Khutbah on Suffering, Death and Dying
Almighty Allah, Exhorts us in the Holy Quran: “Every soul shall taste of death - And only on the day of Judgment shall you be paid your full recompense – Only he who is saved far from the fire and admitted to paradise would have obtained the purpose (of the life of this world)—The life of this world is but goods and chattels of deception”. (Chapter3: 185) –
All thanks and Praise is due only to Almighty Allah, and benedictions, salutations, and blessings upon our beloved Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him). The first week in May is Hospice awareness week and in this Khutbah I would like to reflect on a subject that many Scholars do not sermonise about - nor is it a subject that many people like to speak about. - Suffering Death and dying. –
The fear of death and the belief in life after death are universal phenomena. Social scientists have long been interested in the questions of how the similarities and the differences in the views of afterlife and
the social reactions to death of different cultures can be explained, and the systematic order that can be found in these similarities and differences. Human consciousness cannot access one's own death as an inner experience. In other words, death is an ineluctable (incapable of being avoided; inescapable) personal experience, which remains outside of an individual's self-reflection throughout his or her entire life.
Since the 1960’s Modern medicine has increasingly become cure-focused and the medical fraternity has progressed tremendously – Unfortunately in some patients cure may not be possible but when “there is nothing more that can be done” (from a curative perspective) there is often “a lot that needs doing” from a psycho-social, spiritual and cultural perspective- and this is what the Hospice service and Palliative care is all about. Palliative care (Or end of life care / comfort care) is a Multi-disciplinary and collegial approach –Spiritual Councillors cannot deal with Spiritual issues (Speak about Allah/God death and life after death) – if a patient has a lot of pain – pain must be well managed - psycho-social issues must be dealt with and then Spiritual issues can be dealt with.
The verse I quoted in my introduction represents one of the most important tenets of Islam - which is the fact that we are all going to die and there is another life after death. Thus, for us death is not the end of life - it is just the start of an ever-lasting life. – The other fact in this verse also states with no uncertainty - is that the true measure of success is not in this life. The real success is to be saved from the hell fire and be admitted to paradise. Anything short of this is a mere deception.
Almighty Allah states in the Holy Quran: "O you who believe (O people of Imam) –Have absolute consciousness of Allah as He has prescribed and legislated and die not except in the state of Islam” (state of submission) (al-Imran 3:102) --- Allah is commanding us not to die except with full consciousness of Him (as Muslims). But we are never sure when death will come to us, thus, we have to be conscious all the time. Therefore, the message is a Muslim today, tomorrow and forever be a Muslim in faith and in your behaviour, be a Muslim in private and in public.
Death is not as many imagine it to be. All of us at the hour of our death will see and experience much to which we are not accustomed. The purpose of this Khutbah is to expand and detail our understanding of the inevitable separation from the transitory body. Some think death is a sleep without dreams. You close your eyes, fall asleep and there is nothing more, just darkness. Sleep ends in the morning, but death is eternal. Many are very frightened of the unknown and of the question, "what will happen to me?" So, instead, they choose not to think about death. However, deep within us there is always the knowledge of the inevitable and an accompanying sense of disquiet. Each one of us will have to cross that boundary. We should contemplate it and prepare ourselves.
There are numerous references to death in the Quran. The scenes of death and the scenes of the day of judgement are plentiful in the Quran. They are almost everywhere. If we read the Quran everyday, which is the Sunnah of the Prophet (SAW), then it is very likely that we will read about death everyday. If we follow the Quranic guidance by reflecting upon everything we read, then we will end up reflecting upon death everyday. Then we have to ask ourselves why is that Allah (SW) wants us to reflect upon death everyday? What is the value of such constant reminder? The fact is, remembering death has far-reaching implications in the life of the believer. Remembering death daily can and does transform the whole life of a believer to the better. Death awareness helps the believer to set his/her priorities right
As Muslims it is time for us to reassess our approach to dying and death. . Death is mentioned in the Quran almost everywhere. The word "Death" and its derivatives "die, dying, dead" is found more than 160 times in the Quran. Dying is understood to be a part of living -- an important part. Sometimes we may not want to know about the processes that occur after we die because we are afraid or do not want to think about it. However, this should not be the attitude of a Muslim.
The prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, - "Live in this world as though you are a stranger or a traveller (passing through it)." [Muslim]- We as Muslims are on a journey and should know about the whole journey's itinerary, not just one part, and should also understand some things about the destination. We should be foremost in learning and understanding about death and dying, so we can organize our lives accordingly. We are urged to accept the will of Almighty Allah with good grace and patience – but many Muslims when they find out that they are going to die – are quite appalled and indignant – They protest in agony and outrage.
Death is also not new to us- Allah states in the HQ- -- How do you disbelieve in Allah when before this you were dead? Then We gave you life. Then We will make you die and again We will give you life. (Al-Baqarah 2:28) (Death and then the real life) From this verse of the Holy Qur'an, we realise that death is not something new for us. We have already experienced the state of death before we were given life. Also it says in the Qur'an that Allah created death and life as a test, so death is a form of creation. A state, but unlike life, the state of life where we are able to act, to earn good deeds or bad deeds. Death is the annihilation and cessation of our ability to act.
In the world (as we aware of it) we are totally preoccupied with material things. This is the criteria by which the world is judging and death is something, which is pushed as far as possible into the background. It is interesting that Islam encourages that you go to Janaazah, participate in the funeral prayer, and, as far as possible, to the burial itself, even that you visit the graveyards generally and remember death much, because many people are forgetting that they are going to die. (3 reasons given by the Prophet (saw) (1) bury your dead (2) make Duah for the deceased specifically and generally (3) to conscientise yourselves that this will be your final resting place.
Dying is normally associated with Suffering --Pain and Trauma. (Statisticians inform us that between 20% - 25% of people will have sudden deaths – motor car accidents – gun related incidents – sudden heart attacks etc) that means that most of us will suffer before death -- And it is normal to fear suffering, and react to it with anger and frustration, because we feel oppressed by it and powerless against it. When we are affected by some illness or misfortune we immediately assume that it is punishment from Almighty Allah for something we have done or not done. The denial of our own power lies at the root of suffering. Quite often suffering blocks our faith (Iman) and some will become faithless or even hopeless (without hope) and some of the many Questions that are normally asked are "Why Me" "Where is Allah in all of this” Why am I being Punished. -- Why me now ??? Bargaining -fear –finally acceptance -there is this search for meaning.
Almighty Allah declares in the Holy Quran: Be sure that we will test you with something of -- Fear- Hunger- loss of goods – Lives (sickness / death) --Or the Fruits of your toil. But give glad tidings (good news) to those (when they are tested) who patiently persevere (turn to Almighty Allah when afflicted -- with patience and prayer)-- and they will say when afflicted with a calamity, " To Allah we belong (everything comes from Allah) and to Him is our return." They are those on whom (Descend) the blessings from Allah, and mercy, - And they are the ones that will receive guidance. H.Q. 2 / 155-157.
Here is the key to what some people see as the “problem” of suffering. We know that suffering is a test for us, a test of our patience and endurance. We know that peace and prosperity is also a test, a test of our gratitude to Allah. Those who see suffering as a “problem” are really saying that they believe they have a right to a life of uninterrupted happiness, with no discomfort, no pain and no grief. But that’s not what this earthly life is about! That’s what Allah promises us in akhira, not in dunya! We’re not there yet! We still have to earn the right to enter Allah’s garden!
Another point: When believers suffer hardship, they say, “Inna lil-laahi - wa inna ilayhee -raaji-oon!” “From Allah do we come, and to Him is our return. - ” Believing Christians say, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Praise the Lord!” You can see how Believers in different faiths speak the same spiritual language. They accept the divine decree. Allah does what He wills, and His will is always, unfailingly good, however harsh it may appear to us on the surface. Our human perception is limited, like ants crawling over a carpet, we complain about the rough surface, the knots and the texture that make our journey difficult. But we cannot see the beauty of the carpet from above. We cannot see the beauty of Allah’s master plan, until we step outside our small, selfish worlds. Believers suffer, but they know their suffering is an expiation of their sins, and their patience and contentment brings them closer to Allah.
