Prepare For Your Last Breath

From the time of our birth until we die we continue a long the road with out realizing it. With every moment in time we draw that much closer to our end.

Allah Almighty has assigned the attribute of eternity for Himself alone. It is for this reason that all that exists, save for His Supreme Essence, is mortal. In fact, Allah says:

“All that is on earth will perish.” (Rahmân, 55: 26)

The manifestation of this will be actualized by death:

“Every soul shall have a taste of death…” (Anbiyâ, 21: 35)

Human beings, therefore, should live in contemplation of this reality. Furthermore, Allah says in the Qur’ân:

“And the stupor of death comes in truth, ‘This was the thing which thou wast trying to escape!’” (Qâf, 50: 19)

Since human beings have been put in this world to be tried, their greatest objective should be to strive to attain a place in heaven, the home of peace and elation, by gaining the pleasure of Allah. The only way to achieve this is to attain the state described in the verse:

“The day whereon neither wealth nor sons will avail. But only he (will prosper) that brings to Allah a sound heart.” (Shu‘arâ, 26: 88-89)

Such is only possible by disciplining the soul; and the true discipline of the human soul is submission, commitment and obedience to Allah and His Messenger Prophet Muhammad (May Allah bless him and grant him peace). In reference to the Prophet, this requires one to take lessons from his twenty three-year long prophetic life, that is, from his spiritual life. Allah Almighty revealed the Holy Qur’ân through the Archangel Jibrîl directly to the heart of the Prophet Muhammad. Thus, in some way, all of the Prophet’s worship, sayings, manners and actions are interpretations of the Qur’ân. Within the framework of this reality, it is essential for us to love the Prophet Muhammad (May Allah bless him and grant him peace) more than we love our own lives, belongings, families and all else if we are to benefit fully from his spiritual life. His love moulds the slave in the love of Allah. In other words, loving him means loving Allah and vice versa. For the ultimate union with Allah, one’s heart needs to achieve the highest level of love.

The aforementioned are the greatest steps in preparation for our last breath. This means that the results yielded by our final breath are contingent upon the earlier breaths we have taken. Preparation for the last breath begins immediately, since it will only be as good as the breaths we take at the moment. Allah’s servants of distinction, who live throughout their lives with love and devotion to the Almighty and His Messenger, peacefully breathe their last by pronouncing the testimony of faith (shahâdah). They are the ones about whom the Prophet Muhammad gave glad tidings: “He who (sincerely) testifies that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah while taking his last breath will enter Paradise…” (Hâkim, Mustadrak, vol. I, no. 503)

In other words, whoever lives throughout his lifetime with the kalima-i tawhîd[1] will breath his last on his journey towards Allah with it on his lips. Such are the ones who have wiped all temporary and worldly loves and idols out of their hearts by saying (there is no) and then filled them with the love of Allah Almighty by the pronouncement illâ (but).

It is essential to know that the universe which has been created by the power of the Almighty is a transitory dwelling decorated with many attractions. Nothing in the world was created without a cause. The objective of human beings in this world is to attain happiness in the Hereafter. That is why our Lord warns us, the believers: “O, ye who believe! Fear Allah as He should be feared and die not except in a state of Islam.”(Âl ‘Imrân, 3: 102)

Death, which sooner or later every living being on earth will face, is tantamount to a personal judgment day. We should never forget that we, whether we realize it or not, are actually confronted by death several times every day and night. Death ever waits in ambush for us. Imâm Jalâluddîn Rûmî says in his Mathnawî:

Every moment a part of you is perishing… At every moment you are relinquishing a part of your life.

With every passing day, do we not move a step away from this mortal life and move a step closer to the grave? Are the days not being torn away from our life’s calendar? As though we stand blind against the current of a river, Rûmî warns us:

“O people, take your last glimpse at the embroidery in the mirror! And think how this beauty will be when it grows old and how a building looks in ruins and do not be misled by the lie in the mirror.”

Our last breath is a divine secret that is surrounded by innumerable wisdoms. When “death-the most certain” of future realities-will meet us rests on divine fate. As a matter of fact, humans confront the possibility of death each day of their lives. Illnesses, unexpected events and disasters are all realities they face, but most people due to their weaknesses are unaware of these everyday dangers. Does this not show how fine the line is between this world and the next?

