He seems devout. He prays a lot and is so keen to follow the minute details of how the Prophet PBUH and his companions lived especially in how he looks and how he dresses up. It seems hard to catch up with him or compete with him in this game. However, you something doesn’t make sense.
You get to know her more, you don’t feel she has genuine respect to you or others. The more you see her in action the more convinced you are this person’s moral repertoire is slim at best. Those closest to her see the dark side of who she is. And when she is put to the test by means of challenging situations, traits like selfishness, ego, envy, narrow-mindedness and others come to the surface.
With such individuals, there is a huge gap between what they show externally and what they really have inside. They seem to do a lot for the sake of Allah. Their time is not their own. They offer their time and effort to philanthropic and social projects. They offer help to everyone in need, seemingly!
Such people are usually workaholics in their devotion and selfless in their giving. Or at least this is how it all looks on the outside. A closer look reveals a different reality. They worry so much about how much Quran one memorized, how many achievements “for the sake of Allah” you have accomplished, pay great attention to details of any ritualistic practice and have harsh parameters as to what they deem to be devotion. However, it is these external parameters that they care about. You might ask: is there anything wrong with these acts of worship? The answer is a big “NO”. But the problem is yet to be revealed so keep on reading.
The families of such people and their children suffer the most. Those closest to them are judged by them the harshest. They suck everyone close to them to the bone in order to maximize their da’wa cause and social achievements. They are so keen to be seen as the icon of religiosity and devotion. Reputation for them is an obsession, and as they claim not for their sake, but for Islam and Allah. If you work with them, you simply become a tool and they push you beyond every limit to give them every ounce of effort you could possibly muster in order to further their cause and become part of their great plans to help the community and guide humanity. If you fail to meet their expectations, you turn to a worm; you become an outcast, the selfish who only cares about himself and has no sense of devotion. At that moment, you lose all your basic rights as a human being. To them you are the epitome of disgusting self-centredness and you are a disaster upon Islam.
Exclusive Obsession with Externalities
They care only about external parameters: how many rak’ahs you prayed, how many books you read, how many surahs you memorized, how much time you put in certain project, etc. They hijack your right to choose what type of devotion resonates with you. They cancel your right to make choices about who you plan to be and the things you try to accomplish. If you do not become part of their plan, you become their enemy – and sometimes Allah’s enemy – and lose their respect. You have to be able to list a huge number of accomplishments in order to qualify as a human being, in their view.
Such individuals lead people with the whipping stick of their addiction to overwork. They want them to memorize more and do more. They want people to keep going, non stop. A genuine sense of humanity is not in their books. They justify for themselves to lie and bend rules as they believe their goals are the most noble and an abuse of the means is justified.
They think spirituality is a cognitive construct. They fake crying and emotionality and think this is the real thing. They can’t tell the difference between the real experience of sweet eeman and a mere facade. In their mind, both are the same.
If you have reached this point in this article, I guess you have suffered with such a person. If any of this rings a bell, you may find the rest of the article interesting.
What’s wrong with this?
Some athletes take steroids to enhance their performance and grow more muscle. Steroids allow humans to function at levels beyond their natural range and build muscle at a faster speed. Externally there is great performance and amazing progress. However, steroids eat at your system from within while offering external progress. The liver is poisoned and the natural ability of the body to grow and flourish is exploited on the short term while diminished on the long term. Some athletes die from steroid poisoning at an early age and some suffer a great deal in their later lives.
The main problem here is achieving exponential progress in the short term while compromising or sacrificing the long term sustainability. It is a dangerous trade off. Another issue of great concern to me in this article is the falsity of results. Steroid-induced performance is not a real human performance. The muscle growth achieved with steroids is not real growth. It is cheap and a quick-fix. It is not the real thing. A serious consequence of this approach is that if a society succumbs to this trend, then real genuine results will not be given due appreciation. The standards and expectations are raised to a point where natural performance and growth are belittled. This will attract more people to cheat and turn away from doing the real thing.
This is exactly the state of the form of religiosity I described earlier. Being religiously on steroids is very dangerous but due to its powerful self-righteousness and attractive externalities, it is hard to resist. It dominates the scene and pushes aside genuine religious growth and spirituality. It knows how to make a show game and hijack attention. It is a fake religiosity and a serious mental issue that masks its self as devotion. It is a self-serving mechanism but in subtle ways. It takes people away from the real thing and establishes the grounds for unethical religiosity.
Those who approach religion is such a way turn into religious monsters. And those who suffer at their hands will develop passive hatred to religion. They are intimidated and bullied into performing acts of worship and are brought to Allah under the whip of manipulation. They do things without conviction and have a deep sense of guilt and shame about themselves and others. Their live is plagued with emotional confusion and spiritual loss. And the only way to medicate themselves is to fall more into the trap of doing more and achieving more. The more they are sucked into this system the more they embrace it and become its new masters. They start chasing others with the same whip they were flocked with. And thus the cycles repeats itself.
