Preparing for death and the after-life
Author Sherif Mohammed
Death is a very well-known fact. It has always been indisputable. No one has ever doubted death. although human beings rarely agree on anything, they have never disagree on their mortality.
Death is mentioned in the Quran almost everywhere. The word "Death" and its derivatives "die, dying, dead" is found more than 160 times in the Quran. The Quran has put a lot of emphasis on death. Why is it that the Quran is consistently reminding the believers about their own mortality while they already known this fact for centuries ?? To understand why we have to take a close look on the verses which mention death in the Quran and reflect upon them. Let us explore some of these verses:
- "Every soul shall have a taste of death" (al-Imran 3:185)
The verse is clear and emphatic. The massage it conveys to us is: Make no mistake about death, it is foregone conclusion. Every soul shall taste it no matter what. Listen now to full verse:
- "Every soul shall have a taste of death: And only on the Day of Judgement shall you be paid your full recompense. Only he who is saved from the Fire and admitted to the Garden will have succeeded. For the life of this world is but goods of chattels of deception" (al-Imran 3:185)
This verse represents one of the important Tenets of Islam which is the fact that there is another life after death. Thus, for us death is not the end of the world it is just the start of an ever-lasting life. The other fact in this verse also states with no uncertainty is that the true measure of success is not in this life. Success is not having a huge sum of money, or a large family, or a prestigious job, or an impressive title, or a degree from a respected university, or a big house, or a nice car, all these are nothing but goods of decepty. The real success is to be saved from the hell fire and be admitted to paradise. Anything short of this is a mere deception.
In another verse which conveys a similar meaning is:
- "Every soul shall taste death. And We test you by evil and by good by way of trial. To Us must you return." (al-Anbiyaa 21:36)
The message is clear, everyone will die and this life is just a probation on this earth, our faith will be tested by many things. Some are tested by calamities and some are tested by good things of this life and at the end we will return to Allah so that we be appraised according to our test results.
The whole story of each and everyone of us is best summarized in these verses:
- "We did create man from a quintessence of clay; Then We placed him as a drop of sperm in a place of rest firmly fixed then We made the sperm into a clot of congealed blood; Then of that clot We made a lump; Then We made out of the lump bones and clothed the bones with flesh then We developed out of it another creature. So blessed be Allah the best to create after that, you will die. On the day of judgement you will be raised up again." (al-Muuminun 23:12-16)
This is the history of each one of us, CREATION, LIFE, DEATH, and the RESURRECTION. So we have to understand that our life on this earth is just a past, actually a very small past, of the whole picture. also we should not overestimate the value of this tiny fraction compared to our whole existence.
There is no escape from death. Allah (SW) says:
- "Wherever you are, death will find you out. Even if you are in towers built up strong and high." (al-Nisaa 4:78)
No matter how long, one lives nothing will save him/her from death. Strong towers won't save him. Progress of science will never overcome death. Advanced health care systems will never overcome death. Family, friends, money, power, prestige, all are no avail.
Listen to the following verse which describes our helplessness when death comes:
- "Why don't you intervene when the soul of the dying man reaches the throat and you sit looking on but We are nearer to him than you are but you do not see. Then why don't you, if you are exempt from future account, call back the soul if you are true in your claim of independence? If the dying man be of those nearest to Allah, there is for him rest and satisfaction and a garden of delight. And if he be of the companions of the right hand for him is the salutation `Peace be unto you from the companions of the right hand' And if he be of those who treat truth as falsehood, those who go wrong, for him is entertainment with boiling water, and burning in hell fire. Verily this is the truth and certainty. So celebrate with praises the name of Thy Lord, The Supreme." (al-Waqia 56:83-96)
One also finds in the Quran many verses which adnominish the believers about their obligations in this life before they die. Allah says:
- "O you who believe fear Allah as He should be feared and die not except in the state of Islam" (al-Imran 3:102)
Allah is commanding us not to die except as Muslims. But we are never sure when death will come to us. Thus, we have to be Muslims all the time. Therefore, the message is a muslim today, tomorrow and forever, be a Muslim in faith and in your behaviour, be a Muslim in private and in public. Be a Muslim with others and with your ownself, be a Muslim when at ease and be a Muslim when in hardship. Always be in a state of Islam, in a state of submission to your Allah, so that when death comes to you will be ready.
