We don’t have proper knowledge of the reality of death, because the reality of life is also unknown to us. Our understanding with regard to these two important matters is only to the limit of their traces not more. A phenomenon, which has a particular condition and which carries the qualities of nutrition, growth and reproduction is considered by us to be a living being. In some beings, in addition to this, we consider perception and voluntary movement as signs of life.
In man, in addition to these, we consider acquisition of intelligence, contemplation and speech as additional signs of life; but all of these are signs of life and not its reality. Death is also like this and any living phenomena, which loses the signs of its life is said to be dead. But these are signs of death and not its reality. The reality of death is unknown. According to the Holy Quran, life and death are two created things created by the Almighty Allah.
The Holy Quran says:
الَّذِى خَلَقَ الْمَوْتَ وَالْحَيَاةَ لِيَبْلُوَكُمْ أَيُّكُمْ أَحْسَنُ عَمَلاً وَهُوَ الْعَزِيزُ الْغَفُورُ
(It is He) Who created death and life that He may try you- which of you is best in deeds; and He is the Mighty, the Forgiving, (67:2)
It is known that only an existing matter can be created and not an inexistent matter. What is remarkable in this verse is that death is mentioned before life. That which can be stated about death and life is that the soul of man is having two stages of existence. The soul of man in the stage of life is of the type which is in need of a material body to continue its life and to reach to its perfection and it is having a particular life. But after death it is able to live on its own without a material body. In this stage it would have another life, which is very much opposed to the past life and most important of all, it is an everlasting life.
In both conditions it is one person and not more. The Messenger of Allah (S) has stated:
“Death is the first stage in the stages of the hereafter and the last stage from the stages of the world.”1
Imam Khomeini says:
Death is the transfer of man from the apparent proprietary formation to the unseen celestial formation; along with the fact that death is second celestial life, after the first proprietary life and in any case is an existing matter. On the contrary it is the most perfect proprietary existence, because the worldly proprietary life contaminated with the substance of death, and their life is a passing accident as opposed to the natural celestial life, which in such circumstances is present in independent souls and it is the abode of life and a necessary component of life.2
He also says:
Seed (sperm) is in motion within its essence and continues to undergo transformations, till finally its form is changed into the soul. The soul also satiated with essence is in constant motion till it reaches different stages and ranks of abstraction, although its nature is present in the stages of its existence; but as result of its continuous substantial motion its abstraction goes on increasing and its natural aspect goes on decreasing and finally it pulls out itself from nature.
This presence, in which stage it takes out itself from nature is in fact the same previous natural form which arose due to its substantial motion and in every step freed itself from one stage of its nature. When it finally frees its whole existence from the shackles of nature, it becomes independent and its independence is that it has freed itself from nature for the last time, and becoming independent is same as coming out of the nature.
Death of man follows the independence of the soul and not that it is by chance and then man comes out of the nature; the independence which has actualized is in the meaning of emerging and emerging from the nature is in the same sense.3
It is learnt from verses of Quran and traditions that death is accompanied with great pain, which is mentioned in Quran as Sakara and Ghamara (stupor/agony of death).
The Holy Quran says:
وَجَآءَتْ سَكْرَةُ الْمَوْتِ بِالْحَقِّ ذَلِكَ مَا كُنتَ مِنْهُ تَحِيدُ
And the stupor of death will come in truth; that is what you were trying to escape. (Surah Qaf 50:19)
And also says:
وَلَوْ تَرَى إِذِ الْظَّلِمُونَ فِى غَمَرَتِ الْمَوْتِ وَالْمَلَئِكَةُ بَاسِطُواْ أَيدِيهِمْ أَخْرِجُواْ أَنفُسَكُمُ الْيَوْمَ تُجْزَوْنَ عَذَابَ الْهَوْنِ بِمَا كُنْتُمْ تَقُولُونَ عَلَى اللَّهِ غَيْرَ الْحَقِّ وَكُنتُمْ عَنْ ءَايتِهِ تَسْتَكْبِرُونَ
…and if you had seen when the unjust shall be in the agonies of death and the angels shall spread forth their hands: Give up your souls; today shall you be recompensed with an ignominious chastisement… (6:93)
Stupor and agony are used in the meaning of a senseless state, which is due to the severity of those circumstances. In these verses they are interpreted to be the hardships of death. The hardships of death are not physical pains and discomfort; on the contrary it is spiritual and internal and it is much more severe than physical tortures. Physical pains are felt through senses and they reach the soul from this channel, but spiritual and internal chastisements scorch the being.
