Recently, my dear friend and sister in Islam suffered a terrible loss. When I contacted her to see how she was doing, she confided that her pain was even greater because she was feeling forgotten by the local Muslim community.
Even though her sad news had been traveling around by word of mouth and via social media, very few sisters had taken the time to contact her to offer their condolences or support. “It makes me wonder how loved I really am,” she admitted. “It is a reminder that true comfort is from Allah SWT only, and we should rely on Him alone,” she added. “Still, I would have appreciated the support of my friends.”
I was shocked when she told me her story because she seems to be universally loved and admired in the community. She is known for her kindness and warmth, and I literally have never heard a negative word about her. She seemed to be a friend to everyone, so I was appalled to hear that in her time of need, no one reached out to her. How could her friends of many years — all of them her sisters in Islam — ignore her sadness?
The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said,
“The parable of the believers in their affection, mercy, and compassion for each other is that of a body. When any limb aches, the whole body reacts with sleeplessness and fever.” (Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim).
Clearly we Muslims need a reminder to be more compassionate to each other. Parts of our “body” are aching and suffering, and we do not seem to notice. In modern times, many people are putting work, technology, and frivolous pursuits ahead of their relationships. Sadly, Muslims are not immune to this problem.
Sometimes we get so caught up in our own hectic, over-scheduled, and desensitized lives that we do not realize our brothers and sisters are in pain. Other times, we hear sad news of death, illness, or other problems and assume that others will step up to offer comfort and help. Or we tell ourselves “That is so sad! I need to do something to help!” but our good intentions are quickly forgotten in the avalanche of day-to-day tasks that consume our minds.
What should we do when we hear a hardship has befallen our brother or sister in Islam? What are concrete steps we can take so that no Muslim feels alone or isolated in their pain?
1- The most important thing is to do something, immediately, before you can procrastinate or forget. Even the smallest gesture is better than nothing. A text message saying, “I’m sorry for your sadness. I’m here for you, and you’re in my duaa’” is a positive first step. Writing a card and dropping it in the mail is an even kinder, more personal gesture.
2- Concrete actions are even better than words. It might not be helpful enough to ask a grieving person, “What can I do for you?” She might be too shy to name specific needs, or be too overwhelmed to think of them.
So be proactive and offer some suggestions. If you know she loves a certain dish, text her and tell her that a hot meal will be delivered to her doorstep at a certain time. If she has children, you could offer to come to her home and play with the kids while your friend takes a soothing bath, makes necessary phone calls, or simply has some quiet personal time.
When parents are suffering, they often have to put their own needs and emotions on hold while they care for their children. An opportunity for an hour or two of self-care would probably be greatly appreciated by any mom or dad. Kind actions do not need to be elaborate. Sometimes the simplest heartfelt gestures are the most meaningful.
3- Offer to listen. Sometimes, a suffering person needs a sympathetic ear more than anything else. Particularly if you have gone through a similar circumstance, you can offer empathy as a listener.
However, make sure your listening session doesn’t become a conversation about you and your problems! Many times I have seen the “listener” become so emotional about his own experiences with the same problem that he ends up seeking comfort from the very person he intended to help! Also, it goes without saying that whatever you hear from your friend should not be repeated to anyone else. His suffering should not be fodder for gossip.
4- Some problems are delicate in nature, and it can be hard to know what to say. If a person has gone through a divorce or another personal matter, it is not appropriate to pry with intrusive questions. They might not want to talk about the details, and we should not push. However, we can still offer support in a general way, for almost any situation, by saying, “It sounds like you’re going through a hard time now. I’m here if you need anything, or if you want to talk.”
5- Please be especially supportive of the most vulnerable members of your community. When they experience a trauma, it is crucial that we help as much as possible. Who are the most vulnerable? They are too many to enumerate, but here are some examples: Muslims who are living far from their homelands and their families. Converts who may have lost their connections with non-Muslim family and friends.
Our black brothers and sisters who, despite being of the Ummah in which “A white does not have superiority over a black, nor a black has superiority over a white, except by piety and good actions” according to the Prophet (PBUH), still routinely experience racism and ostracism amongst their brethren. Muslims with disabilities. The elderly. Widows and widowers. The list could go on, and perhaps in some ways we are all vulnerable. All the more reason to be thoughtful of each other!
6- Don’t just talk, take action! Bad news tends to spread quickly, but what good is sharing news if nothing is done to help? Earn good deeds by avoiding gossip and using your communication with others to plan ways to help the person in need.
Allah SWT loves the believers who help one another for His sake. Surely, to be loved by Him is the greatest ambition. There are opportunities every day to help a brother or sister in need. Let’s look up from our screens, beyond our immediate concerns, and open our hearts to the members of our Ummah who desperately need our help.
First published: December 2017