Why we shouldn’t fear death

The thought of death usually invokes feelings of anxiety and fear, but is it really something to fear about? What is the Islamic viewpoint of death? There is a beautiful explanation of this in Parts from the workThe Testimonial of Two Schools of Misfortune’, Bediuzzaman Said Nursi – Biography involving a life experience of Ustadh Bediuzzaman and goes as follows:


After the 31 March incident in 1909 leading to the overthrow of Sultan Abdulhamid II, a court marshall was set up by the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) known in Turkish as Ittihat ve Terakki Cemiyeti for those going against the CUP. Many people were arrested and tried in court. [1] Among them was Ustadh Bediuzzaman. When taken to court, he saw the bodies of around fifteen Islamic scholars executed for supporting the sharia and being involved in the incident. He was tried in court while witnessing the bodies hanging in the court’s garden. Here is an exerpt from his defense statement:


I am prepared for the afterlife with perfect desire. Similar to how a bizzareness-loving Bedouin who has heard but hasn’t seen the peculiarity and beauty of Istanbul would like to see it with perfect longing, I would also like to see with that longing the hereafter – which is a place where peculiar and bizzare things are displayed; I am like that right now as well. To exile me over there is not punishment! If you are able, then torture me through my conscience. Otherwise, punishment in another form is not punishment but an honor for me!


As described in the passage, there is no reason to fear death if one is a believer. After all we know this world is nothing compared to heaven. Why then should we prefer this world to heaven? Of course as we with everything, this is not black and white. The stronger our faith, the less we will fear death.


We see many examples of this in the lives of great people. The Prophet Muhammad (عليه الصلاة و السلام) favors death over life when given the choice by Jibril (عليه السلام)  at the end of his life.


Similarly, the Prophet Yusuf (عليه السلام) prays,

رَبِّ قَدْ آتَيْتَنِي مِنَ الْمُلْكِ وَعَلَّمْتَنِي مِن تَأْوِيلِ الْأَحَادِيثِ ۚ فَاطِرَ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ أَنتَ وَلِيِّي فِي الدُّنْيَا وَالْآخِرَةِ ۖ تَوَفَّنِي مُسْلِمًا وَأَلْحِقْنِي بِالصَّالِحِينَ


“My Lord! You have given me authority; You have taught me something about the interpretation of dreams; Creator of the heavens and the earth; You are my protector in this world and in the Hereafter. Let me die in true devotion to you. Join me with the righteous.” (Surah Yusuf, 101).

Interestingly, the Prophet Yusuf (عليه السلام) makes this prayer during a time of comfort and not of calamity. Despite all the favors bestowed upon him by God after years of suffering through slavery and prison, he nonetheless favors the hereafter to this world and prays for his death.


So, from the lives of prophets (عليهم السلام), the sahaba (رضي الله عنهم) , and other great Muslims, we see that fearing death is needless for believers.


Now that being said, we should not be deluded into being so hopeful for heaven that we forget about hell. Islam is always the middle way. After all, we don’t know what state we will die in; we may be believers right now but maybe not at the time of our death. Fearing hell motivates us to strengthen our faith and appreciate its value. Similarly, it isn’t right to be too fearful of hell so as to lose hope of heaven, for God is the most Merciful of the Merciful Ones.

Relevant Passage from the Seventh Word

“Indeed, with this holy spell, death takes the form of an obedient horse and buraq; taking a believing person from this prison of worldy life to the garden of heavens [and] the presence of the all-Merciful (al-Rahman). It is for this reason that perfect individuals who saw the truth of death have loved death, they desired to die before death came [to them].”


[1] A Brief History of the Late Ottoman Empire by Hanioglu


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