A Reflection on Death

A few months ago, I went through one of the biggest trials in my life.

People say this a lot, but it really felt like the darkest of all my days. Those moments have swelled to tower over all others in my life, eclipsing the days that came before and the ones that have come since. 

I lost someone very close to me. Someone I loved dearly.

I’ve seen loss and grown up aware that we will all feel its touch at some point. After all, Allah ﷻ says in the Quran ‘Every soul shall taste death’ (3:185). I’ve seen the lives of friends, family, and strangers afflicted by death and I’ve seen what happens to the ones left behind. 

Nevertheless, death felt so far away from me. I know now that the signs were there all along and this is a fact of life that Islam prepares us for. But thinking about death & loss, and experiencing it couldn’t have been more unalike.

I guess what I’m trying to say is pondering upon death, for me anyway, was from a position where I could tune in and out, back to the comfort of everyday, worldly life. Experiencing loss, however, meant it became my relentless companion from the moment my eyes opened upon waking, to the nights where I would will myself to sleep because that was my only respite. I don’t know, perhaps if my Iman had been stronger it would have been different.

I think about death a lot now. Maybe it should have been this way all along, and this was the jolt I needed to make me realise that.

I don’t know but I don’t doubt the wisdom of Allah ﷻ. 

Between the tears and the loneliness, I managed to find refuge in Him. I’d pour my heart out to Him in sujood. When I couldn’t find the words, I know He understood anyway. On the more difficult days, between sobbing until my eyes felt raw, I’d manage to squeeze out “inna lilahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un'' and that soothed my heart a little. 

For many years when the occasion called for it, I’d utter the phrase To Allah we belong and to Him is our return, almost automatically as a gesture of condolence, but the words seemed to take on a new meaning now.

I’m always reminded of what Yasmin Mogahed says in her book ‘How to Reclaim your Heart’ –

“My body came from the ground and it will go back to the ground, as it came. It was only a shell, a container for my soul. A companion for a while. But I’ll leave it here when I arrive. Arrive—not depart. Because that’s my home. Not this. That’s why when Allah (swt) is calling back the righteous soul, He says, ‘irjiee’: return (Qur’an, 89:28).” 

As a society, we are very negligent of death. It is the elephant in the room. We all know it’s there looming in the corner, but we go about our lives trying to ignore this shadow in our peripheral vision. In the end, this does more harm than good, and we find ourselves feeling lost in the face of death. Rather than avoiding this topic, we need to face it head-on with the tools and insight Islam provides us with. 

Islam allows us to view death through a unique lens, as the afterlife is given so much importance and status over the first:

“And surely the hereafter will be better for you than the first (life).” 

(93:4)

By truly learning to appreciate that this life is temporary, we realise that every trial and tribulation we experience in it is part of a bigger plan, for which we will be recompensed and rewarded if we patiently endure (God willing). This in itself, is a blessing that has been afforded to us by Allah ﷻ.

As for me, I don’t wish any of it happened any differently. I know I had my own shortcomings and weaknesses in faith. I know I had love for this Dunya in my heart. Perhaps, if I had internalised the Islamic attitude to death, I would have been more prepared for this unavoidable eventuality.

Despite this all, Allah guided me in the most painful but beautiful way. Sometimes it takes losing something to be able to see the blessings you had all along. 

Grieving the death of a loved one is not a singular event; it is on-going, perhaps an even lifelong experience. Even within this, which may be the most difficult thing any one of us endure in our time in the Dunya, we can find countless blessings.

Even in the pain and sorrow of death, we can witness the completeness of our Deen.

I cannot enumerate the favours Allah bestowed upon me during this time, and I won't attempt to. However, for me, grief became a catalyst to reassess and realign my priorities. This separation forced me to reflect on how I was preparing for the day that I would depart from this world. What had I sent forth for my akhirah? How much time had I invested in it relative to this life? Was I doing everything I could? These questions, although difficult, were necessary for me to realise how far I was from the state I wished to die in, but also that as long as I am breathing, I still have time to act to change this. 

I don’t wish to tell anyone how to grieve. And I don’t wish to portray grief and the agony of it as a deficit of faith. After the death of his son Ibrahim, our Prophet ﷺ articulated his own pain so eloquently. Turning his face towards the mountain he ﷺ said:

“O mountain! If you had the sorrow that I have, you would be destroyed and broken into pieces. However, we say what Allah orders us to say, ‘To Allah we belong and to Him is our return’.”

During his lifetime, Allah tested his most beloved slave, حَبِيْبَُ ٱلله, with the deaths of so many of his loved ones - his wife Khadijah (R.A), his uncle Abu Talib, and all of his children but one (R.A), amongst countless others. Through his noble example, and the way in which he conducted himself in the face of unimaginable loss and sorrow, we can find guidance in how we too should cope when confronted with death. 

Further highlighting the depth of his sorrow after the passing of Ibrahim, the Prophet ﷺ was also recorded as saying:

"The eyes are shedding tears and the heart is grieved, and we will not say except what pleases our Lord, O Ibrahim ! Indeed we are grieved by your separation."

From his example, we learn that not even the Prophet ﷺ was immune to the anguish of separation, despite not being attached to this worldly life at all. From him, we learn it is ok to cry and feel pain and grieve, as he did, however, we should guard our tongues and not let our grief lead us to say that which displeases Allah. Furthermore, he advised us not to wail, tear our clothes, or strike ourselves when mourning our dead but this doesn’t mean we can’t express our grief in other ways.

There is no one way to process loss or a timeline grief should adhere to. But we have been blessed beyond measure with a religion that helps it all make sense. In the end, I know where I am headed and I know, if Allah decrees it, I shall be with my loved one again.

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