Therefore, human beings should contemplate the meanings of the above-mentioned verses and live in accordance with them at all times; they must think before time runs out since there will be no second chance in the Hereafter. Though human beings should be aware of this reality, many remain heedless, wasting their time; the majority of human beings simply watch the passing of days in numbness, like rocks which never receive their share from the drops of falling rain…

In fact, from the time of our birth until we die we continue along the road without realizing it. With every moment in time we draw that much closer to our end. This is beautifully explained in the following verse:

“If We grant long life to any, We cause him to be reversed in nature: Will they not then understand?” (Yâsîn, 36: 68)

In the market of Ukaz, Kus bin Sâ‘idah, a pious man who lived before the time of Prophet Muhammad (May Allah bless him and grant him peace) and had given his people glad tidings of his arrival, once made a speech which, in retrospection, is like an interpretation of the verse above. He described the scenes of this mortal life in the following beautiful manner:

“O people! Come, listen and take warning! Every living creature will die, whoever is dead will perish, rain falls and grass grows. Children are born and take the place of their parents. Then all will fade and perish. It is a chain of events, all following one after the other…”

Once our lives are spent and we breathe our last we will either find ourselves with time to bid farewell to all that is in the world or out of time. But for those who are truly devoted to and in love with Allah, it will not be death per se; rather, it will be a blessed resurrection, and they will be brought forth as if on Shab-i Arûs,the wedding night. This is why we must understand the secret of the expression “die before death comes to you”. This secret is explained in the words of Rûmî as: “Die to be resurrected”. ‘Alî (May Allah be pleased with him) once said “Humans are asleep and when they die they wake up…” Therefore, we must know that true life is not to live as a bestial soul, but rather to live in accordance with our divine souls that have been blessed by Allah Almighty, and not being defeated by our emotions or worldly desires.

The worst kind of death is to die unaware of Allah Almighty, bereft of His pleasure. This is why a believer must be conscious of how they live and how they will die; they must train themselves to turn their belief (imân) into perfection in faith (ihsân). Nobody, aside from the Prophets, has been given a guarantee about how they will die or be resurrected, yet in the following verse where the Prophet Yûsuf (upon him be peace) seeks refuge in Allah, there is a significant message for us:

“Originator of the heavens and the earth! Thou art near unto me in this world and in the life to come: let me die as one who has surrendered himself unto Thee, and make me one with the righteous!”.” (Yûsuf, 12: 101)

Thus, the hearts of believers must be in a state that is between fear and hope. With this cautiousness and tender-heartedness, a person should always spend his life being concerned with taking his final breath with faith.

The first and clearest indication of our state on the Day of Judgment manifests itself in the way in which we breathe for the last time in this world. The Qur’ân, our guide to salvation, gives us several examples of the faithful on their deathbeds-faithful who had striven for eternal salvation-depicting the rewards they received. Subsequent to Prophet Mûsâ performing an incontrovertible miracle, the magicians of Pharaoh said:

“We believe in the Lord of the Worlds, the Lord of Mûsâ and Hârûn.” (A‘râf, 7: 121-22) They immediately prostrated and were blessed with faith. But the imprudent Pharaoh became infuriated and considered himself capable of governing their souls with his power; he threatened them saying:

…Believe ye in him before I give you permission? Surely this is a trick which ye have planned in the city to drive out its people: but soon shall ye know (the consequences). Be sure I will cut off your hands and your feet on opposite sides, and I will cause you all to die on the cross.” (A‘râf, 7: 123-24)

The magicians, in a deep ecstasy of faith, replied:

…we are but sent back unto our Lord!” (A‘râf, 7: 125)

With the power of faith they stood against Pharaoh.

How exemplary their narrative is: even when they faced the oppression of Pharaoh, they did not ask to be saved from it, but rather they were more concerned about passing away as believers. They said, seeking refuge in Allah Almighty:

“…Our Lord! Pour out on us patience and constancy, and take our souls unto Thee as Muslims (who bow to thy will)! (A‘râf, 7: 126)

The price they paid for their faith was to have their hands and legs cut off, and they met their Creator as martyrs and as His friends.

