Allah Most High says in the Qur’an, “Every soul will, without doubt, fully experience death.” (3:185, 21:35, 29:57)
We will all die. You will die, I will die, and everyone that we all know will die. But what exactly does it mean to die? What is death?
In this series, Shaykh Hamza Karamali will relate and explain many other Qur’anic verses and prophetic hadiths that describe what happens after we die.
06- Don’t Long For Death- Shaykh Hamza Karamali
The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) taught us not to long for death. But when calamities strike, they can blow the wind out of us, making us forget the purpose of our existence, and, sometimes, making us long for death so that they might end. Hamza unpacks the words of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) to explain why this is a mistake and how we should correct it.
What Should You Do When You Are About To Die?- Shaykh Hamza Karamali
We will all, one day, be on the verge of our deaths, staring at the end of our lives, the end of our choices, the end of our actions. We will only take with us what we did before that time. There will be no going back, and there will be nothing more left to do. Or will there, in fact, be something left for us to do? Shaykh Hamza Karamali explains.
04 – How Should We Live?
How Should We Live?
How should we live? Allah Most High tells us, saying, “O you who have believed”—ya ayyuha alladheena aamanu—“fear Allah continuously”—ittaqu allah haqqa tuqatihi—“and never, ever die unless you are in a state of wholehearted submission.”—wa la tamutunna illa wa antum muslimun. (Qur’an, 3:102)
This verse tells us that we should live with continuous fear of Allah Most High, the overwhelmingly powerful creator and master of every atom in the universe.
Now, if you don’t know who Allah is, living in continuous fear of Him will sound miserable. You might think that living in continuous fear of Allah Most High is like living in continuous fear of some powerful and ruthless dictator (may Allah Most High preserve our freedoms and protect us from all kinds of subjugation). Living in continuous fear of a powerful and ruthless dictator is, indeed, miserable. When you sleep, you fear assassination; when you eat, you fear poisoning; when you leave your hiding-place, you fear imprisonment; when you use your cell-phone, you fear being tapped; when you talk to an acquaintance, you fear being betrayed—your continuous fear prevents you from being able to enjoy anything. You live in misery.
But living in continuous fear of Allah Most High is not like that because Allah Most High is not a powerful and ruthless dictator.
Clear your heart. Hit “delete” on all thoughts of powerful and ruthless dictators. And listen carefully to understand who Allah Most High is and what He means when He tells us to live in continuous fear of Him.
The Arabic word for the fear of Allah is taqwa. What this word actually means is not “feeling scared of something”; what it actually means is, “protecting yourself”.
The opening verse of this episode uses the Arabic expression, ittaqu allah. This is frequently translated as, “fear Allah”, but what it really means is, “protect yourselves from Allah”.
Now, someone might protect themselves from another human being by lifting weights, training in martial arts, hiring bodyguards, or seeking refuge in a safer country. But that is not how they would protect themselves from Allah Most High. How could they?—no matter how strong their muscles, no matter how skillful their martial arts, no matter how numerous their bodyguards, no matter which country they might flee to, nothing in the universe can protect them from Allah Most High. How could it?—He is the one who created it, and were it not for Him, it wouldn’t even exist.
So if nothing in the universe can protect us from Allah, then what does He mean when He commands us to protect ourselves from Him? What or who is there that can possibly protect us from Him?—No one but Allah Most High Himself.
The Holy Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) used to supplicate, “O Allah! I seek refuge in Your pleasure from Your anger, in well-being that You give from the punishment that You send, and I seek refuge in You from You.” (Muslim: 486)
When someone wants to protect themselves from a ruthless dictator, they run away from him. When someone wants to protect themselves from Allah, they run to Him. They run away from the ruthless dictator because he is out to get them. They run to Allah because He wants to forgive them. Fear of a ruthless dictator drives one to hate him. Fear of Allah drives one to love Him. Fear of a ruthless dictator is misery. Fear of Allah is joy.
Let’s return to the opening verse of this episode.
Allah Most High says, “O you who have believed, fear Allah continuously, and never, ever die unless you are in a state of wholehearted submission.” (Qur’an, 3:102) This verse tells us how we should live—we should live in continuous fear of Allah Most High. What does that mean? It means that, out of fear of His anger, we should take the means to His
03 – How Should We Die?
How Should We Die?
Allah Most High answered this question in the Holy Qur’an, saying, “O you who have believed”—ya ayyuha alladheena aamanu—“fear Allah continuously”—ittaqu allah haqqa tuqatihi—“and never, ever die unless you are in a state of wholehearted submission.”—wa la tamutunna illa wa antum muslimun. (Qur’an, 3:102)
If you think carefully about the end of this verse for a second—“Never, ever die unless you are in a state of wholehearted submission.”—you will find it strange. Isn’t is it strange that Allah Most High is telling us that if we are not in a state of wholehearted submission, that He is then forbidding us, in the strongest of terms—“Never, ever,” He says—from dying?
But what does it mean for Him to forbid us to die? Death is not something we choose. Death is something that He chooses. Death is something that will catch us as even as we run away from it: “Wherever you may be,”—ayna ma takunu—Allah Most High tells us, “Death will catch you,”—yudrikkumul mawt—“even if you be in high, impregnable fortresses.”—wa law kuntum fi burujin mushayyadah. (Qur’an, 4:78) What, then, does it mean for Him to forbid us to die?
