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March 25, 2012

Question: How does your faith deal with the issue of suicide?

 Although we can all understand wanting to be delivered from the world’s afflictions in moments of great anguish, the Bahá’í Faith, like all its sister religions, forbids suicide. The commands against non-violence that exist in all the world’s religions, include the prohibition against harming oneself. Our life is a sacred trust that is best discharged when we follow divine laws and precepts. Suicide is particularly tragic when a young person takes his or her own life. The statistics concerning the death of teens are alarming; suicide is the second cause of death among teenagers. Only accidental deaths are higher.

One of the many intangibles lacking in our comfort-seeking, materialistic society is a “philosophy” of life’s tests and difficulties. Physical or mental pain is rejected as an unwanted evil to be avoided at all costs. But people of all ages need to realize that suffering is an essential characteristic of life in this world. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (1844-1921), the son of the Prophet-Founder, Bahá’u’lláh (1817-1892), and the interpreter of his teachings, said in Paris in 1911: “Grief and sorrow do not come to us by chance, they are sent to us by the Divine Mercy for our own perfecting” (Paris Talks, p. 50). Our tests, he went on to say, may be used as “stumbling blocks or stepping stones,” depending on how we accept them — or not.

What we should not do is to play God regarding the fate of those who take their own lives. God is both compassionate and just. While self-harm may be seen as a lost opportunity that interferes with the growth opportunities of our normal lifespan, any Bahá’í who commits suicide does not cease to be a Bahá’í. No prejudice accrues to such a person regarding burial rites.

In a letter written to a woman whose husband had taken his life, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá showed both understanding and compassion: “…Thus it is seen that some, under extreme pressure of anguish, have committed suicide. As to him rest assured; he will be immersed in the ocean of pardon and forgiveness and will become the recipient of bounty and favour” (Bahá’í World Faith, p. 378). But every remedy should be sought to alleviate overwhelming conditions.
-  Jack McLean

Printed in the The Ottawa Citizen March 25, 2012
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