The A to Z of Death
Wanting to die
Suicide is strictly prohibited in Islām and is unanimously counted amongst the mortal sins (kabāʾir).
وَلَا تَقْتُلُوا أَنفُسَكُمْ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ كَانَ بِكُمْ رَحِيمًا
Do not kill yourselves, Allāh is merciful to you.
وَلَا تُلْقُوا بِأَيْدِيكُمْ إِلَى التَّهْلُكَةِ ۛ وَأَحْسِنُوا ۛ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُحْسِنِينَ
Do not contribute to your death with your own hands, but do good for Allāh loves those who do good.
The Prophet (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) prohibited us from supplicating for death, and in one ḥadīth he said,
لاَ يَتَمَنَّيَنَّ أَحَدُكُمُ المَوْتَ مِنْ ضُرٍّ أَصَابَهُ، فَإِنْ كَانَ لاَ بُدَّ فَاعِلًا، فَلْيَقُلْ: اللَّهُمَّ أَحْيِنِي مَا كَانَتِ الحَيَاةُ خَيْرًا لِي، وَتَوَفَّنِي إِذَا كَانَتِ الوَفَاةُ خَيْرًا لِي
You are not to seek death because of hardship you are facing. If you must do so then supplicate, ‘Allāh, give me life for as long as life is good for me, and give me death when death is good for me.’
لَا يَتَمَنَّيَنَّ أَحَدٌ مِنْكُمُ الْمَوْتَ، إِمَّا مُحْسِنًا فَلَعَلَّهُ أَنْ يَزْدَادَ خَيْرًا، وَإِمَّا مُسِيئًا فَلَعَلَّهُ أَنْ يَسْتَعْتِبَ
You are not to seek death. Either a person is already doing good, in which case he has the opportunity to do more good, or he is doing evil, in which case he has the opportunity to mend his ways.
He (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) also said, “No one should wish for death or pray for it before it comes. When one of you dies, his good deeds come to an end and for the believer a long life will not increase him in anything but good.”
These ḥadīth prove that asking for death because a person is unable to bear Allāh’s decree patiently is prohibited, and indicates a displeasure in what He has determined. However, asking for death because a person fears for his faith and losing it is permissible. This is exemplified in the Qurʾān with the case of Maryam. Pregnant, without any human intervention, she was terrified of the accusations that would come her way, fearing that they might have adverse consequences on her faith, so she cried out
قَالَتْ يَا لَيْتَنِي مِتُّ قَبْلَ هَـٰذَا وَكُنتُ نَسْيًا مَّنسِيًّا
‘I wish I was dead and forgotten long before this!’
Allāh’s Messenger (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) said, “There are two things that the son of Adam dislikes: death, although death is better for a believer than fitnah; and he dislikes having little wealth, but less wealth means less reckoning.”
In a supplication, Allāh’s Messenger (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) said, “Allāh, I ask you for the performance of good deeds and the abandonment of evil deeds, and love of the orphan. If You want to put your servants to trial, take my soul to You before I am put to trail.”
Another exception to the general rule is that there is one type of death that we are recommended to ask for: martyrdom. Allāh’s Messenger (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) said, “Whoever asks Allāh sincerely for martyrdom, Allāh will cause him to attain the status of the martyr, even if he dies in his bed.”
Our Condition at the Time of Death
What is the general condition the believer must be in at the point of death? What frame of mind should he be in? What do we need to strive for to ensure success at this juncture?
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اتَّقُوا اللَّـهَ حَقَّ تُقَاتِهِ وَلَا تَمُوتُنَّ إِلَّا وَأَنتُم مُّسْلِمُونَ
You who believe, be mindful of Allāh as is His due, and make sure you submit to Him in Islām to your dying moment.
To that last instant, we have to remain Muslims, serving our Lord, only saying and doing what pleases Him. The essence, the beginning and end of Islām is tawḥīd, and we must adhere to that tawḥīd to the last.
