In our previous piece, we outlined the Islamic position on suicide whilst also expounding on some of the common factors that may trigger suicidal thoughts within the individual and some of its possible remedies. In this article, we shall explore more about some of the other major causes that may drive the person to this pitfall of suicide.
Individualism and social media
Another important reason to consider is this notion of individualism, whereas, in most societies, ancient and modern, the individual will be considered a part of a greater whole and hence the whole is valued more than its individual parts, in the west however it is quite the opposite. From the times of the Protestant reformation to the early enlightenment era, the western tradition had begun to make an increasing emphasis on the freedom of the individual to function without any interference as he saw fit. The Bible was no longer a church matter, and the individual could interpret it as he wished, the individual was given rights and was told to make sure no one violates these rights. It was not that societies before didn’t give rights to individuals or didn’t understand their individual skills, but they realized the most basic reality of human existence, which is that a human is born into a community, not alone.
The issue with this particular line of thought is that if everyone is worried about themselves, who will be worried about others? If everyone only cares about their particular rights, skills, income and so forth, who will then care for the people of their community and aid the one who is unaided. This reality can lead the people towards feelings of hopelessness and despair, as personal feelings, accomplishments and aspirations are valued beyond all else, and if they are not accomplished, one has failed. It also leads to the feeling of being isolated, being alone and hence can create more lasting effects, such as depression or social anxiety. To add to this is the matter of social media. Social media is a rather new phenomenon and as such its true effects requires further research, however it seems quite obvious that it works on the simple functioning of temporary dopamine releases to keep the viewer hooked. The issue with such a system is that, not only is it designed to be addicting but also by simply showing the person everything he wishes to see, that can remove the excitement from life from actually seeing it, or actually doing it.
Main issue is the fake portrayal of the world, of expectations from individuals and of a false sense of advancement. Most people see these influencers or models, who have the best of bodies, faces, lifestyles and personalities, whereas they do not have it themselves and hence they try to measure themselves to this ridiculously fake standard, inevitably falling short. The problem is that neither are these models that good looking, their lifestyles that great or their personalities worth having, they simply show tidbits from their lives, many times enhanced and modified or rehearsed where they can act as if they are what they portray. This portrayal makes the normal viewer, who is none of these things, feel unaccomplished and insignificant, not realizing that most of what he or she is seeing, is not real to begin with. This obviously can lead to issues of lower self esteem, a sense of failure and insignificance. To further add to this, due to the marvel of the internet, we have many things that were previously impossible to be assessed by the majority of the people, accessible. Either it be pornography, different fantasies or desires of the person, the constant exposure to it makes it extremely difficult to leave the vice and better oneself. It makes it extremely difficult for the individual to find meaning and fulfillment in their actual relationships, or the actual world, since it now simply seems not good enough.
From the Islamic perspective the Muslim mindset is focused on one thing and one thing alone, which is to worship Allāh and hence do things that facilitate that goal. Allāh says:
“But there are some who employ theatrics, only to lead others away from Allāh’s Way—without any knowledge—and to make a mockery of it. They will suffer a humiliating punishment.”1
Hence Islam encourages moderation in amusement and entertainment, so that one does not forget his obligations and duties and nor allows his recreational time to become a harmful vice. The narration of the Prophet ﷺ strictly warns against excessive amusement, when He ﷺ says:
“My nation will be afflicted by the diseases of the former nations.” They said, “O Messenger of Allāh, what are the diseases of the former nations?” The Prophet said, “Excessive amusement, ingratitude, disunity, competition for worldly gain, hatred, and greed until there is transgression followed by upheaval.”2
Islam also encourages one to get married if he has desires for sexual intimacy and to avert his or her eyes from the opposite sex, as to not incur lust and desire upon oneself, when Allāh says:
“O Prophet! Tell the believing men to lower their gaze and guard their chastity. That is purer for them. Surely Allāh is All-Aware of what they do. And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and guard their chastity”3
This way Islam prohibits one from looking into sexual content, and to remain decent with his actions and sight.
Another matter to discuss here is the issue of nihilism, the belief that life is meaningless, or more specifically that there is no objective meaning to be found in life or existence. The belief is old, however in modernity it arose primarily in the nineteenth century from Russian and German philosophers, who after being intellectually dissatisfied with Christianity and being from an era of ultra skepticism, contended that life as a whole has no meaning. The mindset that every action one does, either it be helping a poor person, or killing a poor person, or loving one’s spouse has no meaning to it whatsoever, is indeed depressing and can leave one with a view of reality that is not only hopeless but dangerous. If at the end of the day nothing one does is relevant or makes a difference, then why should one do anything at all? One may contend that meaning can be subjectively inserted into life and that man spontaneously comes up with meaning, however such a belief is neither satisfactory or understands the nature of human existence. In order for one to be mentally healthy he must hold that what he is doing is meaningful, that his actions and life has some sort of purpose attached to it. After all, the mere fact of doing something necessarily entails that some meaning is derived from it, otherwise why would one do anything rather than nothing. The issue here is that it is quite easy to fall into a nihilistic frame of mind, due to the previous causes that were discussed and one may feel that life is simply not worth living because it is meaningless. The act of taking a life (your own) and saving one at the end is simply the same thing, as the value of both of the things is the same, which is nothing.
