On the Passing of Family and Friends

بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْمِ

All praise is for Allāh the Almighty; we praise him and seek refuge in him from the evils within ourselves and from our actions.

To proceed:

In light of the current epidemic around the globe, it seems that there will be no country and community except that it might be touched by the passing away of people and the effects that will be felt as a result. As Muslims, it is enjoined upon us to remind ourselves about this and prepare for it as is mentioned many times in the Qurʾān:

“And spend of that with which We have provided you before death comes to one of you, and he says: “My Lord! If only You would give me respite for a little while, then I should give Sadaqah from my wealth, and be among the righteous.” Qurʾān, Al-Munafiqūn (63:10)

This is also exemplified by the statement of our Messenger, may peace and blessings be upon him, when a man from al-Ansār asked: “O Messenger of Allāh, which of the believers is best?” He, may peace and blessings be upon him replied “He who has the best manners among them” to which the Ansāri asked, “Which of them is wisest?” The Messenger of Allāh, may peace and blessings be upon him answered “The one who remembers death the most and is best in preparing for it. Those are the wisest.” Sunan ibn Mājah (37:4400)

Let’s talk about death.

Death is undoubtedly a certainty that everyone knows and agrees will happen to them, believer and non-believer alike. This is why our Creator refers to it in the Qurʾān as “the certainty”:

“And worship your Lord until there comes to you the certainty (death).” Qurʾān, Al-Hijr (15:99)

And in another verse:

“Everyone shall taste death. And only on the Day of Resurrection shall you be paid your wages in full. And whoever is moved away from the Fire and admitted to Paradise, he indeed is successful…” Qurʾān, Āli-ʿImrān (3:185)

And again, in another verse:

“Every soul will taste death. And We test you with evil and with good as trial; and to Us you will be returned.” Qurʾān, Al-Anbiyā (21:35)

It is also a fact known to all that we do not know how and where we will pass away. Allāh, the Almighty, states in his book that death will come from anywhere and nothing can protect one from it:

“Wherever you may be, death will overtake you, even if you should be within towers of lofty construction…” Qurʾān, An-Nisa (4:78)

Whether a person dies because of an illness or plague, or if that person should die of old age, peacefully asleep on a bed, the future is obscured to us completely. Rather the mode and location of our passing is a knowledge which is known only to Allāh, the Almighty, as he says in his book:

“Indeed, Allāh [alone] has knowledge of the Hour and sends down the rain and knows what is in the wombs. And no soul perceives what it will earn tomorrow, and no soul perceives in what land it will die. Indeed, Allāh is Knowing and Acquainted.” Qurʾān, Luqmān (31:34)

Yet, despite these universal truths known to all, our words and actions are contrary to this understanding. In a beautiful statement, one of the earliest scholars of Islam, al-Hasan al-Basari, may Allāh the Almighty have mercy on him, said:

“I have never seen a certainty closer to being doubted than people versus death. They are certain it will strike them, yet, they ignore its imminence. I have never seen truth that is closer to falsehood than that demonstrated by their statement, ‘We seek Paradise’ yet, they ignore seeking its path.”

Al-Yaqīn (Ibn Abi Dunya)

Al-Hasan al-Basari, may Allāh the Almighty have mercy on him, points out two important things: firstly, that though we all know that death will occur, we act as if it won’t and put it as far from our minds as possible due perhaps to the fear of the unknown or negligence; and secondly, for the Muslim, that we say we aspire to enter Jannah, but do not do the actions in preparation for when we die. We all recite the supplication “Rabbanā ātinā fid-dunyā hasanah, wa fil-ākhirati hasanah, wq qinā ‘adhāban-nār” (O our lord! Give us goodness in this world and goodness in the hereafter, and save us from the punishment of the Hellfire) but our actions do not reflect that the gateway between this life and the Herafter is when we pass away.

It is in times like these, with the number of deaths increasing in the tens of thousands, that the illusions of control through our academic and technological proficiency are shattered and the true dependence of man on our Creator comes to light. Allāh, the Almighty, says:

“Allāh wishes to lighten (the burden) for you; and man was created weak.” Qurʾān, An-Nisā (4:28)

And in another verse:

“O mankind! it is you who are fuqarā (poor, destitute) to Allāh. But Allāh is the Rich, Worthy of all praise.” Qurʾān, Fātir (35:15)

Haven’t we now become aware, with our industries, production and governments shut down, our most advanced sciences and efficiencies, be it medical or engineered, brought to their knees and ground to a halt, that all of the so-called progress and enlightenment of man in the modern day is only a deception and distraction from the true relationship between the Creator of all things and that which he created? We are reminded of this in the Qurʾān where the Almighty warns us:

“…The life of this world is only the enjoyment of deception.” Qurʾān, Āli-ʿImrān (3:185)

What is death and how is it defined in Islam?

