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How To Respond To Suicide In Muslim Communities

How To Respond To Suicide In Muslim Communities

By Rania Awaad, MD, Taimur Kouser, Osama El-Gabalawy, MS

Trigger Warning: This article discusses suicide which some might find disturbing. If you or someone you know is having serious thoughts of suicide, please call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Mental health is an important part of our Islamic tradition, history, and legacy. Nevertheless, mental illness remains a greatly stigmatized topic in Muslim communities. Like people of all faiths and backgrounds,  Muslims experience mental health challenges, mental illnesses, and indeed suicidal ideation. Nonetheless, Muslims tend to particularly stigmatize suicide. Islam teaches us about the value of human life as well as the certainty of hardships and trials in this world, and it clearly prohibits people from killing themselves. Despite these teachings, the reality is that many Muslims in the United States and around the world struggle with thoughts of killing themselves, and many Muslims do die by suicide. Contrary to common belief among Muslims, faith and prayer alone do not make a person immune to depression, thoughts of self-harm, or suicide. When a death by suicide does occur in a Muslim community, we must turn to Islamically grounded and scientifically sound principles on how to respond.

It is imperative to first understand a few definitions:

  • Prevention are the steps taken to reduce the risk of suicide. However, in the aftermath of a suicide, our focus should be on postvention and community healing.
  • Intervention relates to the direct effort to prevent a person from taking their own life
  • Postvention are the steps people take to respond to a suicide after it happens. These strategies emphasize the need to save life and help ensure that community members have access to appropriate mental health care services. After a suicide happens in a community, mental health professionals shift their focus to preventing suicide contagion.
  • Suicide contagion is a well-documented phenomenon in which people’s direct or indirect exposure to suicide increases their risk of dying by suicide too. Suicide contagion can result in suicide clusters.
  • Suicide clusters are when multiple suicides occur in close proximity.

Preventing suicide contagion is one of the top priorities of a postvention response. Community leaders and community members can all take steps together to prevent additional suicides and support healthy patterns of communal grieving and healing.

10 Do’s and Do Not’s to Follow after a Suicide Occurs:

1. DO NOT sensationalize or romanticize suicide

First and foremost, when a suicide occurs, it is critical NOT to sensationalize or romanticize the death. Talking about the location of death, means of death, and specific details of a recent suicide are harmful discussions and should be avoided. These details, although reported in good faith, often sensationalize or dramatize the tragedy that has occurred. Suicide contagion spreads by people and media outlets sharing unfiltered content on suicide with little to no mention of resources for help. It is an especially big concern in today’s world because of how easily things are shared on social media.

Concrete actions to avoid include:

●      NOT re-posting or discussing suicide notes

●      NOT sharing details of a specific suicide case

●      NOT discussing the victim’s circumstances

●      NOT romanticizing the death as a solution to what he or she was going through.

Why? Because people who are struggling with serious thoughts of killing themselves may identify with parts of these conversations which may motivate them to make an attempt on their own life. It is vital to NOT contribute to any narratives that normalize or sensationalize suicidal behaviors. Anything that is shared or discussed should focus on hope, healing, and offer support and resources for those who are struggling.   

2. DO NOT speculate or dwell on specifics

Suicide is an immense tragedy, and it is very common to try to make sense of and understand what exactly occurred. Dwelling on details of a suicide, speculating on unsubstantiated reports, or engaging in gossip do not contribute meaningfully to the healing or the grieving process. For healing to occur during the aftermath of suicide, one must recognize that questions will remain unanswered and do not need to be answered. Investigating the details of the case should be left to the authorities and mental health experts. As authorities release details of the case, it is imperative not to dwell on the specifics of the case. Spending a significant amount of time analyzing details can serve as a barrier to processing emotions and grieving in a healthy manner. 

3. DO NOT speculate on the spiritual implications of suicide

Suicide is clearly prohibited in Islam. This means that many people begin to think about the spiritual implications for someone who has died by suicide. Do they get the janaza prayer? Will they be able to enter jannah? Are they still Muslim? Although it is understandable why people have these questions, it is imperative to remember that Allah (SWT) is the ultimate judge of what happens to all of us, no matter who we are, what we have done, or how we die. Additionally, we may not know all of the factors that contribute to a person who dies by suicide. People in a suicidal state often have distorted thought processes and pre-existing mental illnesses are implicated in over 90% of suicide cases. For these reasons, speculating on the spiritual implications for someone who dies by suicide is useless and extends beyond the capacity of human beings. The community needs to focus on healing and responding to a suicide, not on making judgements or assessments of matters that we will never know with certainty.

4. DO NOT try to diagnose a person who died by suicide

There are multiple factors that contribute to suicidal ideation and behavior. Risk factors for suicide can include biological factors (like a person’s genetic makeup or brain chemistry), psychological factors (like the presence of other mental illnesses), social factors (like how connected and supported people feel with their families and friends or how much stress they feel in a given time period), and even spiritual factors (like how people think about Allah). There is truly no way to know which of these factors may have caused a person to kill themselves just by reading a suicide note they have left behind or analyzing aspects of the person’s life. For that reason, it is important to NOT diagnose a person who has died by suicide. Moreover, trying to do so can be harmful for the community, jarring for the family, and distracts from what should be the main focus in the aftermath of a suicide – grieving, supporting, and healing. Ibn Umar reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Mention what is good about your dead, and refrain from speaking about their evil.” (Sunan al-Tirmidhī 1019)

5. What TO say and NOT to say when consoling someone who is grieving

Many times it is challenging to find the correct words to say to those who are grieving the loss of someone who dies by suicide. When you meet a loss survivor, someone bereaved by the suicide of a loved one, express sympathy as you would for any sudden death. Those close to the victim may grapple with a range of complex emotions such as grief, fear, shame, and anger. Let them lead the conversation and be compassionate when listening and responding. Remember to listen to the emotions that they are sharing with you and respond to the emotions you hear rather than to your own feelings.

