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A New Reality : Responding to Suicide

By Ayan Nur and Mariam Kandil

“Abdullah* had been asking for help, but we didn’t get it . . . He was a nice kid. Always polite and respectful — the kind of kid every parent dreamed of. But he had struggled. His father was known to be hot-headed and a number of times people had heard him yelling at Abdullah in the masjid. No one wanted to ruffle the dad’s feathers, so everyone remained quiet… Eventually, everyone stopped seeing him at the masjid….And then we find out he committed suicide.”

*name changed for privacy

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What would you say to your children if they were friends with Abdullah? How would you support them as they grieve the death of their friend? As a community leader or educator, how do you support Muslim children and youth? It is hard to imagine that suicide is even an issue among our young people, but it is happening all across Muslim communities. Suicide can be a sensitive topic, but it is one that needs to be addressed.

The Family & Youth Institute (FYI), a research and education institute that promotes mental health and well being of individuals and families and, specializes in the needs of American Muslims, has developed resources for individuals who might be suicidal, who are suicide attempt survivors, suicide loss survivors, mental health professionals, educators, community organizers, and family and friends affected by suicide. These Suicide Prevention and Intervention Resources include: i) Community Action Guide, ii) Toolkit iii) Prevention Infographic, iv) Intervention Infographic, and v) National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention Video (featuring Dr. Sawssan Ahmed, an FYI researcher).

As a parent, what can you do to support your grieving child?

Listen

  • What is most helpful is to listen without judging, interpreting, advising, or evaluating- don’t be quick to offer advice and give opinions.
  • Reflect back to them so that they know they have been heard. For example, “You really get uncomfortable when kids at school talk about your friend. You wish they knew what it’s like to have a friend die.” Doing this helps children trust that you will listen to them.

Be open to different ways of grieving

  • Children can have a wide range of reactions and ways of expressing their grief
  • There is no right or wrong way to grieve – some cry, some lash out in anger and others withdraw
  • Let them know ALL of their reactions are okay and supporting them to discover what works best for them (as long as their behavior does not hurt themselves or others)

Know that grief doesn’t follow a schedule

  • The stages of grief are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance
  • Grieving may include one, all, or none of these experiences and they do not occur in any particular order
  • Let your child know it’s common for their feelings, thoughts, and physical responses to change day to day, sometimes minute to minute!

There are different ways to communicate

  • Children might turn more towards peers or solo endeavors such as music or journaling for comfort and support
  • Children may not talk with the adults about how they are feeling or even about the person who died
  • For teens especially, methods of communication that aren’t face to face can be easier to navigate.
  1. Passing a notebook back and forth, with the understanding that unless there was a safety concern, nothing written would be brought up in person, to be a great way to open up the lines of communication.
  2. Texting, email, short videos, or written notes – get creative and work with your teen to find what works for both of you.

Know that grief affects children on many levels

Some children:

  • Have trouble sleeping, especially in the few weeks or months after the death and/or have nightmares
  • Have short tempers, mood swings, and experience irritability
  • Can become forgetful, so your child may need extra reminders about chores and plans
  • Experience difficulty concentrating in class or completing homework

For more information, check out The FYI Suicide Prevention Toolkit, a helpful resource for individuals affected by suicide. The Toolkit is a compilation of videos, articles, infographics and hotlines and is organized into sections by reader (suicidal individual, suicide attempt survivor, suicide loss survivor., etc).

As a community member or leader, what can you do after suicide loss?

The entire community and the peers of the person who died by suicide may also be shocked and trying to comprehend the tragedy. There may be other people who are struggling with suicidal thoughts, have depression, or have experienced this before and are experiencing post-traumatic stress symptoms, amongst other possibilities. Therefore, it is important that the whole community is aware of the way they conduct themselves, especially in the way in which the death is discussed. When talking about the incident, avoid hearsay and gossip and recognize that you do not know what is going on in the minds and hearts of the people around you. Check out the following resources for communities as a whole:

 

