DEATH; The beginning of the endless life.
Allah says:.’ Every soul shall have a taste of death: and we test you by evil and by good by way of trial. to us must ye return...’ ( Q.21:35-6)
In the last article ‘Islam’s rulings on euthanasia and organ transplant’ I discussed in detail sickness and caring for the sick according to the Shari’ah. In this segment I hope to discuss death, how souls leave bodies, various conditions of dying men and women and what attendants or relations are expected to do to the dying love ones according to the Sunnah of the Apostle of Allah, may Allah’s peace and blessing be upon him.
The Qur’an has clearly told us that every soul shall die and every creature; the angels, the djinnies, the heavens and earths shall perish. Everything will pass away, and only Allah, the Most high will remain. Allah says: ‘All that is on earth will perish’ (Q. 55:26). In another surah Allah reaffirms: Every soul (nafs) shall taste of death; and We try you with evil and good for a testing, then unto Us you shall be returned. ( Q.21:35-6)
. These verses are warnings for us to prepare for the inevitable!
Since death is Incapable of being avoided or prevented, then it has become extremely expedient to prepare for it in case it sneaks any moment. Similarly, the Sunnah has unequivocally enlightened us that the life of this world is transient into the everlasting one; for better or for worse.
Therefore, what is this death that everyone must experience? This question is very difficult to answer correctly as no one has experienced it such that he would precisely relate to us his accumulation of knowledge or skill that resulted from his or her direct participation in it. However, efforts were made to exactly know that someone has died finally, from time immemorial.
In the first edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, death was summarized as "the separation of the soul and the body". The webword dictionary has defined death as ‘the permanent end of all life functions in an organism or part of an organism’. Another definition of death is, 'the irreversible cessation of circulation of blood in the body of the person or irreversible cessation of all function of the brain of the person'.
However, from a solely biological standpoint, death is hard to define because advancement in medical sciences and technology have made it problematical to determine precisely when a person is, in fact, dead. In the pre-medical period, usually doctors were not the first to be called upon for help; the Imams or an elderly person was contacted to make the determination of death. The family and the Imam would only have outward signs that the person was dead; a mirror or a feather is held above the nose to observe for signs of breath. Other rudimentary methods but effective was the Balfour’s test; forcing needles through the skin into the heart, to see if there was pulse. Nowadays, enough was known about the human body that you could check for a heartbeat with stethoscope.
Furthermore, even if all the outward signs of life, like respiration and heartbeat, were gone, there could still be a chance that the person is alive. In fact, tales were rampant that people were buried alive even now. Could death, in some cases, reversible? However, clinical death also denotes that the heartbeat and breath stop functioning, and is the only point where the process is reversible, by means of CPR, a transfusion or a ventilator.
In the present day, with the help of technology makes ‘death’ quite reversible in several cases that apparently looked like death. Thus, if a person stops breathing, a ventilator that keeps the respiratory and circulatory systems functional can be used nowadays to cheat death!. Thus measuring life by pulse today can be scientifically disputed since we have feeding tubes, CPR and a whole host of devices that can keep a person alive, even when is perceived dead. Similarly, some doctors have started using terms like "persistent vegetative state" and "irreversible coma", "coma depasse," or a state beyond coma, in cases of prolonged unconsciousness.
However, the point of no return is the biological death, which begins about four to six minutes after clinical death. After the heartbeat stops, it only takes that long for brain cells to begin dying from lack of oxygen. Resuscitation is impossible at this point. At this juncture Allah the Most High would says, in most eloquently powerful admonishing to the doctors, nurses, helpers, and relatives around the dying person, thus:
‘Then why do you not (intervene) when (the soul of a dying person) reaches the throat? And you at the moment are looking on, But We (i.e. Our angels who take the soul) are nearer to him than you, but you see not, Then why do you not, if you are exempt from the reckoning and recompense (punishment, etc.) Bring back the soul (to its body), if you are truthful? Then, if he (the dying person) be of the nearest to Allah, (There is for him) rest and provision, and a Garden of delights (Paradise). And if he (the dying person) be of those on the Right Hand, Then there is safety and peace (from the Punishment of Allah) for (you as you are from) those on the Right Hand. But if he (the dying person) be of the denying (of the Resurrection), the erring (away from the Right Path of Islamic Monotheism), Then for him is entertainment with boiling water. And burning in Hell-fire. Verily, this! This is an absolute Truth with certainty. So glorify with praises the Name of your Lord, the Most Great’. [Q.56: 83-96; Tafsir At-Tabari, Vol.27, Page 209]
These verses have gone to tell us that no individual dies but foreknows his or her final abode; either the Hell fire or Paradise. But the permanent occupation will be after the general judgement on the Day of Resurrection. May Allah have mercy on us unceasingly!