In the same meaning is very eloquently put in the following verse:
- "O you who believe let not your riches or your children divert you from the remembrance of Allah and whoever do this the loss is their own. And spend in charity out of the substance which we have bestowed on you before death should come to any of you and he would say `O my Lord why don't You give me a respite for a little while? I should then have given largely in charity and I will be one of the doers of good. But to no soul will Allah grant respite when the time appointed for it has come and Allah is well-acquainted with all that you do." (al-Munafiqun 63:9-11)
This verse is extremely important to us. It states with no uncertain terms that there is no second chance when death comes it is over. If you want to do good, do it now before you are dead. If you fail to be a good Muslim in this life, you will be the eternal loser because you will not be granted a second chance. You will not be given some extra time and there are no exemptions.
The same meaning is emphasized in another verse:
- "When death comes to one of them, he would say `O my Lord send me back to life in order that I may work righteousness in the things I neglected.' - `By no means! it is just a word he says.' - Before them is a partition till the day they are raised up"(al-Muuminun 23:99-100)
It is the same warning again, Allah is reminding us watch out, whatever good you might do it now, don't delay it, don't postpone it. If you fail to do good now it is your mistake, you are already been warned and all the loss will be yours.
There are numerous references to death in the Quran. The scenes of death and the scenes of the day of judgement are plenty in the Quran. They are almost every where. If we support that we read the Quran everyday, which is the sunnah of the Prophet (SAW), then it is very likely that we will read about death everyday. If we follow the Quranic guidance by reflecting upon everything we read, then we will end up reflecting upon death everyday. The we have to ask ourselves why is that Allah (SW) wants us to reflect upon death everyday ? What is the value of such constant reminder ? The fact is, remembering death has far-reaching implications in the life of the believer. Remembering death daily can and does transform the whole life of a believer to the better. Death awareness helps the believer to set his/her priorities right.
Imagine a believer who reads the Quran everyday, read and reflect upon death and the Day of Reckoning and then act accordingly. This believer will certainly be more altruistic, less greedy, more careful to the needs of the poor and the needy, more helpful to weak and the helpless, more giving in charity, more generous because simply this believer asks himself/herself everyday the same question "Will this money I have saved me from death ?" Will the money deliver me from hell-fire ?" "Will greed or saving the money for myself guarantee me the pleasure of my Lord ?" Actually, it is quite the opposite. The more you spend for the sake of your Lord (Allah), the more you become closer to Him. Death remembrance is the best way to become one of those whom allah has praised in the Quran by saying:
- "And those in whose wealth there is a recognized right for the needy and the destitute and those who believe in the truth of the Day of Judgement and those who fear the displeasure of their Lord. For their Lord's displeasure is one against which there is no security."(al-Maarij 70:24-28)
Death awareness does create a caring, helpful, generous believer, in short a truly wonderful person. If death awareness is spread among a whole community of believers, that community will be truly wonderful.
Death remembrance also does give the believer a huge spiritual boost. The believer who is always aware of his/her own mortality will always be in need t seek refuge with the Almighty. This kind of believer will be very careful not to displease his Lord and if it happens that he does something wrong he will be quick to ask for forgiveness. repentance will become his daily practice since he remembers that death might come to him at any time, so he is taking precautions by being always repentant.
This mortality awareness will improve the spiritual quality of the believer's prayers. If in your prayer you remember very well that someday you will be a dead man, then you will truly humble yourself in this prayer. That's why the Prophet (SAW) once advised us that at the start of every prayer we should consider that, this prayer as our last prayer in this life. Repentance, prayer, humbleness, self-restraint, patience, charity, Fear of allah,and hope, all of these are the immediate outcomes of death remembrance.
