Muslim woman sitting on bed looking at laptop

Therapists Replace God, Pills Replace Prayer?

“Hope is not defined by the absence of hardship. Rather, hope is found in God’s grace in the midst of hardship. Hope is found in His promise to give us a future.”

―Stuart Scott

“Some people just don’t understand how things like anxiety and depression can make it impossible to pray,” the woman said. “It’s so frustrating to see so much ignorance and lack of compassion amongst Muslims when it comes to mental health.”

When I wrote the book, No One Taught Me the Human Side of Islam, wherein I share the true story of a Muslim woman living with bipolar disorder, I intended to create more mental health awareness in the Muslim community. Hearing the heartbreaking story of how this woman was consistently mistreated and ostracized in her local faith community due to her mental illness saddened me and inspired me to share her story with the world.

It is indeed both troubling and perplexing to witness how the modern-day Muslim community is just beginning to take baby steps in understanding an ancient reality that the earliest Muslims understood as a matter of course: mental illness is real, as are emotional health challenges. In some of the most dated books of fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), a person’s mental health is routinely mentioned as a condition of any binding contract.

Other historic texts go into lengthy detail about the different categories of mental illness, ranging from those that affect only minor aspects of a person’s life to those that are so serious that the person is no longer accountable for their actions because the pen has been lifted from them. In Islamic fiqh, it is only the latter group who are excused from religious obligations, as they are similar to a person in a coma who is not even conscious enough to be aware of what is happening around them or of what is required by any religious practice. However, in Islam, the presence of even minimal mental health in an adult obligates him or her to fulfill at least the most basic acts of worship like Salaah.

So while it is indeed troubling and perplexing to witness how many modern-day Muslim communities are unaware of the wealth of information in our faith regarding mental health issues, it is even more troubling and perplexing to witness how in the name of “mental health awareness” an increasing number of modern-day Muslims are trivializing or canceling out the most fundamental obligation on every believing soul, no matter what personal challenges they have: the Salaah (the five foundational prayers).

When I see this troubling trend, which is quite obviously a path of ghuroor (spiritual self-deception) and a dangerous trap of Shaytaan, I am terrified for my soul and for the souls of all of the believers who are being influenced by this “compassionate misguidance.” For Allah, our All-Wise, Most Merciful Rabb, who created our bodies and our mental health function, says what has been translated to mean,

“Say to My servants who have believed, that they should establish the Salaah and spend in charity out of the sustenance We have given them, secretly and openly, before the coming of a Day on which there will be neither mutual bargaining nor befriending” (Ibrahim, 14:31).

He also gives us a warning and a call to self-correction when He says what has been translated to mean,

“But there came after them a posterity who neglected prayer and pursued desires, so they are going to face destruction. Except those who repent, believe, and do righteousness; for those will enter Paradise and will not be wronged at all” (Maryam, 19:59-60).

When I think on how something as crucial and praiseworthy as mental health awareness is being used as a tool to disconnect us from Allah and our souls, I find myself thinking: Some people just don’t understand how things like anxiety and depression make the daily routine of Salaah even more urgent and necessary.  It’s so frustrating to see so much ignorance and lack of wisdom amongst Muslims who trivialize spiritual wellness in the name of mental health.

Battling Toxic Compassion in Mental Healthcare

The following is a slightly adapted excerpt from the coursebook for the Salaah course, Come Back To Allah, Dear Soul and supplements the Live Webinar entitled “Therapists Replace God, Pills Replace Prayer?” scheduled for Tuesday, August 25th, 2020:

In true mental healthcare, spirituality is foundational to offering treatment and support to struggling souls. In this authentic treatment system, mental healthcare is rooted in showing empathy and compassion to those seeking healing for their emotional pain and spiritual wounding. Here, empathic professionals support and encourage struggling souls to connect to their Creator through prayer—in addition to seeking mental health treatment—as an authentic healing path.

