Although I work in the mental health field this is a topic I have not really given much thought about until recently when I found about a close friend of mine attempted suicide. I was so shocked and distraught when I heard the news. In addition, I was even more concerned as this person is also Muslim and knows how suicide is viewed in our faith but due to how they were feeling it wasn’t enough to prevent them.
Suicide in Islam is viewed as a great sin by most Muslims many due to some of the following hadith:
Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “He who commits suicide by throttling shall keep on throttling himself in the Hell Fire (forever) and he who commits suicide by stabbing himself shall keep on stabbing himself in the Hell-Fire.”
Sahih Al-Bukhari – Book 23 Hadith 446
Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “Whoever purposely throws himself from a mountain and kills himself, will be in the (Hell) Fire falling down into it and abiding therein perpetually forever; and whoever drinks poison and kills himself with it, he will be carrying his poison in his hand and drinking it in the (Hell) Fire wherein he will abide eternally forever; and whoever kills himself with an iron weapon, will be carrying that weapon in his hand and stabbing his abdomen with it in the (Hell) Fire wherein he will abide eternally forever.”
Sahih Al-Bukhari – Book 71 Hadith 670
There was amongst those before you a man who had a wound. He was in [such] anguish that he took a knife and made with it a cut in his hand, and the blood did not cease to flow till he died. Allah the Almighty said: My servant has himself forestalled Me; I have forbidden him Paradise.
Hadith Qudsi – 28
These hadith are frequently used to silence the public and some Muslims believe that due to our faith we are immune to suicidal thoughts unlike non-Muslims. However, this is obviously not the case which sparked my curiosity led me to research more about this topic.
The first question that popped into mind was of course the role of mental illness. If someone has a diagnosed mental health condition especially of a psychotic nature, which means that their sense of reality has been distorted. For example, this person may suffer from hallucinations, delusion and paranoia. Will Allah still punish them if they were not aware of what they were doing?
If anyone has witnessed someone who is psychotic, you will know that this illness can be all encompassing and someone’s whole sense of reason can be lost. I have a lot of knowledge of Islamic law so it’s very difficult for me to answer this question however I know that Allah is most forgiving and doesn’t burden his believers with more than they bare therefore it can’t simply be a case of haram or halal there are individual factors that must be considered. In my reading some writers stated that they have come across scholars that were also trained in psychiatry who said if suicide is due to mental health issues then the punishments stated in the hadiths above don’t apply. But my question is can someone who is truly sane want to take their own life or can certain life circumstances be so horrific that suicide is justified as an option? Which also usually triggers the onset of a mental health condition in many causes.
One of the most commonly known suicide act by committed by Muslims are through suicide bombers. Most Muslims condemn these acts as haram, but some believe it’s an act of martyrdom especially in places like Palestine where your weapons will never match your opponent.
What if some was mentally ill and this allowed them to be more susceptible to be manipulated by terrorist groups to commit these acts. Or what if they genuinely believed that it was an act of survival.
One common theme between these two situations is the feeling of hopelessness and urgency that this act needs to be done to make the world a better place. For example, a suicide bomber may believe that by sacrificing his/her life it may help the bigger cause of world justice. A suicidal mental health patient may also believe that the world will be a better place without their presence in it. Of course, it is debatable whether these thoughts are rational but if a person believes them to be true are they punished?
I was recently listening a talk by Imam Shaheed Muhammed about the rise of suicide in our Muslim and communities. He spoke about the role of unprocessed psychological trauma whether through bullying, political instability, the rise of islamophobia and the effects that is having on our psyche as well as racism. He also gave the example of this hadith.
Abu Huraira reported Allaah’s Messenger (sallAllaahu alayhi wa sallam) as saying: By Him, in Whose hand is my life, the world would not come to an end until a person would pass by a grave, would roll over it and express the desire that he should be in the place of the occupant of that grave not because of religious reasons but because of this calamity.
This hadith illustrates that having suicidal thoughts is something that the Prophet Muhammed (SAW) already predicted that a lot of people will face due to adverse life events and that these feelings are not due to lack of religiosity.
In all the hadith stated in this article the common theme that resonates with me is that as Muslims we shouldn’t lose hope in Allah’s plan and that’s a big part of the Islamic belief system. Even in therapy hope is used in motivate people who have usually reached a low point in their psyche, that although your condition is difficult now there will be a brighter day.
Throughout the Quran all tries to keep us feeling optimistic as he knows that this life can be challenging.
“And, behold, with every hardship comes ease” – 94:5.
This is a very complex issue that I hope to write more about it as I continue to research about, please feel free to comment I’m very interested in hearing more voices on this topic.