Life and Death

Verse 156 in Chapter 2 of the Qur'an is read whenever someone dies. It translates as "Surely we belong to God and to Him shall we return."

There are many stereotypes about Islam and Muslims which the Inside Islam project has focused on dismantling. One of the most persistent negative images of Muslims is that they do not value life. The terrorist attacks carried out by a minority of Muslims have led some people to perceive Islam as a violent religion that encourages death for the sake of God. As we have said before, however, this idea is not supported by the Qur’an. While death is a fact of life that is repeatedly addressed in the Qur’an, Muslims are taught that life is extremely valuable and that they should work to lead righteous lives.

In the Islamic worldview, death is part of the cycle of life and is a clear example of God’s absolute power and human beings’ dependency on the Divine. There are many verses in the Qur’an that illustrates this point.

And verily, it is We Who give life, and who give death: it is We Who remain Inheritors (after all else passes away). (Chapter 15, verse 23)

There is no god but He: it is He Who gives life and gives death the Lord and Cherisher to you and your earliest ancestors. (Chapter 44, verse8)

Every soul shall have a taste of death: in the end to Us shall ye be brought back. (Chapter 29, verse 57)

In all three examples, it is clear that God is the one who controls both life and death. Furthermore, in the final example, the verse underscores the point that no being, except God who created it, can escape death. Thus, this common experience functions as the ultimate leveler among all of God’s creation. Moreover, the end of this verse also highlights a central principle of the faith: accountability. In Islam, all human beings will return to God and face his judgement for all their actions.

There are also hadith that emphasize the importance of this life and the need for Muslims to offer positive contributions to this world up until death. The following example underscores this point.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said,“If the Day of Judgment erupts while you are planting a new tree, carry on and plant it.”

The message of this hadith is that Muslims must work hard and provide positive contributions even if they know that death is upon them. In other words, the image that Muslims are focused on destruction and death for the sake of God goes against the command in the Qur’an for Muslims that they should be the “best of peoples, evolved for mankind, enjoining what is right, forbidding what is wrong, and believing in Allah” (Chapter 3, verse 110).

In addition to the fact that Muslims are instructed to continually strive in the way of God, life is considered sacred. The Qur’an emphasizes that while death is a reality and war, for example, might be necessary, Muslims are supposed to do everything in their power to avoid loss of life, including their own. A verse that is often cited to demonstrate the sacredness of life in Islam is verse 32 in chapter 5.

For that cause We decreed for the Children of Israel that whosoever killeth a human being for other than manslaughter or corruption in the earth, it shall be as if he had killed all mankind, and whoso saveth the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind. Our messengers came unto them of old with clear proofs (of Allah’s Sovereignty), but afterwards lo! many of them became prodigals in the earth.

Here it is clear that life is highly valued in Islam to the point that one person’s unjust death is the equivalent to the killing of all humanity. Thus, Muslims are not supposed to take any life unjustly, even their own.

All these verses and hadith counter the image that Islam is a violent and destructive ideology that calls on its followers to strive for death. Rather, these scriptural examples demonstrate that while a minority group may believe the negative image to be their understanding of Islam, the vast majority understand that death is a fact but living a righteous life and being positive examples to others is a requirement. Muslims should never strive for death but they should be ready to meet God when it comes.

How do you think Islam addresses the issues of life and death? How do you think it impacts the way Muslims lead their lives? How do other faith traditions deal with death? Are there commonalities? Please share your comments below.

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