Crashed Plane, Slashed Lives, Dashed Spirits: How Sudden Death is a Reminder for us all

بِسْمِ اللّهِ الرَّحْمـَنِ الرَّحِيمِ

At this time two days ago, I was weighed down with sadness and depression, not to mention shock tinted with some denial. I had just heard that an Air Blue flight bound from Karachi to Islamabad had crashed in the Margalla Hills. I really couldn’t believe it at first, wondering if it was a rumor being used by the local media to create a furor and hype in order to garner viewership.

Soon, Twitter was abuzz with the news, which started making headlines internationally. The 152 people on board had a slim chance of surviving, that much was obvious. My mind started playing games with me: I recalled the crew and passengers in an Air Blue flight I had taken 6 years ago in the same month, July, for my cousin’s wedding in Lahore. I started recalling the inside of the passenger-filled plane, the crew in their blue uniforms, and then I started imagining everyone falling and screaming as the plane lost height downwards, towards it certain destruction. What did everyone do in those last few moments before their sure death? Did they scream in terror? Did they recite the shahadah?  Or did they not even know till the last second that they were about to crash, considering it a normal landing descent up until the fatal collision?

My imagination just wouldn’t let me off the hook! I imagined some of those on board injured and burning, surrounded by dead bodies amid the stench of burning metal and human flesh, screaming in agony after the crash, engulfed in and being choked by the billowing fumes. Ironically, Allah also caused any injured survivors among the 152 people to be totally helpless and isolated, in that the crash site was inaccessible for hours afterwards by air because of the thick smoke everywhere blocking helicopter pilots’ vision. Also, because of the surrounding mountainous terrain being completely cut off from roads, it was also unreachable by vehicular traffic. The wreckage could be reached only by foot, after an-hour-and-a-half long trek. That time was enough to make those injured and pleading for help, if any, to meet their end. The nation could just watch in horror as the burning plane abruptly ended 152 lives, and impacted with grief scores more, for a long time to come.

Such a magnanimous and sudden calamity comes as a jolting reminder for us all, of Allah’s omnipotent power and utterly autocratic will in decreeing matters. It makes everyone, not the least those dying, come face-to-face with the sheer reality of how Allah is alone in charge of life, death and everything else in the universe. He had decreed for those 152 people to die this way, and they could not escape it. But this crash was more than just the end of those lives. It was a major wake-up call for the rest of the people still alive, watching and hearing of it all over the world.

Allah calls the life of this world a "chattel of deception” in the Quran:

كُلُّ نَفْسٍ ذَآئِقَةُ الْمَوْتِ وَإِنَّمَا تُوَفَّوْنَ أُجُورَكُمْ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ فَمَن زُحْزِحَ عَنِ النَّارِ وَأُدْخِلَ الْجَنَّةَ فَقَدْ فَازَ وَما الْحَيَاةُ الدُّنْيَا إِلاَّ مَتَاعُ الْغُرُورِ

"Every soul shall have a taste of death: And only on the Day of Judgment 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." [Quran, 3:185]

The life of this world deceives us time and again into believing that we will go on living here forever, enjoying the blessings that we have been given, without dying or eventually being called to account for our actions. Especially during times of ease in our lives, whence there is no illness, financial worry, failure, misery, or loss of life or materials, the life of this world fools us into believing that everything will merrily go on as always and no one will die, or nothing will be lost for good.

In another place in the Quran, Allah reminds us that the angels of death has already been appointed for us, and when the pre-ordained time for our death arrives, these angels will make no delay:

وَهُوَ الْقَاهِرُ فَوْقَ عِبَادِهِ وَيُرْسِلُ عَلَيْكُم حَفَظَةً حَتَّىَ إِذَا جَاء أَحَدَكُمُ الْمَوْتُ تَوَفَّتْهُ رُسُلُنَا وَهُمْ لاَ يُفَرِّطُونَ

"He is the irresistible, (watching) from above over His worshippers, and He sets guardians over you. At length, when death approaches one of you, Our angels take his soul, and they never fail in their duty." [Quran, 6:61]

قُلْ يَتَوَفَّاكُم مَّلَكُ الْمَوْتِ الَّذِي وُكِّلَ بِكُمْ ثُمَّ إِلَى رَبِّكُمْ تُرْجَعُونَ

"Say: "The Angel of Death, put in charge of you, will (duly) take your souls: then shall ye be brought back to your Lord."" [Quran, 32:11]

Many of us assume that death, the end of a life, “should” come in a certain, previously expected, positive way. For example, we assume that everyone should die after living a full, productive life, on a deathbed, in frail old age, with their loved ones surrounding them, holding their hands, as they peacefully breathe their last with a parting smile on their lips. Others expect death to be preceded by illness and old age, so that loved ones are prepared for it and it doesn’t come as a rude shock to them when it happens, nor does it “prematurely” end a young life.

