How can we hold onto our faith when things get really, really tough within our respective lives? How can we face those situations with the help of our faith?– Anonymous
This is a very good question, thank you for sending it in. I think many people struggle with their faith but often don’t want to acknowledge it or talk about it. Questioning faith is very taboo sometimes and people may label you an infidel for even questioning Islam. I hope you know that struggling with one’s faith is normal.
Losing my religion?
While some people may shame others for doubt, I think that questioning your beliefs and understanding them are reflections of true faith. You can have self-doubt and question religion, but if you are able to answer your questions and remove your doubt your faith will be stronger than ever.
A weakness in faith does not mean you are losing your religion. Faith is not fixed. I see it as fluid; sometimes our iman increases and sometimes it decreases. There are different reasons for that, but we need to understand this and accept it. Rigidity and inflexibility will only distance yourself further and will also make you feel worse.
We all have doubts at some points in our lives, especially if we don’t fully understand what we believe. I’ve noticed a lot of Muslims are taught the “practical” side of religion, i.e. pray five times a day, fast during Ramadan, don’t drink or eat pork, etc. BUT they are not really taught the meaning and the “spirit” of the religion. I would argue these are the foundations that we need to understand and embody before mastering the practical aspects.
Reflection and Contemplation
I was blessed with having very good Islamic teachers in school that went beyond the basics. I remember I was taught that Islam is a “thinking” religion. The first word of the Quran revealed to the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him), after all, was “read”.
Many verses focus on contemplation and reflecting on the world around us. We are not expected to have blind faith. Islam encourages Muslims to use their mind to believe in and understand the existence of God. We should read and research to understand why we do what we do.
This is one of the reasons I have kept my faith. It gave me space to question things and examine my beliefs without feeling like I wasn’t worthy. Trying to understand my faith has strengthened it.
Reflecting on your faith and remembering why you believe can help strengthen it.
Faith in the face of adversity
I’ve been through some difficult times in my life. Some worse than others. I reflected on the hardest moments I experienced for this post and I decided to write about the time I really felt I was losing faith.
I moved to America for university when I was 18. It was something I worked hard for and looked forward to for many years. After the initial excitement of living alone in a new country wore off at the end of the first semester, things started getting hard. On my first trip back home for the December holidays, something really bad happened that deeply damaged my relationship with some of the people I loved the most. I can’t go into much detail, but it was traumatic for all involved.
It left a deep scar in me and haunted me for months. As I’ve explained in previous posts, I already suffered from mental illness and this event just opened the floodgates and all the feelings I managed to suppress and keep under control boiled over inside me.
I went back to the US when the holidays were over. It was winter. I still remember looking outside my window at the people outside, thinking about my situation. It was a grey, rainy day. I felt alone, ashamed and broken. I watched the people going about their day. I watched the rain drops rolling down my window drop by drop. The trees were bare and ugly. The air was cold and the days were short.
I looked outside my window and I wondered. I wondered what it would be like if I did it. I wondered what it would be like if I opened the window. I wondered if I could end things. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad? Maybe everyone would be relieved to be rid of me? I didn’t know how I could ever get rid of these feelings. How could I ever fix things? How would I ever get my life back? What did I have to look forward to?
I looked outside my window and I thought. I thought that this could all go away easily. My problems would be solved and I could end the pit in my stomach and bottomless despair I felt every day — the deep dark hole I had sunken into. I could stop the pain. That pain that lurked behind every moment. That pain that stole any smile that found its way on my face. That pain that clouded every thought.
I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror. I hated my very existence. I just wanted to disappear. Even when I smiled, when everything felt fine for a moment, it all would come rushing back.
But then I knew I could never do something like that. One thing that has always held me back is knowing harming myself in such a way is a sin. I didn’t always understand why, but I knew I couldn’t cross that line.
Then I thought about my family and friends. I just imagined them having to deal with the fallout and the pain of such an act. I couldn’t do something like that to the people I loved.
All of that pulled me back — it all started with my faith. Even though my faith was at its lowest point, there was something there. And I held on to it.
That was the day I decided to get help. Religion had always been the last thread I held on to and it was there for me that day. As much as doubt had filled my mind, I still had a faint voice in my head reminding me of how many things that I prayed for I received. I thought about how so many of my prayers were answered. Maybe Allah will listen to this one too? I prayed for forgiveness and I prayed for strength. I asked Allah to pull me out. I wanted to be saved.
I managed to get out of my room and go to class. My university had medical services and made an appointment with a a psychiatrist. He prescribed some medicine and said that I should go to therapy as well. My university had a counselling service and so I started seeing a counsellor.
Even though I had just started university, I had friends and they were there for me. I couldn’t share everything and they didn’t really know what was going on, but they were there. I had to smile and I had to try around them and that worked too.
