Satan will whisper in our ears and will try to distract us from our worship:

“When anyone of you stands for the prayers, Satan comes and puts him in doubts till he forgets how many rak`at he has prayed.” Sahih al-Bukhari 1232

It is a promise, so you can expect it for sure.

The question is, how do you respond to these whispers? Do you give them room or do you swap them away? Try not to pay attention to these thoughts and seek refuge from Satan.

Certainty vs. Doubt

In Islam, unless you are certain that you have committed a sin, you have to believe that you are not sinful. Certainty rules over doubt.

When you face these thoughts, sit down, and take a deep breath and exhale slowly. Repeat this at least seven times, until you feel a bit more relaxed.

Ask yourself, are you sure, 100% certain that your recitation, pronunciation, and prayer are not accepted? What is your evidence for that?

If not, then it is not certainty but just a doubt. Unless it is certain, you do not need to worry about the consequences, as this is what our religion dictates, not the contrary.

Fear vs. Hope

Yes, we believers are required to have a fear of Allah. But we must also believe in His mercy and forgiveness.

Try to have a balance of hope and fear, along with the love of Allah. Islam is not only about sin and punishment, but about mercy and forgiveness as well.

I hope these tips will ease you, may Allah give you strength,

Question 2. Scrupulosity

I want to know if am committing a sin by doing compulsion on my intrusive ocd thoughts because Almighty Allah said all our sins are forgiven has long as we do not act or talk about them, but I feel am acting on them by doing compulsions anytime I have this thoughts. Please help me with an answer. Ma salam

Answer:

Salam alaikom wa rahmtullah brother,

You are asking whether you are committing a sin by engaging in compulsive behavior as a result of your obsessive thoughts.

As you also said, you are not accountable for your thoughts and feelings as long as you do not talk and act upon them:

Allah has forgiven my followers the evil thoughts that occur in their minds, as long as such thoughts are not put into action or uttered.” Sahih al-Bukhari 5269

The question would be what exactly your thoughts are and what compulsions you are urged to do in order to feel some kind of relief. You do not detail them, so I am not sure I can give a satisfying answer to your question.

The hadith mentions evil thoughts, not any type of thought. So, in general, we are not sinful for acting upon our thoughts. On the contrary, this is how we usually operate: we have a thought or feeling and act upon it (“I am hungry, I want to eat; I go and eat something”). 

Normally, compulsions are some kinds of repetitive behaviors, such as checking, unnecessary arrangement of objects, avoiding contact with everyday objects or situations, so in general, they are not sinful and haram behaviors.

Obsessions vs. Addiction

If your thoughts urge you to do something that is impermissible, therefore sinful, then it may be another issue, probably related to other mental health struggles like, for example, addiction. In some cases, obsessions and addictions both can be present.

Please read this article about the differences between the two.

If you are addicted to something, you are going to feel some form of intense craving and an urge to engage in certain actions in order to feel relieved. This craving can be physical and psychological as well, depending on the type of addiction, and, of course, it will manifest in your thoughts as some form of “obsession”.

Addiction is a serious mental health condition and not necessarily related to sinful behaviors like drug and alcohol consumption, porn watching, or gambling.

To be honest, I do not know exactly to what extent you are accountable for committing sinful acts upon obsessive thoughts if you have a mental illness. It may depend on some important factors related to your state. I am not an Islamic scholar, so please write to our section Ask the Scholar for a detailed answer regarding this aspect.

At the same time, if you repeatedly commit something sinful, it would be important to gain control of your behavior and have enough inner strength to resist your obsessions and urges.

So, as a counselor, I kindly advise you to seek a professional to find out what exactly is behind your behavior and what you can do to stop it.

A mental health specialist can assess you and set up a diagnosis and treatment plan depending on your condition. So, whether it is more likely to be an obsessive-compulsive disorder or some kind of addiction, you are going to be treated accordingly.

Please, brother, do not hesitate to seek further help.

May Allah help you with it.

Question 3. Anexity


All of a sudden I get panic attacks about and any situation and I loss the control of my body and mind and i am not able to relax myself
Can u help to fight my anexity and be relaxed

Answer:

Salam alaikom sister,

Thank you for writing to us.

You say that you are having panic attacks, and you fear that you are losing control of your body and mind.

You ask how you can fight your anxiety and be more relaxed.

Well, sister, according to what you wrote in your letter, if you have panic attacks, you need to see a mental health professional who can prescribe the proper treatment for your anxiety.

Anxiety and panic attacks are quite common mental health conditions and can seriously and negatively affect your daily functioning and quality of life.

As a result, it is important to seek treatment because these symptoms can be reduced and your fears managed and controlled with pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy.

I cannot set up a diagnosis here, but what I can do is to urge you to seek medical help. You can turn to your GP as well, and explain your symptoms to them. They can refer you to the right person who will assess you.

