Don’t you know that protection, tomorrow, will be limited to those who feared Allaah [today], and to those who sold something ephemeral for something permanent, something small for something great, and fear for protection? Don’t you realize that you are the descendants of those who have perished, that those who remain will take their place after you, and that this will continue until you are all returned to Allaah? ‘Umar ibn ‘Abdul ‘Azeez
Death is upon us, but you wouldn’t think it so. We lie intoxicated by the dunya and its many trappings. We live our fast-paced lives, in its hustle and bustle, with little time to halt – to ponder and reflect over imminent realities. We think we are guaranteed tomorrow, and the next day, and indeed the day after next. Ironically, we find such certainty in the future, in the longevity of our lives, while in fact, the only thing in which we have true yaqeen (certainty) is our own demise – those empty graves which we will occupy in the depths of the cold, merciless earth.
Death comes unexpected, without a warning. Even still, most deal with death as if it is a far-off reality, when indeed none know its appointed time. Perhaps it is the pleasures of this life that make us blind to the reality of what comes after. Some abhor the topic and frown upon its mention, for it brings them back to the hard-hitting reality of their end, and detracts from the ‘fun’ they engage in. Be that as it may, the uncontested fact – whether or not we wish to acknowledge it – is that we shall die:
The Righteous will die,and the wicked will die …The warriors who fight jihaad will die,and those who sit at home will die …Those who busy themselves with correct belief will die,and those who treat the people as their slaves will die …The brave who reject injustice will die,and the cowards who seek to cling onto this life at any price will die …The people of great concern and lofty goals will die,and the wretched people who live only for cheap enjoyment will die …1
Indeed, every soul shall taste death, the destroyer of pleasures, and the terminator of good deeds. It is for this reason and the calling to account that follows this that we should remember death often and much. And it was our beloved Prophet sal’Allaahu ‘alayhi wasallam who passed on such wisdom when he stated: “Increase in your remembrance of the destroyer of pleasures (ie. death). For verily, one who remembers it when enduring the hardships of life, it widens for him (ie. he no longer feels overburdened with the hardships he is experiencing). Whenever one remembers it at times of opulence, it will cause him to feel restricted and burdened (ie. he will not then be too involved with this life and will start to reflect on the serious and heavy matters awaiting him)”. 2 Remembering death shall push us towards increased worship and remembrance; for how would one who remembers death often readily fall into sin? Rather, they would constantly be aware that the Angel of Death may come at any moment, ceasing their good deeds. One who remembers this reality would have taqwa and feel shy to commit faahishah in front of Allah. They acknowledge the unexpectedness of death and because it can come at any moment, they utilize their time wisely, readily engaging in the worship of their Lord. Surely, they follow the advice of Al-Hasan Al Basree when he stated: “Do not sit idle, for indeed Death is seeking you!”
How imminent death is, yet what have we prepared for it? Some live in this life as if they will live forever. We work and toil and sweat, for what? For many, it is for the tangible things – the things that we perceive to be success, but are not. Insaan [man] forgets about success in the akhirah. O Muslim! Did you not think the angel of death would come for you at your appointed time, to cut off your ‘amal-us-saalih (good deeds)? Did you not think that your soul would leave your body? Did you not think you would sit in the grave – to experience the trials therein? Did you not think you would meet Allah ta’ala? Perhaps you forgot, perhaps ghaflah (heedlessness) overtook you. Many have been fooled by the dunya’s pomp and glitter, taken in by its play and amusement. Ponder over the words of Allah ta’ala when he says what means, And the life of this world is nothing but play and amusement. But far better is the house in the Hereafter for those who are AlMuttaqûn (the pious). Will you not then understand? (Al-An’am 6:32)
O Muslim, Are you a slave to the dunya or a slave to Ar-Rahmaan? Realize that felicity lies in the latter, and only temporal happiness in the former. Indeed, we incite you to work and toil and sweat, but to do so for your akhirah, invest in it so that it may be sweet and rewarding. So build not your castles in this life, but build them in the Hereafter; having wealth, that is, an abundance of good deeds – that which will grant you success in the Hereafter and felicity after death.
