FAQ on Salah and Mental Health

FAQ on Keeping up Salah When Struggling with Mental Health: A working list.

This was originally devised for the converts’ support group I run, and I had many requests to make it shareable so I have posted it here for easy distribution.

Depression, anxiety, and other mental health difficulties can make it difficult to do normal daily activities. This includes religious practices and obligations.

It can be demoralizing and spiritually damaging to get into a habit of missing prayers, and developing an identity of “I am a person who stopped praying/misses prayers” can actually make the downward spiral of depression worse.

The following are some tips to make keeping up salah during low times easier, with the goal of limiting the number of missed prayers and preventing a person from developing a “not praying” identity.

The eventual goal would be returning to regular practices when feeling healthier.

Things to Remember:

  • There is no conflict between Islam and getting mental health treatment. Mental illness is not a spiritual failing. Medical treatment and therapy are all important and encouraged in our religion.
  • Keeping up with spiritual practices as much as possible has been shown to help improve mental health symptoms, and spiritual practices are an important aspect of treatment.
  • It is normal to struggle at times with Salah and this happens to all Muslims at different points in their lives. You are not less of a Muslim because you find this difficult.
  • Even if you miss prayers, you are still a Muslim, especially if you feel bad about missing them.

Tips and Modifications that May Help:

Prayer times

  • If 5 prayer times per day is difficult to maintain, consider praying one prayer at the end of the time and then waiting a few minutes and praying the next prayer right at the beginning of the time. For example, delay dhuhr prayer until the very end of its time period, wait a few minutes and then pray asr. The same can be done for maghrib/isha.
  • In extreme circumstances, dhuhr/asr can be combined and maghrib/isha can be combined. These combinations are allowed when traveling, are frequently applied by Shiites, and some schools of thought allow these combinations in emergencies as long as they don’t become a “habit”.
  • There are two options for praying dhuhr prayer: In the Hanafi school, Asr prayer starts about 45 minutes later than other schools of thought. Check with your local community prayer schedules to see which method is being applied, and you may have extra time to pray dhuhr.

Wudu

  • Some schools of thought allow wiping over even thin socks instead of outright washing the feet.
  • Some people with obsessive-compulsive disorder find that making a “dry ablution” by dry wiping, or making a sort of pantomime wudu, is necessary to prevent excessive washing episodes.

Prayer practice

  • Most “how to pray salah” resources include a lot of the sunnah actions and words of the prayer that aren’t *required* for the prayer to be legally valid and complete. Here is a list of the *obligatory* acts of salah ONLY
    • Opening takbeer
    • Surat al-fatiha
    • Allahu akbar and ruku’
    • Subhaana rabbi al-adheem one time
    • Allahu akbar and stand up
    • Allahu akbar and make sujud
    • Subhaana rabbi al-a`laa one time
    • Allahu akbar and sit
    • Allahu akbar and make sujud again
    • Subhaana rabbi al-a`laa one time
    • End of prayer while sitting
      • The tashahhud
        • Many converts find this difficult to memorize: break it into chunks
      • Ashhadu an laa ilaaha illa Allah wa ashhadu anna Muhammadan Rasul Allah
      • Instead of the complete “salawat Ibrahimyya” one can say simply a minimum of “Allahumma Salli `ala Muhammad”
      • One salaam at the end (to the right)

Other prayer modifications

  • Some people with depression find it easier to pray sitting if praying standing is difficult.
  • If you miss a prayer, try to make it up as soon as you realize.
  • Consider praying with others as often as possible. Sometimes it’s easier to let someone else lead the prayer and then they take on the mental load of counting raka`ats and saying the parts aloud.
  • Pray only the obligatory prayers and don’t worry about the sunnah prayers. The obligatory prayers are 2/4/4/3/4 raka`ats.
  • If you feel stuck in bed or a chair and can’t get up, you can make a “dry” wudu and pray as you are, even if all you move are your eyes.
  • Some salah is always better than none at all, even if you are inconsistent.
  • If you are struggling to find spiritual feeling or a connection to God during salah, don’t forget that a complete salah experience ideally includes some time after the salah to make duaa (personal prayer, talking to God) when you can say whatever you want in whatever language you want.

Lifestyle and support

  • Consider establishing a dedicated “prayer area” in your home. It can be small- the size of a prayer rug or even a hand-towel. This can call you and remind you to pray and can serve as a calm, beautiful, nice-smelling meditation-type area.
  • Try practicing some type of calming or grounding activity just prior to starting your salah such as deep breathing, dhikr, tapping (EFT), affirmations, reading a short verse of the Qur’an or duaa, or something that works for you.
  • As much as possible get support. If you don’t live with someone who can help you wake up for fajr or remember to pray during the day, consider finding a buddy or starting a prayer-buddy system or group text with friends.
  • Consider trying a salah or prayer times/adhan app to help you remember to pray.

Special SituationsSubstance Abuse

  • As per the Qur’an, if you are intoxicated or under the influence you should wait until you have recovered and then pray.
  • A hadith is popularly quoted that if a person drinks alcohol, their salah is not accepted for 40 days. This does not apply to people who are struggling with addiction and don’t feel in control of their actions. It only applies to a person who does not repent. Continue praying as normal even if you have fallen off the wagon and are using substances such as drugs and alcohol.

PTSD from Spiritual Abuse

  • Sadly, there are many women who suffer from PTSD surrounding religious practices related to having been spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically abused by men who use “religious” justifications and controlling behavior aimed at religious practices.
  • Approaching salah can trigger anxiety, panic, and other post-traumatic responses.
  • Many spiritually abused women report that they were told that their prayers are not accepted by Allah because they are “bad” or “disobedient” wives.
  • You are not alone, and you are not a “bad Muslim” like he may have said you are.
  • Remember that Allah knows you better than you know yourself and He is forgiving and merciful.
  • Some survivors of spiritual abuse recommend finding acts of worship to do first that don’t trigger PTSD responses, such as dhikr, duaa, spiritual reading (Qur’an or other religious books), etc.
  • Work with a therapist to learn ways to reapproach your spiritual life without fear.

Other

  • Discuss the importance of your spiritual/religious practices with your therapist. Even if they are not Muslim they can help you identify ways to create healthy habits that support your religious life.
  • As you begin to heal, challenge yourself. For example, if you’ve been wiping over your socks instead of making a full wudu you can tell yourself “today I’m going to challenge myself to make a full wudu” or you may say “today I’m going to add sunnah prayers to fajr”.
  • When you find yourself struggling with worship, Anse Tamara Gray recommends identifying acts of worship you find easy for you and doing as much as you can. So if salah is difficult, try increase in your daily Qur’an reading, fasting, or amount of dhikr.

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