This article is from the On Demand Course: Preparing for the End of Life. In Islam death is not an end state but a station on the way. Preparing for death is central to the life of a Muslim. This is the second article in a series.
Imam Laqqani mentions in his Jawhara:
وَوَاجِبٌ إِمَانُنَا بِالْمَوْتِ وَيَقْبِدُ الرُّحَ رَسُولُ الْمَوْتِ وَمَيِّتٌ بِعُمْرِهِ مَا يُقْتَلُ وَغَيْرُ هَذَا بَاطِلٌ لَا يُقْبَلُ
“Obligatory is our belief in death. The soul is taken by the messenger of death. Dead by his term is the one who is killed. Other than this is falsehood and unacceptable.”
Firstly, we believe in our mortality. Life as we know it here will come to an end. Allah says:
إِنَّكَ مَيِّتٌ وَإِنَّهُم مَّيِّتُونَ
“Verily you are bound to die, and they are bound to die” [Keller, The Quran Beheld, 39.30]
In another place Allah says:
كُلُّ نَفْسٍ ذَائِقَةُ الْمَوْتِ
“Every living creature shall taste death” [Keller, The Quran Beheld 3:185]
Allah also says:
ٱلَّذِي خَلَقَ الْمَوْتَ وَالْحَيَوَةَ لِيَبْلُوَكُمْ أَيُّكُمْ أَحْسَنُ عَمَلًاۚ وَهُوَ الْعَزِيزُ الْغَفُورُ
“Who created death and life to try you as to which of you is finest in works; And He is the Invincible, the All-forgiving”
[Keller, The Quran Beheld 67:2]
Secondly, Allah has an angel, the angel of death that is given this responsibility.
Thirdly, we believe that every person has an inevitable term. Even if one is killed, one is “dead by this term,” and belief in “other than this is falsehood and unacceptable.”
The Inevitable Term
There is no escaping the inevitable term. In every case, it is Allah who has determined this term. Allah says:
قُلْ يَتَوَفَّاكُم مَّلَكُ الْمَوْتِ الَّذِي وُكِّلَ بِكُمْ ثُمَّ إِلَىٰ رَبِّكُمْ تُرْجَعُونَ
“Say, ‘Your souls shall be reclaimed by the angel of death given charge over you; Then finally and direr, to your Lord shall you be returned.’” [Keller, The Quran Beheld 32:11]
Allah also says:
حَتَّىٰٓ إِذَا جَآءَ أَحَدَكُمُ ٱلۡمَوۡتُ تَوَفَّتۡهُ رُسُلُنَا وَهُمۡ لَا یُفَرِّطُونَ
“Until when death comes to any of you, Our envoys bring him back, missing nothing” [Keller, The Quran Beheld 6:61]
Furthermore, Allah says:
ٱلَّذِینَ تَتَوَفَّىٰهُمُ ٱلۡمَلَـٰۤىِٕكَةُ طَیِّبِینَ یَقُولُونَ سَلَـٰمٌ عَلَیۡكُمُ ٱدۡخُلُوا۟ ٱلۡجَنَّةَ بِمَا كُنتُمۡ تَعۡمَلُونَ
“Those the angels reclaim the souls of, wholly pleasing; Saying: ‘All pure secure peace unto you; Enter paradise for all you used to do.’” [Keller, The Quran Beheld 16:32]
ٱلَّذِینَ تَتَوَفَّىٰهُمُ ٱلۡمَلَـٰۤىِٕكَةُ ظَالِمِیۤ أَنفُسِهِمۡۖ فَأَلۡقَوُا۟ ٱلسَّلَمَ مَا كُنَّا نَعۡمَلُ مِن سُوۤءِۭۚ بَلَىٰۤۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ عَلِیمُۢ بِمَا كُنتُمۡ تَعۡمَلُونَ
“‘Those whose souls the angels reclaim in death idolatrously wronging their own selves’; And they give themselves up in surrender: ‘We never did anything wrong!’ ‘Indeed you did! Verily Allah well knows all you used to do.’” [Keller, The Quran Beheld 16:28]
