New Article Series: Suicide in Islamic Thought.
Through this series of articles, we’ll explore the theology, law, and treatment of suicide ideation. The goals of this article series are stated below, and I’ll be releasing one article a week until the series is finished.
I hope to hear your feedback.
Denial is the worst kind of lie…
It’s been said: “Denial is the worst kind of lie… Because it is the lie you tell yourself.” One of those things that there is summary denial of in many communities, Muslims included, is the occurrence of suicide and suicidal tendencies. Suicide is one of those topics that is paradoxically treated as the ultimate taboo, only spoken of with a hushed voice and bated breath, and yet summarily condemned with the most righteous of indignation. Statistics confirm that suicide is much more prevalent than we would like to admit, and suicidal tendencies and thoughts even more so. Despite the statistics, most are in denial about its occurrence; “that” doesn’t happen to “us”, it is something “those” people have to deal with.
The often dry, distant tone used for sensitive topics like suicide can be quite off-putting. Theological and legal studies can come off as monochromatic in approach, leaving the reader with a feeling of despair or detachment. Let me preface this paper with some empathy. Not only have I studied and researched this topic, but it is one that has and continues to affect my life personally. I find it necessary to state this clearly in the beginning.
Some of what I will mention below may seem dry and legalistic. It may seem monochromatic and flat. I want to ensure those of you that are suicide-loss survivors, that I am very familiar with the emotional toll these issues take, as I am one of you. This article will not deal only with how Muslim theologians and jurists dealt with the topic of suicide, but how community workers and individuals can handle situations ranging from counseling someone with suicidal thoughts to handling the emotional fall-out of a love one performing suicide. Perhaps I will write another article about my personal experiences with this, but for now I will simply be laying out the issues alluded to above.
For those of you that have not been tested with these emotions, please rest assured that my research on this topic began well before I had to experience such a situation myself. Despite having known much of what I will mention below, as a suicide-loss survivor the pain was not deadened in any way and the hardship did not abate any faster when it happened. What I present below is a culmination of my research on this topic, and not an emotionally charged screed informed by my personal experiences. My hope is that those who read this who have not had to go through such an experience will grasp the nuance that surrounds the subject in Islamic thought and benefit from the resources provided at the end to help others. For those of you who have had to deal with it, I want you to know that you are not alone, and that there is always help available.
First Order Theological Precepts
The first and most important principle of faith is that God is One. He is the ultimate reality, and everything else is dependent upon him for their reality. This principle is certainly reiterated over and over throughout the Quran. Perhaps the most oft-cited verse about the oneness of God is Quran 51:56-58 “I have not created jinn and mankind except to serve Me. (56) I desire of them no provision, neither do I desire that they should feed Me. (57) Surely God is the All-provider, the Possessor of Strength, the Ever-Sure. (58)”
Because God’s oneness (Tawhīd) is so central to Islamic thought it is important to frame any discussion within its parameters. What benefit is there in discussing right and wrong, righteousness and sin, heaven and hell, if these concepts are not related back to some form of accountability? What good is any concept of accountability if not connected to some motive for holding oneself and others accountable? Of being accountable to someone or something? As Muslims then, we believe we are accountable to God for our actions. Both the things we do and those we do not do fall under the rubric of what God has permitted and forbidden, and as such we will be held accountable for our action or inaction in relation to that. If we truly see ourselves as accountable and socially responsible, then there must also be some underlying belief as to why we must be responsible as well. For the believer, this points back to the esteem and reverence held in heart for God’s commands. Ultimately it situates us within God’s creation as those He created to serve Him. Our religious well-being vis-à-vis our belief in God necessitates some amount of social responsibility.