When Sayida Zainab’s son, may Allah be pleased with them both, was dying, she called for her father, the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. As the Prophet saw his grandson struggle with his last breaths, the Prophet’s eyes streamed with tears. Sa’d bin ‘Ubadah said “O Messenger of Allah! What is this?” Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, replied, “It is compassion which Allah has placed in the hearts of His servants, Allah is compassionate only to those among His servants who are compassionate (to others)”

Here is a brief list of ways on how to console someone who is grieving:

6. DO NOT blame each other and DO NOT blame yourself

Blame and the notion of “who is responsible” are common feelings that come up when someone dies by suicide. Some people (like close family and friends) may wonder why they did not catch the signs that their loved one was thinking about killing themselves. Others may wonder whether they could have stepped in or intervened in some way. Community leaders may be concerned about the state of their community and wonder whether they could have implemented better programs, while community members may be frustrated that better programming and support systems were not in place. Although these feelings are valid and understandable, it is crucial that people do not blame each other or themselves. Once someone has died by suicide, the focus needs to be on grieving and healing, and assigning blame does not help with either. In the long-term, the community can begin to take steps to implement new mental health programming in a constructive way.

7. DO process emotions

Humans are emotional creatures. Our thoughts, action, and behaviors are intimately linked. Our lives are marked by sadness, happiness, joy, anger, frustration, grief, and more. Intense events like the death of a community member by suicide can trigger intense emotions in all of us, but the emotions that are triggered may not be the same for each person. Some may feel sadness, while others may feel anger. Some may feel numb, and others may feel a combination of emotions. To heal in these situations, it is imperative to process the emotions that we ourselves are feeling and make space for others to process in a way that feels right for them. Processing these emotions helps us make sense of the events around us and enables us to help others heal too. There are many Qur’anic verses and Hadith that inform us how to cope with grief and how to support those who are grieving.

8. DO reach out to each other and check on each other

Every single person can play a vital role in creating a mentally healthy environment through thoughtful gestures, no matter how large or small. In the aftermath of a suicide, communities can organize to support loss survivors not only by lending an open ear, but also by providing different types of support during the grieving process. Organizing a meal train, offering to babysit, or even buying flowers are very thoughtful gestures that can have a meaningful impact. Before doing any of this, however, it is important to ask what is desired and needed by those who are grieving, and allow for them to respectfully decline. Some may desire to be left alone, and that is okay, but one should still ask and offer support. It is also just as important to regularly re-assess any new or changing needs.

More broadly, checking-in consistently, both in the short term and long term, with anyone particularly impacted by the suicide or anyone struggling with mental health in the community is key to suicide prevention. Friends and family are often the first to recognize if something is wrong, and can play an integral role with linking one to professional help. When people are willing to listen to each other and to support each other, the entire community becomes stronger and tight-knit.

9. DO identify ways for community members to seek religious and professional support

DO identify ways for community members to seek religious and professional support Click To Tweet

Following any death, including a death by suicide, community members will need to grieve and heal. It is important to realize that different types of experiences can require different forms of help. People should first identify whom they resonate most with– a religious leader, a local counselor, a Muslim mental health professional, or a non-Muslim mental health professional. They can then find a list of providers for the type of help they are seeking and take initiative to reach out. To help someone else who is struggling, people should also try to identify the best form of professional help and refer their friend there. Religious leaders are usually best equipped to address crises of faith and offer spiritual, non-professional counseling. Whereas mental health professionals like psychiatrists, psychologists, professional counselors, therapists, and social workers are better equipped to help people with their experiences of mental illness. Religious and professional mental health support are both important and necessary. The key is to seek the right type of care for the appropriate problems and to escalate care to a mental health professional or emergency services (i.e. 911) when in doubt.

10. DO remember that suicide is preventable, mental illness is treatable, and these challenging times are surmountable

It is imperative to understand and to keep in mind that suicide is preventable and that mental illness is treatable. When we affirm these values and truly take them to heart, it can help empower us to take steps to prevent suicides from happening in the first place. Prevention strategies refer to steps that communities can take to prevent suicidal crises from happening in the first place. These strategies include community-level actions, as well as individual-level actions. Just as we strive to develop healthy Islamic environments for our children and our loved ones, we must also strive to create environments that promote and support mental health.

Some steps that Muslim community leaders can take in the long-term include: establishing relationships with local mental health professionals, creating and hosting frequent mental health education and awareness events in community spaces like schools and mosques, and even developing and maintaining support systems such as a local Muslim mental health community advisory board (CAB) and crisis response team (CRT) that are dedicated to promoting mental health and wellbeing in the community.