Traditional scholars of tafsir anticipated our question. They explained that He is not, in fact, forbidding us to die; rather, He is commanding us to have wholehearted submission when we die.
It’s like when a teacher exhorts his student, “Don’t pray ‘asr unless your heart is present with Allah Most High.” He is not telling his disciple not to pray ‘asr—How could he? Praying ‘asr is an obligation that we owe to Allah Most High! That is not what he is telling him. What he is telling him is that he must focus his heart on Allah Most High while he prays ‘asr.
This is a common rhetorical technique even in English.
Think about the expression again: “Don’t pray ‘asr unless your heart is present with Allah Most High.” Can you see that the teacher is telling his student that his standing before his Lord during the ‘asr prayer is such a tremendous thing that it is not fitting for him to do it without focussing his heart on Him? Can you see that the teacher is telling his student that the reason why his heart isn’t focussedon His Lord in the ‘asr prayer is that he doesn’t realize what a tremendous thing it is?
The teacher is not forbidding his student from praying ‘asr; he is commanding him realize its tremendous significance and focus his heart on Allah Most High while he prays ‘asr.
In the same way, when Allah Most High says, “Never, ever die unless you are in a state of wholehearted submission,” He is telling us that the reason why we don’t have wholehearted submission is that we don’t realize the tremendous significance of death. He is telling us to realize its tremendous significance, to realize that death marks the end of our opportunity to realize the purpose of our lives, and that the reason why someone might not have wholehearted submission when he dies is that he doesn’t realize what a tremendous thing death is. Allah Most High is not forbidding us to die; He is telling us to realize the tremendous significance of our deaths and to have wholehearted submission to Him while we die.
Now, I want you to note what the tremendous significance of death is—to realize the purpose of our lives. That takes us back to the previous episode of this podcast, in which I explained that the purpose of death is to give joy to life by turning its difficulties and pleasures into expressions of our humble slavehood to our generous Maker. The significance of dying does not lie in death; the significance of dying lies in the joyful, meaningful, and purpose-driven life that comes before it.
That means that this verse is, in reality, not telling us how we should die; it
02 – Why Do We Die?
Why do we die? A materialist might answer that we die because our body stops working—our breathing, our heartbeat, our brain activity, everything, stops. We saw in the previous episode that this materialist is wrong—we are not our bodies, but our souls, and although our death is accompanied by bodily changes, it is not those bodily changes themselves, but something else related to the soul. Death is the separation of our soul from our body. We die because our soul is separated from our body.
But that is not, in fact, what I am asking. When I ask, “Why do we die?” I am not inquiring about the cause of our death; I am inquiring about the purpose of our death.
Everything in the universe appears to have some purpose. Another way of saying this is that everything in the universe appears to happen so that something else that comes afterwards can also happen. Allah Most High sends winds to move rain clouds over dry land (Qur’an, 25:48), He sends rain to make plants grow (Qur’an, 25:49-50), and He makes the earth orbit around its axis, the moon around the earth, and the earth around the sun to enable us to tell time by counting days and months (Qur’an, 10:5 and 17:12). He made hemoglobin in our blood cells to carry oxygen from our lungs to the rest of our body. He made chlorophyll in plant cells to absorb light energy from the sun. And so on.
When I ask, “Why do we die?” I am asking, “What is the purpose of our death?” Everything in the universe has a purpose. Everything in our bodies has a purpose. It would make sense for our death, too, to have a purpose. What is that purpose? Why do we die?
We have all heard someone remark, “You only live once.” The one who makes this remark has to make a choice between being responsible—doing a chore, studying for an exam, putting in extra hours at work, taking care of a father, a mother, or a child—and between doing something he enjoys—playing a game, watching a movie, going on a vacation, any kind of entertainment. What he means by his remark, “You only live once,” is that after he dies, he will stop existing. This life, he is saying, is all that there is. What this entails, he is saying, is that the purpose of his life before death is to maximize his pleasures, that every moment of his life that is spent in something other than the pursuit of pleasure is a wasted opportunity, a foolish choice, and that he should therefore only be “responsible” when that leads to some immediate pleasure, some selfish gain.
He might strengthen his conclusion with a second remark, saying, “Life is short.” He is now saying that not only only do you only live once, you only live once for a short time, and the urgency to experience immediate pleasures, to acquire a selfish gain, is even greater. That, according to his point of view, is the purpose of death. We die in order for us to be motivated to experience immediate pleasures, to acquire selfish gains, and to do so with great urgency. That is why we die.
He is wrong. But before I explain why, I want you to see that if, as he says, “You only live once,” then the pursuit of pleasure is not, in fact, the purpose of death. The purpose of death, if you only live once, is not make you happy, but make you miserable.
Leo Tolstoy captured this well. He wrote in the late nineteenth century that, “If not today, then tomorrow sickness and death will come to everyone, to me, and nothing will remain except the stench and the worms. My deeds, whatever they may be, will be forgotten sooner or later, and I myself will be no more. Why, then, do anything? How can anyone fail to see this and live? That’s what is amazing! It is possible to live only as long as life intoxicates us; once we are sober we cannot help seeing that it is all a delusion, a stupid delusion! Nor is there anything funny or witty about it; it is only