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Insanity, Suicide, Kufr, and the Need for Scholars

Shaykh Faraz Rabbani untangles certain recurring misconceptions regarding insanity, suicide, kufr, how these misconceptions arise, and how to dispel them through knowledge.

I’ve been told that people who suffer from mental illness may be exempt from certain aspects of Shari‘a. If that’s the case, why is suicide punishable given that a lot of people that commit suicide surely have some sort of mental illness?

Moral Responsibility and Legal Capacity

Our religion is the religion of Allah, the Wise, the Just,the Merciful, and in that not everything is black or white. There are also gradations in between. When we look at a soul there are those who are considered morally responsible. The same adult who is an adult with full legal capacity. Then you have those who don’t have legal capacity, such as the children or the insane.

But then there are also intermediate cases, e.g. with children there’s a difference between the young child and the discerning child. The child is gradually morally responsible, without being morally accountable. It is a responsibility granted as training for when they hit adulthood. So they’re generally encouraged, then, specifically encouraged, then, commanded with respect to the obligations.

Degrees of Insanity

Similarly not all those lacking mental capacity, short of full sanity, are at the same level. You have what’s called al-majnun. Someone who is legally insane or lacking legal capacity. But then there are different cases of insanity.

Some people are bereft of sanity. Day in day out, they’re not able to discern and distinguish between benefit and harm, right and wrong. They’re not able to make informed choices. That’s one type of insanity: insanity that lasts.

Then there’s also the lunatic. There’s incapacity that affects someone such that they may be sane at times and lacking sanity at other times. For example in our times like someone who’s bipolar in intense cases could be oscillating between when they have capacity and when they don’t.

Then there’s also an intermediate state between full legal capacity and the legally insane or the one without legal capacity, which is someone with partial legal capacity. A person with partial legal capacity is treated like the discerning child. To the extent of their capacity to discern, they’re encouraged to do the good. They’re encouraged to uphold legal responsibility in the things within their capacity but they”re not ultimately legally accountable, just like a discerning child.

Suicide Is a Major Sin

Different cases differ. Allah Most High tells us: “Allah does not hold the soul responsible for more than its capacity.” (Sura al-Baqara 2:286) We have a very nuanced, balanced, fair, set of legal criteria by which to outwardly judge different types of individuals and their capacity so that we are able to guide them towards their best interests.

Ultimately, Allah knows every single person and where they are with respect to their responsibilities. When it comes to suicide, the ruling of suicide is that committing suicide is prohibited, and suicide is itself a major sin. However, committing suicide is not kufr. Sins are one thing. Disbelief is another.

Just as we preserve the lives of others the first life that we preserve is our own, and no one should willfully take their life. That has implications in terms of end-of-life issues and so on. However, if someone commits suicide, we don’t hasten to judge. We don’t know what triggered it. What was their mental state and what would we call legal capacity at the time they made that decision?

Sensitivity Is Key

We have to be sensitive, firstly, with respect to the person themselves. We don’t know what state they were in. Secondly, we also have to be sensitive to the living. Their family has suffered a serious loss and so on. But at the same that we don’t affirm the absurd.

We’re not there to judge in the accusation manner: “That was wrong. They’re going to hell.” – Well, who are you? Are you the Lord? At the same time, we don’t we don’t go into conjectural rulings as well: “O, Allah will forgive him because he was in a bad situation.” It’s not your decision to make. These are sensitive situations.

Most of the times these kinds of confusions arise when things like that happen within a within a family, within a community – the trouble arises in these kinds of difficult situations because of two reasons. One is from people who take religion directly from texts without appreciating their context and understanding.

Textual Literalism and the Need for Scholars

People say, “O, there are hadith that say the person who commits suicide will be punished forever.” No, there isn’t. That’s not what the hadith is saying. What is the understanding sound understanding of that hadith? That’s one danger. And the connecting danger is, especially, the application of specific rules to particular situations is a specialized skill. That is why communities require scholars of guidance.

When people deal with a sensitive situation, how do you deal with it with these considerations? One cannot take a ruling from a book and apply it to a specific situation just like that, without training, because it is likely that the harm would be greater. There’s likely harm.

We should heed the divine command: “Ask the people of remembrance if you know not.” This of course requires attention to supporting institutions that facilitate scholars to be teaching in their communities. We have to have people of knowledge in every community.

It is obligatory that there be jurists who have the capacity, who have learned our religious tradition soundly and reliably, and who are trained to apply that to the the social and lived context of individuals and communities that they operate in. That is critical and we have grave shortcomings in that around the world.


Seeking Out A Culturally-Sensitive Counsellor, by Ustadha Raidah Shah Idil

Working for the SeekersHub Question and Answer service constantly reminds Ustadha Raidah Shah Idil about the importance of looking after our emotional and mental health.

