When a person has been sentenced to death, he suddenly loses all taste for the pleasures of this world. If he was engrossed to a life of sin, suddenly he begins to repent and remember his Creator who had blessed him with the gift of life. He now wishes that he had spent his life in obedience to the commands of his Sustainer and Nourisher. Remorse and regret overwhelm him for his past deeds. This drastic change suddenly takes place because he has been “sentenced to death” by some mortal being like himself called the judge.

Every single person walking on this earth has been sentenced to death by the Master of all mortal judges and by the King of all kings. Even before a person is born, the time and place of his death is decreed. The death sentence from above could be carried out at any time – it could be one year from now, perhaps a month or even the next moment. It could come on any pretext; an illness, accident or murder, or even without any pretext. How often have we heard of people who “just collapsed and passed away”. But alas, how unmindful we are of this imminent death.

Falling into Vices

When a Muslim becomes unmindful of the certainty of death, he will easily indulge in many vices and sins. He will perhaps cheat, deceive, bribe and steal. Drugs may become his way of life. Gambling may become his past time. Taking interest may become his business. Adultery and fornication may become his habit. Amassing the world may become his object in life. Hankering after “the next valley of gold” may become his ambition. All this could happen, and much more, simply because a Muslim has become unmindful of death.

However, if a person is forever conscious that death could come at any moment, that irrespective of age and health one could “just collapse and pass away”, there will be a totally different picture. Then whenever he is tempted to sin, the voice from within will ask: “What if death comes to me while I am involved in that sin?” This is sure to restrain a person.

Remembering Death

Hence Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam) is reported to have said: “Remember excessively the destroyer of all passions – DEATH”. (Sunan Tirmizi #2307) Besides exhorting the Ummah to remember death excessively, Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam) has declared those who do as the wisest of all people. It is reported that once Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam) was asked as to who is the wisest of all men. He replied: “The wisest of men are those who remember death more than everybody else. It is such people, indeed, who win distinction in this world and who will be raised to positions of honour in the Aakhirah”. (Majma‘uz Zawaaid #18157)

Visit the Graves

In order to keep the remembrance of death alive all the time, Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam) encouraged the Ummah to regularly visit the graves, to wash the dead and to attend the janaazah salaah. Visiting the graves is thus for the purpose of remembering one’s death. However, the sad state of affairs is that when we occasionally do end up at the graveyard at the time of attending a burial, the opportunity to remember death is wasted in talking of worldly matters with friends. This is actually an opportunity to visualize one’s own death and prepare for the day when one will be also laid in the darkness of that narrow pit.

Benefits and Harms

Abu Haamid Laffaaf (rahimahullah) has written: “The one who remembers death is blessed by Allah Ta‘ala with three favours:

  1. He readily turns to Allah Ta‘ala in repentance.
  2. He is granted contentment.
  3. He shows greater devotion in all modes of worship.

The one who is heedless and unmindful of death is punished by Allah Ta‘ala in three ways:

  1. He persists in sin and hesitates to offer repentance.
  2. He is not contented with his income.
  3. He becomes sluggish in the performance of his devotions. (Fazaail-e-Sadaqaat, pg. 655)

Imaam Ghazali (rahimahullah) says: “Death is a tremendous thing to fear, but most people are heedless of it. Many people do not even talk of death due to their absorption in worldly affairs. A few talk of death but their minds are occupied with other things and, therefore, it does them little good. It is important that, from time to time, one should concentrate upon death to the exclusion of all other things and imagine that death is staring one in the face. One should think of one’s friends and relatives and recall to one’s mind how they were placed on the bier, carried to the grave and buried under mounds of earth. One should imagine their faces and think of their high ambitions and the changes that dust might have brought on their handsome faces, and how their bodies might have decayed, how their children were orphaned, their wives were widowed, how their relatives were left to weep over their loss. One should think how their fortunes were distributed and how their clothes were left behind (never to be worn by them again)!

One should then say to oneself: “I shall have to suffer the same fate one of these days. How these people, who are lying in their graves, used to laugh and talk in meetings. How they indulged in lusts, but are now lying in the dust! They did not like to talk of death but have fallen prey to it. They were intoxicated by their youthful vigour, but are lying today in the graves, forsaken and uncared for. How deeply absorbed they were in the affairs of the world but now their hands and feet are scattered apart and worms are crawling on their tongues! Their bodies have become food for worms. How heartily they laughed, but now their teeth have decayed and fallen out. They made ambitious plans and arrangements for many years to come, though death loomed over their heads little did they know, on the last day of their life, that they were destined to spend that very night in the grave!” (Fazaail-e-Sadaqaat, pg. 661)

A Bridge

Thus it is imperative that we remember death much and prepare for it. There is no guarantee for tomorrow. By then it may be too late. If we prepare NOW, we will meet death smilingly for then it will be for us that which Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam) has described in the following words: “Death is a bridge that joins the lover (the righteous believer) with the BELOVED Allah Ta‘ala.”