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KISSAH AND DAWAT: Pangaddatan sin Pagkarukkaan (Ethics of Grieving)

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BONGAO, Tawi-Tawi (MindaNews / 26 June) – The loss of a loved one is a profoundly painful experience. It takes considerable effort and time to heal or to accept the departure of a loved one. Life in dunya (on Earth) is transient, and as we are taught in our agama (Islamic theology), it is not really the end of life but a transition to the akhirah (hereafter) where life is perpetual and permanent. Therefore, being buried (qubur) is a transition from one transient realm (dunya) to another permanent realm (akhirah) all the while waiting for the Day of Judgment (Arabic: Yawm al-Din, Sinug: Adlaw Paghuhukum, Sinama: Ollow Paghukom).

By and large, humans are social beings, and in our most vulnerable times, we depend on our social circle – mainly family, neighbors, and friends—to help us through. This dependence, together with low self-esteem and lack of will, is why it is encouraged in Islam for those part of a social circle to take an active role and care for the grieving person or family, especially in providing for their necessities. During the first week of grieving, it becomes the responsibility of the social circle to provide meals and financial assistance, help with household chores, offer emotional comfort, and assist in physical care.

However, while Islam recognizes grieving as a natural and human response to loss, there are guidelines regarding acceptable and unacceptable acts of grieving. It is acceptable to express emotions such as sadness, sorrow, and tears upon the loss of a loved one as Prophet Muhammad (Peace and blessing of Allah be upon him) himself showed grief at the loss of his son Ibrahim. It is encouraged to seek emotional support from family, friends, and neighbors during times of grief. Sharing one’s feelings and seeking comfort from others is seen as a positive way to cope.

Importantly, Islam encourages Muslim grievers to perform certain ibadat (worship practices), such as praying for the deceased and asking for their forgiveness, such as performing funeral prayers (Salat al-Janazah) and making supplications (du’a) for the departed soul. Muslim grievers are also encouraged to reflect on the temporary nature of life and the importance of preparing for the afterlife. This is why the common expression upon hearing someone’s demise is INNA LILLĀHI WA INNĀ ILAYHI RĀJI’ŪN (From God we came, to Him we shall all return), a reminder of our mortality and the transient nature of dunya (worldly life), therefore death in the family or within one’s social circle should motivate us to check on our actions and to live righteously and prepare for their own return to Allah. Mawt (death) is indeed an opportunity for introspection, and introspection is highly encouraged in Islam.

There are also unacceptable acts of grieving in Islam. Islam discourages excessive mourning, which includes wailing, screaming, tearing clothes, or engaging in self-harm. These acts are seen as expressions of despair that go against the concept of patience and trust in Qada’ (Allah’s decree). While it is natural to question and seek understanding during grief, Islam advises against questioning Allah’s wisdom or decree. Instead, obedience to Qadr (Allah’s will) and reliance on His mercy is emphasized. 

However, resorting to forbidden substances, behaviors, or practices (such as excessive drinking, substance abuse, or engaging in unlawful relationships) to cope with grief is considered unacceptable in Islam. Also, grief should not lead to neglecting one’s religious duties such as prayer, fasting, and charity. These acts of worship are meant to provide spiritual strength and solace during difficult times.

Eventually, there is an acceptable short period of grieving where one’s social circle is expected to take active support. Henceforth, grieving translates to seeking solace in communicating with Allah for strength and comfort, and an opportunity to strengthen one’s sabr (patience), and acceptance of Allah’s decree. 

Just as wasatiyyah (moderation) is a general principle in Islam, so it is applicable in grieving as a balanced approach that involves seeking support, expressing emotions within the framework of Islamic teachings, and maintaining iman (faith and trust) in Allah’s wisdom and mercy.

MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Noor Saada is a Tausug of mixed ancestry—born in Jolo, Sulu, grew up in Tawi-Tawi, studied in Zamboanga and worked in Davao, Makati and Cotabato. He is a development worker and peace advocate, former Assistant Regional Secretary of the Department of Education in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, currently working as an independent consultant and is a member of an insider-mediation group that aims to promote intra-Moro dialogue.)

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