Allāh, the Almighty, says in his book:

“It is He, Who takes your souls by night (when you are asleep), and has knowledge of all that you have done by day, then he raises (wakes) you up again, that a term appointed be fulfilled, then (in the end), unto Him will be your return. Then He will inform you of what you used to do.” Qurʾān, Al-An’ām (6:60)

And in another verse he, the Almighty, says:

“It is Allāh Who takes away the souls at the time of their death, and those that die not during their sleep. He keeps those (souls) for which He has ordained death and sends the rest for a term appointed.” Qurʾān, Az-Zumar (39:42)

It is clear that there are two types of death, one that occurs every night which we wake up from by the will of the Almighty, and the second which we do not recover from.

Only Allāh, the Creator and Final Judge has the power and authority to ordain either type of death for his creation. Mankind, with all of our technology and progress, can neither delay nor avert it, rather anyone who has been through a major operation or has a long-standing condition that requires constant treatment will know that modern medicine is very much about provoking responses from the human body’s own immune and repair systems and there is very little to be done beyond this to help a person through an ailment or when passing away.

But it is not death itself that we should be preoccupied with, rather it should be the impetus for us to prepare for our Hereafter and when we will undergo questioning before our final destination is decided, as Allāh, the Almighty, says:

“O you who believe! Spend of that with which We have provided for you, before a Day comes when there will be no bargaining, nor friendship, nor intercession. And it is the disbelievers who are the wrongdoers.” Qurʾān, Al-Baqarah (2:254)

Death can be a good thing or a bad thing – even for those who are left behind

Depending on an individual’s circumstances, death can be a mercy or a punishment. Allāh, the Almighty, mentions in his book the wretched end of the disbelievers and how their souls will be treated at their time of death:

 “And if you could see when the angels take away the souls of those who disbelieve (at death); they smite their faces and their backs, (saying): “Taste the punishment of the blazing Fire. – This is because of that which your hands forwarded. And verily, Allāh is not unjust to His servants.” Qurʾān, Al-Anfāl (8:50-51)

But it can also be a mercy to those who believe, as is mentioned in the narration from our beloved Messenger, may peace and blessings be upon him, when he said: “Plague was a punishment which Allāh used to send on whom He wished, but Allāh made it a mercy for the believers. None (among the believers) remains patient in a land in which plague has broken out and considers that nothing will befall him except what Allāh has ordained for him, but that Allāh will grant him a reward similar to that of a martyr.” Sahīh al-Bukhāri (5734)

For those who are left behind, undoubtedly the death of a family member is a difficult trial as we would have lost a person whose character and personality enriched and enlightened our lives in many different ways, including our own belief, as the Messenger of Allāh the Almighty, may peace and blessings be upon him, said: “A man follows the religion of his friend; so each one should consider whom he makes his friend.” Abu Dāwūd (4833). How is it then, the effect on our own religion, when someone closer than a friend passes away? Even for ourselves who remain, there are glad tidings when a righteous, good person passes away:

“And certainly, We shall test you with something of fear, hunger, loss of wealth, lives and fruits, but give glad tidings to As-Sābirīn (the patient). – Who, when afflicted with calamity, say: “Truly, to Allāh we belong and truly, to Him we shall return. –  They are those on whom are the Salawat (i.e., who are blessed and will be forgiven) from their Lord, and (they are those who) receive His mercy, and it is they who are the guided ones.” Qurʾān, Al-Baqarah (2:155-157)

Imām ibn Kathīr, may Allāh, the Almighty, have mercy on him, said regarding the meaning of “loss/reduction of lives”: “meaning, losing friends, relatives and loved ones to death”; he further said regarding “Who, when afflicted with calamity, say: ‘Truly, to Allāh we belong and truly, to Him we shall return’”: “those who recite this statement to comfort themselves in the face of their loss, know that they belong to Allāh and that He does what He wills with His servants. They also know that nothing and no deed, even if it was the weight of an atom, will be lost with Allāh on the Day of Resurrection. These facts thus compel them to admit that they are Allāh’s servants and that their return will be to Him in the Hereafter.” Tafsīr ibn Kathīr.

