“The eyes surely tear,
and the heart is surely in pain,
but (with my tongue) I will only say that which is pleasing to Allah,
and we are indeed sad at being separated from you, O Ibrahim.”
—Prophet Muhammad ﷺ (peace be upon him), upon losing his child Ibrahim at 2 years old
Al-Muhye, Al-Mumeet: The Life-Giver, the Life-Taker
These two names often come together, but I will be brief on al-Muhye, as I want to elaborate on it further in a separate article, and focus more on al-Mumeet here. These names are not mentioned in this exact form in the Qur’an, but their meaning is conveyed in numerous places. Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala(exalted is He) says:
“He gives life and causes death (yuhyee wa yumeet), and to Him you will be returned,” [Qur’an, 10:56]
Al-Ghazali explains these two names, stating that “none is the creator of life and death but God—may He be praised and exalted, and so there is no life-giver or slayer but God—Great and Glorious.”
Allah gives life to things that are dead. We all witness the death of nature around us; a seed—a lifeless thing—is planted and given nourishment, and grows into a tall sturdy tree that gives us flowers and fruits. Then in autumn, the leaves fall, and the trees stand inanimate through the winter. But come spring, the flowers bloom again. Indeed he is al-Muhye: He gives life. And perhaps the greatest manifestation is our own life: the growth of a human being, with a soul, from a sperm and an egg. Indeed, these are signs for people who reflect:
“He brings the living out of the dead and brings the dead out of the living and brings to life the earth after its lifelessness. And thus will you be brought out.” (Qur’an, 30:19)
This is a sensitive matter—while we all know death is coming, we are generally not conscious of it. Death is seen as negative; it signifies the end. Indeed the Prophet ﷺ advised us to “Think about the destroyer of pleasures,” [Tirmidhi], that is, death. If we haven’t been through it yet by losing someone around us, we surely will at some point.
To know that Allah (swt) is the Life-Taker is to be certain that there is death. And while most of us fear death whenever we are aware of it, it is usually because we do not know enough about it or because we have not prepared for it. There are two kinds of relationships that we have with death: our own, when we are faced with our mortality, and the loss of someone dear to us.
Every day is a step closer to death. Sheikh ‘Umar Abdel Kafy once said, “You are not closer to death when you are sitting in an airplane than when you are at home,” meaning that it can come suddenly. There is truly a scary part to death in that our grave is representative of where we will be after we are judged. That in itself should wake us up. All of these slogans that we hear today: “YOLO”, “Just do it”, “Carpe Diem” and others are very relevant to us, but not in the way that they are intended. They should compel us to do the opposite of the demands of a hedonistic lifestyle: Death is around the corner, and we only have one chance at this life, so let us race towards good. Let us let go of grudges. When it comes to your relationship with Allah, when it comes to helping others and doing good, there should be no hesitation. “Just do it”. No more excuses. “YOLO”.
Sheikh Salman al-Odah once spoke very eloquently on our relationship with death. He explains that death is simply a continuation of life, a transition from one place to another. We are believers in the next life, so death is not really the “end” in that final sense. Because of that, we can reconcile ourselves with death now; by planting a seed, by being there for our loved ones and making amends for wrongs, by becoming more humble, and by building, not destroying. We make peace with death by re-arranging our priorities while we are able to, and by laying the groundwork for being able to say the shahada before we die: la ilaaha illa Allah (there is no god but God).
He also talks about our second relationship with death: when those we love are taken away. When it comes to those we love, sometimes we feel angry at death. How dare “death” take our loved ones away from us? But the truth is, Allah is al-Mumeet: He is the One who takes away life. Sheikh Salman explains an encounter with a child who is asked, “How many people are in your family?” to which the child responds, “Seven. Five are inside, and two are under that tree.” When the man looks at the tree, he sees no one, but two graves. “You mean you are five,” he says, correcting the child. But the child insists, “We are seven.” This child was taught by his father that when he misses those who passed away, he can visit their graves and pray for them. And soon, we will all join them.
This may be reassuring, but it does not truly take away the pain of separation. Yet this pain is normal. The Prophet ﷺ talked about it when he lost his son, as did the Prophet Ya’coob `alayhi as-salaam (peace be upon him) when he lost Yusuf (as). And imagine when the Companions lost their Belovedﷺ. Imagine when the Prophet ﷺwent on hajj (pilgrimage), and gave his famous farewell sermon. After more than 20 years of struggle, lots of ups and downs, pain and joy, the Prophet ﷺ and his companions finally go on hajj in a free Mecca. After the farewell sermon, the Prophet ﷺpassionately asks, “Have I relayed the message?” The Companions respond in the affirmative; how could anyone say no? They were finally praying by the Ka`bah. Muslims were being dispatched to different areas in the Arab world, inviting others to Islam. The Prophet ﷺ looks up at the sky, saying, “O Allah, bear witness.” Not long after, the Prophet ﷺ becomes ill. In his final days, he cannot even lead prayers. He faints several times in a day. He says, “Truly death has its agonies,” [Bukhari]. When he passes away, and the Companions pray for the first time after the Prophet’s ﷺ death, it was said that the mosque shook from the crying.
