By Umm Zaynab (in collaboration with Team AYEINA)
Losing a loved one is one of the major trials of life many of us will encounter. Grief from that loss is a natural reaction that takes a different trajectory for different people. Some people describe grief as a dark fog that is difficult to shake, others speak of the suffocating regret and anxiety that often accompany those feelings, still others speak about grief as waves that rise up and subside at different points.
“And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient, Who, when disaster strikes them, say, “Indeed we belong to Allah , and indeed to Him we will return.” Those are the ones upon whom are blessings from their Lord and mercy. And it is those who are the guided.” [Quran; 2:155-157]
Sometimes people expect to follow a particular timeline of grief, but the reality is that the journey of grief is different for everyone. Counsellors and bereavement supporters often speak about the five stages of grief that were popularized in the famous book On Death and Dying by psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross namely: denial (as you begin to come to terms with the reality of the situation, denial begins to fade and difficult feelings may begin to surface), anger/anxiety (anger is the body’s natural reaction to threat and, oftentimes, there is no greater threat than the loss of someone you love or the loss of the way you envisioned life would be. Anger can also feel powerful during times when we feel powerless. You may experience nervousness, heart palpitations, restlessness, irritability, and/or difficulty breathing), bargaining (this stage often includes “If only…” statements due to the feelings of regret that come up with loss. This stage is characterized by an overwhelming desire for life to return to the way it was), depression (you might feel down and cry more often than you usually do. It may also feel like you have less motivation and find less enjoyment in activities you used to love. This stage can feel as though it’ll stretch on forever) and acceptance (it involves accepting the reality that this person is physically gone and that this new reality is the permanent reality. Acceptance does not mean that you’re “ok” with what happened. The loss of someone you love will likely never feel ok. The goal in this stage is to learn how to live with this loss and create a new normal despite the huge piece that is missing). However, recent research and understanding has concluded that grief can be an individualized and unpredictable experience and no two people’s experiences will be the same.
Let us look at some advice in the Quran and Sunnah to help us cope with grief and the loss of a loved one:
Shed tears as much as you want, but don’t let the tongue say what may displease Allah
Our Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) experienced grief at many points of his life, often at the loss of loved ones. During these experiences he taught us that grief is a natural emotion and that Allah does not hold us accountable for expressing sadness and pain in a permissible manner. Sadness does not negate the acceptance of Allah’s decree which is the very center of a believer’s journey in grief.
Narrated Anas bin Malik: We went with Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) (p.b.u.h) to the blacksmith Abu Saif, and he was the husband of the wet-nurse of Ibrahim (the son of the Prophet). Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) took Ibrahim and kissed him and smelled him and later we entered Abu Saif’s house and at that time Ibrahim was in his last breaths, and the eyes of Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) (p.b.u.h) started shedding tears. `Abdur Rahman bin `Auf said, “O Allah’s Apostle, even you are weeping!” He said, “O Ibn `Auf, this is mercy.” Then he wept more and said, “The eyes are shedding tears and the heart is grieved, and we will not say except what pleases our Lord, O Ibrahim ! Indeed we are grieved by your separation.” [Hadith; Sahih al-Bukhari 1303]
We see the intensity of these emotions in the Prophet Yaʿqub عليه السلام when he was separated from his son Yusuf عليه السلام and he grieved so deeply that his eyes turned white (it’s said that he lost his sight) due to the extent to which he cried. His intense grief is expressed in the Qur’an (after all those years of losing his son) yet he was called to have beautiful patience (sabrun jameel):
And he turned away from them and said, “Oh, my sorrow over Joseph,” and his eyes became white from grief, for he was a suppressor. [Quran; 12:84]
Accept that all of us belong to Allah and all of us will return to Him
As we see from the ahadith above where the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) was coping with grief, patience in Islam does not mean that we do not cry and that we do not express our emotions. What is forbidden is wailing and slapping one’s cheeks which was the culture at that time (the Arabs – women in particular – used to scream and wail during funerals or at someone’s death). As the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) said the eyes shed tears and the heart is grieved but the tongue only says what is acceptable to Allah.
Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said, “The example of a believer is that of a fresh tender plant; from whatever direction the wind comes, it bends it, but when the wind becomes quiet, it becomes straight again. Similarly, a believer is afflicted with calamities (but he remains patient till Allah removes his difficulties.) And an impious wicked person is like a pine tree which keeps hard and straight till Allah cuts (breaks) it down when He wishes.” [Hadith; Sahih al-Bukhari 5644]
Make dua for yourself
As human beings, we attempt to cope with negative emotions in different ways. We often attempt to push away difficult emotions because they make us feel uncomfortable as it’s a painful process to sit with these feelings. We may try to distract ourselves or put on a fake smile. Some may even self-medicate through the use of drugs or alcohol to alleviate the pain they are feeling. When we are unable to grieve fully and an experience becomes a source of trauma, we are thrust into survival mode, which shuts down the executive functioning part of our brain and prevents us from thinking clearly. This is why we may react to situations in unhealthy ways or do things during times of stress that we would not have done during times of ease. This is one reason why some people struggle to worship Allah during times of extreme stress. When the “danger activation center” part of our brain is dominant, there is a decrease in self-awareness, our capacity to self-evaluate, and our ability to establish goals. All of these require advanced thought processes, which are very difficult to sustain during times of extreme stress. In order for any activity to help, our brain needs to register it. Research has shown an association between prayer and the ability to re-engage the “thinking” part of our brains.
Umm Salama, the wife of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ), reported Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) as saying:If any servant (of Allah) who suffers a calamity says:” We belong to Allah and to Him shall we return; O Allah, reward me for my affliction and give me something better than it in exchange for it,” ‘ Allah will give him reward for affliction, and would give him something better than it in exchange. She (Umm Salama) said: When Abu Salama died. I uttered (these very words) as I was commanded (to do) by the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ). So Allah gave me better in exchange than him. i. e. (I was taken as the wife of) the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ). [Hadith; Sahih Muslim 918 b]
When I lost my baby girl, I remember one of my close friends messaged me this dua and reminded me to keep reciting it. I had not really known that dua at that time but I am so grateful for friends who guided me to the right words to say at such a confusing and overwhelming time.
Stay among people who love you and would support you through this difficult journey
It is quite common to be engulfed by grief with the death of a loved one. However, one must not dwell in it much, as this sends an invitation to Shaytan to become misery’s company. Love brings love while regret leads to discontentment. Let the death of a loved be a lesson of detaching from Dunya and to hold Allah (glorified and exalted be he) in your heart above all others.
The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) visited Sa’d bin ‘Ubadah during his illness. He was accompanied by ‘Abdur-Rahman bin ‘Auf, Sa’d bin Abu Waqqas and ‘Abdullah bin Mas’ud (May Allah be pleased with them). The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) began to weep. When his Companions saw this, their tears also started flowing. He (ﷺ) said, “Do you not hear, Allah does not punish for the shedding of tears or the grief of the heart, but punishes or bestows mercy for the utterances of this (and he pointed to his tongue).” [Hadith; Riyad as-Salihin 925]
Remember that your patience is being rewarded more than you can imagine
These are words you should say even when you feel sad at the memory of a loss you faced in the past or when you miss your loved one or the life you had planned with them.
Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said, “Allah says, ‘I have nothing to give but Paradise as a reward to my believer slave, who, if I cause his dear friend (or relative) to die, remains patient (and hopes for Allah’s Reward). [Hadith; Sahih al-Bukhari 6424]
Stay away from questioning Qadr of Allah (asking: why me? or if only!)
Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: ‘A slave (of Allah) shall not believe until he believes in Al-Qadar, its good and its bad, such that he knows that what struck him would not have missed him, and that what missed him would not have struck him.” [Hadith; Tirmidhi 2144]
Often one of the ways, Shaitan attacks us at times of calamity or a loss is to overwhelm us with questions of what if and why me? How did this happen? Would it have been prevented if I had just done this or that or gone to the hospital earlier or taken this or that medical intervention?
“The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: ‘The strong believer is better and more beloved to Allah than the weak believer, although both are good. Strive for that which will benefit you, seek the help of Allah, and do not feel helpless. If anything befalls you, do not say, “if only I had done such and such” rather say “Qaddara Allahu wa ma sha’a fa’ala (Allah has decreed and whatever he wills, He does).” For (saying) ‘If’ opens (the door) to the deeds of Satan.'” [Hadith; Ibn Majah 79]
These are some of the words my midwife told me to say when I heard the news of my baby passing away in my womb after a full term pregnancy and I am forever grateful to her for reminding me this at that trying time. Reminding ourselves of the decree and decision of Allah at such a time is vital to battle the what if questions you are bombarded with. I am grateful to Allah (swt) for giving me people in my life who were able to remind me of the right words to say and the right approach at such a difficult time. Remind yourself: whatever happened was decreed by Allah and nothing you or someone else did or did not do could have changed it. Focusing on the factors within your control, rather than on regrets and a desire to return to the less painful past, can help you to get through this stage.
But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah Knows, while you know not. [Quran; 2:216]
When my father passed away after complications that developed from a seemingly uncomplicated medical procedure, Shaitan tried to get us all caught up with those questions of what if we hadn’t gone for that procedure. Turning back to our deen and our belief in Qadr is what helped us accept the death as something Allah had decreed at this exact time and this exact situation and there is nothing we could have done to have changed that. Changing the past is not feasible so channeling our energy into something unchangeable is a recipe for intense pain. Instead of “What if…” Focus on “What is…”: The one thing we consistently have within our control is what we choose to do with the present moment. Shifting our focus away from regrets of the past and worries about the future allows us to take advantage of the present moment. Allah (swt) talks about this attitude of remorse in the Quran:
O you who have believed, do not be like those who disbelieved and said about their brothers when they traveled through the land or went out to fight, “If they had been with us, they would not have died or have been killed,” so Allah makes that a regret within their hearts. And it is Allah who gives life and causes death, and Allah is Seeing of what you do. [Quran; 3:156]
Instead, turn to Allah and open your heart to Him
Death can serve as a reminder to those left behind about the temporariness of this life and the importance of working for our next lives. It forces us to reflect on what is meaningful and what is important. Turn to Allah and pour your heart out to Him, talk to Him about your pain, cry out to Him and ask Him to calm your heart and heal your pain. Ask Him to reunite you with your loved one in Jannah. Ask Him to give you strength and peace. When Prophet Yaqub (عَلَيْهِ السَّلَام) cried so much that he lost his eyesight after all those years of losing his son, his elder sons said:
They said, “By Allah , you will not cease remembering Joseph until you become fatally ill or become of those who perish.” He said, “I only complain of my suffering and my grief to Allah , and I know from Allah that which you do not know. O my sons, go and find out about Joseph and his brother and despair not of relief from Allah . Indeed, no one despairs of relief from Allah except the disbelieving people.” [Quran: 12:85-87]
Turn to Allah in sincere dua. No one else can heal your pain and give peace to your heart.
اللَّهُمَّ مُصَرِّفَ الْقُلُوبِ صَرِّفْ قُلُوبَنَا عَلَى طَاعَتِكَ
Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said: “Verily, the hearts of all the sons of Adam are between the two fingers out of the fingers of the Compassionate Lord as one heart. He turns that to any (direction) He likes. Then Allahs Messenger (ﷺ) said: 0 Allah, the Turner of the hearts, turn our hearts to Thine obedience.” [Hadith; Sahih Muslim 265]
Journal to face and deal with your emotions so you don’t become hopeless
Writing to process your feelings is another helpful technique to help deal with your emotions and your grief. Write out your thoughts and confusions to sort them out, journal about your feelings from day to day, use gratitude journaling to focus on the blessings even at such difficult times, write letters to your loved one as if you are talking to them. All of this helps deal with the emotions and grief just as talking or counselling does as well.
