I attended a lecture one Saturday night at a local mosque where the speaker discussed the topic of “envy” (hasad). He went over the verses from Surat al-Falaq (Qur’an 113) that address the topic, using them as evidence that al-ayn (the evil eye) and the interference of jinn are evils that we have to be aware of and ward off with our daily adhkar (remembrance). I found it interesting that he described a myriad of symptoms that can afflict people subject to hasad and how roqya (a special form of supplication) could rid people of these symptoms. It hit me that many of these symptoms actually overlap with known neuropsychiatric illnesses and can be treated either with therapy, medications, or even with both. The speaker suggested that people should try roqya when they have these symptoms, and if that does not work, to then seek medical treatment. I could not have disagreed more with this last statement! It is not uncommon for people to go to religious figures asking for roqya, which many times does not work, and then begin the blame game. Was it the roqya that was not accurate, or did the sheikh (scholar) use the wrong roqya for these symptoms? Perhaps the sheikh did not have enough experience? Could it be that the person seeking roqya was not sincere enough in his or her pursuit of recovery? Or maybe this roqya needs more time to work. The options are endless and you get to pick whom to blame. The sad thing is that many times Islam gets blamed for failing to cure these symptoms.
Growing up, I used to pray at a masjid near my home. There was a brother whom I knew for a number of years who used to go there for jama`a (congregational prayers). Many times, he would stand in the salah (prayer) to make the first takbeerah (praise of God, said at the beginning of salah), but would keep having doubts in his heart about whether he made the takbeerah the right way. He would compulsively keep repeating it until he felt it deep inside. Many times, he would miss most of the salah because of this behavior. Another brother had the same problem with his wudu (ablutions for the salah). He would keep repeating his wudu time after time after time because he would feel that something wasn’t quite right about his wudu and by the time he got to the prayer hall, he would be soaking in water and would sometimes miss most of the prayer. These two brothers would get constant advice from the respected elders and imams in the community to do isti’aadha (seek refuge in God from the devil) because they were obeying his whisperings with their behavior.
If you have ever had an introductory course in Psychology you would have recognized by now that these two dear brothers had a form of an anxiety disorder called Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and that they would probably have benefitted from some form of therapy or medications. Unfortunately, in this specific situation, the side effects of the previous intervention (isti’aadha) could have been worse than the side effects of any form of therapy or medications. They might start doubting the validity of their du`a’ (supplication), possibly distancing themselves from Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He), or wondering if they are not worthy of Allah’s protection. This could lead to depression and estrangement from Allah (swt). I am aware of many cases of young people who turned their back to their deen (religion) because getting more religious and reading more Qur’an did not help with their depressed mood or their sexual identity problems. All they had needed was to get help from an expert in the field of mental health. (Try praying more qiyam (late night prayers) and see how that might help heal an open infected wound or an acute appendicitis!)
During the Napoleonic invasion of Egypt, many Muslim groups resorted to the mosques to make i’tikaf (a certain type of prayer) and read Sahih al Bukhari’s book of hadith (narrations). The rationale was that with the baraka (blessings) of reading this book, Allah (swt) would miraculously intervene to save Egypt from the French invasion. What happened to the Muslim intellect? Had they not read in Sahih al Bukhari about how the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) was a strategic planner in many military situations? It is narrated from Anas radi allahu `anhu (may God be pleased with him): Allah’s Apostle went out towards the Khandaq (i.e. Trench) and saw the Emigrants and the Ansar digging the trench in the cold morning. They had no slaves to do that (work) for them. When the Prophet saw their hardship and hunger, he said, ‘O Allah! The real life is the life of the Hereafter, so please forgive Ansar and the Emigrants.’ They said in reply to him, ‘We are those who have given the pledge of allegiance to Muhammad to observe Jihad as long as we live.’
If anything, it is with the blessing of their hard work that Allah (swt) granted them victory and saved the Muslims from absolute extermination.
Dear brothers and sisters, we sometimes struggle in our pursuit to achieve a balanced understanding of the interface between Islam and the world we live in. Our ummah (community) suffered a lot from people who secularized the relevant religious and sacred details of our human existence and the result was estrangement from the divine and a life void of warmth and spirituality. In the same token, we suffer from people who have misunderstood the dynamics of the cause and effect in this world that—by the merciful and wise decree of Allah (swt)—function independently of one’s religious affiliation so that life can happen and take shape and form. Because of their misunderstandings, our ummah missed out on the train of technical and scientific advancement and lagged behind for centuries.
One of the core general characteristics of our religion is that it is a religion of knowledge. That applies to both knowledge of the material world as well as knowledge of the unseen (ghaib) world and the effect that it has on our daily lives. Being able to navigate in those two realms requires a lot of wisdom.
When we tell people that roqya is the cure and it fails, we are sending a mixed message that can be unsettling to the faith. We are making an assumption that these psychological symptoms are curable with religious interventions, and when this does not work we are saying that religion failed in that sense. Our position should be more humble and a lot wiser. We should inform people that we really do not know what the cause of these symptoms is, and that we need to consult with experts in the field. We should tell people that in those instances we should make du`a’ to Allah (swt) (or make roqya) like we always do when we face difficulties and to ask Him to show us the way, rather than saying that this roqya WILL cure the symptoms. The difference between these two attitudes is remarkable. To do otherwise may cost some people their own faith.
Allah knows best.