Today, we will be discussing a very scary topic, however, it is one which will ultimately catch up with every one of us, whether we will be prepared for it or not. In this program we will be highlighting some of the Islamic beliefs regarding Death.
How does a Muslim see death?
For the Muslim, the whole of this life constitutes a trial and a test for the human by means of which his final destiny is determined. For him death is the return of the soul to its Creator, God, and the inevitability of death and the Hereafter is never far from his consciousness. This serves to keep all of his life and deeds in perspectives as he tries to live in preparedness for what is to come.
It is common knowledge and every person knows the sayings:
As sure as death; and, Death is inevitable;
What are some of the things Prophet Muhammad (pboh) said about death?
Prophet Muhammad (pboh) is reported to have said:
Sudden death overpowers the person with grief.
Death is nearer to a person than his own shoe lace.
Live in this world as though you are a foreigner and a traveler.
Is there any way a person can try to escape death?
There is no escape from death. It makes no distinction between poor and rich, high and low, strong and weak; it lays its icy hands on every one. The most of intelligent of men, and the greatest of scientists cannot prevent, no can they avoid it. Allah says:
Wherever you are death will overtake you, even you are in towers built up strong and high. (4:78)
Sometimes we hear people saying that such a person did not deserve to die, what do you think about saying like this one?
What everyone must always keep in mind, is that the moment of departure has already been written and will not change. And because Allah has made death in a particular way, i.e. any one can be next, young or old male or female, we must all be prepared for it, even though it is scary to think about it in this way.
Death has no pity on anyone. It snatches away affectionate sons from their mothers, loving daughters from their fathers, dedicated husbands from their wives, worldly people with enormous amounts of riches, and every other single living human being.
What does Islam teach about death?
Islam teaches that before a child is born its moment of death is already written, and no one has the power to change it, except Allah.
Prophet Muhammad (pboh) is reported to have said:
At the end of four months, the angel writes on the forehead of the fetus four things, viz.
· what will be the amount of provision it will have in the world.
· What will be the person's deed, good or bad.
· What will be the life span.
· Whether the person will be blessed or wretched.
Allah says in the Holy Qur'an:
He it is Who created you from clay, and then decreed a stated term for you (6:2)
But if we take precautions, like proper diet and exercises, will not that prolong our life's expectancy?
What we need to understand is that the functioning of the body was decreed to be active for a fixed period of time. When the body ceases to function that is death. It is in this context that Allah says.
Every nafs shall taste of death. (3:185)
Death does not only come to the seek, weak, old or feeble, it takes the healthy and strong in the same way as it takes the weak and sick. Sickness or age may be excuses just as accidents and other natural disasters may be excuses, but the main point is that the time of the person or persons was when they had to die.
Why did Allah say in the Qur'an that the "nafs" will taste of death, even though He uses another word also to mean soul?
Allah uses the word nafs and not Ruh (spirit) when referring to what is going to die. This is because the Ruh or Spirit does not die; it is the nafs that dies. Nafs means ego, desire and passion. And death of the nafs means that the nafs is no longer active. Due to the death of the nafs the physical shell will deteriorate. But the other component of the personality, i.e. the soul, called Ruh in Arabic will not die with the nafs. It leaves the body, just as it came and joined it at birth, and returns to a place specially made for all the souls since the time of Adam.
So what is death according to the Islamic teachings?
According to Islamic teachings, two things happen at the time of death, viz.
· the soul separates from the physical body which was the physical shell in which it resided while on the earth.
· the physical shell ceases all activities.
Can you tell us something more about nafs?
Nafs is the functioning of the body. It can be compared to the working of the engine of a car. This working of the engine produces energy which causes the car to move. Nafs is like that energy; its working produces desires, such as hunger, etc.
Nafs is only concerned with the material or physical desires. It is not concerned about moral or spiritual values. It does care what the person has to do as long as the desires are fulfilled. It is in this context that Allah says in the Qur'an:
Verily, the nafs is prone to enjoin evil. (12:53)
The materialists who are not concerned about a day of accountability will live a life of indulgence and do everything possible in order to be able to acquire wealth etc. and will boast and brag about it. Allah mentions this in the following verse:
The mutual rivalry for piling up wealth and bragging and boasting about it, will not end until death. (102:1)
But can the nafs acquire better habits and become something good?
Nafs can be cultured and its desires can be refined, so that it will not contradict the desires of the Ruh, which is to get close to Allah. It is the will of the individual that will enable the nafs either to only strengthen its animal qualities or to live for higher values in life, i.e. to uphold righteousness and prohibit indecencies.
Allah speaks of three stages in the growth and development of the nafs in the Holy Qur'an. They are:
· Nafsul Ammarah: the animal stage. (12:53)
· Nafsul Lawwamah. The self reproaching stage. (75:2)
· Nafsul Mutmainnah. The stage of peace and tranquility. (90:27)
Can you tell us a little more about the nafs that has attained peace and tranquility?
The stage of Mutmainnah is when the desires of the nafs do not contradict or conflict with the desires of the Ruh or spirit; so there are no opposing elements inside the human being. One is working as a complimentary partner with the other.