Any death in a community has the potential to deeply affect not only the deceased’s family and close friends, but also the wider community. When someone dies by suicide, the impact on the community and its individual members can be significantly more difficult. While we should strive to create Muslim communities that support and promote mental health as well as approach mental illness in a non-stigmatizing manner, the reality is that suicides can happen despite our best efforts and intentions. In these cases, it is critical that the community responds in an appropriate and prompt manner. Muslim religious leaders, mental health professionals, community leaders and advocates, and general community members all have roles that they can and must play in responding to a crisis. Taking the steps outlined here will not only help prevent suicide contagion in the short term, but it will also help the community grieve and heal in the long term.

Suicide is preventable. Mental illness is treatable. And these challenging times are surmountable.Click To Tweet

If you are interested in furthering your knowledge on suicide response in the Muslim community, the Stanford Muslim Mental Health & Islamic Psychology Lab has developed a robust, evidence-based and Islamically-grounded suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention manual and training. It provides in-depth, step-by-step guidance for Muslim community and religious leaders that was developed in collaboration with Muslim leaders and suicide experts. The Stanford MMH&IP Lab in collaboration with are also developing an upcoming training and certification program for Muslim across the world to learn how to effectively prevent, intervene, and respond to suicides in their own communities. To learn more please follow us on social media @stanfordmmhip

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of self-harm, please call 911 or one of the following hotlines:

  • 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Naseeha Muslim Mental Health Hotline: 1-866-627-3342 (available 9AM – 6PM PST)
  • AMALA Muslim Youth Hopeline: 1-855-952-6252 (available 6PM – 10PM PST except Tuesdays and Thursdays)
  • Find a Muslim Mental Health Provider in your area here:


Rania Awaad M.D., is a Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the Stanford University School of Medicine where she is the Director of the Stanford Muslim Mental Health & Islamic Psychology Lab, Associate Chief of the Division of Public Mental Health and Population Sciences, and Co-Chief of the Diversity and Cultural Mental Health Section in department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. She is also the Executive Director of Her research and clinical work are focused on the mental health of Muslims. Her courses at Stanford range from teaching a pioneering course on Islamic Psychology, instructing medical students and residents on implicit bias and integrating culture and religion into medical care to teaching undergraduate and graduate students the psychology of xenophobia. Some of her most recent academic publications include an edited volume on “Islamophobia and Psychiatry” (Springer, 2019), “Applying Islamic Principals to Clinical Mental Health” (Routledge, 2020) and an upcoming clinical textbook on Muslim Mental Health for the American Psychiatric Association. She is currently an instructor at the Cambridge Muslim College, TISA and a Senior Fellow at Yaqeen Institute and ISPU. In addition, she serves as the Director of The Rahmah Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating Muslim women and girls. She has previously served as the founding Clinical Director of the Khalil Center-San Francisco as well as a Professor of Islamic Law at Zaytuna College. Prior to studying medicine, she pursued classical Islamic studies in Damascus, Syria and holds certifications (ijāzah) in Qur’an, Islamic Law and other branches of the Islamic Sciences. Follow her @Dr.RaniaAwaad

Taimur Kouser is a researcher at the Stanford Muslim Mental Health & Islamic Psychology Lab and is one of the authors on the lab’s suicide community response manual. He received his bachelor’s degree in Neuroscience and Philosophy from Harvard University. Currently, he is a master’s candidate at Duke University in their Bioethics & Science Policy program and is the recipient of a Fulbright research grant to study at the Center for Neurophilosophy at Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich, Germany.

Osama El-Gabalawy, MS, leads the suicide line of research at the Stanford Muslim Mental Health & Islamic Psychology Lab, and is one of the authors on the lab’s suicide community response manual. He received his bachelors in Biology, masters in Computer Science, and will be graduating with a doctorate in medicine all from Stanford University. He is an incoming Psychiatry resident at Columbia University.

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Source: Muslim Matters

Day of the Dogs, Part 21: The Eternal Life

Day of the Dogs, Part 21: The Eternal Life

See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories.

This is a multi-chapter novel.  Chapters:  Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11 | Chapter 12 | Chapter 13 | Chapter 14 | Chapter 15 | Chapter 16 | Chapter 17 | Chapter 18 | Chapter 19 | Chapter 20

“Go home, Omar. Go home, go home.” – A frog

Peeling Balls

They were on Via Argentina, an especially nice street with well maintained apartment buildings, quirky shops and restaurants, and a grassy island in the middle. Parked cars lined the road, and there were zero free spaces. Ivana put on her blinkers and came to a dead stop in the right lane. Immediately horns began to blare as traffic backed up, and angry drivers were forced to merge into the other lane.

Omar got out of the car and walked up a driveway that led into an underground garage belonging to an apartment building. He stopped in front of the little girl who sat dejectedly on the driveway curb, her box of gum packets on the ground between her dirt-encrusted bare feet.

Beggar girl“Hello Amelia. Do you remember me?”

She squinted up at him. “The burned guy.”

“You still peeling balls?” From the way Amelia had used this expression last time, Omar assumed it meant down on your luck and broke.

She made a small yet comprehensive hand gesture that said, “This is my world.” And, “What a stupid question.”

“You want to come with us? Get some food?”

Her eyes narrowed further. “You’re not a vampire?”


