I’ve recently suffered a terrible loss and am having a hard time coping. The advice I am finding online is all about self-care, being entitled to my feelings, etc. I need to find more meaning in what has happened and how I can get past it without becoming resentful.
Ja‘far b. Muhammad (may Allah have mercy on him) reports from his father, from Ibn al-Khazraji that his father said:
“I heard the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) saying while he looked at the Angel of Death who was near the head of a man from the Ansar: ‘O Angel of Death, be gentle with my companion because surely he is a believer.’ The Angel of Death replied: ‘Be at peace and relax, and know that with every believer, I am gentle.’”[i]
When I was given the news that my son no longer held life inside my womb, one of the first things that came to mind was to call my father, who had always given me wise advice and who serves as my spiritual mentor. I realize now that doing so was a big blessing from Allah. It resulted in me maintaining my spiritual and emotional composure, and not becoming lost in despair or in the dangerous “why” of doubting destiny.
Turning the Mind to Allah at the Moment of Shock
Upon calling him and breaking the news to him, the advice my father gave me laid the grounds for whether I saw this test as a mere difficulty or as a potential source of gaining the qurb (nearness) of Allah: “This is Allah’s Will and we are in the world just to please Him.”
Those aren’t words that most people would want to hear at a time like this. In fact, most people wouldn’t even think to say them. The common response is remorse and sympathy. But this response that my father gave me, even though it was not an easy pill to swallow, was exactly what my nafs[ii] needed to hear.
This life we live is so often deceiving in its comfort and glamor that we forget that for the believer this world is a cage.[iii] Allah Himself has promised that the believers will be tested. But to remember this fact, especially when the test is upon us, is very difficult. And I am eternally grateful that, by the grace of Allah, my father was able to remind me of this important fact. I do believe that helping me have this mindset towards such an enormous and irreplaceable loss, the loss of a child about to be born, factored in how I dealt with my grief. It helped me turn towards the One who had placed me in this situation, so that I could ask Him to make my heart steadfast on His decree.
Encouragement to Make Dhikr
I was constantly advised to recite:
إِنَّا لِلَّٰهِ وَإِنَّا إِلَيْهِ رَاجِعُون
inna Lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un
“Surely to Allah we belong and to Him we will all return.” (Quran 2:156)
اللَّهُمَّ أجِرني فِي مُصِيْبَتي، وأخْلِفْ لِي خَيْراً مِنْهَا
Allahumma ajirni fi musibati, wa akhlif li khayran minha
O Allah! Compensate me in my affliction and give me something better in exchange [for what I have lost]. (Muslim)
The advice to continue to make dhikr served as a savior from unwanted thoughts from the Devil, which could possibly lead to other thoughts and behavior that would bring about the anger of Allah. When we are in a state of grief our minds tend to focus on all the memories we have of our parted beloved ones, leading to thoughts of “what if…,” “I wish…,” “why me…” These thoughts can be lethal not only to our mental health but to our spiritual health as well, creating useless scenarios to torture the mind with what could have been, despite knowing that it had been written by Allah and there is nothing that can change the situation.
In order to prevent my nafs from going down this road, the training I was given by my father was very specific. I was told that the moment the thought of my son would come to me, I should recite the first dhikr, “Surely to Allah we belong and to Him we will all return.” And whenever the thought was accompanied by pain and heartache, I was told to recite the second statement, asking Allah for reward in facing the difficulty, and for me to be recompensed with something better in its place. And if ever the pain just got too unbearable, to reflect on the greatest loss a Muslim ever faced, which was the loss of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ, to which no other loss could compare in magnitude.
The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said:
“If one of you is afflicted with a calamity, then let him remember the calamity he faced by me [i.e. through the Prophet’s death]; for indeed, it is the greatest of calamities.”[iv]
As Muslims we need to remember that our mindset should always be, “Allah’s decree is superior to everything.” Of course that is not so easy to do when facing a trial, since the tendency is to focus on one’s self and not the bigger picture. By constantly reciting the above duas, I was being trained to keep my mind from wandering and to keep coming back to Allah, where my heart would eventually learn to find rest.
