OCD from the Devil
By Zohra Waza
I grew up in a Muslim household and attended evening madrassa for ten years. However, it was only when I reached the age of eighteen in 2010 that I actually began to really ponder over my state as a Muslim and make an effort to pray salaah regularly.
Attending a university with excellent prayer facilities proved to be a great boost for me and I thus sought to establish salaah and become firm in my religious practices. However, as we all know, when a person seeks to make a change in one’s life for the better, the devil schemes to distract us and hinder our progress. And indeed he turned his efforts to me in a way that I could not have conceived.
Fast forward to 2011, and I remember that having become consistent for the most part in salaah, I wanted to improve its quality and make it “perfect.” But this longing for perfection soon escalated beyond my control.
I started getting doubts in my actions. So in wudhu for example, I would not think I had washed my wrists three times. Or in salaah I would think I did something wrong and missed an action. So I would keep repeating my actions. Ramadhan 2011 came and things worsened. Every part of wudhu was a struggle, because I wouldn’t believe I’d performed it properly, or that I’d missed a spot. I would spend literally hours doing wudhu, to the point that I would miss my salaah because I was doing wudhu to pray my salaah! In the summer months, the time between asr and maghrib is fairly long, but having started wudhu at the beginning time, the namaaz would become qadha without me having left the bathroom.
Not only this, but if I made it out of the bathroom, I’d have doubts about my wudhu breaking so I’d return to the bathroom. If I made it to the prayer-mat, I would start my prayer and break it as I believed I hadn’t made an intention. Fifteen minutes would pass and I would simply be forming an intention over and over. If I got past that, I would worry that I hadn’t made takbeer. And so on.
I was suffering from something quite common- “religious OCD”; where shaytaan taunts you with whispers to throw you off your ibadah. I was suffering from quite an extreme version. Emotionally, I had such a burden on my head and a heavy heart. I would crave the night, so I could sleep and gain some respite before starting the exhausting sequence again the next day. While everyone told me to ignore the doubts, my mind kept telling me that I couldn’t risk Allah’s punishment and so had to keep praying. I remember many a time finishing a salaah and just flopping down on the prayer mat out of pure exhaustion. The tears were many, and the worst part was that nobody could help me. Some people I spoke to couldn’t conceive the idea, and a few even chuckled at me.
The physical effects were there too. Due to the constant performance of wudhu my hands and skin became extremely dry. My lips began to crack and I always felt cold. Isha and fajr would take so long that I became sleep deprived. I was afraid to go out as I knew salaah time would enter. At university I became notorious for practically living in the wudhu area and I missed lecture upon lecture.
Everyone tells you to ignore the doubts but the obsessive nature of the thoughts is such that you just cannot do this. When in the grip of such a problem, this seems like an impossible thing to do. This is shaytaan’s way to get you to stop praying and to make the deen burdensome. Looking back now, it seems insane that I went through this. There was a time where I was so doubtful that my wrists were showing that I’d pin my clothes everywhere so tight, to the point it was painful. There was a time where I’d be so doubtful about my rakaats that I would pinch myself extremely hard in salaah so that I’d remember the pain. All praise and thanks to Allah who pulled me out of this ugly situation.
I wanted to share my experience and make it known so that people are aware and can guard against this. Also, there may be people around you suffering from this who could use your help. I’d like to share some tips that may help in such situations.
1) KNOW YOUR DEEN
The importance of this cannot be overstated. Know the practical aspects of prayer and ablution. Know what is sunnah, and what is fardh. If I had concentrated in maktab and remembered that washing thrice is a sunnah, I could have sufficed with washing once which is the fardh. Bear in mind, the obsessive nature of this trial means that you may not be content with omitting sunnahs and nafls, but for the sake of your health and wellbeing, truly this is best. Consult an aalim and ask them to explain the rules to you. In my case, the book Heavenly Ornaments honestly saved my life. Everything you need is in there, and is easy, clear and concise. May Allah reward the author. I say this first, because prevention is better than cure.
2) TELL SOMEONE- GET A BUDDY
When doubts start to arise, find an understanding friend who is okay to stay with you as you pray and do wudhu. They will tell you if you’re going wrong, and most likely, they will tell you that everything is correct. Be open. Tell as many people as you can. All these people will help you, and they can’t all get it wrong! In any case, these friends will be the ones to make dua for you. I would be nothing without the duas of my friends who tried their best to support me in the lowest time of my life. May Allah reward them and protect them and their families from any such trials.
3) BEAUTIFUL PATIENCE
Know that this is a test. Allah will test those He loves. In the second ayah of Surah al-Ankabut, Allah says: “Do people think that they will be left alone because they say: “We believe,” and will not be tested?”
Know that with difficulty comes ease. I saw this personally. I was missing tons of lectures from an intense law degree and had stacks of reading to do. But despite spending close to an hour per salaah, somehow Allah made it such that I was always on top of my work. Alhamdulillah. And this was without any all nighters and without losing any sleep. Where the rest of my year was crazily stressed about exams, I was extremely calm and found the whole process of revision really easy. These difficulties strengthen you. When you go through such troubles as I mentioned before, there is nothing scary about a few written exams.
Ideally I should say this first, because as believers, we go to our Lord for our needs and do not rely on creation. Keep asking Allah for a cure. Ask that He be Merciful to you, and make it a means of getting closer to him. Don’t stop. Make dua all the time. And also make dua that Allah protects you from such an illness.
5) SHIELD AGAINST SHAYTAAN
Alhamdullilah, the Quran and Sunnah are full of advice and facts about shaytaan. This helps us to know his tricks and to fight against him. For example, we are told to spit thrice in prayer when the devil Khanzab distracts us. A lesser known hadith tells us of a devil called Walhan who gives doubts in ablution. Most importantly, we have countless Quranic ayahs and supplications to protect us, such as the four quls and Ayatul Kursi among others. Utilise these for they are truly powerful.
This one deserves to be last because to an obsessive compulsive mind, ignoring is the last thing you want to do. It takes serious willpower and will be gut wrenchingly hard. You fear that Allah’s wrath will come upon you anytime because you may have sinned by praying wrong. You don’t want Allah to think you don’t care. But Allah knows what is in every heart. Also, His mercy far exceeds his wrath. We fear Allah yes, but we love him too and so we should acknowledge his mercy.
I end this article here by thanking Allah for taking me out of where I was before, and I pray that Allah protects the whole Muslim ummah from such a trial. Ameen ya rabbal alameen.