Suicide as seen in Islam
What is life?
Every breath of a human, every moment of his or hers life in all Religious traditions, their teachings, their guidance, their viewpoints, their perspectives is worth more than a priceless gem. These breaths the human being takes in order to survive in life and the moments of life itself are like the pearls of a necklace. Just as a pearl will embellish the appearance of that neck that wears the necklace of pearls, in the same way the life of a individual is enhanced by that person who looks after the moments of his life. No Treasure trove of any Ruler, no Sultanate of any Sultan, no Kingdom of any King, no Rulership of any Queen in tantamount is equal in value to one moment of an individuals life. Life in-fact in numerous places of the Quraan, either directly or indirectly, is described by Allah as a favour on human beings.
In one verse of the Quraan, Allah says,
” How can you disbelieve? Seeing that you were dead and He gave you life. Then He will give you death, then again will bring you to life (on the Day of Resurrection) and then unto Him you will return.” (Surah Al-Baqarah Verse 28)
The Islamic concept
Out of all the bounties Allah has bestowed upon human beings, the most precious is the gift of life. Each one us should remember that this life Allah has granted us, it is not our personal possession or our personal property. In-fact it is a trust from Allah, making us merely trustees. Because we are trustees we should utilise each and every moment of our lives in the paths that please Allah.
In one verse of the Quraan Allah informs mankind,
“And I (Allah) created not the jinn and mankind except that they should worship Me (Alone)”. (Surah Adh-Dhariyat Verse 56)
From this verse we can learn the reason why Allah created mankind.
How precious is this gift of life, we can learn through the Holy Quraan, Ahadeeth (Traditions and Sayings of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him)) and the Shariah (Islamic Law).
For instance, in one verse of the Quraan, Allah says,
“He has forbidden you only the carrion (flesh of dead animals), and blood, and flesh of swine, and that which is slaughtered as a sacrifice for others than Allah (or has been slaughtered for idols, on which Allah’s Name has not been mentioned whilst slaughtering). But if one is forced by necessity without wilful disobedience nor transgressing due limits, then there is no sin on him. Truly, Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.”(Surah Al-Baqarah Verse 173)
In the closing stages of this verse Allah talks about one who is forced to consume Haraam (unlawful) items due to the fear of death. Allah says, then there is no sin in him. For example, one is in severe hunger, such hunger that could lead to ones death, he consumes something that is Haraam (unlawful) e.g. Carrion, on the Day of Judgement he will not be questioned regarding these Haraam (Unlawful) items he consumed in order to save his life. Similarly one is fasting in the Month of Ramadhaan and severe thirst over-takes him, again it is permissible for him to break his fast in order to saves ones life. Even if he broke the fast by consuming Haraam (Unlawful) fluids e.g. Blood, Alcohol he will not be questioned regarding this. From this verse we can undoubtedly acknowledge how precious and valuable life is in the eyes of The Almighty Allah.
The philosophy of joy and pain
Life in many people’s opinion is a journey. Some even sees it as a pilgrimage. In the Islamic perspective it is a journey far beyond death. It is like a trip around the world. We stop in many different Continents, Countries, Cities, Towns and Villages. Some bring happiness and some give us grief. The white beaches, beautiful rainforests, buildings etc would force a smile on the face of many a person regardless of what grief he is in, but the sight of the poor, war-stricken and weak will give one intense grief. Life is a test from Allah, He tests people in various ways and times. He tests some by blessing them with countless bounties to see if the servant appreciates what he has been blessed with by Allah and he shows gratitude towards Allah for blessing him with these bounties. At times Allah in his infinite wisdom, puts a person in intense grief, to see if the servant turns to Allah and seeks guidance and help.
Excellent examples of both situations are found in the life and story of the Prophet of Allah, Ayyub (AS). Allah granted him many bounties, then he gave him such illness that the people around him could not bear. Prophet Ayyub (AS) turned to Allah for help and Allah in his infinite mercy returned all the past bounties upon him. In some narrations it has been said that Allah gave him more bounties than the amount he had before his illness.