“And that to your Lord is the finality. And that it is He who makes laugh and weep.” [Quran; 53:42-43]
Find meaning / gratitude in your life again and create the required changes
Grief expert, David Kessler says, “meaning comes through finding a way to sustain your love for the person after their death while you’re moving forward with your life. Loss is simply what happens to you in life. Meaning is what you make happen.”
Finding meaning cannot erase your grief; pain is a natural reaction to intense loss. However, it can help you move forward. The loss of someone or something dear to you can often lead to reevaluating your priorities in life. Allowing this loss to push you toward positive changes in your life is one of the most profound ways of creating meaning. Gratitude is one of the qualities of a believer. Gratitude is tied closely to the concept of patience. The Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) said:
Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said: Strange are the ways of a believer for there is good in every affair of his and this is not the case with anyone else except in the case of a believer for if he has an occasion to feel delight, he thanks (God), thus there is a good for him in it, and if he gets into trouble and shows resignation (and endures it patiently), there is a good for him in it. [Hadith; Sahih Muslim 2999]
Gratitude is also an attitude during adversity. Although difficult to see, there are always blessings that accompany a difficult time. Look for the blessings and ease that Allah has brought with this difficulty. May be things were easier than they could have been, may be there were eases in other areas of your life, may be this test drew you closer to Allah (swt), may be it allowed you to reflect on the reality of your life and allowed you to give more in charity, may be it became a means of wiping away your sins and earning you reward.
The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, “When a man’s child dies, Allah, the Exalted, asks His angels, ‘Have you taken out the life of the child of My slave?’ and they reply in the affirmative. He (SWT) then asks, ‘Have you taken the fruit of his heart?’ and they reply in the affirmative. Thereupon He asks, ‘What did my slave say?’ They say: ‘He praised You and said: Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi raji’un (We belong to Allah and to Him we shall return).’ Allah says: ‘Build a house for my slave in Jannah and name it Baitul-Hamd (the House of Praise).”‘ [Hadith; Riyad as-Salihin 922]
Know that sadness doesn’t last forever even if the memories do
“For indeed, with hardship ease. Indeed, with hardship ease.” [Quran; 94:6]
Remember this promise of Allah. Remember that every moment of sadness and pain, no matter how overwhelming, is a part of the process of healing. Instead of focusing on the stretch of days ahead of you with this loss feeling like a looming storm cloud over your future, focus on the one step you can take today to get through the day. When experiencing feelings of depression, putting one foot in front of the other can make a huge difference. Get adequate sleep and eat healthy. Your body and well-being are an amānah from Allah that you need to take care of. Find time to decompress, however that might work for you. For some people this may include praying, making dua, reading, art, working out, or engaging in a hobby.
It was narrated that Ibn ‘Umar said: “I was with the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) and a man from among the Ansar came to him and greeted the Prophet (ﷺ) with Salam. Then he said: ‘O Messenger of Allah, which of the believers is best?’ He said: ‘He who has the best manners among them.’ He said: ‘Which of them is wisest?’ He said: ‘The one who remembers death the most and is best in preparing for it. Those are the wisest.’” [Hadith; Ibn Majah 160]
Go through happy memories you experienced with them and remember your loved one in good words
Narrated Abu Al-Aswad: I came to Medina when an epidemic had broken out. While I was sitting with `Umar bin Al-Khattab a funeral procession passed by and the people praised the deceased. `Umar said, “It has been affirmed to him.” And another funeral procession passed by and the people praised the deceased. `Umar said, “It has been affirmed to him.” A third (funeral procession) passed by and the people spoke badly of the deceased. He said, “It has been affirmed to him.” I (Abu Al-Aswad) asked, “O chief of the believers! What has been affirmed?” He replied, “I said the same as the Prophet (ﷺ) had said, that is: if four persons testify the piety of a Muslim, Allah will grant him Paradise.” We asked, “If three persons testify his piety?” He (the Prophet) replied, “Even three.” Then we asked, “If two?” He replied, “Even two.” [Hadith; Sahih al-Bukhari 1368]
Remembering the happy times you had with your deceased loved ones can be a bittersweet experience. Many will talk about how this can have a healing effect, others mention how it rekindles the pain in their heart. Sometimes different reactions may also depend on where you are on your grief journey. Remembering the good times you had with your loved one can help you in dealing with the grief and with slowly learning to remember them without always feeling the pain of separation. Reminding yourself that you still have hope of reuniting with them in the hereafter is another way to help you process the pain you are feeling.
