A Heart-wrenching Story
Married at 16, she was the darling of her husband and mother of a sweet child. But after just a few years of bliss, she was plunged into, what seemed to her, lifelong grief and misery. Her husband died, leaving behind a young widow and a small orphan. The bereaving widow went back to her father’s house, but didn’t find any emotional support from her near ones. In order to save her face and her child’s future, she buried her grief deep into her heart and moved on with life, but the heat of that burning grief was never extinguished. It kept searing her inside throughout her life, and left her always depressed and angry with life.
Can you imagine living like that? And yet it’s a true story.
What made this woman’s life so miserable? The death of her young husband?
No. Allah has blessed human beings with an innate elasticity to spring back from grief. But if we try to suppress the process of healing, then grief keeps burning inside our hearts. Living like that, we become handicapped and unproductive, and lose sight of our life’s purpose – namely, earning the pleasure of Allah.
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The Science of Grief
Though each of us heals from grief in a different way, the basic process is curiously similar for all. Psychologists have long identified five stages of grief 1:
Their order and number of occurrences might vary from person to person. The good news is that the Quran and Sunnah supplies us with tools to ease this process.
The course of true grief can run smooth.
Stages of Grieving
1. Denial, numbness, and shock
On first becoming aware of the loss, the shock locks our emotions and sets off a sort of robotic auto-mode. This temporary numbness gives us a cool head to deal with the emergency.
Utilize this time to prepare for the subsequent stages. The first thing a Muslim is to say is “inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un” (Indeed we belong to Allah, and indeed to Him we will return.). (See Surat Al-Baqarah, 2:155-157)
“Forget what I own that I lost,” says Ustadh Nouman in explanation of this du’a, “I myself am owned by Allah… Even I will be taken away.”
Those who say this du‘a’ when calamity strikes earn the salawat of Allah, which means, Ustadh Nouman explains, that Allah “commands angels specially to make du‘a’ for those kinds of people.”2
This du‘a’ itself makes the rest of the way smoother, as we shall see.
You put yourself through “if” scenarios. If I had been more careful, it wouldn’t have happened. If I had taken better care of my husband, he wouldn’t have fallen sick.
It’s very painful to imagine that it need not have happened this way. Shaytan exploits these strong emotions of regret to push us towards extreme misery, disobedience and even disbelief.
Prophet Muhammad gave us some amazing advice to deal with this:
… Keep asking Allah for help and do not refrain from it. If you are afflicted in any way, do not say: ‘If I had taken this or that step, it would have resulted into such and such,’ but say only: ‘Allah so determined and did as He willed.’ The word ‘if’ opens the gates of satanic thoughts. (Muslim)
This is probably the most life-threatening stage of the five. We experience severe depression and a sense of hopelessness, and it’s so painful that you may feel like ending this pain by ending life itself. The future seems bleak, and you feel almost certain that you’ll never recover from this.
Prophet Ya’qub (Jacob) was so much pained with the loss of his sons that he went blind out of sheer grief. (Surat Yusuf, 12:84) And yet he is the model of patience – a beautiful patience. How come?
Patience isn’t a lack of pain. It is having hope in Allah. Though your vision is blurred with tears, you can still see the glimmering of a brighter future. Prophet Ya’qub never lost hope in Allah. That’s why he had “a beautiful patience.” (See Surat Yusuf)
Whatever we may have lost, we can get it back if we keep to the right path. Loss in this life isn’t the end. It was only a taste of what awaits us in the hereafter. Let this loss increase your craving for paradise.
This is the most spiritually dangerous stage.
When things don’t go according to our wishes, plans and predictions, Shaytan tempts us to ask “why” questions. Why did Allah give me so much pain? Why did Allah take away my husband? Why is He so cruel?
“When you see things you can’t understand,” explains Ustadh Nouman3 in explanation of the story of Prophet Musa and Al-Khidr, “at that point [it is difficult] to remember: ‘I cannot fully comprehend what’s happening here because what I know is a drop and the reality of this is the ocean….’ You don’t want to accept that you don’t know the whole story.”
These “why” questions prove one thing – that we know Allah willed it, that He’s in control. Thus we are already acknowledging Allah’s Names: the King, the Powerful, the Compeller, the Taker, the Sovereign, the Supreme, the All-Able.
Balance this acknowledgment with other Names of Allah: The All-Knowing, the All-Wise, the Most Merciful, the Kind, the Bestower of Good, the Noble, the Enricher, the Guardian, the Most Subtle, the Appreciative, the Disposer of Affairs, the Loving, the Provider, the Just, the Light, the Extender, the Giver, the Most Generous, the Helper.
“… there are other things happening that are in the unseen world, that you can’t see or feel or touch, says Ustadh Nouman. “… For all the bad that you’re experiencing, there’s something good that’s happening. ”
Turn your anger in the right direction – towards Shaytan. Be angry that he’s trying to incite you, seek refuge in Allah from him, and punish him by doing the exact opposite of what he desires – love Allah more and more.
At this stage, when we have finally accepted the tragedy and assimilated it into our store of life experiences, we begin to heal.
Acceptance doesn’t mean forgetting. We never forget people, pets and things that are precious to us, just because they’re gone.
Acceptance means we begin to look at the loss in a new light. We may feel blessed that we had their presence in our lives, for however short a period of time, and may realize that this was nothing but a taste of what awaits us in Paradise.
The things that had engrossed us before – how short we are of money, how we didn’t get the promotion we deserved, how our favorite TV series got cancelled– now seem insignificant and ridiculous. Our vision goes beyond these petty issues, and the purpose of our life comes into focus, giving us new inspiration to live and strive to get there.
In this way grief can make us grow, if we let it do so.
- Bayyinah TV, Qur’an: Cover to Cover, Al-Baqarah: 145-167