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The Lessons from Death
Life slips away second by second.
Are you aware that every day brings you closer to death or that death is as
close to you as it is to other people?
As we are told in the verse
"Every soul shall taste death in the end; to Us shall you be brought back." (Surat
al-'Ankabut: 57) everyone who has ever appeared on this earth was destined to
die. Without exception they all died, every one. Today, we hardly come across
the traces of many of these people who passed away. Those currently living and
those who will ever live will also face death on a predestined day. Despite this
fact, people tend to see death as an unlikely incident.
Think of a baby who has just
opened its eyes to the world and a man who is about to breathe his last. Both
had no influence on their individual birth or death whatsoever. Only God
possesses the power to inspire the breath of life or to take it away.
All human beings will live until
a certain day and then die; God in the Qur'an gives an account of the attitude
commonly shown towards death in the following verse:
Say: "The death from which you
flee will truly overtake you: then you will be sent back to the Knower of things
secret and open: and He will tell you (the truth of) the things that you did!" (Surat
The majority of people avoid
thinking about death. In the rapid flow of daily events, a person usually
occupies himself with totally different subjects: what college to enroll in,
which company to work for, what color of clothing to wear next morning, what to
cook for supper; these are the kinds of major issues that we usually consider.
Life is perceived as a routine process of such minor matters. Attempts to talk
about death are always interrupted by those who do not feel comfortable hearing
about it. Assuming death will come only when one grows older, one does not want
to concern himself with such an unpleasant subject. Yet it should be kept in
mind that living for even one further hour is never guaranteed. Everyday, man
witnesses the deaths of people around him but thinks little about the day when
others will witness his own death. He never supposes that such an end is
Nevertheless, when death comes
to man, all the "realities" of life suddenly vanish. No reminder of the
"good old days" endures in this world. Think of everything that you are able to
do right now: you can blink your eyes, move your body, speak, laugh; all these
are functions of your body. Now think about the state and shape your body will
assume after your death.
From the moment you breathe
for the last time, you will become nothing but a "heap of flesh".
Your body, silent and motionless, will be carried to the morgue. There, it will
be washed for the last time. Wrapped in a shroud, your corpse will be carried in
a coffin to the graveyard. Once your remains are in the grave, soil will cover
you. This is the end of your story. From now on, you are simply one of the names
represented in the graveyard by a marble stone.
During the first months or years, your grave will be visited frequently. As time
passes, fewer people will come. Decades later, there will be no-one.
Meanwhile, your immediate family members will experience a different aspect of
your death. At home, your room and bed will be empty. After the funeral, little
of what belongs to you will be kept at home: most of your clothes, shoes, etc,
will be given to those who need them. Your file at the public registration
office will be deleted or archived. During the first years, some will mourn for
you. Yet, time will work against the memories you left behind. Four or five
decades later, there will remain only a few who remember you. Before long, new
generations will come and none of your generation will exist any longer on
earth. Whether you are remembered or not will be worthless to you.
While all this is taking place in the world, the corpse under the soil will go
through a rapid process of decay. Soon after you are placed in the grave, the
bacteria and insects proliferating in the corpse due to the absence of oxygen
will start to function. The gasses released from these organisms will inflate
the body, starting from the abdomen, altering its shape and appearance. Bloody
froth will pop out the mouth and nose due to the pressure of gasses on the
diaphragm. As corruption proceeds, body hair, nails, soles, and palms will fall
off. Accompanying this outer alteration in the body, internal organs such as
lungs, heart and liver will also decay. In the meantime, the most horrible scene
takes place in the abdomen, where the skin can no longer bear the pressure of
gasses and suddenly bursts, spreading an unendurably disgusting smell. Starting
from the skull, muscles will detach from their particular places. Skin and soft
tissues will completely disintegrate. The brain will decay and start looking
like clay. This process will go on until the whole body is reduced to a
There is no chance of going back to the old life again. Gathering around the
supper table with family members, socializing or to having an honorable job will
never again be possible.
In short, the "heap of flesh and bones" to which we assign an identity faces a
quite nasty end. On the other hand, you - or rather, your soul - will leave this
body as soon as you breathe your last. The remainder of you - your body - will
become part of the soil.
Yes, but what is the reason for all these things happening?
If God willed, the body would never have decayed in such a way. That it does so
actually carries a very important inner message in itself.
The tremendous end awaiting man should make him acknowledge that he is not a
body himself, but a soul "encased" within a body. In other words, man has to
acknowledge that he has an existence beyond his body. Furthermore, man
should understand the death of his body which he tries to possess as if he is to
remain eternally in this temporal world. However this body, which he deems so
important, will decay and become worm-eaten one day and finally be reduced to a
skeleton. That day might be very soon.
Despite all these facts, man's mental process is inclined to disregard what he
does not like or want. He is even inclined to deny the existence of things he
avoids confronting. This tendency seems to be most apparent when death is the
issue. Only a funeral or the sudden death of an immediate family member brings
this reality to mind. Almost everybody sees death far from himself. The
assumption is that those who die while sleeping or in an accident are different
people and what they face will never befall us! Everybody thinks it is too early
to die and that there are always years ahead to live.
Yet most probably, people who die on the way to school or hurrying to attend a
business meeting shared the same thought. They probably never thought that the
next day's newspapers would publish news of their deaths. It is entirely
possible that, as you read these lines, you still do not expect to die soon
after you have finished them or even entertain the possibility that it might
happen. Probably you feel that it is too early to die because there are many
things to accomplish. However, this is just an avoidance of death and these are
only vain endeavors to escape it:
Say: "Running away will not
profit you if you are running away from death or slaughter; and even if (you do
escape), no more than a brief (respite) will you be allowed to enjoy!" (Surat
Man who is created alone should be aware that he will also die alone. Yet during
his life, he lives almost addicted to possessions. His sole purpose in life
becomes to possess more. Yet, no-one can take his goods with him to the grave.
The body is buried wrapped in a shroud made from the cheapest of fabrics. The
body comes into this world alone and departs from it in the same way. The only
asset one can take with him when one dies is one's belief or disbelief.