Thus, even if a hurting soul is seeking healing from spiritual wounding itself, these professionals tell the person that spirituality need not be abandoned altogether. Rather it should be approached and practiced in a patient, compassionate and non-triggering way. In this way, spirituality becomes essential to the therapy itself.

In contrast, in systems of toxic compassion that pass themselves off as mental healthcare, cycles of harm are established in a way that treats spiritual accountability as a path of self-harm. Consequently, so many people who are hurting find themselves seeking healing from “mental health resources” that are really just cesspools of spiritual darkness. In these environments, toxic professionals (via their books, awareness campaigns, or therapy offices) wear masks of mental health expertise while intentionally or unintentionally pushing struggling souls deeper and deeper into “spiritual suicide.”

When these toxic systems successfully influence naïve and sincere Muslims, these hurting souls (who are already struggling to hold on to their last thread of spiritual life) trust “spiritual suicide” as a genuine path to emotional wellness and spiritual healing. Consequently, once “healed,” many of these Muslims return to their faith communities to share their “success stories” with other hurting souls. As a result, another wave of struggling Muslims are encouraged to allow their entire spiritual life to collapse as a justifiable path to getting their spiritual lives in order.

Taking It Easy Without Letting Go

It is true that some level of “letting go” is absolutely necessary for those who are overwhelmed by an ever-growing (and unnecessary) list of religious rules of do’s and don’ts.  However, this “letting go” should never include cutting off the bare minimum lifeline that every believing soul has in connecting to his or her Creator—the Salaah.

This is the spiritual message at the center of what I share from my own healing journey in my book, I Almost Left Islam: How I Reclaimed My Faith, as well as what I hope to convey in the coursebook and course, Come Back To Allah, Dear Soul.

If I were to summarize what I told my heart during my lowest point in trying to get my spiritual life back in order, it would be this reflection from my journal: Clear the clutter. If you’re struggling in your faith, this is my advice to you. Remove the excess baggage and carry only the burdens your Lord has given you.

Mental Healthcare Is Never Spiritual Harm

Whenever letting go of Salaah is presented as a necessary, justified, or spiritually viable option for hurting souls, we are witnessing a system of toxicity rooted in spiritual self-harm, even if it is presented as mental healthcare.

In truth, this ideology is just yet another branch of the toxic deen of emotionalism, which views any moral discipline or spiritual accountability to the Creator as problematic and inherently “unjust” or harmful, specifically when there is any deep emotional pain, overwhelm, or struggle involved in maintaining the spiritual lifestyle.

Emotionalism As Mental Healthcare

Unfortunately, the deen of emotionalism—which places emotionality over spirituality—is becoming more and more widespread and is actually beginning to be embraced as standard mental healthcare in many professional environments, even amongst Muslim mental health professionals.

In this increasingly popular system of toxic compassion, indulging in spiritual self-harm is presented as a justifiable, systematic approach to addressing difficult spiritual trials. In other words, spiritual self-harm is presented as the antidote to spiritual self-harm. This system of self-harm encourages or permits abandoning foundational spiritual responsibilities like Salaah when one is struggling emotionally or mentally, and this spiritual self-abandonment is presented as the path to resuming spiritual self-care “one day.”

Under the guise of mental healthcare, professionals and advisors who are proponents of toxic compassion defend their systems of spiritual self-harm by claiming things like “avoiding ableism” or “opposing religious rigidity.” Here, these self-assigned “compassionate saviors” (who often include life coaches, other survivors, and even spiritual teachers) claim to be freeing the struggling person from feeling compelled to do more than they genuinely can handle in their current emotional or mental state.

However, in truth, it is not ableism or rigidity that these advisors are uprooting. Rather it is the “burden” of maintaining even a minimal connection to one’s Creator—particularly when this spiritual responsibility appears to distress, trigger, or overwhelm the survivor in any way.

In this culture of toxicity, some “mental health experts” claim to be freeing struggling souls from burdensome religious lifestyles, which overwhelm hurting souls with unnecessary do’s and don’ts. Yet in reality, they are merely replacing the deen (spiritual way of life) of the Creator with a deen of their own—the deen of emotionalism.

