How is the death of believers, do they suffer; How does their death differ from that of unbelievers?

Details of the Question

How is the death of believers, do they suffer; How does their death differ from that of unbelievers? How is the death of believers? THE FOUR THINGS WHICH CAUSE THE AGONY OF DEATH…

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

Agony of death (sakr al-mawt) means an unconscious state of a person who is about to die. Materials which cause drowsiness in one’s mind are generally called “muskir” or “musakkir”. That word is also used to mean wrath, love, sorrow, inattentiveness or faint caused by a pain, and that state is called “sakr”, which is what we also mean here. That is to say; what is meant with “sakarat” which is the plural form of “sakr” is the agony and fainting when one is about to die.

Accordingly, “sakarat al-mawt” which is a Quranic term means “unconsciousness when one is about to die, which signals one’s death.”

As we all know, death is the soul’s leaving the body, and death causes agony. As a matter of fact, it is stated in a Quranic verse that sakarat al-mawt will find those who escape from death, sooner or later. (al-Qaf, 50/19).

As it is narrated from Hazrat Aisha, there was always a cup of water by the Prophet’s side during his last sickness. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) used to dip his blessed hand into water and rub it onto his face and say:

“There is no god but Allah. There is agony of death, for sure.” Then he raised his hands and said “to Rafiqu’l-A’la” (the highest abode) until his soul was taken away and his hands fell down. (Bukhari, Riqaq, 42).

In another hadith narrated from Hazrat Aisha, after dipping his hand into water and wetting his face, the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) raised his hands and prayed as follows:

“My Allah! Help me in agony and unconsciousness of death.” (Ibn Majah, Janaiz, 64; Tirmidhi, Janaiz, 8).

Hazrat Aisha narrates:

“Having seen the agony the Prophet suffered while dying, I will not envy anyone’s easy death.” (Tirmidhi, Janaiz, 8).

In another narration, Hazrat Aisha said:

“The Messenger of Allah died on my chest. Having seen it with the Messenger of Allah, I will not consider the severity of death bad for anyone.” (Nasai, Janaiz, 6).

They are the realities of ghayb (unseen), which living people cannot know, that angels appear to anyone at the time of death and tell them their place in the hereafter, the agony of death and what happens in that state. A true believer has to believe in all information about the realities of ghayb given to them by Allah and His Messenger. Every Muslim must believe in all situations informed to them in certainty. Otherwise, they will risk their faith.

It is stated in verses and hadiths that people who are on the straight way while they are alive, that is, who believe and comply with prohibitions attentively will experience an easy death and the Angel of Death will treat them gently. And those who live a life contrary to it will experience a violent death and the Angel of Death will treat those people, who have spent their lives in infidelity, rebel and evil deeds, harshly. However, it is not an unchangeable rule. Sometimes while beloved slaves of Allah die in agony, those who spent their lives rebelling against Allah die easily.

As a matter of fact, the agony the Messenger of Allah suffered while dying was very severe. After Prophet Moses’ soul was taken away, Allah asked him how he found death; he said:

“I felt like a sparrow being fried in a pan; neither does it die so that it will rest, nor can it escape so that it can fly away.”

It signals that death can sometimes be harsh for the beloved slaves of Allah. And according to another narration, Moses said:

“like a sheep being skinned at the hands of a butcher.” (see: Hasan Idwi, Mashariq, Egypt, 1316, p.15).

Although the Prophet (pbuh) said that people who committed few sins would die easily and that there would be no fear or hardship for true believers who uttered the kalimah at-tawhid (La ilaha illalah) at the time of death (Mundhiri, at-Targhib wa’t-Tarhib, 2/416-417), what is the reason of the severe agony those people, whom the Quran informed that their lives after death will be at the highest level of bliss, suffered at the time of death?

Islamic scholars say that the reasons why people suffer at the time of death are different from each other. (see Hasan Idwi, ibid., 40). Accordingly, the reason for severe sakarat al-mawt is one of the four reasons below:

1. Allah makes those whose spiritual level He wants to increase more suffer at the time of death. This is the reason why the agonies of Prophets and saintly slaves of Allah suffer are so severe. As they endure the agony of death patiently, their level in the eyes of Allah increases. For this reason, none of the eminent people complained about the agony of death; and they always prayed Allah to increase their levels.