مَنْ مَاتَ وَهُوَ يَعْلَمُ أَنَّهُ لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا اللهُ، دَخَلَ الْجَنَّةَ
Whoever passes away knowing that none has the right to be worshipped besides Allāh will enter Paradise.
And he (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) said, “Whoever, of my nation, dies without committing shirk will enter Paradise,” “Whoever dies without committing shirk will enter Paradise. Whoever dies while committing shirk with Allāh will enter the Fire.”
It is for this reason, that it is duty of those sitting with person on his deathbed to remind him about tawḥīd and to encourage him to say the statement of tawḥid:
لَقِّنُوا مَوْتَاكُمْ لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا اللَّهُ فَإِنَّهُ مَنْ كَانَ آخِرُ كَلِمَتِهِ لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا اللَّهُ عِنْدَ الْمَوْتِ دَخَلَ الْجَنَّةَ يَوْمًا مِنَ الدَّهْرِ وإن أصابه قبل ذلك ما أصابه
Encourage the person about to die to say lā ilāha illAllāh. Whoever says this at the time of death will enter Paradise, even if it be eventually having faced what he faced before that.
The Prophet (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) once visited a man of the Anṣār who was on his deathbed and said, ‘Say Lā ilāha illAllāh.’ The man asked, ‘Is it good for me to say this?’ He replied, “Yes” and so he said it.
A person on his deathbed must try his utmost to have a good opinion of Allāh: knowing that He is his Lord who has sustained and cherished him, hoping for his mercy and hoping that Allāh will forgive him his shortcomings and sins.
لَا يَمُوتَنَّ أَحَدُكُمْ إِلَّا وَهُوَ يُحْسِنُ بِاللهِ الظَّنَّ
None of you should die without having a good opinion of Allāh.
Al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī said, ‘People have given into foolish desires and whim, to the point that they leave this world without having done any good. They say, “I have a good opinion of my Lord!” They have lied. If they had a good opinion of Him, they would have done good deeds.’ Then he recited
وَذَٰلِكُمْ ظَنُّكُمُ الَّذِي ظَنَنتُم بِرَبِّكُمْ أَرْدَاكُمْ فَأَصْبَحْتُم مِّنَ الْخَاسِرِينَ
So it was the thoughts you entertained about your Lord that led you to your ruin.
It is also to encourage optimism that when a person is dying we are taught to only say good things in his presence, and to supplicate for him because the angels in turn will make duʿa for us
إِذَا حَضَرْتُمُ الْمَرِيضَ، أَوِ الْمَيِّتَ، فَقُولُوا خَيْرًا، فَإِنَّ الْمَلَائِكَةَ يُؤَمِّنُونَ عَلَى مَا تَقُولُونَ
When you are in the presence of someone ill or on his deathbed then say good things. The angels are saying āmīn to what you are saying.
Not only should he have hope, but the person on his deathbed should couple that with fear, with hope being the preponderant emotion at that time. The Prophet (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) once visited a young man on his death bed and asked him what his condition was. He replied, ‘By Allāh, Messenger of Allāh, I have hope in Allāh and I fear for my sins.’ He (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) remarked, “These two do not combine in the heart of a person at this time except that Allāh will give him what he hopes for and save him from what he fears.”
We need to ensure that at this time, we are amongst those whom Allāh’s Messenger (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) said would want to meet Allāh, realising that the fulfilment of their life’s aspiration lies ahead:
مَنْ أَحَبَّ لِقَاءَ اللَّهِ أَحَبَّ اللَّهُ لِقَاءَهُ، وَمَنْ كَرِهَ لِقَاءَ اللَّهِ كَرِهَ اللَّهُ لِقَاءَهُ
Whoever wants to meet Allāh, Allāh will want to meet him. Whoever hates to meet Allāh, Allāh would hate to meet him.
