Muslims living in the West find their Islamic way of life in perpetual conflict with the prevailing societal norms. They must not only maintain their unique lifestyle in an essentially secular environment but must also preserve its integrity and purity against considerable odds. This is by no means an easy task as almost all Islamic values happen to be in direct conflict with their Western counterparts. Only an adequate knowledge of Islam, a strong desire to practice it faithfully, and a proactive and dedicated effort on the part of Muslims to pass their heritage on to the coming generations can ensure the survival of Islam in this environment.
Islam calls for a simple, and sometimes rigorous, lifestyle singularly notable by its absence in the West. Muslims are required to practice a demanding regimen of self-discipline and sacrifice, whereas the prevailing Western culture often emphasizes the importance of self over others. Islam teaches its adherents to harness their resources and energies for the betterment of the society at large, and enjoins them to lead their lives in the service of God.
Unlike many other faiths Islam does not allow for the division of one's life into the spiritual and the secular. Religion to a Muslim is an essential component of everyday life itself, so that it is impossible to just be a weekend believer. Thus, Islam declares that Allah (i.e., God) is "the only Reality" (The Quran 6:62) so that everything belongs to Him alone. Consequently, man is responsible for holding everything on earth as a trust from God to be used in the best interests of humanity under His Guidance.
Life and Death in Islam
There is a real and significant difference between Islam and other faiths in their perception of life and its various aspects. In this respect death is no exception.
In Islam life on earth with all its trials, tribulations and transitory pleasures is viewed not as an end in itself but rather as a minuscule part of a larger journey towards a higher goal. Muslims believe that man was created by the Supreme Creator, Allah, so that he may "worship" Him (The Quran 51:56).
The concept of worship itself is different in Islam from its commonly understood meaning. It does not consist merely of ritual prayers in a prescribed manner, although that is also an important part of worship in Islam. Instead, worship in Islam consists of the totality of one's attitude and way of life in the light of Divine Revelation. Man and every other creation offers obeisance to Allah in its own way,and no one can deviate from this prescribed path without causing harm and chaos in some way to the general scheme of life.
Since man is on a much higher plane of physical, emotional and intellectual consciousness than other creatures, he is entrusted with a correspondingly higher responsibility. His worship of Allah, and the obligations emanating therefrom, are a testimony to his spiritual maturity. He is also the recipient of messages through Divine Revelation and is enjoined to follow them for appropriate rewards in this world as well as in the Hereafter.
For one who submits himself totally to the will of Allah, i.e. a Muslim, death holds no fear. Indeed, it represents a portal to a life far more rewarding and generous in its gifts and riches, a life that is full of the grace and mercy of the Supreme Creator.
The Quran stresses the inevitability of death for all living things, emphasizes the fleeting nature of this world, and underlines the need for God-consciousness. This is clear from the following Quranic verses:
3:145 Nor can a soul die except by Allah's leave, the term being fixed as by writing. If any do desire a reward in this life, We shall give it to him; and if any do desire a reward in the Hereafter, We shall give it to him. And swiftly shall We reward those that (serve us with) gratitude.
3:185 Every soul shall have a taste of death: and only on the Day of Judgement shall you be paid your full recompense. Only he who is saved far from the Fire and admitted to the Garden will have attained the object (of Life): for the life of this world is but goods and chattels of deception.
6:31,32 Lost indeed are they who treat it as a falsehood that they must meet Allah,- until on a sudden the hour is on them, and they say: " Ah! woe unto us that we took no thought of it"; for they bear their burdens on their backs, and evil indeed are the burdens that they bear! What is the life of this world but play and amusement? But best is the Home in the Hereafter, for those who are righteous. Will you not then understand?
28:83 That Home of the Hereafter We shall give to those who intend not high-handedness or mischief on earth: and the End is (best) for the righteous.
Preparation for Burial
The process of the preparation of a deceased person for burial underlines the principles of simplicity, dignity and equality exemplified by the Holy Prophet (pbuh) himself. The following steps constitute this operation:
- Ghusl al Mayyah (i.e., washing of the body)
- Takfeen (i.e., wrapping of the body in a shroud)
- Salat ul Janazah (i.e., prayer for the deceased)
The details of these steps are given in the following sections.