A crisis of faith
An alarming rate of suicides among American Muslims gives Christians an opportunity to offer the gospel of hope
The Bible is clear about the sanctity and dignity of all human life. All humans are created in the image of God. His image is stamped on every human being, regardless of ethnicity, gender, or any other consideration—including religion.
This is one reason why Christians should be concerned with the rise of suicide among Muslims in the United States.
USA Today reports, “Muslims face a suicide crisis in America.” The article indicates that many Muslims in the United States who ponder suicide fail to seek or receive help, as a Muslim sensing a need for such are usually viewed as weak in faith.
Last year, a disturbing statistic appeared, indicating that American Muslims are two times more likely to have attempted suicide than those from other religious groups.
While suicide can be attributed to many reasons, including social isolation, psychological trauma, or even physical illness, we will not treat this crisis justly if we ignore its theological and religious aspects.
Suicide is often driven by a significant loss of hope.
In Islam, suicide is not only a sin, it is a major sin, according to various schools of thought. A major sin differs from a regular sin in that it can never receive divine mercy and is punishable by eternal damnation.
Muslims believe that Muhammad said, “Whoever purposely throws himself from a mountain and kills himself, will be in the (Hell) Fire falling down into it and abiding therein perpetually forever.” He also stated, “He who drank poison and killed himself would sip that in the Fire of Hell where he is doomed forever and ever.” There is an even explicit command in the Quran, “Do not kill yourselves” (4:29).
Indeed, Islam’s texts are clear, but there is more to this crisis. Suicide in Islam is not only a major sin religiously—it is also a huge stigma socially. While it is doctrinally forbidden and despised, in practicality there is a so-called Muslim community stigma surrounding it, especially in cases where suicide is driven by mental illness.
Even though the USA Today article discusses Muslims who live and flourish in America and are supposedly acquainted with Western values and an individualistic lifestyle, we should note that most of these Muslims still live within families that often operate through the honor-shame paradigms of their non-Western home cultures.
For these families, suicide is not only a sin, but it is also a severe shame. The entire family receives shame when one of its members commits suicide, let alone discusses it publicly. This sense of shame magnifies the stigma of suicide and amplifies the social isolation of Muslims tempted by it.
For Muslims pondering suicide, it seems, there is no hope—neither religiously nor socially.
In contexts where shaming one’s family is a severe burden, persons who commit suicide had arguably died many times before. They died of religious despair, familial shame, and social isolation.
The matter is worse among Muslim women, as they are arguably less religiously and socially privileged than men, especially in Muslim-majority countries. In Afghanistan, for instance, “female suicide is so prevalent,” and the reports highlight “thousands of Afghan women who try to kill themselves every year.”
Undoubtedly, Islamic texts do present a clear law, explicitly warning Muslims against suicide and its divine punishment. Yet in the absence of divine hope, these texts cause a severe sense of guilt for any soul pondering suicide.
When one is overtaken by despair and hopelessness, one needs a personal God who hears the groans of captives and prisoners. One needs an encounter with a personal God who is near and is actually able to bring hope, peace, and reconciliation.
Unlike the Biblical God, Islam’s deity—though depicted as compassionate and merciful—is in no way personal. He is utterly transcendent in his dealings with humankind. For Muslims, it is unfathomable to speak of the deity as a personal god who takes the initiative to rescue the weak, save the sinner, or liberate the captive. But this truth may indeed be one of the greatest hopes for those pondering suicide.
In helping Muslims struggling with suicidal thoughts, we should indeed direct them to medical experts who can help, but we have a uniquely unmatched message to present, the Good News of Jesus Christ. It is the gospel of hope—a message of peace and reconciliation. This report about suicide among Muslims must also remind Christians to be truly compassionate when it comes to any dimension of the suicide crisis.
Loving our neighbors, as Christ commands, propels us to speak about this crisis, offer sincere support, and be even more intentional about the proclamation of Christ to our neighbors.
If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255. Also, seek a church committed to the gospel and request its assistance.
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