Death is sufficient as a reminder
“Death is sufficient as a reminder, O Umar!”
Inscription on the ring of the second Khalifa of Islam, Sayyidina Umar ibn Al-Khattab
Remembering death seems to be a central part of the religion. After all, what is a more potent reminder of the finite nature of this life and the reality of the hereafter than death? Cemeteries used to be placed just outside of mosques, such that people used to see stark, physical reminders of death before and after they prayed. And yet how many of us are really ready for death? Not just our own, but the deaths of those around us, our loved ones, our friends and families?
Were any of our family members to die, how many can honestly say that they would be ready for such a calamity? We are barely certain what to do for someone who is dying. Can we recite the Qur’an for them? Can we make du’a for them? Can we tell the dying person to recite the shahadah or other forms of dhikr or du’a? What more when they have died. When he or she has passed on, do we know what we need to do?
Will we know to recite the shahadah for a dying person, to encourage him or her to say it as well?
Will we know how to bath the body of a loved one once he or she has passed on?
Will we know how to wrap the body in the kafan (funeral shroud)?
Will we know how to pray the janazah prayers for the deceased?
Will we know what to do once we are at the cemetary?
How will we know if any of our actions we had taken in preparing the body for burial are valid in the eyes of Allah?
We might think that all of this can be left to the companies whose job it is to arrange for the burial of the janazah. In Singapore, it is common enough to let these companies do the job, while the family and relatives of the deceased mourn. But what if we found ourselves in a situation where it were not so easy?
Death can occur at any time and any place. What if it were to happen far from home, perhaps in a country with few Muslims and no funeral services companies? Would we know what to do then? It should be noted that Salat al Janazah (prayers for the deceased), and everything that accompanies it (e.g. washing the body and wrapping it in the kafan), is fardh kifayah (a communal obligation), and if nobody does it for a deceased Muslim then the whole community is considered to be sinful.
And imagine, all of this is for somebody else’s death, not our own.
Sure, our burial arrangements will be taken of by others, but what deeds will we have to show for ourselves once our bodies are washed and wrapped, prayed over and placed in the ground? When we said “La ilaha illallah“, did we really mean it or did we put other “ilahs” ahead of Allah? Money, perhaps, or our own pride or desires?
When Imam Al-Ghazali died, he was said to have asked for his own death shroud, kissing it and exclaiming that he was obeying his Lord’s orders and ready to meet him, before lying down in it facing the Qibla and expiring soon after.
Will we be as ready as he was when the time comes for us to meet our Lord?
May Allah grant us the knowledge to know what to do when our loved ones pass on, and may He grant us the knowledge to discern right from wrong and do good deeds in this life such that our mortal lives end we are granted husnul khatimah (a good end) and will gladly go to meet our Lord.
“Every soul will taste death. And We test you with evil and with good as trial; and to Us you will be returned.” Surah Al Anbiya’, Verse 35
Ahmad Zhaki Abdullah
Ahmad Zhaki holds a degree in English Literature from the University of London. He is a full-time executive at a local research institute and a part-time writer.