Coping with suicide from the Islamic perspective
Nowadays, suicide is a phenomenon that is rife in our society. In the Merriam-Webster dictionary, suicide is defined as “the act or an instance of taking one’s own life voluntarily and intentionally especially by a person of years of discretion and of sound mind”.
Suicide involves people from all walks of life and across ethnic groups. Often enough, we read of press reports on individuals who jumped off either the Penang Bridge or some high rise buildings, hanged or poisoned themselves.
Statistics show that the suicide rate is alarmingly on the rise in Malaysia. The National Suicide Registry Malaysia (NSRM) once reported that out of 445 suicide cases monitored in 2010, 109 suiciders were between 30 to 39 years old, that is, they were in the prime of their lives. There are several factors that lead to suicide. They can include depression, hopelessness, tremendous pressure to perform at work, social pressures, failed relationships, lack of survival knowledge and the list goes on.
To help overcome suicide, several approaches can be applied. Be it the society or the authorities, individuals and groups have ways and means of reaching out and help those who have the potential or even tendencies to be suicidal. Experts agree that the practical way to overcome the problem is to seriously look into the root causes of suicide and tackle them effectively.
Legally, Section 309 of the Penal Code criminalises suicide. This means that it is an offence to even attempt suicide. Potential suiciders who are rescued in the nick of time can be charged and convicted under the Penal Code and face a jail sentence of up to a year, or a fine, or both.
As a spiritual alternative to prevent suicide, Islam has its ways of addressing the issue accordingly. First of all, researchers show that suicide rates interestingly appear to be lower among Muslims as compared to those of other faiths or atheists. The researchers, have attributed, among others, the lower rate to the religion of the Muslims.
Muslims, as most of them do, are required to submit themselves to Islam completely. Islam has its own codes of right and wrong. To fulfil the submission, Muslims have to abide by the codes, thus proving them to be practising Muslims. Failing to heed the requirements means the Muslim are either ignorant without proper religious knowledge or they are being recalcitrant.
Islam has laid a basic foundation to protect humanity. Its foundation is based on several major pillars that define the needs to uphold the dignity of all mankind and beings in the world.
The foundation, called Maqasid al-Shariah or the goals of Islamic teachings, revolves around five foundational goals—the preservation of religion, life, lineage, intellect and property. The jurist, Imam Abu Ishaq al-Shatibi (1388), also wrote on the Maqasid Al-Shariah in his work Al-Muwafaqaat fi Usool al-Shariah. He elaborated more on the Maqasid al-Shariah as the attainment of good, welfare, advantages, benefits and the warding off of evil, injury, or loss.
One of the foundational goals is to preserve the life of human beings, thus it gives a fundamental guidance for Muslims to not commit suicide.
Veritably, all aspects of Islamic teachings are based on the prime Syariah sources namely the Quran and the Sunnah (teachings, sayings, deeds, silent permissions or disapprovals of the Prophet Muhammad).
Islam strongly prohibits suicide due to its teachings on the sanctity of life. The Quran explicitly states this in the story of the Children of Israel for the guidance of mankind:
On that account: We ordained for the Children of Israel that if any one slew a person—unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land—it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people. Then although there came to them Our messengers with clear signs, yet, even after that, many of them continued to commit excesses in the land. (Chapter al-Maidah: 32)
Furthermore, the Prophet’s Sunnah also issued a stern warning to suiciders. He said, “Whoever kills himself with something in the world, he will be punished with it on the Day of Judgment” (Narrated by Imam Bukhari and Imam Muslim).
Muslims believe in the life of the Hereafter where every good or bad deed will be either rewarded or punished accordingly. Hence, taking one’s life by suicide will not solve one’s problem at all. Rather, punishment awaits them later.
The wish for death is also discouraged in Islam. Yet when the going gets tough for some in life, the Prophet teaches us a supplication as a solace, “Oh Allah, give me life as long as life is good for me and let me die when death is good for me”. (Narrated by Imam Bukhari and Imam Muslim).
Without doubt, there are many who face tremendous depression in their lives. For such souls, Islam urges them to not despair at all costs but think of the blessings of Allah which is actually abundant. What is life but a series of test. In Islam, a test can come in the form of despair or hardship or, little does one realise this, wealth and happiness are also forms of life tests. Whether one gets something good or faces something bad, it is an indicator of how far one submits to Allah in both happy and grave occasions.
Islam also stresses that “Allah does not burden a soul except what it can bear”. (al-Baqarah: verse 286). Thus, the Quranic verse indicates that one should be able to weather any calamity in life albeit the difficulties and hardships to the extent of one’s capability. Indeed, Allah promises that “There is ease with every difficulty”. (al-Inshirah: 5).
In short, Islam protects the sanctity of human life by its teachings and practical solutions. It urges the distraught to not despair and try their utmost best to get out of their doldrums while simultaneously, put their trust in Allah. Indeed, for practicing Muslims, they are very much guided in their lives by the Quran and Sunnah.