“Kulu nafsin dhaa ikatul mawt” – every soul shall indeed taste death

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With Mohammed Hassan Loum

My mobile phone rang a little after 3:00 am at night. The caller never called me during such odd hours, so most definitely the news was not going be a pleasant one. I answered and the message was very straight to the point, no beating about the bush. “Our Uncle has died”. What followed were calculated lawyerly instructions on preparations for the dead and burial. Before this Uncle was sick. The deceased, may Allah SWT have mercy on his departed soul, was not one who had much liking for hospitals or injection needles.

Nevertheless for his last illness, he definitely had to partake a hospital bed. We went to visit him. He laid down frail, sick and degenerated in his hospital bed with white sheets. I always wondered why hospitals and clinics chose such somber white bed sheets over more colorful and livelier ones which gave more hope. For a man who used to speak very clearly and with authority, his voice was now very weak and his words were barely audible. Even in pain and in sickness, he was still the fighter. He put on a brave face.

He smiled. There were intermittent beeping sounds from a serious-looking machine standing at a corner of the room by the bedside with so many cords coming from it and attached to Uncle. Before this Uncle was a handsome strong man, who loved life, dressed well, spoke well and had good hopes and plans for the future, especially for his children. He was good at everything he did. We called him the Omar-of-all-trade. He was doctor, builder, electrician, mechanic, plumber, cook, Imam, son, brother, uncle, husband, father, grandfather and much more.

Mankind, Jinn-kind and all of creation have one thing in common. We shall all taste. Except for Allah SWT, Who is forever living and shall never die. Kulu nafsin dhaa ikatul mawt. Death is not the termination of a person, rather it is the beginning of a journey, from a transient stop in this worldly life to an everlasting life in the Hereafter. Death is a very serious affair and no joke. All around us we see so many evidences of death and degeneration. The youthful hair that was once full and black, with time will become bald and grow white or grey. The youthful and sprightly face which we so admired before many mirrors will one day reveal creases and has wrinkles even if we try to hide them with so much make-up or different varieties of anti-ageing creams.

During the fall season, leaves turn from green to yellow and drop one after the other. During winter, all greenery becomes lifeless, dead and white. Certain fruits are only seasonal. The graveyards are full of people who we once knew and lived with, who were once healthy, strong and alive and had so many worldly hopes and expectations, who are now dead, buried and perhaps forgotten. Similarly, all things in this world will surely wither away and die. Kulu nafsin dhaa ikatul mawt.

The Order of Almighty Allah SWT for a soul to depart from this world cannot be averted. Allah SWT stated in the Noble Qur’an: “Every soul shall indeed have a taste of death: And only on the Day of Judgment shall you be paid your full recompense. Only he who is saved far from the Fire and admitted to the Garden (of Paradise) will have attained success: For the life of this world is but goods and chattels of deception”. [Surah Al Imran: Verse 185]. “Every soul shall indeed have a taste of death; and We (i.e. Allah) test you [all] through the bad and the good [things of life] by way of trial: and unto Us you all must return”. [Surah Al Anbiyaa: Verse 35]. “Every soul shall indeed have a taste of death, [and] in the end unto Us (i.e. Allah) shall all be brought back”: [Surah Al-‘Ankabut: Verse 57].

We do know that we shall die, but what we do not know how and when this shall be. We do not know under what condition and where we shall die. Allah SWT states in the noble Qur’an: “Verily, Allah! With Him (Alone) is the knowledge of the Hour (i.e. Judgment Day), He sends down the rain, and knows that which is in the wombs. No person knows what he will earn tomorrow, and no person knows in what land he will die. Verily, Allah is All-Knower, All-Aware (of things)” [Surah Luqmaan: Verse34].

Since the knowledge of our death is hidden from us, then the wise person is the one who strives his utmost to obey Allah SWT at all times and do all forms of righteous deeds and endeavour to remain in this state until Allah takes his soul. Anyone who suffers from a severe illness with very slim chances of recovery or attains old age must definitely try to set things straight. He should repent sincerely to Allah SWT, seek for forgiveness from people he wronged, pay his debts, give out charity, and most importantly have a positive thought of Allah SWT and trust in His abundant Grace and Mercy. Muslim (2877) narrated that Jaabir said: I heard the Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) say, three days before he died: “No one of you should die except thinking positively of Allah.”

