Saturday, 29 May 2010

Thoughts on Death

While death is a subject often discussed in khutbahs and duroos and something that I’d heard and read about from an Islamic point of view, I’d never had any real personal exposure to death until recently.

Back in September, I helped wash and shroud my first dead body. Last weekend, my granduncle passed away. Both were eye-openers and caused much reflection and contemplation about death. However, what interests me now is how very different my reaction was in each case.

The ghusl that I helped with was for an elderly woman, a total stranger to me. As I gingerly lay my latex-gloved hands on her cold body, gently washing her pale skin and rinsing her thin hair, I thought about all the things regarding death that I’d read about in our Islamic centre’s library… what struck me most was how this woman’s body was quite literally in my hands, yet her soul was somewhere else altogether, on the plane of existence called the ghayb (unseen) which we will all one day experience, but until then know very little about. I wondered about what her situation would be like in the grave, and prayed that she would have an easy questioning and a peaceful rest. For days after that experience, I walked around with a different attitude – quieter, more thoughtful – and prayed my salaah with the knowledge that I may very well be the next dead body to be washed and buried.

Last weekend was a totally different experience altogether. This time, it was not a stranger who had died – it was instead my granduncle, whom I loved and considered as my second grandfather. It was, understandably, a great deal more emotional… I rarely cry, but I shed more than a few tears the first two days. Seeing the grief of my other family members, who were even closer to my granduncle than I was, made it all the more difficult.

I find it fascinating how the death of a stranger provoked a more “intellectual” kind of reaction – thinking about death as I’ve always been taught about it (reality of death, what comes after death, etc.) – yet the personal loss made me think not about death, but about life and how death affects the living.

The loss of a loved one can be a make-it-or-break-it moment, in that either our emaan will increase and we’ll grow closer to Allah, turning to Him in need, humility, sincerity, and obedience or we can be overwhelmed by it all and succumb to Shaytaan’s whispers by questioning the Qadr of Allah, by demanding to know why why WHY it was our family that experienced this calamity, and so on.

To a lesser degree, one may not totally turn away from Allah but still have their emaan and ‘ebaadah negatively affected – rather than using this as an opportunity to spend more time in worship, the grief in our hearts can foster a lump of resentment that makes us feel less inclined and eager to pray our salaah or moisten our tongues with dhikr. The temptation to focus far more on our own emotions is strong: sometimes it’s easier to sit and cry and be comforted by other people, to be babied, than it is to make the effort to translate our sorrow into a means of increasing our worship of Allah.

For those of you have been exposed to death, whether distantly or personally, what was your reaction? How did it make you feel, spiritually? Did you observe any particularly interesting reaction from others?