In the Name of God, the Most Merciful, the Most Gracious.
written by Shuaib S Khan.
“Know that the life of this world is nothing but play and pastime, and adornment, and boasting amongst yourselves, and the desire to surpass each other in wealth and children; like the rain the produce of which pleased the farmer, then dried so you see it yellow, and then turned into dry trampled hay; and in the Hereafter is a severe punishment, and the forgiveness from Allah and His pleasure; and the life of this world is nothing but enjoyment of delusions.” Quran 57:20
It is a common conception that death is a certain reality. Yet, it stays in our minds as an abstract thought, seldom having any real weight or affect. The modern culture is immersed in exaltation and worship of the twisted image of youthful beauty which does nothing but expose our society’s deep contempt for aging, and denial of death. We now have the ability and the power with our superior technology and medicine to alter and shape our faces and bodies to fit our immortal image of ourselves; but the truth that remains is, it is only an empty image that we chase. On the surface, it appears that we have become an advanced civilization, capable of much greatness, but in reality we have forgotten the core basics of life.
It is self-evident that we now live in a time and society in which death has become a taboo and the silent agreement is that we do not speak of it. Most of us pretend it’s not there, and if we do tell stories of death, it is always the others who must die for our entertainment, in our pastime of Hollywood addiction and the like. Some of us even derive some perverted gratification in watching these, yet when it comes to death of our own selves or our loved ones, we turn away and beg to be distracted than give it any thought.
“Every soul shall taste death, and we shall try you with evil and good, and to Us you will be returned.” Quran 21:35
The underlying belief behind this obvious denial, though it maybe subconscious, is that our life experience of pleasure seeking, achievements, competition and big egos is believed to be the only meaning of our existence; and so death is a danger that not only threatens our current existence, but also any meaning that our life and identity may have carried. This is what keeps us clinging to our contingent existence and we turn a blind eye to the certain and inevitable truth. Then when death comes to us, or to one of our loved ones, we respond by going into a state of shock, unable to bear the fact. It dawns on us that neither we, nor our loved ones can do anything to prevent it and we cannot bring back the deceased. Our helplessness before death becomes exposed to us, but if we live through the experience, we soon force ourselves to forget and pretend nothing of the sort ever happened; and the vivid colors of death that we saw slowly fades back into an abstract blurry concept, once again. Islam asks us to face this reality and give weight to the seriousness of the matter.
“(This is) a revelation from the Lord of the universe. Is it such a message that you would hold in light esteem? And have you made it your portion that you should declare it false? Then why do you not [intervene] when [the soul of a dying person] reaches the throat? And you at the moment are looking on. But We are nearer to him than you, but you see not. Then why do you not, if you are exempt from account, call back the soul, if you are on the truth!” Quran 56:80-87
Islam teaches us to broaden our perspective and look to the world as it really is. It directs our energy to our essence; and instead of obsessing over shallow images of our ego and material glamour, it teaches us to develop an inner fulfillment in coming to terms with our mortality and the inevitable return to our original Source. Islam asks us to be humble before God and submit to the Truth, willingly, while we still respire, so that we are better prepared for death whenever it arrives to snatch our last breath. Islam asks us to put our arrogance aside and recognize that though we are capable of many things, we are helpless before the Divine and completely depend of Him for every moment of our existence. With that recognition we become truly conscious and align ourselves to His will in life and in death, we return to Him in a state of peace and acceptance.
We say: “To Allah we belong, and to Him is our return” Quran 2:156
The underlying truth for a person who adheres to the teachings of Islam is that we are spiritual beings who have been asked to carry out a temporary physical existence on the earth. You are not the baby crawling, or the child eating candy, or the teenager looking for trouble, or the elderly weakened with illness. Those are the ever changing impermanent bodies; and the real you is the conscious spirit that inhabited those bodies. The physical body, which is a part of the earth, is nothing more than a vehicle for our spirit. The spirit is our true self which animates and brings alive our physical and mental form. Because the body is from earth, the earth nourishes the body, but the spririt is from a higher reality and so only alignment with the Highest Truth nourishes the spirit. When the spirit returns to its Lord, the Eternal, the body thus returns to the earth. Therefore, the one who chose to live and conduct himself in submission to the Truth, for him death is liberation from the narrow constrictions and the suffering of physical existence into the eternal bliss of enjoyment in Divine presence. Because the believers willingly accept the Divine, the Divine welcomes them with His mercy and forgiveness.
Abu Huraira reported Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: “The world is a prison for a believer and paradise for a non-believer.” Bukhari Book 42, Chapter 1, Number 7058
Islam teaches us to always be mindful of the nearness of death. Though its hour is not known, its coming is certain. Therefore the one who takes this world to be his paradise and worships his own desires and neglects the Truth, he too will soon leave everything he has amassed. The mansion, cars, career, relationships, all that distracted him, he will leave behind, and nothing can help him in anyway. You do not forget the Truth except that you forget yourself. And he returns to His Lord, having tainted his soul and destroyed his eternal life. Death puts the life of this world into perspective, and it conveys very loudly, everyone is equal before God, your life has a purpose and your time is running out. Islam teaches us to be mindful of death. Be mindful of death not in a morbid and melancholic way, but as a means of infusing life and meaning into our existence. If you operated from the awareness that this deed could possibly be the last moment of your life, how would you live? If you knew that this could possibly be the last time you see your spouse or children, how would you treat them? Would you still cheat that person, knowing well and accepting the reality that soon you will return to your Lord? Would you still engage in immoral behavior while looking death in the eye when your Lord has said in the Hereafter is a severe punishment, and the forgiveness from Allah and His pleasure; and the life of this world is nothing but enjoyment of delusions.
The punishment is the suffering which we bring upon ourselves. Allah does not oppress, but we oppress ourselves. If we utilized the gift of reflection and were honest with ourselves, we would tell ourselves: Is it not time to think about your own death? When will the time come for you to change? When will you turn back? Open your heart to the Truth. The Giver of Life invites you to that which gives you life. Return to Him before it’s too late. The door of repentance is still wide open. So go forth and do not be deceived by the glamour of this life. God is greater. With Him is the best reward.