03 – How Should We Die?

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.

Think about the expression again: “Don’t pray ‘asr unless your heart is present with Allah Most High.” Can you see that the teacher is telling his student that his standing before his Lord during the ‘asr prayer is such a tremendous thing that it is not fitting for him to do it without focussing his heart on Him? Can you see that the teacher is telling his student that the reason why his heart isn’t focussedon His Lord in the ‘asr prayer is that he doesn’t realize what a tremendous thing it is?
The teacher is not forbidding his student from praying ‘asr; he is commanding him realize its tremendous significance and focus his heart on Allah Most High while he prays ‘asr.
In the same way, when Allah Most High says, “Never, ever die unless you are in a state of wholehearted submission,” He is telling us that the reason why we don’t have wholehearted submission is that we don’t realize the tremendous significance of death. He is telling us to realize its tremendous significance, to realize that death marks the end of our opportunity to realize the purpose of our lives, and that the reason why someone might not have wholehearted submission when he dies is that he doesn’t realize what a tremendous thing death is. Allah Most High is not forbidding us to die; He is telling us to realize the tremendous significance of our deaths and to have wholehearted submission to Him while we die.
Now, I want you to note what the tremendous significance of death is—to realize the purpose of our lives. That takes us back to the previous episode of this podcast, in which I explained that the purpose of death is to give joy to life by turning its difficulties and pleasures into expressions of our humble slavehood to our generous Maker. The significance of dying does not lie in death; the significance of dying lies in the joyful, meaningful, and purpose-driven life that comes before it.
That means that this verse is, in reality, not telling us how we should die; it is telling us how we should live. To be more specific, it is telling us how we should live the moment before we die. It is telling us to have wholehearted submission to our Maker at the last point of our lives, as we take our last breath just before we die.
Every problem we solve seems to reveal a new problem (smile). Our new problem here is that we don’t know when we will die. The time of our deaths is concealed from us, revealed only to the angels responsible for inscribing our destinies in the Heavenly Preserved Tablet, and to the angels responsible for taking our souls when the appointed time of our death comes. If we don’t know when we will die, how can we fulfill Allah Most High’s command to have wholehearted submission just before we die?
The answer to this question lies in the first part of this verse—“O you who have believed, fear Allah continuously.” Fear Allah continuously, in other words, throughout your life. The question of this episode—“How should we die?”—is therefore another way of asking the question, “How should we live?”
The answer to that question, along with an examination of the first part of this verse, will be the subject of the next episode.
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"Whoever guides someone to goodness will have a similar reward"-- The Prophet (Peace and Blessings Be Upon Him)