One of the most important ramifications of continuous death remembrance is that it emboldens the believer to do JIHAD, to struggle for the sake of Allah. For the believer he/she is always aware that he/she will be die sooner or later. Thus he/she will be certainly prefer an honourable death to ordinary death and the most honourable death is to die for the cause of Islam, to be a martyr of faith. listen how allah praises those who sacrifices their lives for His sake:
- "Allah has purchased of the believers their souls and their wealth in return for the paradise. They fight in His cause and kill or get killed. A promise binding on him in truth through the Torah, the Gospel, and the Quran and who is more faithful to his covenant than Allah ? Then rejoice in the deal which you have concluded. That is the supreme achievement." (al-Touba 9:111)
This attitude of continuous death awareness and preferring an honourable death to any other kind of death was the root cause of all the glories of early Islam. Those fearless companions of the Prophet (SAW) spread Islam to the shores of the Atlantic and to the borders of China in less than one century. They led the most impressive military campaigns in history and their incentive was very simple: The search of martyrdom, the most honourable death for a Muslim. Today, it is the fear of death honourable or otherwise that is making us by far the most humiliated nation on earth. Last Friday's massacre of the Palestinians (February 25th, 1994) is the reminder of the humiliation. At the core of all the ills of the Muslim World today lies this simple fact, We, Muslims, fear death. Martyrdom is not as appealing to us as it was to the early Muslims. We are not willing to sacrifice our wealth and our standard of living either. The evidence to this fact is abundant. The Muslim World has betrayed Bosnia. Muslims in the East were not willing to sacrifice their standard of living and threaten an oil and economic embargo against all those who help the Serbs and those who prevent the Bosnia Muslims from defending themselves. Muslims in the West didn't .... better, the amount of help we provided to our Brothers and Sisters in Bosnia was just peanuts compared to the wealth that Muslims in the West enjoy. Muslims are not willing to sacrifice, we consider donating $ 20 "a sacrifice." Why are we not willing to sacrifice ? The same reason, fear of death, we love life so much, we think we will live forever. We have to understand that fear of poverty and fear of honourable death makes cowards out of men. One of the casualties of our fear of honourable death is that we become afraid of saying the truth. We are now in the month of fasting. This is the truth, but when a Muslim ruler of a Muslim country said that fasting is an obstacle to economic development and it should be abolished, very few objected. When a Muslim ruler described the hijab of the women as a "filthy rug" no one objected. When another muslim ruler said that hijab ...., an act of satan because Eve had no clothes at all, no one objected. Actually, the only reaction to this particular comment was a wave of applause from the audience who happened to be members of parliament of another Muslim country ! In Islam, keeping silence when one should protest is a sin, but why no one protested ? because life is so dear to Muslims. Muslims assume they will live for too long. The irony is that Muslims countries, by and large, have the lowest life expectance rates on earth !
To sum up, I would remind myself and my dear brothers and sisters that death is a reality and we have to always be prepared for it. Please, don't assume that we will live for too long. we usually think that we will live for too long especially if we are young and healthy. This is not true. Young people die everyday and for a variety of reasons. I myself have 2 friends who died in their twenties. One was about 24 the other was 27 and this one was very healthy indeed. i graduated in the class of 1986, so far I have been told of 2 the graduates of my 1986 class who already died. No one has immunity against death. No one is too heathy to die, or too young to die or too wealthy to die or too powerful to die or too famous to die.
The question that we should always ask ourselves is not whether we are going to die, it is what preparations are we making to die as good Muslims ? We should always be ready, we should always struggle to improve ourselves until we become the best persons we can be. We should humble ourselves in our progress. Read the Quran more and reflect upon what we read more, we should help others, we should pay more in charity we have to get rid of our greed and selfishness. We have to love to others what we love to ourselves. And also we have to sacrifice for the sake of allah by spending from our wealth, our time, our efforts and if the need arises by our lives. We have to remember to repent everyday and if possible during and after every prayer.
Finally, the best way to remember death is to read the Quran. We have to read Quran everyday. This is major source of spiritual power in Islam.
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