From an Islamic perspective, there are some useful tips, but they do not substitute therapy, so please do not hesitate to find a doctor.

Sister, we are all going to be tested somehow, and some of us with fears:

“We will certainly test you with a touch of fear and famine and loss of property, life, and crops. Give good news to those who patiently endure—” Quran 2:155

Allah rewards those who are patient and who strengthen their belief in Him during hardships:

“who, when faced with a disaster, says, “Surely to Allah we belong and to Him we will ˹all˺ return.” (Quran, 2:156)

Patience does not mean that you have to endure hardships alone. Seek support, as Allah provides you with ease through the right people. This can be your family or loved ones for emotional support, but also mental health professionals for medical aid.

What to do?

When you are starting to have panic attacks, you can focus on the physical symptoms and try to control them. How?

  • First, remind yourself that these symptoms are normal reactions to anxiety and that they will pass.
  • Use breathing techniques: inhale slowly and deeply and exhale the same way. You can count to at least 5 during each inhalation / exhalation. Repeat it 7–10 times. See other breathing techniques here.
  • Try to avoid too much caffeine intake and take care of your regular diet and sleep. Do regular exercise as well, as it helps you with hormone regulation.

Try to focus on a positive, relaxing image or a slow, smoothing sound. If you have a favorite, calming dua or recitation, you can use it. But it can be sounds of nature as well.

  • Remember Allah, to find your heart at rest. Do some dhikr slowly, pray, calmly repeat His name, As-Salam, the Source of Peace.
  • Put your full trust in Allah. Have hope in His mercy, as He will be with you, no matter what happens. Increase your love for Him as well as your optimism that everything will be fine.

I hope these tips can relieve you from your distress.

May Allah help you.

Question 4. CONSISTENCY AND PATIENCE

I have a big competitive exam coming up next year and this is like a ‘ Do or die’ situation right now for me. But my mind is always telling me to chill to get distracted – ‘ you have too much time’ . So i easily get distracted online , and sometimes on dark things. It is too much easy for me because all the studies are online for me. I am just one tab away to get distracted. Moreover when i begin to study seriously i can not be consistent for more than 2 days because i always seek perfection. My mind just can’t feel the fire or the fear of falling anymore but it makes me feel guilty afterwards.

Another major issue for me is, i have no patience. If i begin to study now, my mind starts whispering ‘ you have to do it all by the end of the day’ ; but it’s not possible for any individual. Maybe it comes from my inner false ego.
Funny side is my brain knows what are wrong and what is right for me. But my mind is telling me to do the all the WRONG things always and my brain lose.


I have like 6 more months in hand; what should be the plan ?

Answer:

Salam alaikom brother,

Thank you for writing to us.

You have set significant goals, masallah. You would like to gain more patience, peace, focus (not being distracted), goal-orientation, consistency, less depression, fearlessness, being attentive and mindful. You are looking for a plan that finally leads you, in sha Allah, to success in your exams.

You mentioned frequently in your letter a battle between your mind and brain. It seems that your brain is the one who knows what is right and wrong, but your mind invites you to be a bit “lazy” and distracted.

This reminds me of the battle with Satan, who always whispers to us to do things that are not right or that cause us trouble.

The weapons of Satan are exactly the following: they create laziness, doubts, and distractions that keep you from doing the right thing.

What you need to do, brother, is to combat these whispers and not let Satan win the battle!

On the other hand, your reactions are somehow understandable. You expect a “big” test, something that is important for you to accomplish. 

It seems that you have high expectations. You say that you are a perfectionist, and this can explain why you set high standards for yourself.

So, what happens when we are setting very high expectations is that we do not want (or cannot) deal with a possible failure. And the more you deal with a “huge” goal, the more anxiety it can cause you. So, as a normal reaction, you might prefer not to deal with this at all by distracting yourself. 

However, if your standards are too high, you may end up feeling depressed and anxious because you will be unable to meet them. 

I believe it would be a good idea to examine how you think about things to see if there are any unrealistic or irrational beliefs underlying them that can cause you to be fearful and depressed. Here an article about cognitive distortions. Check and see whether you can identify some of them.

What can you do?

Set realistic expectations and organize yourself

Brother, set realistic expectations regarding your exams and the preparation for them.

If it requires a lot of effort, no problem. Recognize it, be honest with yourself. Accept the possibility that either you make it or not. The important thing is that you try to make the best of what you can. And leave the rest to Allah.

Try to make a plan and organize your tasks: what is it that you have to study and how many times do you have to do that? Try to divide this by setting a realistic goal for your daily routine, when you leave time for your studies but also for entertainment and fun. It should not be all or nothing.

If you do this on time, you will see that maybe with a couple of hours a day – with consistency – you can make it.