When ʿĀʾishah heard this she asked, ‘But we all hate the idea of death!’ He (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) replied, “This is not what is meant. When death comes to the believer, he is given the glad-tidings of Allāh’s good pleasure and as such there is nothing more beloved to him than what lies ahead. He wants to meet Allāh and Allāh wants to meet him. When death comes to a disbeliever, he is given the tidings of Allāh’s punishment and as such nothing is more hateful to him than what lies ahead. He hates to meet Allāh, and Allāh hates to meet him.”
This realisation happens right at the last seconds of death, and will happen for those who lived a life of servitude to Allāh. ʿĀʾishah, herself explained when it happens, “when the gaze becomes fixed, when the chest rattles (as soul departs), when the skin tightens and the fingers tremble.”
Death can be a gift
At the time of death and afterwards, the true believer begins reaping the reward of all he has sown in this life. Allāh’s Messenger (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) said,
تُحْفَةُ الْمُؤْمِنِ الْمَوْتُ
Death is a gift for the believer.
This statement was further explained in a ḥadīth in which the Prophet (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) said that when a person dies either he is moving on to rest and relief or people will be rested and relieved of him. When asked to explain, he said,
العَبْدُ المُؤْمِنُ يَسْتَرِيحُ مِنْ نَصَبِ الدُّنْيَا وَأَذَاهَا إِلَى رَحْمَةِ اللَّهِ، وَالعَبْدُ الفَاجِرُ يَسْتَرِيحُ مِنْهُ العِبَادُ وَالبِلاَدُ، وَالشَّجَرُ وَالدَّوَابُّ
The believing servant is relieved of the toils of this world and moves on to Allāh’s mercy. The sinful servant, however, relieves the people around him, the environment, the trees and the animals.
The Final Āyah Revealed to Allāh’s Messenger (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam)
The last verse that Allāh revealed to his Messenger (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) essentially contained this message. The last message that Allāh gave his Prophet and the believers around him was to remind them of the time of their death and the accounting that follows,
وَاتَّقُوا يَوْمًا تُرْجَعُونَ فِيهِ إِلَى اللَّـهِ ۖ ثُمَّ تُوَفَّىٰ كُلُّ نَفْسٍ مَّا كَسَبَتْ وَهُمْ لَا يُظْلَمُونَ
Beware of a day when you will be returned to Allāh and every soul will be paid in full for what it did and no one will be wronged.
 al-Nisāʾ 4:29
 al-Baqarah 2:195
 Muslim #2681 from Khabbāb
 Bukhārī #5671-6351, Muslim from Anas
 Bukhārī #5673, Nasāʾī #1818 from Abū Hurayrah
 Muslim #2382 from Abū Hurayrah
 Maryam: 19:23
 Aḥmad #23625 from Maḥmūd b. Labīd. cf. al-Ṣaḥīḥah #813
 Tirmidhī #3233 from ibn ʿAbbās
 Muslim #1909
 Āli ʿImrān 3:102
 Muslim #26 from ʿUthmān
 Bukhārī #1237 from Abū Dharr
 Muslim #93 from Jābir
 Ibn Ḥibbān #3004 from Abū Hurayrah. The first portion is with Muslim #916 and #917 from Abū Saʿīd
 Aḥmad #12543 from Anas
 Muslim #2877 from Jābir b. ʿAbdullāh
 Fuṣṣilat 41:22. cf. Tafsīr al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī 2:267
 Muslim #919 from Umm Salamah
 Nawawī, Sharḥ Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim
 Tirmidhī #983 from Thābit
 Bukhārī #6507, Muslim #2683 from Abū Hurayrah
 Muslim #2685
 Ḥākim #7900 from ʿAbdullāh b. ʿAmr. Haythamī 10:555 said the isnād was jayyid
 Bukhārī #6512, Muslim #950
 al-Baqarah 2:281, cf. Tafsīr Ṭabarī who quotes this view from ibn ʿAbbās amongst others
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