Of religion-related ptsd

Some of the comments that have been coming on the last few posts seem to be referring to what I am calling religion-related ptsd. As in, people who have had traumatic experiences with religion being triggered by certain religious buzz-words, stock phrases, ritual practices, or other things.

I didn’t used to know that this existed, either. Until I experienced it. Because it was one of the many things that supposedly didn’t exist, in the various insular, conservative Muslim communities that I have been part of or otherwise associated with.

We vaguely knew of it, in the sense that we had heard stories of supposedly hard-heartedly secular Muslims who for no discernible reason would get very upset by things such as seeing a relative pray. People would tell such stories for various reasons—sometimes, as a way of expressing just how misunderstood or persecuted they felt when dealing with non-supportive Muslim family. And people would listen to such stories, and shake their heads… we’re living in the end times—those times when holding onto faith will be like holding a burning coal in your hand. But hey, give good tidings to the strangers!

And sometimes shaykhs would tell such stories. Typically, in order to demonstrate their supposedly superior spiritual attainments. Because some claimed that they could somehow “see” into the hearts of people that they had just met and had hardly said two words to… but that they could nonetheless know what it was that had caused them to have such negative reactions to Islamic practices or buzz-words.

According to what I was taught, there could never be any acceptable reason to react negatively to anything Islamic, much less to stop practicing. Because doing such things was always good, which meant that doing such things—-whether it was saying “insh’Allah” or performing salat—had to be good for everyone, everywhere, at every time. After all, when even a person who is paralyzed is still supposed to make salat by moving their eyes, what possible excuse could there be for someone who could still make all the movements?? So, any person who was physically able to make salat, and wasn’t insane, would have no acceptable reason not to.

And if they couldn’t bring themselves to do so, then that must be either because they were lazy, or they had given in to Satan. Or maybe, for those who tried to take a more charitable approach, the problem was that such people had burnt themselves out by trying too hard to be perfect super-Muslims. Or, that such people had gotten involved with the “wrong” group or sect or shaykh—meaning, that once they received the “right” Islamic advice, preferably expressed in a kindly tone, they would immediately see where they had gone wrong, and be inspired to quickly return to being completely and “properly” practicing.

In a nutshell, we were taught to see the world in a very self-congratulatory way. There was no room for ptsd in our world because it didn’t fit the formula: believe the right things + do the right things (and avoid the wrong things) = jannah (inshAllah). There was no room for complexity. Raising even the possibility of a sane adult of sound mind (aka one who is mukallaf) who might be exempted from certain obligatory practices on mental health grounds would have threatened our entire belief system.

So of course there was no discussion about how to deal with religion-related ptsd. And we didn’t know that it could happen to us.

I’m not venturing to suggest any solutions. Just to affirm that religion-related ptsd does in fact exist, that it is an issue that some people deal with in their lives, and that those converts who are dealing with it are not alone.

And that it’s ok to say “no” to certain practices or situations in order to protect your mental health. When you know from experience that trying to ignore the warning bells going off in your head and perform a ritual or attend a gathering anyway is likely to end badly, then that’s enough. It’s nobody’s business to tell you what you should or shouldn’t be doing, when they aren’t your doctor or your therapist and what they’re going on is fiqh and their own ignorance.

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  1. #1 by Freedom2Be on October 5, 2013 - 6:08 pm

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