Hardships of death can be from various aspects:
1. Attachment to what he has gathered in his life: Like the house, property, wealth, children and other worldly things. Man struggled all his life to obtain them and committed lawful and unlawful acts in their pursuit with the hope that they would give him some advantage at the end of his life. Their love had taken a deep root in his being that it is very difficult for him to ignore them now. At the time of death, he sees that he would be compelled to leave every worldly thing to which he was attached and move to the everlasting world of the hereafter empty-handed.
2. Seeing his past deeds: Throughout his life man continues to commit numerous small and big sins and after sometime forgets most of them in such a way that as if he had never committed them. He does not even recall them in order to repent for them. While the fact is that all his words, acts and morals are recorded in the scroll of his deeds and these same deeds have earned for him Hell and the chastisement of Hell. At the time of death, the curtain will be removed from his eyes and he will see each act committed by him during his lifespan and the recompense of the same. And how severe it would be for one to see all one has committed in his lifespan in an instant?
The Holy Quran says:
يَوْمَ تَجِدُ كُلُّ نَفْسٍ مَّا عَمِلَتْ مِنْ خَيْرٍ مُّحْضَراً وَمَا عَمِلَتْ مِنْ سُوءٍ تَوَدُّ لَوْ أَنَّ بَيْنَهَا وَبَيْنَهُ أَمَداً بَعِيداً وَيُحَذِّرُكُمُ اللَّهُ نَفْسَهُ وَ اللَّهُ رَءُوفٌ بِالْعِبَادِ
On the day that every soul shall find present what it has done of good and what it has done of evil, it shall wish that between it and that (evil) there were a long duration of time; and Allah makes you to be cautious of (retribution from) Himself; and Allah is Compassionate to the servants. (3:30)
3. Seeing his bad position in the everlasting world of the hereafter: A sinner or one who is basically not having faith in Allah, the hereafter and sayings of prophets; in such a way that his expression of faith was only formal and not rooted in his being and that is why he justified his offensive acts and always contented himself with vain and useless hopes and some of his minor acts and was uncaring about the imminent consequences of the hereafter. But as mentioned in traditions, at the time of death, the curtain will be removed from the conscience of man during the throes of death and in one instant he would see with his own eyes, his position in the hereafter as well as the consequences of all his deeds, views and behavior and also observe all his hopes being dashed and he would pass away in that condition. And how difficult dying is in this condition!
4. Cutting off perpetual relations: Another reason for the hardship of a dying person and his opposition to physical pain is that in physical pains, one or more organs feel the pain and transfer the stages of their restlessness to the soul, but at the time of death, the human man desires to cut off forever its connection with all the organs and limbs. And this is but a very difficult task.
That which was stated above was about infidels, oppressors and sinners, but as mentioned in traditions, death for the righteous believers is not only not hard, on the contrary, it is very pleasant and nice. The Holy Quran says:
يَآ أَيَّتُهَا النَّفْسُ الْمُطْمَئِنَّةُ * ارْجِعِى إِلَى رَبِّكَ رَاضِيَةً مَّرْضِيَّةً * فَادْخُلِى فِى عِبَادِى * وَادْخُلِى جَنَّتِى
O soul that are at rest! Return to your Lord, well-pleased (with him), well-pleasing (Him), So enter among My servants, And enter into My garden. (89:27-30)
It was said to Imam Ja’far Sadiq (as): “Please explain death to us.”
