World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD), celebrated annually on 10 September, is organized by the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) and endorsed by the World Health Organization (WHO). The event represents a global commitment to focus attention on suicide prevention. The theme of WSPD 2022, “Creating hope through action,” reflects the need for collective, action to address this urgent public health issue. All of us- family members, friends, co-workers, community members, educators, religious leaders, healthcare professionals, political officials and governments- can take action to prevent suicide in the Region. Social stigma and a lack of awareness remain major barriers to help-seeking for suicide, highlighting the need for mental health literacy and anti-stigma campaigns. The overall goal of this day is to raise awareness about suicide prevention worldwide. Suicide act of ending one’s own life is an important issue worldwide and lakhs of lives are lost every year due to suicide.The suicide rate has been rapidly rising during the past 20 years. The suicide rate in India has increased over the previous fifty years, and data from 2021 reveals that there were 164,033 suicide deaths overall, a 7.2% rise over 2020’s 153,052 suicide deaths. Since there are many facets to the issue, programmes to prevent suicide should likewise be comprehensive. Every major religion in the world forbids suicide. Suicide affects people of all races, ethnicities, faiths, genders, and socioeconomic groups worldwide. According to statistics, the nations with the greatest global suicide rates are incredibly diverse. For example, in 2019, among the top five are the eastern European country of Lithuania (31.9 suicides per 100k), the eastern European country of Russia (31 suicides per 100k), the South American country of Guyana (29.2 suicides per 100k), and the Asian country of South Korea (26.9 suicides per 100k). Several other eastern European countries have high suicide rates, including Belarus (26.2 suicides per 100k), and Suriname and Kazakhstan, both at around 22 suicides per 100k. Belgium, 20.7 suicides per 100k and interestingly, Bhutan, which is famous for measuring Gross National Happiness, an index used to measure the collective happiness and well-being of its population, has suicide rate 11.4 per 100k. Surprisingly, Afghanistan 4.7 suicides per 100k; Iraq three, andSyria just 1.9 have low suicide rates. The world’s lowest suicide rates are in the Caribbean Islands, Barbados (0.8) and Antigua And Barbuda (0.5) suicides per 100k, respectively. Suicide is considered a sin in many religions and a crime in some jurisdictions. On the other hand, some cultures have viewed it as an honorable way to exit certain shameful or hopeless situations.To be considered suicide, the death must be a central component and intention of the act and not just an almost certain consequence. Hence, suicide bombing is considered a kind of bombing rather than a kind of suicide, while martyrdom is characterized by self-sacrifice in the service of others in emergencies and reckless bravery in battle usually escape religious or legal proscription.Allah the Almighty says, And do not kill the soul which Allah has forbidden (to be killed) except by (legal) right. This has He instructed you that you may use reason (Qur`an 6: 151), and do not kill yourselves (or one another). Indeed, Allah is to you ever Merciful (Qur`an 4: 29). Thabit Ibn Al-Dahak narrated that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Whosoever kills himself with anything in this world will be tortured with it on the Day of Judgment. Definition of suicide – It is the act of killing oneself (intentionally).The ruling on suicide – Suicide is prohibited in Islamic law according to evidence from the Qur`an, Sunna, and the consensus of Muslim scholars. A person who commits suicide commits a major sin, though this does not take him outside of Islam. Washing, shrouding, and praying over a person who commits suicide – It is considered a fardkifaya (communal duty) upon Muslims to wash and shroud a person who commits suicide as well as to bury him in a Muslim cemetery. This is because he is a Muslim and is subject to the general rulings that apply to deceased Muslims. Shams Al-Din Al-Ramly cited in Nihayat al-Muhtaj that there is a unanimous agreement that washing, shrouding, and praying over a deceased and burying him are all considered fard ki faya. This is based on the command found in authentic transmissions pertaining to those who die either due to suicide or to other reasons. Means of suicide – Active suicide: This means taking active steps to carry out a suicide. Examples include (among others), using a sword, spear, rifle, poison to kill oneself, jumping from great heights, throwing oneself in fire, and drowning. Passive suicide: This means refraining from making an effort to stay alive. Examples include abstaining from food and drink, neglecting a treatable wound, staying motionless in water or