Is it permissible to wish death, to want to die and to pray for death?

Details of the Question
Is there any drawback to wishing to die instead of wishing to live? I personally shiver when people pray for me by saying, "May Allah give you a long life!" I fear the heavy burden and hard test of man. If I had the choice, I would choose to be a stone or soil. It is Allah’s predestination but I would rather die than live. Is there any drawback to thinking and praying like that? I do not want to have thoughts that will make Allah angry.
The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

The statement of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) regarding the issue is as follows:

"None of you should wish for death because of a calamity befalling him; but if he has to wish for death, he should say: "O Lord! Keep me alive as long as life is better for me, and let me die if death is better for me.'" (Bukhari, Marda, 19)

1. The first addressees of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) in the hadith are the Companions but all of the Muslims to live up to the Day of Judgment are also addressees. That is, the decree of prohibition is valid for all Muslims at all times.

2. Most of the scholars say the word “durr (calamity)” mentioned in the hadith is “worldly calamity”. Accordingly, if a religious calamity like “falling into mischief in religion” is in question, it is not a sin to wish for death.

This issue is seen more clearly in a narration from Ibn Hibban:

"None of you should wish for death because of a calamity befalling him in the world..." The reason is clearly stated as "in the world". Some Companions wished for death due to some thoughts that were not related to the world.

As a matter of fact, it is stated in Muwatta that Hz. Umar prayed as follows:

"O Lord! I got old; my strength weakened; my people spread everywhere. Take me near you before I fall into loss more and before I go over the limit."

It is also stated in Muwatta that the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) prayed as follows:

"O Lord! I ask you to enable me to do good deeds, to abandon bad deeds, to be loved by the poor. If I may cause a mischief among people, take me near you and enable me to leave the world without having any connection with mischief."

According to what is written in Ahmad Ibnu Hanbal and other resources, Abis al Ghifari prayed as follows:

"O Plague! Take my soul!" He was asked,

“How can you say this when you heard the Messenger of Allah say, ‘Let no one of you wish for death’?” He answered as follows:

“I heard the Messenger of Allah say,

Run to death before these six things happen: The leadership of fools; increase in the number of policemen; buying and selling political and judicial favors; breaking blood relations; and lighthearted worshippers who treat the Quran like music.’”

The scholars who deal with the issue show two verses from the Quran regarding wishing for death:

1. Hz. Yusuf's prayer:

"... Take thou my soul (at death) as one submitting to Thy Will (as a Muslim), and unite me with the righteous." (Yusuf, 12/101)

Hz. Yusuf prayed like this at a time when he had so many worldly boons.

2. Hz. Sulayman's prayer:

"Admit me by Thy Grace, to the ranks of Thy righteous Servants O Lord!" (an-Naml, 27/19)

A prayer of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) included in Bukhari is as follows:

"O Allah! Forgive me, show me mercy and take me to Rafiq al-Ala (the Sublime Companion)."

It is stated that these prayers are peculiar to the time of death; that is, death is not sought urgently with these prayers. It is also stated that "we wish to end our life with a good ending and be together with righteous people in the hereafter." In addition, it is explained that "the reason why death is included in prayers is not for wishing for death but remembering the incident of death all the time."

Hz. Prophet (pbuh) states that life is better than death for believers:

"The life of a believer increases his good deeds.”

"None of you should wish for death. It is hoped that his good deeds will increase if he is a good person. If he commits bad deeds, it is hoped that he will abandon bad deeds and seek Allah's consent."

Although it is possible for good people to go worse, it is an exception; what is essential is, as the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) states, living is better. Then, death means the end of good deeds and thawabs. Then, one should not wish for death.  

- Why is wishing for death forbidden?

According to the Islamic belief, the time of death is based on predestination, not on praying and wishing. When a person’s time of death comes, his life is neither shortened nor lengthened, whether he wants it or not. (Yunus, 10/49, an-Nahl, 16/61). Then, wishing for death is a manner of believers with an aspect of ethics. From this point of view, it is possible to see two ethical drawbacks regarding wishing for death:

1) An objection to predestination (qadar) may be in question.

2) Its purpose may be escaping from the duty of life, which is a test with various states. This is failure, which destroys him spiritually. The Quran states that man was created so that he would be tested through loss in goods, lives and fruits wealth, and through misfortunes andfear(al-Baqara, 2/155; al-Mulk,  67/2) , and advises patience. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) orders us "to plant the sapling we have even if we know that Doomsday will strike tomorrow."

On the other hand,it is not possible for the religion of Islam, which introduced such an understanding of life, to regard wishing for death due to material misfortunes as appropriate. If it were legitimate to wish for death in such cases, it would weaken the strength of endurance in the face of misfortunes of life.

In fact, even when some of the causes that allow wishing for death legitimate occur, one should not regard escaping from living as something essential. For, the real purpose of the narrations concerning the states that allow wishing for death legitimate is to declare the evil of these states and to make people understand them.  For example, "buying and selling political and judicial favors", one of the six things mentioned in the last hadith mentioned above, is the expression of lack of justice in such a community. Such a community means the disorder of social structure has reached the worst stages. Believers are kept away from such a bad deed that will make wishing for death legitimate. The other deeds that are listed are like that.   

If the real purpose of such hadiths were to make wishing for death legitimate due to the deeds mentioned in it, wishing for death would be legitimate at all times because such bad deeds always existed in communities.Something supporting this view is the following sentence existing in a different narration of the hadith we reported from Ahmad Ibn Hanbal:

"Hurry to do good deeds before six bad states occur..."

That is, good deeds are encouraged by reminding those mischiefs.

Death is bitter. To be alive enables a man to prepare for the hereafter better. Therefore, it is not appropriate to wish for death. Therefore, the Prophet said, "Do not wish for death."

A patient who is writhing around in agony, who is crippled and who has nobody to look after him can pray as follows:

"O Allah! If living is better for me, let me live; if death is better for me, take my soul." (Muslim, Dhikr, 10) 

To be in the agony of death, to have death throes and to agonize are difficult. A believer knows that they come from Allah and shows patience. If he shows patience in the face of these pains and agonies, this patience will be atonement for his sins. (Abu Dawud, Janaiz, 1, 3)

(see Prof. Dr. İbrahim CANAN, Kütüb-ü Site Muhtasarı Tercüme ve Şerhi, Akçağ Yayınları, V/9.)

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