Death - Moment of truth
by Maulana Wahiduddin Khan
In Islam, death is not viewed as an end but as a new beginning. It is a bridge that enables movement from temporary life in this world to eternal life. A verse in the Qur’an, recited at the time of burial, says: “We have created you from earth, we will return you to earth, and again we will take you out and make you alive.”
So, death is more a demarcation between two phases of life, instead of being an end. Life is eternal. Only a fraction of it is spent in this world, in this body, and the rest of life is spent in the hereafter. In that life, we will live for billions and billions of years.
You may well ask, if life is eternal, then why this division between one phase and the other? Why does death occur in between life and afterlife? The reason is that this world is a testing ground that God has created for man. God first created paradise, which is ideal and eternal, and then He created man.
From among humankind, God wanted to select those who were truly qualified to inhabit paradise. To figure this out, God put man in this world. This world is a testing ground. We are here on trial. Whatever we do is being recorded by angels, and according to this record, we will be awarded paradise or hell at the time of death.
So you see, death is simply a demarcation between test (our wordly lives) and its reward (paradise or hell). When God decides that a person has completed the required amount of time on earth, He sends Israel, who is the angel of death, to transfer that person from this world to the next.
The paradise of Islam is a material one. In the Qur’an, it is said that paradise is like this world, where various items of enjoyment are available. The only difference is that this world is imperfect, while paradise is the epitome of perfection. This world is a model of paradise.
We enjoy everything here, but it is less than perfect. The perfection of paradise is described in the Qur’an as ‘no fear, no sorrow’, and in the Hadis (compilation of the sayings of Prophet Mohammed) as ‘free of noise and pain’.
How can all this translate into the way we live our lives? In this world, man finds himself free to do what he pleases. A check is needed to ensure that humanity lives in a disciplined way.
This check is provided by the thought of death—it makes man accountable to God every second of his life. According to the Hadis, the instant man dies, he finds himself presented in the court of God. Death is the actual point when the period of test is over and it is the time when man stands before God.
Here, the Hadis mentions four questions that man has to answer before God. These are—what means have you employed to earn your wealth? How have you spent that which you have earned? How have you spent your time? And, how much of the knowledge that you acquired did you actually apply in your life?
These four questions are the basis of responsible action in man’s life. Accountability of this kind is absolutely essential to prevent man from falling into corruption. For man can escape the police or bribe his way out of law courts, but he cannot escape God.
God watches all that is apparent, as well as that which is hidden. No judge in this world knows what is going on in your heart, but God does. And wherever in the world you might run, you will still be in God’s presence.
The Qur’an encourages us to always remember death, for it helps get rid of actions motivated by pleasure alone. Knowing that you will die some day or the other, you will be unable to act carelessly or unmindfully. Because you are accountable to God, you will act from a place of responsibility.
The importance of constant remembrance of death in Islam is illustrated by a story about Prophet Mohammed. According to this story, the Prophet would often visit graveyards. He would look at the graves and remember: “I will also be there one day.”
When someone dies, a prayer is recited, which says: “The one who has died is going to God, and so will we.” Not only do you pray for the deceased, you remind yourself of your own mortality.
I think that if one keeps one’s own death in mind, one will be able to view this life as a ‘waiting room’. Just as we do not become attached to a temporary abode like a waiting room, so there is no sense becoming overly attached to our bodies and material possessions.
This attitude will help bring contentment and peace in your life. You will realise that if your needs are being met with one rupee, there is no sense in running after one lakh rupees. It is best to be contented with what one has, instead of wasting one’s time and energy in pursuit of wealth and possessions. Remembrance of death stops one from running after material pleasures and brings one’s mind to God.
—As told to Swati Chopra
Maulana Wahiduddin Khan is well-versed in classical Islamic learning as well as modern science. His lifelong mission has been to present Islamic teachings in a contemporary idiom.
This he has done through his journal Al Risala, and in the over 200 books that he has authored, which include Islam and the Modern Man, Religion and Science and God Arises, among others. The Maulana is founder of the Islamic Centre and the Centre for Peace and Spirituality in New Delhi.
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