The pain at the separation from the Prophet ﷺ never truly left the Companions. Bilal radi Allahu `anhu (may God be pleased with him) moved out of Medina, unable to be there without the Prophet ﷺ. This is natural. Perhaps nothing can replace someone’s presence with you, especially not the Prophet’s ﷺ. And this is why we hear of so many Companions asking to be near the Prophet ﷺ in Paradise. They were hurt by the parting, but they also had something to work towards.
Allah (swt) is so generous that when He takes away the life of someone, it is not the end of your relationship with them. As one of the living, your prayers for them still benefit them. If they gave continuous charity (sadaqa jariya), it goes on for eternity. If you love someone, truly love them, then be a cause of goodness for them in this life and the next. Do not let the time that you spend with them be a gossip session. Seek to truly benefit each other by making a conscious effort to do something, even if very small, for the sake of God. That is the meaning of love—it will carry on until after death.
So do not treat death like it is the end, but prepare for it like it is. Invest your life in such a way that you will see the fruits in the hereafter, because surely “every soul shall taste death,” (Qur’an, 29:57). And we are advised to “worship your Lord until there comes to you the certainty (death),” (Qur’an, 15:99). If any of us had any doubt that death is coming, Allah (swt), being al-Mumeet, surely removes any such doubt.
And when your time comes, know that your soul is being taken by Allah (swt), who both gives and takes away life. And to Him we shall return. In that there should be awe, a sense of comfort and a call to action.
Our Relationship with Al-Mumeet and Death
Heed the advice of Sheikh Salman al-Odah and prioritize things in your life. Work on your character, increase in good deeds, find your passion and figure out how to use it towards good. Let go of animosity because it only brings you down.
2- Pray as if it were your last prayer
While the prayer series helped us to understand the internal element of the various prayer actions, one of the most effective ways to get khushoo` (devotion) in prayer is by praying as if it were your last, as the Prophet ﷺ advised. Hatim al-Asamm, one of the righteous, would imagine that the Angel of Death was behind him as he prayed.
3- Live the way you wish to die with sincerity
The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “When Allah wills good for His slave, He sweetens him.” He was asked, “What is this sweetening?” He said, “Allah guides him to do righteous deeds before he dies, then He takes (his soul) whilst he is in that state.” [Ahmad]
The Prophet ﷺ also said, “Whoever gives charity and that is the last of his deeds will enter Paradise.” [Ahmad]
Sincerity is key here: the Prophet ﷺ narrates a story of a martyr, a scholar and a man who gave much to charity. Amazing as these deeds are, what these three sought from their deeds were attention and fame. And those people will not be in Paradise [narrated in Muslim]. May Allah protect us.
4- Du`a’ (supplication)
Since He (swt) is the One who causes death, He is also the One who can give you a good death. The Prophet Yusuf (as) made a supplication: “Cause me to die a Muslim and join me with the righteous.” (Qur’an, 12:101) None of us knows what our state will be, so one of the most important things is to remember that only Allah (swt) can give us what we desire, and He is al-Mujeeb (the One who responds to prayers) so we should ask Him to only take our soul when we are in the best, most sincere state; to make our best deeds the final ones; and to accept from us the best of what we gave. The Prophet ﷺ said, “A person whose last words are la ilaha ila Allah [there is no god but God] will enter Paradise,” [Abu Dawud]. May Allah make us of them.
If those whom we love have passed away, then we can still benefit them and bring them good by praying for them. And if we are fortunate enough to still have our loved ones around us, then it is the perfect time to transform our relationship with them from one that is limited to this life to one that lasts for eternity. Allah (swt) tells us in the Qur’an:
“But those who feared their Lord will be driven to Paradise in groups until, when they reach it while its gates have been opened and its keepers say, “Peace be upon you; you have become pure; so enter it to abide eternally therein,” [they will enter].” (Qur’an, 39:73)
It can start with something simple: start a monthly gathering with a few friends and family and do something that brings you tranquility, make a messaging or email group and send daily hadith, or have a yearly charity project that will benefit you even after you pass away. More importantly, make sure your intention is sincere. Follow it with actions and du`a’, and let Allah (swt) elevate your relationship.
6- Sadaqa Jariya: Ongoing charity
The Prophet ﷺ told us, “When a man dies, his good deeds come to an end except three: ongoing charity (sadaqa jariya), beneficial knowledge, and righteous offspring who will pray for him,” [Muslim].
Death does not have to be the end. We can leave behind things that bring benefit to and help people, and that also benefit us long after we are gone. The Prophet ﷺ gave us some examples of that:
“The good deeds that will reach a believer after his death are: knowledge which he learned and then spread; a righteous son whom he leaves behind; a copy of the Qur’an that he leaves as a legacy; a mosque that he built; a house that he built for wayfarers; a canal that he dug; or charity that he gave during his lifetime when he was in good health. These deeds will reach him after his death.” [Ibn Majah]
Moreover, we are told:
“There is none among Muslims who plants a tree or sows a seed, and then a bird, a person, or an animal eats from it, but it is regarded as a charitable gift from him.” [Bukhari]
It is important to remember that the opposite is true. Do not leave behind something that is a ‘bad legacy’; that harms others spiritually or materially and may harm you after you are gone.
7- Pay your debts
The Day of Judgment is also the day on which debts are paid. It is important to make sure that we leave this world without any outstanding debts, whether it is money that you owe people or even an apology.