1. Death - Superstitions and Facts
Everyone who appears on this earth is destined to die. Man only lives until a certain day and then dies. Some die very young, while still babies. Others go through all phases of life and face death in their latter years. Nothing a man possesses, neither property, fortune, status, fame, grandeur, confidence nor good looks can repel death. Without exception, all men are helpless against death and will remain so.
The majority of people avoid thinking about death. It never occurs to them that they will be confronted with this absolute end someday. Some people harbor the superstitious belief that if they avoid the thought of it, that it will make them immune from death. In daily conversations, those who intend to talk about death are interrupted and cut short. Someone who does talk about death, recalls a sign from Allah, and even if it is slightly, contributes to the removal of a thick cloud of heedlessness that covers in people’s minds. Nevertheless, some people who make indifference a way of life, feel uneasy when such "disturbing" facts are presented to them. Yet, the more they try to escape from the thought of death, the more they are obsessed by thoughts about the moment they might die. Their impetuous attitude will determine the intensity of the terror and bewilderment they will experience at the moment of death, on the Day of Judgment, and during the eternal torment.
You can never find a man who has resisted ageing and death. This is impossible because man has no influence whatsoever on his body or on his own life. That he himself did not decide his birth makes this fact obvious. Another piece of evidence is man's desperateness in the face of death. The owner of life is the One Who grants it to man. And whenever He wills, He takes it back. Allah, the Owner of life, informs man about this in the verse He revealed to His Prophet (saas):
We did not give any human being before you immortality. And if you die, will they then be immortal? (Surat al-Anbiya': 34)
At this moment, there are millions of people living around the world. From this we conclude that countless people appeared and passed away since the creation of the first man on earth. They all died without exception. Death is a certain end: for people in the past as well for those currently alive. No one can avoid this inevitable end. This truth is revealed in the Qur'an thus:
Every self will taste death. You will be paid your wages in full on the Day of Resurrection. Anyone who is distanced from the Fire and admitted to the Garden has triumphed. The life of the world is just the enjoyment of delusion. (Surah Al 'Imran: 185)
Falsely Assuming Death to be Coincidence
Death, as is the case with all other incidents, happens by Allah's decree. Just as the birth date of a man is predestined, so also is the date of his death right down to the very last second. Man rushes towards that last moment, rapidly leaving behind every hour, every minute granted to him. The death of everyone, its location and time, as well as the way one dies are all predetermined.
Despite this, however, some people assume death to be the last point of a logical sequence of events, whereas its actual reasons are known only to Allah. Everyday death stories appear in newspapers. After reading these stories, some people make ignorant comments like: "He could have been saved, if necessary precautions had been taken" or "He would not have died, if so and so had happened." Not a minute longer or less can a person live, other than the time determined for him. However, people, who are remote from the consciousness granted by faith, view death as a component of a sequence of coincidences. In the Qur'an, Allah warns believers against this distorted rationale which is peculiar to unbelievers:
You who have faith! Do not be like those who disbelieve and say of their brothers, when they went on journeys or military expeditions, 'If they had only been with us, they would not have died or been killed.' Allah will cause them to regret their words. It is Allah Who ordains life and death. Allah sees what you do. (Surah Al 'Imran: 156)
Assuming death to be a coincidence is sheer imprudence. As suggested in the verse above, this gives great spiritual anguish and irresistible trouble to man. For unbelievers losing a relative or a loved one is a cause of anguish and remorse. Attributing death to bad luck or negligence, they think there could be some leeway to avoid death. This is the rationale which indeed adds to their grief and regret. This grief and regret, however, is nothing but the torment of disbelief.
