Ibrahim B. Syed, Ph. D.
Islamic Research Foundation International, Inc.
7102 W. Shefford Lane
Louisville, KY 40242-6462, U.S.A.
In the summer holidays between sophomore and junior years in college, Razzak
was invited to be an instructor at an Islamic leadership camp hosted by a major
American Islamic Organization in Kentucky. The participants in the Islamic
leadership camp were all High School students coming from different parts of
America and Canada. As Razzak was well experienced in Islamic leadership
activities, he took it as a good opportunity in the spirit of Da'wah and
On the first day in the camp Razzak noticed a young boy, Ismail under the tree.
In appearance Ismail looked small and skinny. For the onlookers his obvious
anxiety and bashfulness made him appear weak and delicate. He appeared to be
suffering from Adolescent Depression
About 12 meters away, 100 enthusiastic campers were hitting
bodies, playing, teasing and meeting each other. However Ismail under the tree
seemed to be lost and unenthusiastic and gave the impression that he was not
interested in the Leadership camp. Razzak was almost stopped by the frantic
solitude and low self-esteem Ismail radiated from approaching him, but Razzak
remembered the words of the camp directors who warned him to look out for Muslim
youth who might feel lonely and left out.
Saying "Assalamu Alaikum, Brother" Razzak walked to him and introduced himself
and informed him that he is one of the camp trainers and counselors. Razzak
asked him how he was doing.
In an unsteady, uncomfortable voice Ismail reluctantly answered "Alhamdulillah"
and that he was all right.
Razzak serenely asked Ismail if he wanted to join in the activities and meet
other Muslim youngsters in the camp. Ismail softly replied, "No, this is not
actually my obsession."
Razzak could sense that Ismail was feeling as if he was in a new planet, that
this whole experience was far-off to him. But Razzak had a gut feeling it
wouldn't be right to thrust (push or force) him, either. Ismail didn't need a
vim (vigor or zest) talk, but what he needed was a good friend. After a number
of quiet moments, Razzak's first contact with the boy under the tree was over.
Next day after lunch, Razzak was giving the Adhan for Salatul Zuhr at the
top of his lungs for 100 of his new friends. The Muslim youth attending the camp
eagerly prayed the Salatul Zuhr. After the Salatul Zuhr Razzak found Ismail to
be sitting alone, and staring out at the trees. Forgetting his other duties
Razzak went to Ismail greeted him with "Assalamu Alaikum" and asked him "How
are you doing? Are you okay?"
To which Ismail again replied, "Wa Alaikum Assalam. Alhamdulillah, I'm all
right. I am not really interested into this matter".
After this meeting Razzak realized that it is going to take more time and effort
than he had thought. He was skeptical and doubted if he could change the heart
of Ismail and make him participate in the Camp activities.
During the night there was a staff meeting, and Razzak made his concerns about
Ismail known. Razzak explained to his fellow staff members his feelings of
Ismail and asked them to give special interest and spend time with him whenever
The days in the camp rolled by quickly, faster than any others Razzak had known.
The camp days came to an end. Qiraat competition was the last item on the final
night of camp and Razzak was presiding the function. As the Qiraat competition
was coming to an end, the Muslim youth who came from different parts of America,
were doing all they could to enjoy every last instant with their new "best
friends" - friends they would most likely never see again.
As Razzak watched the Muslim youth share their departure moments, Razzak
suddenly saw what would be one of the most brilliant memories of his life. The
boy from under the tree, Ismail, who stared blankly into the woods, was now a
recitation wonder of the Qur'an. He turned out to be the best Qari among the
boys in the camp. Razzak was surprised to see Ismail was sharing significant,
intimate time with other Muslim youngsters at whom he couldn't even look just
days earlier. Razzak couldn't believe it was he.
One month after his junior year started, Razzak received a late-night phone call
that dragged him away from his physics textbook. A soft-spoken, unfamiliar
lady's voice greeted "Assalamu Alaikum, and asked courteously, "Is Razzak
Razzak answered, "Wa Alaikum Assalam, you are talking to him. May I know who you
"This is Ismail's mother. Do you remember Ismail from the Islamic leadership
Razzak remembered Ismail as the boy under the tree. How could he not remember
"Yes, I do", Razzak, said. "He's a very nice young Muslim. How is he?"