In the Quraan Allah has mentioned the call for help of Prophet Ayyub (AS). Allah says:
“And (Remember) Ayyub (Job), when he cried to his Lord: “Verily, distress has seized me, and you are the Most Merciful of all those who show mercy”. So We answered his call, and removed the distress that was on him, and We restored his family to him (that he had lost) and the like thereof along with them as a mercy from Ourselves and a reminder for all those who worship Us. (Surah Al-Anbiya Verse 83-84)
In another Surah of the Quraan Allah says regarding Prophet Ayyub (AS):
“And remember Our slave Ayyub (Job), when he invoked his Lord (saying):”Verily Satan has touched me with distress (by ruining my health) and torment (by ruining my wealth)! (Allah said to him): “Strike the ground with your foot: This is (a spring of) water to wash in, cool and a (refreshing) drink”. And We gave him back his family, and along with them the like thereof, as a Mercy from Us, and a Reminder for those who understand.”And take in your hand a bundle of thin grass and strike therewith (your wife), and break not your oath. Truly, We found him patient. How excellent a slave! Verily, he was ever oft- returning in repentance (to Us).
Like Prophet Ayyub, each and every one of us is tested by Allah in someway or another. Some turn to Allah and seek help, as in the case of Prophet Ayyub and others turn completely to the opposite side, which leaves many in grief. These people upon whom many grieve and mourn are the people who have turned to suicide.
The classical origin of suicide
Suicide, or self-killing, has been known throughout the whole of recorded history and has been a phenomenon in every culture and social setting. It was noted in the Biblical Times within the Jewish and Christian faiths. It is mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita within the Hindu faith, in classical Greece and Rome, and later throughout the Middle-Ages, when the reaction to the heresy of suicide was severe hostility from the Universal Church, whose later fathers railed against the canonical sin of despair.
Suicide occurs in every culture, not only in the Western developed world, but also in India, China and, despite severe theological prohibitions, in Islam.
The traditions of the Testaments
Within the Judaeo-Christian tradition, there are eleven instances of suicide described in the Bible’s Old Testament and one in the New Testament. Perhaps the most famous death in the former is the suicide of King Saul following his defeat in the hands of the Philistines, heard in David’s lament, and ‘how are the mighty fallen’. Saul had sought the assistance of his bodyguard to help kill himself. The soldier was horrified at the irreligious notion of killing his appointed King, and turned the sword upon himself. Saul, apparently aided by such an example, then followed suit. It appears that the avert prohibition against suicide was first formerly pronounced by Saint Augustine, who in his City of God describes the action as a ‘moral sin’.
The Church did not always condemn suicide when, for example, following some severe assault, such as rape, the victim took a ‘virtuous’ or honourable way out. She could then claim sympathy and the forgiveness of her society and family, in both Roman and Christian times.
The Qur’anic decree
As shown, neither the Judaic nor Christian parts of the Bible are there direct injunctions against suicide. However, this is not the case in the traditions of the true religion, Islam, which continues to be a major influence upon many Islamic people.
There are a few quite specific sanctions expressed in the Quraan against self-killing. The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) also assigns suicide to the lower levels of Hell.
Allah says explicitly in the Quraan,
“And do not kill yourselves. Surely, Allah is Most Merciful to you”. (Surah An-Nisa Verse 29)
In another verse of the Quraan, Allah says:
“And do not throw yourselves in destruction”. (Surah Al-Baqarah Verse 195)
The impact of this injunction still has considerable force in Islamic countries, and it may be one reason why, with the exception of Jordan and Turkey, there is no recorded suicide in national statistics of the Islamic Nations. But, in the last decade or so there has been a substantial increase of suicide in Muslims living in Non-Muslim countries, namely Britain and America.
The modern implications
The current attitude and dilemmas, unlike in previous times, suicide can be discussed relatively easily today, even within the mass media of the late twentieth century. For example, in the worldwide magazine Time there have been three major articles concerning suicide, which while acknowledging dilemmas, were mainly concerned with where firm baselines should be drawn, accepting without question the ‘obvious’ rationality of such actions in many situations. Yet a little more than 100 years ago, Robert Louis Stevenson, in what was considered to be a horrendous book, The Suicide Club, found himself almost at the extreme end of the case of language, because he could not describe in sufficiently villainous terms the leader of this ‘devilish’ club. Constantly, modern poets and novelist have almost celebrated suicide.