What is called DEATH - is then not pure annihilation but a movement or transferral from one state to another or a transmigration from our form of biological existence to another in another zone or dimension. In the prophetic traditions this zone or dimension is referred to as BARZAGHT -- translated from the Arabic meaning Barrier or partition between two areas, zones or dimensions. (The physical state and the Day of Resurrection) . So the human spirit (Ruh) is released to a new life independent from the physical body. Such an event is what the word death indicates. Almighty Allah states: (KULLU NAFSUN THAA IKATUL MAUT - WA ILAYNA TURJA OON)“” Every soul shall taste of death, and then in the end you shall all return to us. (Surah: 29, Ayah: 57.)
The person continues his life within a form of “spirit body” the same way as within his physical body but on a different level of consciousness! Almighty Allah declares: And say not of those who have died in the way of Allah as dead –Nay they are alive – though you perceive it not”. (2:154).
The following is a saying of Prophet Mohammed
about death as it is recounted by one of the great Islamic scholars: “The deceased (who tasted death) knows those who washed his body, who shrouded the corpse, who performed the funeral service for him, who attended his funeral procession, who descended the corpse into the grave and who prompted over his grave! “
CONCLUSION: - The immortality of the soul, and the existence of the spiritual world and life beyond the grave, are religious themes. Islam has always known and taught that man is more than a simple combination of chemical elements, that besides the body it has a soul which at the moment of death does not die, but continues to live and develop in a new surroundings.
Almighty Allah declares in the Holy Quran: "O Contented Soul, ("O satisfied Soul” O! Purified Self) return unto thy Lord – Well pleased (Thyself) and He well pleased (with you). Enter Thou among My devotees! Yea Enter thou into My Paradise (89:27) -
Death is a stage, which occurs when the spirit departs from the body to make it lifeless. As Muslims, a fundamental article of Faith (IMAN) is that we believe in the resurrection when the body and the spirit will be reunited in the hereafter.
This life is a stage for action; “every action will have reaction in the hereafter”. The life to come after the resurrection is a stage of reward. Human beings will either be in pure happiness or in total misery. It is part of the basic Islamic beliefs that after resurrection, we will account for our deeds and we will be judged accordingly. Those on whom Allah bestows His mercy will be in heaven, while those who are denied it will abide in a place of absolute misery. It is also clearly stated by the Prophet (saw) that the deeds of even the best person will not be enough to send him to heaven without Allah's grace.
Let us reflect on some Sayings of the Prophet (saw)- "A true slave of Almighty Allah when he is afflicted with suffering or pain will turn to HIM and say in Prayer, "We belong to Allah and unto him is our return"
“O Allah! Cause me to live so long that life is better for me--and cause me to die when death is better for me.”
"The road to paradise is paved with suffering and hardship, while the road to the hellfire is paved with desire. -- Increase the remembrance of the destroyer of all pleasures – Death”
Let us reflect that -- From the Islamic perspective a person with strong Iman does not grieve over the death of a good person. They may grieve because they have lost them, they may miss them and their passing may be painful, and be sorry to be without their presence and company, but at least they should realise that the 'deceased" loved one is not lost, but full of light and joy and in a new zone or dimension of “life in Barzakh”.
We Pray Almighty Allah: O Allah! Help us to live every day as if it was our last. Help us to accept each new day as a gift, and not to waste it. Help us always to use our time to love, to bring peace, to help heal, to reconcile, and to work hard for the bringing of your will on earth. Help us to love and to appreciate those whom you have given to us, and to cherish them while we have time. O Allah! Help us to accept them, knowing that we might not have chosen ourselves the particular character given to our brother, sister, parent or child, but that this choice was not ours to make, but Yours. O Allah! If they distress or disappoint us, help us to love them more, and not cast them aside and then regret it later. Amen