Harvard Medical School in 1968, gave a new definition of death as ‘irreversible damage to the brain, or simply brain death. They also declared that ‘the person was gone when his memories and personality, located in the brain, were irreversibly gone. The cortical brain, or the higher brain, is the part where those memories and personality are deposited, and any harm to that higher brain, meets the attributes of brain death; the brain stem determines function such as respiration, movement and speech.
In 1985, the Islamic Organization for Medical Sciences held a symposium to study "The End of Human Life", in collaboration with American Association of Bioethics. They concluded that no case where brain and brain stem death was correctly diagnosed ever came back to life, and none of the cases that came back to life carried an established diagnosis of brain and brain stem death.
Another international symposium was held in Kuwait from 17 to 19 December 1996, in which distinguished group of scholars in the specialties concerning end of human life such as neurology, neurosurgery, anaesthesiology, intensive care, neurophysiology, cardiac surgery, organ transplantation, medicine, paediatrics, obstetrics and gynaecology, general surgery, medical jurisprudence and the Director of the East Mediterranean Regional Office (EMRO) of the World Health Organization were invited to comprehensively discuss, including a meticulous appraisal of all clinical cases. The symposium concluded that no case of brain to brain stem death properly diagnosed ever regained life, and all the cases that regained life had an obvious and flagrant fault in making such diagnosis, omitting, misreading or violating the standard criteria.
Thus, basically an individual is considered dead in one of the following two situations; following confirmation by correct medical standard:
a. Complete irreversible cessation of respiratory and cardiovascular systems.
b. Complete irreversible cessation of the functions of the brain including the brain stem.
Islam is always in harmony with verified scientific feats because the truth is in-synch with Qur’an regardless of its originators or discoverers. Therefore, all possible measures are allowed to be used to ascertain the passing on of an individual without recourse to body mutilations or disrespect to the human corpses. However, a dead pregnant woman should not be buried along with the baby/ foetus if it’s alive. Islam allows for the evacuation of the baby immediately to save life.
However, at the point of death when the soul is traveling to the irreversible stage, those around him or her are called upon to administer comfort and placation to the dying person, and usher to him or her reminders of Allah’s mercy and forgiveness.
It is encouraged to rehearse the Kalimah to the hearing of the dying, without commanding him or her, so that he or she can consciously pick it. The Apostle of Allah was reported to have said, on the authority of Abu Said al Khudry: ‘the Messenger of Allah said: teach your dying ones La ilaha illa Allah’. This is because whosoever his last words is the Kalimah, the paradise will be his final abode.
For the purpose of remembering and application, here are some recommendations, but are not compulsory, for the family around a dying person to observe to their dying relative if it is possible:
* lie the dying person facing be direction of the Qiblah and resting on his or her right side or flat on the back with legs towards Qiblah, or as the case may be.
* recite the kalimah without commanding him or her to pronounce it, but simply a reminder so that he or she can voluntarily pick it. The Prophet (p) said: ‘Advice the dying person to say, La ilaha illallah, (There is nothing worthy of worship except Allah) because a dying Muslim who recites this will be saved from Hell.
* pray that mercy, forgiveness and blessings of Allah be given to the deceased.
* read softly Surah Yaseen (ch. 36) from the Quran.
* discuss about the mercy, blessings and forgiveness of Allah. The dying person should have a pleasant expectation towards Allah, hoping for the best to come for him after.
* a dying person should be made to overcome the fear of death. This can be done when he sees his or her loves ones from the relatives and friends around him or her.
* try to be attentive as the dying person may wish to talk to someone about a wish, a will or message. Also the presence of a religious leader may be essential for a peaceful death. In many cases he or she would feel less lonely and more dignified.
* It is advisable to treat the departing person as a good harbinger who is going ahead of us, for we will surely all join him or her very soon.
However, those whose lives were to be outrageously ended would want return to the world to do righteous deeds and earn Allah’s compassion. But that was an impossible desire.
