The more we know about death, the more we deny it's coming
Haji Mohamed Dawjee ponders why people fear the inevitable
You're introduced to death early in Islam. You shake hands with each other at a young age and every day after that your life is a little bit changed because of this extra, invisible but very real presence. Death.
It holds your hand on the playground between playing hopscotch and cartwheels. When you get a bit self-indulgent, death is there to remind you that you are only a small part of life, and life is death's friend. If you are good to life, death will be good to you also.Muslims believe in the concept of heaven, so as children we're always taking stock. Every day is a new opportunity to live better in the hereafter.
As a child, death is there when you close your eyes after brushing your teeth and having a bedtime story read to you. It's the last thing on your mind as you ready yourself for sleep. Because in Islam, sleep is a journey of the soul, a small one, and death is the final retreat.
Death is also the first thing you think about in the morning. Because a day in the life of a Muslim child is planned according to two lists: illiyyeen, the record of the righteous, and sijjeen, the record of the wicked.Obviously I wanted to always end my day on the former list but when you're mean to someone, or you ignore a teacher, or you're rude to your parents, being on that list seems to move further and further away. But you wake up and try again the next day. Maybe it's because you want to get to heaven. Most times, I think, it's because Muslim children want to avoid hell.
There is no fear in the heart of a religious child like the fear they have of fire in the afterlife. This alone is more than enough to make death a scary thing - the scariest of them all. But to me, it isn't scary. It never has been.The first time I thought about death I was really young. To sit with the thought of death is different from being asked to think about it or to be reminded of it through scripture and fable. The first time I really thought about death, I started to move away from it as the door to heaven or hell and I started to see it as something else.
I thought about my relationship with dying and I realised, very quickly, that I wasn't afraid of it. My relationship with death was a peaceful one. I was about eight when I realised this for the first time and I have maintained that peaceful relationship ever since.
As I grew older, death and I grew closer. We spent more time thinking together, talking, figuring things out. I have looked death in the eye a few times in my life. The first time I was 10. That was when I had my first suicidal thought. I have wished for death in and out of my life ever since then. And on the next occasions of near suicide I stared that old friend in the face again.I have always kept that friend near. And it's changed the way I think about the relationship between life and death. To me, life's splendour is a grave that we burrow our way into with the experience of each passing moment. Life and death are soul mates. Written in the stars, so to speak, and in the Quran: "Every soul shall taste death". No two things are more ideally suited than life's magic and death's mystery.
The possibility of longevity has sucked the magic out of life and the mystery from death. Medicine tears the two apart with constant interventions demanding that life stays and death moves further and further away. Scientific advancements have rearranged our reactions and the structure of our human substance. Living is good. Death and dying are very bad.But death, like any other human right, is also a moral obligation and we owe it the same degree of respect and dignity. We owe it more than fear and rejection. If we do not deny the other fundamental freedoms we are entitled to just by virtue of being human, then why deny death? Is it because our steps towards this human right are heavy with the anxieties of the unknown? We fear what we do not know, because no one live-tweets from the grave. Death has no cellphone reception.Behavioural science says that knowing what the process of dying looks like helps humans accept it more. I'm not convinced.
I think the more we know about the mystery of death, the more we're able to deny its coming. Knowing breeds the untamed insistence that loved ones need to live longer even in spite of their suffering because death is bad, and the loss suffered by those left behind is even worse. The line between care and compassion is a fine one, but the difference between them is stark. Care, unlike compassion, can often be a selfish act...