Post-Traumatic Sheikh Disorder | Part 1: Causes and Symptoms

Broken glass pane

The image of the sheikh standing up on stage, practically shouting to everyone “You better not have non-Muslim friends! You better not have non-Muslim friends!” became a screw my mind, twisting deeper every time I thought of it. Every time he stamped his foot, it drove a nail further into my heart.

That was the moment my long bout with Post-Traumatic Sheikh Disorder started.


Post-Traumatic Sheikh Disorder occurs when an impressionable Muslim is faced with a sheikh—a religious scholar — whose views are either extreme or hardline. Said Muslim then begins to obsess over the opinions of this sheikh, becoming confused and depressed because such opinions are a stark contrast to what they had been brought up to believe. The individual follows this logic: he’s a scholar of religion, therefore he knows more than me, therefore anything he says must be religiously accurate and true—no questions asked.

Post-Traumatic Sheikh Disorder can occur at any age, and whether or not someone is born a Muslim or becomes one. If left untreated, the Muslim could end up adopting these views as their own and spreading them. Everything contrary to the harsh opinion seems implausible—you doubt that anything less than harsh couldn’t possibly be the correct opinion because it’s “too soft”. Even more frightening is that once a harsh, extreme view becomes imprinted in your mind, it’s difficult to get rid of it.


Allow me to backtrack a bit.

At this point in my life, I had been a Muslim for several years but was still new to gaining religious knowledge. My previous experiences with religious scholars was negative. I once attended a two-weekend seminar left me frightened and confused and triggered anxiety attacks that had been dormant for several years (but that’s another story). The sheikh at that seminar was incredibly emotional, and I felt he guilt tripped people who didn’t feel the same intensity of emotion as him. I preferred learning through reading; it was safer, as I could stop reading whenever I wanted.

A long-winded set of circumstances put me at a weekend conference in Calgary, alone, surrounded by hundreds of strangers and constantly on the verge of another anxiety attack. Things had been going pretty well, until this particular sheikh (who I should mention was also a convert) got up on stage.

His tone immediately set me on edge. He was angry. I felt he was angry at me. And then he was telling me—shouting at me— that I am commanded by God to abandon any friend of mine who isn’t Muslim. He quoted the verse from the fifth chapter of the Qur’an:

“O you who believe! Do not take the Jews and the Christians for friends; they are friends of each other; and whoever amongst you takes them for a friend, then surely he is one of them…” (5:51)

At the time, the majority of my friends were non-Muslims. They were people I’d grown up with all my life, who accepted me as a Muslim, and tried their best to accommodate my new way of life. And now I was being told—no commanded—that they could no longer be part of my life. I felt a black hole open up inside of me. I was upset. I was confused. I was asking, “why would Islam would tell me to do this?”. I was asking, “how was that fair?”.

I couldn’t understand this. I was hurt. I was numb. Islam, once as clear as a pane of glass, had become cracked and distorted. I returned home two days later. When I spoke to my friend and mentor about it, he almost seemed to confirm what the sheikh had said.

But there was a verse that I held on to like a lifeline, that I would repeat to myself:

“God does not forbid you from dealing kindly and fairly with those who have neither fought nor driven you out of your homes. Surely God loves those who are fair. God only forbids you from befriending those who have fought you for ˹your˺ faith, driven you out of your homes, or supported ˹others˺ in doing so. And whoever takes them as friends, then it is they who are the ˹true˺ wrongdoers.” (60:8-9)

While it brought me comfort, I didn’t know how I could reconcile these two verses. Did one verse cancel another out? Were they referring to the same people? Why were these verses revealed?

My lone search took me to the dangerous minefield of the Internet.


Some symptoms of Post-Traumatic Sheikh Disorder include, among other things: panic attacks, depression, fear of gaining religious knowledge, fear of religious figures, aversion to friends, obsessive tendencies.

I would wake up and, for a brief few seconds, I would be blissfully forgetful of the whole thing. But then it would came crashing back into my conscience and wouldn’t leave for the rest of the day.

I became afraid of reading the Qur’an, afraid of coming across a verse that would scare me.

I would obsess over the issue, searching online for answers which often conflicted each other and would confuse me more. Even if one source said that, yes, it was ok to have non-Muslim friends—and even explained it in depth—there would still be dissenting voices that would say otherwise, and then I would be back where I started. And so I was stuck in a loop.

I didn’t dare talk to anyone about it. To me, all sheikhs became either like that man on the stage, stamping his foot and yelling at the crowd, or that man at the seminar, guilt tripping me about how I felt.

There would be times that I felt I “got” it, that I’d overcome the issue, but really I had just pushed it back for a while until it resurfaced.

I would spend the next two years grappling with the above and more.


Next: Part 2: Healing and Understanding

7 thoughts on “Post-Traumatic Sheikh Disorder | Part 1: Causes and Symptoms

  1. Wanderlust Muslim

    A funeral procession passed in front of our Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) and he stood up. When he was told by the people that it was the coffin of a Jew, he said, “Was he not a human being?”
    Bukhari book 23, Hadith 399

  2. Juzakum Allah Kheir for the beautiful reflection brother Aaron. I have had this conflict for my whole life. Still unresolved.
    The questions is the context of which those verses of the quran which should be studied, when were they revealed and what was Allah sending our beloved Messenger Sal’Allahu Alayhi wasalam to convey to us and warn us from. I am always in the constant struggle that, I do not wish to be arrogant and think I am above the commandments and warnings from Allah for He of course knows best. However, I have found some of my non-muslim friends remind me of a higher level of appreciation, worship, remembrance of Allah and perfection of my character in a way that muslims have not in some cases. Their accommodation (as you put it above) is sometimes even greater than my own muslim community for practicing my faith and respecting my beliefs…May Allah guide us to the best decision and path so we may never lose his countless blessings and mercy inn shaa Allah ameen.

    It was narrated that Anas (may Allaah be pleased with him) said: There was a Jewish boy who used to serve the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him), and he fell sick. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) came to visit him. He sat by his head and said, “Become Muslim.” (The boy) looked at his father who was with him, and he (the father) said, “Obey Abu’l-Qaasim (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him).” So he became Muslim, and the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) went out, saying, “Praise be to Allaah Who has saved him from the Fire” (Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 1290).

    1. Thank you Ramsey. Pretty much everything you said is how I’ve felt. Alhumdulilah, I feel I’ve been able to find a balance and an understanding that is applicable to my life (see part 2 of this article). May Allah give you the same! 🙂

  3. sunriseglow26

    I completely understand where you’re coming from, but don’t forget that the religion of Islam is one of balance, balance everything and if you feel someone is telling you to do something extreme as abandoning good people who are your friends that don’t make you into a worse person, then don;t worry and just move on. Islam is perfect but Muslims aren’t even Sheikhs, so one must use common judgment when someone like that gives you anxiety with what he’s saying. I hope you will find a balance and warmth and comfort in this religion as it has brought me 🙂

    1. Many thanks! This sense of balance is something that took me a long time to find (and in some aspects, I’m still searching for it). I agree with everything you said, and have found Islam to be a comfort for me in difficult times. JazakAllah khair.

  4. Pingback: Post-Traumatic Sheikh Disorder | P2: Healing and Understanding | Muslisms

  5. Pingback: I’m Not OK, Alhumdulilah | Muslisms

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