Death is the curtain between this life and the next, the passageway by which we enter the akhirah. This connection is made – between death and the akhirah – because just as the akhirah incites fear in the hearts, so too should death. When one thinks of the akhirah, fear of a terrible end gives rise to horrible images, intricately mentioned in the Quraan; the agonizing wait on that Day, the uncertainty of our destination, and the terrible punishments for those condemned to the Fire occupy our thoughts. Realize that death is the entrance to such a reality, for it is with death that we begin the journey to the Hereafter. Allah ta’ala says what means: Say: “The angel of death, who is set over you, will take your souls, then you shall be brought to your Lord.” (As-Sajdah 32:11) When we acknowledge it as such and recognize the inherent connection, we may give death its due, by remembering it often and what comes after, thereby turning back to Allah ta’ala.
The Salaf used to engage in much remembrance of death and greatly feared for their [uncertain] end. Of the things that made Salmaan Al-Faarisee cry was “the terror of the onset of the pangs of death; and the standing in front of the Lord of the worlds while not knowing whether I will be turned towards the Fire or Paradise.” If they didn’t have this security with death and their destination afterwards – taking into account their piety and virtue – subhaanAllah, how much more so does this bear true for us (the insecurity of death and our final destination)?
In Imaam Suyootee’s tafseer, there was mention of a sahabee who had a grave inside his home and every time he used to feel as if he was straying from Allah ta’ala, and indulging in the material things of this life, he used to go into this grave. He would tell his wife to throw sand on him, and while she did this he used to repeat the ayaat in Surat Al Mu’minoon:
“My Lord! Send me back,” [23:99] [Repeating this line over and over, crying out with a fervent desire to be returned back to the dunya]
So that I may do good in that which I have left behind!” [23:100] [Repeating this line over and over, hoping to be given a chance to attain more 'amal-us-saalih]
Here, he would speak to his nafs, promising all the good deeds he would do – if only he were to be returned to the dunya.
The answer to his cries: No! It is but a word that he speaks, and behind them is Barzakh (a barrier) until the Day when they will be resurrected. (Al-Mu’minun 23:100)
When he would be about to suffocate, no more space to breathe, nor any fresh air, he would ask his wife to dig him out. He used to talk to himself, ‘oh my nafs, fulfill the promise you have made, fulfill these promises before you reach a day, a day when you’re left to your deeds.’ When he speaks to his nafs, when he makes the dust his bed, and his only companion are the worms, it is a sign, a reminder, of death, that which makes one truly ponder the horrors of death. One must hope that when the angel of death comes, they will not be in the ma’asiyah (sin) – for this is a great loss.
May Allah ta’ala save us from such a reality, those who meet Allah ta’ala on that Day and their deeds are not sufficient, those who on that day would give anything to be returned to the dunya, promising to do righteous good deeds, and may we remember death often and much and strive harder in this deen as a result. Aameen!
Let us heed the statement of ‘Umar ibn al Khattab radiallahu ‘anhu who said: “Bring yourself to account before you are brought to account. And weigh your deeds before your deeds are weighed.” He radi’Allaahu ‘anhu incites us to review ourselves in this dunya – our performance and our deeds. So the wisdom of this statement is in its warning – for us to reevaluate ourselves, for us to bring ourselves to account before this blessing leaves us — before the Angel of Death arrives, before our souls are leaving our body and before we taste the punishment our deeds have given us.
By Allah, we wish to be of those who remember death often, pondering its consequences and imminence, for ‘Umar ibn ‘Abdul ‘Azeez has stated: Every day you dispatch to Allaah, at all times of the day, someone who has died, his term having come to an end. You bury him in a crack in the earth and then leave him without a pillow or a bed. He has parted from his loved ones, severed his connections with the living, and taken up residence in the earth, whereupon he comes face to face with the accounting. He is mortgaged to his deeds: He needs his accomplishments, but not the material things he left on earth.
Are you a slave of Ar-Rahmaan who will be protected by his good deeds and the Mercy of Allaah ta’ala when the Angel of Death comes at the appointed time – or a slave of the Dunyaa who will bring with his death his material things which will profit him none? Ya Rahmaan, make us of the former, who are shielded by our ‘amal us-saalih, may they be in abundance, and your Mercy. Ameen.
- 1 – From ‘Death’ by Shaykh Ali Hasan Al Halabee
- 2 – This was reported by an-Nasaa`ee, at-Tirmidi, Ibn Majaah and others. at-Tirmidhi said it was hasan ghareeb. But, Shaykh Albaani said it was sahih, as there were many witnesses