The Final Breath-An Untarnished Mirror

The last breath is like clear polished mirror. Man will only be sure of his rank at the moment of his final exhalation; then his life`saccount will be displayed before his eyes and his heart.

The last breath is like a clear polished mirror. Man will only be sure of his rank at the moment of his final exhalation; then his life’s account will be displayed before his eyes and his heart. It is for this reason that there is no better preparation for the time of death than the contemplation of death itself. 

As mentioned in the Qur’ân, the Pharaoh spent his life rebelling against Allah and only realized the true meaning of his life when he confronted his fate at the Red Sea. He came to understand the reality of his selfish reign as nothing more than the cause of his own misery and sorrow. When he breathed his last, he did so full of regret:

“We took the Children of Israel across the sea: Pharaoh and his hosts followed them in insolence and spite. At length, when overwhelmed with the flood, he said: “I believe that there is no god except Him in Whom the Children of Israel believe: I am of those who submit (to Allah in Islâm).(Yûnus, 10: 90)

But it was too late. Allah Almighty said to the Pharaoh, who had only been inclined to testify his faith while drowning in the Red Sea:

“Ah now! But a little while before wast thou in rebellion! And thou didst mischief (and violence)” (Yûnus, 10: 91)

Therefore, waking up from a state of slumber, feeling regret and desiring to embrace belief when one is breathing their last is nothing but devastation for those who are in the habit of this when in moments of trouble but then rescinding again when in safety. When the truth confronts us, failing to hear the profound but silent scream of death when we are so engrossed in the daily concerns of our lives, forgetting that one day we too will pass through the door of death, is such a very sad state of heedlessness. We should all be prepared for the surprises and the turbulence of life. Living without considering death is a sorrowful blindness; without a doubt, we will all pass through the curtain of death one day.

In many verses of the Qur’ân, Allah the Merciful states that the world was created as a place of trial for humans:

Every soul shall have a taste of death: And We test you by evil and by good by way of trial. To Us must ye return.” (Anbiyâ, 21: 35)

“He who created death and life, that He may try which of you is best in deed…” (Mulk, 67: 2)

Every breath we inhale and exhale in this life during our worship, transactions and daily conduct is  an indication of how we shall breath our last.

Imâm Ghazâlî says:

Those who never attained the pleasure of knowledge in this world will not attain the pleasure of contemplation of the Divine essence in the Hereafter; a person cannot own anything in the Hereafter that they have not earned in this world. Everybody will reap in the Hereafter whatever he has planted in this world; everyone will die as they lived and rise as they died. The extent of the reward of blessing in the Hereafter depends on the extent of knowledge we gained in this world or how much we are aware of the Almighty and perform our duties.

Therefore, with each breath we are actually preparing ourselves either for divine punishment or reward. Allah Almighty warns us in the Qur’ân:

“O ye who believe! Save yourselves and your families from a fire whose fuel is men and stones…” (Tahrîm, 66: 6)

“When the Blazing Fire is kindled to a fierce heat; And when the Garden is brought near; (Then) shall each soul know what it has put forward.”(Takwîr, 81: 12-14)

“Then whither go ye?”(Takwîr, 81: 26)

In this respect, every human being must examine his conduct and be careful in his preparations. He must live with awareness throughout his life before death arrives. Profit and loss, gain and decrease each has its place in this world. In the grave, there will only be reckoning.

It is certain that those who have been deceived by their carnal and temporal desires on this earth and who, consequently, have weakened their spirituality, will be afflicted with contempt and frustration in their graves. Moreover, it is unknown how much longer our time in the grave will be compared with the time we spend on Earth. So the main duty of every right minded person is to prepare for a long life in the grave and for eternal life in the Hereafter.

On the other hand, the dark face of death, brightened by the lights of a believing heart, can be transformed from being a terrifying moment into glad tidings of eternal revival. A graveyard full of friends and family members is not a world of darkness, but it is a place of warning and guidance. For a conscious believer, life and death are natural realities which live side by side. A true believer is at peace with death because he has prepared for it; his soul is ever tranquil. In short, making our last breath the most beautiful moment of our lives depends on if we have a heart full of love and affection for Allah the Merciful. Otherwise, a life full of “Affection for the world and loathing of death” will end in misery.

It is possible to describe the ideal preparation for the Hereafter as an adornment of the self  with “attributes of perfection”, such as compassion, kindness, responsibility, forgiveness, self-sacrifice, devotion, benevolence and patience, all of which are mentioned in the Qur’ân.Embracing all of these attributes of goodness and being among the servants loved by Allah is the result of true belief. Belief and devotion should be a Muslim’s main goal. On the other hand, we should avoid evil qualities such as pride, arrogance, profligacy, oppression, sedition, backbiting, gossip, slander and lying. Since these and their like are disliked by Allah, abstaining from them is an important part of our preparation for the Hereafter.