إِذَا جَاۤءَ أَجَلُهُمۡ فَلَا یَسۡتَـٔۡخِرُونَ سَاعَة وَلَا یَسۡتَقۡدِمُونَ
“So when their end is come, not even if they strove could they hang back or have gone before.” [Keller, The Quran Beheld 10:49]
There is a term. Allah says:
وَأَنفِقُوا۟ مِن مَّا رَزَقۡنَـٰكُم مِّن قَبۡلِ أَن یَأۡتِیَ أَحَدَكُمُ ٱلۡمَوۡتُ فَیَقُولَ رَبِّ لَوۡلَاۤ أَخَّرۡتَنِیۤ إِلَىٰۤ أَجَل قَرِیب فَأَصَّدَّقَ وَأَكُن مِّنَ ٱلصَّـٰلِحِینَ
وَلَن یُؤَخِّرَ ٱللَّهُ نَفۡسًا إِذَا جَاۤءَ أَجَلُهَاۚ وَٱللَّهُ خَبِیرُۢ بِمَا تَعۡمَلُونَ
“And spend of what We have provided you in time before death comes to one of you, and he says, ‘My Lord, if only You would respite me a little longer, so I may give abundantly of charity, and indeed be of the righteous.’ But never shall Allah respite a soul, once its time has come. And Allah is well aware of all you do” [Keller, The Quran Beheld 63:10-11]
There are many references in the Quran to this term. When it comes, the true believer has contentment. There might be some grief, there may be tears and difficulty, but with surrendering.
Response to Death
The true believer does not object to the decree of their Lord. If Allah loves you, he afflicts you. Ibn Ajiba says, “If Allah wants to fold up the distance of remoteness between the servant and the Lord, He gives him afflictions.” Death is a great affliction for those of us left behind.
When the affliction comes, say: “Truly we belong to Allah, and truly to Him we return.”
Allah promises us that
وَلَنَبۡلُوَنَّكُم بِشَیۡء مِّنَ ٱلۡخَوۡفِ وَٱلۡجُوعِ وَنَقۡص مِّنَ ٱلۡأَمۡوَيِ وَٱلۡأَنفُسِ وَٱلثَّمَرَيٰتِۗ وَبَشِّرِ ٱلصَّـٰبِرِینَ
ٱلَّذِینَ إِذَآ أَصَـٰبَتۡهُم مُّصِیبَة قَالُوۤا۟ إِنَّا لِلَّهِ وَإِنَّاۤ إِلَیۡهِ رَيٰجِعُونَ
“…We shall try you with some little of fear and hunger, and loss of wealth, lives, and crops; And give great glad tidings to the patient: Those who say when any calamity strikes them, ‘Verily we are Allah’s and to Him are we bound to return.’” [Keller, The Quran Beheld 2:155-156]
Don’t be like the hypocrites. Allah mentions them:
وَإِذۡ يَقُولُ ٱلۡمُنَـٰفِقُونَ وَٱلَّذِینَ فِی قُلُوبِهِم مَّرَض مَّا وَعَدَنَا ٱللَّهُ وَرَسُولُهُۥۤ إِلَّا غُرُورا
“And when the hypocrites and those with sickness in their hearts were saying: ‘Allah and His messenger have promised us nothing but delusion.’” [Keller, The Quran Beheld 33:12]
When one is dealing with death in one’s family, it’s a great affliction. For the believer, it is a means of proximity to his Lord. It is a means for remembrance and improvement, not for disbelief or doubt.
In this is Allah’s mercy that is manifest. Allah says:
لَا يُكَلِّفُ اللَّهُ نَفْسًا إِلَّا وُسْعَهَا
“Allah does not tax any soul but what it can bear” [Keller, The Quran Beheld 2:286]
Do not say, “I can’t bear it.” Through your weakness, you’ll find strength. Your strength is in Him.
Success and intelligence are in preparing for the inevitable.