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

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A swimming pool and a bleeding toe put my medical competency in doubt

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Sometimes the search engine wins. 

The brutal heatwave affecting southern Europe this summer has become known among locals as “Lucifer”. Having just returned from Italy, I fully understand the nickname. An early excursion caused the beginnings of sunstroke, so we abandoned plans to explore the cultural heritage of the Amalfi region and strayed no further than five metres from the hotel pool for the rest of the week.

The children were delighted, particularly my 12-year-old stepdaughter, Gracie, who proceeded to spend hours at a time playing in the water. Towelling herself after one long session, she noticed something odd.

“What’s happened there?” she asked, holding her foot aloft in front of my face.

I inspected the proffered appendage: on the underside of her big toe was an oblong area of glistening red flesh that looked like a chunk of raw steak.

“Did you injure it?”

She shook her head. “It doesn’t hurt at all.”

I shrugged and said she must have grazed it. She wasn’t convinced, pointing out that she would remember if she had done that. She has great faith in plasters, though, and once it was dressed she forgot all about it. I dismissed it, too, assuming it was one of those things.

By the end of the next day, the pulp on the underside of all of her toes looked the same. As the doctor in the family, I felt under some pressure to come up with an explanation. I made up something about burns from the hot paving slabs around the pool. Gracie didn’t say as much, but her look suggested a dawning scepticism over my claims to hold a medical degree.

The next day, Gracie and her new-found holiday playmate, Eve, abruptly terminated a marathon piggy-in-the-middle session in the pool with Eve’s dad. “Our feet are bleeding,” they announced, somewhat incredulously. Sure enough, bright-red blood was flowing, apparently painlessly, from the bottoms of their big toes.

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Often, what patients discover on the internet causes them undue alarm, and our role is to provide context and reassurance. But not infrequently, people come across information that outstrips our knowledge. On my return from our room with fresh supplies of plasters, my wife looked up from her sun lounger with an air of quiet amusement.

“It’s called ‘pool toe’,” she said, handing me her iPhone. The page she had tracked down described the girls’ situation exactly: friction burns, most commonly seen in children, caused by repetitive hopping about on the abrasive floors of swimming pools. Doctors practising in hot countries must see it all the time. I doubt it presents often to British GPs.

I remained puzzled about the lack of pain. The injuries looked bad, but neither Gracie nor Eve was particularly bothered. Here the internet drew a blank, but I suspect it has to do with the “pruning” of our skin that we’re all familiar with after a soak in the bath. This only occurs over the pulps of our fingers and toes. It was once thought to be caused by water diffusing into skin cells, making them swell, but the truth is far more fascinating.

The wrinkling is an active process, triggered by immersion, in which the blood supply to the pulp regions is switched off, causing the skin there to shrink and pucker. This creates the biological equivalent of tyre treads on our fingers and toes and markedly improves our grip – of great evolutionary advantage when grasping slippery fish in a river, or if trying to maintain balance on slick wet rocks.

The flip side of this is much greater friction, leading to abrasion of the skin through repeated micro-trauma. And the lack of blood flow causes nerves to shut down, depriving us of the pain that would otherwise alert us to the ongoing tissue damage. An adaptation that helped our ancestors hunt in rivers proves considerably less use on a modern summer holiday.

I may not have seen much of the local heritage, but the trip to Italy taught me something new all the same. 

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear