Is Death Considered as One’s End or Beginning
Death has always manifested itself as a horrendous monster in the eyes of man. The very thought of it has made life miserable for many.
These people not only fear the name of death, but also abhor the graveyard. They decorate the graves in order to forget about the very nature of death.
In literature, expressions such as “the monster of death,” “the claws of death,” and “the blow of death” are prevalent.
When people want to mention the name of a dead person, they use euphemisms such as “away from now,” “may my tongue be mute,” “may there be seven mountains distance between him and you,” “May you continue his life,” in order to create a wall between the listener and the memory of the dead person.
Now let us analyze the roots of such fear among human beings. Why did some people in the past have a different view on death and did not fear it and instead they welcomed death as an honor?
We read in history books that while a group of people sought after the elixir of life, another group lovingly took part in holy wars and laughed in the very face of death. Sometimes, they would complain about their longevity and wished for a day when they should join the Great Love. Today, too, we can witness this phenomenon in the struggle between right and wrong by these people who enthusiastically welcome martyrdom.
An analysis of such fear will show us that there are two reasons for it:
1. An Interpretation of Death as Extinction
Man has always escaped from extinction: he fears illness which is the absence of health; he fears darkness which is the absence of light and he fears poverty which is the obliteration of affluence.
He is sometimes disturbed by an empty house or a desert since he cannot see anybody there. Strange to say, people are often frightened by the very presence of a dead body in a room, whereas when the latter was living, they enjoyed that persons presence.
Now let us see why man fears nonexistence. The reason for such an irrational fear is clear; nonexistence is foreign to existence; therefore, our abhorrence towards nonexistence is quite natural. Now if we consider death as the end of everything, we are correct to fear it, even its very name, since according to this view the death takes away everything from us.
But if we assume that death is the start of a new life that it is eternal and is a window opening upon a great world, then naturally we would never fear it and would congratulate those who enthusiastically embrace it.
We know of a group of people who do not consider death as non-existence and who do not deny life after death, but who fear death, anyway.
This is because the record of their deeds is so dark and black that they fear the painful chastisement that they would face after life.
They are right to fear death because they look like dangerous criminals who fear being released from jail because they know that as soon as they are removed from their cell, they will be executed. Therefore, they desperately cling to the prison bars. They do not abhor freedom; but they fear it because the consequence is execution.
But why should those who neither consider death as extinction nor possess black records fear death? No doubt, they, too, desire life enthusiastically, but since they want to enjoy life after death, they should welcome a death which brings forth God’s satisfaction.
We have seen that there are two kinds of people. A group that includes the majority of people, who abhor death. But there is a second group who welcomes a death which is for an honorable purpose, such as martyrdom or at least are not fearful when their lives come to an end.
The reason for this is that they have two opposing viewpoints:
The First Group: Either this group does not believe in life after death or they still have some doubts about such a life. Therefore, they consider the moment of death as a farewell to everything. Of course, it is extremely horrible to say farewell to everything; it is quite painful to leave the light and enter the darkness.
By the same token, it is quite horrifying for a prisoner to leave his cell and enter a court to be tried.
The Second Group: This group considers death as a new life, an escape from a limited, dark world into a wide, illuminated world. Death is freedom from a narrow, small cage and the opportunity to fly into the boundless, immense sky; it is like leaving a location which is the centre of fights, struggles, injustice, hatred and vengeance and entering a place of purity. It is natural for them not to fear such a death and declare like Imam `Al¢(s):
لاَبْنُ أَبِي طَالِبٍ آنَسُ بِالْمَوْتِ مِنَ الطِّفْلِ بِثَدْيِ أُمِّهِ.
“I swear to God that the son of Ab£-±¡lib’s interest in death is more than the interest shown by an infant towards its mother’s breast.”
This group might repeat the following poem written by a Persian poet:
Tell death to come to me if it is man enough,
So that I may hold it tightly in my bosom;
So that I would take away from it its eternal life,
But it could take away from me only a colorful robe.
This is why we encounter some personages like Imam °usayn(s) and his supporters in the history of Islam who became happier as their martyrdom came closer.
