Lessons From Death
Life slips away second by second. Are you aware that every day brings you closer to death or that death is as close to you as it is to other people?
We are told in the Qur’an: “Every one shall taste death. Then unto Us you shall be returned (29:57).
Everyone on this earth is destined to die. All nations that thrived in one time or another throughout history came to an end. Today, we hardly come across the traces of many of these people who passed away. Those currently living and those who will ever live will also face death on a predestined day. Despite this fact, people tend to see death as an unlikely incident.
Think of a baby who has just opened its eyes to the world and a man who is about to take in his last breath. Neither had influence on their birth or death whatsoever. Only God possesses the power to inspire the breath of life or to take it away.
All human beings will live until a certain day and then die. In the Qur’an, Allah gives an account of the attitude commonly shown toward death in the following verse.
“Say (to them): “Verily, the death from which you flee, will surely meet you, then you will be sent back to (Allah) the All-Knower of the unseen and the seen, and He will tell you what you used to do.” (62:8)
The majority of people avoid thinking about death. In the rapid flow of daily events, people usually occupy themselves with totally different subjects: what college to enroll in, which company to work for, what color of clothing to wear next morning, what to cook for supper, etc.
These are the kinds of major issues that we usually consider. Life is perceived as a routine process of such minor matters. Attempts to talk about death are always interrupted by those who do not feel comfortable hearing about it.
Assuming death will come only when people grow older, they do not want to concern themselves with such an unpleasant subject. Yet it should be kept in mind that living for even one further hour is never guaranteed. Everyday, people witness the deaths of other people around them but think little about the day when others will witness their own death. People never suppose that such an end is awaiting them!
Nevertheless, when death comes to man, all the “realities” of life suddenly vanish. No reminder of the “good old days” endures in this world.
Think of everything that you are able to do right now: You can blink your eyes, move your body, speak, laugh; all these are functions of your body. Now think about the state and shape your body will assume after your death.
From the moment you breathe for the last time, you will become nothing but a “heap of flesh”. Your body, silent and motionless, will be carried to the morgue. There, it will be washed for the last time. Wrapped in a shroud, your corpse will be carried in a coffin to the graveyard. Once your remains are in the grave, soil will cover you.
This is the end of your story. From now on, you are simply one of the names represented in the graveyard by a stone.
During the first months or years, your grave will be visited frequently. As time passes, fewer people will come. Decades later, there will be no one.
Meanwhile, your immediate family members will experience a different aspect of your death. At home, your room and bed will be empty. After the funeral, little of what belongs to you will be kept at home: Most of your clothes, shoes, etc, will be given to those who need them. Your file at the public registration office will be deleted or archived. During the first years, some will mourn you. Yet, time will work against the memories you left behind. Four or five decades later, there will remain only a few who remember you. Before long, new generations will come and none of your generation will exist any longer on earth. Whether you are remembered or not will be worthless to you.
While all this is taking place in the world, the corpse under the soil will go through a rapid process of decay. Soon after you are placed in the grave, the bacteria and insects proliferating in the corpse due to the absence of oxygen will start to function.
The gasses released from these organisms will inflate the body, starting from the abdomen, altering its shape and appearance. Bloody froth will pop out the mouth and nose due to the pressure of gasses on the diaphragm. As corruption proceeds, body hair, nails, soles, and palms will fall off. Accompanying this outer alteration in the body, internal organs such as the lungs, heart, and liver will also decay. In the meantime, the most horrible scene takes place in the abdomen, where the skin can no longer bear the pressure of gasses and suddenly bursts, spreading an unendurably disgusting smell. Starting from the skull, muscles will detach from their particular places. Skin and soft tissues will completely disintegrate. The brain will decay and start looking like clay. This process will go on until the whole body is reduced to a skeleton.
There is no chance of going back to the old life again. Gathering around the supper table with family members, socializing, or having an honorable job will never again be possible.
In short, the “heap of flesh and bones” to which we assign an identity faces a quite nasty end. On the other hand, you – or rather, your soul – will leave this body as soon as you breathe your last. The remainder of you – your body – will become part of the soil.
Yes, but what is the reason for all these things happening?
If Allah willed, the body would never have decayed in such a way. That it does so actually carries a very important inner message in itself.
The tremendous end awaiting man should make him acknowledge that he is not a body himself, but a soul “encased” within a body. In other words, man has to acknowledge that he has an existence beyond his body. Furthermore, man should understand the death of his body which he tries to possess as if he is to remain eternally in this temporal world. However, this body, which he deems so important, will decay and become worm-eaten one day and finally be reduced to a skeleton. That day might be very soon.
Despite all these facts, people’s mental process is inclined to disregard what they do not like or want. They are even inclined to deny the existence of things they avoid confronting. This tendency seems to be most apparent when death is the issue. Only a funeral or the sudden death of an immediate family member brings this reality to mind. Almost all of us see death far from ourselves. The assumption is that those who die while sleeping or in an accident are different people, and what they face will never befall us! Everybody thinks it is too early to die and that there are always years ahead to live.
Yet most probably, people who die on the way to school or hurrying to attend a business meeting shared the same thought. They probably never thought that the next day’s newspapers would publish news of their deaths. It is entirely possible that, as you read these lines, you still do not expect to die soon after you have finished them or even entertain the possibility that it might happen.
Probably you feel that it is too early to die because there are many things to accomplish. However, this is just an avoidance of death and these are only vain endeavors to escape it:
Say (O Muhammad, peace be upon him to these hypocrites who ask your permission to run away from you): “Flight will not avail you if you flee from death or killing; and then you will enjoy no more than a little while!” (33:16)
Man who is created alone should be aware that he will also die alone. Yet during his life, he lives almost addicted to possessions. His sole purpose in life becomes to possess more. Yet, people cannot take their goods with them to the grave. The body is buried, wrapped in a shroud made from the cheapest of fabrics. The body comes into this world alone and departs from it in the same way. The only asset people can take with them when they die is their belief or disbelief.