An allegation against Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) is floating out there that he wanted to commit suicide. This has been addressed by the Muslims [*][*] but the claim has not stopped and in order to pursue it further, some verses from the Qur’an are misapplied as well.
فَلَعَلَّكَ بَـخِعٌ نَّفْسَكَ عَلَى ءَاثَـرِهِمْ إِن لَّمْ يُؤْمِنُواْ بِهَـذَا الْحَدِيثِ أَسَفاً
Then perhaps you would kill yourself through grief over them, [O Muhammad], if they do not believe in this message, [and] out of sorrow. [Qur’an 18:6]
لَعَلَّكَ بَـخِعٌ نَّفْسَكَ أَلاَّ يَكُونُواْ مُؤْمِنِينَ
Perhaps, [O Muhammad], you would kill yourself with grief that they will not be believers. [Qur’an 26:3]
أَفَمَن زُيِّنَ لَهُ سُوءَ عَمَلِهِ فَرَءَاهُ حَسَناً فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ يُضِلُّ مَن يَشَآءُ وَيَهْدِى مَن يَشَآءُ فَلاَ تَذْهَبْ نَفْسُكَ عَلَيْهِمْ حَسَرَتٍ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلِيمٌ بِمَا يَصْنَعُونَ
Then is one to whom the evil of his deed has been made attractive so he considers it good [like one rightly guided]? For indeed, Allah sends astray whom He wills and guides whom He wills. So do not let yourself perish over them in regret. Indeed, Allah is Knowing of what they do. [Qur’an 35:8]
Before we look at what these verses mean, we have to delink these verses from the Hadith used for this allegation. In the Hadith misused, the cause of suicide attempts is shown as pause in revelation for a long time which allegedly made the Prophet (ﷺ) depressed and suicidal; however, in the verses above, the alleged suicidal attempts are due to grief over disbelievers not embracing Islam. Both the claims are different and to strengthen one based on the other is not justified; there is no link between both of them – in fact, the alleged suicidal attempts were within the first year of prophethood (the Prophet (ﷺ) was 40 at that time) and his mission remained private for the first three years. After three years, it became openly public and these verses speak of a time somewhere then – somewhere between fourth and thirteenth year of prophethood. Hence, we learn that there is a significantly lengthy gap between both the unrelated instances.
Now coming to the verses, we find that in the first two, the word for kill is bakhi’ (بَـخِعٌ) which literally translates to bake. Other translations use the words torment and consume. Hence, the instruction of Allah to the Prophet (ﷺ) is to not worry about that too much that this thought consumes him and torments him too much.
In the third verse, the word used is tazhab (تَذْهَبْ) which means to go and hence a more literal translation would be: do not let yourself go in regret regarding them. In English, we may say don’t lose yourself or keep a hold on yourself. Other translations translate this line as: destroy not yourself in sorrow for them indicating that the Prophet (ﷺ) felt sad for their lack of belief which discomforted him. Allah instructed him to not feel sad and sorrow and to not ruin himself over this. Allah explained the perishing as wasting and that the Prophet (ﷺ) should not waste his life worrying about them too much.
Does this mean that the translations that use the word kill are wrong? No! The word is broad and kill is also an appropriate translation; however, the purpose to show the depth of this word and context is to show that this killing is due to sadness and grief and not because of suicide. The broader picture has to be looked at to understand it better.
Ibn Kathir, in is tafsir, clarifies these verses as follows:
(Perhaps, you would consume yourself in grief, over their footsteps, because they believe not in this narration.) meaning the Qur’an.
(in grief) Allah is saying, `do not destroy yourself with regret.’ Qatadah said: “killing yourself with anger and grief over them.” Mujahid said: “with anxiety.” These are synonymous, so the meaning is: `Do not feel sorry for them, just convey the Message of Allah to them. Whoever goes the right way, then he goes the right way only for the benefit of himself. And whoever goes astray, then he strays at his own loss, so do not destroy yourself in sorrow for them.’
For Q.35:8, Ibn Kathir explains:
(So destroy not yourself in sorrow for them.) means, do not grieve about that, for Allah is Wise in His decree and He leaves astray whomsoever He leaves astray, and He guides whomsoever He guides, and in doing so He has perfect knowledge and wisdom.
We learn that the Prophet (ﷺ) was a mercy for mankind and that he cared about them so much that he felt grief over their arrogance and disbelief. This grief was so much that Allah instructed him to not let it consume him (or that it may eventually kill him). The Prophet (ﷺ) suffered so many tragedies and sorrows which were much more than these such as the passing away of his wife and uncle the same year among others but he came out of them strong. Therefore, for one to say that he wanted to commit suicide because people did not accept his message would be very silly.
Allah knows best.