The article has two parts, this is part 1 dealing with waswaas and OCD in general and part 2 deals with OCD related issues with Islamic rituals ('ibaadat and taharah). Topics discussed include :
OCD from an Islamic Perspective - Reality of Waswaas - Limitations of Western Psychology's understanding of OCD- Tips to overcome Waswaas (Obsessions + Compulsions) - OCD issues related with Salah (Prayer) - OCD issues relateid with Wudu (Ablution) - OCD and extremism.
View our latest write up on the issue : Islamic Solution for OCD (Waswaas) - A Comprehensive Guide
The Islamic forms of worship ('ibaadaat) directly treat most of the invisible ailments. Prayer (salah) in Islam has a psychical value, involving perfect concentration. It is the intense realization of God and forgetfulness of all that is not God. By this feeling of dependence on an omnipotent deity, the mind enjoys peace and mental sufferings are temporarily suspended. But what if this worship (ibaadah), the peace-giving ritual itself becomes a problem? What if you feel the link between you and Allah is disconnected that is the essence of ibaadah? Satan (Shaitaan), our greatest enemy first tries to engage us in the worldly stuff so much that we start ignoring the soul needs. And if satan cannot make you skip your salah, it will try to attack you some other way. Satan's primary tool is 'satanic whispers' (waswaas). These whispers are a deception of satan that can lead us astray from the true path. As mentioned in Quran:
"And incite [to senselessness] whoever you can among them with your voice…"
(Surah Al Israa 17:64)
How much someone is prone to these whispers depends on the condition of one's heart (qalb). There are three types of hearts (qulub), one which has been overcome by satan and satan does not need to whisper in it anymore, second, the one which is fully devoted to Allah and can't be reached out by satan and its tricks, the third kind of heart is the one which most of us have i.e. a heart which is vulnerable to satanic whispers and one can either become victim of these whispers or ignore them to overcome satan. Protecting one's self from these whispers is important for success in both the worlds. But the problem that arises mainly is that these whispers are not easy to be sorted out as "satanic whispers"; they "appear" to us as if they were our own thoughts. Therefore it is necessary to recognize these whispers as from satan and not our own in order to get rid of them. ان شاء الله
Note: Islamic terminology for physical heart is فؤاد (Fu'aad) and for spiritual heart is قلب (qalb). Spiritual Heart is essentially the روح (ruh) or the place of residence of the ruh.
Satan does not take a break after whispering into our hearts but it also leads us to follow those whispers through actions and hence diverting us from the true path completely. Performing wudu on slight doubts, keeping 'extra' check on neatness of clothes even when not required, doing sajdah e sahw most of the times etc. are among those actions that are result of these whispers.
It is important to confront and tackle these whispers; they not only affect our religious life but also disturb our internal peace and hence our everyday life. Careless handling of whispers (waswaas) can lead to different psychological disorders; OCD-Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is one of such disorders.
From Western-Psychology Perspective Note: It is being named as western-psychology because Islamic Psychology will be dealing greatly with the effect of our extra-dimensional self (ruh) or our extra-dimesional enemy (shaitaan) on our physical self (body) or the combined self (nafs) as 'facts' which are totally ignored by current day psychology which essentially is a 'science' dependent on things observable through five-senses as required by the 'scientific process'.
Western psychology discusses about a psychological disorder, in which they talk about "unreasonable, excessive thoughts" leading to "undesirable actions or thoughts", they name this disorder as OBSESSIVE COMPULSIVE DISORDER (OCD).
According to DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is an anxiety disorder in which an individual gets recurrent, excessive and unreasonable "thoughts" that may or may not lead to "some repeated actions" that are time consuming or that cause marked distress or significant impairment in daily life activities. Psychologists name these "thoughts" as "obsessions" and they define obsessions as persistent ideas, thoughts, impulses or images that are experienced as intrusive and inappropriate, causing marked anxiety or distress. The individual senses that the content of obsessions is alien, not within his/her own control and not the kind of thought that he/she would ever expect to have. However the individual is able to recognize these obsessions as the product of his/her own mind and are not imposed from any external source. Individuals with obsessions usually attempt to ignore or suppress such thoughts or they try to neutralize them with some other thought or action, such thoughts and actions are named as compulsions. In other words compulsions are repetitive behaviors (e.g. hand washing, ordering, checking etc.) or mental 'acts' (e.g. praying, counting, repeating words silently etc.) the goal of which is to prevent or reduce anxiety and distress. The obsessions and compulsions cause marked distress, consume time or significantly interfere with individual's normal routine, occupational functioning and social activities.
