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Understanding Bereavement and Grief

Khalida Haque embarks on an exploration of the phenomenon that acts as a veil between worlds – death.

It is very important that we recognise death as a process and a door between worlds. It is a path we must all journey for our everlasting destination and success lies beyond it.”



Death. It is the only inevitability in life:

“Every soul will taste death, …”
(Al ‘Imran:185, Al-Anbiya:35 and Al-’Ankaboot:57)


Yet, we spend most of our lives avoiding the subject. Those of us living in the West know that in ‘polite society’ it will not do to talk of it. Although there are many reasons why we avoid the topic of death, it is important for our own benefit that we try to understand our relationship with this singularity.


In Islam and as Muslims we are encouraged to be mindful of death:
The Prophet (SAW) said: “Remember much the destroyer of pleasures (death)” (Ibn Majah)



I know, as I am writing, that many people have lost significant and important people (and animals) in their lives. For most of these people, their grief will, bi-idhnillah, be fairly straightforward, not necessarily easy, but it will flow naturally. There are others for whom the act of mourning will be a complicated and complex thing. Our response to loss (of any form) is highly dependant upon our relationship with the person or object that has been lost, as well as our perspective and worldview. Various research studies have shown that people of faith and religion tend to fare better than those without.

The first step towards, insha Allah, healthy bereavement and grief is a rational and pragmatic attitude towards death and loss. To have that, we must remember that it occurs. Allah (SWT) tells us:
“Be sure we shall test you with something of fear and hunger, some loss in goods, lives and the fruits (of your toil)…”



So we need to keep in mind that we will encounter loss of varying forms. Not always easy to do in a world that is “Beautified …” (Al-Baqarah:212). Allah (SWT) has ordained that “Alluring unto man is the enjoyment of worldly desires through women, and children, and heaped-up treasures of gold and silver, and horses of high mark, and cattle, and lands. All this may be enjoyed in the life of this world…” (Al ‘Imran:14). We have much in the way of distractions from the reality of death. The death of loved ones is a test for the surviving, the ones left behind.


“It is He who created death and life that He may try you as to which of you is best in deeds.” (Al Mulk:2)


When we lose someone, we feel the pain of separation. The Prophet (SAW) was sad at the loss of his son, Ibrahim:

Anas bin Malik (RA) reported: The Messenger of Allah (SAW) entered the room, and we accompanied him. And Ibrahim breathed his last. The eyes of Allah’s Messenger were filled with tears. It was said to him: “You are weeping, O Messenger of Allah (SAW).” He replied: “This is mercy.” Then he said: “Dear Ibrahim! We cannot do anything for you. Divine Will cannot be changed. Your father’s eyes shed tears, and his heart is sad and grieved for your death. However, I will not say anything which may invite the wrath of Allah. If there had not been the true and certain promise of Allah that we too shall come after you, I would have wept more and become more grieved at the separation from you”. The Prophet further replied: “I have never said that you should not weep on the death of your dear ones, because it is a sign of kindness and pity and a person whose heart is not moved for others does not become entitled to the blessings of Allah. I have said that you should not make excessive lamentations on the death of your near ones and neither utter indecent or objectionable words nor tear your dress out of too much grief”.
(Bukhari, Muslim, Dawud and Ibn Majah)


This shows us that grief and mourning are integral to our coping with the loss of anyone we hold dear. We are warned against extreme reactions as it is not the way of the Muslim. We are rewarded if we are able to remain steadfast whilst our lives are shaken by these partings caused by the ‘destroyer of pleasures’:
“ … but give glad tidings to those who patiently persevere. Those who, when misfortune strikes them, say: ‘Indeed we belong to Allah and to Him is our return. Those are the ones upon whom are blessings and mercy from their Lord and it is those who are rightly guided.” (Al-Baqarah:155)


It is very important that we recognise death as a process and a door between worlds. It is a path we must all journey as our everlasting destination and success lies beyond it.


In Western thinking, there are five generally accepted stages of grief:
Denial: This is often a temporary first response which usually goes along the lines of: “I’m fine… This isn’t happening…They’ve made a mistake…”


Anger: However, once realisation dawns, denial can no longer continue, and it is typically at this point that anger sets in: “Why is this happening to me?…It’s unfair! Someone’s to blame!”


Bargaining: This phase involves the optimism that somehow, the grieving person can delay the inevitable: “Just give us a little bit longer… I’m haven’t yet…I need to finish… “


Depression: At this stage, the individual begins to comprehend the certainty of what is going to happen and may struggle with their faith: “What’s the point?…I can’t go on…There’s nothing I can do…”


Acceptance: A measure of peace and acceptance of the inevitable comes with the final phase: “It’s going to be okay… It’s not something that can be fought…I need to prepare myself.”



These phases were derived by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross back in the sixties and are now widely accepted in the world of bereavement and palliative care. They have even filtered their way into the business world as a means of understanding transitions and how change can affect individuals. The stages do not necessarily occur in an orderly fashion. They may do. Or they may be complicated by the inner resources of the grieving person and/or by other external factors such as successive losses and change in a short period of time. Some steps may be skipped entirely. They are meant as a guide to help us understand our own grief and perhaps the grieving of others.


“You will be with those whom you love.” (Bukhari)

Recommended Reading
On Grief and Grieving by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross & David Kessler


Read More:

Losing a Child – Khalida Haque talks to two Muslimahs about how they managed their very different losses.




Khalida Haque is a qualified Integrative Counsellor/Psychotherapist with an independent practice, is founder of Khair and is a Counselling Services Manager. She has varied clinical experience that includes working with elders, and feels honoured and privileged to be doing the work she does.  Alhamdulillah.