She lowered her voice to a whisper. “They go after street kids.”

“I’m standing in the sun.”


He beckoned. “Come.” By this time the cacophony of car horns had risen to a crescendo. Drivers rolled down their windows to shout curses at Ivana, reviling her parentage and comparing her to every despised animal they could think of. The girl picked up her box of gum.

In the confines of the car, it was obvious that the child had not bathed. Omar sat in front, while the girl sat in back with Samia, her forehead pressed against the window as she watched the street go by, her box of gum clutched in her lap.

“What’s the plan?” Samia asked in English, so the child would not understand.

Omar sighed. “I want to feed her. After that… I don’t know.”

“No restaurant will let her in,” Ivana replied, still in English. “She have no shoes, and she smell bad.”

“Someplace with outside tables.”

Ivana grinned. “I know a place.” Switching to Spanish, Ivana looked over her shoulder at the girl. “I was a beauty queen.”

Amelia said nothing.

“And I’m descended from Castilian royalty.”

The girl looked impressed. “Your car is pretty.”

Ivana gave a satisfied nod. “Why did you say you don’t have parents?”

Amelia’s Tale

Amelia returned her gaze to the street. Speaking in a monotone, she explained that her mother had been killed in a robbery when she was small, and her father had gone to Colombia to find work, leaving her with her grandmother. That was two years ago, and she had not heard from him since.

Livestock carrier

Livestock carrier

Two older cousins, one eighteen and one sixteen, convinced her to travel to Panama with them. They had a distant aunt living here, and thought she could take care of them. They hired on as unpaid swabs on a livestock carrier – a type of ship – carrying live sheep from Brazil to Mexico by way of the Panama Canal. Their job was to clean the animal waste. But the ship was not sufficiently ventilated – “the air got bad,” as Amelia put it – and the eighteen year old died, along with one seaman and several animals.

When they abandoned ship in Colon and found their way to Panama City, the aunt would not take them in. She’d recently gotten married, and her husband said he wouldn’t turn his house into a beggars’ den. The sixteen year old cousin turned to prostitution, and pressured Amelia to do the same. Amelia refused, and they parted ways. She sold gum from morning to sunset, and at night slept in an abandoned building on the Tumba Muerto.

Ivana looked horrified. “Prostitution? You can’t be more than ten years old. Your cousin should be shot!”

The girl shrank from Ivana’s anger. “I’m fourteen,” she said defensively.

Omar was stunned. Fourteen? She didn’t look older than nine or ten. She must be chronically malnourished.

When they stopped at Nadia’s house to pick up Nur, the boy hopped into the back seat. “Who are you?” Nur asked.


“Oh.” Nur opened his backpack and took out his Etch-a-Sketch. “Want to draw?”

Amelia smiled for the first time since Omar had met her. “Sure.”

Omar watched with pride. Surely Nur was aware of Amelia’s body odor, and certainly he could see her dirty feet and dusty, disheveled hair. Yet he behaved normally, as if unaware of these things. In that moment, Omar’s heart swelled with love for his son. Tired, he put his head back and closed his eyes.

Someplace To Eat

When the car stopped and Omar opened his eyes to see their destination, he shot a scowl at Ivana. She’d brought them to Panama Viejo Snacks and Lottery. Tio Melo’s shop. Correction – Santiago Francisco Bayano Benjumeda’s shop.

Ivana shrugged. “It’s someplace to eat, primo.”

Uh-huh. They all sat on one of the benches: Omar on one end, then Samia, Nur and Amelia. Omar did not want to enter the shop, but he gave Ivana money and she went inside.

She emerged with a large sack and proceeded to distribute wrapped tuna sandwiches, takeout boxes of chicken chow mein and cabbage dumplings, potato chips, cans of guava and apple juice, and bottles of water. In spite of the Cuban sandwich earlier, Omar realized he was hungry again. He took a chicken chow mein and dug in with wooden chopsticks. Melo’s – argh, Santiago’s – Chinese food was delicious, and after Ivana’s story Omar knew why. The man had spent more than two decades in China.

Ivana squeezed in on the end next to Amelia, and the five of them sat in a row like birds, eating. Amelia wolfed down her tuna sandwich, barely pausing to chew. Omar noticed her sneaking another sandwich out of the bag and hiding it under the bench.

“Slow down,” Samia said. “You’ll make yourself sick. There’s plenty of food. You can have as much as you want.”

Melo emerged from the store and stood in front of them. His face, which had always seemed ageless, was now etched with worry lines. He glanced at Omar, then looked away. “How goes the struggle?”

“I don’t know, Santiago,” Omar replied. “You tell me.”

Omar saw Santiago’s Adam’s apple go up and down. The old man seemed to wither under Omar’s unblinking stare.

Che Guevara

Che Guevara

“Che Guevara used to say,” Santiago said, “that the true revolutionary is not guided by hatred, because that is not revolution but vengeance. Nor is he guided by ideology, because that devolves into dictatorship. No, the true revolutionary is guided by love. Maybe…” He paused and wiped his forehead. “Maybe I loved your father so much that I wanted a better world for him. I grew up in the ramshackle, bloody streets of Portobelo, in violence and poverty. Maybe -” his lower lip trembled and his voice broke, and tears began to stream from his eyes. “Maybe I wanted more for Reymundo and all other children like him. And maybe I was utterly, stupidly wrong.”

