1. Death -
The Actual Death and What is Observed about Death
The Death of the Soul (The Actual Death)
Have you ever thought about how you will die, what death looks like and what will happen at the moment of death?
So far, nobody has appeared who died and was raised again and who could share his actual experiences and feelings about death. This being the case, it is, technically, impossible to gather information regarding what death is like and what one feels at the moment of death.
Allah, the One Who bestows life upon man and takes it back in due course, informs us in the Qur'an about how death actually occurs. Thus, the Qur'an is the only source from which we can learn about how death really occurs and what someone who dies actually experiences and feels.
Death, as referred in the Qur'an, is quite unlike the "medical death" people observe from outside.
Primarily, in the Qur'an we are informed with events as seen by the dying person himself, which can never be perceived by others. This is related in the Surat al-Waqi'a:
Why then, when death reaches his throat and you are at that moment looking on—We are nearer him than you, but you cannot see. (Surat al-Waqi'a: 83-85)
In another verse it is related that the unbelievers experience death as a great source of torment.
Do not let their wealth and their children impress you. Allah merely wants to punish them by them in this world, and for them to expire while they are unbelievers. (Surah at-Tawba: 85)
Unlike the unbelievers' death, that of the believers is blissful:
...the angels reclaim the souls of the just, saying: (to believers) 'Peace be upon you! Enter the Garden as a reward for your labors.' (Surat an-Nahl: 32)
In these verses we are informed about a very important and unchanging fact about death: at the moment of death, what the dying person goes through and what those nearby observe are dissimilar experiences. For instance, a person who spent his entire life as an unyielding unbeliever may be perceived from outside to experience a death in his sleep. However, the soul, in a totally different dimension now, tastes death in a very painful way. Alternatively, the soul of a believer, despite seemingly suffering great pain, leaves his body "in a virtuous state".
In brief, the "medical death of the body" and the death of the soul, which is referred to in the Qur'an, are totally different events.
As mentioned earlier, the death "tasted" by unbelievers is a great source of torment for them, while it turns out to be bliss for believers. In the Qur'an we are given a detailed account of the difficulty the unbelievers undergo while their souls are taken away, because of the way angels deal with the soul of an unbeliever at the moment of death:
The angels will take the unbelievers in death by beating their faces and backs:
How will it be when the angels take them in death, beating their faces and their backs? That is because they followed what angers Allah and hated what is pleasing to Him. So He made their actions come to nothing. (Surah Muhammad: 27-28)
In the Qur'an there is also reference to the "throes of death," which are actually the result of the angels giving the news of eternal torment at the moment of death:
...If you could only see the wrongdoers in the throes of death when the angels are stretching out their hands, saying, 'Yield up your souls. Today you will be repaid with the punishment of humiliation for saying something other than the truth about Allah, and being arrogant about His signs.' (Surat al-An'am: 93)
If only you could see when the angels take back those who were unbelievers when they died, beating their faces and their backs: 'Taste the punishment of the Burning! That is for what you did. Allah does not wrong His servants.' (Surat al-Anfal: 50-51)
As the verses make it clear, just the death of an unbeliever is an entire period of agony in itself. While people surrounding him see a seemingly untroubled death in his bed, a great spiritual and physical torment begins for him. The angels of death take his soul, inflicting pain and humiliation on him. In the Qur'an, the angels who take the souls of unbelievers are described as: "those who pluck out harshly". (Surat an-Nazi'at: 1)
In other verses the death of the unbeliever is explained as follows:
No indeed! When it (the soul) reaches the gullet and he hears the words, 'Who can heal him now?' he knows it is indeed the final parting. (Surat al-Qiyama: 26-28)
At this moment, the unbeliever faces the truth he denied all throughout his life. With death, he will start to suffer the consequences of his great guilt, his denial. Angels "beating their backs" and "plucking (the soul) out harshly" are only the beginning and a minor indication of the grief awaiting him.
On the contrary, death for the believer is the beginning of eternal happiness and bliss. Unlike that of the unbeliever who suffers bitterly, the soul of the believer is " drawn out gently" (Surat an-Nazi'at: 2) with the angels saying: " Peace be upon you! Enter the Garden as a reward for your labors. " (Surat an-Nahl: 32) This is similar to the state of sleep.
This is the ultimate truth about death. Externally, people witness only the medical death: a body gradually losing its corporeal functions. Those watching from the outside a person on the brink of death see neither his face and back being beaten, nor his soul reaching the gullet. Only the soul of the person concerned experiences these feelings and sees these images. However, the actual death is "tasted" in all of its aspects by the person dying in a dimension unfamiliar to those witnessing death from the outside. In other words, what is experienced during the course of death is a "change in dimension."
The Death of the Believer
— Being aware that death is inevitable, the believer prepares himself for death all throughout his life and ultimately passes on.
— Angels of death greet him and give him the glad tidings of paradise.
— Angels take the soul of a believer gently.
— The believer feels the need to give the glad tidings to other believers in the world that Allah's promise is assured and that there is neither fear nor sorrow for believers. Yet, this is not allowed.
