By Shaykh Mohammed Mahmoud, Senior Imam at the East London Mosque

كُلُّ نَفْسٍ ذَآئِقَةُ الْمَوْتِ وَإِنَّمَا تُوَفَّوْنَ أُجُورَكُمْ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ فَمَن زُحْزِحَ عَنِ النَّارِ وَأُدْخِلَ الْجَنَّةَ فَقَدْ فَازَ وَما الْحَيَاةُ الدُّنْيَا إِلاَّ مَتَاعُ الْغُرُورِ

“Every soul shall taste death. And you will be paid your wages in full on the Day of Resurrection. So he who is distanced from the Fire and admitted to the Garden, has indeed triumphed. And the life of this world is only the enjoyment of delusion.” [3:185]

One of the indisputable facts that requires no debate, is that mankind fears nothing more in his life than death. Many people hate the word “death”, perhaps because it is mysterious to us, or because we associate it with the grave, and associate the grave with darkness, solitude and constriction. Or perhaps because we love life regardless of its state, and love our children, family and friends. Many people view death as the separation between them and their loved ones, after which there is no reunion.

Belief in Allah, the Exalted, is the pillar on which our creed (aqidah) stands. However, this creed is incomplete until the faith of another pillar complements it, and that is the belief in the Day of Resurrection; that after spending this stage of our life in this world, we shall pass away, then be resurrected to live an eternal life.

The details of death and the abode of the deceased must be well understood. First, by remembering that human immortality is something impossible. Death is the fate of all those who preceded us, and all those who will follow us, and if anyone were to have been spared it, it would have been the master of mankind, Muhammad ﷺ. But Allah said:

إِنَّكَ مَيِّتٌ وَإِنَّهُم مَّيِّتُونَ

Indeed, you are to die, and indeed, they are to die.

Meaning, you, O Muhammad, will certainly meet this fate, and so too will everyone else. You are the most beloved to Me, but you, like all those who preceded you, are not immortal:

وَمَا جَعَلْنَا لِبَشَرٍ مِّن قَبْلِكَ الْخُلْدَ ۖ أَفَإِن مِّتَّ فَهُمُ الْخَالِدُونَ كُلُّ نَفْسٍ ذَائِقَةُ الْمَوْتِ ۗ وَنَبْلُوكُم بِالشَّرِّ وَالْخَيْرِ فِتْنَةً ۖ وَإِلَيْنَا تُرْجَعُونَ 

And We did not grant to any man before you eternity/immortality [on earth]; so if you die – would they be eternal? Every soul will taste death. And We test you with evil and with good as trial; and to Us you will be returned.

In contrast, thinking that when man dies, everything comes to an end, and he feels nothing, and that he goes from existence into absence and nonexistence, is an erroneous delusion. A delusion propagated by materialism and atheism.

It is necessary to know that death is but a transition from one abode to another; from a mortal life to an eternal one. And that the notion that death is the end, after which there is only absence of man, is a major mistake that no one can accept.

In the Qur’an ‘dying’ is mentioned fourteen times with the word tawaffa which means ‘entrusting’. That is to say, after death, one will not perish and disappear, but that Allah will take His possession back – without increase, or decrease – and He will entrust it to His appointed workers.

But death is falsely presented as a shift from this life full of vivid senses, movements, feelings and emotions, to a phase that is devoid of everything. The perception of death as a stage of experiencing nothingness is seriously incorrect. Therefore the Qur’an debunks this concept stressing that the afterlife is the real life:

وَمَا هَـٰذِهِ الْحَيَاةُ الدُّنْيَا إِلَّا لَهْوٌ وَلَعِبٌ ۚ وَإِنَّ الدَّارَ الْآخِرَةَ لَهِيَ الْحَيَوَانُ ۚ لَوْ كَانُوا يَعْلَمُونَ

And this worldly life is not but diversion and amusement. And indeed, the home of the Hereafter – that is the [eternal] life, if only they knew.

Al hayawaan is a root (the masdar) indicating power and emphasis. Thus 'the life' man experiences after death, within it his senses are heightened, his perceptions sharpened, his intelligence raised, and his awareness amplified compared to his life in this world.