Therefore, it is these types of difficulties that test some important qualities of a believer: whether we trust that Allāh the Almighty truly wants what is best for us, and whether we truly believe that he is the only one, ultimately, who knows what is good and bad for us and that he knows what we do not as he says in the Qurʾān:

“…But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allāh Knows, while you know not.” Qurʾān, Al-Baqarah (2:216)

Don’t be anxious and depressed – nor devastated by our tests

It may be that our parents will pass away during this time, or our children, our spouses, our extended family, our closest friends or even the pillars of our communities that we rely on every day. Let us become people who can look beyond the sadness and upset over these tests and trials and look to our Hereafter, for in death, there can be joyous news:

“Think not of those as dead who are killed in the way of Allāh. Nay, they are alive, with their Lord, and they have provision. – They rejoice in what Allāh has bestowed upon them of His bounty and rejoice for the sake of those who have not yet joined them, but are left behind (not yet martyred) that on them no fear shall come, nor shall they grieve. – They rejoice in a grace and a bounty from Allāh, and that Allāh will not waste the reward of the believers.” Qurʾān, Āli-ʿImrān (3:169-171)

While this verse is evidently about those who die on the battlefield, fighting in Allāh, the Almighty’s, path, his Messenger, may peace and blessings be upon him, pointed out None (among the believers) remains patient in a land in which plague has broken out and considers that nothing will befall him except what Allāh has ordained for him, but that Allāh will grant him a reward similar to that of a martyr” which is just like the verse in the Qurʾān “And certainly, We shall test you with something of fear, hunger, loss of wealth, lives and fruits, but give glad tidings to As-Sābirīn (the patient).”

For our elderly, they have lived long lives and, by the will of the Almighty, done much good; we can rest easy that their good deeds will never be wasted by their Lord. For our young, we can be consoled that they will enter Jannah as Imām ibn Kathīr mentions:

“With regard to the children of the believers, there is no dispute among the scholars. Al-Qādi Abu Ya’lā ibn al-Farrā’ al-Hanbali narrated that Imām Ahmad said: there is no dispute concerning the fact that they will be among the people of Paradise. This is what is well known among people (i.e., the majority of scholars) and this is what we are definitely sure about, in sha Allāh.”

Tafsīr al-Qurʾān al-‘Aẓīm (3/33).

In summary, it may be that Allāh, the Almighty, takes someone to prevent some evil befalling them such as falling into disbelief or committing another grave sin, or it may be that someone is taken to raise their status that they would not have otherwise been raised without the form of death they experienced, or it may even be that he takes people to remove the evil that they cause to others. The main thing is that we recognise that death is not just the immediate tragedy that occurs, but that it has consequences for those that die and those that survive and that through it all, there are always opportunities for us until our souls part with our bodies and our record books are closed.

What can we do for those of us who pass away?

After understanding that death will definitely come and that only Allāh the Almighty knows how, where and when, and after realising that those who die affirming the oneness of their Lord and the existence and imminence of the Hereafter will be rewarded, those of us who remain may ask if there are any actions we can do for the one who has departed. There are a number of things that can be done which may help them, if Allāh the Almighty wills:

  1. Make du’ā for them

The Prophet, may peace and blessings be upon him, said: “A man’s status will be raised in Paradise and he will ask, ‘How did I get here?’ He will be told, ‘By your son’s ad’iyyah (prayers) for forgiveness for you’.” Ibn Mājah (3660)

  1. Spend in charity on their behalf

Imām Al-Bukhāri narrated a hadith from a companion of the Messenger, may peace and blessings be upon him, who asked: “My mother has passed away, and if she could have spoken, she would have given something in charity. Will she receive a reward if I give something on her behalf?” He said, “Yes.” Fath (1388)

  1. If possible, fast, perform ‘Umrah or even Hajj on their behalf

Abdullāh ibn Buraydah reported that his father, may Allāh be pleased with him, said: “While I was sitting with the Messenger of Allāh, may peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him, a woman came to him and said: I gave my mother a slave-woman in charity, and now my mother has died. He said: You have got your reward, and your right of inheritance has brought your gift back to you. She said, O Messenger of Allāh, she still had one month to fast can I fast it on her behalf? He said, Fast it on her behalf. She said, She never went to Hajj can I perform Hajj on her behalf? He said, Perform Hajj on her behalf.” Sahīh Muslim (1149)

  1. Being righteous yourself and doing good deeds

The Prophet may peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him, said: “When a person dies, all his deeds come to an end except three: Sadaqah Jāriyah (ongoing charity, e.g. a waqf or endowment), beneficial knowledge (which he has left behind), or a righteous child who will pray for him.” Sunan Al-Tirmidhi (1376)

We ask Allāh the Most High, the one who gave us life and the one who will cause us to die, that he raises the level of all of the believers in paradise by their deaths. We ask Allāh the Most High, the one who wants what is best for the believers, that he grants his mercy upon those who are left behind and lifts their hearts and spirits in difficult times and causes them to be patient. And we ask Allāh the Most High, the one to whom belongs the cure for all ailments, that he removes this illness from the world and causes his creation to realise their status and turn back to him in repentance and prayer.

And Allāh, the Almighty, and his Messenger, may peace and blessings be upon him, know best.