Set a Daily Routine

Set a daily routine, not only for studies but for other things as well. Give yourself time and space for your friends, for relaxation, for whatever diversion, unless, of course, it is not haram.

Start with your duties and reward yourself with some positive activity once you have accomplished that daily plan.

Make sure that you do during a certain time slot what is meant to be done. When it is time to relax, do not check anything related to your studies. When it’s time to study, turn off all emails and social media apps and concentrate solely on your studies for a couple of hours.

Imagine the Worst-Case Scenario

Brother, imagine: What is the worst that can happen? What if you fail this exam for any reason?

Try to imagine the worst-case scenario, step by step. You may realize that there is “life” after failing an exam and there are alternative solutions.

You call it a “do or die” situation, but I would say that it is a bit extreme, as you most likely won’t die if you, for some reason, fail. There is a middle path. Try to see things in a less “catastrophic” and extreme way to avoid further anxiety.

If You Fail, You Are Not a Failure

Do not identify yourself with your accomplishments. It is about your efforts, not about you.

You will make it by the will of Allah and by putting your efforts into it.

And you might not, also by the will of Allah. It does not mean that you are a failure. Not at all! See things through a more positive lens. 

Seek support

Even if it is an online school, you might know someone who can help you with your studies. If you do not understand something, seek support and ask for explanations.

Join a study group only if it motivates you and does not distract you more. You can share notes or check each other’s progress. Find extra material online and pretest your knowledge.

So, to conclude, let’s see your goals in points:

Patience and peace

If you are not relaxed and at peace, you won’t be able to have patience and understanding of the study material. 

Start with bismillah, with a dua and with a pure intention—you do it for the sake of Allah. If you cannot comprehend something, try to read it again, paraphrase it with your own words, or seek other explanations.

Distraction-free

Focus on one thing at a time and plan your day so that you have time for both studies and fun. Maintain boundaries within your routine. 

When it is time to study, find a quiet place and close other apps and phones for those hours. 

To have enough energy, sleep well, eat healthy, and do exercise. If you are tired, hungry, and in the middle of a family gathering, you cannot focus on your studies.

Realistic

Set realistic goals based on your abilities. Expect no more from yourself than you are capable of, but make the intention to do your best.

Goal-oriented 

Organize yourself and break down your goals into smaller achievements, like daily or weekly ones. Reward yourself if you accomplish them.

Consistent

You can gain consistency if you do not overload yourself. Again, it is a question of being realistic according to your capacities. The less is more: study less, but every day to avoid burn out. Maintain balance in your daily routine.

Depression and fearlessness

These fears and mood swings can result from your expectations and high standards related to your worth and capability. Remember, this exam is not to test how valuable or capable you are. 

You can try to identify the thoughts that lead you to feeling unwell and check them to see whether they are realistic enough. If these fears are too intense, please seek professional help. You can try our life-coaching as well.

Attentive and mindful

If you manage to focus on fewer things and organize yourself, you might be more attentive and mindful. 

Pay attention to fewer things at once, and reduce social media presence as the constant scrolling, image overload, and short videos and chats stress us with too much information and our nervous system gets tired. 

I hope these tips will help you. May Allah bring you success in your exam!

Question 5.

Assalamu Alaikum sister. I’m from a rather strict household and have no brother. My father passed away. My mother wanted me to marry within family but there were no options that were even remotely good even if we keep the bar underground. There also weren’t many males of my age group in my family. My mother wanted me to marry my cousin who is 8 years younger than. I grew up very close to this family and I knew well that we weren’t good for each other. So, my mother never got over the idea that I didn’t marry her nephews. She is obsessed with the idea of my marriage but fixates on options from the past which include a cousin in his 50s who got divorced as is dealing with some health issues. A cousin who is 18 and was bullied by the whole family so much that he should marry me that had to speak up. Obviously as a young person, he also has dreams. Other than that, she obsesses over her sister’s son who’s married but she just cries about them. She tells me no one will accept me because I’m ugly. Only my cousin’s would have put up with me.

The real weird side of her obsession with marriage within family is that she thinks that the intimate relationship between husband and wife are only okay if the couple is cousins or related in some way. She thinks it’ll damage her family honour and humiliate her if I marry outside family and have intimacy with whoever I marry. She sees even the post marriage intimacy as filthy unless we’re with our cousins.

She is very loud and extreme about her obsessions. When she does explore options, she considers those who resemble the kind of men she’s seen growing up. Rich and strict types.

She ignores whatever I say and throws a tantrum when I say that my preference is simply a normal person who is just capable of taking care of his family but isn’t toxic and abusive or super conservative. People here are not conservative in an Islamic way, but in a cultural way.

So, I don’t know how to keep myself sane. I have to live with her. Can’t leave her without getting married.