“For the believer, it is like a nice fragrance, which comforts him and cures all his pains. But death for a disbeliever would be like the sting of a snake or scorpion; on the contrary it would be much more severe.”4
Imam Hasan (as) was asked: “What is death?”
“It is greatest happiness that would be bestowed to the believers when they would be transferred from the world full of hardships to the bounties of the everlasting world. And it is the great destruction that would befall the disbelievers, when they would be transferred from their worldly paradise to the everlasting fire (of Hell).”5
The Messenger of Allah (S) said:
“People are of two kinds, one is those from whom others will get relief and the other kind are those who would get the relief themselves. Those who get the relief themselves are believers. When death approaches them they would get relief from hardships and pains of this world. And those from whom others would get relief are the disbelievers. When they die, the trees, animals and a large number of people would get relief from them.”6
Imam Sajjad (as) was asked: “What is death?”
“For the believer it is like the taking off of a dirty garment and an iron collar and chain; changing into the nicest garments, the most fragrant perfumes and riding the best mount and the best of the abodes. For the disbeliever, it is like taking off the garment of pride and transfer from the best abodes into the filthiest and the roughest garments and into the most terrifying houses and to the most severe chastisements.”7
Imam Muhammad Baqir (as) said:
“At the time of death, the angel of death says: ‘What you hope for will be given to you and that from which you fear, you will be given security.’ At that moment, a door to Paradise will be opened before him and he will see his position. He would be told, ‘Look at your abode in Paradise and look at the Prophet, Ali, Hasan and Husain (as); they are your neighbors.’ This is statement of the Almighty Allah in the Holy Quran:
أَلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُواْ وَكَانُواْ يَتَّقُونَ * لَهُمُ الْبُشْرَى فِى الْحَيَوةِ الدُّنْيَا وَفِى الاَْخِرَةِ
Those who believe and guarded (against evil): they shall have good news in this world’s life and in the hereafter. (10:63-64)8
From the above mentioned traditions and tens of others like them, it becomes clear that righteous believers having faith in Allah, the Prophet and the Judgment Day, and who perform their religious duties, not only will they be safe from the agonies of death, on the contrary, at the time of death, they would see their position in Paradise and their life in the neighborhood of the Prophet and the Holy Imams (as).
And with most satisfaction and absolute free will and with the recommendation of the Prophet and the affections of the angel of death, they surrender their lives and hasten to the everlasting world to meet their Lord.
They are released from a world replete with sorrow and grief, hardships and problems, injustice and inequity, pain and diseases and transferred to a world full of effulgence and happiness and life in neighborhood of the chosen servants of the Almighty Allah, where they might enjoy the choicest divine bounties. How sweet and pleasant is dying in this way!
Believers are not attached to this world that they should fear being separated from it. They have not committed sins that they should be terrified of its consequences in the hereafter; even if they have committed some sinful acts in ignorance, they have repented for it and have got it erased from the scroll of their deeds. They have improved their hereafter with meritorious deeds and good morals and have been honored in the view of the Prophet and the Holy Imams (as); therefore why should they fear death? Hence the friends of God do not seek to evade death; on the contrary they hasten to it eagerly.
Although it is not that all believers would be safe from agonies of death, on the contrary, the sinners among them who died without repenting – proportionate to their attachment to the world and depending on the magnitude of their sins – they would have to taste the agonies of death, but not as much as infidels and oppressors. In the same way, all disbelievers and oppressors also would not be same from the aspect of suffering the agonies of death.
It is said that the bitterness of dying is other than the pain and discomfort suffered by those who are ill at the time of their death. It is not that if the righteous believer has been on the sick bed for a long time, this suffering can be counted as the agonies of death; on the contrary the dying of this person would be in the same meaning as stated before; with his approval and by his free will. On the other hand, it is not that if a disbeliever or an oppressor dies in an instant, we should say that he did not have to taste the agonies of death.