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

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Ken Livingstone says publicly what many are saying privately: tomorrow belongs to John McDonnell

The Shadow Chancellor has emerged as a frontrunner should another Labour leadership election happen. 

“It would be John.” Ken Livingstone, one of Jeremy Corbyn’s most vocal allies in the media, has said publicly what many are saying privately: if something does happen to Corbyn, or should he choose to step down, place your bets on John McDonnell. Livingstone, speaking to Russia Today, said that if Corbyn were "pushed under a bus", John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, would be the preferred candidate to replace him.

Even among the Labour leader’s allies, speculation is rife as to if the Islington North MP will lead the party into the 2020 election. Corbyn would be 71 in 2020 – the oldest candidate for Prime Minister since Clement Attlee lost the 1955 election aged 72.

While Corbyn is said to be enjoying the role at present, he still resents the intrusion of much of the press and dislikes many of the duties of the party leader. McDonnell, however, has impressed even some critics with his increasingly polished TV performances and has wowed a few sceptical donors. One big donor, who was thinking of pulling their money, confided that a one-on-one chat with the shadow chancellor had left them feeling much happier than a similar chat with Ed Miliband.

The issue of the succession is widely discussed on the left. For many, having waited decades to achieve a position of power, pinning their hopes on the health of one man would be unforgivably foolish. One historically-minded trade union official points out that Hugh Gaitskell, at 56, and John Smith, at 55, were 10 and 11 years younger than Corbyn when they died. In 1994, the right was ready and had two natural successors in the shape of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown in place. In 1963, the right was unprepared and lost the leadership to Harold Wilson, from the party's centre. "If something happens, or he just decides to call it a day, [we have to make sure] it will be '94 not '63," they observed.

While McDonnell is just two years younger than Corbyn, his closest ally in politics and a close personal friend, he is seen by some as considerably more vigorous. His increasingly frequent outings on television have seen him emerge as one of the most adept media performers from the Labour left, and he has won internal plaudits for his recent tussles with George Osborne over the tax bill.

The left’s hopes of securing a non-Corbyn candidate on the ballot have been boosted in recent weeks. The parliamentary Labour party’s successful attempt to boot Steve Rotheram off the party’s ruling NEC, while superficially a victory for the party’s Corbynsceptics, revealed that the numbers are still there for a candidate of the left to make the ballot. 30 MPs voted to keep Rotheram in place, with many MPs from the left of the party, including McDonnell, Corbyn, Diane Abbott and John Trickett, abstaining.

The ballot threshold has risen due to a little-noticed rule change, agreed over the summer, to give members of the European Parliament equal rights with members of the Westminster Parliament. However, Labour’s MEPs are more leftwing, on the whole, than the party in Westminster . In addition, party members vote on the order that Labour MEPs appear on the party list, increasing (or decreasing) their chances of being re-elected, making them more likely to be susceptible to an organised campaign to secure a place for a leftwinger on the ballot.

That makes it – in the views of many key players – incredibly likely that the necessary 51 nominations to secure a place on the ballot are well within reach for the left, particularly if by-election selections in Ogmore, where the sitting MP, is standing down to run for the Welsh Assembly, and Sheffield Brightside, where Harry Harpham has died, return candidates from the party’s left.

McDonnell’s rivals on the left of the party are believed to have fallen short for one reason or another. Clive Lewis, who many party activists believe could provide Corbynism without the historical baggage of the man himself, is unlikely to be able to secure the nominations necessary to make the ballot.

Any left candidate’s route to the ballot paper runs through the 2015 intake, who are on the whole more leftwing than their predecessors. But Lewis has alienated many of his potential allies, with his antics in the 2015 intake’s WhatsApp group a sore point for many. “He has brought too much politics into it,” complained one MP who is also on the left of the party. (The group is usually used for blowing off steam and arranging social events.)

Lisa Nandy, who is from the soft left rather than the left of the party, is widely believed to be in the running also, despite her ruling out any leadership ambitions in a recent interview with the New Statesman.However, she would represent a break from the Corbynite approach, albeit a more leftwing one than Dan Jarvis or Hilary Benn.

Local party chairs in no doubt that the shadow chancellor is profiling should another leadership election arise. One constituency chair noted to the New Statesman that: “you could tell who was going for it [last time], because they were desperate to speak [at events]”. Tom Watson, Caroline Flint, Chuka Umunna, Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham and Liz Kendall all visited local parties across the country in preparation for their election bids in 2015.

Now, speaking to local party activists, four names are mentioned more than any other: Dan Jarvis, currently on the backbenches, but in whom the hopes – and the donations – of many who are disillusioned by the current leadership are invested, Gloria De Piero, who is touring the country as part of the party’s voter registration drive, her close ally Jon Ashworth, and John McDonnell.

Another close ally of Corbyn and McDonnell, who worked closely on the leadership election, is in no doubt that the shadow chancellor is gearing up for a run should the need arise.  “You remember when that nice Mr Watson went touring the country? Well, pay attention to John’s movements.”

As for his chances of success, McDonnell may well be even more popular among members than Corbyn himself. He is regularly at or near the top of LabourList's shadow cabinet rankings, and is frequently praised by members. Should he be able to secure the nominations to get on the ballot, an even bigger victory than that secured by Corbyn in September is not out of the question.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.