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Chapter 20. Averting Excessive Fear and Cautiousness of Death

Fear and cautiousness occur in matters related to the future. A resolute person is he who prepares for what he fears before it befalls him, and avoids excessive fear of what must inevitably befall him, because (in this case) his fear does not benefit him. Indeed the fear of Allah was so intensified in the hearts of many righteous people that they asked Allah to decrease it. The reason behind asking Allah such is that fear is like a lash; if a camel is lashed continuously it will worry, but the lash should be used when it is lazy in order to motivate it.

It was narrated that Sufyan al-Thawrl told a young man who was sitting with him, "Do you want to fear Allah truly and rightfully?" The young man said, "Yes." Sufyan said, "You are a fool! If you fear Him truly you would not be able to fulfill the obligatory acts!"

Section One: Excessive Fear

A person of sound mind should not fear illness excessively, because it must inevitably befall him some time during his life and fearing what is inevitable is merely an increase in harm. As for fearing death and thinking about it, it is something that is hard to do but what eases it, is knowing that death is inevitable so caution does not benefit the person in anyway rather it increases one's cautiousness. Every time a person imagines the intensity of death, he experiences it emotionally, this is why he should not picture death in his mind, he will only die once, not multiple times, and avoiding thinking about it will ease it.

A person should also know that Allah is able to make it easier, if He Wills, and that what is after death is more disturbing than death itself, because death is a bridge that takes us to our eternal dwelling. However, one should frequently think about death to work towards it, not just for the sake of imagination.

If the thought of leaving this life saddens the heart, then the cure is to know that this world is not a dwelling of satisfaction, rather its pleasure and satisfaction is in departing it, therefore this is not something that one should compete to possess. Thus, a wise person is saddened by leaving this life only because of the righteous deeds he will miss performing, and that is why the righteous predecessors used to be saddened by death as well. When Muadh ibn Jabal was on his death bed, he said, "O Allah! You know that I did not love this world and living long in it for the beauty of flowing rivers or for planting trees. Rather for fasting hot days, forbearing in acts of worship for hours and joining scholars in circles of Your remembrance."

Section Two: Curing the Whispers

When death befalls someone, he should know that it is an hour of serious suffering because it is a moment of severe pain, when he is leaving all objects of love, his loved ones, add to all that the horror of the throes of death and fear of where his wealth will go. Then Shaytan comes and attempts to have the slave [of Allah] become discontent with his Lord, he tells him, 'Look at you! What made you die? Is it painful? You are leaving your wife, your children and you will be laid under the ground!' So he might cause him to become discontent with his Lord, hating Allah's decree, making him say things that include any kind of objection, or he might make him unjust in his will, giving some of the inheritors preference over others, so on and so forth. In this case, we need to cure the whispers of Shaytan and cure the self.

Abu Dawud reported from Abu al-Yusr (ra) that the Prophet (saw) used  to say, "I seek refuge in You that Shaytan flounders me at death." [Abu Dawud and An-Nasai]

In that minute Shaytan tells his assistants, "If you miss him now [i.e. you do not succeed to lead him astray before he dies], you will never catch him again [i.e. you will never be able to deviate him at any other time]." As for the cure for these trials we should first mention that whoever is mindful of Allah while in good health, Allah will protect him when he is ill, and whoever observes Allah in his thoughts, Allah will protect him when he moves his bodily parts.

Ibn Abbas (ra) narrated from the Prophet (saw) that he said, "Be mindful of Allah and He will protect you. Be mindful of Allah and you will find Him before you. Know Him while in prosperity, He will know you in distress." [Tirmidhi]

You have known the story of Prophet Yunus (Jonah) _ when he had previous righteous deeds that enabled his release him from the trial he suffered. Allah, May He be exalted, said,

"Had he not been of them who glorify Allah, He would have indeed remained inside its belly (of the fish) till the Day of  Resurrection."
[al-Saffat 37:143-144]

Due to the fact that Pharaoh had no righteous deeds, he did not find anything that he could attach to at the time of trial, and so it was said to him,

"Now (you believed) while you refused to believe before and you were one of the evildoers and corrupters."
[Yunus 10:91]

Abdul Samad, the ascetic, said on his death bed, "O my Master! For this minute I have kept You [i.e. I preserved Your Mercy so You bestow it upon me at this moment]. Whoever was negligent when in good health will be neglected when sick."

It was narrated that one of the companions saw an old man begging so he said, "This man was negligent regarding Allah's orders when he was young, therefore Allah neglected him when he became old."

The cure for this disease is to encourage the self, to tell it that it is simply a fraction of time that will pass and after it will come the complete rest as the Prophet (saw) said, "No anguish will befall your father after this day." [Ibn Majah]

Abu Bakr ibn Ayyash prayed to Allah when he was on his death bed and said, "Should I not lay my hope in Him and I have fasted eighty months of Ramadan for Him!"

Al-Mutamir ibn Sulayman said, "My father told me, 'O son! Read for me the hadith in which state the concessions of Allah! So that I meet Allah while I expect the best from Him."

Therefore a believer should remove fear and steer the camel as a cameleer of the desert said:

Its cameleer gave it glad tidings and said
tomorrow you will see the acacias and the mountains

It was reported that Abu Hurayrah (ra) said, "The Messenger of Allah (saw) said (that Allah said), "I am just as My servant thinks I am." [Bukhari and Muslim]

It was also reported that Jabir (ra) said, "I heard the Messenger of  Allah (saw) say three days before his death, "None of you should die except while  expecting the best from Allah." [Muslim]

Al-Fudayl ibn Iyad  said, "Fear is better than hope. However when death befalls, hope becomes better."

I say, that is true because as I have clarified fear is a lash that urges on a lazy person. If a camel is tired then we should use lenience. If one asks what of Umar ibn Abdul Aziz's fear at death, then the answer is, that his fear was a result of his sense of responsibility for his people and the demands of his innate nature over not fulfilling the rights of others. He used to say: "Truly I fear this leadership!" though he used to clinch to the statements of men, therefore, when Ibn Abbas told him: "Receive the glad tidings, O Chief of Believers! You were assigned the leadership,
and you were fair in it and you died as a martyr!" He told him, "O Ibn Abbas! Will you testify that before Allah?"7

Section Three: Increase in Anguish

If a sick person increases in anguish, then he should count that as a reward for our righteous predecessors used to like the intensity of the agonies of a sick person because it expiates sins. It was narrated that Ibrahim said, "They used to like to be overstrained at death." It was also narrated that Umar ibn Abdul Aziz said, "I would not like that throes of death be eased for me, because they are the last thing that expiates [the sins] of a Muslim."

Section Four: Repentance

A sick person should repent, as long as he is sane, so that he meets Allah pure from all sins. He should also write his will, put his trust in Allah, Exalted and Glorified is He, to look after his spouse and children. For He supports and protects the righteous.

Section Five: Being Optimistic

If Shaytan bothers a dying person and reminds him of withering away, then he should know that withering happens to the ship after the traveler leaves it. He should also know that the Shariah has stated that a believer is going to live in everlasting delight after death. So whoever possesses true belief should not be sad, because the destination is a good one and whoever does not possess true belief should be sad over not possessing it.

It was reported that Kab (ra) narrated from the Prophet (saw) that he said, "The soul of a Muslim is like a bird that hangs on the trees of paradise, until Allah returns it to the Muslim's body." [Bukhari and Tabarani]

The purpose of this chapter is to show that fear of death should be moderate, so that it does not exhaust the body, causing harm, one should fear what is to come after death and work towards it.