Beyond the Gate: The New Reality
Once one has passed through the one-way Gateway (Death) into the Barzakh, and is away from the material world, the soul witnesses the spiritual world and realizes how he neglected to prepare for the life ahead. The things he once looked upon as remote or unlikely to happen, are now in fact an intimate reality, and things that previously appeared to be significant and of immediate importance in the Dunya (world) are now mere shadows that have already fled. The things that he wanted to avoid are the things that have inevitably come to pass with the full intensity of truth:
[It will be said] “You were certainly unmindful of this. Yet, now We have removed from you your veil, so your sight, this Day, is sharp.” [Sûrah Al-Qâf, 50:22]
Realizing the truth of his situation, the sinner will desire to go back to the past life to ‘clean up his act,’ to become more fully righteous; however, he will be denied, for he had already been given the opportunity to be righteous while alive – every moment of consciousness was an opportunity for him to turn to AllahSWT and to do good deeds, but instead he had repeatedly followed his fleeting whims:
Until, when death comes to one of them (those who join partners with Allah), he says: “My Lord! Send me back, so that I may do good in that which I have left behind!” No! It is but a word that he speaks; and behind them is Barzakh (a barrier) until the Day when they will be resurrected. [Sûrah Al-Mu’minûn, 23:99-100]
Even given a hypothetical ‘second chance,’ under the same circumstances, man would do the exact same actions which he already has done while alive. AllahSWT, through His Comprehensive Wisdom and Eternal Knowledge, knows that giving us another chance will not make any difference to the outcome, for He knows what we do not know, about our future actions and intentions:
Nay, it has become manifest to them what they had been concealing before. But if they were returned (to the world), they would certainly revert to that which they were forbidden. For indeed they are liars. [Sûrah Al-An‘âm, 6:28]
For those of us who are living in this world, every death before our eyes and any close call is a warning for us who are observing the event. In reality, we often turn our eyes and minds away from these realities, until a misfortune befalls us resulting from our own actions; then we turn to AllahSWT and seek His Mercy; and when the calamity is removed, we turn back ungrateful, and repeat the same act:
And when adversity touches man, he calls upon Us; then when We bestow on him a favor from Us, he says, “I have been given [that favor] only because of [my] knowledge.” Rather, [that favor] is a trial, but most of them do not know. [Sûrah Al-Zumar, 39:49]
For those who have passed through the gate, the state of stupor that preceded death was extremely painful as indicated by moaning, groaning and restlessness. But no one except AllahSWT knows exactly the degree of pain and the extent of difficulties being experienced. Stupor was followed by the states of unconsciousness and lethargy which indicated imminent death: suddenly moaning, groaning and restlessness were followed by calmness and upward rolling of the eyes; all body-functions, including any movement of the lungs and the heart, come to a halt.
Stupor was painful because while a person is alive, his body is infused with life, and life is mysteriously amalgamated within every cell of the body (every cell is a unit of life), whereas his soul is connected with the centers of awareness, with sensory perceptions, and with the mind – all related to the brain. In addition, the life of a cell is dependent on the availability of oxygen. Lack of oxygen, called anoxia, causes severe pain.
In the process of dying, the soul must break all bindings with the body, and life must be extracted from each cell. Given the scenario of the intimate relationship of the soul to cellular life in the physical body, the extraction of life and soul must be extremely difficult and painful. Without the state of unconsciousness and the lethargy that follows stupor, the pain of death would be similar to the pain that one would experience if he were to be skinned or burned alive. The onset of the pre-death lethargy brings some relief to that agony, numbing the sensory perceptions at the level of consciousness. The pre-death state of unconsciousness and lethargy is a manifestation of the Mercy and Compassion of AllahSWT.
