Concerning Death (mawt )

Says the Shaykh: The Prince of Believers, 'Ali, on whom be peace, was asked: Describe death to us. He said: You have, indeed, accidentally come to one who is well informed! It (death) brings to the person dying one of three things - either tidings of perpetual bliss, or of everlasting misery, or fear and dread, or an uncertainty (amrun mubhamun), if he (the dying person) does not know to which section he belongs.

Now as for our friend and the follower of our command, he will be the recipient of the good tidings of perpetual bliss; and as for our enemy and one who opposed our claim, he will be given tidings of eternal misery: but one whose affair is doubtful, that is one who does not know his own mind, he is a believer who is prodigal regarding his own affairs (al-mu'amin al-musrif 'ala nafsihi), not knowing what his condition will be.

Good comes to him after doubt and dread. Then Allah will never mingle him with our enemies, but will take him out of the Fire by our intercession. So act (righteously) and obey (Allah) and do not rely solely upon yourselves,1 and do not belittle the punishment of Allah. For verily, he, who does not obtain our intercession except after 300,000 years of Allah's chastisement, is to be counted amongst the wasteful (musrifin)2

Imam Hasan bin Ali bin Abi Talib was asked: What is this death, concerning which people are ignorant? He said: It is the greatest joy which comes upon the believers when they go from this house of affliction to eternal bliss. And it is the greatest tribulation which comes upon the infidels when they go from their paradise (the earth) to a Fire which abates not, nor is it extinguished.

When Imam Husayn bin Ali bin Abi Talib was hard pressed,3 those who were with him looked at him, and behold! He was totally different from them. Because when in great difficulty their color changed and they trembled with fear,4 and their hearts were filled with trepidation, and their sides began to throb, Imam Husayn and some of his particular companions had bright faces, restful limbs5 and complete peace of mind.

Then some of them said to others: Look at him, he does not care for death. Then Husayn said to them: Patience, O scions of nobility! For what is death, but a bridge by which you cross over from misfortune and harm to spacious gardens and eternal favors?

Now which of you would dislike to proceed from a prison to a palace? And as for these, your enemies, they are like people who go from a palace to a prison and to a painful torment. Verily, concerning this my father (Ali) related to me from my grandfather, the Messenger of Allah: Forsooth the world is a prison for the believer and a paradise for the unbeliever, and death is the bridge for the former to their gardens, and for the latter, to their hell-fire. And he did not lie nor do I.

Imam 'Ali (Zaynu'l 'Abidin) bin al-Husayn was asked: What is death? He said: For the believer it is like taking off clothes which are dirty and lousy; or breaking heavy shackles and fetters, and changing into the most gorgeous and perfumed of apparel, and (riding on) well-trained mounts, and (alighting in) familiar resting-places.

And for the unbeliever, it is the pulling off of gorgeous apparel and changing into the most filthy and coarse clothing ; and the transportation from familiar places to the wildest resting-places and the greatest torment.

Imam Muhammad al-Baqir was asked: What is death? He said: It is the sleep which comes to you every night, except that it is of long duration. The sleeper does not awake from it except on the day of Resurrection. Some see in their sleep certain kinds of joy the worth whereof cannot be estimated; others, certain kinds of terrors, which are beyond the pale of estimation. How then can his condition (be described) who may be happy or fearful in death? This then is death, so be prepared for it.

Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq was asked: Describe death to us. He said: To the believer it is like the most perfumed breeze, which he inhales and then doses off on account of the perfume, and his weariness and pain disappear from him.

To the unbeliever it is like the biting of vipers and the stinging of scorpions; nay, it is even more painful.6 He was then told: There are some people who say that it is more painful than being sawed (with a saw), or being cut by scissors, or being crushed (to death) by stones, or the circular motion by the pivots of hand-mills in the pupils of the eye.

He, on whom be peace, said: such is the travail of death on some of the unbelievers and sinners. Do you not see that among them are those who have witnessed such calamities? Now that death is more painful than this and is more painful than all the worldly torments.7

He was asked: Why is it that we see (occasionally) an unbeliever, who at the moment of death is not in pain and who dies8 while he is relating (stories) or laughing or talking; and the same is the case with some believers. Again both among the believers and unbelievers there are some who endure hardships during the pangs of death. He said: Whatever happiness the believer enjoys is part of his early reward; and whatever pain he suffers is the forgiveness of his sins.

So that he may arrive in the next world in a state of cleanliness, purity and spotlessness, fit for the reward of Allah. And without there being anything to keep him from it. And whatever of ease is to be found in the case of some unbeliever is the compensation for his good actions in this world, so that when he arrives in the next world, there remains naught to him save that which brings torment on him.

And whatever of distress comes upon an unbeliever there (at the moment of death) is the commencement of the punishment of Allah, inasmuch as (the reward) of his good actions is at an end. That is because Allah, the Mighty and Glorious, is just and does not act wrongfully.

Imam Musa bin Ja'far al-Kazim visited a person while he was perspiring during the pangs of death and unable to answer anyone who called him. (Seeing this the persons round about) said: O son of the Messenger of Allah, we wish to know what the condition of our friend is and what death is.

He said: Verily death is a purifier, it purifies the believers from sins; and it is the last pain which afflicts them,9 and the atonement of the last sin (or burden) upon them; whereas death separates the unbelievers from their good actions, and is the last delight or favor or comfort which reaches them. It is the last reward in respect of their good acts.

As for your companion, he is completely purged from sins,10 and completely purified from crimes. He is cleansed so that he is pure - pure as a garment purified of its filth - and is made fit to associate with us, the People of the House, in our house, the Abode of Eternity.

One of the companions of the Imam 'Ali ar-Rida, on whom be peace, fell ill. Imam ar-Rida went to visit him and said to him:

How do you find yourself? He said: I met death after you (left me),11 meaning the severity of the pain which befell him. The Imam said: how did you find it?12 He said: (It was) a severe pain. The Imam said: You did not meet death, but what befell you was something to warn and acquaint you with some of its aspects. Verily, mankind may be divided into two classes: those who find rest in death (mustarih bi'l-mawt), and those who give rest (to others) by it (mustarh bi'l-mawt).13

So renew your faith in Allah, in the Prophethood (of Muhammad) and in the walaya (of the Imams) and you will be among those who find rest in it (death). The man acted accordingly - and this story is long and we have taken from it what was necessary.

Imam Muhammad bin 'Ali bin Musa ar-Rida was asked: What is the matter with these Muslims that they dislike death? He said: They are ignorant of it and therefore they dislike it. If they possessed knowledge of it and were true friends (awliya') of Allah, they would love it,14 and would surely know that the other world is better for them than this.

Then he (the Imam) said: O slave of God Why does a child or a mad man refuse to take the medicine which cleanses his body and removes his pain? The questioner said: Because they are ignorant of the benefits of the medicine.

He (Imam ar-Rida) said: I swear by Him Who sent Muhammad as a prophet of truth, may the peace and blessings of Allah be on him, verily as for those who prepare themselves for death as they really should, death will be more beneficial to them for curing themselves than this medicine.

Lo! if only they knew what blessings death would bring them, they would call out for it and desire it even more than the wise and resolute man (hazim) desires his medicine for the removal of his calamities and the recovery of his well-being.

Imam Ali bin Muhammad (bin Ali bin Musa ar-Rida) once visited one of his companions who was weeping and wailing for fear of death. Thereupon he, peace be on him, said: O slave of Allah, you fear death because you do not possess any knowledge about it. What say you?

When you find your clothes filthy and loathsome15 and you suffer from excess of filth and dirt, and are full of wounds and scabs, and you know that a bath in a public bath (hammam) will remove all these from you, would you not wish to enter it and bathe so that all that filth may disappear?

And would you not like to enter it and bathe so that the wounds and scabs should disappear from you? The man said: Yes, O son of the Messenger of Allah. The Imam said: This death is the hammam and it is the last portion of what remains against you of the forgiveness of your sins and your purification from your evil actions.