Finding Clarity Through Knowledge of the Prophetic Way
During the process of grieving, I was confused as to what I could possibly do for my son. As an innocent baby guaranteed Jannah, he didn’t need isal ath-thawab, or the transference of reward by doing acts of good in the deceased person’s name, which we are encouraged to do for adults who have passed on. He didn’t need my duas either, as every child born is upon natural instinct[v] (fitrah) and he died before ever reaching the age where he might sin or be taken to account for his actions. Basically, he didn’t need anything from me. But I didn’t know what to do with all of these emotions that were churning within. My husband and other male relatives washed and laid him to rest in his grave, which had been their act of service. But what could be my role in this time?
Shortly after, I was given a beautiful book by my father. It is titled Healing After Loss: Consoling the Bereaved, which is a translation of the 16th century text Consoling the Bereaved Through Reunion with the Deceased (Bushra al-ka’ib bi liqa’ al-Habib) by Imam Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti (d. 1505). The book is a treasure for aching hearts who’ve lost a loved one. Filled with authentic narrations about death (e.g. when death arrives; when the soul departs; how the soul is at rest until the Day of Judgement), it gives the reader consolation by providing knowledge of what beauty awaits their deceased loved ones.
The death of a loved one can be a lonely and confusing experience. In most Muslim households we are taught from a young age the process of death, that death can come at any time for anyone, and only Allah alone knows for when it has been written. After we die, we will be buried and the angels of the grave Munkar and Nakir will ask the three questions: “Who is your lord? What is your religion? Who is your prophet?” We are taught that at this point glad tidings of Jannah will be given to the believers who answer the questions correctly, while the non-believers’ torment will begin.
Despite knowing for a fact that they are with Allah subhanahu wa ta‘ala (and who could be a better Carer than Him?), after the death of a loved one most of us are plagued with more questions and thoughts. “Will I be reunited with my deceased loved ones?” “Can I communicate with them somehow?” Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti’s Healing After Loss: Consoling the Bereaved answers so many of these questions.
This book shines a light on the beautiful way Allah, the Most Merciful, treats the believers after death. It helped pull all my emotions out of a confused haze and helped me make more sense of them. The following are some of the narrations in the book that stood out for me.
Ibn Labibah (may Allah have mercy on him) said:
“When Bishar b. al-Bara’ b. Ma‘rur radi Allahu ‘anhu died, his mother cried uncontrollably. She asked: ‘O Messenger of Allah ﷺ, death does not stop seizing members from the Banu Salamah family. So do the deceased reconvene and reacquaint with each other [after death] so that we can send Bishar our greetings (salam)?’
He ﷺ said: ‘Yes, I swear by the One who controls my soul, they certainly acquaint with one another just as birds acquaint with one another in treetops.’
Thereafter, death would not approach anyone in the clan of Banu Salamah except that Bishar’s mother would come [to their deathbed] and say: ‘O so-and-so, may peace be upon you,’ and the dying one would say: ‘And upon you too.’ She would say: ‘Convey my greetings (salam) to Bishar.’”
Thabit al-Bunani (may Allah have mercy on him) said:
“It has reached us that when a person dies, his family and relatives who die before him comfort him [in the barzakh]. They are overjoyed to meet him, and he is happier to meet them than a traveler when he returns to his family.”
Ibn Mas‘ud (may Allah be pleased with him) said:
“The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: ‘The most mercy Allah shows to His servant is when he is placed in his grave.’”
Ibn Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) said:
“The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: ‘Every child is born in a state of submission to God (islam). So [if he dies before puberty, then] he will be in Paradise, satiated, and with a fragrant smell, calmy saying: ‘O Lord, bring my parents to me.’”
It is truly a balm for the grieving hearts to read about the honor and dignity the deceased believers are provided with by Allah Most High. I am grateful to Allah Most High that even as He tested me with something great, He connected me to sources via my beloved father that helped me get through the test and find that I was not alone, but that Allah was with me.
My father’s advice to me had consisted of three things: a) an initial orientation of my shocked and grieving mind toward Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala; b) the encouragement to continue making dhikr (remembrance) of Allah after the initial reorientation; and c) to seek solace in the guidance and words of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ via an authoritative source of religious scholarship.
