Islamic View of Death
Death in Islam is the termination of worldly life and the beginning of afterlife. Death is seen as the separation of soul from body, and its transfer from this world to the afterlife.
Islamic tradition discusses elaborately, almost in graphic detail, as to what happens before, during, and after the death, although what exactly happens is not clear and different school of thoughts may end up with different conclusions. However, a continuity between all these ideas derived from the basic sources from the Quran and Islamic narratives. One canonical idea is, that the angel of death (Arabic: Malak al-Maut) appears to the dying to take out their souls. The sinners’ souls are extracted in a most painful way while the righteous are treated easily.
Another common idea, although appearing relatively late in Islamic traditions, adds that, after the burial, two angels – Munkar and Nakir – come to question the dead in order to test their faith. The righteous believers answer correctly and live in peace and comfort while the sinners and disbelievers fail and punishments ensue. The time period or stage between death and the end of the world is called the life of barzakh. Suicide, euthanasia, and unjust murder as means of death are all prohibited in Islam, and are considered major sins.
Believing in an afterlife is one of the six articles of faith in Islam. Yet, the abode of the deceased is up to debate. They may either be in heaven/hell, in an intermediary state or “sleep” until a great resurrection.
It is seen not as the termination of life, rather the continuation of life in another form. In Islamic belief, God has made this worldly life as a test and a preparation ground for the afterlife; and with death, this worldly life comes to an end. Thus, every person has only one chance to prepare themselves for the life to come where God will resurrect and judge every individual and will entitle them to rewards or punishment, based on their good or bad deeds. And death is seen as the gateway to and beginning of the afterlife. In Islamic belief, death is predetermined by God, and the exact time of a person’s death is known only to God. Muslims expect that their last word in this world would be their profession of faith (which reads “I testify that there is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah”). That’s why, those near a dying person encourage him to pronounce these words. Sometimes, it is whispered into the ear of the dying. Basically death is accepted as wholly natural. It merely marks a transition between the material realm and the unseen world.
Death often appears as a painful experience in Islamic tradition. After the soul has departed from the body, seeing one’s relatives weeping and watching one’s burial as a disembodied spirit is thought of as rather agonizing than pleasing. Further the process of dying, extraction of one’s soul from the body, is considered as painful. Based on a hadith narrated in Sahih al-Bukhari that at the time of death, Islamic prophet Muhammad dipped his hands in water and wiped his face with them saying, “There is no god but Allah; indeed death has its pangs.”
However, many modern writers assure that death is merely a transitional stage and do not adhere to the traditional depiction of death as painful or fearsome.
Period between death and Resurrection
Islam hold different positions regard the abode after the deceased. In the common Semitic view, man is a union of body and soul/spirit. The Quran itself refers to ruh, later used to designate human’s immortal self, not to the soul, but only to nafs. Muslims however, especially those influenced by Neo-Platonism, Muʿtazila, classical Islamic theology, Shi’a and Sufis, regarded ruh as to matter unrelated human’s immortal spirit. Therefore, they distinguishes between nafs and ruh, the latter surviving death.
According to a hadith from Sahih Muslim, Muhammad said: ‘When the ruh (soul) is taken out, the eyesight follows it’ (Sahih Muslim).”
The Quran itself gives only brief references about the period between death and the resurrection. However it mentions that certain individuals such as martyrs are alive and not dead in 2:154 and also indicates, that some are already in hell in 71:25. The term Barzakh indicates that the deceased and the living are entirely separated and can not interact with each other. Otherwise the Barzakh refers to the whole period between the Day of Resurrection and death and is used synonymously for “grave”. Despite the brief mentionings of the Quran, Islamic tradition discusses elaborately, almost in graphic detail, as to what exactly happens before, during, and after death.
After the burial each person is interrogated in the grave by two angels, called Munkar and Nakir, appointed by God to question the dead in order to test their faith. The righteous believers answer correctly and live in peace and comfort while the sinners and disbelievers fail and punishments ensue. In the life of Barzakh, the souls of the sinners and disbelievers are kept and punished in a place called Sijjin which is said to be located at the lowest level of the earth (traditionally hell, before the Day of resurrection or underworld). The books containing the full records of their deeds are also kept here. On the other hand, the souls of the righteous believers are kept in a place called Illiyin. Their books of deeds are also kept here. According to some account, Illiyin is located in the heaven.