Ivana set her food on the bench and went to the old man, embracing his slender form. Santiago stood with his arms at his sides, accepting the embrace passively. Ivana held out a hand to Omar. “Come, primo.”

Omar felt such a roiling mixture of emotions that he thought they would combine like chemicals in a bad science experiment and dissolve him. Ivana beckoned again. He looked to the people beside him and saw Nur and Amelia watching him, while Samia sat with her head tilted in that way that indicated she was listening intently.

Who Am I?

Who am I? he thought. And who am I raising my boy to be? He remembered Samia saying, “I feel like there’s an inner sickness consuming you. My instinct tells me the only cure is forgiveness” And he thought of Tio Niko’s words: “I will tell you a secret. Some of the flock… have been with you all along. They never stopped loving you… You know them by what they do.”

What had Santiago Benjumeda actually done? He’d been a friend since Omar was young, caring for him in little ways, bringing gifts to his family, persisting as a giver of kindness.

Even as these thoughts passed through his mind, he realized they were superfluous. He was no longer angry. The resentment and bitterness that had consumed him were gone. They’d been catalyzed by his survival of that crippling weeklong depression, and by his mother’s story, and his uncle’s death, and had been transformed into something else. An understanding, perhaps, that everyone made terrible mistakes, everyone was ashamed, and everyone struggled to return to the light.

He went to the old man, putting an arm around him from the other side. For a moment the strength seemed to leave Santiago’s legs, and he sagged. Omar reacted quickly, circling his arm around Santiago’s back, clutching him. His grandfather returned to himself, and stood straight again. Tears still ran down his cheeks, and he seemed afraid to look at Omar. Omar surprised himself by pulling Santiago’s head toward him and kissing the man on the temple.

No one spoke except for Samia, who whispered to Nur, “What’s happening?” Amelia watched with curious eyes, even as she continued to eat.

A group of teenagers were hanging out in front of the shop. Two girls approached Omar. One smiled shyly. “You’re Omar Bayano, aren’t you?” The two girls giggled.

“Yeah. How do you know me?”

“From the news. You killed that escaped murderer. Can we have your autograph?” The girl produced a school notebook that had been folded in two, and a pen that wrote in five colors simultaneously.

Omar didn’t see any point in correcting the girl’s version of events. Sighing internally, he signed the book.

“How come you’re at this place?” the girl asked.

Omar indicated Santiago. “He’s my grandfather.” Saying these words felt like speaking with peanut butter coating his mouth. It would take getting used to.

“Tio Melo is your grandfather? Oh my God!”

“I’m his cousin,” Ivana said proudly. “I’m also the former Miss Cuba.”

The girls shrieked with delight and gave the notebook and pen to Ivana.

Omar’s phone rang. He answered it and listened as his mother spoke in a strangely calm and controlled tone. After a minute he hung up and looked around at the group.

“The Black Knife is gone. Celio Natá has passed away.”

Don’t Worry, Primo

“You just saw him an hour ago!” Ivana exclaimed.

“He was in bad shape.”

Samia came to his side and slipped her arm through his. “You gave him what he needed to be at peace.”

“What do you mean?”

“You promised to work for his people, and that comforted his heart. And you gave him the testimony of faith, and that comforted his soul. He was able to move on.”

Omar remembered how all the tension had drained out of Tio Celio’s body after reciting the shahadah. It was as if the man had been grasping a lifeline with all his strength, and had decided he didn’t need it anymore.

“The Ngäbe-Buglé elders are meeting tonight. Mamá wants me to come. She wants to arrange an Islamic funeral for Celio, but the elders are refusing. She wants me to show them the video and explain what it means.”

The kids swung their legs and chatted about werewolves and something Amelia called La Ciguapa – a woman with her feet facing backward, who could hypnotize men into following her into the woods, where they disappeared. What was with this kid and monsters? She was going to give his son nightmares.

“I’m not sure what to do about the girl,” Omar said in English.

“Don’t worry, primo,” Ivana said confidently. “I will deal with her. I have a plan.”

Omar shrugged. Weariness was setting in, and he couldn’t think clearly. “Okay.”

Santiago touched his arm. “What about me and you? Are we… alright?”

Omar studied the old man. His grandfather. “Samia’s been wanting to organize a picnic at the beach. We’ll call you.”

When Ivana pulled into their driveway at home, Omar spoke to Amelia. “Do you mind going with this lady? She’s my cousin. She’ll take you wherever you want to go.”

“Is she a vampire?”

“What?” Ivana shot Amelia a disapproving glance. “I’m black. Did you ever hear of a black vampire?”

Amelia screwed up her face, thinking.

Omar shut the car door and waved as Ivana drove off, going too fast as usual.

He’d done a lot for his first day out of bed. It was all he could do to perform wudu’, pray Asr and fall into bed, setting his alarm for just after sunset so he could pray Maghreb and attend the meeting, which was being held at his mother’s house.

The Meeting

The meeting was already underway, and it was bedlam. A 30ish woman in a purple nagua dress, sneakers and a straw hat pounded the table. “Don Celio was a good Christian servant! It would be an insult to bury him with some heathen tradition.”