It was narrated that ‘Aishah said: “Something bad was said in the presence of the Prophet about a person who had died. He said: ‘Do not say anything but good about your dead.”‘ [Hadith; Sunan an-Nasa’i 1935]
Make dua for your loved one and give charity on their behalf
Messenger of Allah(ﷺ) said: “A man will be raised in status in Paradise and will say: ‘Where did this come from?’ And it will be said: ‘From your son’s praying for forgiveness for you.'” [Hadith; Sunan Ibn Majah 3660]
Channel your grief in a productive way and think about what you can do for your loved one now. One of the ways we can benefit our deceased loved ones is by making sincere dua for them. We can also benefit our deceased loved ones by giving charity on their behalf.
The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, “When a man dies, his deeds come to an end except for three things: Sadaqah Jariyah (ceaseless charity); a knowledge which is beneficial, or a virtuous descendant who prays for him (for the deceased).” [Hadith; Riyad as-Salihin 1383]
Seek help and support others
Seek social support, go to counselling and therapy, talk to friends about how you feel. Attend a bereavement group if you can so you can see how others in your situation are coping. Check Children of Jannah or Eternal Gardens for bereavement support. One major indicator that someone needs professional help is if they demonstrate an impaired ability to function in their day-to-day life with their family, at work, socially, emotionally, and sometimes spiritually. Again, this doesn’t mean that the person is mentally ill, but that they would likely benefit from talking to someone with expertise in the field of mental health.
Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said, “A Muslim is a brother of another Muslim, so he should not oppress him, nor should he hand him over to an oppressor. Whoever fulfilled the needs of his brother, Allah will fulfill his needs; whoever brought his (Muslim) brother out of a discomfort, Allah will bring him out of the discomforts of the Day of Resurrection, and whoever screened a Muslim, Allah will screen him on the Day of Resurrection.” [Hadith; Sahih al-Bukhari 2442]
The aim of ta’ziyah is to strengthen the broken-hearted and give them hope at a time when their hope may be waning; it is to lighten the load of the bereaved. After the intense sadness of losing someone you care for deeply, you have the unique ability to empathize with the struggles others face in similar circumstances. Here are some things you can do for grieving families: Spend time with them without imposing yourself as a guest and expecting them to host you with food and drink. Offer to help by buying groceries, doing household chores, or watching their children.
The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: Prepare food for the family of Ja’far for there came upon them an incident which has engaged them. [Hadith; Sunan Abi Dawud 3132]
Do what helps you through your journey of grief. Remember no two journeys are the same, so listen to your heart and give it what it needs. Sometimes you may need time to be alone, sometimes you may need to be around others you love. Sometimes you may need to talk about them, sometimes you may just need to sit quietly with your own thoughts. May Allah heal your pain, calm your heart and reunite you with your loved one in the hereafter.
Co-author’s Bio: Umm Zaynab is a mom of two beautiful boys in this world and a beautiful baby girl in Jannah. She blogs at As the heart heals, where she shares her journey and Islamic reminders, duas and resources that have helped her find strength and healing through difficult times.