Furthermore, the oppressors in the narrative of the Ashâb-i Ukhdûd[2] thought that the believers were committing a crime when they declared their faith in Allah; they thus threw them into ditches of fire. But the devoted believers never abandoned their faith, going bravely to their deaths for the sake of their belief in Allah Almighty. Indeed, those who truly fear Allah do not fear anything else.

Habîb-i Najjâr of the Ashâb-i Qaria[3] was stoned to death because of his faith. But while the curtains of this world were closing for him at his final breath, the windows of the afterlife opened and he was shown the divine pleasures he had earned. Grieved by the blindness of his people, he said:

“…Would that my people knew!”(Yâsîn, 36: 26)

Eternal happiness in the Hereafter was bestowed upon him as a result of his stoning to death in this temporal world.

In the early periods of Christianity, the Romans, in alliance with the Greeks and idolaters, led the believers to their deaths at the cruel mercy of savage lions. The faithful were not thinking about living while they in the grip of the lions; rather they were struggling to keep their faith. They endured this severe persecution because they had chosen the reward of Allah the Merciful.

Without a doubt, these are all rewards for those who are conscious of being always with Allah Almighty. Thus being with Allah the Merciful is the peak of servitude and an essential part of it.

It is reported that once, Shaykh Shibli was sitting in a congregation where a preacher was giving a sermon on the Day of Judgment. Towards the end of the sermon the preacher spoke about the questions which will be asked to those in the grave:

“Where did you use your knowledge? Where did you spend your wealth? Did you perform your prayers? Were you heedful of what was permitted (halâl) and what was forbidden (harâm)?”

The preacher continued with similar questions. So many peripheral issues were mentioned that Shaykh Shibli, in order to bring attention back to the main point, called out to the imâm: “O imâm! Allah Almighty will not ask that many questions. He will, however, ask, “O My servant! I was with you, who were you with?”

Thus, we see that at the heart of what how we conduct ourselves is the constant awareness that we are with the Almighty and then, as a result, not waste the limited breaths that have been afforded to us. This is explained in the following beautiful lines of poetry:

It has been wasted, we now understand

The one hour which we spent without you…

The Prophet Muhammad (May Allah bless him and grant him peace) once took hold of ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar’s shoulders and said:

Be in this world as if you are a stranger or a traveler.”(Bukhârî, Riqaq, no. 5)

It was with these thoughts that ‘Abdullâh ibn ‘Umar (May Allah be pleased with both of them) always gave the following advice in his sermons:

If you survive till the evening, do not expect to be alive in the morning, and if you survive till the morning, do not expect to be alive in the evening, and take (precaution or preparations) from your health for your sickness, and (take) from your life for your death” (Bukhârî, Riqaq, no. 3)

These words, which express the temporality of life, direct us to the true life. In fact, the Messenger of Allah (May Allah bless him and give him peace) expressed the same sentiments in one of his prayers: “O Allah! There is no life worth living except the life of the Hereafter…” (Bukhârî, Riqaq, no. 2)

The lives of the Companions, who understood this reality in the best manner, are full of examples of virtue and wisdom. Khubayb (May Allah be pleased with him) had only one wish before being martyred: to send his affectionate greetings to the Prophet of Allah (May Allah bless him and grant him peace). With sadness he turned his eyes to the skies and, seeking refuge in Allah, said:

“O Allah, there is no one here to take my greetings to the Messenger of Allah (May Allah bless him and grant him peace), please take my greetings to him!” At that moment the Prophet Muhammad who was sitting in Medina with his Companions said: “Wa ‘alayhissalâm” (greetings be upon him also). Upon hearing this the Companions, surprised by what they heard, asked the Prophet: “O Messenger of Allah, whose greetings did you reply to?” “To your brother Khubayb’s greetings,”[1] he responded. The Prophet Muhammad (May Allah bless him and grant him peace) described Khubayb as the most noble of martyrs saying, “He is my neighbor in heaven.”