The Death of Unbeliever
— He meets the death he has always avoided all throughout his life.
— He suffers from intense fits of shaking during the course of death.
— Angels extend their hands to him and give him the tidings of the degrading punishment of the Burning.
— Angels take him in death, beating his face and back.
— The soul is taken with a great inner pain.
— The soul is taken as it reaches the gullet and at that moment there remains no one to heal him.
— The soul is taken with difficulty while he is indulging in denial.
At the moment of death, his faith or repentance is not accepted.
When he sees the truth, he feels immense regret and says "If only we could have another turn [on Earth] then we would be among the believers!" (Surah Ash-Shu'ara'). But his wish is not accepted.
There are also lessons to be drawn from the "medical death" people witness from outside. The way medical death reduces the human body to insignificance makes one see certain very important facts. Therefore, the "medical death" and the grave, awaiting each one of us, also deserve mention and contemplation.
The Death of the Body (As Witnessed from Outside)
At the moment of death, as the soul leaves the dimension the human being lives in, it leaves behind the lifeless body. As in the case of living beings changing their skins, it leaves behind his body and proceeds towards its real life.
However, the story of the body which remains here in this world is important, especially for those who attach more importance to the body in this life than it actually deserves.
Have you ever thought in detail about what would befall this body when one dies?
One day you will die. Maybe in a way you have never expected. While going to the grocery to buy bread, a car will hit you. Or, a fatal disease will bring your life to an end. Or, simply, your heart will stop beating for no reason at all.
So, you will begin experiencing death.
From then on, you will have no relation with your body whatsoever. That body, you possessed as "yourself" all your life, will turn into an ordinary heap of flesh. With your death, your body will be carried by other people. There will be people around weeping and mourning. Then that body will be carried to the morgue, where it will remain for a night. The next day, the burial operations will start. The lifeless body, now very rigid, will be washed all over with cold water. Meanwhile, the traces of death will start to appear and some parts of the body will turn purple.
Then, the body will be wrapped in a shroud and put in a wooden coffin. The hearse will be ready to take the coffin. Proceeding towards the graveyard, life will be as always on the streets. Seeing that a hearse is passing by, some people will show respect, but the majority will go on with their daily tasks. At the graveyard, the coffin will be carried by those who love you or by those who seem to love you. Most probably, there will again be people around weeping and mourning. Then, people will arrive at the inescapable destination: the grave. On the marble stone, your name will be inscribed...Your corpse will be taken out of the coffin and placed in the pit. Finally, people with shovels will start to cover your body with soil. Soil will also be thrown into the shroud. It will fill your mouth, throat, eyes and nose. Then the soil will gradually cover your shroud. Soon, the funeral will be over and people will leave the grave. Then, the graveyard will return to its deep silence. Those attending the funeral will go on with their everyday lives and for your buried body, life will no longer be meaningful. A beautiful house, a pretty person, a breathtaking landscape will mean nothing. Your body will never meet a friend again. From then on, the only certainty for the body will be the soil and the worms and bacteria inhabiting it.
Have You Ever Thought About What Your Body Will Look Like After Death?
With burial, your body will undergo a rapid process of decay, caused by internal and external factors.
Soon after you are placed in the grave, the bacteria and insects proliferating in the corpse due to the absence of oxygen will start to function. The gases released from these organisms will inflate the body, starting from the abdomen, altering its shape and appearance. Bloody froth will issue from the mouth and nose due to the pressure of gases on the diaphragm. As corruption proceeds, body hair, nails, soles, and palms will fall off. Accompanying this outer alteration in the body, internal organs such as lungs, heart and liver will also decay.
In the meantime, the most horrible scene takes place in the abdomen, where the skin can no longer bear the pressure of gases and suddenly bursts, spreading an unendurable disgusting smell. (The smell of the dead body is one of the worst smells in the world.)
Starting from the skull, muscles will became detached from their particular places. Skin and soft tissues will completely disintegrate. The brain will decay and start looking like clay. This process will go on until the whole body is reduced to a skeleton.
Your body, you think to be yourself, will thus disappear in a terrible and disgusting manner. While those you leave behind carry out the customary rituals, worms, insects and bacteria in the soil will eat the body away.
If you die by an accident and are not buried, then the consequences will be even more tragic. Your body will be worm-eaten, just like a piece of meat left at room temperature for a long time. By the time the worms have eaten the last bit of flesh, your body will have become a skeleton.
This is the way, a human being's life, created in "the best of forms", comes to the most horrible end possible.
It is surely by the Will of Allah that the body ceases to exist in such a drastic way. That it does so actually carries a very important inner message in itself. The terrible end awaiting man should make him acknowledge that he is not a body himself, but a soul "encased" within a body. In other words, man has to acknowledge that he has an existence beyond his body. Such a striking end, with its many lessons, is made ready for man so that he may understand that he is not mere "flesh and bones," but he has a soul.
Man should look at this body to which he attaches importance, as if he would stay in this temporary world forever, and should contemplate the end of it—its death. For it will decay under the soil, become worm-eaten and finally turn into a skeleton.