My sincere advice for those suffering loss is to not lose hope, and not give into interpretations of loss that are spiritually unanchored and lead only to further despair. Find solace by turning to those who will help you think of Allah and what He is getting at by putting you through the test you are in. We as an ummah are not alone in our struggles; we have our elders, our scholars, and the beautiful example of Rasulullah ﷺ to serve as our refuge and as our beacons of light. Putting Allah first in moments of distress can make all the difference in how one copes with the difficulty, and what one gains from the experience afterwards.
[ii] Abdullah ibn ‘Amr reported: The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) said, “The merciful will be shown mercy by the Most Merciful. Be merciful to those on the earth and the One in the heavens will have mercy upon you.” (Tirmidhi)
[iii] Qur’an, Surah al-Anbiya, 21:107.
[v] Musnad Imam Ahmad
[vi] This hadith is listed in the tafsir of ibn Kathir as commentary for the verse in Surat Al ‘Imran 3:198, ibn Kathir, Isma’il, Tafsir al-Qur’an al-Adhim, Beirut: Dar al-Kitab al-‘Arabi, 2010, vol. 2, p. 173.
[vii] Abu Dawud
[viii] Sharh al-Nawawi ‘ala Sahih Muslim; quotation adapted from translation at: https://islamqa.info/en/answers/20064/rights-of-children [Last accessed: September 3, 2020.]
[ix] There is a difference of opinion on whether the sacrificial son was Isma’il (Allah grant him peace) or Ishaq (Allah grant him peace), with ibn Kathir holding to the position that it was Isma’il and al-Tabari holding to the position that it was Ishaq. Numerous prominent Sahaba, including Sayyiduna Umar and Sayyiduna ‘Ali (Allah be pleased with them), held that it was Ishaq (Allah grant him peace), to the point that al-Qurtubi stated “this is the position most strongly narrated from both the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) and his Companions.” However, this was not his own position nor the commonly held position among Muslims today, who generally hold the sacrificial son to be Isma’il. See: al-Qurtubi, Muhammad b. Ahmad, al-Jami` li ahkam al-Qur’an. Cairo: Dar al-Shu`b, n.d. vol. 8, p. 5543-45 and Shafi, Muhammad, Ma’ariful Qur’an: A Comprehensive Commentary on the Holy Qur’an, Karachi: Maktaba Dar al-‘Ulum, 2003, vol. 7, p. 466-72.
[x] al-Qurtubi, Muhammad b. Ahmad, al-Jami` li ahkam al-Qur’an. Cairo: Dar al-Shu`b, n.d. vol. 5, p. 3599.
[xi] Such as those relating to claiming the lineage of his wife’s offspring when there is doubt as to who the father might be.
[xii] This is a basic tenet of Sunni aqida, that actions are not intrinsically good or evil. They only acquire their moral value according to what Allah assigns to them.
[xiii] Qur’an, Surah Maryam, 19:46.
[xiv] For further discussion on this point, see the statements of the ahl al-ishara included by Imam al-Qurtubi in his tafsir. al-Qurtubi, Muhammad b. Ahmad, al-Jami` li ahkam al-Qur’an. Cairo: Dar al-Shu`b, n.d. vol. 8, p. 5549.
[xv] Qur’an, Surah Ibrahim, 14:37.
[xvii] Qur’an, Surah al-Baqara, 2:285.
[xviii] Ibn ‘Ajiba, Ahmad. Al-Bahr al-Madid fi Tafsir al-Qur’an al-Majid. Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyya, 2010, v. 6, p. 185.
[xix] Qur’an, al-Anfal, 8:29. The Sufis describe this process toward spiritual becoming as ‘ilm (knowledge), ‘amal (practice), hāl (praiseworthy spiritual state).
[i] Al-Suyuti said that al-Tabarani recorded it, both Abu Nu‘aym, and Ibn Munabbih have done likewise in al-Ma‘rifah.
[ii] nafs: lower self
[iii] Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “The world is a prison for the believer and a paradise for the unbeliever.” (Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 2956)
[iv] Ibn Majah
[v] Abu Huraira reported: The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “No child is born but that he is upon natural instinct. His parents make him a Jew, or a Christian, or Magian. As an animal delivers a child with limbs intact, do you detect any flaw?” Then, Abu Huraira recited the verse, “The nature of Allah upon which he has set people,” (30:30). (Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 1292, Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 2658)