For when you will enter upon it (death) and cross over it you will be saved from all grief and anxiety and injury and you will have attained complete joy and gladness. Then the man became quiet and cheerful and resigned himself, and closed his eyes and went on his way.

And Imam Hasan bin 'Ali16 was asked concerning death and he said: It is the verification of things that have not yet happened. My father has reported a tradition to me concerning it. He (my father) related from his father (who related in turn) from his grandfather, (who related in turn) from Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq, that he said: Verily the true believer, when he dies, dies not in fact; it is the unbeliever who really dies, for Allah the Mighty and Glorious says:

“Thou bringest the living out of the dead and Thou bringest the dead out of the living” (Qur’an 3:27, 6:95, 10:31, 30:19);

That is, the true believer from the unbeliever and the unbeliever from the true believer. And he (Imam Ja'far) said: There came a man to the Prophet and said, “I do not know what has happened to me that I do not like death”. The Prophet said: Have you any property? The man replied, “Yes”. The Prophet said: Have you ever made offerings in charity? He said: “No”. The Prophet said: It is on this account that you dislike death.

And he (Imam Ja'far) said: A man went to Abu Dharr (al-Ghifari) and asked: Why is it that we dislike death? He said: Because you have built for this a world and ruined (your prospects for) the next, and men dislike to shift from a settled habitation to a ruin.

And he (Abu Dharr) was asked: What do you think of our return to Allah, Who is Exalted above all? He said: As for the virtuous, he will be like one who being absent returns to his own people. And as for the wicked, he will be like a runaway slave returning to his master in fear and dread. He was asked: What think you of our plight before Allah? He said: Judge of your actions in terms of the Book of Allah17 when it says:

"Surely amid delights shall the righteous dwell, and verily the impure in Hell-fire" (Qur'an 82:13-14).

Said a man: Then where is the mercy of Allah?

He said:

"Verily the mercy of Allah is nigh unto the righteous" (Qur'an 7:56).18

  • 1. Reading with D لا تتكلوا على انفسكم N omits على انفسكم.
  • 2. N فإنَّ من المسرفين من لا تلحقه شفاعتنا إلخ; D فإنَّ منكم لا تلحقه شفاعتنا إلخ.
  • 3. This refers to the field of Kerbela on the 10th of Muharram, when the battle was raging fiercely.
  • 4. D err. قرائصهم for فرائصهم.
  • 5. Reading with D تهدىء جوارحهم; N err. تهوى جوارحهم "limbs outstretched"?
  • 6. MB, 15621 .
  • 7. D فذالك الذي هو أشد من عذاب الدنيا; N فذلكم الذي هو أشد من هذا و هو أشد من عذاب الدنيا.
  • 8. Reading فينطفيء
  • 9. N آخر الم يصيبهم; D آخر الم مليبهم
  • 10. Lit. "sifted with a sifting "..
  • 11. In English one would say "I had almost died after you left me".
  • 12. D فقال ع كيف لقيته، قال الماً شديداً، فقال ع له ما لقيته و لكن لقيت ما ينذرك و يعرفك الخ; N فقال ع كيف لقيته، فقال ع له ما لقيته، و لكن لقيت ما ينذرك و يعرفك الخ.
  • 13. That is, the Evil-doers, whom death makes innocuous. The Urdu translator translates this phrase as follows: "Men are of two kinds; one is he, who by death, obtains ease; and the other is he, who by his death, gives rest to others". Cp. MB, 1874 14 sqq.
    و في حديث: ابن آدم مستريح و مستراح منه، قيل الواو بمعنى أو، يعني ابن آدم إمّا مستريح و هو المؤمن من يستريح من تعب الدنيا إلى رحمة الله، أو مستراح منه و هو الفاجر يستريح منه البلاد إلخ.
  • 14. Reading with D and T لا حَبُوه ; N لا جنوه.
  • 15. Reading with N and T إذا أَتَّسَخَتْ (viii of وسخ); D إذا اْنسَلَخَت.
  • 16. D adds al-`Askari.
  • 17. Lit. "Present your actions to the Book of Allah".
  • 18. On mawt see MB, 156. Detailed description of death are generally not to be found in other creeds.