" Every human being is bound to taste death". This verse appears in the Holy Quran in chapters Al-Imran, Ankabut and Al-Ambia.
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 - 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 death.
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 - 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 constrained
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, Inglewood, California.