An unusually long silence followed, then Ismail's mother said, "My Ismail was
walking home from school this week when he was hit by a car and killed." Razzak
was stunned and offered his condolences and recited "Inna Lillahi WA Inna Ilaihi
Rajioon." (2: 155)
"I just wanted to call you", Ismail's mother said, "Because
Ismail mentioned you so many times. I wanted you to know that he went back to
school this fall with self-assurance and confidence. He made new friends. His
grades went up. And he overcame his shyness. He had so much enthusiasm in life.
I just wanted to thank you for making a difference for Ismail. The last few
months were the best few months of his life."
In that instant, Razzak realized how easy it is to give a bit of oneself every
day. You may never know how much each signal (shrug or nod) may mean to someone
One should tell this story as frequently as possible and
when one does, one should urge others to look for their own Ismails-the boys
under the tree.
In North America, the suicide rate for adolescents has increased more than 200%
over the last decade. Recent studies have shown that greater than 20% of
adolescents in the general population have emotional problems and one-third of
adolescents attending psychiatric clinics suffer from depression.
Depression has been considered to be the major psychiatric disease of the 20th
century, affecting approximately eight to twenty eight million people in North
America. Adults with psychiatric illness are 20 times more likely to die from
accidents or suicide than adults without psychiatric disorder. Major depression,
including bipolar affective disorder, often appears for the first time during
the teenage years, and early recognition of these conditions will have profound
effects on later morbidity and mortality.
Adolescent suicide is now responsible for more deaths in youth's aged 15 to 19
than cardiovascular disease or cancer. Despite this, depression in this age
group is greatly under diagnosed, leading to serious difficulties in school,
work and personal adjustment, which often continue, into adulthood.
Adolescence is always a disturbing time, with the many physical, emotional,
psychological and social changes that accompany this stage of life. Adolescence
is a time of emotional turmoil, mood instability, depressing introspection,
great drama and heightened sensitivity. It is a time of rebellion and behavioral
experimentation. Diagnosis depends not only on a formal clinical interview but
also on information provided by peers, including parents, teachers and community
advisors. The patient's premorbid personality must be taken into account, as
well as any obvious or subtle stress or trauma that may have preceded the
clinical state. The adolescent will not usually share his/her feelings with an
adult stranger unless trust and rapport are established.
Symptoms of adolescent depression 1
symptoms may indicate depression, particularly when they last for more than two
- Poor performance in school
- Withdrawal from friends and activities
- Sadness and hopelessness
- Lack of enthusiasm, energy or motivation
- Anger and rage
- Overreaction to criticism
- Feelings of being unable to satisfy ideals
- Poor self-esteem or guilt
- Indecision, lack of concentration or forgetfulness
- Restlessness and agitation
- Changes in eating or sleeping patterns
- Substance abuse
- Problems with authority
- Suicidal thoughts or actions
Teens may experiment with drugs or
alcohol or become sexually promiscuous to avoid feelings of depression. Teens
also may express their depression through hostile, aggressive, risk-taking
behavior. But such behaviors only lead to new problems, deeper levels of
depression and destroyed relationships with friends, family, law enforcement or
Symptoms of depression in adolescents are essentially the same symptoms as in
adults. Pervasive sadness may be exemplified by wearing black clothes, writing
poetry with morbid themes or a preoccupation with music that has nihilistic
themes. Sleep disturbance may be evident as all-night television watching,
difficulty in getting up for school, or sleeping during the day. Missed classes
reflect lack of motivation and lowered energy level. A drop in grade averages
can be equated with loss of concentration and slowed thinking. Boredom
(dullness) may be a synonym for feeling depressed. Loss of appetite may become
anorexia or bulimia. Adolescent depression may also present primarily as a
behavior or conduct disorder, substance or alcohol abuse or as family turmoil
and rebellion with no obvious symptoms reminiscent of depression.
Sometimes teens feel so depressed that they consider ending their lives. Each
year, almost 5,000 young people, ages 15 to 24, kill themselves. The rate of
suicide for this age group has nearly tripled since 1960, making it the third
leading cause of death in adolescents and the second leading cause of death
among college-age youth.