2. Allah makes the agony of death severe for people whose sins He wants to forgive, as ransom for their sins. A true believer will have a remuneration for all pains and agonies he suffers in life, even the pain caused by a thorn that pricked his foot, and as this remuneration will be the forgiveness of a sin in case he does not have any sins, he will be gaining thawab (Tirmidhi, Janaiz, 1); of course, the agony of death will not be in vain. Hazrat Umar, (v. 23/643) who comprehended that truth, said:

“If something from a believer’s sins he committed in life still remains – after repentance – Allah makes the agony of death severe for him. Eventually, his soul enters Heaven. And if an infidel did something good in life, Allah makes the agony of death easy for him, as remuneration for his good deeds, and sends him to Hell as he took the remuneration of his good deeds in life.”

If there are any unbelievers who die easily, we should not envy them; we should envy those who will have a peaceful life after death. As a matter of fact, remuneration for unbelievers is pain in this world, while remuneration for believers is paid both in this world and the other world. Allah the Glorious orders Muslims not to be surprised by the abundance unbelievers live in and envy it (at-Tawbah 9:55). We do not envy unbelievers who die easily; besides, it rarely happens. Generally, their agony starts with death. Angels make them suffer while taking away their souls. As it will be explained later in this article, it is just the beginning of their agony.

Umar b. Abdulaziz (v. 101/720), who comprehended that agony of death will be a ransom for a believer’s sins, says:

“I do not want that agony of death be eased for me; I do not desire it because, it is the last atonement which covers a believer’s sins and increases his level.” (Ibn Hajar, Fathu’l-Bari, 11/365).

In addition to a believer’s agony of death compensating for his sins, angels will give him the good news and treat him gently, allowing him into happiness of reaching Allah. And the believer will not feel the agony of death within the happiness of reaching Allah. It is like that in life too. When one has remuneration for something he achieved going through many difficulties, he forgets the difficulties he had right away as if he had never experienced them.

3. Some of those whose agony of death is severe are tested once more at the last moment of their life on earth, which is totally a place of testing, and they are put through the last trial. That is to say, the reason why they suffer at the time of death is testing and trying. Of course, they will get their remuneration eventually.

4. There are people whose agony of death is harsh because it is the beginning of their punishment; they are unbelievers and cruel, unfair people who have not had the honor of believing in life and always occupied themselves with evil deeds. The Quran depicts their state as follows:

“the angels stretch forth their hands, (saying),"Yield up your souls: this day shall ye receive your reward, - a penalty of shame, for that ye used to tell lies against God, and scornfully to reject of His signs!” (al-An’am 6:93).

The verse states that unbelievers and cruel, unfair people will suffer while dying. “Angels’ stretching forth their hands” as stated in the verse means their beating them, which was sent down for idolaters who attended the Battle of Badr, yet its decree is for all infidels as it can be seen clearly in the following verse:

“If thou couldst see, when the angels take the souls of the Unbelievers (at death), (How) they smite their faces and their backs, (saying): "Taste the penalty of the blazing Fire!” (al-Anfal 8:50).

The Quran interpreters (commentators) say that the beating stated in the verse means torment. The torment in the form of beating lasts until their souls leave their bodies. What is meant by “yield up your souls” is this: Angels tell them they will have punishment, torment, thirst, handcuffs and chains, Hell and boiling water and Allah’s wrath. Then their souls break into pieces and hesitate to leave their bodies. Then angels beat those unbelievers until their souls leave their bodies, saying “yield up your souls!” It means “let your souls out of your bodies”. And they say you will be punished with insulting torment today because you denied Allah and you were too arrogant to obey His verses and to comply with His Messengers in life. In this way, their suffering becomes more and more severe; just like water covers up a drowning person in it so too are they covered with fear and beating.

(see: Süleyman Toprak, Ölümden Sonraki Hayat)

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