I am having trouble understanding the following narration from al-Bukhari’s Sahih:
“The divine inspiration paused for a while and the Prophet ﷺ became so sad, as we have heard, that he intended several times to throw himself from the tops of high mountains, and every time he went up the top of a mountain in order to throw himself down, Gabriel would appear before him and say: “O Muhammad! You are indeed Allâh’s Messenger in truth,” whereupon his heart would become quiet and he would calm down and return home. Whenever the period of the coming of the Revelation used to become long, he would do as before, but Gabriel would appear again before him and say to him what he had said before.” [Bukhari, 2/340]
Does this imply that suicide is acceptable in Islam? I am confused between the Prophet ﷺ as a role model, and this narration?
Scholars offer a few explanations which I will try and summarize using a few important legal axioms:
Opinion #1: “The Prophet’s intentions, if not acted on, are not legal proof.”
The key phrase here (and considered the soundest) is “He intended.” There is an important legal axiom that states, “The intentions of the Prophet ﷺ if not acted on, are not a source of legislation.” For that reason the sound hadith, “I wished or intended that I could order a group of men to stay and pray while I went and burned down the houses of those who failed to come to the prayers” is not acted on by any of the jurists, and there is a consensus that one is not allowed to burn down other people’s homes. In fact, the majority of jurists use this hadith as a proof that “the Prophet ﷺ not acting on it, shows that praying in one’s home is valid.”
In Surat Yusuf, Allah describes Yusuf as “inclined towards her.” Commenting on this, Ibn Taymiyyah said “With that in mind, there is no account of Yusuf repenting in this story with her; [this] is proof that he did not sin in the first place.” This is because the aforementioned axiom kicks in.
The second axiom is, “People are judged by their actions not their thoughts.” We know from the sound hadith of Abu Hurairah, that if one does not act on such thoughts, “A good deed is written for that person,” and in another sound hadith, “My community will not be called to account for their bad thoughts if not acted upon.”
People are not called to account for their inclinations if they fail to act upon them.
Opinion #2: This Happened at the Beginning of Revelation, and was a Clear Sign that the Prophet ﷺ was Ma’sōm (Protected from Error)
Scholars note that, at the time, Islam was still in its infancy and there were no rules regarding suicide. However, they maintain that the Prophet ﷺ was protected by Allah just as he was when he went to a party in his youth, and the time he tried to take off his loin cloth while building the Ka’bah.
One of my teachers explained to me something that was very interesting; the word used to describe the prophets is ma’sōm, which is in the passive participle. Thus, the Prophet ﷺ is not in charge of protecting himself; rather he trusts in Allah to do so. That does not mean he is not of the best character, but that without Allah, the Prophet ﷺ would never have reached the flawless perfection we know of today.