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.
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
Star HossainMarch 20, 2017 - - 8:11 am
My husband died too. But unless she died too, or unless I die, OUR CHILDREN ARE NOT ORPHANS!!!! People literally called my kids orphans, to my face. Mothers are what then, furniture?!
Sara Hildebrandt BorekçiMarch 20, 2017 - - 8:33 am
Right?! It bugs the heck out of me!
Nayeda BasitMarch 20, 2017 - - 9:29 am
Don’t get too agitated. It’s a cultural difference. In the west, an orphan is a child who has lost both children..in Muslim cultures, an orphan is one who has lost the father… dont know why..maybe because the father’s role as described in the Quran is of the provider of the family and caretaker of the wife..may Allah make it easy for u and your children.
Samiya Wahed-KhanMarch 20, 2017 - - 9:59 am
In Islam children who lose their father they are considered orphans.
Star HossainMarch 20, 2017 - - 10:00 am
Nayeda Basit NO NO NO NO. Orphan is an English word. Not an Arabic word. or·phan
a child whose parents are dead.
As in both parents, not just one parent and the other doesn’t count because she’s a woman. That thinking is beyond sexist, and so NOT ISLAMIC.
Star HossainMarch 20, 2017 - - 10:08 am
Unless you’re saying that in Muslim countries when the father dies, the kids are put in orphanages and the mothers lose custody?
Asmaa HusseinMarch 20, 2017 - - 10:18 am
Interestingly, I recently heard that in Arabic there are two different words/terms for “orphans” – one indicating a child who has lost a father, and one indicating a child who has lost both parents. I wish I knew the words off the top of my head, but I can’t remember them now :(
Children who have lost their fathers (even if their mothers are still alive), have certain rights in the community. They have the right to be helped, guided, and cared for at a higher degree than children who have two living parents. It’s not a derogatory position to be in – it’s just an added responsibility on the community to ensure that these children are taken care of in every sense :)
I’d also be interested in knowing what kind of responsibilities the community has towards children who have absentee parents (even if they are alive). That would be something important to research!
Sadiya AliMarch 20, 2017 - - 10:29 am
My children are called orphans too … but i think in islam men are seen as the providers thats why .
Star HossainMarch 20, 2017 - - 10:51 am
They aren’t though. I provide. I work. I provided for my husband when he had cancer. Muslim mothers are people – and it’s not an Islamic precept to call children with mothers orphans, it’s a cultural one. And it’s an insult.
Star HossainMarch 20, 2017 - - 10:53 am
Asmaa Hussein. Good – I’m glad they are two different terms in Arabic. That should translate over to English, though, instead of lazily using the wrong term, so when someone writes about children who lost their fathers, they are not degrading their mothers. It’s hard enough having to do everything on my own without people saying horrible things like that to my face.
Asmaa HusseinMarch 20, 2017 - - 11:25 am
Star Hossain May Allah (swt) reward you for all that you do for your family <3
Sherean MuradMarch 20, 2017 - - 1:13 pm
So sorry for your loss. My mom passed away when we were pretty young (not so young though) and people called us orphans and my dad is alive alhamdullah. I thought it was meant to indicate the loss of one (any) parent
Star HossainMarch 20, 2017 - - 1:24 pm
The Arabic word yatim means “fatherless”, literally, and in common usage can mean the loss of a single parent (I’ve been researching), but in English, the meaning of orphan is specifically for both parents. I’m not an Arabic speaker, and while I can understand the vagaries of translation, I still take offence. But I will take the time to explain the difference when I run into it again. I would hate for anyone to consider me an irrational non-existent entity :).
Bel HassinaMarch 20, 2017 - - 2:40 pm
Al yatim is someone who lost one or both parents . Like” yatim al oum ” means lost mother . So the arabic and english are different here .
Bel HassinaMarch 20, 2017 - - 2:45 pm
i understand very well the frustration my dear sisters .I am the mothers of 4 kids ,we lost my husband 1 year ago .and u will never let people call my kids orphans .i m here i m the mother and the father
Mokim Mohammad ElmoussaouiMarch 20, 2017 - - 8:16 pm
In Islam orphan isn’t viewed as negative. The community is responsible for the care of the orphan. If you marry and orphan you get more rewards. Islam put incentives for people to help and support orphans which in other societies were looked down upon
Star HossainMarch 20, 2017 - - 9:00 pm
Mokim Mohammad Elmoussaoui that’s not why I take offense – there are a handful of Muslims who helped me, and Allah knows what they did – but in this country, the community is not so strong. Everyone has busy lives. I remain the sole responsible party, and only non-Muslim relatives to help if something were to happen to me. But my children are not orphans, alhamdilillah. They have a strong and happy mother.
Star HossainMarch 20, 2017 - - 8:14 am
The worst thing you can call the child of a living widow is an orphan. When a child has a living parent, he or she IS NOT AN ORPHAN.
Sadiya AliMarch 20, 2017 - - 10:27 am
Star hossain , I’m sorry for your loss x
Ren AlhmdMarch 20, 2017 - - 7:36 pm
Poor lady inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi rajiun. I can’t imagine losing my husband, may Allah protect our spouses.