From the Islamic perspective, life is meaningful and purposeful, because Allāh has given us meaning by his commandments and assigned a purpose for our existence, which is to worship him and grow closer to him.
Allāh explicitly negates meaninglessness in the Qur’an when He says:
“And We did not create the heavens and earth and that between them in play”4
Life is essentially a test, where we are tested to make clear the truthful from the lair and the lair from the truthful. This way each and every single action of ours is meaningful and has real ramifications not only in this world but in the next. Islam attaches meaning to everything a person does, from his mere sitting to his thoughts and hence it is what it claims to be, a complete guide to life. God being the creator of everything and its sustainer, rewards deeds and punishes misdeeds, thereby not only giving great significance to everyday actions but also giving a clear path through life. Not only does it make things meaningful and rewarding but it makes the human being work for something much bigger than himself, which is for the Ummah (community) as a whole and ultimately for the sake of God. Thereby, making the meaning in life almost overwhelming and beautiful.
To give some basic Islamic wisdoms for the reader to internalize. We will begin by showing the spiritual significance of suffering. In Islam suffering is not shunned but rather seen as a thing to rejoice over. The reason for this is that Islam makes it explicit that trials and tribulations are a means to closeness with Allāh, rather than away from him. The path to Allāh is one that is covered by hurdles and obstacles, for how can the brave be known without a test to their bravery, how can the honest be known if there is no incentive to lie and how can the believer be known if there is no suffering to his belief. The Prophet ﷺ makes this principle clear when he says:
“If Allāh wills good for someone, He afflicts him with trials.”5
Hence Islam does not shy away from the topic of suffering but rather embraces it, as it declares that suffering is a gift from God, by which he fortifies the believer and further aids him in his growth. In order for you to truly reach your potential, you must go through difficulties that mold your character and harden your resolve. The example of the sportsman comes to mind, in order for him to truly be the best in his chosen sport, he has to sacrifice not only his time but his body, by putting it through rigorous training and pain, to attain the desired result.
The human being is mostly a heartless creature busy in what he does, having high expectations from everything he encounters and he can easily get lost in this world. Many times, most individuals turn to Allāh in matters of strife and suffering, when they cannot find a way out from their misery themselves. Hence suffering from this perspective is also a reminder from Allāh, to the individual that at the end of the day it is only Allāh that he has. The reality of life is such that everything and everyone can forsake you and abandon you. After all we know that parents may disown you, spouses divorce, friends betray or simply move you, the stranger may exploit you and at times you have to be reminded of this cruel reality, thereby causing you to wake from the slumber you have manifested by yourself.
If a person internalizes the concept that Allāh alone is enough for him and that he is not in need of anything else, then he walks through the struggles of this life because he knows that he was never dependent on this world to begin with but dependent upon the independent. As Allāh says:
“O Prophet, sufficient for you is Allāh and for whoever follows you of the believers.”6
The aim of the believer is also not to attain world praise, wealth or status but his aim rather is simply to get closer to Allāh and worship him. This aim is extremely strong, and even in matters of struggle or severe suffering, it gives him contentment in the heart and hence makes him endure and show patience when many others would have faltered and gone into hopelessness.
Another more general advice is to move to a communitarian society, or try to act in accordance with the idea of cultivating relationships which are more healthy and less individualistic. As is clear form every data we have on the matter of suicide, it is much less in the Muslim world even though the Muslim world has many real world problems of the economical and political situation compared to the west.7 Therefore it seems obvious that the points outlined about the Islamic perspective to suicide have led to this reality being the case. Also Islamic intervention has been shown to be effective in significantly removing anxiety and so has the recitation of the Quran.8,9 From these studies it seems rather obvious that the Islamic paradigm and ways to help individuals is working and that a more communitarian and or Islamic society garnered less suicidal individuals.
To conclude, the person himself has to convince himself that life is worth living and many times this can be done by changing habits, viewing the world differently, changing one’s company and using spiritual guidance. The matter has been exasperated with the byproducts of modernity as we have talked about it in this article and hence requires much more attention than it once did. We also suggest for everyone to help anyone who displays depression, anxiety and has suddenly changed his outlook or behavior in interactions that might indicate that he is going through a tough time. At the end we are not absolved from responsibility if we could’ve done something to change someone’s mind regarding their situation. For the one who is going through some suffering in their life or is hopeless, I would just like to leave him with this quote from Rumi where he says “Hardship may dishearten at first, but every hardship passes away. All despair is followed by hope; all darkness is followed by sunshine.” To converse with us please join our Discord and you can follow us on Twitter.
- Surah Luqman:9
- al-Muʻjam al-Awsaṭ 9249
- Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 5645
- S. Shoib, A. Y. Armiya’u, M. Nahidi, N. Arif, and F. Saeed, “Suicide in Muslim world and way forward,” Health Science Reports, vol. 5, no. 4, Jun. 2022.
- A. A. G. Saged et al., “The Effect of an Islamic-Based Intervention on Depression and Anxiety in Malaysia,” Journal of Religion and Health, Jan. 2022.
- A. Ghiasi and A. Keramat, “The effect of listening to holy quran recitation on anxiety: A systematic review,” Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research, vol. 23, no. 6, p. 411, 2018.