Nevertheless, contrary to the received wisdom, the cause of death is neither an accident, nor a disease nor anything else. It is surely Allah Who creates all these causes. Once the time granted to us in our destiny terminates, our life ends for these apparent reasons. Meanwhile, none of the material resources devoted to saving one from death will bring another breath of life. Allah reveals this Divine law in the following verse:
No self can die except with Allah's permission, at a pre-determined time... (Surah Al 'Imran: 145)
A believer is aware of the temporary nature of the life of this world. He knows that our Lord, Who gave him all the blessings he has enjoyed in this world, will take his soul whenever He wills and call him to account for his deeds. However, since he has spent his entire life to earn Allah's good pleasure, he does not worry about his death. Our Prophet Muhammad (saas) also referred to this good character in one of his prayers:
Jabir ibn Abdullah narrated, "When Allah's Apostle (peace be upon him) commenced the prayer he recited: Allah is the Greatest; then said: Verily my prayer, my sacrifices, my life and my death are for Allah, the Lord of the worlds." (Al-Tirmidhi, 262)
The Distorted Understanding of Destiny
People entertain many misconceptions about destiny, especially when death is the issue. False ideas, e.g. that one may "defeat one's destiny" or "change one's destiny" are prevalent. Deeming their expectations and assumptions to be destiny, some people believe it is destiny that changes when events do not proceed as they anticipate or predict. They assume an unwise attitude and act as if they have read destiny beforehand and events have not proceeded in line with what they have read. Such a distorted and inconsistent rationale is surely the product of an inadequate understanding of destiny.
Destiny is Allah's perfect creation of all events past and future in timelessness. Allah is the One Who creates the concepts of time and space from nothing, Who keeps time and space under His control and Who is not bound by them. The sequence of events which was experienced in the past or which will be experienced in the future is, moment by moment, planned and created in the Sight of Allah.
Allah creates time, thus He is not bound by it. In His Sight, both the beginning and end of an event are plain. Similarly, there is no doubt about where this event is situated on the plane of eternity. Everything has already taken place and finished. This is similar to a person watching a movie; just as the person cannot exercise any influence on the movie and change it, human beings who play their individual roles in life cannot influence the flow of events recorded on the destiny. Human beings have no influence whatsoever on destiny. Just the contrary, it is destiny which is the determining factor in people's lives. Man, an absolute component of destiny, is not separate and independent from it. Man is unable to go beyond the boundaries of destiny. For a better understanding, we can draw a parallel between a man and an actor in a film. The actor cannot slip out of the film, acquire a physical existence and start making changes in the film by deleting unfavorable scenes or adding some new ones. This would surely be an irrational suggestion.
Consequently, it is impossible to defeat destiny or divert the flow of events. One who says: "I defeated my destiny." is only deceiving himself—and the fact that he does so is a matter of his destiny.
For example, a person may remain in coma for days. It may seem unlikely that he will revive. Yet, if he does recover, this does not mean that "he defeated his fate" or "doctors changed his fate." This is simply an indication that his time is not yet over. His recovery is nothing but a component of his own ineluctable fate. His sickness and recovery are like that of all other things determined in the Sight of Allah. Allah reveals in the Qur'an thus:
… And no living thing lives long or has its life cut short without that being in a Book. That is easy for Allah. (Surat al-Fatir: 11)
Our Prophet (saas) said the following to a believer who was praying to Allah to enable her to derive benefit from her loved ones:
You have asked from Allah about durations of life already set, and the length of days already allotted and the sustenances the share of which has been fixed. Allah would not do anything earlier before its due time, or He would not delay anything beyond its due time. (Book 33, Number 6438, Sahih Muslim)
According to another piece of false belief, the death of a person dying in his 80s is "destiny" whereas the death of a baby, a young or a middle-aged man is a "dire event." To be able to accept death as a natural phenomenon, some people try to make death fit their established criteria. According to these heedless people, death seems acceptable after a long and severe illness while, death by a sudden sickness or accident is an untimely disaster. That is why some people often meet death in a rebellious spirit. However such stance is a clear sign of being unaware of Allah's justice, infinite compassion and the fact that Allah creates everything for good and with wisdom. Those nurturing such a frame of mind will be doomed to live in constant grief and trouble in this life unless they submit themselves fully to Allah.
The False Belief in Reincarnation
One of the common irrational beliefs people hold about death is that "reincarnation" is a possibility. Reincarnation means that on the physical death of the body, the soul transmigrates to or is born again in another body with a separate identity in a different time and location. Recently, it has become a perverted movement attracting many adherents among unbelievers and followers of superstitious beliefs.
In technical terms, the reasons why such superstitious beliefs receive support—on the basis of no concrete evidence whatsoever—are the concerns disbelieving people subconsciously harbor. Having no faith in the hereafter, people are afraid of being reduced to insignificance after death. Those of poor faith, on the other hand, feel uneasy about the thought of being sent to hell since they are aware, or at least, consider it a probability, that Allah's justice entails their punishment. For both, however, the idea of the rebirth of the soul in other bodies at various times sounds extremely alluring. Thus, particular circles who exploit this distorted belief succeed in making people believe in this fallacy with the help of a little window-dressing. That their followers do not demand any further evidence encourages the efforts of these opportunists.