  1. The FYI Suicide Prevention Community Action Guide is designed to: increase community awareness and education, help identify ways to integrate prevention efforts into your community and highlight relevant resources for those in need. This guide is meant to equip you with the knowledge and tools to better prevent, intervene, and address suicide in your community and help save lives.
  2. The FYI Suicide Prevention and Intervention Infographics are another helpful resource. They cover topics such as factors that contribute to suicide, warning signs, what to do, and how to talk to someone who is contemplating suicide. These resources are quick and easy references that cover the basics, and are meant to help you intervene with someone who is experiencing suicidal thoughts, but also provide information to destigmatize suicide. It can be handed out in the community, and posted in areas which are heavily frequented by people.
  3. Handbook for Survivors of Suicide Loss This handbook covers grief, how to tell others (children, friends, etc.), managing social media, financial concerns, and other resources.
  4. A Handbook for Survivors of Suicide is a book for people who have lost a loved one to suicide, written by someone who has suffered the same loss. It addresses the emotional roller coaster a loss survivor experiences, grief, suicide facts and myths, battling guilt, moving on, and support.
  5. Suicide Survivor Resource list. This sheet lists a selection of organizations, websites, and materials that can help people who have lost someone to suicide. Many of these resources were developed by survivors of suicide loss.
  6. After a Suicide: A Toolkit for Schools identifies ways to deal with a tragic loss in a community. The content will help you effectively coordinate a crisis response, help individuals cope with their feelings, work with the community, address social media and minimize the risk of suicide contagion. Though it is written for educators and school leaders, the content can be easily transferable for communities and an excellent resource for community leaders.

 

Other resources:

  • Grief Toolkit: http://www.thefyi.org/toolkits/grief-support-tool-kit/
  • Crisis Text Line. Text TALK to 741-741 to text with a trained crisis counselor from the Crisis Text Line for free, 24/7.
  • Muslim Youth 24-hr Helpline: 1.866.627.3342 (http://naseeha.org/)
  • Stones to Bridge (anonymous support and counseling for Muslim youth) http://www.stonestobridges.org/

Helping those affected by suicide can be difficult and draining, but inshaAllah will be rewarding. The Family and Youth Institute is available to help support the mental health and well being of American Muslims. We hope these resources are beneficial to you and if you have any questions or want more information please visit our website http://www.thefyi.org or contact us at info@thefyi.org.

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#Life

What Repentance Can Teach You About Success

When losing weight, one piece of advice you’ll hear often is the following – if you fall off your eating plan one day, pick yourself back up and think of the next day as a fresh start.

Annoying, isn’t it?

You’ll hear this advice from people who have “made it” – they’ve lost a lot of weight, their lives have changed, and they’ll tell you to stick through it, and you’ll be like, yeah, I have, I tried, and I keep failing. I keep trying, I can’t sustain the motivation, I have life factors, I have stuff going on that makes this difficult.

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And you’re right.

You don’t have millions of dollars, a dedicated personal trainer and chef, the free time and lack of commitments others do, the lack of sleep, the injuries, or personal life circumstances that advantage others, nor do they have those that disadvantage you.

That’s not the point.

When you make a mistake, if you run through the process of regret, repentance, and retrying to do the right thing, Allah (swt) is pleased with you. And if you keep failing, repenting, and trying again, and again, and again, until you die, Allah keeps forgiving you.

The process of both recognizing your weakness, of getting out of denial, and humbling yourself and not thinking yourself so high and mighty has its own sobering effect. Not only does it help you in dealing with that atom’s weight of arrogance you don’t want to meet Allah (swt) with on the Day of Judgment, it helps make you a better human being, a more compassionate one, a more empathetic one, when calling others away from mistakes.

I’m not perfect, and you’re not perfect. Perfection is only for Allah (swt). But we’re trying. And the process of recognizing your weakness and at least attempting to rectify it means that maybe you’ll sin a little less, maybe you’ll still not invent excuses for mistakes and you’ll teach others, “Hey man, I know this is a sin, I know this is wrong, I hope you can do better than me.” And maybe they do change, and you’re both better for it.

Maybe in trying and failing again and again, what you end up doing is coming a little bit closer to success, and that process of trying and failing is the teacher you needed to get you out of your weakness and to then help others do likewise. Maybe that learning process serves you in succeeding elsewhere down the road in other treacherous turns and trials of life.

Whether it’s in losing weight, fixing broken relationships, pulling away from a heavy nafs addiction (eg pornography), don’t ever put yourself mentally in a position where “you’ve lost” and “you may as well give up” because “there’s no hope for me”. Don’t identify yourself by your failures.

So then, what is the point?

The point isn’t that you hit your goal perfectly. The point is that give your best, even with the little that you have, and that is good enough for you and for all of us. Ask Allah (swt) to help you better yourself, and in these 10 Days of Dhul-Hijjah, increase in your du’a, cry to Him for help, in whatever area of life it is you’re trying to improve.

