Author’s note: This article may contain triggering elements. If at any times you are triggered, please pause, check in with yourself, and do what you need to do to take care of yourself.
Editor’s note: This article is in no way meant to substitute for medical or mental health advice from a trained and educated mental health professional. Muslim Girl encourages those who need help to seek it, and encourages the use of resources such as therapists, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, and trained mental health professionals. You should never try to manage your mental health alone. You are not alone, and there is no shame in seeking professional help. Muslim Girl also does not recommend self-diagnosis; again, please seek the help of a professional. The following are the views and experiences of the author only.If you have feelings of self-harm or suicidal ideation, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
If you haven’t already read the first part of this series, We Need To Talk About Spiritual Abuse in Our Community, you can read it here. This will help you understand more about what spiritual abuse is, and what it can look like.
If you’re reading this, you may have come to the realization that you’ve experienced spiritual abuse. Even if you are no longer in the abusive situation, spirituality may have become triggering for you. Every time you hear a sheikh screaming in the microphone about hell, you feel it. Every time you want to pray, you sit wondering if your prayer was enough. Every time you read the Quran, you remember the spiritual abuse you endured. Every time you do something for God, you wonder if you are doing it because of the spiritual abuse, or for the sake of Allah. And so, being close to God through practice gets harder and you may start avoiding it. But then you’re left with the shame of the spiritual abuse and are unsure of what to do. What do you do when the thing you desire — your spirituality and relationship with God — is surrounded by the thorns of abuse?
Leave it. The thorns of abuse are not simply around the thing you desire; they are in it. The spiritual abuse will be found in every corner of your ideal relationship with God — because your idea of a relationship with God was informed by the abuser. Think of untangling a wet mess of yarn; it is hard to do, almost impossible. It is time to start fresh. Start with understanding what it is you believe in.
Part of your spiritual abuse may have been that you were discouraged from thinking critically or independently about your spirituality. You may have been told that you were questioning God, that it was a sin, blasphemy, shirk, or any number of things to make you reluctant to take ownership and explore your own spirituality.
This can be a difficult process if you’ve never been encouraged to think about your spirituality independently, and if your idea of God has always been given to you by parents, your abuser, and other people in a position of authority of you. In fact, part of your spiritual abuse may have been that you were discouraged from thinking critically or independently about your spirituality. You may have been told that you were questioning God, that it was a sin, blasphemy, shirk, or any number of things to make you reluctant to take ownership and explore your own spirituality.
Do you believe in God? Do you believe that you were created, that when you die you will go back to God? Why or why not? What is the purpose of religion or spirituality for you? These are big questions, and they can be scary. But, think of every prophet and how they had a similar journey, whether it was with Prophet Abraham wondering if God was the moon or the sun and rejecting both as they weren’t ever present, or if it was Prophet Musa’s struggles with faith, even though he had spoken to God. Think about it: Musa had literally spoken to God before, and he still struggled. The prophets had their own journeys in wondering about God before they were fully in their prophethood. Who are we then to not have go through these journeys of discovering God?
Musa had literally spoken to God before, and he still struggled with his faith. The prophets had their own journeys in wondering about God before they were fully in their prophethood. Who are we then to not have go through these journeys of discovering God?
The Quran is filled with verses that encourage thinking, questioning, wondering. And it warns against worshippers who worship because it was their father’s religion without questioning or thinking critically about their deen. Just because we are Muslim doesn’t mean we can’t also fall into the group of people who follow a religion simply because we were born into it.
Asking questions is not an issue — are we thinking critically through these questions? Are we thinking critically through the answers? Are we giving answers we want to hear? If so, more exploration needs to be done. Giving answers we want to hear is perfectly okay, but we need to understand why for our continued healing.
Now you’ve made the choice and decided what you believed in. How would you like to practice it? Look at the basic tenants of all the religions. Which one do you choose — if you choose one? They are all very similar, but have very important differences that are often informed by history and past rulers.
The Quran is filled with verses that encourage thinking, questioning, wondering. And it warns against worshippers who worship because it was their father’s religion without questioning or thinking critically about their deen.
Choose several religious leaders. Be diverse in your choices. Remember that religious leaders are human, too. They make mistakes too. They are also taught in very particular ways that affect the way they preach. A preacher who has children and was raised in a family environment will preach differently than one who wasn’t. A male preacher who is always only surrounded by men won’t be able to truly understand how to support women, as he would never be informed of their struggles. A cleric in Saudi Arabia will preach differently than one in the United States. Choose one that can best understand your struggles, and will support you best in your spirituality.
Your relationship with your spirituality, with God must be informed by you. Religion and spirituality take large parts of who we are, so how do we grow up using something to inform every part of us without understanding it? Without understanding it’s connection to us? Why we choose it? Be intentional as you learn and reclaim your spirituality. Spirituality is for you; make sure it feels good and is good, and is fundamentally making you a better, more well-adjusted person.
Ayah Issa is a therapist who works with trauma, spirituality issues, identity issues, depression, anxiety, and relationship conflict. She received her social work degree from Columbia University School of Social Work with a concentration on international affairs and community work. She works through a trauma lens with an understanding of community, spirituality, intersectional identities and a holistic view of the self. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.