What is the Root of this Problem?
I will be brutally honest here. I am sick of trying to be politically correct with such matters because it has not been of good service to my own relationship to Allah or even to others. The truth needs to be said, plain and simple.
Despite the religious facade such “religious” people put on, their hearts are corrupt. There are serious issues with their sincerity and adherence to the truth. Such people’s religiosity is selective, and most often not innocently.
Insisting on external features of religion whilst being overly negligent and averse to deeper and more subtle aspects of worship is not a random behaviour. It is a reflection of a persons intentions, interests and goals. While they do great things seemingly, their hearts are full of contempt, hate, jealousy, and more. Yet it never occurs to them these are greater sins than drinking alcohol and fornication as Ibn Al-Qayyim comments in his book Madarij As-Salikeen.
The hypocrites used this tactic in the early stages if Islamic history to give the impression they were truly Muslim. This behaviour of theirs came as a reflection of their intentions and agenda. They were not interested in the actions of the heart because these are not observable by others.
Therefore, someone’s religious profile reflects their most intimate goals and their approach to the world and life in general. Being adamantly and overly weighted in the external aspects of religion to the detriment of the actions of the heart and inner work of Religion is not a good sign at all. It points to an obsession with others opinions and recognition. It reflects immaturity and judgment, especially when this external focus is accompanied by disdain and contempt towards deeper and more subtle, yet profound, aspects of the Religion.
A person’s capacity is limited and thus no one person can encompass or master all aspects of the religion. The whole practice of religion is an incremental journey of growth. And there is no specific level that one is supposed to see as the end of the game. The skies are the limit for spirituality, piety, and obedience. The challenge is in sustaining a balanced pattern of growth internally and externally.
Thus, the real source of this phenomenon is corrupt intentions. And where do these intentions come from? Usually a personal trauma in early years of one’s life. A harsh or emotionally negligent parent can create damage in their child’s life beyond repair. This damage becomes the driving force for this child in their later life and this is where inappropriate approaches to Islam usually start from. This doesn’t mean every child who has been traumatized will eventually have an imbalanced approach to religiosity. It all depends on the person’s willingness to find effective ways of healing and moving forward in life.
What Can We do to Handle Such Individuals?
The safest way in dealing with such people is to really stay away from them, if possible. If a person is religiously on steroids, their passive aggressive nature could ruin your mental and emotional health. The pain such people live in makes them so adamant and seemingly sure of what they seek and what they do. Most of them are unwilling to be vulnerable in order to figure out their problem. They lock their real self in the basement of their unconscious mind and lead a life of vengeance. It takes a very strong person and a lot of work to help them out, with very slim chances of them opening up anyway.
What if such a parson is a parent or a very close relative and you can’t just stay away? In this case you will need to minimize your interactions with them to a minimum and work on your own personal growth so their negativity affects you less.
How Can We Help Them?
Counterintuitively the best way to help such people is to grow yourself and develop in a way that may inspire them to change. Your growth and development may get them to question their basic assumptions about how they function. But still don’t expect much. Life is too short to spend it trying to help someone who doesn’t want to be helped. And if you are so keen to help that person this may be a sign that you are emotionally trapped with them and for some reason you chose to make your growth dependent on their consent! You definitely need to grow free of such individuals for the sake of your akhira.
Allah Subhanahu wa ta’aala says in the Quran ((Every soul is bound by what is has earned)). You can’t be responsible for someone’s choices and actions. If you feel so, then you may be suffering from a state of inner misalignment. People have their own path in life and Allah says: ((You do not guide whoever you love)).
The solution is to focus on your own development and growth. Learn more about Allah and learn more about yourself and your journey in life. Make a good use of this opportunity to get closer to Allah and become the best version of yourself. Learn to emotionally detach from things that are beyond your scope to change and put your trust in Allah that He is Just and will never hand anyone a short hand.
If you feel uncomfortable with this approach to the topic in hand, that is perfectly fine with me. But you may want to check where this discomfort comes from. At times, it could be that a person is stuck in such a pattern and when this pattern is deconstructed, it causes a great deal of anxiety and discomfort. Or it could be you have a completely different view on this phenomenon. Nonetheless, the main point behind this article is to raise awareness and add perspective. I am confident it will help victims who suffered at the hands of the people in question to recognize their predicament and avoid staying stuck in intimidation and victimhood.
Feel free to share this article if you think it may get someone to think or check themselves against it. By raising more awareness we can help fight bullying in the name of religion and help many silent victims find the right approach to Islam and find themselves in their path to Allah.