‘And Allah grants respite to none when his appointed time (death) comes. And Allah is All-Aware of what you do.’ (Q. 63:11)
Allah says again:
‘Allah is Irresistible over His slaves, and He sends guardians (angels of guarding and writing all one’s good and bad deeds) over you, until when death approaches one of you, Our Messengers (angels of death and his assistants) take his soul, and they never neglect their duty.’ Q. 6:61)
According to the teaching of the teachings of the Sunnah, there are signs of both good endings and indications of catastrophic termination; may Allah have mercy on us! Those whose ends are cataclysmic will be pugnacious and belligerent trying hard to resist death with all their might because of what they have seen of lamentation and anguish signalling absence of any prospect of an exhilarating passage or recompense awaiting them. Such people would want fight the angel of death, Allah says:
“...And if you could but see when the transgressors (polytheists and wrongdoers, etc.) are in the agonies of death, while the angels are stretching forth their hands (saying): "Deliver your souls! This day you shall be recompensed with the torment of degradation because of what you used to utter against Allah other than the truth. And you used to reject His Ayat (proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, signs, revelations, etc.) with disrespect!"(Q. 6:93)
At the point of no return, many events happen which normal person cannot comprehend; the power of Allah is being exercised to the challenge of anybody that can. He says:
“Nay, when (the soul) reaches to the collar bone (i.e. up to the throat in its exit), And it will be said: "Who can cure him and save him from death?" And he (the dying person) will conclude that it was (the time) of departing (death); And leg will be joined with another leg (shrouded) The drive will be, on that Day, to your Lord (Allah)! (Q.26-30)
In essence, the Qur’an is telling us that the exit of the disbelievers from this world will be a very nasty and terrible excruciating experience notwithstanding the mode or instance of the death. Some people would be tied to their hospital beds, others would be held by their family members while others would be abandoned, scaring away attendants by their behaviours due to the process of the expulsion of their lives. Doors and windows would be locked securely behind them; in such instance relatives will be in severe torment waiting for their ghosts!
Some dying unbelievers will make some unusual sizzle sounds known as the death rattle usually accompanied by stressful convulsing and muscle spasms. This also has gone to dispute the so called syndrome of ‘near death experiences (NDE); dispelling it as unpainful. The Qur’an emphatically expounded in different versions and manners, as we have seen above, how the mushriks would come to an end, thus;
“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 had forwarded. And verily, Allah is not unjust to His slaves." (Q.8: 51-52)
“By those (angels) who pull out (the souls of the disbelievers and the wicked) with great violence; (Q. 79:1)
Some dead people will excrete and egest the whole place with both solid and liquid wastes. Others go to the extent to break their necks, hands and legs, in very violent manner, yelling aloud. Allah says:
‘But if he (the dying person) be of the denying (of the Resurrection), the erring (away from the Right Path of Islamic Monotheism), Then for him is entertainment with boiling water. And burning in Hell-fire’. (56: 92-94)
The instance of exodus of the soul could be seriously very dreadful and horrifying experience, or completely soothing and sensational one; depending on what one foresee of the great beyond! Allah says:
‘Verily, this! This is an absolute Truth with certainty. So glorify with praises the Name of your Lord, the Most Great’. (56:95-96)
Similarly, however, some unbelievers will die either in their sleep or at any point of life peacefully. This means that Allah is paying them for their good deeds at the exit f the world. So also when a believer suffers some painful ending indicating that he or she must have committed some forgivable sins (anything other than shirk and defrauding the public) during his sojourn in this world and Allah is punishing him or her at the departure so that he or she will finally meet Him clean from all imperfection.
May Allah make out exit restful and peaceful end, amin!
However, the lives of believers would cease with utmost easiness, peacefulness and placidness. The Apostle of Allah used to pray and say: ‘Allahumma hawwin alayna sakratal maut, wa nawwir quboorana’. Meaning: ‘O Allah! Relieve us the rattle of death and lighten up our graves’.
“By those (angels) who gently take out (the souls of the believers);” (Q. 79:2)
He says again:
‘Then, if he (the dying person) be of the Nearest to Allah, (There is for him) rest and provision, and a Garden of delights (Paradise). And if he (the dying person) be of those on the Right Hand, Then there is safety and peace (from the Punishment of Allah) for (you as you are from) those on the Right Hand’. (56: 88-91)
Other signs of good ending include but not limited to brilliant and smiling face, sweat on the forehead, opened eyes toward the sky.
“Allah recalls souls at the time of their death, and those who have not died, during their sleep. He holds on to anyone whom death has been decided for, and sends the others back for a specific period.” (39:42)
Fundamentally speaking, death of all sort is occurs at exactly and precisely on the appointed time set by Allah, in total disregard to both the mode and instance. That is to say and believe that as far as Allah is concerned, there is no untimely, early, ill-timed, abrupt, pre-mature or sudden. Every death occurring to any living organism, movable or immovable, living or perceived non-living, is on time on the dot.