'Indeed the Eyes Weep and the Heart is Saddened...'
One of my favourite ḥadīths is one reported by Al-Bukhārī on the authority of Anas ibn Mālik, who narrates that he, along with a group of Companions, accompanied the Prophet ﷺ in visiting his young son (Ibrāhīm), who was in the final stages of his life. Tears began to flow from the Prophet’s ﷺ eyes. Abdur Raḥmān ibn ʿAwf (another Companion) remarked, ‘And even you – O Prophet of Allah - [weep]?’ The Prophet ﷺ replied, ‘O Ibn ʿAwf! This is mercy!’ He then wept some more, and said, ‘O Ibrāhīm! Indeed we are grieved by your separation; the eyes weep and the heart is saddened, but we only utter those words that please our Lord.’
There are very practical lessons to be learnt from this ḥadīth, which is why it is one of my favourites.
Visiting the Sick
It was customary among the Arabs in Arabia at the time to send their young children into the remote regions, away from the cities, to be nursed and raised. The same was the case with the Prophet ﷺ, who was sent to the tribe of Banū Saʿd. His son Ibrāhīm was under the care of a wet-nurse, and he would visit him often. The ḥadīth above indicates the Prophetic practice of visiting the sick, regardless of age. There are numerous other ḥadīths that establish the virtue of this too, one of which is related by Thawbān, that the Prophet ﷺ said:
‘When a Muslim visits a sick Muslim, he remains in the Gardens of Jannah until he returns.’
Ibrāhīm, like the other 2 sons of the Prophet ﷺ, passed away at a very young age. How the Prophet dealt with some of this grief can also be understood from this ḥadīth.
‘And even you – O Prophet of Allah - [weep]?’
Crying is often viewed as taboo in society. It is viewed as a sign of vulnerability and weakness, and men will often bottle up their emotions and natural instinct to cry at times of sadness, instead of crying. ‘Real men don’t cry’. This was probably the premise behind ʿAbdur Raḥmān ibn ʿAwf’s remark, when he said, ‘And even you – O Prophet of Allah - [weep]?’
The Prophet ﷺ practically demonstrated that crying upon grief, sadness and loss was perfectly natural. In fact, he said this on record: ‘O Ibn ʿAwf! This is mercy!’ meaning that when someone cries out of grief over the loss of life, it is not a show of weakness or vulnerability. Rather, it is a sign of mercy, which is a wholly noble characteristic:
‘Ar-Raḥmān (The Most Merciful – Allah) shows mercy upon those who show mercy. Therefore, show mercy to those on earth, the One in the heaven will show mercy to you.’
Another pointer from this ḥadīth is how the Prophet clearly stated that it is normal to feel grief at the loss of a loved one. Grief is expressed in many different ways, one of which is crying. However, people grieve differently; many cry, many cry profusely, some cry intermittently; others feel too numb to cry; some are too shocked to cry. Some prefer to be left alone, many like to be near their loved ones.
A Guiding Principle
In this ḥadīth the Prophet ﷺ lays down a guiding principle on grieving:
‘…but we only utter those words that please our Lord.’
At the loss of a loved one, a person will think a million different thoughts and be put through a rollercoaster of emotion. This is all natural and understandable. However, as in any situation, there are lines that need to be drawn and boundaries that need to be respected. Grieving does not justify statements that question the Will of Allah, exaggerate in praise or criticism, or go to extremes in mourning the deceased. Neither is self-harm and destruction of property and possessions justified in Islam.
Grief is a dark and lonely place; but it doesn’t have to be. We have to remember that we have Allah at all times, and this is a theme that features in all the advices the Prophet ﷺ gave at times of loss, including in this ḥadīth. Notice how, very subtly, the Prophet ﷺ drops Allah’s name, gently guiding all our thoughts in His direction? Yet the rest of his statement is very real and pragmatic.
Interestingly, there is another ḥadīth of a similar nature recorded again by Al-Bukhārī, but on the authority of Usāmah ibn Zayd. In this instance, it is a grandchild of the Prophet ﷺ that is on the verge of death. The Prophet ﷺ sends words of consolation in advance to his daughter, saying, ‘Indeed to Allah belongs whatever He takes, and to Him belongs whatever He gives. Be patient and expect reward from Allah for your suffering.’ He then goes to visit the ailing child, holds him in his arms and weeps while the child struggles to breathe. A companion again remarks, ‘What is this [weeping]?!’ to which the Prophet ﷺ replies, ‘This is mercy which Allah places in the hearts of his servants; and Allah only shows mercy to his merciful servants.’
Again we see the Prophet’s ﷺ words of consolation directing thoughts to Allah, highlighting that we are all under His control; we belong to Him, and therefore our life in this world - just as the lives of our loved ones - is temporary. It is His to take and give; we shall all ultimately return to Him. There is a hint in this that because we believe in Him, when we return to Him the life that awaits us is far greater than the temporary life we have lived in, and wherein we have endured suffering. Our loved ones have therefore moved on to a better life, inshā’Allah.
As we notice from both these ḥadīths, it is the practice of the Prophet ﷺ– a Sunnah, to offer words of consolation to the family of the deceased and those close to them. It is these words that the bereaved cling on to, helping them cope through the grief. Not only is it a practical way of relieving some of the suffering, it is also greatly rewarding in the Hereafter. The Prophet said:
‘Whichever believer consoles his peer, Allah will clothe him with clothes of nobility of the day of Judgement.’
The Grief and Endurance of the Prophet ﷺ
On a personal level, the Prophet ﷺ was tested with loss and grief throughout. Consider that his father passed away before the Prophet ﷺ was even born; he lost his mother when he was 6; his grandfather when he was 12; his uncle and wife in the same year; and all his children during his lifetime, except for his youngest daughter Fāṭimah who passed away 6 months after his death.
An overview of the Prophet’s ﷺ life shows how he was constantly faced with happiness and difficulty. A poignant example is when he was blessed with victory at the Battle of Badr, against all the odds. On what was the greatest day for the Muslims up until that point, the Prophet ﷺ returns to Al-Madīnah to the news that his daughter Ruqayyah has passed away.
There are always lessons to be learnt from the life of the Prophet ﷺ, and there is great consolation in knowing that even the best of all humanity and the most beloved to Allah, Muḥammad ﷺ, suffered the loss of his loved ones. He was once asked, ‘Who suffers the most?’ He replied, ‘The Prophets, and then those most like them, and then those most like them.’
Grief and suffering are two of life’s many other challenges. They are Allah’s way of cleansing us of our sins, and so we should endure them with patience. The Prophet ﷺ said:
‘No Muslim is afflicted with difficulty - illness or otherwise – except that Allah sheds for him his sins, just like a tree sheds leaves.’
We will certainly test you with a touch of fear and famine and loss of property, life, and crops. Give good news to those who patiently endure - (155) who, when faced with a disaster, say, “Surely to Allah we belong and to Him we will [all] return.” (156) They are the ones who will receive Allah’s blessings and mercy. And it is they who are [rightly] guided. (2:155-157)