ONE of the saddest moments in life is seeing a loved one dying. Until then, we delude ourselves, although we read, hear and even see others pass away. Nothing, however, prepares us for our own mortality like the death of the person whom we hold most dear.
Death is the utmost mystery of life: the puzzle that remains unsolved, that is shrouded in conjecture and myths and that has captured the imagination of philosophers, scholars, scientists, authors, poets and fiction writers throughout the centuries.
Death is inevitable, and the fear of it is inherent in the human heart.
Death is a return to our Creator. A return signifies going back to where we came from: in short, our real home.
However painful his life may be, and however worthless he might believe himself to be, a person will never agree to die, except in a state of extreme emotion, as is witnessed in the case of suicide. Death is perceived as the annihilation of life — a life that provides a person with a sense of being.
The Quran suggests something entirely different. Life is made up of two phases: one is transitory and short, to be spent in this world; the other is eternal and in a world unknown to anyone who lives. Death is not destruction but the passage of the whole living being, including body and soul, from one phase to the other, the duration of the former varying from individual to individual. “Every soul shall have a taste of death” (3:185).
Every living person is in a waiting room and may be called to die at any time. The room is full of entertaining games and sights that keep the inhabitants occupied, to the extent of being unaware of the ultimate call.
All of us are witness to others passing through the exit, in a one-way route. We are shocked momentarily and spend some time thinking of our own journey and where it might take us. Then we forget about it.
We spend our waiting time engrossed in various activities, depending upon our whims and desires. If we have paid heed to advice on what to expect outside the door, we may attempt to prepare ourselves, or we may decide that this waiting room is all that there is and we will never come to life again. In reality, this waiting time begins from the moment of our birth. As the English churchman and historian Thomas Fuller puts it, “the first breath is the beginning of death”.
Death is a return to our Creator. A return signifies going back to where we came from: in short, our real home. “To Allah We belong, and to Him is our return” (2:156). Our stay in this world is a mere journey, to be lived briefly, but with constant reminders of our origin. Returning to God is returning home, and we will find that it was our stay in this world that was strange. Our real and natural abode is the one promised to us when we have exited to the afterlife. When our dear ones depart, we grieve over their loss and we miss them in our daily lives. But it is important to realise that we shall soon be united with them, hopefully under circumstances where no pain or worries would trouble us.
The Quran also likens death to sleep wherein the soul is taken by God and returned (when a person wakes up) but not when death has been decreed. “It is Allah that takes the souls (of men) at death; and those that die not (He takes) during their sleep: those on whom He has passed the decree of death, He keeps back (from returning to life), but the rest He sends (to their bodies) for a term appointed....” (39:42)
There is an intermediary phase between death and the Day of Judgement. This is the aalam-i-burzakh, when the souls of dead humans exist, unknown to the physical world.
The best and worst of people are rewarded or punished immediately after death but others must wait for questioning on the Day of Judgement.
If death is a must, as all of us know, and if we are brought back to life after dying, as believers believe, why do we not take steps to prepare for an eternal existence that may be full of joy and not one that is doomed to punishment?
What is it that covers our souls with sins and which prevents us from repenting, even when we realise our errors? We mouth platitudes and clichés of religious piety, invoking God, swearing upon our integrity and good faith and intentions, yet we remain false in action. We have limited time before the final trumpet is sounded, for none of us will have any leeway in purgatory or later. The time to correct our ways is now.
The writer is a freelance contributor with an interest in religion.
Published in Dawn, October 20th, 2017