Another example of this kind of love and enthusiasm is when, at the end of the Battle of ‘Uhud, the Prophet Muhammad (May Allah bless him and grant him peace) gave orders that all the wounded and martyrs be accounted for, but he was particularly concerned about Sa‘d ibn al-Rabî‘ (May Allah be pleased with him). The Prophet Muhammad (May Allah bless him and grant him peace) sent one of his Companions to the battleground to see if there was any news of him. The Companion called out and looked everywhere, but could not find Sa‘d (May Allah be pleased with him).  Finally, without much hope, he shouted towards the wounded and martyrs: “O Sa‘d, the Prophet has sent me. He has asked me to find out if you are among the living or the martyrs.” Hearing that the Prophet was concerned about him, Sa‘d (May Allah be pleased with him) mustered all his strength and said in a weak voice: “I am now among the dead.” It is likely that at that very moment he was witnessing scenes of the Afterlife. The Companion ran over to Sa’d. He had been fatally injured. In a low voice, he uttered the following profound words: “By Allah, if you let any harm befall the Prophet (May Allah bless him and grant him peace) while your eyes still have the strength to move, you will have no excuse before Allah.”[2] These words of Sa‘d ibn al-Rabî‘ much like parting advice to all Muslims, were also his words of farewell to the mortal world.

The following report by Huzayfa (May Allah be pleased with him) is significant since it reflects the grace and sublime morals of the Companions during their final moments:

“It was during the battle of Yarmûk. The intensity of the conflict had been subsided. Some of the Muslims had been wounded by spears and arrows and they were living their final moments. With what remained of my strength, I began to look for my cousin. After walking among the wounded for a while I found him. He was in a pool of blood, hardly able to speak; he was trying to communicate with his eyes. Showing him the water skin I asked:

‘Would you like some water?’ It was obvious he did, for his lips had dried up from thirst, but he did not have the strength to answer. It was as if he was trying to tell me of his pain by motioning with his eyes. Just as I was about to give him the water, ‘Ikrima’s voice was heard from among the wounded: ‘Water! Water! Please somebody give me a little water!’ Hearing this, my cousin Hârith signaled with his eyes that he wanted me to take the water to ‘Ikrima.

Running among the martyrs across the baking sands I reached ‘Ikrima. I was about to give him water when we heard the groans of ‘Iyâsh. ’Give me a drop of water, for the love of Allah, a drop of water!’ On hearing this, ‘Ikrima told me to take the water to ‘Iyâsh; as Hârith before him, he did not have the chance to drink any water. By the time I had run through the martyrs and reached ‘Iyâsh, I heard his last words:

“O Allah, we never abstained from sacrificing our lives in the cause of faith. Give us the honor of martyrdom and forgive our sins!” It was obvious that he had almost attained martyrdom; he had seen the water, but he had had no time to drink it… he had just finished saying the kalima-i tawhid. I ran back to ‘Ikrima to offer him the water; then I realized that he had also been blessed by martyrdom! I thought that at least I would be able to reach my cousin Hârith. I ran back as fast as I could. But it was in vain, for on the baking sand he had already surrendered his soul… unfortunately, the water skin was still full despite the thirst of these three martyrs.”[1]

Huzayfa (May Allah be pleased with him) explains his spiritual state at the time:

“I have seen many incidents during my lifetime, but I have never been as moved or inspired as I was then. Even though there were no family ties between these men, the altruism, thoughtfulness and affection they extended to one another raised my admiration for them and left deep traces in my memory…”

May Allah Almighty bless us also with a death which takes place in a state of belief and with pronouncing the kalima-i tawhid and may our last breath be the beginning of our eternal reunion with the Beloved. Âmîn.

[1]. See, Hâkim, al-Mustadrak, vol. III, 270.

[1]. See, Bukhârî, Maghâzî, 10; Wâqidî, Maghâzi, 280-81

[2]. See, Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr, Isti’ab, vol. II,  590

[1].The “kalmia-l tawhîd” is the Muslim testimony of faith, “lâ ilâha illallâh muhammad rasûlulla.”

[2].Ashâb-i Ukhdûd, “The People of the Cave”, are spoken of in Chapter 18 of the Qur’ân.

[3].Ashâb-i Qaria: “The People of the Village”, are spoken of in Chapter 36 of the Qur’ân.