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Depersonalisation and Prayer

I was recently asked whether the prayer of one who experiences a state of depersonalisation during prayer is valid or invalid. In order to answer this question one has to examine both depersonalisation and two rulings pertaining to prayer.


In lay terms, depersonalisation is an out-of-body experience. Taking that at first glance, one might think of mystics and 'urufa who discuss separating form one's physical body while embarking on a spiritual journey. For instance, I remember hearing a story where Sayyid Qadi Tabataba'i was with one of his students when he received a letter from a young Ayatollah Behjat (in his early 20s at the time).

The letter included a jurisprudential question: If one separates from his body for three days, does he have to repeat the prayers he missed? Ayatollah Qadi Tabataba'i exclaimed that Ayatollah Behjat was asking about something he experienced.


But, depersonalisation is very different than this. Depersonalisation is not a spiritual journey where a mystic separates from his body and travels towards the divine. Rather, depersonalisation is an experience where one feels detached from themselves, their feelings, or their reality, in an almost robotic sense. Such an experience may include detachment from emotions, loss of sensation in parts of the body, feeling like a spectator in one's own life, feeling detached from one's surroundings, perceiving objects as changing in shape, etc. There is no single known cause of depersonalisation, but it has been linked to a severe traumatic experience, severe stress, or the misuse of hallucinogenic drugs.


Regarding prayer, there are two rulings that can help us answer this question. First, anything which disrupts the form of prayer invalidates one's prayer. Second, one of the conditions of prayer is to have one's intention remain from the beginning to the end of prayer, meaning one must be aware that they are praying during the entirety of the prayer.


Hence, back to our question. Is one's prayer valid if they experience depersonalisation during prayer? The answer to this question would be conditioned in relation to the two rulings mentioned above. Meaning, if one experiences depersonalisation during prayer but continues to be aware they he is praying and does not perform any action or movement that would disrupt the form of the prayer, his prayer would remain valid. But, if the experience of depersonalisation causes him to forget that he is praying or causes him to move or remain motionless in such a way that the form of prayer is disrupted, his prayer would be invalid.


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