LONELINESS is not the same as being alone, which is an active choice of an individual not to socialise or to be with somebody else. Loneliness is a melancholic state, or lingering sadness, because one has no close friends, a supportive family or a soul mate.

Some sources cite loneliness as an adverse emotional response to isolation, and can lead to clinical depression, a feeling of worthlessness and chronic anxiety.

The point is that we are all social beings, and our psychic happiness centres around socialisation and human intimacy. For people who are alone, not out of choice – and lonely by circumstance – holidays and traditional family times such as Eid or Christmas can be a daunting emotional challenge.

Some people might have been forgotten or neglected by their families, some might have been affected by the loss of bereavement and some might have fallen on hard times. Indeed, there are several possible scenarios that can determine and define loneliness.

But whatever the case, loneliness is an unseen, often unappreciated state of mind that afflicts us. Those who are lonely often do not complain out of a fear of burdening others, which makes it all that more difficult to recognise.

As it is a human condition, loneliness knows no borders. So, this is one of the reasons why I believe that the Prophet (SAW) used to tell his Companions repeatedly to take care of their neighbours.

Even the Qur’an talks about neighbourliness: “…And be good to the needy, and the neighbour who is your relative and to the neighbour who is not your relative . . .” [4:36].

It is not appreciated enough that the Prophet (SAW) saw society through a holistic lens, through his trust of being a mercy to all, and never through any notion of exclusivity. Islam puts a deep emphasis on our unconditional, individual duty to help all people.

In fact, the Prophet once said, “Angel Jibril advised me so much to take care of the neighbour that I thought that Allah would make him an heir.”

Indeed, the neighbour holds a special status in Islam. Islam encourages us to treat our neighbours in a gentle, tolerant fashion – especially those of other faiths. The point is that it should make no difference at all whether our neighbours are Muslim or non-Muslim.

‘A’ishah, the Mother of the Believers, reported that she had once asked the Prophet, “O Messenger of Allah! I have two neighbours. To whom shall I send my gifts?”

He said, “To the one whose gate is nearer to you,” without making any specifications.

This whole ethos is encompassed by the famous verse in Surat ul-Hujarat, “We have made you into peoples and tribes to know one another, not to despise one another…”

Neighbourliness is, without doubt, a vital aspect of Deen, of being Muslim in the active, social sense. This leaves us with a well-defined obligation to care for the vulnerable in our society, such as the lonely. So often we are unaware of how even a small act, such as a smile or a happy salam, can change a person’s day.

Of course, sadness and adversity, is what makes us human. Allah, the Highest, has promised us he will test us, but thankfully, not beyond our means – as painful as the test may be at the time.

However, there are few, if any, of us who would be able to endure the tests of Ayyub, or Job, who was reduced to abject poverty and crippling disease, or Nabi Ibrahim (as) when Allah commanded him to sacrifice his own son.  Even the Prophet Muhammad (SAW), facing the hostile Quraysh or long delays in receiving revelation, would experience a sense of loneliness.

To this effect, Surah al-Duha says to the Prophet (SAW) after some dark moments, “By the glorious morning light, and by the night when it darkens, your Lord has not forsaken you, nor is he displeased with you…”

And the very next Surah, the chapter of “Comfort”, speaks to the Prophet (SAW), “have we not lifted up your heart and removed your burden?”

The lesson we learn from this is that Allah, the Highest, cares – with, as the Hadith tells us, infinitely more compassion than the joy of a mother who has found her lost child.

Of course, whilst Qur’an promises better things, we as viceregents of Allah have an obligation to fulfil those promises to others as a social charity; to relieve them of their negative sentiments and the trials of loneliness, and to give them hope, positivity, and the assurance that Allah is with us, no matter what.

From it we too can find peace, courage and a renewed faith in Allah when we go through similar trials, a time when everyone else around us seems to be preoccupied with other things.

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