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Let’s talk about death

23Apr 2016
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Let’s talk about death

I smiled as I searched down the alphabetically-ordered index of my newly acquired English-Arabic Quran. Instead of a series of verse references next to the word I was searching for, I found:

“This word occurs more than 200 times in the Noble Quran. Mentioning every place will make the index very big”.

That word was death (Arabic: mawt), and the verse that prompted me to initially look for it was 3:185, which begins:

“Every soul shall taste of death…” (Quran 3:185)

So what is so important about death? And why does the Quran mention it over 200 times?

Death is generally regarded as a taboo subject in modern society and we rarely like to talk about it. When we do, it is usually in a highly negative context such as murder, terrorism, disease or tragic accidents. It is seen as the anti-thesis of life; the most undesirable of undesirables and ultimately as the end. When we talk about it, somehow it becomes one of those subjects that we perceive as happening to other people but unlikely to happen to us.

Yet in verse this verse (3:185), we are reminded that every one of us will face mawt (death). It turns out that this same phrase is also repeated in the Quran in (21:35) and (29:57) too. Thus why does our Creator tell us that every soul will taste death?


Two insights can perhaps help us understand why:

1. Tuesdays with Morrie
Tuesdays with Morrie [1] is a bestselling short book by journalist Mitch Albom, containing the author’s memoir of his ageing colleague professor Morrie Schwartz, who has a terminal form of Motor Neurone Disease (MND). In their last few meetings, Morrie passes on his wisdom and life experience in humorous yet emotional ways. One of the hard-hitting quotes of the book is the line, “Everybody knows they’re going to die, but nobody believes it. If we did, we would do things differently.”

This at first paradoxical statement is better understood once we appreciate that a greater awareness of it helps us live fuller lives. We are more aware that our time on this Earth is short and limited. We begin to focus on the now, rather than having regrets of the past or constantly worrying about the future.

2. Being a traveller on a journey
Secondly, in Islamic belief death is not the end of life; rather it is merely a transition to another one. Quranic verses refer to us going from “this life” (dunya) to the “next life” (akhira). This is a very strange concept for most of us as no one has ever seen the next life!

However its implications on our actions in this life (dunya) are profound. Take the short saying of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) where we are advised to:

“Live in this world (dunya) as though you are a stranger or a traveller (musafir) (passing through it).” (Muhammad (peace be upon him), narrated in Bukhari). [2]

How many of us can truly say we live our life with the spirit of being just mere travellers? – I certainly can’t.

So what can we do about it? How can we instil such an attitude within ourselves?

The Quran mentions death (mawt) over 200 times. Two possible reasons for this are our Creator wanting to remind us that:

1. Greater awareness of death can help us live our lives more fully.

2. Dying is not the end; it is just a transition.

We all know we are going to die. In fact reading the verse (3:185) is somewhat of a no-brainer – an obvious factual statement. However it’s one thing having knowledge of a fact and another thing to fully live and believe that fact and let it penetrate our lives and influence our behaviour fully.

How can we do this you may ask? Here are three simple suggestions:

1. Visit a cemetery

2. Write your Will

3. Recite a short morning prayer (dua) as soon as you wake up

In a series of three follow up articles, I will elaborate on each of these suggested actions in more depth.

[1] Tuesday’s with Morrie

[2] “Every soul shall taste death”

Written by Hassan
Hassan is a mechanical engineer in the energy sector. He regularly blogs about faith, community and current affairs at This article was originally published on

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