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Suicide Prevention in The Muslim Community

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Be kind. For everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

Canadian based Muslim scholar Sheikh Azhar Nasser said it perfectly:

This World Suicide Prevention Day we need to change the narrative about suicide. I’m not denying that the consequences of suicide for the hereafter are in Islamic literature but we need to shift the focus and talk about how to stop Muslims in our communities from committing suicide. If someone doesn’t pray or fast all the time, we’d encourage them to and wouldn’t talk about how they’re ending up in hell, so why aren’t we approaching suicide in the same way?

Suicide: The Numbers

The Muslim Youth Helpline has compiled this report regarding the prevalence of suicide amongst Muslims. The survey received over 1,000 responses. Please feel free to read the report, below I summarise some key insights

  • 32% of respondents have had thoughts about committing suicide;
  • 40% said they feel they don’t have access to necessary help;
  • 37% of 19-22-year-olds keep mental health issues to themselves and do not tell anyone;
  • 27% know or heard of someone committing suicide;
  • 3% have attempted to commit suicide themselves.

Suicide: How Can We Support Someone with Suicidal Thoughts?

Muslim scholars, mosques, communities all the way down to individual families need to develop robust support mechanisms for anyone facing suicidal thoughts or general mental health difficulties. Here are some ways you can help:

Stop Focusing On The Sin

Suicide is forbidden in Islam. Every Muslim knows that. However, to keep reminding someone with deep psychological and mental health issues of this is not helpful. Knowing its haram does not suddenly switch off the horrible things they are feeling nor cause instant recovery. If anything, it could make them feel worse and cause further despair.

We need to approach people with mental health issues with empathy and non-judgement. It’s not in any way helpful or appropriate to threaten them with or mention hell.

Start Noticing The Signs

We’re very familiar with the habits, language, tone, mood, personality, likes and dislikes of the people most close to us in our lives. If we do ever notice a stark difference in someone’s demeanour, it could be a mental health problem. We don’t need to rush to any sort of judgement yet it only takes a second to ask them how they are. With so many Muslims keeping mental health issues to themselves, all it could literally take is to ask that one simple question that encourages them to open up.

Get Mental Health Training

The signs of underlying mental health problems and suicide are not always apparent. This is where it helps to get some formal training to understand how to recognise and support somebody with mental health difficulties.

Many Muslim organisations such as the Council of European Jamaats have already begun to launch such initiatives. This is a welcome step in the right direction. I’d urge all Muslim organisations to have some sort of mental health arm, be it training or counselling.

We don’t necessarily need to be trained by a Muslim organisation either. Mental health equally discriminates against all religions and races. Any accredited mental health awareness course in your local area is a good starting place.

Signpost Them To Help

Depending on where we live, there are a plethora of free and paid support services available. In the UK, for example, healthcare is free via the National Health Service (NHS). Anybody can self-refer themselves to a mental health service that can provide free and confidential help. Furthermore, there are organisations such as Samaritans in the UK who provide a 24/7 advice line for someone who wants to talk. 

Not everyone wants to talk about mental health with their family and friends. Maybe they’re embarrassed or feel like they’ll be judged. Of course, we should make ourselves as open and available as possible but it’s always helpful to make the sufferer aware of other neutral and external organisations that can help. It only takes a quick Google search.

Actively Listen Without Judgement

Active listening is to pay close attention to the words someone is telling us, along with any non-verbal body language cues they are giving off – without interrupting them midway. After they have finished speaking, we don’t rush in to give our advice, rather we paraphrase back what they have said to demonstrate they’ve been heard. This makes the sufferer feel understood and will immediately be a source of comfort. Not every conversation has to be solution-oriented. 

Listening with judgement means to set aside how whatever they’re saying is making you feel and simply listen. For example, if someone tells us they’re feeling suicidal we should ignore all internal thoughts and urges to say it’s haram and condemn them. We just listen.

Sometimes, the sufferer is not looking for advice and solutions. They just want someone to listen.

Ask How We Can Help

It’s really important our conversations with sufferers is question-oriented. I mentioned above to not rush in with advice and solutions, but it’s always good to keep the conversation flowing by asking questions. If someone is describing how poorly they’re feeling, it’s good practice to ask them more questions about their feelings to get them to speak and open up more. Letting it all out also helps ease the mental trauma. And instead of offering a solution, ask how you can help. Put the ball in their court. See what you get back and go from there.

Reassure Through Religion

We have to be careful about giving religious-oriented advice to a sufferer. Like I’ve already mentioned, talking about hellfire is of no use and, in my opinion, neither are things like asking them to do tasbih or a specific religious act to ‘cure’ them.

If it was me giving someone religious-based advice, I would remind them of how loving Allah (SWT) is and how He knows what they’re going through better than anyone else. I’d advise them to pursue ‘secular’ routes to recovery whilst being there for them myself as much as I can and to the capacity they want me to.

Along with that encourage them to speak to God about the troubles they have like they’d speak to anyone – in a conversation-like manner and remind them God is always listening.

At the end of the day, what works will differ from individual to individual. Some may need only one or two of the above-listed suggestions, others all of them, and others none of them and entirely something else. If you’re unsure, just ask and be there for them in a non-judgemental way.

As a community, let’s show more kindness. As the Noble Prophet (PBUH) has said:

Kindness is a mark of faith, and whoever is not kind has no faith.”

(Muslim)

Suicide In Muslim Communities

If you want to learn more about the prevalence of suicide in the Muslim community, please watch our documentary where we spoke to a number of Muslims who either have tried or thought about trying to end their own life.

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