And we must realise human existence has many phases. The primary phase knows nothing about the nature of the secondary phase and beyond. Such as the stages of a human’s life: a child cannot grasp many a concept because his mental abilities are limited. If you spoke to him or her about adult life, business and trade, or sexuality, they would be dumbfounded. They have no idea of such matters, nor can they process them.

Accordingly, man does not have enough knowledge about death, nor about the nature of the life that follows it. Therefore Allah revealed to mankind what they we comprehend: that this life is temporary, and is bound to end; its duration is finite and predetermined, like our provision/sustenance (rizq), and Allah alone has that knowledge:

وَمَا تَدْرِي نَفْسٌ مَّاذَا تَكْسِبُ غَداً وَمَا تَدْرِي نَفْسٌ بِأَيِّ أَرْضٍ تَمُوتُ

“No soul knows what it will earn tomorrow, and no soul knows in what land it will die.”

And that we have no power to extend or shorten that duration:

فَإِذَا جَاء أَجَلُهُمْ لاَ يَسْتَأْخِرُونَ سَاعَةً وَلاَ يَسْتَقْدِمُونَ

“When their specified time arrives, they cannot delay it for a single hour nor can they bring it forward,” (16:61)

Then we will lead another life in the Hereafter, the fruits of which will be planted in this life. Therefore do not be distracted or diverted from preparing for your eternal home:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَا تُلْهِكُمْ أَمْوَالُكُمْ وَلَا أَوْلَادُكُمْ عَن ذِكْرِ اللَّهِ وَمَن يَفْعَلْ ذَلِكَ فَأُوْلَئِكَ هُمُ الْخَاسِرُونَ

وَأَنفِقُوا مِن مَّا رَزَقْنَاكُم مِّن قَبْلِ أَن يَأْتِيَ أَحَدَكُمُ الْمَوْتُ فَيَقُولَ رَبِّ لَوْلَا أَخَّرْتَنِي إِلَى أَجَلٍ قَرِيبٍ فَأَصَّدَّقَ وَأَكُن مِّنَ الصَّالِحِينَ

وَلَن يُؤَخِّرَ اللَّهُ نَفْساً إِذَا جَاء أَجَلُهَا وَاللَّهُ خَبِيرٌ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ

“O you who believe! Do not let your wealth or children divert you from the remembrance of Allah. Whoever does so, then they are indeed the losers. And give from what We have provided for you, before death comes to one of you and he says, ‘O Lord, if only you would give me a little more time so that I can give charity and be one of the righteous.’ But never will Allah delay a soul when its time has come. And Allah is acquainted with what you do.”

Very often we forget these facts; we leave ourselves to be immersed in the pleasures of this life and its allurements. The pursuit of our worldly share takes precedence over our share of the afterlife. Competition for material possessions preoccupies us from competing in righteous deeds. Our focus is directed to the temporary, and diverted from the eternal. Our hearts harden and rust. We cry at the loss of profits, and are indifferent at the loss of a prayer.

This hard and impenetrable heart is remedied only by the remembrance of the great leveller, the destroyer of pleasures – death.

We are surrounded by death, but our vision is tunnelled to block out the periphery. Look at the sick, the ill, the dying. Visit the graves. Visit them voluntarily, where you can remain for a short while then leave, before you’re taken involuntarily and cannot return.

Ibn Mas’ud reported: The Messenger of Allah ﷺ, said, “I had prohibited you from visiting graves, but visit them now. Verily, they will weaken your attachment to the world and remind you of the Hereafter.”

Remember that no wealth or strength can prevent the inevitable. Let it not be a passing thought, but a constant thought by which your daily decisions and reflections are governed. Yes, daily.

Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allahﷺ, said, “Abundantly remember the destroyer of pleasures,” by which he meant death.

This is the practice of the intelligent.

Ubayy ibn Ka’b said, “When a third of the night had passed, the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, stood up and said, ‘O people! Remember Allah! The first blast has come and it will soon be followed by the second blast. Death has come with all that it involves. Death has come with all that it involves.’

It is truly a cause for astonishment that countless cultures avoid the subject of the only guarantee in life, and that is, that it comes to an end. It is not, as many view, a morbid subject, the aim of which is to cause depression and despair. On the contrary, it is what truly fuels us to live full, healthy and wholesome lives.

During the period of affluence, it checks your indulgence in bad practices and improper use of wealth. It reminds you that you will part with your fortune and never see it again.