Answer:

Salam alaikom dear sister,

To be honest, what you are presenting in your letter does not sound good. It is quite sad, as it seems that your mother has quite specific ideas about your marriage, no matter how you actually feel and think about it.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to give advice in this situation because it seems that it is a bit out of your control. According to this letter, what is wrong is not with you but with the way your mother sees things about you and your future marriage. So, what should be changed first is her attitude.

At the same time, I do not have the “other side of the story” from your mother. And it is not easy to get a full picture of your relationship from a single letter. I am saying this because if we strive for change, we also have to self-reflect and see whether we are contributing somehow to the situation with our behavior and attitude.

By no means am I implying that anything is your fault, but rather that the only thing we can do is change ourselves, our attitude, because we are not responsible for the actions of others. In the end, everyone will respond to Allah for their own deeds and not for others’.

It is you who asks for advice, so I will try to see what you can do for a change.

It seems that your mother is influenced by certain cultural norms that might have been a custom in her family and surroundings but have no real basis in Islamic tradition. For some reasons she does not want or cannot see beyond these customs and not seems to comprehend that:

  • Your consent and willingness are your rights in an Islamic marriage. Yes, she has a duty, especially as a widow, to find a suitable partner for you, but she also must consider your feelings, your preferences, and your consent.
  • Family and cultural expectations should not be placed over the word of Allah. If Allah has made something permissible, no one can make it haram.
  • Your duty to be obedient as a daughter does not mean that she can obligate you to do things against your will, nor that she has the right to use controlling and oppressive words to get what she wants. It must hurt a lot when she calls you “ugly” and says that no one will marry you but your cousins. I am sorry to hear that, sister. Mutual respect is part of our duty both as parents and children.
  • You can marry according to your choice, as long as you and your future partner fulfill the conditions of marriage Islamically. Read more about it here. Yes, you need the consent of your parents, but they cannot prevent you from marrying without a valid reason. They also cannot force you to marry someone you do not want to marry.
  • Marrying a cousin is not an obligation in Islam, just a legitimate option. Some families try to protect their children by marrying them among relatives, believing that the family bond will prevent conflicts and splits or greater differences of interest. It is OK, as long as the couple is not forced to marry for the sake of this family bond.
  • To be honest, this is the first time I’ve heard the view that intimacy would be somehow “filthy” if the spouses are not relatives. I do not know whether your mother truly believes this or just says it to convince you to marry one of your cousins. But you may know that it has no validity nor basis in Islam.

With that being said, sister, there are many things here that are really not OK. And as I understand it, you are in a situation that you just cannot simply walk away from. I do not know in which country you live. It is easier in some places, but nearly impossible in others.

So, I kindly advise you to do the following:

  • Sister, if you are completely sure that none of these men would be a good choice for you and you have valid reasons for that, you have to speak with your mother. Try to find a calm moment and a kind, respectful tone, and let her know that you have made your choice and ask for her respect. Tell her how you feel when you are forced to do something against your will, especially regarding a decision that affects the rest of your life.
  • Try to help her understand that your choice might differ from hers. And if she would like to have your agreement, she needs to consider your preferences. Try to be cooperative; let her know that you are also looking for a solution.
  • Her tantrums happen, probably due to frustration because you disagree with her and because of her inability to manage her emotions. The most important thing is that you can manage yours during a dispute. Try to set and hold boundaries and learn not to react to her outbursts. Check out this video about conflict management.
  • Please also make sure that you disagree with her will for valid reasons and not because of some underlying issues. Your relationship has probably gone through a lot, and you may be resisting because of other things in the past. Make sure you treat your mother in a way you would like to be treated.
  • You say that you come from a strict, conservative environment, but rather in a cultural sense, not in a religious one. This makes it more difficult as your mother would need to speak to someone, she respects who can explain to her that there are legal and valid options for marriage beyond family members. It would be ideal if this could be a religious authority, such as an imam, or someone with less culturally influenced views who can offer you support. Your mother needs to be educated about Islam and Islamic marriage, about your rights as a daughter, and about her limits as a parent in your relationship.
  • Sister, if there is no hope for change in the attitude of your mother, I kindly ask you to explore the option of moving out. You need to seek support and see how you can move away and start your own life. Try to stand up for yourself and set boundaries by learning to say no. 
  • Please seek support around you. Is there anyone you can trust and share your struggle with? Is there anyone who could help you? If not a family member, maybe a friend, an Islamic organization, or whoever you can trust.
  • Try to strengthen your connection with Allah. Finally, He is the ultimate source of help. Only He can guide you and you need to seek guidance from Him. Learn more about your deen, about your rights, and try to practice according to your best abilities. Pray more, make more dua, and ask for clarity on this matter. Insha Allah, this would also give you inner strength.

I hope these tips can bring you some ease, sister. I wish you the best,

Wednesday, Nov. 02, 2022 | 07:00 - 08:00 GMT

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