fire, not trying to escape from an animal when one has the capacity to do so. The ruling on committing suicide to avoid evil – It is impermissible to commit suicide to avoid evils such as rape and torture for instance. It is impermissible for a girl to commit suicide for fear of rape; she must defend herself against her attacker even if this means killing him. If she is killed in the process, she is considered a martyr because she died to defend her honor. The same applies to those who face humiliation and torture. They should resist their assailants and it is impermissible for them to commit suicide under the pretext that it is more honorable to kill themselves than to accept captivity and torture. In times of hardship, a Muslim is expected to remain patient and to oppose injustice to the best of his abilities. He is not ordered to commit suicide in order to avoid diseases. Suicide, like other Abrahamic religions, is severely forbidden and damaging to one’s spiritual progress. However, while humans are considered to be prone to making mistakes, God forgives and wipes out sins if the individual is genuinely honest in repentance, faithful to the reasons, and resolute in goal. The outcome appears obviously unfavourable for those who believed but later disbelieved in God.In the Quran, although God is said to be ‘the Most Merciful, the Most Kind’ and forgives all sins, the great sin of unbelief is deemed unforgivable. Despite this, there is an unpopular view that actions committed in the course of jihad resulting in one’s own death are not considered suicide, even if by the nature of the act death is assured (e.g. suicide bombing). Such acts are instead considered a form of martyrdom. However, there is Quranic evidence to the contrary stating those involved in the killing of the innocent are wrongdoers and transgressors. Nevertheless, some claim Islam does permit the use of suicide only against the unjust and oppressors if one feels there is absolutely no other option available and life otherwise would end in death. Buddhism: According to Buddhism, our past heavily influences our present. Furthermore, what an individual does in the present moment influences his or her future, in this life or the next. This is cause and effect, as taught by Gautama Buddha. Otherwise known as karma, intentional action by mind, body or speech has a reaction and its repercussion is the reason behind the conditions and differences we come across in the world.One’s suffering primarily originates from past negative deeds or just from being in samsara (the cycle of birth and death).
Another reason for the prevalent suffering we experience is due to impermanence. Since everything is in a constant state of flux, we experience unsatisfactoriness with the fleeting events of life. To break out of samsara, one simply must realize their true nature, by enlightenment in the present moment; this is Nirvana.For Buddhists, since the first precept is to refrain from the destruction of life (including oneself), suicide is clearly considered a negative form of action. But despite this view, an ancient Asian ideology similar to seppuku persists to influence Buddhists by, when under oppression, committing the act of “honorable” suicide. In modern times, Tibetan monks have used this ideal in order to protest the People’s Republic of China’s occupation of Tibet and the China’s supposed human rights violations against Tibetans.Christianity: Christianity is traditionally opposed to suicide and assisted suicide. In Catholicism specifically, suicide has been considered a grave and sometimes mortal sin. The chief Catholic argument is that one’s life is the property of God, and that to destroy one’s own life is to wrongly assert dominion over what is God’s. This argument runs into a famous counterargument by David Hume, who noted that if it is wrong to take life when a person would naturally live, it must be wrong to save life when a person would naturally die, as this too seems to be contravening God’s will.On a different line, many Christians believe in the sanctity of human life, a principle which, broadly speaking, says that all human life is sacred? a wonderful, even miraculous creation of the divine God ? and every effort must be made to save and preserve it whenever possible. Nevertheless, even while believing that suicide is generally wrong, liberal Christians may well recognize that people who commit suicide are severely distressed and so believe that the loving God of Christianity can forgive such an act.Hinduism: In Hinduism, murdering one’s own body is considered equally sinful as murdering another. However, under various circumstances it is considered acceptable to end one’s life by fasting. This practice, known as prayopavesha, requires so much time and will power that there is no danger of acting on an impulse. It also allows time for the individual to settle all worldly affairs, to ponder life and to draw close to God.Judaism: Judaism views suicide as one of the most serious of sins. Suicide