After the questioning, depending on the state of the soul, the deceased will undergo different journeys. The sinner’s or disbelievers will meet the harsh angels or even the Zabaniyya to take position in front of him. Thereupon they tell the soul to come out to the wrath of God. Being terrified, the soul desperately tries to hide itself in the body. Thereupon, the angels of death starts beating the soul and extracts it from the body in a most painful way. The painful process of taking out a sinner’s soul has been compared with “the dragging of an iron skewer through moist wool, tearing the veins and sinews.” The soul of the sinner is then wrapped in a dirty cloth which emits bad smell. Carrying the soul, the angels head towards the heaven. On the way, other angels inquire about this wicked soul. They are told that this is the soul of that and that sinner person. The angels then arrive at the upper heaven, but its doors are not opened for the evil soul. Consequently, the soul is then thrown into hell or underworld, where it is punished until the Day of Judgment.
On the other hand, when a righteous believer dies, bright-faced angels from heaven descends with divine perfume and shroud. Then the angels of death comes, and tells the soul to come out to the pleasure and mercy of God. The soul is then extracted as easily as water comes out from the pitcher. The soul is then wrapped in the perfumed shroud and is taken up to the seventh heaven where God declares: ‘write down his name in ‘Illiyin’ and take him back to earth. I created him from earth, and I will raise him second time from this very earth.’ The soul is then pushed back into the body and is interrogated by two angels called Munkar and Nakir. He succeeds in answering the questions, and is blessed with heavenly rewards.
Barzakh also holds some resemblance to the Christian idea of limbo, that contains the souls, which go neither to heaven or to hell and remain in the grave. It is said that the martyrs – persons who die on the way of God – always skip Barzakh and the trial of the deathangels and go to paradise directly.
In the Quran
The Quran at its several places discusses the issue of death. Death is inevitable. No matter how much people try to escape death, it will reach everyone (50:19). Again, those who deny resurrection and afterlife, and thus challenge God, the Quran challenges them by saying that why these people then do not put back the soul which has reached the throat (of the dying person) and is about to escape the body? (56:83–84). It also says that when death approaches the sinners and disbelievers, and they sense the upcoming chastisement, they pray to God to go back to life to do some good deeds; but this will never be granted (23:99–100). Probably the most-frequently quoted verse of the Quran about death is: “Every soul shall taste death, and only on the Day of Judgment will you be paid your full recompense.” At another place, the Quran urges mankind: “And die not except in a state of Islam” (3:102) because “Truly, the religion in the sight of Allah is Islam” (3:19). Other verses related with this issue are: “He (Allah) who created death and life, so that He may test you as to which of you is better in deeds. And He is the All-Mighty, the Most-Forgiving” (67:2); “Certainly, they see it (resurrection) as distant, but We see it as near” (70:6–7).
Islam, as with other Abrahamic religions, views suicide as one of the greatest sins and utterly detrimental to one’s spiritual journey. The Islamic view is that life and death are given by God. Life is sacred, and a gift from God; and it is only God, and not the human beings, who has the right to take it back. Thus willful taking of one’s own life is considered a major sin in Islam. Committing suicide to save oneself from suffering is discouraged. Islam teaches that in the face of hardship, one should not directly pray for death. Instead, one should say: “Oh Allah! Let me live as long as life is good for me, and let me die if death is good for me.” Euthanasia is considered one form of suicide and has the same ruling as that of suicide. Unjust killing of any human being is one of the most heinous and the cardinal sins in Islam.
Ākhirah (الآخرة) is an Islamic term referring to the afterlife. It is repeatedly referenced in chapters of the Quran concerning the Last Judgment, an important part of Islamic eschatology. Traditionally, it is considered to be one of the six main beliefs of Muslims. According to the Islamic beliefs, God will play the role of the qadi, weighing the deeds of each individual. He will decide whether that person’s ʾākhirah lies in Jahannam (Hell) or Jannah (Heaven) on the basis of the weight of either good or bad deeds in comparison with one another.
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