Such a perverted belief also finds adherents in Muslim circles. These are mostly the type of Muslims who are anxious to project an intellectual and liberal self-image. There is another serious dimension to this issue that deserves mention; such people strive to confirm their views with the help of verses in the Qur'an. To this end, they distort the explicit meanings of the verses and fabricate their own interpretations. Our intention here is to emphasize that this perverted belief is totally at variance with the Qur'an and Islam and wholly contradictory to the verses of the Qur'an which are absolutely precise.
These circles claim that there are a few verses in the Qur'an which corroborate reincarnation. One of these verses they mention is the following:
They will say, 'Our Lord, twice You caused us to die and twice You gave us life. We admit our wrong actions. Is there no way out?' (Surah Ghafir: 11)
On the basis of this verse, people who believe in reincarnation claim the following: man is given a new life after he has lived in this life for some time and then dies. This is the second time he comes into being and also the period during which his soul completes its development. After the second death following this second life, they claim, man is resurrected in the hereafter.
From the verse, it is evident that man experiences two states of living and dying. In this context, a third state of being dead or alive is out of question. This being the case, one question comes to mind: "What was man's initial state? Being dead or alive?" We find the answer to this question in the following verse:
How can you reject Allah? Did He not give you life when you were dead and will He not cause you to die and then give you life again? Will you not return to Him at last? (Surat al-Baqara: 28)
The verse is self-explanatory; initially, man is dead. In other words, owing to the very nature of his creation, he is originally made up of inanimate matter such as water, earth, etc., as the verses inform. Then, Allah made this heap of inanimate matter alive, "created and shaped" it. This is the first death and thus the first rising from the dead. Some time after this first rising from death, life ends and man dies. He returns to earth again, just as in the first phase, and is reduced to insignificance. This is the second transition to the state of death. The second and last event of rising from the dead is the one taking place in the hereafter. Since this is the case, there is not a second resurrection in the life of this world. Otherwise, this would necessitate a third resurrection. However, there is no reference to a third resurrection in any of the verses. Both in Surah Ghafir: 11, and Surat al-Baqara: 28, there is no reference suggesting the possibility of a second resurrection in the life of this world. On the contrary, these verses explicitly reveal the existence of one resurrection in this world and another one in the hereafter.
In addition, several other verses in the Qur'an make it clear that there is only one life where man is put to the test and that it is in the life of this world. That there is no return to this life after death is stated in the following verse:
When death comes to a wrongdoer, he says, 'My Lord, send me back again, so that perhaps I may act rightly regarding the things I failed to do!' 'No indeed! It is just words he utters. Before them shall stand a barrier until the Day they are raised up.' (Surat al-Mu'minun: 99-100)
The dialogues in the verse make it clear that after death, there is no return to this life. Meanwhile, in this verse, Allah draws our attention to the fact that unbelievers entertain desperate hopes about a second raising from the dead, a second return to this life. However, the verse clarifies that these are just words suggested by unbelievers which have no validity.
That the people of paradise will not experience another death other than the "first" death is described in the following verse:
They will not taste any death there—except for the first one. He will safeguard them from the punishment of the Blazing Fire. A favor from your Lord. That is the Great Victory. (Surat ad-Dukhan: 56-57)
The great bliss of the people of paradise is described in another verse. This bliss is due to the fact that they will not experience another death except for the first one:
Are we not going to die, except for our first death? Are we not going to be punished? Truly this is the Great Victory!(Surat as-Saffat: 58-60)
The above verses leave no room for further questions. The conclusion is, there is only one death which man experiences. At this stage, the following question may arise: "Despite the reference to two deaths in the previous verses, why is only one death mentioned in Surat as-Saffat: 58?" The answer to this question is given in the 56th verse of Surat ad-Dukhan, which says: "They will not taste any death there—except for the first one." Indeed, there is one and only one death that man meets consciously. He encounters it, and with all his senses, perceives it. This is the death one meets at the moment his life ends. He surely cannot perceive the very first state of death since at that time he is deprived of senses and consciousness.
In the face of such definite and clear explanations as the Qur'an brings, maintaining that there are more deaths and states of rising from the dead and holding that there is transmigration of the soul would be an overt denial of the Qur'an verses.