In order to breathe one’s last in faith, the believer must first refine and purify his soul from vile tendencies and then adorn it with characteristics of perfection. This is because the establishment of piety in the heart is the most valuable guide on the journey of life.

The following statement of Imâm Jalâluddîn Rûmî in some way explains this side of purification:

Building a grave is done neither with stone, with wood nor with felt. It is essential to dig a grave for yourself in a pure heart, and in your own abode of cleanliness. And in order to do that, you must be rid of self assertion and selfishness in the presence of Allah Almighty.”

For the refinement of the soul and the attainment of the desired states of heart, it is necessary to be filled with affection for Allah and His Messenger. The greatest sign of affection for Allah is obedience. Rebelling against Allah whilst claiming to have affection is nothing more than self-delusion.

Allah Almighty says:

“Say: If it be that your fathers, your sons, your brothers, your mates, or your kindred, the wealth that ye have gained, the commerce in which ye fear a decline or the dwellings in which ye delight – are dearer to you than Allah or His Messenger, or the striving in His cause; then wait until Allah brings about His decision: and Allah guides not the rebellious.” (Tawba, 9: 24)

Hence, we should hold the love of Allah Almighty and His Messenger and devotion to them above all else; we must also be dutiful in protecting this state until our appointed terms. Achieving higher levels of love for Allah can be realized through performing our duties and worship. There is a great difference between the servitude of a soul that is caught up in worldly passions and away from divine love and the servitude of a soul full of devotion and divine love. Noble deeds, good manners, service for other human beings, acts of worship and the obedience of a believer whose heart is full of true affection for Allah and the Prophet (May Allah bless him and grant him peace) all bring him closer to the level of excellence. Another consideration a believer needs to pay close attention to in preparing for the moment of death is the performance of duties and worship with reverence. Allah the Merciful specifies the qualities of those believers who have attained salvation:

Successful indeed are the believers, those who humble themselves in their prayers.”(Mu’minûn, 23: 1-2)

As for those who pray in heedlessness, it is said in the Qur’ân:

Woe to the worshippers, those who are neglectful of their prayers.” (Mâ‘ûn, 107: 4-5)

Allah Almighty wants the believers to perform acts of worship with their hearts and bodies in complete harmony, this being a step towards eternal union with Allah. Without a doubt, this divine desire constitutes the basis not only for prayer but also for all other forms of worship such as pilgrimage, fasting, and alms giving.

In this regard, fasting teaches us to appreciate the blessings that have been bestowed upon us, it brings our hearts closer to those who are in difficult positions and it embellishes our hearts with empathy for those who are less fortunate than us. At the same time, by preventing us from the normally permitted blessings, fasting helps us to avoid unlawful and doubtful things at other times. Hajj is a form of worship in which we don the shroud of the dead, reminding ourselves of our insignificance in the presence of the Divine Majesty. A believer who gives charity must be aware that the true owner of wealth is Allah the Merciful, and that he is just a custodian of that wealth. Moreover, how can a believer who gives charity be envious of the wealth of other people? Yet, the level of consciousness in servitude, the basis of all worship, is only in proportion to the strength of faith and affection in the soul. When the soul has been cleansed of all impurities, the acts of worship attain their true consistency and there then shines the light of Truth.

We learn from the exemplary life of the Prophet Muhammad (May Allah bless him and grant him peace) and from the ways of his Companions how to perform acts of worship with the due reverence they deserves. The Prophet at no point considered his life detached from the Hereafter; he constantly drew attention to the importance of performing an act of worship as if it is the last.

One of the Companions came to Prophet Muhammad (May Allah bless him and grant him peace) and said: “O Messenger of Allah! Please give me some advice which is concise and reaches the heart of the matter!” The Prophet Muhammad answered: “When you pray, pray as if you are leaving this world and it is your last prayer! Do not say anything that you will have to apologize for! Do be desirous for the possessions of others!” (Ibn-i Mâjah, Zuhd, 15; Ahmed bin Hanbal, Musnad, V, 412)

Being believers who strive throughout their lives to prepare for death, we need to beautify our manners and transactions with the guidelines from the life of the Prophet Muhammad just as we do in our acts of worship. We should strive to be a Muslim whose thoughts and actions can benefit the community; whatever we want for ourselves we should also want for our Muslim brothers and sisters. As a result, our affection for Allah and His Messenger should gush forth from our hearts and embrace all living creatures.

Another valuable point to consider when preparing for death is to internalize the state of ihsân in our hearts. That is, remembering Allah Almighty in our hearts as if we are under divine observation at all times. The greatest joy for a believer is the thought of being united with the Beloved, but those whose minds are not synchronized with their hearts and are defeated by carnal desires are incapable of comprehending that joy. In other words, they are unaware of the ultimate happiness.