Ximena leaped to her feat. “Are you calling me a heathen? I believe more than you, because I worship only God! As for Don Celio, he never set foot in a church. He used to say that he and God had a mutual pact to leave each other alone. He never professed any faith until he converted to Islam.”

“Which I still doubt,” the woman in the hat said. “It sounds like a fairy tale.”

“It’s not,” Omar said, and they paused, looking at him. There were eight people there: Omar’s mother; the Krägä Bianga; Governor Amauro; a man with a once-broken nose and naturally spiky hair that stood up like cactus spines, who Omar recognized as one of Don Celio’s sons; two other men Omar did not know at all; and the angry woman in the hat. There was no sign of his mother’s husband Masood.

Ximena introduced everyone to him, starting with the spiky haired man, who, she said, was Ismael, the new king of the Ngäbe-Buglé people.

“What about Nicho?” Omar asked.

The angry woman waved a hand. “He’s a drunk.”

“Finalizing Ismael’s appointment,” Ximena said, “was one of the things we met to do.”


“I have been elected to the Council of Elders.”

“Against my wishes,” the angry woman said sourly. “You are not Mama Tada. You are not even Christian.”

“Then get out of my house and go,” Ximena said hotly. “And forget about receiving any further funds from me.”

Amauro made a soothing gesture. “Easy, Ximena. You are one of us, it’s done.”

This was a side of his mother Omar had never seen. He remembered her slapping Nicho when the man grabbed his shirt. She’d always been submissive, or so it seemed to him. But she had changed. It was as if, in confessing her appalling weakness to Omar, she had dispensed with it, emerging transformed from the chrysalis of truth. She was done being trampled. This realization moved Omar, and he felt a strange thing stirring in his breast: pride for his mother.

The other two men, Omar learned, were governors of the other two Ngäbe districts, while the woman was Zuli, high priestess of the Mama Tada – the native Christian cult of the Ngäbes. Mama Tada, Omar knew, was founded in 1961 when a Ngäbe woman named Besiko saw Jesus and Mary ride up to her on a motorcycle. The religion emphasized disengagement from outsiders, and abolition of alcohol, wife beating, and fences between properties. Half the Ngäbe people followed Mama Tada. They even had their own police force. This priestess Zuli probably commanded more influence than Ismael would as king.

“Show them the video,” Ximena urged.

Omar played it. When it was done, Zuli scoffed. “He was drugged. He didn’t know what he was saying.”

“Play it again,” Ismael – the new king – said. Omar played it.

“Explain it,” Ismael requested.

Omar explained the basics of Islam, emphasizing the fact that Muslims believed in Jesus and Mary, but as a Prophet and a holy woman, not as divine beings.

“What is it you wish?” Ismael wanted to know.

“He must be given an Islamic funeral,” Ximena broke in, “and buried in an Islamic cemetery.”

Kissed by the Wind

The room broke out in an uproar. Zuli’s face turned pomegranate red as she shouted that Don Celio could never be buried outside the comarca. Ximena hollered back that Celio’s faith must be respected. Ismael looked thoughtful. In spite of his odd, vaguely punkish appearance, Omar thought he might make a good king.

“I have a proposal,” Omar said. The argument continued, so he repeated himself more loudly. Finally eyes turned to him. “Give him a Christian service, and bury him on the comarca, but not in a Christian graveyard. Bury him in a wild place, on the side of a mountain perhaps, caressed by the wind.”

Virtually at the same time, Zuli snapped, “Unacceptable,” while Ximena said, “How is that a compromise?”

Irritated, Omar said, “Excuse us,” and took his mother into the bedroom. “Mamá, you’re on the council now, and I’ve committed to working with them. We need their good will. The Prophet, sal-Allahu alayhi wa-sallam, said that the Muslim who dies in a fire is a shaheed. Celio died from the effects of a fire. His soul is in Jannah. What does it matter if they give him a Christian service? It’s only his body. We can pray for him ourselves as well.”

His mother patted his cheek. “You were always wiser than me.” When they returned to the living room, she announced her agreement with Omar’s proposal.

“In that case,” Ismael, said, “It will be done. I think my father would like being on the side of a mountain, kissed by the wind.” He smiled at Omar.

Zuli grumbled, but the decision had been made. Omar only hoped that the priestess would not prove to be an enemy in the future.


Panama highlands

Panama highlands

Three days later, Omar sat on the back of a powerful brown stallion, making his way up a trail on the ridge of a mountain spur. His horse was tethered to the one in front of him, which was ridden by an experienced Ngäbe horseman, so all Omar had to do was sit still and enjoy the ride. The mountain fell away on the sides, its steep slopes covered in oak trees, magnolias, umbrella-shaped ceibas, massive guanacastes, and bamboo and ferns in the understory. The sun was harsh and unbroken. Birds chattered and sang. Now and then an opossum, armadillo or ñeque waddled or bounded out of the way, or a sloth rustled in the leaves of a tree.

Samia was in the city, working on Indigenous and Refugee Advancement, the name they’d given to the new organization they’d set up. In Spanish it was Adelanto de Indígenas y Refugiados, or AIR for short. Breathing this pristine mountain air, Omar found the name appropriate. AIR would help people breathe, metaphorically speaking.

