We think in detail about certain things, typically things that interest us or which we are directly facing. So football fanatics spend time in following up the latest football news, whose playing who, whose been bought and by which team, etc. People into music would know about the latest chart hits, the top ten, what new bands are on the scene and spend time thinking about this. Movie buffs would ponder about the latest movies, upcoming releases, the latest awards and the like.
Despite expending effort in applying thought upon these trivial issues people in Western society often pay little attention to clearly a vital topic, that of death. It has even become a taboo subject to the extent that people try to change the discussion when it is mentioned.
It is completely irrational to avoid thinking about death as it is the most definite thing in life. To turn away from it is avoiding the inevitable, know one lives forever. All of us know of people who have died whether within our families, community, friends or colleagues. The reason for why many avoid the topic is fear. Fear of the unknown and fear of leaving this life. In fact Western society pushes people into all forms of escapism, so that they attempt to escape reality by drowning themselves in music, movies, sport, and popular culture.
All of us will face death one day, our hearts will stop, our brain activity will stop and our bodies will decompose. However as Muslims we know that death is not the end. Allah (swt) has informed us that there is life after death, that we will be accounted for every action we performed and will be either sent to Jannah (paradise) or Jahannam (Hellfire) according to our deeds.
For a Muslim reminding oneself of death strengthens our realisation of the afterlife and commitment to Islam.
The Messenger of Allah (saw) said, “The clever one is he who disciplined himself and worked for what is after death, and the feeble one is he who followed his desires, then made (vain) prayers to Allah”.
No matter how ‘hard’ or ‘cool’ people think they are, one day they will die and will stand in front of Allah (swt).
“Say: The Death from which you flee will truly overtake you: then will you be sent back to the Knower of all things secret and open: and He will tell you (the truth of) the things that you did!” [Al-Jumu’a:8].
It will be too late to change after you have died, you cannot go back and change things and live life in a better way. There is coming back for the Salah (prayers) you have missed or to make right the wrongs you committed.
“Until, when death comes to one of them, he says: “O my Lord! Send me back (to life), in order that I may do good in that which I have left behind!” - No! It is but a word that he speaks; and behind them is a Partition until the Day they are raised up. Then when the Trumpet is blown, there will be no more kinship among them that day, nor will they ask of one another! Then those whose scales (of good deeds) are heavy, they are the successful. And those whose scales (of good deeds) are light, they are those who lose their ownselves; in Hell will they abide” [Al-Mu’minun: 99-103],
Thinking about death should make us correct out lives, perform our obligations and stay away from haram (prohibitions). Whilst we are alive it is not too late to change. In fact one of the pious Muslims in the past Al-Rabee’ b. Khaytham had dug a grave in his house, so that if he found hardness within his heart, he would enter it and lay down for as long as Allah wished and read: “O my Lord! Send me back (to life) in order that I may work righteousness in the things I neglected” repeating it, then he would reply to himself saying: “Oh, Rabee’, here, you have been returned, so work.”
The Messenger of Allah (saw) said, “Increase the remembrance of that which destroys all desires” [Al Tirmidhi]
And he (saw) said, “If animals knew what the sons of Adam knew of death, you would not have found any fat on them to eat” [Al Baihaqi in “Al Sha’ab”].
Thinking about death should not have only a temporary affect on us, so that if someone who is close to us dies, we get ill or have a near death experience, we go to the mosque for a while and start following Islam. However some time passes the affect wears off and we are back to our old ways. On the contrary, death should be at the forefront of our minds and should affect us in a permanent way.
The Messenger of Allah (saw) said to Abdullah b.Umar (ra), “If you awoke in the morning, do not speak to yourself of the evening, and if you reach the evening, do not speak to yourself of the morning. Take from your life for your death, and from your health for your illness, as you, oh Abdullah, do not know what your name will be tomorrow” [Bukhari].
We shouldn’t think that by temporarily following Islam and repenting to Allah (swt) and then going back to being negligent in our duties and entering into sin, that our repentance will count.
“Of no effect is the repentance of those who continue to do evil deeds, until death faces one of them, and he says: “Now I repent” nor of those who die while they are disbelievers. For them have we prepared a painful torment” [An-Nisa: 18].
Pondering about death should make us prepare for it, so that we treat this life as a journey and a test not as a time to be obsessed with enjoying ourselves disregarding the limits that Allah (swt) has placed on us. Allah (swt) says:
“And the life of this world is only a deceiving enjoyment” [al-Hadid: 20]
Ibn ‘Umar (ra) said, “I came to the Prophet (saw), and I was the tenth of ten men, when a man from the Ansar asked: Who is the most clever and the most honourable of people, Oh Messenger of Allah? He (saw) replied: “Those who remember death the most and work the hardest to prepare for it; they are the clever ones. They have left with the honour of this world and the dignity of the Akhirah” [Ibn Majah]
‘Uthman bin ‘Affan (ra), in the last Khutba he gave in his life, said: “Allah (swt) gave you this world to request the Akhirah, and did not give it to you for you to rely upon, for this world ends and Akhirah is everlasting. So let not that which ends make you disregardful, nor keep you busy from that which lasts. Choose to seek that which lasts over that which ends, for this world will be cut off and our return is to Allah.” Death reminds us of Akhirah, and there is no better reminder.
There are specific actions that the Prophet (saw) encouraged us to undertake to remind ourselves about death.
Abi Tharr (ra) said The Messenger of Allah (saw) said: “Visit the graves, as it will be a reminder of the Akhirah, and wash the dead, as taking care of an empty body is an outstanding admonition, and pray over the Jana’iz (funerals), as it may sadden you, for the sad one is in the shade of Allah” [Ibn Abi Al Dunya and Al Haakim].
And Ibn Abi Mulaykah said, The Messenger of Allah (saw) said: “Visit your dead and pray for peace upon them, for there is an admonition for you in it” [Ibn Abi Al Dunya - Good chain of narrators].
And Al-Dhaahik said: A man once said: Oh, Messenger of Allah, who is the most Zaahid (abstinent) of people? He (saw) said: “He who does not forget the grave and abandoned the luxuries of life, seeking that which lasts above that which ends, not counting yesterday as one of his days, and counted himself amongst the people of the graves”. It is easy to leave the thought of death at the back of your mind and believe that you have a long life left. The angel of death leaves no one, whether young or old when their time has come.
In fact the remembrance is not crying and wailing and blaming one’s self when one is on the brink of death, or attending a funeral or visiting graves alone. Rather, remembrance of death is when a believer imagines that he will meet his Lord at any moment, and his actions will be cut off, as will his ability for repentance. So he will be aware of himself, careful to obey Allah (swt), wary of his Lord every second of his life.
"Say: ‘My life, my death and acts of worship are all for the Lord of the mankind (Rabil alamin)” [Al-An’am: 162]