" Every human being is bound to taste
death". This verse appears in the Holy Quran in chapters Al-Imran, Ankabut
The most appropriate words have been used in
the Quran for describing the fact that we will one day die. God is telling us
that the only sure thing in this life is death. Day to day awareness of death
can assist us in living life fully.
As human beings, we spend much of our lives
seeking happiness, wealth, health and other luxuries of life, imagining that
they can best be found by ignoring our own mortality. Yet, the Quran has
reminded us that every one is going to taste death, a simple, un-scary and human
way of mentioning the ultimate fact of each individual's existence on this
earth. The Quran has discussed, in many chapters the topics of, the day of
judgment, life after death and death itself as guidance for a healthier and more
God conscious life in this world. Talking about death will not kill us, but,
this talk and discussion can help us streamline our lives through discipline,
honesty and righteousness.
Many a times, the Imam in the mosque would turn
towards the congregation before starting the prayer and say, " Pray as if
this is your last prayer". The purpose of this prompt is to remind our
selves that the flame of life may extinguish before the arrival of the time for
the next obligatory prayer. No one is aware of the time of death. By remembering
death while standing in front of God - engaged in prayer Ð we are putting
ourselves in a frame of mind that will allow us to see the positive side of
engaging our feelings about death. While praying we must remain focused,
concentrate on submitting to God and seek God's forgiveness. The greater sense
of preciousness of life can be experienced by openly engaging our feelings about
death. It has been found that majority of the people don't want to discuss
By saying that every human being will taste
death, Allah, is telling us to look at life and reflect on death, not when a
dear one is near death or out of it. He is encouraging us to speak of it while
we are in the flower of good health. We must envision our life by recognizing
that it is finite.
An insurance agent, once said "Insurance
is all about death; we talk about everything; paying premiums, settling claims,
making payments in hundreds of thousands of dollars, issuing premium default
notices, etc, but never mention death or say if you die, your family gets the
insured money. Insurance is all about death ".
Most human beings in their life times seldom
see a dead body. This may be, when a relative or a dear one has passed away. The
following example illustrates as to how an individual feels about life and death
when he is forced by circumstances to focus on death. In early 1970's, the only
burial place available or known to Muslims in Los Angeles, California, was a
specific area in the Forest Lawn Mortuary. The Director of the mortuary told the
Muslims that movie stars Sabot and Turban Bye were buried there and it was the
most suitable area for Muslim burial. There was no separate burial site or a
graveyard for Muslims in California. For the burial of a Muslim stillborn girl,
the Forest Lawn mortuary was contacted by the family. A family member was
assigned the task of bringing some items to a room on the second floor of the
mortuary building, where four ladies were engaged in preparing the girl's body
for burial. He arrived in the lobby and was given directions to go to the second
floor. He followed directions and got on the elevator. The elevator door opened,
he stepped out, went into a big hall and immediately went into shock. Seven dead
bodies were lying on seven different tables in the big hall. His brain fogged
and he saw nothing but darkness in front of him. He started breathing heavily.
He somehow managed to go to the other end of the hall, turned right and ended up
in the room where Muslim ladies where giving burial bath to the baby. After
making his delivery, he lowered his gaze, walked back to the elevator, and
finally ended up in the lobby on the first floor. He was sweating and shaking.
For the next two months, he had trouble sleeping at night, started seeing bad
dreams and had nightmares. He felt that he had come face to face with death, and
the consolation was that he was spared.
Quranic verses repeatedly remind us to take
stock of our lives by becoming aware of life's brevity. Exposing oneself to
death on a daily basis makes people less worried about the trivial things in
life. This has happened to millions of people around the world. A Muslim who
remembers death before the start of each prayer becomes very cognizant of his
existence on this earth, strives to live a simple life, develops compassion for
others, shows concern for others and becomes less concerned for material
possession, and in the process, acquires spirituality and greater generosity.
The tragic events of September 11 have forced
people especially in the US to think about death. The indelible images on the
television screen, the feeling of helplessness and the fear that has taken
control of lives of millions of people, have given them a chance to think over
their priorities in life and to refocus their spirituality. Many couples that
were in the process of getting divorce withdrew their cases to start life afresh
with their present life partners. It gave them a chance to reflect on the
emotional, selfish and egotistic side of their actions that led them to the
divorce courts in the first place.
Many people have reached into the deep recesses
of their hearts and discovered that they were alone in their hearts but not
lonely. They discovered God, spirituality and the shortness of life and resolved
to simplify their lives, restructure their relationship with others and to
devote their lives working for humanity, justice and peace.
On the remembrance of death, and on
encouragement to remember it abundantly, because of the prevailing
circumstances, has helped many to balance their lives and to remain good in this
world and prepare themselves for the next world.
The Holy Quran says: "Say, Behold, the
death from which you are fleeing is bound to over take you Ð and then you will
be brought back unto Him who knows all that is beyond the reach of a created
beings perception as well as all that can be witnessed by a creatures' senses or
mind, whereupon He will make you truly understand all that you were doing (in
life)" Sura Jumah.
It has been reported that once Abu Hurayra
said, ' I heard the Prophet of God (may God bless him and grant him peace) say,
" The Angel of Death once came to a dying man. Having looked into his heart
and found nothing therein, he parted his beard and found the tip of his tongue
adhering to his palate as he said, 'There is no deity save God.' For this
utterance of pure single-heartedness he was forgiven all of his sins."
The Prophet (may God bless him and grant him
peace) once came in upon a young man who was dying. ' How are you?' he asked,
and he replied, 'I have set my hope in God, and fear my sins'. The Prophet (may
God bless him and grant him peace) responded. 'Never have these two things been
united in the heart of a bondsman in circumstances such as these without God
granting him that for which he hopes, and delivering him from what he fears'.
Imam al-Shafi'i (may God have mercy upon him)
in his final sickness said:
When my heart was hardened and my courses
I made my hope a stairway to Your forgiveness
My sin burdened me heavily, but when I measured
it by Your forgiveness
Lord, Your forgiveness was the greater.
Mohammad Yacoob is the former Vice Chairman
of Islamic Center of Southern California and former President, Masjid Ul Islam,