What is it about religion that appeals to those who have been through trauma or depression? Is it that without something to give our pain purpose, we just wouldn’t survive? Or is it that it takes a bit of a blow sometimes to knock us to our knees and remind us how to pray?
It takes a certain kind of arrogance, I think, to be an atheist; to be under the delusion that there’s nothing above the human race and that we’ll answer to nobody when we’re done here. And perhaps it’s the humbling crush of a painful or traumatic experience that helps us to wake up and remember our vulnerability; our smallness and dependence. It doesn’t always take trauma to incite someone to turn to God, but it does seem to help. Like Rumi so poetically stated, ‘The wound is where the light enters’.
My Dad, a proud and defiant atheist, tells me that he believes religion is just for ‘broken’ people. He, like many others, thinks that religion is for those who are too weak to think for themselves, or just need something to give their otherwise meaningless lives a purpose. I can see where his theory comes from; it’s quite a common incident that when one falls, one reaches out for something to cling to, either to break the fall or to pull themselves back up. Sometimes the object that’s clung to is alcohol. Sometimes it’s drugs. Sometimes food. Sometimes a rebound relationship. Sometimes it’s religion. But if that’s all religion was, just a tool for pulling ourselves out from the darkness, then surely we’d discard of it again like an empty vodka bottle as soon as we’ve rebuilt our strength. And, to be fair, in some cases that is what happens. But not often.
Personally, I wasn’t noticeably ‘broken’ when I found religion. At the time Islam first entered my world, I was happy, confident; at an all-time peak. I wasn’t searching for anything to enhance my life or fix my problems, it was more a state of curiosity and intrigue. Yet miraculously, just as I had unknowingly secured Islam as a safety net to catch me, my precious happy world imploded.
Of course, I dived deep into the cushioning protection of Islam to help me through. Islam was the prop that held me up when I was down. Islam was the glue that held all my broken pieces back together. Through the heartache, misery, weakness, and despair I had found myself in, Islam was my warmth and my light. It was the medicine that numbed the fever. It was the float that saved me from drowning. On the days when I felt most tired from carrying around the heavy sadness, after salah I would curl up into a ball and fall asleep on my prayer mat, as though I didn’t want to move from that little place where I found the most comfort. I wasn’t alone with no one to turn to; I had my brilliant family and supportive friends to help me too, so it wasn’t like religion was a desperate grab for something to help me. It certainly wasn’t a last resort. It was just irrefutably, unapologetically there, providing logic, sense and reason to the madness unfolding around me.
Everything I went through in those short couple of years simultaneously occurred while my growing discovery of Islam was flooding my veins like new streams after a drought. My Dad bitterly attributes those difficulties and wounds as the reason his daughter ‘fell’ for a religion. What I hope Allah will one day help him realise, however, is that he needs to turn his looking glass around, as he’s got the story backwards. I took some emotional blows that forced me to my knees, it’s true, but I was already a Muslim by then. Islam gave me the strength with which I stood back up, the light in my eyes and the power in my heart that reinforced my rebuilding of myself. I didn’t fall for religion – my religion raised me back from the depths. In the way that alcohol would have destroyed me had that been my tool for softening my fall, Islam absolutely built me up like a super nitro premium upgrade version of my former self, alhamdulillah.
I don’t blame my dad for not understanding this, as you’re only able to see a situation from your own perspective. It’s just a shame that his perspective is distorted by prejudice. Those of us who have been broken, and then built back up with faith in God as the splints and staples in our bones are the truly, truly fortunate ones. To those of us who read the Qur’an not as just words on a page but as the most powerfully effective self-help book sent personally to us from the One who made us, well, I think that’s worth being broken for.
So, I guess my Dad’s right. Perhaps religion is just for broken people. Now show me one single person on this Earth who isn’t a little broken. Show me one person who isn’t incomplete, vulnerable, dependent, wounded, in one shape or another. Show me one person who wouldn’t benefit from a little light in their wounds.
“By the morning brightness and by the night when it grows still, your Lord has not forsaken you, nor does He hate you, and the future will be better for you than the past; your Lord is sure to give you [so much] that you will be well pleased.”
(Qur’an 93: 1-5)