How Should We Die?
Allah Most High answered this question in the Holy Qur’an, saying, “O you who have believed”—ya ayyuha alladheena aamanu—“fear Allah continuously”—ittaqu allah haqqa tuqatihi—“and never, ever die unless you are in a state of wholehearted submission.”—wa la tamutunna illa wa antum muslimun. (Qur’an, 3:102)
If you think carefully about the end of this verse for a second—“Never, ever die unless you are in a state of wholehearted submission.”—you will find it strange. Isn’t is it strange that Allah Most High is telling us that if we are not in a state of wholehearted submission, that He is then forbidding us, in the strongest of terms—“Never, ever,” He says—from dying?
But what does it mean for Him to forbid us to die? Death is not something we choose. Death is something that He chooses. Death is something that will catch us as even as we run away from it: “Wherever you may be,”—ayna ma takunu—Allah Most High tells us, “Death will catch you,”—yudrikkumul mawt—“even if you be in high, impregnable fortresses.”—wa law kuntum fi burujin mushayyadah. (Qur’an, 4:78) What, then, does it mean for Him to forbid us to die?
Traditional scholars of tafsir anticipated our question. They explained that He is not, in fact, forbidding us to die; rather, He is commanding us to have wholehearted submission when we die.
It’s like when a teacher exhorts his student, “Don’t pray ‘asr unless your heart is present with Allah Most High.” He is not telling his disciple not to pray ‘asr—How could he? Praying ‘asr is an obligation that we owe to Allah Most High! That is not what he is telling him. What he is telling him is that he must focus his heart on Allah Most High while he prays ‘asr.
This is a common rhetorical technique even in English.