Things got better.
Deen over Dunya
After that time in my life, I still fluctuated in my faith. I still do now. I notice that my faith becomes weak the more I obsess over my material life. If I am too worried about my relationship, my family, my education, my work, my finances — my faith weakens. My heart becomes hard and my mind becomes focused on those material things — there isn’t room for anything else.
I knew we had to prioritise religion (deen) over the material world (dunya), but I didn’t really reflect on why we are told to do this. Then I started understanding — it’s not just to please Allah and get to heaven, but it’s also for own wellbeing on Earth. I wrote a little bit more about this in another post.
This weakness in faith also corresponds to dips in my mental health. When I become obsessed over things, my mental health also deteriorates. Could it be because my faith has weakened? Or does my faith weaken because of the state of my mental health?
I think it is a bit of both.
If you are finding trouble with your mental health and it’s interfering with your faith, you may need to seek therapy. Sometimes when we experience mental illness, our feelings and thoughts are out of our hands. If our mental health is not addressed, it can be easy to start losing faith in God and lose your way. Do your best to address all your needs where you can. There may be other reasons why you might be losing faith. I touch on this in a previous post about Islam and Mental Health.
The power of faith will often shine forth the most when the character is naturally weak.– Augustus Hare
Religion as a tool
Over time, I realised faith is a tool for me to improve my mental health. It is a form of self care. Allah doesn’t need our prayers, praying is for our benefit. Praying makes us more mindful and connects us to what really matters. It reminds us that there is more to life than what is in front of us. I think this was the key that unlocked my understanding of religion.
When I notice my mood is dipping or when things start getting very difficult, I actually try to increase my acts of worship. I read more Quran, I pray more and pay attention to my prayers. It doesn’t always work, but I try.
I used to look at all of this as an obligation, like I have to do these things. But once I started looking at it in a more positive way (worshipping will help me feel better), I did it more often.
Changing my perspective helped me strengthen my faith and also taught me how to use it for my own wellness.
It’s the same with exercise. I used to see exercise only as a way to get thin. I hated going to the gym and I hated any form of sweating! My husband explained to me how important it is for our health to exercise regularly, I started thinking about it differently. I saw it as nourishment. I don’t need to exercise to lose weight, I need to exercise to increase my well-being. Now I actually try hard to stick to an exercise routine. If I don’t exercise, it affects my mood (especially in lockdown!). It’s a form of self care.
Wellbeing in Islam
I love this post from the Yaqeen Institute about how mindfulness and meditation is used in Islam. Mindfulness is “trendy” these days, but we have been practicing it all along. We just didn’t know it!
It has been proven that believing in a higher power and that there is a plan for you is helpful. When you believe everything is written, then you know most of everything is out of your hand. You have to do your best, but you can’t control the outcomes. Relinquishing that responsibility and control takes a lot of pressure off.
A new study found that religious coping strategies (i.e. accepting your situation by believing God has a plan) is very similar to the coping strategies recommended by psychologists. When you accept that things are out of your hands and you reframe your hardship more positively, it increases your wellbeing. Reframing strategies are techniques often used by mental health practitioners to help with anxiety and depression.
How to hold on to faith
I’ve developed a few coping strategies when I feel low. These are easy things I do to keep going and to keep my faith alive.
- Remember a time when you were happy. Know that this difficulty will pass and you will feel like that once again (even if it doesn’t feel that way right now).
- Remember that God provided for you in the past and He will in the future. Think about a time when your prayers were answered. Sometimes it takes a while for our prayers to be answered or sometimes what we asked for is not meant for us because something better will come along.
- Even if your faith feels weak, keep worshipping. If it’s hard to keep up with your prayers, just try to pray once a day. Read one page of Quran every day. Do small things to increase your iman.
- Think of what you are grateful for. Write them down, no matter how small they are.
- Reach out to any friends or family whose faith is strong and ask them to help you.
It’s ok to make mistakes sometimes. Don’t punish yourself and think about all the things you haven’t done or you should do. Take it step by step. When we are harsh on ourselves our hearts harden and we can become even more distant from faith.
We have certain obligations to perform as Muslims, but we are imperfect human beings. We can’t be 100% all the time and that’s ok. Allah is merciful and forgiving. I came across this story about the Prophet (PBUH) that made me smile:
When dispensing punishment, Prophet Muhammad was very cautious. He preferred to be forgiving.
At one time, a man who was guilty of a sin came to the Prophet begging to be punished but Prophet Muhammad kept silent and did not respond to his requests until after the afternoon prayer. When the man began again, Prophet Muhammad asked if he had prayed, the man responded ‘yes’ and was told that God had already forgiven him.Aisha Stacey, About Islam
I hope that helps, Anonymous. Trust yourself and trust in God — you will be fine.
Until next time,