I wish I had more then mere words to convey this profound truth that I uncovered while healing from emotional trauma and spiritual wounding: You cannot appreciate the beauty in yourself, in others, or even in the guidance from your Lord until you do everything in your power to remove yourself from toxic and abusive relationships and environments—and until you validate your full right to emotional, mental, and spiritual health, even if it means disappointing people who would otherwise have “rights” over you.
In other words, until you validate your full right to say “No” or “I quit” to anyone or anything that harms your emotional, mental, or spiritual health—while being fully confident that God is on your side—you will likely remain trapped in feelings of worthlessness and resentment as you tell yourself you are serving others “for the sake of Allah.”
You Are Not Worthless To Allah
I also learned this during my healing journey: If you find yourself feeling worthless while imagining that your Lord has decreed this worthlessness—especially if you imagine the reason is rooted in your gender, ethnicity, bloodline, or social class—then you are likely in a very unhealthy social, emotional, and spiritual environment, and you’ve likely been in this environment or relationship for quite some time. This toxic environment or relationship could be rooted in the lifestyle of your parents, family, marriage, job, business project, social circle, Muslim community, or even Islamic classes you attend or Islamic lectures you listen to online.
And until you change the culture of these toxic environments, limit your interactions with them, or remove yourself from them altogether, the world within you and around you will literally change before your eyes until even the most beautiful things in life will morph into an ugliness that is felt deep in the spirit. Once this happens, even something as beautiful as your personal connection to Allah will be disrupted until it too feels burdensome and worthless.
Islam Felt Like a Burden
When I was in the throes of spiritual crisis, Islam itself felt like a burden, and the world felt like this massive unfriendly place filled with people who wished me harm. I often wondered if Allah Himself saw my inherent value in only what I could offer others—especially my parents, family, husband, and Muslim community—even if I suffered continuous pain and agony as a result. Consequently, I didn’t feel like a full human being with a value all my own, especially since I was a woman whose primary purpose (I imagined) was to continuously serve men and others on earth.
It was while healing from this false sense of self-worth that I penned this journal entry, which I share in my book Pain. From the Journal of Umm Zakiyyah: You don’t need to be someone’s wife, mother, or daughter to experience your high status as a woman in Islam. You need to be only the best of yourself—a believer—and Allah raises your ranks by your own merit and deeds.
Till today, I’m still healing from triggers regarding how I was made to feel worthless in comparison to other people. But by Allah’s mercy, I no longer view my faith as a burden, and Islamic spirituality has become my path to emotional freedom and spiritual peace.
However, I understand (perhaps more than I’d like) that until you untangle yourself from relationships and environments that make you feel “less than”—especially if this feeling increases with thoughts of God—you really cannot see, feel, or appreciate the beauty within you or around you; and you cannot appreciate your self-worth, the phenomenal power of loving marriages and friendships, or even the timeless mercy, beauty, and justice of Islam itself.
Remove the Blindfolds of Trauma
Remaining in toxic relationships and environments while trying to appreciate the beauty of life and Islamic spirituality is like trying to reflect on the beauty of a rainbow—though right in front of you—while you are straining to look at it through blindfolds. In such conditions, you can appreciate only the concept or theory of a rainbow’s beauty, but not its true beauty itself.
So it is with the beauty of connecting with your Lord.
If we are in traumatic relationships and environments that wound us spiritually, we often process the beauty of our Islamic faith only through theoretical lens. We learn of Islam’s theoretical spiritual beauty from books, classes, and divine texts. However, because it’s not real to us based on our actual experience, we begin to doubt whether or not that “theory” is true.
If we remain too long in these toxic personal and religious environments, we become incapable of processing even the theory of Islam’s spiritual beauty, even while reading the direct Words and guidance of Allah Himself. In this, we are like the person who has remained so long in an abusive relationship that she stops believing that true, healthy romantic love even exists—even if she is surrounded by healthy loving relationships in others’ lives. Because she has lived too long in abuse, she processes others’ relationships as farces and others’ happiness as masks hiding their pain.