Limitations of Western Psychology As west emphasizes on "science based on five senses" so they do not go beyond these five senses to check out the reality, but because we Muslims have divine guidance so we can see things from supernatural point of view or from sources beyond five senses. Here, in the description that the western psychologists give is a contradiction (or evidence) that these obsessions are extra-dimensional (satanic). As they say that "The individual senses that the content of obsessions is alien, not within his/her own control and not the kind of thought that he/she would ever expect to have." On the other side they also say that "the individual is able to recognize these obsessions as the product of his/her own mind" the question arises "how can a person think such things that he/she does not even expect to be his/her thought?" Islam gives the answer:
And deceive among them those whom you can with your voice. Verily! On my true servants, you would have no authority. Sufficient is your Lord as a guardian
(Surah Al Israa' 17:64–65)
And we are ordered to seek refuge with Allah from this enemy that we can't see.
"Say I seek refuge with (ALLAH) the Lord of mankind. The King of mankind. The Ilah of mankind. From the evil of the whisperer who withdraws, who whispers in the breasts of mankind, of jinn and men." (Surah An Naas 114)
So, not only we need realization of this enemy and will-power to overcome this enemy, we need the help from our Lord also.
Reasons and Treatment for OCD Science presents a lot of reasons for OCD that are physiological, genetic and psychological. But as some researches propose that brain's physiology can be changed by thoughts, and this is the window from where psychotherapies intervene to address the problem, we will see cognitive therapy's point of view regarding reasons for OCD and its treatment because cognitive and behavior therapies work best in OCD.
Cognitive therapy says that most people have intrusive or uninvited thoughts similar to those reported by people with OCD. But why some people develop OCD and others do not? The answer is that most people may be able to shrug off such thoughts and others who develop OCD are unable to do so.
Speaking Islamically, those who dwell in satanic whispers may develop this disorder and those who overcome Satan will not develop it.
Those who develop OCD might exaggerate the 'importance' of these thoughts (that are for sure satanic whispers), and respond to it as though it represents an actual threat.
Cognitive theory suggests that as long as people interpret intrusive thoughts as 'catastrophic', and as long as they continue to believe that such thinking holds truth, they will continue to be distressed and to practice avoidance and/or ritual behaviors. When we see this concept from Islamic point of view it seems so true because the guideline we get from Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم to avoid these whispers is: "Allah Most High has forgiven the wasawis that arise in the hearts of the people of my nation until one acts upon them or talks about them" (Al-Bukhari, Al-Muslim).
It is because when we ignore them, don't talk about them or do not act on them, so, they can't harm us in any way ان شاء الله.
"Watch your thoughts, they become words. Watch your words, they become actions. Watch your actions, they become habits. Watch your habits, they become character. Watch your character, they become destiny."
After knowing all this, a question arises "if one has become an OCD patient, what is its cure?"
"As for My servants, no authority shalt thou have over them: Enough is thy Lord for a Disposer of affairs."
(Surah Al Israa' 17:65)
The ayah clearly says that those who are true slaves of Allah, satan has no control over them. Its whispers or any other method to befool them will not be successful over them. So the first thing one should do to refrain from satan and its whispers is to become a true slave of ALLAH, to become righteous and follow the commands of Allah, Al-Mighty. ان شاء الله
Important Tips to overcome Waswaas (Obsessions + Compulsions)
1. Identify your enemy and understand its tricks
"O men! Certainly the promise of Allah is true. Let not then this present life deceive you, nor let the Chief Deceiver deceive you about Allah. Verily Satan is an enemy to you: so treat him as an enemy. He only invites his adherents that, they may become Companions of the Blazing Fire."
(Surah Al Faatir 35:5-6)
The main trick satan plays in its whispers is that it makes one feel that these thoughts are one's own and not from anywhere else. Because when you know that they are from someone else you try to fight it out, and when you think that these are your own thoughts you feel helpless to fight. So it is extremely important that one filters and labels all negative thoughts as from satan and not from one's own self. For this, one must realize that one's true-self is the Ruh (soul) sent by ALLAH, and that this Ruh (Soul) puts us on the true-nature (fitrah) when we are born, and this Ruh is a light from ALLAH that guides towards the positive and can never be negative. So all the negative thoughts are from satan and not your own and satan being your greatest enemy deserves the best fight from you ان شاء الله.
2. Help from Quran
ALLAH asks believers to take help from sabr (patience) and salah (prayer), so when you feel totally at satan's hands offer nawaafil (voluntary prayers) and seek ALLAH's help, when you feel anxious due to the whispers of satan, be patient and do not start ritualizing your compulsions (the acts you do to minimize anxiety e.g. washing hands again and again, checking and cleaning your clothes time and again etc).
