JUST as every living being must taste death, so do all humans experience grief, especially when a loved one’s physical presence is no more. Grief takes various forms and manifestations and each person has her own way of experiencing and dealing with it.
For want of a better description, the American Cancer Association groups together many symptoms and calls it “complicated grief” that could take many years and much effort to manage. Mental health professionals must be referred to, it says. Certainly, they can help, but another possible treatment, for believers in a deity and the human soul, especially Muslims, is their faith. Faith of all humans is theoretical, a Quran scholar says, until it meets the challenge of practising it, when it is questioned and becomes shaky, particularly when attacked by grief of a severe kind.
The passing away of the most beloved one can create a sudden, deep, black abyss that stares one in the face, creeping upon one’s entire being, injecting a madness of spirit, a leaden heart and raging fire. The mind wants to accept the departure, having to speak in terms of the past, but the heart belies the possibility: it is only a nightmare, it says and will vanish soon. Condolence rituals are, however, evidence of the fact.
There is denial, a desire to follow one’s loved one into the realm of the unknown. In case of a terminal illness that extends over some time, the fear of the ultimate hangs over one’s head — and when it happens finally, the shock is no less. One questions God’s reasons. Did He not know of our potential pain? Could He not have given us some more time? Tears flow, sometimes in sudden outbursts, with hours and days of silence.
In the pitch darkness, a sudden spurt of light makes its way.
Others offer words of sympathy, but often tend to dam up the storms of tears, deepening the terrible pain inside. When these waters are not allowed to fall, they either solidify as ice, freezing one’s outlook on life, or transform into a fire, making the persons left behind bitter and angry with life. People cite the will of God: one must accept it; it is a better place to go to, they say: the soul that is gone is better off there. But the pain does not lessen; it becomes impossible to believe that life can be lived without that person shrouded in white and placed six feet below the earth.
In the pitch darkness, a sudden spurt of light makes its way. It disappears often, but re-emerges with force again and again, provided faith exists. “To God we belong, and to Him is our return.” (2:156). Our real home is with God, away from this temporary place and we are all lined up to go there. Only some are ahead of us although we are not aware of who will be called earlier. We shall go later, but our destination is the same. The Quran says: “And those who believe and whose families follow them in faith, — to them shall We join their families: Nor shall We deprive them (of the fruit) of aught of their works: (Yet) is each individual in pledge for his deeds.” (52:21)
When the Prophet (PBUH) lost his only infant son, it is narrated that he shed tears and said “O’ Ibrahim, were the truth not certain that the last of us will join the first, we would have mourned you even more than we do now.” (Heikal: The Life of Muhammad). There are promises plenty that we shall join our loves ones.
There is a condition, though. Our deeds must be of some worth. We must do good in this world; make an effort to possess and to practise high morals; be kind to and help others and fulfil our obligations, both to God and to our fellow mortals. We must carry out activities that are of benefit to those who have passed away. Many people consider that reciting verses individually or collectively provides such a benefit: this could be termed a misunderstanding that is widely believed. Reciting the Quran can bring peace and solace to the one who does so, but according to some schools of thought, it is only the deeds the departed soul carried out during her life or the extent to which she taught and trained others to carry forward this legacy, and they, in turn practise it, that can benefit her. The only other activity of benefit is to give sadaqa jariyah: investment in something that would be good for the people in the long term, for instance, a water scheme.
Those who lose their most loved ones may be consoled by the promise of rejoining them, provided they do good deeds, in the image of their beloved. May we learn from our role models who watch us from afar and join them soon. Faith in a just afterlife, God’s mercy and compassion will slowly but surely show and light up a way out of the darkness that surrounds those left behind.
The writer is an independent contributor with an interest in religion.
Published in Dawn, April 1st, 2022