The reasons that lead a person to commit suicide are as numerous and complex as the thousands of people who do so every year. Below are a few contributing causes of suicide:
Unipolar affective disorder (Depression)
The mental disorder usually called ‘depression’ is now described as ‘unipolar affective disorder’. The term depression is of course problematic, in that a low mood, or sometimes a feeling of emotional glumness, of living ‘out of sorts’ or ‘fed up’, is a frequent experience for many people. In this sense it is ‘normal’ and many people can feel ‘depressed’ without having depression. There is another side to this coin, where a person can feel particularly well, ‘on a high’ or with a feeling of well being. This can be the experience of a large number of people without it being felt, thought or obseverd as a problem or a disorder. A person simply feels in a ‘good mood’.
The causes of depression are many:
1. Mood: There is a profound disturbance of mood, which is one of the prevailing sadness and misery.
2. Cognition (To think deeply): There is an important disturbance of cognition, so that everything around them is interpreted dismally. Sufferers can believe they are hateful, worthless and, at the extreme, that they are already dead and responsible for the evils in the world.
3. Energy: There are very often tell-tale changes in mood and energy, in which the mood is especially low in the early morning hours, with relative lighting of misery in the afternoon.
4. Sleep: There is a disturbance of sleep, where it is quite usual for a person to be able to sleep almost as soon as going to bed, but with early waking, sometimes accompanied by quite enclosed changes of mood.
5. Appetite: There is a loss in appetite, and an apparently liked food turns to such, that you cannot bear the sight of it.
6. Stress: Stress at work, home, school etc can cause severe depression which can lead to suicide.
Isolation and detachment
One of the most common sentiments expressed by many of those who resort to suicidal behaviour is a sense of detachment from others. This is not so much physical isolation but refers more to a sense of moral insulation, where the individual has come to define his, or her, situation as so hopeless that others cannot help to put it right.
Substance misuse (Drugs and alcohol)
Addiction to drugs and alcohol, in this day and age, has become a major factor, which leads a person to suicide. In the past few months the media around the world have shown many cases of suicide due to drug use. Some have also predicted if drugs like cannabis was to be made legal, the death toll will increase due to this. The media have shown the devastating effects suicide has on the society around the world through drug use.
Loss of family or friends
One may feel isolated after the death or separation from family members or friends. Loss of a relative/friend causes immense grief, which may cause one to think about suicide. Some commit suicide thinking they will join the dead in the grave.
This many times has the same effect as the death of a loved one. Sometimes it may, make some feel life is not worth living.
One who is large debts, thinking he will never be able to pay-up and may resort to suicide, thinking he will no more have this burdensome responsibility on his head, leaving his next of kin this problem.
Sickness and disability
Severe sicknesses, which one cannot bear, can lead one to take his life. In many cases taking help from others in doing this act (Euthanasia).
(Above are only a few reasons why one may resort into taking his own life. Many others can be found through thorough research.)
Few events in life have the same impact on us as the suicide of a friend or a loved one. The loss of a loved one, from any cause, brings out intense grief and mourning. The response and emotions felt by the bereaved following suicide are very different to those felt after other types of deaths. The fact that a loved one’s death appears to involve an element of choice, raise painful questions which deaths from natural or accidental causes do not. Bereavement by suicide is usually prolonged. The grief is characterised by agonising, questioning and the search for some explanation as to why the death of his loved one has happened. Bereavement in this way often encompasses strong feelings of abandonment and rejection.
The sense of shock and disbelief following suicide is very intense. The most common and disturbing aspect of grief after suicide is recurring images of death, even if it was not witnessed. The finding of the body can be a traumatic experience. Going over and over the very frightening and painful images of the death, and the feelings these create, is a normal process of grief.
The statistical domain
Newly bereaved people always ask ‘why?’ However bereavement through suicide often involves a prolonged search for a reason or explanation to tragedy. Most people bereaved by suicide usually come to accept that they will never know the reason why a loved one did what they did. In the search for answers, different members of the same family may have different ideas as to why he/she took their life, it could strain family relationships, especially if an element of blame is involved.
Below, I have included statistics, which I have obtained for many different sources, including The Samaritans (www.thesamaritans.org).
