By Zulkar Khan
Several summers ago, a neighboring family friend had a hemorrhagic stroke while late in her pregnancy. Her son was a close friend of mine. I vividly remember one late afternoon, when after dropping off some food at their house, I saw my buddy lying on the sofa. He just stared blankly at the wall; his eyes had run out of tears by then. I had no clue what he was enduring. I just avoided him until school started.
A few years later, tragedy struck closer. My dad was hospitalized for jaundice and during one of my hospital visits, the diagnostic team rolled into the room. A physician asked if I was eighteen yet, and when I replied in the affirmative (“barely”), he solemnly told us that my father had an untreatable form of cancer.
My first instinct was to share the diagnosis with my close friends. They would listen for a few minutes, curious to hear about any new symptoms my dad was exhibiting, and then get bored. Eventually, I shut up. I was convinced that no one could relate to me. Unsurprisingly, internalizing and not dealing with misfortune caused much heartache down the road.
Most of us have no clue how to seriously engage those undergoing distress and grief. This phenomenon of not relating with those suffering runs contrary to the counseling nature of Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ). We find that the Prophet directly engaged and went to great lengths to comfort all sorts of people – from a boy whose pet parrot died to a man whose son passed away. Reading through the biographies of the Prophet, we learn that the Prophet buried fourteen of his own children. He was someone who bore tremendous emotional pain and God enabled him to be history’s foremost empathizer.
If someone close to you has been afflicted with hardships, this is an immense opportunity for you to follow in the footsteps of Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) by exercising the most humane of faculties: a listening ear and an empathetic heart. Don’t be the reason why your friend closets all the difficulties in his/her life.
The most uplifting and wholesome individuals are the same ones who faced brutal hardships in their lives. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross once said, “The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”
The Islamic tradition doesn’t avoid addressing grief. Nowhere in the Qur’an do we find banal words like, “If calamity strikes, brighten up! Don’t worry everything will be fine.” Rather, the legacy of the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) allows for hearts to grieve, for tears to drop, while the tongue remains patient and doesn’t rebel. It is apt to close with the words of God, recorded in the Qur’an for eternity:
“O Believers, find help through patience and prayer. Indeed, Allah is with the patient.”