Lonely, but never alone
by: Batool Haydar

The world is bursting at its seams. Seven billion of us inhabit it already with thousands more being born every day. And yet - ironically - the greatest disease that threatens us is loneliness.

Surveys say that anomie - the feeling of not belonging - is on the rise and according to the UK's Mental Health Foundation one in ten Britons admit to feeling lonely.

Loneliness is a multi-faceted problem. Everybody has a unique circumstance or reasons for what affects them the most, but on a basic level, we are all human and have the same essential needs. The feeling of isolation that overcomes us so many times is because we perceive ourselves as being unable to fit into society or find people we can relate to.

As teens we will do anything to fit into the crowd; as youth we move from one relationship to another in our quest not to be alone and as we grow older the stigma of being single hangs heavy over the heads of those of us who haven't yet found a life partner. Everywhere we turn, we are encouraged to be more social, more outgoing or 'part-of-the-crowd'.

When the real world fails us, the cyber world is simply waiting at the other end of a click. We can tweet, post, share, like, comment, follow and 'friend' until we have carved out a social cyber-haven that we feel we belong to. Our online friends become the people we turn to for company even if we have never met some of them. With so many options, it's almost impossible to find anyone who is alone and yet so many of us are lonely anyway.

Peer pressure makes pre-teens and teenagers feel alienated for the most insignificant reasons, some to the point of self-harm and suicide. Adults are increasingly spending time working away and building their careers at the expense of family and social relationships; if they do socialise it's on a professional or superficial level because they don't have the time to invest in anything deeper. Death and spiralling divorce rates are leaving many not only alone again, but emotionally battered by the process and because of the lack of strong family circles, the elderly are perhaps the greatest victims of this phenomenon.

Muslim communities can no longer deny the fact that their members face the same dilemmas as all other people. We can't turn a blind eye to the fact that our youth are marrying later and complaining that it is harder and harder to find compatible partners. We can't ignore the growing number of widows, widowers and divorcees; men and women left - often unexpectedly - single and vulnerable. We can't forget how many elderly are being placed and left in homes every year.

We are human and at various stages of our lives, we all succumb to feelings of being lost, vulnerable, dissatisfied and afraid. However our greatest saving grace is the very faith that we sometimes feel is the cause of our alienation. The principles, advice and structure of Islamic societies allows individuals to not only overcome the feeling of loneliness but to grow from it to achieve inner peace to such an extent that they then actually seek out solitude for its many spiritual and emotional benefits. Perhaps by understanding that loneliness affects all three of our founding aspects i.e. mind, body and soul - we can take a balanced approach in how to deal with this problem and start the journey towards healing. The three suggestions below are simple, but can make a huge difference if implemented.

Learning a craft has been encouraged by the Prophet Muhammad(s) and the Imams(a) after him because being able to work and create with your hands is a fulfilling ability. Ali bin Abi Talib in Nahjul Balagha says that "The value of a person depends upon the art and skill that he has attained" and elsewhere also mentions that "God Loves the honest craftsmen."

Whether you want to collect stamps or learn woodwork the sense of involvement and achievement that result from having a hobby help give you a sense of worth and fulfilment.

Regardless of the hobby you choose, there will be new things to learn about yourself in the process and new avenues through which to explore the wonders of God. Through your experiences you will inevitably come across other like-minded hobbyists and begin to make connections with people who enjoy the same things that you do.

Hobby groups are some of the strongest communities and something that starts off as an interest can become an uplifting, lifetime investment. Starting off with the knowledge and intention that you are doing something that is recommended by your faith also helps to develop you spiritually and fun activities can become acts of ibadah (worship)!

RESPECT YOUR BODY. Practice Silat-ar-Rahm (doing good to relatives)
One of the causes of loneliness is a breakdown of relationships between family members. Our closest bonds are those we have with our blood relations, so when these become distanced or non-existent, it has a huge impact on us. The Qur'an states: "Indeed God enjoins justice and kindness and generosity towards relatives" (16:90) and inhis lifetime The Prophet Muhammad(s) repeatedly stressed this, in words and in practice.

Sometimes, simply calling up a relative you've not spoken to in a long time will be enough to begin the journey towards healing. Visiting, sitting together, even something as simple as a warm welcoming hug, can keep you going for the day. Remember, loneliness isn't just about the emotional disconnect from people, but also the physical need to be able to reach out and touch another human being in a caring way.

An important part of recreating family ties is reaching out to children and the elderly. Children remind us of our innocence and joy, they inspire us and revive our spirits while the elderly usually just want some company and someone who will listen to them. We can form a link by taking positivity from children and passing it on to the elderly and thus become the essential link between two generations.

It was after all the gradual disruption of the family structure that started the downward spiral to the loneliness epidemic we now suffer. Rebuilding that structure is the best way to start curing ourselves because when we are busy giving of ourselves, sharing the rich experiences and learning invaluable lessons, there is little time left to be lonely.

EXPLORE YOUR SOUL - Indulge in Dhikr (Rememberance of God)
One of the overwhelming emotions that attack a person when loneliness sets in is unrest. There is a feeling that one must be somewhere else, doing something else. This restlessness then leads to frustration and a seeking of release in different, sometimes dangerous ways including substance abuse, depression and suicide.

That is why we are told: "Verily in the remembrance of God do hearts find rest!" (Qur'an 13:28). This verse is commonly mentioned, enough that most Muslims know of it, but because we recite dhikr as a part of our daily prayers and supplications, we sometimes become complacent about its true value and effect on us. A fact stated by God however, cannot be anything but true, so the next time loneliness sets in, try reciting any dhikr you know - the simpler, the better.

To begin with it may feel like you're chanting a mantra (which is exactly what you would be doing), but you will feel a sense of calm almost straight away and once that happens you can then consciously shift your attention to the words you are reciting, the One you are remembering and the fact that in reality, you are not alone, but always in the presence of Love.

If we can begin to appreciate our own value as part of the perfect design of an All-Wise Creator, we will begin to see the beauty in both being alone and part of a society. We must always remember there is a universe within ourselves and that in our journey of exploration within - and without - we are never without the company, support, strength and love of God.

Originally published in islam today magazine UK, Vol. 1 No. 12 | October 2013. It has been republished here with permission.