· The World Health Organisation estimates that in the year 2002 approximately 1.1million people will die from suicide
· A global mortality rate of 17 per 100,000
· One death every 40 seconds from suicide
· In the last 45 years suicide rates have increased by 65% worldwide.
· Suicide is now among the three leading causes of death amongst those aged 14-44(both sexes)
· Suicide attempts are up to 20 times more frequent than completed suicide
· Although suicide rates have traditionally been highest amongst the elderly, rates among young people have been increasing to such a rate that they are now the group at highest risk in a third of all countries
· More people die from suicide than homicide in the USA, in 1997 there were 1.5 times as many suicides as homicide
· Mental disorders (particularly depression and substance abuse) are associated with more than 90% of all causes of suicide
· Males are four times more likely to die from suicide than women are. However , females are more likely to attempt suicide than males
· 2 suicides every day by young people in the UK and Republic of Ireland
· 80% of suicides by young men
· Suicide accounts for a fifth of all deaths of young people
· An estimated 24,000 adolescents self-harmed in 1998 – 3 every hour
· Alcohol and substance misuse are significant factors in youth suicide
· Contributory factors to youth suicide include unemployment, social isolation, recent inter personal life events and difficulties with parents, peers and partners
· 6,216 suicides in the UK, 439 suicides in the Republic of Ireland
· One suicide every 79 minutes in the UK and the Republic of Ireland
· More than two young people commit suicide every day in the UK
· Suicide figures are double the death toll from road traffic accidents
· Suicide is now the second most common cause of death in the UK for young people aged between 15-24
· People who make suicide attempts or threats are not just “attention seeking”, but are at the risk of harming themselves
· Most suicidal people are undecided about living or dying, and try beforehand to let others know how they are feeling, or give clues or warnings
· Somebody tries to take his own life every three minutes
· In any given week, at least 463,000 people have serious thoughts about suicide
· Every year around 2500 children or young people phone child-line about feeling suicidal
· Overdosing accounts for 50% of female suicides and 25% of male suicides
· Under 25 year olds account for 9.26% of all suicides in East Lancashire. Of which 2.3% are of Asian heritage
Statistics about suicide are difficult to collate, and many are inaccurate because of the sensitivity of the issue. According to some research suicide rates are 50%-60% higher than the official rate.
The deterrent factor
There are three areas where the law is relevant to suicide. First, while attempting to commit suicide has not been illegal in Britain since 1961, it is still a criminal offence under the ‘Suicide Act 1961’ to help someone commit suicide. Second, health professionals who do not take reasonable precautions to safeguard a suicidal patient who then goes on to commit suicide may be sued for negligence in the civil courts. Third, in some cases, people felt to be at grave risk of harming themselves can be detained for their own safety under the ‘Mental Health Act 1983’ (England and Wales), 1984 (Scotland), or ‘Mental Health Order 1986’ (Northern Ireland).
Our Beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAW) mentioned suicide many times, a few of these incidents are recorded in Muhammad Ibn Ismael’s, ‘Sahih Al-Bukhari’. In one incident narrated by Thabit bin Ad-Dahhak (RA): the Prophet (SAW) said, “Whoever intentionally swears falsely by a religion other than Islam, then he is what he has said, (e.g. if he says, ‘If such thing is not true then I am a Jew,’ he is really a Jew if he is a liar). And whoever commits suicide with a piece of iron, he will be punished with the same piece of iron in the Hell-fire.”
Narrated by Jundub: The Prophet (SAW) said, “A man was inflicted with wounds and he commited suicide, and so Allah said: My slave has caused death on himself hurriedly, so I forbid Paradise for him.”
Narrated by Abu Hurairah (RA): The Prophet (SAW) 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, he shall keep stabbing himself in the Hell-fire (forever).”
From the sayings of Allah and his Prophet (SAW), we can see suicide is not accepted in Islam and we can also see through other sources, it is also prohibited in other religions.
If one is thinking of committing suicide he should think about his friends and family, then he should turn to Allah and ask for his help. Talking to the Scholars and others would also help. Confidential information is also available through your GP. Many centres also offer help for people in these troubled times.
May Allah save us from this sin and give us all guidance to the straight path. May Allah save us from all types of grief and give us all entrance into Paradise.