And whatever you fail at, don’t fall off for weeks on end. Acknowledge your mistake, own it completely and take full responsibility. Try to figure out where you went wrong in your process, get help from others if you need to. Forgive yourself, and don’t resign yourself to an identity based on your mistakes.

Never get tired of failing, getting knocked down, and picking yourself back up and trying to do and be better again.

It’s always a brand new day tomorrow.

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30 Khawaatir in 30 Days- A Parent’s Guide | Day 19: My Mercy Encompasses All Things

Now that we have learnt about when the angels surround us, let’s now talk about how Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) mercy encompasses all things.

We say بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ  (bismillah Ar-Rahman ar-Raheem) a lot, right? It means ‘in the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate.’ 

We say it when we pray, before we eat, and we’re encouraged to say it before we begin any new task. But do we really understand what rahma (mercy) means? 

Question: What do you think rahma means?

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Do you know that the word rahma comes from the root word, رحم (rahim), which means womb? 

Question: Who can tell me what a womb is?

That’s right. A baby is usually in their mommy’s womb for 40 weeks. The baby gets all the nourishment it requires; the temperature in the womb is perfect, the nutrients are always administered, it is safe and warm. All the baby has to do is grow, and alhamdulillah all its needs are being met. 

Question: How do you think the womb relates to Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) mercy?

Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) mercy is constantly surrounding us like a safety net. That doesn’t mean that we’ll never experience any pain, but Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is constantly showing us mercy with every breath we take. Even blinking is a mercy from Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) that we don’t even have to think about. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) even has more mercy for us than a mother has for her own child! 

One day the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was walking with a group of his companions, and they passed by a woman who was frantically looking for her child. She would take any child to her breast and try to feed him/her. Then the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said to the companions: “Do you think that this lady can throw her son in the fire?” We replied, “No, if she has the power not to throw it (in the fire).” The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) then said, “Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is more merciful to His slaves than this lady to her son.”

And guess what? There’s even more mercy in the hereafter than we’re experiencing right now. 

Salman al-Farisi reported: The Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “Verily, on the day Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) created the heavens and earth, He created one hundred parts of mercy. Each part can fill what is between heaven and earth. He made one part of mercy for the earth, from it a mother has compassion for her child, animals and birds have compassion for each other. On the Day of Resurrection, He will perfect this mercy.” [Sahih Muslim]

99 parts of mercy on the Day of Judgment! That is one reason why it’s so important to have a good opinion of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)! Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) even tells us in Surat Al-A’raaf:

وَرَحْمَتِي وَسِعَتْ كُلَّ شَيْءٍ ۚ

“My mercy encompasses all things” (Surat Al-A’raaf; 156]

And you all, my dears, are all encompassed by Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) mercy, alhamdulillah. 

 

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30 Khawaatir in 30 Days- A Parent’s Guide | Day 18: When the Angels Surround Us

Now that we have learnt about Hajar raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) and her sa’i, let’s now talk about when the angels surround us.

Do you know that every time we sit together and remember Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), we are not alone in our meeting? We have very special visitors, and these visitors love to hear us praising Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)and thanking Him. 

Question: Who can tell me who these visitors are?

Yes! They are angels! Can anyone name some angels for me?

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We have Angel Jibril 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) who has delivered every message to every Prophet since the beginning of time. We also have our angels on our left and right who write down our deeds.

Question: Does anyone know the name of the angel that is in control of the weather? 

His name is Angel Mikai’l. 

There are so many gifts that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) grants us when we gather together and remember him. Four things happen every single time! I want you to pay close attention to this hadith, because I’m going to ask you what those four things are after I read it. 

Are you ready?

‏لا يقعد قوم يذكرون الله عز وجل إلا حفتهم الملائكة، وغشيتهم الرحمة ونزلت عليهم السكينة، وذكرهم الله فيمن عنده‏

The Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said: “When a group of people assemble for the remembrance of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), the angels surround them (with their wings), (Allah’s) mercy envelops them, tranquility descends upon them, and Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) makes a mention of them before those who are near Him.”

Question: Can you believe that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) makes mention of your name when you make mention of His? What do you think it means when “tranquility descends upon us?” Do you feel how calm your heart is? 

That is a gift from Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) and He tells us that our hearts find rest in His remembrance:

أَلَا بِذِكْرِ اللَّـهِ تَطْمَئِنُّ الْقُلُوبُ

“…Unquestionably, by the remembrance of Allah hearts are assured” [Surah Ar-Ra’d; 28] 

 

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