Recently there has been a lot of press about suicide in the Muslim community due to the unfortunate suicide act in Mecca. Although it was very heartbreaking, it sparked conversations and raised more awareness about mental health in our communities. Particularly how faith and religiosity interacts with mental health.
As a MA student in psychodynamic counselling, I was interested in the psychological conflict that must have been going on in this individual. In addition, how we may try and understand suicidality using Islamic psychology and philosophy so that our communities are better able to understand and empathise with individuals. There are multi factorial layers that eventually lead an individual to take their lives and it’s not something that usually happens completely randomly. The international association for suicidal prevention says “Suicide is complex. It usually occurs gradually, progressing from suicidal thoughts, to planning, to attempting suicide and finally dying by suicide.”
There are a lot of pre-disposing social factors that may eventually contribute to a suicidal act. However, one common thing a lot of Muslims use to dismiss mental health issues is that it’s just a sign of low iman, all you need to do is pray more. At times it feels that as a Muslim we should be immune to mental health issues as faith should protect us from grief and despair.
However, having strong iman is dependent on multi-factors. In Stefania Pandolfo’s book Knots of the soul madness, psychoanalysis, Islam based on years of ethnographic research in about how Muslims in Morocco treat and cope with mental health problems. One of the interviewees an Imam that used ruqya to treat mental health issues said,
“There can only be faith and trust in god only if in the sense of humanly shared ethical action (amal), which is sorely lacking in a community reft by social exclusion, injustice and by form of death- in- life”.
Therefore, having faith in Allah is not simply determined by religious worship it’s also on our environment. As Muslim’s we don’t live in isolation we are part of a larger ummah, a brotherhood and sisterhood in which are supposed to support one another. Consequently, when there is political unrest, social injustice, injustice in the family home all these factors contribute to a sense of hopeless and despair.
Using concepts of Islamic psychology such as the nafs (self), qalb (the spiritual heart) and ruh (soul) the imam further explains what is going in the psyche of a person suffering from suicidal thoughts. He described that this sense of hopelessness leads to a choking of the soul (taqyiq al-nafs) aided through the wasawasa of shaytan. This happens when the nafs is overwhelmed with so much pain that the soul cannot see any drop of hope. Negative and destructive images are constantly being sent to the heart thereby blocking the hope of a different future, there is a complete sense of despair at present and despair forever. Which leads to suicidal thoughts about how to bring a close to their life.
Therefore what is happening in someone’s environment will influence their psyche and mental and spiritual health. This is backed up by hadith in which it is reported that Prophet Muhammed (SAW) also understood how social injustice can impact our iman. Anas (radiyallahu’anhu) reports that Rasulullah (SAW) said:
‘Poverty almost leads to disbelief.’ In addition, an authentic (sahih) Hadith: Sayyiduna Abu Sa’id Al-Khudry (radiyallahu’anhu) reports that Rasulullah (SAW) once made the following du’a: ‘O Allah I seek refuge in You from disbelief and poverty.’ Someone enquired: ‘Are these two equal?’
Nabi (SAW) replied: ‘Yes.’
When our basic human rights and needs are not being fulfilled it’s difficult to be the best version of yourself. Just as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs show to become self-actualised you need to have your basic needs met such as food, shelter, safety, security and a sense of belonging. The same point can be made from a spiritual angle from the quote from the imam that if a community and/or an individual is being faced with poverty, exclusion and lack of opportunity that can lead a sense of emptiness, ack of purpose in life and questioning why they are here.
As Muslims we know it’s important to try our best not to lose hope and to have endurance and remain patient. But the reality is some people do and as an ummah how do we help people if we don’t have an insight into what they may be going through. I hope that by writing this article I enlighten all of us to think about the multiple factors that can led someone to commit suicide. It is my believe that as brothers and sisters if someone in our community is scared to reach out for help it’s all a reflection on all of us. If we live in a supportive environment that will serve as a protective factor. So that if any of us are feeling that low there is an ear hope to listen.
Pandolfo, S. (2018). Knot of the Soul: Madness, Psychoanalysis, Islam. University of Chicago Press.Chicago