Studies show that suicide attempts among young people may be based on
long-standing problems triggered by a specific event. Suicidal adolescents may
view a temporary situation as a permanent condition. Feelings of anger and
resentment combined with exaggerated guilt can lead to impulsive,
Warning Signs 3
Four out of five teens who
attempt suicide have given clear warnings. Pay attention to these warning signs:
- Suicide threats, direct and indirect
- Obsession with death
- Poems, essays and drawings that refer to death
- Dramatic change in personality or appearance
- Irrational, bizarre behavior
- Overwhelming sense of guilt, shame or rejection
- Changed eating or sleeping patterns
- Severe drop in school performance
- Giving away belongings
REMEMBER!!! These warning signs
should be taken seriously. Obtain help immediately. Caring and support can save
a young life.
Helping Suicidal Teens 4
- Offer help and listen. Encourage depressed teens to talk
about their feelings. Listen, donít lecture.
- Trust your instincts. If it seems that the situation may
be serious, seek prompt help. Break a confidence if necessary, in order to
save a life.
- Pay attention to talk about suicide. Ask direct
questions and donít be afraid of frank discussions. Silence is deadly!
- Seek professional help. It is essential to seek expert
advice from a mental health professional who has experience helping depressed
teens. Also, alert key adults in the teenís life ó family, friends and
It is not uncommon for young people to be preoccupied with issues of mortality
and to contemplate the effect their death would have on close family and
friends. Thankfully, these ideas are usually not acted upon. Suicidal acts are
generally associated with a significant acute crisis in the teenager's life and
may also involve concomitant depression. It is important to stress that the
crisis may be insignificant to the adults around, but very significant to the
teenager. The loss of a boyfriend or girlfriend, a drop in school marks or a
negative admonition by a significant adult, especially a parent or teacher, may
be precipitant to a suicidal act. Suicidal ideation and acts are more common
among children who have already experienced significant stress in their lives.
Significant stressors include divorce, parent or family discord, physical or
sexual abuse and alcohol or substance abuse. A suicide in a relative or close
friend may also be an important identifier of those at the greatest risk. The
teenager who exhibits obvious personality change, including social withdrawal,
or who gives away treasured possessions may also be seriously contemplating
ending his/her life.
more teenagers attempt suicide than actually succeed, and the methods used may
be naive. A teenager who has attempted suicide and has not received any relief
from his or her impossible situation may well be a successful repeater. All
suicidal behaviors reflect a cry for help and must be taken
management of the depressed teenager begins at the first interview with the
creation of a therapeutic alliance. It is important that the interview be
conducted in a relaxed manner, preferably in a room other than a formal
examination room. The teenager may have to be brought back the next day or on a
number of successive days to adequately address problems. The physician must
inspire confidence and trust, and be aware of his or her own biases. Teenagers
can be oppositional and negative when depressed. They may have very fragile
self-esteem and project their feelings onto the physician. It is important to
understand this behavior as part of the depression and treat it accordingly.
Looking To The Future
When adolescents are
depressed, they have a tough time believing that their outlook can improve. But
professional treatment can have a dramatic impact on their lives. It can put
them back on track and bring them hope for the future.
Suicide within Islam
is a grave sin. Many scholars view a person who has committed suicide as someone
who has turned his back on Islam altogether." Muslims regard God to be the
creator of life. Thus, only God has the right to end life. A manual of Shariah
(Islamic law) in the tradition of Imam Shafi'i is called Reliance of the
Traveler. It lists suicide as among the "enormities" of all sin:
"Do not kill yourselves, for Allah
is compassionate towards you. Whoever does so, in transgression and wrongfully,
We shall roast in a fire, and that is an easy matter for Allah." (An-Nisaa
Narrated Thabit bin Ad-Dahhak, The
Prophet said, "...whoever commits suicide with piece of iron will be punished
with the same piece of iron in the Hell Fire." Narrated Jundab the Prophet
said, "A man was inflicted with wounds and he committed suicide, and so Allah
said: 'My slave has caused death on himself hurriedly, so I forbid
Paradise for him.'
" (Sahih Bukhari 2.445)
Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet
said, "He who commits suicide by throttling shall keep on throttling himself
in the Hell Fire (forever) and he who commits suicide by stabbing himself shall
keep on stabbing himself in the Hell-Fire." (Sahih Bukhari 2.446).
The fate of a Muslim who commits
suicide: "God will punish him by making him commit the same act of suicide,
the same cycle of torture, on the day of judgment. If he kills himself with a
dagger, his punishment is to sink the dagger in his heart again and again."
1. Website of
National Mental Health Association