has always been forbidden by Jewish law, except for three specific cases. If one is being forced by someone to commit murder, forced to commit an act of idolatry, or forced to commit adultery or incest, then in those cases alone would suicide be permissible. However, outside those cases, suicide is forbidden, and this includes taking part of assisted suicide. One may not ask someone to assist in killing themselves for two separate reasons: (a) killing one is forbidden, and (b) one is then making someone else an accomplice to a sin. While many religions have traditionally prohibited suicide when motivated by despair, certain forms of suicide, for the community or for a greater good, are permitted, and at times, even celebrated. And within Hinduism, there is a tradition of ascetics fasting to death after they gained enlightenment. Then there are the ancient Hindu traditions of “sati”, where the wife dies on her husband’s funeral pyre, and “jauhar”, the ritual self-immolation of an entire community of women when they were certain of defeat in war and consequent enslavement. What unifies all these examples is the idea that there are principles or goals that are more important than life itself. And so, self-sacrifice is not suicide: letting go of life because of faith is different, from letting go of life because of lack of hope.As a spiritual alternative to prevent suicide, Islam has its ways of addressing the issue. First of all, researchers show that suicide rates interestingly appear to be lower among Muslims as compared to those of other faiths or atheists. The researchers have attributed, among others, the lower rate to the religion of the Muslims.Muslims, as most of them do, are required to submit themselves to Islam completely. Islam has its own codes of right and wrong.To fulfil the submission, Muslims have to abide by the codes, thus proving them to be practising Muslims. Failing to heed the requirements means the Muslims are either ignorant without proper religious knowledge or they are being recalcitrant.Islam has laid a basic foundation to protect humanity. Its foundation is based on several major pillars that define the need to uphold the dignity of all mankind and beings in the world.The foundation, called Maqasid al-Syariah or the goals of Islamic teachings, revolves around five foundational goals – the preservation of religion, life, lineage, intellect and property. The jurist Imam Abu Ishaq al-Shatibi (1388) also wrote on the Maqasid Al-Syariah in his work, Al-Muwafaqaat fi Usool al-Sya¬riah. He elaborated more on the Maqasid al-Syariah as the attainment of good, welfare, advantages and benefits, and the warding off of evil, injury, or loss.One of the foundational goals is to preserve the life of human beings. This gives fundamental guidance for Muslims to not commit suicide.Veritably, all aspects of Islamic teachings are based on the prime Syariah sources, namely the Quran and the Sunnah (teachings, sayings, deeds, silent permissions or disapprovals of the Prophet Muhammad).Islam strongly prohibits suicide due to its teachings on the sanctity of life. The Quran explicitly states this in the story of the Children of Israel for the guidance of mankind:On that account: We ordained for the Children of Israel that if any one slew a person – unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land – it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people. Then although there came to them Our messengers with clear signs, yet, even after that, many of them continued to commit excesses in the land. (Chapter al-Maidah:32).Furthermore, the Prophet’s Sunnah also issued a stern warning to suicides. He said, “Whoever kills himself with something in the world, he will be punished with it on the Day of Judgment.” (Bukhari and Imam Muslim).Muslims believe in the life of the Hereafter where every good or bad deed will be either rewarded or punished accordingly. Hence, taking one’s life by suicide will not solve one’s problem at all. Without doubt, there are many who face tremendous depression in their lives. For such souls, Islam urges them to not despair at all costs but think of the blessings of Allah which are actually abundant. What is life but a series of tests?In Islam, a test can come in the form of despair or hardship or – little does one realise this – wealth and happiness are also forms of life tests. Whether one gets something good or faces something bad, it is an indicator of how far one submits to Allah in both happy and grave occasions.Islam also stresses that “Allah does not burden a soul except what it can bear”. (al-Baqarah: verse 286). In short, Islam protects the sanctity of human life by its teachings and practical solutions. A Muslim is obligated to exercise patience at times of affliction and fight injustice to the best of his ability. He is not commanded to commit suicide to escape afflictions.
(The authors write regularly on Islamic , Environmental and social issues for the opinion pages of “ Kashmir Horizon”. Views are their own)