Death and Life: From an Islamic Perspective


by concordiaetmysterium

To the Muslim, God is not only the Life-Giver [Al-Muhyi] but also a fortiori Alive [Al-Hayy]: Hence, in the same way that only the Source of Existence can bestow existence, only the Source of Life can bestow life. The Principle of Life cannot be devoid of life; for one who has not cannot give. Nothing is more absurd than to imagine that the origin of life is accidental: that lifeless matter can miraculously evolve into life and consciousness; that the greater can emerge from the lesser. The famous biologist, Jean Rostand, writes:

‘I believe firmly – because I see no means of doing otherwise – that mammals come from lizards, lizards from fish; but when I declare such a thing, I do not avoid seeing its indigestible enormity…for one living cell to come into being, the probability would be the same as a monkey jumping on a typewriter and reproducing a literary text, such as the complete works of Shakespeare.’[1]

From the Quranic perspective, God – and God alone – is the Source of existence (wüjüd), life (hayât) and consciousness (shu’ur) in the cosmos. Concerning the idolaters and the materialists, God says in the Quran:

They choose beside Him other gods: their gods create naught but are themselves created. They possess not hurt nor profit for themselves. They possess nor death nor life, nor power to raise the dead. [Quran, Surah Furqan. V. 3]  [2]

Since God is life; true human life lies in godliness. The closer a man is to God, the closer he is to Life; therefore, the more alive he is. To quote the great Sufi saint and poet, Mawlanâ Jalal al-Dïn Rumi, ‘True death is not that which separates the body [tan] from the soul [jân]: true death is that which separates the soul from God.’ A person who protects God in his heart lives even after his physical death. In regard to the martyrs, the Quran says:

Think not of those who are slain in the way of Allah as dead. Nay, they are living. With their Lord, they have provision. [3:169]

Furthermore, motion is the sign of a living soul: while the atheist’s soul moves horizontally from creature to creature [67:22], the believer is prepared for the vertical journey: he migrates from the creatures to the Creator; from the world of the senses to the spiritual realm. ‘The hijri calendar of each person’, says the contemporary Persian scholar Abdullah Jawâdi Amoli, ‘starts from the first moment he made his inner hijrah [migration]. A person’s age is measured by the number of times he has migrated from vice to virtues.”

The Quran also tells us about the opposite possibility: the disbeliever – who denies or forgets the Supreme Reality – is spiritually dead; even if he appears to be physically alive. His body is his mobile grave in which he is buried:

Equal are not the living and the dead. Allah makes whom He will to hear. You cannot make hear those who are in the graves. [35:22]

They will still continue in their disbelief: for you cannot make the dead to hear, nor can you make the deaf to hear the call. [30:52]

Ingratitude [kufr], ignorance [ jahl], excessive greed [tama’] and atheism [ilhâd] can cause the death or the deafness of the soul; whereas spiritual knowledge [‘ilm] and faith [iman] give life to the soul even as the rain that comes from heaven enlivens the dead earth. Thus, the nature itself – as a Revelation from Allah – testifies to the Reality of the Resurrection:

Look at the prints of Allah’s Mercy! He enlivens the Earth after her death. [30:50]

The message of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) is a message of Life; with its rain-like quality, it enlivens the soul of the believers. God says in the Quranic chapter Al-Anfâl:

O believers! Obey Allah and the messenger for He calls you to that which gives you life: know that that Allah comes between a man and his own heart and to Him you will be gathered. [8:24]

The highest level of human life is called ‘good life’ (hâyâtan tayyibatan): the gate to this heavenly state of being is open to all men and women who have faith in God and who are righteous:

Whosoever does right, male or female, and is a believer – we shall quicken him with good life, and we shall give them their reward according to the best of their actions.  [16:97]

In the Quranic universe, everything that has a share in existence, has a share in Life and Consciousness: nature itself is alive and consciously aware. The planet earth, the sky, the mountains, the oceans and the rivers are all living creatures. The Quran reminds us that all ‘creatures’ praise and glorify God [17:44, 64:1]; the trees and the stars prostrate [55:6]; rocks fall from the mountains for the fear of the Lord [2:74]. God speaks to mountains and birds [34:10], to the heaven and the earth [41:11], to the bees [16:68] and to all creatures that submit to Him [3:83]. On the day of Judgement, the Earth herself will relate her news [99:4].

Have you not seen that Allah, He it is whom all who are in the heavens and the earth praise, and the birds in their flight? Each creature knows its worship and prayer. Allah is aware of what they do. [24:41]

A person who is spiritually awake also realises the aliveness of all things; such a person does not feel lonely in the natural environment. The Prophet’s (peace and blessings be upon him) cousin and son in law, ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib (May Allah honor his face), relates:

‘I went out with the Blessed Prophet, upon him be peace; and every time we passed by a tree or a rock, it would greet the Prophet with the words: Peace be upon thee, O Messenger of God.’

For the Muslim mystic, life is a great blessing; yet death must be honoured as the pathway to Eternal Life. Death is to exterminate wants; Life is to become illuminated by the Holy Light of God’s Countenance. In Sufism, it is often said:

Man lam yanfasil

Lam yattasil


Whoso does not detach himself [from the world],

Cannot attach himself [to God]

In other words, in order to live in the Truth, one has to die for the Truth: ‘Die before you die’, says the Prophet of Islam. For the fallen man, whose roots are sunk deeply in the soil of this world, nothing is bitterer than death. Yet, the spiritual man, whose soul has been uprooted from this world, has already experienced death in this life. It is in death that he is born to eternal life; and nothing is sweeter to him than the fruit of death. In one of his poems, the Lover of God – Jalal ad-Din Rumi(May Allah sanctify his secret) – says:

When my bier moves on the day of death,

Think not my heart is in this world

Weep not for me! Cry not: ‘Woe! Woe!’

Woe is to fall in the devil’s snare.

When thou seest my dead body, cry not: ‘Parted! Parted!

The Supreme Meeting is mine in that hour.

If thou commit me to the grave, say not: ‘Farewell! Farewell!’

The grave is a curtain that hides the Communion of Paradise.

After beholding descent, consider Resurrection;

The sun and the moon set, only to rise again.

What seed was buried but that it grew?

Why, then, this doubt as regards the seed of man?


Further reading:

[1] Quoted in Nasr, S.H, Islam & Science Vol.4 (Winter 2006)

[2] Also see in the Quran: Al-Baqarah V. 255, Al-Hadid 2 , Al-A’râf 158, At-Tawbah 116, Al-Hijr 24, Yunus 55, Al-Jâthiyah 26-27, Al-Mulk 1-2, Saba’ 22, Furqân 58, Fâtir 13



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