Puro Panameño had given them a grant to get started. They’d already rented an office in Bella Vista, and Samia had signed on as general manager. Naris Muhammad would consult in the effort to stop the government’s construction of the Pared Blanca dam on Ngäbe land. Omar felt that might be too big of a bite for AIR to chew. But the Ngäbe governors insisted it was a top priority. Aside from that, AIR was setting up a classroom to teach literacy and computer skills to Venezuelan refugees and Ngäbe laborers, as well as a food donation program. These were the kinds of things Omar felt they should be doing to start. Time would tell.

As Omar climbed higher, banks of mist billowed down from the mountain peaks, coating his skin. Behind him, the Pacific Ocean was hazy and blue far below. They passed tiny, impoverished Ngäbe hamlets. Stray dogs appeared half starved. Higher up, they passed coffee, cocoa and corn farms, some planted in thin, stony soil, where the yields were undoubtedly poor. The Ngäbes were not mountain people originally. They had once lived on the coasts, but upon the arrival of the Spaniards had fled to the highlands to escape genocide.


Celio Natá was buried not on a mountainside, but in a large meadow surrounded by forest. A simple headstone had been engraved with a cross. The meadow was packed with men and women. There was not a single white or Latino face in sight.

Priestess Zuli gave a short sermon in Ngäbere, of which Omar understood something about eternal salvation in the blood of Christ. Ismael followed with a few words of praise, and the service was complete. There was no coffin nor even a shroud. Celio’s body, adorned in the standard Sunday outfit of slacks and buttoned shirt, was lowered into the grave. People shoveled dirt in by hand, and Omar pushed his way forward so he could participate. The soil was rich and black.

Immediately, people began to drink. Even teenagers could be seen guzzling hard alcohol. When Ismael wandered over to him and shook his hand, Omar expressed his surprise. “I thought Mama Tada banned alcohol?”

“Not all of these people are Mama Tada. Anyway, even the priestesses overlook the drinking on days like this.”

People gathered into knots where they sang and danced. Fights broke out among the young men, and no one seemed to care. Some wept openly, completely unlike the normally stolid bearings of these people. It was pandemonium, and it made Omar very uncomfortable. He retreated to a quiet spot where he sat under a tree and waited for the whole thing to burn itself out.

These might be his people by blood, but the cultural differences were vast. He didn’t know if he would ever fully understand them. The truth was that his people were the Muslims. That was the way of life he grasped and loved, and Muslims were the people he understood, even the ones who were closed-minded, racist, or provincial. But this was the direction he’d chosen and the deal he’d made, and he had to trust that Allah would guide him on this path.

The Eternal Life

Country road at nightHours later, he was in his car, driving back toward the city. He was exhausted. His eyes were like the stage curtains closing at the end of a show. He was trying to come out for an encore, but they wouldn’t let him. The car weaved one way and the other. Frightened, Omar sat up straight and slapped himself in the face to stay awake. There was no way he’d make it all the way home.

Rather than go directly home, he exited the highway into Arraijan, and made his way to the Islamic cemetery. It was after dark, and the cemetery was unstaffed at this time, but the gate was secured with a simple combination padlock, and Omar knew the code. He entered it, drove in and parked in the small lot.

The cemetery grounds were bordered by lush trees encircled with flower beds. Thick grass grew over the graves. The individual graves had plaques set flush into the ground. The cemetery was not brightly lit, but Omar knew the location of his father’s grave as well as he knew the layout of his own home. He sat on the grass beside the grave, and made dua for his papá, that Allah would widen his grave, fill it with light, forgive his sins and make him one of the people of Jannah.

The night frogs and crickets were as loud as an orchestra. The occasional bird called, and fruit bats flicked past overhead, emitting tiny squeaks.

“It’s been a strange time, Papá,” he said out loud. “Sometimes I wish so much that you were here. I want it more than food or air.” But his father would never be here, on this earth. It was the other way around: one day it would be Omar joining his dad.

His eyes traveled to the clear grass bordering this grave. His mother had purchased this entire row. One day she would be buried next to Papá, and Omar and Samia beyond, and perhaps their children beyond that. It was a sobering thought. Everything came down to this. He thought of an ayah from Surat Al-Ankaboot: “And this worldly life is nothing but diversion and amusement. And indeed, the home of the Hereafter – that is the [eternal] life, if only they knew.”

Where was his father’s soul right now? What wondrous things was it seeing? What reality had unfolded before his father’s eyes? What terrible truths did he know, but could not share?

A cicada let out a loud buzzing call, and a bird answered. The frogs had grown even louder, and one seemed to have found a drainage pipe, amplifying its voice. “Go home, Omar,” it seemed to be saying. “Go home, go home.” Nur might already be in bed, but Samia would be waiting up. Samia, his heart outside his own body. His partner in love, grief, life or death.

He kissed his own palm then rubbed it on the grass over his father’s grave. “I love you, Papá. I will watch over your father Santiago, and your grandson.”

He remembered his offer to Santiago to join them in a picnic. A picnic sounded wonderful right now. They would have to do that soon.

The night air had awakened him. He rose to his feet, and headed home to his family.

Next: Day of the Dogs, Chapter 22 – The Conch (the final chapter!). Note: I will post the final chapter in three days, inshaAllah! Look for it on Sunday, April 11th.

Reader comments and constructive criticism are important to me, so please comment!

See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories on this website.