Believers must put their trust in Allah and be patient. They should never lose moderation or balance which may be shaken by the traumas of life. They must remember the intense trials that the Prophet Muhammad (May Allah bless him and grant him peace) was made to face. Even though he lost five of his six children, without showing overwhelming grief or spiritual imbalance he accepted his fate. Neither should we forget the patience and strength he displayed when his uncle Hamza (May Allah be pleased with him) and his beloved companion Mus‘ab (May Allah be pleased with him) were martyred.

Every human being in this mortal world must learn to control their actions with patience. All travelers of the path of spirituality must treat forgetfulness with remembrance, ungratefulness with gratitude, rebellion with obedience, miserliness with generosity, selfishness with altruism, doubt with knowledge, hypocrisy with sincerity and humility, sedition with repentance and heedlessness with contemplation.

Holy days and nights and, particularly, dawn times enlivened by remembrance are other opportunities to draw spiritually closer to the Almighty. The light of happiness in the Hereafter is hidden in the darkness of dawn. All the friends of the Truth who lived a life combining the temporal world and Hereafter sought the pleasure of Allah Almighty with affection and fear at dawn. Those who adore Allah the Merciful considered any dawn passed without remembrance as hours of separation from the Him.

Another important aspect is charity spent in the way of Allah. As in the following verse:

“And spend of your substance in the cause of Allah, and make not your own hands contribute to (your) destruction…” (Baqarah, 2: 195)

Islamic exegetes interpret the danger in this verse as being a “negligence to serve religion and to elevate the voice of Truth, and to stay away from charity and sacrifice due to fear of destitution and love for the world.” Therefore, a believer must always make the effort to spend their wealth and their lives on the path of the Almighty. This is since, just like this mortal life, all our belongings are also worldly possessions that have been entrusted to us. Spending these trusts for just causes will bring us benefit eternally, whereas miserliness or withholding due to carnal desires will lead to frustration and loss in the Hereafter.

The believer should always remember the following warning regarding charity: When the body of the dead is lowered down into the grave before the insects reach the body, condolences of his family and close relatives end. As the heirs begin to divide inheritance, the earth begins to eat away at the body. These two events continue and end together.

On the one hand, the body is being consumed; on the other, the wealth of the deceased is being divided among the relatives. Observing this in surprise, the soul regrets many actions it did in the world, but in vain. Only belief and good deeds will be our real wealth in the Hereafter. The Prophet Muhammad (May Allah bless him and grant him peace) said:

“(Depending on the actions in the world) the grave will either be one of the gardens of Paradise or one of the pits of Hell. (Tirmidhî, Qiyâmah, 26)

In short, the condition of our lives in the grave, which will last until the Day of Judgment, will be determined by our actions and deeds in this world.

If a servant stands firm on the direction of the qiblah, regardless of their occupation, Allah Almighty will bestow upon him the blessing of being able to find the qiblah during his last moments in the world. What is meant by the qiblah here is a life that is lived in accordance with the guidance of the Qur’ân and the Sunnah, and in devotion to the meaning of the kalima-i tawhîd. Those who never lose their attachment to the meaning of tawhîd in their daily life, in their familial or social relationships, or in their servitude to Allah, will usually enjoy the serene atmosphere of the qiblah when breathing their last.

The important thing in this life is to attain the secret contained in the verse “Guide us to the straight path” (Fâtiha, 1: 6)] and spend our lives on the “straight path” of Islâm. Otherwise there remains the likelihood of ending this life in despair, like a ship that has been misguided, doomed to be smashed into pieces on the rocks of the dark seas. May Allah Almighty protect us all.

Those who spend their lives as if death is imminent and comprehend the real meaning of “die before you die” are the wise servants and true companions of Allah. It is a divine assurance that they will be at peace, far from the fear and sorrow of Judgment Day.

The mysterious curtain of death which hides the eternal universe of the afterlife is bliss for those who guarded their faith and spent their lives in preparation for their final breaths on Earth.

At the time of death it is our duty to return the soul that Allah has entrusted to us in the same pure and perfect way in which it was given. Just as a poet said:

At that moment curtains open and curtains close;

The merit is to be able to say welcome to Azrael!

(N. Fazil Kisakurek)

The final breath is like a clean, untarnished mirror. Man looks into this mirror, seeing both the beauty and the hideousness of his life. All eyes, ears and limbs will testify against their owners; every curtain will be raised and confessions will leave the mind and the conscience in a state of regret. Let not our final glance into the mirror be one of regret. While time remains, we must make the Qur’ân and the exemplary life of the Prophet (May Allah bless him and grant him peace) a part of our lives. Only the wise truly know themselves before they die.

May Allah make our last breath a window through which we view our rewards in the eternal world! Amîn!