Facing a Religious Depression

What is it?

As more awareness is created of mental health illness like depression and the causes of it, there are also causes where a person is mentally fit however fall into a religious mental illness, a religious depression. One of the most compelling things often serious practitioners of the glorious faith of Islam can expect to experience at some point in their lives is a stagnation of faith in other words lose the appetite to keep going. For some, this stagnation, or ‘feeling numb’, that is feeling sluggish when is comes to matters of practising Islam like idly kicking an empty can coke down the road on a stifling summer’s afternoon, may last only a short period of time whereas for others a lifetime.

Often, I have come across many people who by their own admission have said they were a religious zealot, eager by all accounts to carry out religious duties above all else when they were young i.e at a time when they had less “important” things to do, and now that they are older and busier, this is not the case.  For example; “I was a very into dheen when I was young, I used to go to the masjid with my father everyday, at college pray my salah punctually, dress in the sunnah and at uni I was part of the Islamic society”. However, as they grew up they had slowly lost all interest in faith and gradually have changed out of the night gown of practising faith and slipped into the 3-piece suit of non-practising, (or a little practising) believer of Islam. This textbook example is a case of ‘the grass is greener on the other side”, and the shaitan making a person firmly believe practising faith is not a fulfilling experience but only a habit done out of years of going through the same motions of rituals: prayers, fast and charity, nothing more. What is striking is not the transition that someone may go through into becoming what I call a zombie believer but that the experience can also be felt by even the most spiritual beings among us, even after being a practising believer for decades. Although by the grace of Allah and their unwillingness to become a stumbling block to their own faith, they pull through and continue to experience a better thrill of belief.

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How is this possible?

  1. Firstly, it starts with simple steps one of which is not to consider at any point of your journey to Allah as it being a passing consequence of something greater you are doing or trying to achieve. For example, not to think, “yes my religion is important to me as long as: I have a comfortable life, have free time, begin to see practising believers as backward, tribal and simple people only living unsophisticated lives, or warm to the idea that somehow to be a modern and up to date fashionable person, living life like your non-Muslim colleagues, I must take my religion less seriously”. If you are part of an Islamic group do not begin to take the objectives and purpose of the group for granted, or have a sense of feeling “it’s the same stuff all the time”, or “I’ve been there, done that..”
  2. Secondly and probably most importantly say this in your supplications to Allah both in your private times and special moments with Allah, “O Allah please do not make me see Islam only as a ritual, empty habit, but make me experience Islam at every moment, allow me to have the firm Iman like that of the prophets, the companions and your beloved servants”. At some point of your dua whether at the beginning, middle or end add this unique part to ensure your are asking Allah to always let you have a firm grip on the rope of Allah and not let it go.
  3. Thirdly, be in the company of righteous people, even if you do not feel like doing anything there at that time, the company you are with and the vibes they are emitting will one day uplift you. Even if you feel it’s the same stuff all the time. Take a notch of change of mind “I’m not going to lose anything being here so why not?” may help you get in the zone eventually and regain lost ground.
  4. Fourthly, it is also an essential ingredient required to understand faith is that anything in life has ups and down, at work, relationships between husband and wife, family etc. So, the same may also be the case with one’s Iman, it may feel empty and you may feel broken, disinterested in continuing to learn your faith. So know this and things will feel a lot easier.
  5. Do not consider at any point “I have done this or experienced this already and this is nothing special”. As soon as you begin to have this mindset in faith you will slip into a lower gear and simply go into an ego-centric cruise control mode. Where your ego is always batting off any further workshops, Islamic seminars that may come your way since you have “been there, done this”. Eventually, this mindset slowly overtakes everything faith related you may do and the taste of faith diminishes; when it comes to doing extra prayers, dhikr, charity or new Islamic workshops, your internal attitude is the above and whereas externally you display a persona of “not interested”.
  6. Another point of growing disinterest in practising one’s faith (for some) can arise from too much exposure to hearing about other people’s dreams, visions and spiritual experiences. It is an instance of losing value of a product simply because you have it or in this case hear about it all the time. Also hearing about other people’s experiences can lead to reducing the awe, sacredness and anticipation of reading about paradise, barzakh hell, etc from hadiths since it has already been dampened by personal experience and hearing from others therefore motivation to work towards something greater, and at the end to experience it is somewhat flat-lined if not lost. To remain balanced, you should accept that sometimes spiritual experiences can be felt however not be living life for them or base your religious faith just on experiencing things in this life. Otherwise it can make you lose the motivation to work towards something in the hereafter as you can slip into the mind frame of “meh… I’ve experienced this already and it’s not all that”.

In my discussions I have found the vibe that non-practising believers and once-eager-practising believers have is essentially the same. The non-practising bunch will often have an uninterested view of religion is because they see the other side of the grass as being less green and the once-eager-practising believers having practised the religion for a while, begin to believe the grass is greener on the other side and as a result religion begins to appear to them as a burdensome, repetitive habit. It’s a case of what next?

3 thoughts on “Facing a Religious Depression”

  1. Great article. Just some constructive points… May be add some real life experiences or even other people’s personal views around religious depression and how they overcame it. You need a lot more evidence to back your claims. The start of the article was clear and simply presented but, structure lacked towards the end with unclear claims. Maybe elaborate on what you meant by ‘hearing about other people’s dreams and visions etc’ ? Not very clear after that.
    Great idea for choosing this much needed topic and definitely more is needed around solutions in a practical sense. What can one do practically to overcome this religious depression? Have people experienced it? If so how did they overcome it?
    What were the benefits?
    Any beneficial religious interventions?
    Does Islam offer a religious mental health solution from a religious model perspective?
    Also it would be beneficial to address barriers that some Muslims maybe facing on a day to day basis and how can that be addressed?

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    1. Thankyou for your feedback. I intend to write a more constructive piece once i have some time available at my hands.. i wrote this piece at work and due to time constraints was not able to expand on certain points. I would also like to cover other areas associated with this and how it can creep into one’s overall attitude to life triggering something dangerous as a result. On the points of mentioning personal views due to confidentiality i chose to be very vague deliberately as i am aware certain people this post was targeted towards read this blog frequently and did not want to embarrass them. Nor, make someone feel i had done something and mentioned their personal experiences without their permission, maybe in a later post i shall mention these with their permission. With regards to your other points i shall take it on board in the next piece i write on this topic, insha’Allah. Ramadan Mubarak!

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  2. Great article and timely I must say. Good points noted by the first commenter. Anon.
    However I like to add that Allah sure knows that faith rises and falls as that is how he has created us. I guess that his why he puts in somethings once a year as a spiritual uplifter when the religious depression begins to set in. I see Ramadan as a big buffer for such. At least somehow even with the lows before Ramadan, during Ramadan one is able to lift up and you see that a lot of people who hitherto were non challant begin to get lifted and with counsious effort and prayer one gets his groove back on. The second thing Allah puts in place is hajj. Hajj once a year or once every 5 years or every other year is a good uplifter. When you go on hajj there is this always renewal that washes onto you. Every hajj is different and the scope and view and understanding is different.
    I believe this two Islam pillars are great ways to get out of the usual routine slouch and uplift from religious depression.

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