And for the one experiencing narrowness in their provision, it causes contentment with whatever little quantity of wealth he has. His remembering of death makes him realise how swift his account for his wealth will be before Allah.

The world deceives only its own lovers. Anyone who gives thought to death and the Day of Resurrection diverts his heart to the next world. He sees clearly this world's hypocrisies, pomp and show, and they are no longer alluring to him.

People hold vain desires, such as assuming a guaranteed repentance after a long life of sins and disobedience. Where did you get that from? Who promised you that?

The Messenger ﷺ drew a square in the sand to illustrate an important point to the companions. Inside the square he drew a line from one side to the next, but extending beyond the square into the distance. Inside the square too, he drew many lines perpendicular to the long line. The line within the square represents man’s lifespan. The line extending out represents his hopes and dreams. The perpendicular lines represent the afflictions that cause death. Man’s hopes are naturally over-reaching. They extend beyond his actual lifespan. But man is surrounded with death. If one affliction misses him, the other will strike him; and if one strikes him, the other will miss him.

This magnificent depiction by the Messenger ﷺ gives us greater clarity on the reality of life and death.

But clarity of vision without action is useless. A man dying of thirst who can see a water well but takes no steps towards it is a fool despite his certainty of the water. Knowledge alone without action is not only of no use, it is evidence of the mankind’s guilt of negligence.

So let us be reminded by the deaths of others, and not wait until our own demise to be alerted to our fate and learn the truth when it is too late.

Death is the fate of everyone and everything. It is the reality that cannot be escaped; the affliction that cannot be missed.

قُلْ إِنَّ الْمَوْتَ الَّذِي تَفِرُّونَ مِنْهُ فَإِنَّهُ مُلَاقِيكُمْ ۖ ثُمَّ تُرَدُّونَ إِلَىٰ عَالِمِ الْغَيْبِ وَالشَّهَادَةِ فَيُنَبِّئُكُم بِمَا كُنتُمْ تَعْمَلُونَ 

Say, "Indeed, the death from which you flee - indeed, it will meet you. Then you will be returned to the Knower of the unseen and the witnessed, and He will inform you about what you used to do."

Death is indeed a catastrophe and disaster as Allah described it. But heedlessness of death is the greatest calamity and disaster. To avoid mentioning or thinking of it, leaves one unprepared for their fate.

Never was the Messenger ﷺ heedless of death, nor were his companions nor their successors (the righteous predecessors of our nation). Death itself was enough of a warning for them, not least the death of family and close friends, or their own illnesses and flirtation with death. It served as a reminder of a looming deadline for which they prepared vigorously.

Ibn Umar said, “If you awaken then do not expect the evening, and if you sleep then do not expect the morning…and take from your life (provision) for your death.”

It severed their hearts’ connection to this world and prevented them from indulging in its pleasures.

Umar Ibn Abdul Aziz would gather scholars in his court on most nights to remind him of Allah and of death. Rather than delighting in the opulence his position could have gained him, they would weep as though they were attending a funeral.

He asked one of them once, “Admonish me”. So he said, “You are not the first khalifah to die”. Umar said “Increase my admonishment!” The scholar continued “All of your forefathers until Adam tasted death, and now is your turn.” So Umar wept.

Al Hasan said, "I never saw an intelligent man except that death would serve as a warning for him and cause him sorrow."

Ash’ath said, “We would enter upon Al Hasan and it (the topic) would be the fire, the affairs of the hereafter and remembrance of death”.

Ar-Rabi’ ibn Khathyam would say, “If my heart forgets death for one hour it would be corrupted!”

Al Hasan Al Basri had a grave in his house that he would lie in at night to remember his death. He would rise out of it reciting Allah’s verses

حَتَّىٰ إِذَا جَاءَ أَحَدَهُمُ الْمَوْتُ قَالَ رَبِّ ارْجِعُونِ لَعَلِّي أَعْمَلُ صَالِحًا فِيمَا تَرَكْتُ

Until, when death comes to one of them (the disbelievers), he says, "My Lord, send me back, that I might do righteousness in that which I left behind."

Then he would stand the night in prayer.

Death is a reality we cannot turn our back on, and as the time has come for many before us, so too must we prepare for our time.