So it is with our understanding of the Islamic faith if we remain too long in lifestyles, environments, and religious classes that make us feel worthless in front of our Lord.
Make Hijrah From the Pain
No, we certainly cannot remove all trauma and pain from our lives, as toil and struggle are parts of life itself. However, we can remove—or at least significantly reduce—spiritual and emotional trauma from our personal spaces. We do this by making the necessary (even if difficult) changes in our approaches to marriage, family, work, Muslim community, and even to understanding our faith itself.
For some of us, this “hijrah from pain” will mean getting professional therapy, altering the culture of our married life, getting a divorce, implementing limited or no physical contact with toxic or abusive family, quitting a job, cancelling a business or community project, and/or stopping Islamic classes and lecture-listening until we are healed. We’ll also need to stay connected to daily Salaah, Qur’an, and du’aa if these changes are to have the desired and healthy effect.
If we don’t make the necessary life changes based on our individual sources of spiritual trauma and emotional suffering, experiencing the beauty of Islamic spirituality and human relationships becomes a near impossibility.
In my book Pain. From the Journal of Umm Zakiyyah, I reflect on this point through the analogy of physical pain: Physical pain has a way of making even a hug unbearable. Emotional pain and spiritual struggles are no different. So don’t blame others for your every hurt feeling and frustration. Heal yourself, then imbibe the love.
In other words, to experience the beauty of Islamic spirituality and love for the sake of Allah, you need to make hijrah from toxic emotional and spiritual environments for the sake of your soul.
Zero-Tolerance for Toxicity and Abuse
Today, I have a zero-tolerance policy for toxic relationships and environments. I don’t care who it is or how important the job or project seems by worldly or “religious” standards. If I feel that my emotional, mental, or spiritual health is suffering as a result of it, I call it quits. I apply this zero-tolerance policy to my dealings with family, friends, Muslim communities, business projects, imams, scholars, and even my social media accounts.
Don’t get me wrong. My zero-tolerance policy doesn’t mean I won’t put in the necessary (or even extra) effort to make a relationship or project work. It just means that once it becomes clear that my continuous efforts are resulting in emotional, mental, or spiritual suffering, I call it quits.
In the past, when this suffering happened, I blamed myself. Today, I don’t torture myself with self-doubt. If it causes me harm, I let it go. Simple as that.
Good People Can Be Bad For You
By Allah’s mercy, experience has taught me that though some toxic relationships involve people consciously wronging or manipulating me, not every toxic relationship involves intentional wrongdoing. In fact, not every toxic relationship involves wrongdoing at all.
A relationship (whether personal, business, or religious) can be toxic without a single soul doing the other harm. I reflect on this point in my journal: A toxic relationship does not necessarily involve toxic people—just as there are chemicals that are harmless in themselves and become deadly only when mixed with something else.
Thus, while I am fully aware that much of my initial emotional suffering was caused by those who intended me harm, I know that not every emotional or spiritual wounding is the fault of someone else—even if it was incited by their presence. Nevertheless, today I recognize my full right to say “No” or “I quit” to anyone or anything that does not support my emotional, mental, or spiritual health.
You Come First
In prioritizing my emotional, mental, and spiritual needs over what others demand or expect from me, I am preserving the beauty of both life and Islam in my heart. Because I know all too well, until your heart and soul are no longer being continuously wounded by toxic relationships and environments, you lose the ability to see beauty as beauty. As a result, your personal and spiritual world becomes an ugly place in which you genuinely imagine that even your Lord Himself is against you and wishing you harm.
Umm Zakiyyah is the internationally acclaimed author of twenty books, including the If I Should Speak trilogy, Muslim Girl, His Other Wife and the self-help book for Muslim survivors of abuse: Reverencing the Wombs That Broke You. Her latest novel His Other Wife is now a short film.
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