Sickness for the Muslim is means for the expiation of sins. In sickness or in health, we shall all taste the agonies of death. Imam Bukhaari (4449) narrated from ‘Aa’ishah that during the sickness of which the Messenger of Allah (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him), he SAW would put his hand in water and wipe his face with it saying: “Laa ilaaha ill-Allah (there is no god but Allah), verily death has agonies.” Then he held up his hand and said: “With the highest companions (in Paradise)…” until he passed away and his hand fell. Imam Tirmidhi (978) narrated from ‘Aa’ishah that she said: I saw the Messenger of Allah (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) as he was dying, there was a vessel of water next to him, and he would put his hand in the vessel then wipe his face with the water, then he said: “O Allah, help me to bear the agonies of death.”

As Muslims, we have been exhorted to often remember the destroyer of pleasures, death. The religion of Islam clearly enjoined the rights of the dying person. Islam has provided us with complete sets of instructions for the one who is dying, those who are present at the time of death and those responsible for burying the deceased. The Muslim who receives news of the demise of a loved one should take it in good faith and say; “innaa lilaAhi wa inna ilayhi raaji’oon” (meaning: we belong to Allah SWT and to Him we shall return). Grief at the death of a beloved is normal and weeping is allowed in Islam.

However, family members, friends and loved ones should be reminded and advised against bewailing, mourning out loudly, shrieking, tearing clothes, beating the chest, face, cheeks and uttering wrong statements which could constitute disbelief in order to express sorrow. It is clearly stated in sound Prophetic narrations that the deceased suffers when someone bewails loudly. Wailing or grieving out loud cannot alter destiny and bring back the dead to life. Deaths should be handled with dignity and the acceptance of Allah’s decree. Anyone can mourn the death of a loved one and the maximum mourning period is three days. The only exception to this rule is at the death of a woman’s husband. A wife must observe a mourning period (known in Islam as Iddah) of four months and ten days for her deceased husband.

The debts of the deceased should be paid immediately without any delay and if possible even before burial. The debtor is a prisoner, as the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Your companion is being detained by his debt.” [Narrated by Abu Dawood, 3341]. The deceased should be buried without delay. Ahmad and Tirmidhi report on the authority of Ali ibn Abu Talib that the Prophet Muhammad SAW said: “O Ali, never delay three things: prayer when its time approaches, the funeral when death is confirmed, and marrying a woman when a suitable match is found for her.”

The importance of the Will and having one cannot be overstated. The Will is a legal testamentary instruction to render the rights due to a deceased person and ensure that his/her obligations are fulfilled at the time of death and even after burial. Narrated by Ibn Umar and recorded in Bukhari and Muslim, the Prophet Muhammad stated that; “it is not right for any Muslim who has something to be given as a bequest to spend two nights without writing a will about it.” The Will of the deceased should be looked into and his wealth should be divided among the inheritors according to the dictates of the Islamic Shari’ah. This is the right way for the Muslim.

The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “When a person dies, all his deeds come to an end except three: sadaqah jaariyah (ongoing charity, e.g. an endowment); beneficial knowledge (which he has left behind); or a righteous child who will pray for him.” [Reported by Tirmidhi, no 1376]. Therefore it is of utmost importance that regular prayers for forgiveness are offered by the sons and daughters of the deceased. “A man’s status will be raised in Paradise and he will ask, how did I get here? He will be told, by your sons (and daughters) supplications to Allah for your forgiveness.” [Reported by Ibn Maajah, no 3660 and Saheeh al-Jaami, 1617].

We should also be very mindful of traditional charities which are organized after the deaths of loves ones. So much monies are spent and the prayers initially intended have now given way to ostentatious festivities. Trusted scholars of the Muslim Ummah have warned against such practices. And what truly is the use of such expensive festivities when at least half of the wealth lavishly spent could have been charitably donated, judiciously used and benefitted the deceased when he was alive, and even more so for his family after his death? Until we meet again dear Uncle Pa Abdou Kassim, we promise to continue praying for your forgiveness, blessings and salvation as dutiful sons Inshaa’Allah. May Allah SWT forgive you and reunite you with the best companions of the highest order in Jannatul Firdaws. May Allah SWT protect your family and keep them safe always.