Frustration swells in my stomach, swallowing air with feelings of doubt and anxiety swirling in my brain.
I keep telling myself it’s easy, that everyone else here is finishing within minutes, whereas I’ve been here for almost an hour. There have already been a few people who have come and went, finishing multiple prayers, while I’m struggling just to start one. After the tenth time or so in bringing my hands up to my shoulder and saying “Allahu Akbar,” I once again wallow in my own frustration, my efforts feeling futile.
I struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder [OCD] in multiple facets of my life, with salah, or the daily Muslim prayers, being one of them. I recall my first signs of OCD regarding my faith from when I was 10 years old. I was trying to say “Bismillah,” or “in the name of God,” before going to sleep. I kept feeling like I was saying it wrong. In middle school, I feared that I wasn’t Muslim every time I tried to say the statement of faith and got bad thoughts. My bad thoughts weren’t on purpose, they weren’t desired. They were hated, and yet, it felt like it was my fault. And I’d go crazy trying to rectify it and not being able to dismiss those monstrous thoughts that consumed me with guilt and panic.
In college, it has been harder to reconcile the long time it takes me to pray with the pace of my life. For something that’s supposed to take 5 to 10 minutes but ends up taking me closer to an hour, it makes it really hard for me to manage my time and keep up with my schoolwork and trying to get enough sleep at the same time.
Prayer should be something I look forward to, a state of mind where I feel at peace and connected with God. But when my OCD intrudes in my time with God, prayer doesn’t relax me- it confuses me. It terrifies me.
I’m scared for the future. How am I going to manage everything once I get into the “real” world? When I have a job and can’t take 30- to 60-minute breaks whenever I need to pray, especially when my fellow Muslim colleagues only need 5, maybe 10 minutes maximum, to do the same thing?
How do I pray in front of fellow Muslims, let alone with them, when it’s such a challenge for me to keep up?
I want to join Taraweeh prayers to take part in the Ramadan hype. I want to be able to go to Jummah prayers and pray with my umma, or Muslim community, every week. I want to be able to balance my spiritual life with my student life.
It’s so hard to explain to others who don’t experience this same struggle as me what it’s like when I can barely understand and explain my OCD toward praying salah even to myself. It’s hard to put into words, but I’m going to try.
It’s knowing what I want to say, but feeling that I actually don’t understand. That I need to try harder to understand.
It’s my thoughts being in my grasp, but my words running away from me, being replaced by the unthinkable. It’s “good” thoughts that I intend to think overpowered by “bad” thoughts whispered by devils.
It’s being confused with which thoughts are mine and aren’t, but also knowing the difference. Knowing and doubting myself still tightens the knot in my stomach.
Islam teaches that God is the Most Forgiving, the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate among 96 other attributes. He knows my struggles better than anyone else, even better than I know them myself. He knows how much effort I put into getting my prayers “right.” But I still feel like it’s not good enough.
Even if a Muslim pronounces something wrong, for example, God still rewards them for their intention in pleasing Him. But why do I still fear being punished and that I am not trying enough when I really am?
Women are excused from praying when on their periods, and it’s always nice to have that break from the torture OCD gives me. But while many of my other female friends express liking the break too in general, I don’t want my OCD to scare me when I think about going back to praying after my period is finished.
I want to emphasize God’s mercy in my feelings. I want to let His kindness and mercy on me be greater than my fear of Him, especially when I know He knows how much I am trying. Maybe I don’t give myself enough credit.
Maybe praying scares me now, but I’m going to keep fighting.