Death and Islam

For Muslims, life decides the afterlife

The whole life of a Muslim constitutes of a trial and test by means of which his final destiny is determined. For him, death is the return of the soul to its Creator, God, and the inevitability of death and the Hereafter is never far from his consciousness. This serves to keep all of his life and deeds in perspective as he tries to live in preparedness for what is to come. For Muslims, the concept of death and the afterlife in Islam is derived from the holy Qur'an, the final revealed message from God.

We learn that death is exactly like sleeping; complete with dreams (6:60, 40:46). The period between death and resurrection passes like one night of sleep (the holy Qur'an: 2:259; 6:60; 10:45; 16:21; 18:11, 19, 25; 30:55). At the moment of death, everyone knows his or her destiny; heaven or hell. For the disbelievers, death is a horrible event; the angels beat them on the faces and rear ends as they snatch away their souls (the holy Qur'an:8:50, 47:27, 79:1). Consistently, the holy Qur'an talks about two deaths; the first death took place when we failed to make a stand with God's absolute authority. That first death lasted until we were born into this world. The second death terminates our life in this world (the holy Qur'an 2:28, 22:66, 40:11).

The Qur'an, contains various death themes that add significantly to our insight into the meaning of death, the concept is left undefined and always portrayed in close relationship with the concepts of life, creation, and resurrection.

All that is on earth will perish. (The Holy Qura'n 55:26)

Allah says in the Quran: "Everyone shall taste death. And only on the day of resurrection shall you be paid your wages in full. And whoever is removed away from the fire and admitted to paradise, this person is indeed successful. The life of this world is only the enjoyment of deception." (The Holy Qur'an:3:185)

In other words, the holy Qur'an says that it is a person who has to taste death, and his physical existence does not separate from his soul. Death is the termination of an individual comprehensive being, capable of believing and disbelieving, and not simply a living organism. Life does not end with death.

In the same way that a person does not cease to exist in sleep, similarly he does not cease to exist in death. And in the same way that a person comes back to life when waking from sleep, also he will be revived at the great awakening on the Day of Judgement. Hence, Islam views death merely as a stage in human existence. Physical death should not be feared but one should, however, worry about the agonies of spiritual death caused by living a life of moral corruption.

The mystery of life and death is resolved in the holy Qur'an by linking it to the working of human conscience and its ability to maintain a healthy status of human spiritual-moral existence with faith in God. Human efforts should be concerned with the revival of human conscience, which will lead to a meaningful life.

Muslims are always buried, never cremated. It is a religious requirement that the body be ritually washed and draped before burial, which should be as soon as possible after death. The dying person is encouraged to recite and declare his or her faith. When a Muslim dies his or her face should be turned right facing towards Makkah (127 South-east from United Kingdom). The arms and legs should be straightened and the mouth and eyes closed; and the body covered with a sheet. A baby dying at or before birth has to have a name.

Death is divinely willed and when it arrives it should be readily accepted. There should, therefore, be no reasoning by the bereaved as to why they have lost their loved one. Islamic scholars such as the twelfth century theologian, Al Ghazali stress that death is unpredictable and can happen at any time and as such Muslims should always be prepared for the inevitable and for what is about to occur. It is but a gateway from this short but mortal existence to a life of immortality in the afterlife.

Imam Dr Abduljalil Sajid is the Chairman of the Muslim Council for Religious and Racial Harmony UK