Quran describes itself as Shifa (cure) for those who believe, so when you feel yourself trapped into satanic whispers, ask ALLAH to guide you and heal you through the Qur'an. Some people may get waswaas like: I didn't pronounce the word of Quran correctly, or I did not use the correct articulation point etc.: to avoid such wasaawis one can try different methods e.g recite in louder voice, ask someone to listen you so that if you pronounce something wrong they may correct you, or record your recitation and listen to it later on but one should not leave recitation due to these waswaas ان شاء الله)
Verily Allah truly says:Is He [not best] who responds to the desperate one when he calls upon Him and removes evil and makes you inheritors of the earth? Is there a deity with Allah? Little do you remember. (Surah Numl 27:62)
3. Know the limitations of your enemy
"Verily he has no power over those who believe and put their trust only in their Lord. His power is only over those who obey and follow him, and those who join partners with Him" (Surah An Nahl 16:99-100)
This Ayah mentions how we make Satan have power over us. If we put our trust only in Allah, and we have firm belief in Allah, then Satan can't penetrate into our thoughts-that-become-actions. Thoughts are like traffic that'll keep on coming, but you have to decide which vehicle to ride on. Not every thought is worthy of being transformed into an action. We have to filter the thoughts coming from Satan and drop them, and only ride on thoughts that have a sound origin.
From one angle satan is a powerful enemy because it is invisible to us, on the other hand, satan can become totally helpless because all it can do is to attack our thoughts and cannot force us into actions.
4. Stop Blaming Yourself
Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم said: "Allah Most High has forgiven the wasaawis that arises in the hearts of the people of my nation until one acts upon them or talks about them" (Al-Bukhari, Al-Muslim).
This hadith is such a big support for all of Muslims! When you are not to be blamed if any negative thought comes to your mind then WHY to blame yourself "willingly" by thinking that "these bad thoughts are my own and I am such a bad person to think this way, how can others love me when I am so bad, when I think this way?" etc. Are you not destroying your peace yourself? Remember: "He wants ease for you, and does not want hardship for you" (Surah Al Baqarah)
Reattribute these negative thoughts as "from shaitan" and not your "own" and Realize that the intensity and intrusiveness of the thought or urge is a trap of satan to misguide you from the true path. The more attention you pay to it, the more intense these thoughts would become and satan will overcome you, and if u will try to talk to yourself to resolve these thoughts, you will get more trapped into them. So attribute these thoughts as satanic whispers and do not fall in them, as they say: "We may not be able to choose what kinds of thoughts come into our mind but we definitely make the choice of what kind of thoughts we want to dwell in." When we know through Qur'an and Sunnah that satan whispers in the hearts of mankind, then we should be certain that all negative thoughts are from satan and not our own.
Refocus your mind towards something positive.
Work around these thoughts by focusing your attention on something else, by something else we mean something "positive" and "worth doing". We humans are here in this world for accomplishing a great task, let's focus on that and be not misguided by our greatest enemy. Plan for your days and nights, how you are going to get to your mission?
Do not take these thoughts at face value. They do not define the 'real you' and are from satan to mislead you. Value yourself in the light of Iman and good deeds that you do for the sake of ALLAH. These thoughts are not significant at all and you can't judge yourself according to what satan tells you. Satan will tell you that you are going great 'only' when you are wrong, and it will tell you that you are a hypocrite etc. whenever you are on the right.
8. Seeking Help from those around you
Those who have developed OCD to a greater level, it would be very difficult for them to stop following these obsessions, their motivation matters a lot in this. And secondly they can develop different ways to get rid of this problem, e.g. they can ask a family member to play part in it, to remind them of their problem with care and affection. The best way to get one's self out of it is to "taper it off", which means to gradually decrease your compulsions.
(Help taken from four steps dealing method presented by Psychiatrist Jeffrey Schwartz, author of Brain Lock: Free Yourself from Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior)
Put in a nut-shell, waswaas = obsessions + compulsions whose origin is an extra-dimensional whisper from Shaitan (satan), and the more you let these grow in your heart the more they disturb you. So don't dwell into these thoughts injected into you by your enemy and keep on refocusing yourself in the right direction.
Proceed to Part 2 :
Overcoming Waswaas – The Whispers in Ibaadaat
Author: Faiza Bint Abdul Qayyum
Send your comments and suggestions at Muhammad.Awais.Tahir@gmail.com