So many Muslims around the world are struggling with different forms of psychological imbalance. To name a few: anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and so on. These inward fractures mirror the outward fractures we see in our troubled world today.
We live in stressful times, and many of our trials begin in our family homes. Many families lack the knowledge and training necessary to deal with these issues, hence, difficulties often escalate.
I feel like in almost every question I respond to, I encourage the distressed questioner and his/her loved ones to see a culturally-sensitive counsellor.
What does that actually look like? Does he/she have to be Muslim? Not necessarily. That would be ideal, but it’s not always possible.
Some aspects of a culturally-sensitive counsellor are:

Understanding

A counsellor who understands Muslims and what is important to us would be much more in tune with your needs. It’s exhausting to need to justify and explain your stance to an ignorant counsellor. Most people who are at counselling are already tired and stretched thin.

Open-minded

An open-minded counsellor is able to support you even if his/her values are different to yours. This applies to both Muslim and non-Muslim counsellors.

Empowering

Many people enter therapy believing that his/her counsellor will magically solve their problems. This does not solve the long-term issue of whatever caused the issue to begin with e.g. victim mentality, difficulty handling strong emotions etc.
The best kind of counsellor doesn’t tell you what to do. Rather, he/she will help you tap into your own values, and help you come to your own decision.

Good rapport

Trust your gut. If speaking to your counsellor makes you feel worse, then reflect on that. Is it because he/she is encouraging you to step out of your comfort zone? Or is it because she is being condescending? Not liking what a counsellor has to say can be a signal for growth, or it could be a sign of a mismatch. Be honest with yourself.

Empathy

The right counsellor feels for your pain, but does not do so from a place of sympathy and condescension. The right counsellor helps to hold you accountable for what you do, and believes in your ability to overcome hardship.

Finding the right counsellor

So now that we’ve covered some important qualities in a culturally-sensitive counsellor, how do we go about finding one? I wish I had an easy answer for that. The reality is that it’s a hit and miss process. Some counsellors will click with you, and others will not. Some people are able to find the right counsellor straight away, while others need to look for months, or even longer.
As with anything, start with asking Allah. Perform the Prayer of Need. When you do come across a potential counsellor, then perform the Prayer of Guidance. InshaAllah, Allah will make it clear to you.
To help you find the right counsellor for you, speak to Muslims who are working or volunteering in the mental health field. Ask your doctor. Do your research. Above all, place your trust in Allah, and in His promise that after every hardship, comes ease.
[cwa id=’cta’]

Resources for seekers

Is Bipolar Disorder an Excuse to Not Fast?

Answered by Ustadh Salman Younas

Question: I have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. When I get episodes my entire life completely crashes for 6 months. Studies regarding bipolar Muslims fasting stress the chance to fall into an episode again. I take medications daily. I live in a place where fast is up to 21 hours. Should I fast this Ramadan?

Answer: assalamu alaykum

May God grant you a ease and well-being.

Fasting & Illness

Based on what you have mentioned, there seems to be real reason to worry about the fasts of Ramadan affecting your health, particularly when said fasts occur in the summer months where they can be extremely long.

I described your situation to Dr. Asim Yusuf, a religious scholar and consultant psychiatrist, who stated that lack of sleep, changes to one’s medication regime/schedule (a gap of 16-18 hours between meds can destabilize some), and tiredness are all recognized as precipitant of mania. While fasts in themselves do not pose a problem, the length of the fast in your case, which is 21 hours, was described by him as a concern.

In light of this, it is advisable to base your judgment on your own past experience. If you feel that there is a reasonable chance that fasting for so long will trigger manic episodes and depression, then you should absolutely not fast and make these missed fasts up when you are able, such as when the days are shorter during the winter. Based on what you have described concerning the length these episodes last and the recovery period, i would personally advise you to no take any chances with fasting if you have reasonable fear that it may cause you harm based on your past experience and personal judgment.

If you have difficulty making such a judgment, you should consult a reliable doctor. This will also be a valid basis for making a decision on whether you should fast or not.

Reward for Good Intentions

Once again, I will stress that your health takes precedence. God does not burden one more than he or she can bear as stated in Quran 2:286. There is a reason He has allowed the sick to miss the fasts of Ramadan and make them up at some later date if able or pay some monetary value if unable to make-up the fast. This is out of His mercy and love for His servants.

There is absolutely no reason to feel bad. You will attain reward merely due to your desire to fast even if you are unable to actually do so. As the Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) said, “Whoever intends to do a good deed but does not do it, God records a good deed for him.” [Bukhari, Muslim] Ibn Hajar and others state that if one is prevented from doing it due to a genuine reason, the reward will be even greater than the one mentioned in this prophetic tradition. [Ibn Hajar, Fath al-Bari]

Fasting may be a major part of Ramadan but you can still benefit during the mont through prayer, recitation of the Quran, remembrance (dhikr), seeking knowledge, going to the mosque, and so forth. There are numerous acts of worship that you can continue to perform during the month, and the reward for each will be multiplied given that they are being performed during Ramadan. This is important to keep in mind.

Combining Prayers

Dr. Asim had also pointed out the that joining Maghrib and Isha prayers may be worth considering in your situation. Given that Isha can be extremely late where you are during summer months, lack of sleep, tiredness, and disturbed sleep cycles are again a real concern. As such, you should again use your judgment as to whether praying Isha so late effects your health. If you fear that it will, you may combine Isha when performing Maghrib.

I hope this was of some help to you. We pray that you be granted complete ease, well-being, and good in this world and the next.

Salman

Checked & Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Photo: Tom Varco