The time and place of each individual’s death had already been decreed. As he walked on the timeline of his life, every step that he took was imperceptibly a step towards this eventual reality. Thus, every breath of air and every beat of the heart was a sign of motion towards that Final Return:
O mankind, indeed you are laboring on toward your Lord with [great] exertion; then you will meet Him. [Sûrah Al-Inshiqâq, 84:6]
And when death arrived, the timeline ended – no one could have moved that endmark a step backward or a step forward— and the soul surrendered to the inevitable:
And when their term [endpoint] comes, neither can they delay nor can they advance it an hour (or a moment). [Sûrah Al-Naḥl, 16:61]
Nay! When the soul reaches the collarbone (i.e. up to the throat in its exit from the body), then it will be said, “Who can cure him (and save him from death)?” And he (the dying person) will realize that this is (the time of) parting, of final departure (death). [Sûrah Al-Qiyâmah, 75:26-28]
Living in Mindfulness of Approaching the Gate
Life and death are two opposing forces, defining our state of existence at any particular point in our personal experience. No one can stop the flow of time, and as we continue with our daily lives, there is always a chance of death at any moment. Not knowing exactly when death will strike us, it is natural for us to live in a state between hoping to go on living on this earth and fearing to die.
In life, hope and fear run parallel. We hope to live; therefore we make the necessary efforts required to preserve and improve our current states. Subconsciously we acknowledge that there is a fear of harm and possible death, if we neglect preserving ourselves.
However, there are other aspects of life which man has no control over. In health and sickness, and in youth and old age, there is a hope to live and a fear to die. As we grow older, our hope to long continue decreases as our fear increases, and in any adversity we acknowledge our final return as inevitable and say, with all believers:
“Who, when disaster strikes them, say, “Indeed we belong to Allah, and indeed to Him we will return.” [Sûrah Al-Baqarah, 2:156]
One significant warning and reminder of death has been included in our daily lives through the phenomenon of sleep. This is in the cycle of sleep and awakening, which goes hand-in-hand with the alteration of night and day:
Allah takes the souls at the time of their death, and those who have not yet died [He takes them away] during their sleep, then keeping back those for whom He has decreed death and releasing the others [to continue on] for their specified term. Indeed in that are signs for a people who give thought. [Sûrah Al-Zumar, 39:42]
And it is He who has made the night for you as clothing, and sleep [a means for] rest, and has made the day a (metaphor of) Resurrection. [Sûrah Al-Furqân, 25:47]
Death is the common destiny for all of mankind, and indeed, for all living creations. In fact, death is more certain than life – because there are many potential lives that die even before they are born. However, if someone is born, then death will inevitably occur:
We have decreed death among you, and We are not to be overridden.” [Sûrah Al-Wâqiyah, 56:60]
“Everyone upon the earth will perish. [Sûrah Al-Raḥmân, 55:26]
And do not invoke with Allah another deity. There is no deity except Him. Everything will be destroyed except His Face, His is the judgment, and to Him you will be returned. [Sûrah Al-Qaṣaṣ, 28:88]
We cannot meet AllahSWT in the physical state in which we presently exist. Death causes metamorphosis to our physical bodies, and in Resurrection the physical body is restored from the same dust, then that resurrected body is re-joined with the soul —a necessary change before we can meet Him and stand before the Seat of Ultimate Justice. When those who now reject the Resurrection later come to face the truth and realize the consequences of rejection, they will make an appeal to AllahSWT:
And if you only could see the Mujrimûn (criminals/disbelievers) —how they shall hang their heads before their Lord (saying): “Our Lord! We have now seen and heard, so send us back (to the world) that we will do righteous deeds! Verily! We now believe with certainty.” [Sûrah Al-Sajdah, 32:12]
They will say: “Our Lord! You have made us to die twice, and you have given us life twice! Now we confess our sins; so then is there any way to get out (of the Fire)? [Sûrah Ghafir, 40:11]
AllahSWT will reject their appeal because—from His Eternal Knowledge of the past, present and future— He knows that even if they were to be given another (hypothetical) opportunity to return to the world, they would deny the revival of their dead bodies (resurrection) and would repeat the sins that they had committed in the past:
…But if they were to be returned (to the world), they would certainly revert to that which they were forbidden. For indeed they are liars. For they would say: “There is no other life but our present life of this world, and we will never be resurrected.” [Sûrah Al-An’am, 6:28-29]
To be continued in Part 4…