Wael Abdelgawad’s novels – including Pieces of a Dream, The Repeaters and Zaid Karim Private Investigator – are available in ebook and print form on his author page at

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Source: Muslim Matters

Our Deen: A Fading Garment?

Our Deen: A Fading Garment?

Have you ever bought an item of clothing; a shirt, trouser, or even a hijab, and noticed the change in color after having washed it repeatedly? On the first day of purchasing it, it looks stunning in our eyes, but after having worn it a few times and many turns in the washing machine, the color begins to fade and the embroidery begins to wear away.

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) used the same scenario to draw a parable of Islam. In the hadith reported by Hudhaifah Ibn Al-Yaman raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him), the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said:

Islam will wear out as embroidery on a garment wears out, until no one will know what fasting, prayer, (pilgrimage) rites, and charity are. The Book of Allah will be taken away at night, and not one verse of it will be left on Earth. And there will be some people left, old men and old women, who will say, ‘We saw our fathers saying these words: ‘La ilaha illallah’ so we say them too.’” [Sunan Ibn Majah; 4049]

This hadith illustrates a scary reality that will take place in the future closer to the Day of Judgement, by which Islam will fade away so much, that the basic pillars and tenets of this religion will disappear from the minds of people.

Our righteous predecessors would instill the importance of the Qur’an within their children, by making them memorize the Qur’an from a young age before they would learn any Sciences. That was the ‘ABCs’ and ‘123s’ for them. This is why the title of ‘Hafidh’ was given to those who memorized large amounts of hadith; because the majority of people would memorize the Qur’an regardless of their profession and job. Fast forward to our youth today, and we see many of our young children struggling to recite the Qur’an fluently!

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) prophesized that before the Day of Judgement is established, a number of signs will appear pertaining to knowledge and education. In a hadith, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) stated:

Just before the Hour, the greeting of peace will only be given to specific people, trade will proliferate to the point that a woman will help her husband in his business, family ties will be severed, the pen will spread, false testimony will prevail, and truthful testimony will be concealed.” [Adab Al-Mufrad;1035]

The hadith in its outset seems contradictory; how can knowledge be lost when people are becoming more literate? Should not literacy spread by the pen increase one’s knowledge?

The scholars of Islam explained that the loss of knowledge being referred to here in this hadith pertains to knowledge of Islam (i.e., knowledge of this religion will be lost), but as for knowledge pertaining to the dunya, people will become more literate in those areas. Many of our forefathers and grandparents could not even speak English, yet today we are fluent in English and pursing education to its highest degree. So even though literacy will increase, knowledge of this religion will decrease.

The question now arises, how much do these signs apply to me? I may be well-educated, have a good job, and earning a decent salary, but how much knowledge of Islam do I have? How much more knowledge of my deen do I make an effort to learn? This should be out biggest fear; that day by day, Islam will fade away.

One of the ways Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) will take away knowledge of Islam is through the death of the scholars, as the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said: “Verily, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) does not withhold knowledge by snatching it away from his servants, but rather he withholds knowledge by taking the souls of scholars, until no scholar remains and people follow ignorant leaders. They are asked and they issue judgments without knowledge. Thus, they are astray and lead others astray.” [Sahih Muslim;2673] For that reason, when a scholar of Islam would pass away amongst the companions, they would become worried as they realized that knowledge is being taken away. When the great scholar-companion Zayd Ibn Thabit raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) passed away and was being lowered into his grave, Ibn Abbas raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) stood over his grave and said:

Whoever would like to see how knowledge is lost, this here is the loss of knowledge.” [Tārīkh Dimashq; 18053]

Just because the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) prophesized something that will take place closer to the Day of Judgement, does not mean we have to be actively be a part of what is yet to come. On the contrary, one of the objectives of these ahadeeth explaining the signs of the Day of Judgement is to warn us to not be from among them. The purpose of this article too, is in no way a means of discouraging the study of secular Sciences such as medicine, mathematics, or law, but what about our knowledge of the Qur’an, Hadith and Fiqh? We do not need to become scholars, memorize Sahih Bukhari, nor give the Jumu’ah khutbah every week; but what we do need to do is acquire at least the bare minimum of knowledge to worship Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), with the aim to consistently raise our goals and lift ignorance out of ourselves and families.

Our religion is one which is complete; the beauty of Islam is that it covers every single aspect pertaining to our dunya and akhirah. Should we then not embrace this wonderful faith -which is unlike any other- by learning more about it and studying it? Our Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said: “Whoever follows a path to seek knowledge therein, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) will make easy for them a path to Paradise” [Jami At-Tirmidhi; 2682]

In our era of technological advancements, seeking knowledge has never been made easier. With the click of a button, there are so many resources at our disposal on the internet that we can utilize to learn more about our deen. Not everyone has been blessed with the ability to offer extra voluntary prayers or keep voluntary fasts to come closer to paradise, but just by dedicating a few minutes every single day towards learning about any aspect of Islam, I as a Muslim man or woman can come that extra step closer to paradise; just as those who offer extra voluntary prayers and fasts by embarking upon this noble pursuit of knowledge to which even our Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) expressed that the angels supplicate for the seeker of knowledge.

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has made the supplication of angels and paradise within our grasp from the comfort of our own homes. The question is: will we take the opportunity?

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Source: Muslim Matters