Pillars of Emotionalism

In the mental healthcare branch of the deen of emotionalism, the first “pillar of faith” is the heart bearing witness that the therapist is God, and the second pillar of faith is committing oneself to a life of spiritual self-abandonment.

If a Muslim is struggling with emotional pain or spiritual wounding while trusting a toxic mental health professional, this second “pillar of faith” (though most often unconscious or implicit) routinely manifests itself as feeling content or justified in abandoning or neglecting the five foundational prayers.

In this way, the first two pillars of the deen of emotionalism are in direct opposition to the first two pillars of the deen of Islam. Whereas the first pillar of Islam is testifying that Allah is God, the first pillar of emotionalism (in the mental healthcare branch of that deen) is testifying that the therapist is God. Similarly, whereas the second pillar of Islam is establishing the prayer, the second pillar of emotionalism is abandoning the prayer.

Dependency on Humans and Drugs Replaces God

Too often a Muslim survivor comes to the mental health expert due to drowning in the dark waters of hopelessness and despair, only to be supported or encouraged in effectively tossing aside their spiritual life jacket. In this way, the already drowning Muslim freely allows themselves to drown even more, while having full faith in the guidance of the “all-knowing” and “all-wise” therapist.

In this state of “free drowning,” absolutely nothing is required of the struggling Muslim—except to fully and blindly accept the “compassionate hand” of a human savior (i.e. therapist), whose behavior codes and daily prescriptions replace those of God in their life. Thus, they are told to keep their appointments with the therapist while abandoning their appointments with God, and they are prescribed doses of pills to get them through the day while abandoning their doses of prayer.

In this way, dependency on human connection and medication is offered as foundational to one’s path to healing, while connection to the Creator and dependency on prayer is presented as disposable (if not harmful) while the hurting soul is at “rock bottom” emotionally and spiritually.

Professional Help Has Its Place

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that there is any inherent harm or sin in getting professional help or using medication to cope with serious emotional or mental trials. What I’m discussing here is the serious problem of spiritual self-harm that arises when we view foundational soul-care as secondary, harmful, or disposable next to dependency on humans and pills.

Whenever connecting to other humans and/or relying on minimal doses of medicine is viewed as more foundational to surviving our internal darkness than connecting to the Creator and relying on minimal doses of prayer, then we are inciting cycles of spiritual self-harm more than mental wellness.

As aforementioned, in this state of spiritual self-harm, the struggling person sets up consistent appointments with a therapist and/or intakes a certain amount of pills consistently per day. Meanwhile, they are abandoning their consistent appointments with their Creator and missing their daily dosages of prayer. This alternative system of daily “self-care” is quite obviously an inversion of spiritual priorities in the Muslim’s life—which involve daily “soul-care.” Furthermore, this inverted system is clear evidence that the struggling Muslim is actually being offered an entirely new deen in the name of getting “therapy.”

In this toxic system that passes itself off as compassionate mental healthcare, the Muslim is waiting until they feel “ready” to take the next step in soul care (i.e. returning to the Salaah “one day”)—that is, if they even feel inclined to ever return to Salaah. Meanwhile, what they’re viewing as a “next step” should have been their first and most crucial step in getting therapy.

In a healthy mindset of true mental wellness, it is the human connection to a therapist and daily pill dosage that is an optional (or disposable) “next step”—if a struggling should ever feel inclined or “ready” to opt for that at all.

REGISTER NOW for LIVE WEBINAR “Therapists Replace God, Pills Replace Prayer?” by Umm Zakiyyah and special guest, Mujahid Muhammad (clinical therapist).

Umm Zakiyyah is the internationally acclaimed author of more than twenty books, including the If I Should Speak trilogy, Muslim Girl, and His Other Wife. She recently launched her “Choosing To Love Alone” series via UZuniversity.com to support struggling believers seeking to nourish their emotional and spiritual health.

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