Those who were able to develop their nafs to reach the stage of peace were very fortunate, as, on one hand they will be enjoying something of the pleasure of Allah, and on the other hand many of them have just been removed from physical existence, but are kept alive in some form which we cannot understand. About such people Allah says:
Do not say that those who have been killed in the way of Allah that they are dead, they are alive, but you cannot understand. (2:154)
So how does the nafs work in the body?
Nafs is like the electric current that passes through a wire, when there is no current the wire is useless, and may deteriorate. So the current is life, when it goes the body is dead. So death is the end of the physical self, and the soul begins the eternal journey.
During the earthly, the nafs makes impressions on the soul, either clean good ones or dirty bad ones. When the nafs is no longer alive, the soul separates but the impressions remain with it.
What about those people who die young or suddenly?
None of us knows how long the physical journey in this world will be. Allah says:
It is Allah Who creates you and takes your souls at death; and of you there are some who are sent back to a feeble age, so that they know nothing after having known much. For Allah is All-Knowing, All Powerful. (16:70)
So the time-span of life is only with Allah and a person has no control over it. That is why every moment is important. One little act of good can mean everything to a person; similarly, one mistake can mean eternal disaster for him or her.
So what are suppose to do with our lives?
No one knows what is going to happen to him in the very next moment from now and where on the earth he will die. Allah says:
Nor does anyone know what it is that he will earn on the morrow, nor does nay one know in what land he is to die. Verily, with Allah is full knowledge and He is acquainted with all things. (31:34)
The wise person will always be conscious of a fact i.e. he began life like a tiny wriggling microscopic creature, like a tiny tadpole, created by Allah. Allah tells us about this in the following verse of the Holy Qur'an. He says:
Do you not see that the (human seed) that you throw out, is it you who created it or are We the Creators? We have decreed death to be your common lot. (56:58-60)
This little creature grows into a human being, each one with a specified capacity and a specific life span. How long is the life span of the individual? Only Allah knows and no one else. Allah says:
It is Allah Who takes the souls (of men) at death; and those that die not during their sleep; those on whom He has passed the decree of death, He keeps back from returning to life). But the rest He sends (to their bodies) for a term appointed. Verily, in this are Signs for those who reflect. (39:42)
Then what are some of the things we are supposed to keep in mind as we go along in life?
As we do not know what will be the events in the life span of each individual, we realize that, to some extent man is helpless to a lot of things that happen to him while on earth.
One thing about which a person should be conscious about all the time that is that he can be called back at any moment in time. Prophet Muhammad, (pboh) reminds his followers about it by telling them that every time they pray, they should always believe that it is their last prayer.
Because of this we must utilize every moment to prepare for our departure and eventual return. Do not wait until the moment comes upon us and then say let me make up for what I did not do before. Prophet Muhammad (pboh) is reported to have said:
A man giving a dirham in charity during his life, is better than giving a thousand dirhams at the time of his death.
DEATH (part 2)
No one can escape death.
The hour of death is fixed and will not be changed.
The place where one has to die has already been decided by Allah.
Allah uses excuses like sickness, or accidents for taking the lives of individuals.
It is the body that dies and not the soul
If the working of the body called nafs (desire, ego, passion), becomes aligned to the desires of the soul, that person will attain peace and tranquility in this life and a high status in the next.
Allah has so made the process of life and death that there is no fixed pattern for dying; anyone can die young or old, etc.
Although death is sure, no one can ever become accustomed with it, and so everyone should be prepared for it at any time.
If a person is suffering, it is proper to wish for death?
Prophet Muhammad (pboh) is reported to have said to his followers:
None of you should wish for death on account of some calamity befalling you. If you wish you may pray; O Allah keep me alive as long as life is better for me, and let me die if death is better for me.
He also taught his companions to pray as follows:
O Allah, I seek refuge in thee from the trials of life and death.
But why should a person not wish for death seeing that he or she has no more hopes in life?
Because only Allah has knowledge of the future, every person should live with hope. Prophet Muhammad (pboh) is reported to have said:
None of you should pray for his own death, because if he is a good person, it is possible that he might add to his virtues, and if he is not a good person, that is, if he is morally and otherwise corrupt, he may get a chance to repent for his sins.
Is it true that Prophet Muhammad (pboh) warn the people about unexpected calamities, misfortunes and even death?
Yes, the Holy Prophet (pboh) is reported to have said:
Lose no time in doing good before one of seven things may happen, viz.
Starvation may overtake you and it will impair your wisdom.
Prosperity may come your way and it may be a cause of distraction
Old age may catch up with you and it may harm your senses.
Sudden death may befall you
You may become incapacitated with sickness
You may be attacked by the Dajjal (i.e. the evil one)
The Day of Judgment may come upon you without you perceiving it.
Is death the end of the individual?
Death unites the body and the soul, as before that, i.e. during the physical life, they were separate entities staying together. However, upon death, they will rise up as one unit.
Muslims believe that death is a next phase in the journey back to Allah. The dead person actually goes into a phase of waiting until the appointed day when all will be resurrected and then the final segment of life will begin.
During the phase of waiting which is called Barrzakh, the dead person can be helped by the living. Once a companion, Abu Said al Malik came to the Prophet (pboh) and asked whether he can do anything to help his parents after their death. The Prophet (pboh) replied that:
You can invoke blessings on them, carry out their final instructions, join ties of relationship, and honor their friends.