Gratitude in Tribulation

A pious believer’s journey through stages of grief

Death is a deep reality and one of the things that will certainly happen. A Muslim is aware of the transient nature of this life, he knows that he could die at any time, even when he goes to sleep. It is clearly indicated in the Qur’an and Sunnah that God takes the souls at night when we sleep, and that sleep is a ‘type’ of death.

“It is Allāh Who takes away the souls at the time of their death, and those that die not during their sleep. He keeps those (souls) for which He has ordained death and sends the rest for a term appointed. Verily, in this are signs for people who think deeply” (Qur’an 39:42)

Thus, one ought to be grateful for every single day that he is alive, as life is a privilege that can be taken away at any moment. Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) said ‘Be in this world as if you were a stranger or a traveller’ as a reminder that one can return back to his creator at any moment. A believer must always be cognisant of death.

With death comes grief, which can be a major source of trauma. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) provided a practical and effective approach for grieving when he lost his son Ibrahim. He wept and said: “Verily the eyes shed tears and the heart grieves, and we are saddened over your departure, oh Ibrahim. But we will not say except that which is pleasing to our Lord.” (Bukhari)

This supplication provides the framework which includes mourning by allowing oneself to experience all the emotions as well observing patience by only saying and doing what is allowed and most significantly accepting the loss and acknowledging the impact it has on us.

While we all struggle with grief especially with the death of loved one; there are those who respond to death in a very extraordinary way. A pious believer responds with the most noble and exemplary behaviour of gratitude. This amazing ability to process grief in such a way is a gift bestowed on him by the Almighty.

Allah says ‘And My servant does not draw near to Me with anything more beloved to Me than the religious duties I have obligated upon him. And My servant continues to draw near to me with supererogatory deeds until I Love him. When I Love him, I become his hearing with which he hears, and his sight with which he sees, and his hand with which he strikes, and his foot with which he walks. Were he to ask [something] of Me, I would surely give it to him; and were he to seek refuge with Me, I would surely grant him refuge.’” [Hadith Qudsi 25]

So, for a blessed servant of God, the journey through grief becomes easier and enables him to develop resilience against despair and depression. The shock and denial that he experiences initially on receiving news of death is replaced by an acceptance of what has befallen him as he remembers that God is the one who gives and takes life; and that death is simply a path of return to Him. This belief strengthened by the famous statement of the Prophet (pbuh), that is typically said upon the demise of a loved one – ‘We belong to Allah and to Him we shall return(Muslim).

The second part of his statement reads ‘O Allah! Compensate me in my affliction, recompense my loss and give me something better in exchange for it’, providing solace as he reaches out to God for support in dealing with the calamity while acknowledging that death is a test – for which he will be compensated and rewarded as well as given something better as a result of the loss, as long as he responds in the correct manner. 

Allah says, ‘I have nothing to give but Paradise as a reward to my believer slave, who, if I cause his dear friend (or relative) to die, remains patient (and hopes for Allah’s Reward)’ (Bukhari).

Including God in the equation provides peace in the knowledge that he is relying on a Higher Power in a situation that renders him helpless. It also confirms that it is not something that he could control and therefore absolves himself from feeling guilty or wronged as he accepts death as a normal course of life.

And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and

fruits, but give good tidings to the patient” (Qur’an 2:155).

The finality and hopelessness that one feels when a loved dies is reduced significantly by the fact that a devout believer knows for certain that death is not the end. He knows that he will meet his loved ones again as illustrated in the prayer recited when visiting the graves: ‘O people of the dwellings, believers and Muslims, God willing we will join you soon, I ask Allah to keep us and you safe and sound’ (Muslim). Islamic tradition teaches us to maintain connection with our deceased loved ones through prayer and continuing good actions or offering charity on their behalf. 

The pious believer can’t be angry at God for taking what belongs to Him. He knows that it was not a malicious act or as a form of punishment, but rather a normal life event that every person will experience. “There is no god but He. Everything (that exists) will perish except His own Face. To Him belongs the Command, and to Him will ye (all) be brought back” (Qur’an 28:88). There’s also no room for bargaining – a pious believer knows that nothing can be done to stop death as death is already predetermined. This fact is clearly highlighted in the Qur’an in various verses.

Wherever you may be, death will overtake you, even if you should be within towers of lofty construction.” (Qur’an 4:78)

Every soul will taste death. And We test you ˹O humanity˺ with good and evil as a trial, then to Us

you will {all} be returned.’ (Qur’an 21:35)

When their time arrives, they cannot delay it for a single hour nor can they bring it forward.” (Qur’an 16:61)

This eliminates the possibility of blame and guilt and allows one to come to terms with the death of a loved one.

Perhaps the most reassuring characteristic of the pious believer that facilitates healing in grief in his love for God. His absolute love for his Creator reinforces his certainty and belief that his Lord will never do anything to harm him. That everything God bestows upon him, no matter how bad, is rooted in divine wisdom and love and thus ultimately only brings good. He believes that death of a loved one is a mercy, an opening to a better life in the hereafter that ends the suffering of this world; and an opportunity for him to earn paradise for the affliction. This state is achieved when one is truly content with Allah’s decree to the point that they surrender wholeheartedly and find peace in submitting to whatever He ordains. It is at this juncture that a person will be able to express gratitude for everything in his life including grief.

Indeed, my prayers, my sacrifice, my life and my death, are for Allah the Lord of the worlds.

Quran” (6:162)

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