In the same way, we can read in the honorable life of Imam `Al¢(s) that he uttered the expression:
“I swear to the God of the Ka`bah that I am victorious and free,” when the sword of that filthy criminal came down on his head.
Of course, this does not mean that it is advisable for us to jeopardize our lives and abandon the great asset of life.
Rather, it is meant that one should benefit from life properly and never be worried about its end, especially losing it in those paths where excellent objectives lie.
THINK AND ANSWER
Life here in this world would be in vain if the life in the other world were not taken into consideration. Life here without life in the other world resembles life as an embryo without life outside the womb.
If the fetus, which lives in a small area, in a dark room inside the mother’s womb, could think and reason, it would be amazed and wonder why it was imprisoned inside a body not knowing what its future would be like.
However, if it is informed that this restricted life is for its organs to develop and that after nine months it would get its freedom and that it could then walk in a world where there is the sun and the moon and in which there are green trees and flowing rivers, and in which there are all sorts of great things, it would then feel at ease and would say that it had found the philosophy behind its creation.
It would realize that that embryonic life was a preliminary stage for a flight into another stage, a higher one.
Now if the fetal life is disconnected from the life here of this world, everything would look dark and gloomy; life and would resemble a prison.
The same issue holds true in the comparison between life here and the future life. Why should we stay here seventy years or more and suffer?
Why should we acquire knowledge and by the time we have acquired it feel completely old? What are we living for? Why do we eat, clothe ourselves, and sleep? What is the use of this repetitive existence? Are these skies and earth created to witness us eat, drink, dress ourselves, and continue a corrupted life?
Now, the absurdity of life for those who do not believe in the resurrection becomes clear: they simply cannot fathom these minor events of life and also do not believe in the other world.
For this very reason, some of them decide to commit suicide in order to free themselves from such a boring existence.
However, life here would not seem absurd and meaningless if we believed that this world was a preparation for the other one, a place in which we could sow seeds so that later we could benefit from the harvest. If we believed that this world was a college in which we could gather information that could better our future lives, then life here would come to be regarded as an introduction for an eternal life.
So we see that the belief in the Resurrection gives content and meaning to human life and makes man free from anxieties and absurdities.
Furthermore, a belief in the existence of a great court in the other world has a great impact on our present lives. You could imagine how life would seem during a day in an imaginary country if it were announced by the government that on that day, no police station would be opened and no court would be in session.
Belief in the Resurrection is a belief in a great court which cannot be compared with any court here in this world.
The characteristics of such a court are as follows:
1. It is a court in which there is no favoritism, in which law rules and no judge could be bribed;
2. It is a court which does not need the formalities used here; records are known instantaneously and verdicts are issued immediately.
3. It is a court in which the wrong deeds of an individual present themselves to the court to help the judge to decide.
4. The witnesses at such a court are the individual’s limbs and organs, eyes and ears, tongue and skin and even the piece of earth on which the crime or wrongdoing had taken place.
5. In this court, the judge is God who is aware of everything and who is Just.
6. The chastisement is not conventional; it is our deeds that stay next to us hurting, disturbing and torturing us.
Faith in the resurrection could raise man’s soul so high as to be able to utter the words which `Al¢(s) had uttered:
“I swear to God I would rather sleep on thorns instead of on a bed, and be chained up during the day and be dragged along the streets than partake in God’s Great Court, if I have ever committed an unjust act against anyone of God’s servants or if I have ever usurped anybody’s right.”()
It was a faith in such a court that forced Imam `Al¢(s) to threaten to burn his brother’s hand because the latter had asked him for some money from the nation’s treasury. The Imam(s) told him:
You cry because you are exposed to a small fire but force your brother to face a horrendous Fire in the other world.()
Could such a person with such a strong faith ever be deceived? Could he ever be bribed? Could he ever be driven away from his righteous path by threats?
The Holy Qur’¡n says: when sinners look at the record of their deeds, they would say:
مَا لِهَذَا الْكِتَابِ لَا يُغَادِرُ صَغِيرَةً وَلاَ كَبِيرَةً إِلاَّ أَحْصَاهَا.
Ah! Woe to us! What a book is this! It does not omit a small one [sin] nor a great one, but numbers them all. [Qur’¡n 18:49]
THINK AND ANSWER