However, for all such deluded people who assume that death is “supposed to” come only after living a long life, in weak old age, the following verse of the Quran, if not a cursory glance at real life events, should serve as an eye opener:

وَاللّهُ خَلَقَكُمْ ثُمَّ يَتَوَفَّاكُمْ وَمِنكُم مَّن يُرَدُّ إِلَى أَرْذَلِ الْعُمُرِ لِكَيْ لاَ يَعْلَمَ بَعْدَ عِلْمٍ شَيْئًا إِنَّ اللّهَ عَلِيمٌ قَدِيرٌ

"It is Allah who creates you and takes your souls at death; and of you there are some who are sent back to a feeble age, so that they know nothing after having known (much): for Allah is All-Knowing, All-Powerful." [Quran, 16:70]

The ignorance-based assumptions and expectations about death that we naively harbor in our hearts are a ploy of our avowed enemy, Shaitan, to delude us from reality. Further, he wants us to question Allah’s decree and say ungrateful, transgressing words when these silly notions of ours are abolished by sudden-death-wreaking, wake-up calamities such as this plane crash.

You will find ignorant people questioning deaths of infants, children, and healthy, youthful people who were in the prime of their lives when they died. You will find them saying ungrateful and questioning statements about the decree of Allah, not knowing that it is He who brought each life into this world, and based on His knowledge, wisdom, and decree, causes it to die at a certain pre-ordained time.

Birth is the greatest “pre-announcement” of death. By that, I mean that birth and death are tied to each other; they are like twins. Each and every being that comes into existence will die one day, simple as that – whether that happens sooner or later, is not for us to decide, but just to to accept, when it does happen. That is, we should accept someone’s death as a reality that would have eventually happened anyway.

When our Prophet Muhammad [صَلى اللهُ عَليهِ وَسلم] died, some of his companions went into immediate denial. The verse from the Quran below was recited by his best friend in public, as a reminder to everyone present that even Prophets are meant to die, just like the rest of us:

وَمَا مُحَمَّدٌ إِلاَّ رَسُولٌ قَدْ خَلَتْ مِن قَبْلِهِ الرُّسُلُ أَفَإِن مَّاتَ أَوْ قُتِلَ انقَلَبْتُمْ عَلَى أَعْقَابِكُمْ وَمَن يَنقَلِبْ عَلَىَ عَقِبَيْهِ فَلَن يَضُرَّ اللّهَ شَيْئًا وَسَيَجْزِي اللّهُ الشَّاكِرِينَ

"Muhammad is no more than a messenger: many Were the messengers that passed away before him. If he died or were slain, will you all then turn back on your heels? If any did turn back on his heels, not the least harm will he do to Allah. But Allah (on the other hand) will swiftly reward those who (serve Him) with gratitude."[Quran, 3:144]

In another place in the Quran, Allah informs His beloved Messenger [صَلى اللهُ عَليهِ وَسلم] that he, too, will die:

إِنَّكَ مَيِّتٌ وَإِنَّهُم مَّيِّتُونَ

"Yet, verily, you are bound to die, [O Muhammad,] and, verily, they, too, are bound to die." [Quran, 39:30]

It is when we accept death – our own as well as those of our loved ones – as an imminent reality that will happen only in a matter of time, will we be able to come out of our childish bubble and accept Allah’s decree with patience and forbearance.

There is nothing wrong with feeling sad or crying

By the above narrative, I by no means intend to exhort that crying at someone’s death is wrong. Nay, it is a human emotion that should be expressed humbly, in moderation, without lamenting, wailing or questioning Allah’s decree. Prophet Muhammad [صَلى اللهُ عَليهِ وَسلم] experienced the deaths of most of his loved ones, such as his parents, his first wife, cousin, uncles and children, the latter both minors and adults, during his life. He would express his sadness and even shed tears. However, his tongue would not say anything that could incur Allah’s wrath.

Death ends one’s contact with a loved one for the remainder of their life on earth; that is why it is a sad, jarring, and grievous event. However, a Muslims’ belief in the Hereafter and their hoped-for reunion with righteous loved ones therein, provides immense comfort and joy. The transient nature of this world’s life also fills them with solace, because they know in their hearts, and believe with sincere faith, that they, too, will eventually die one day. They know that any joy or sadness that they feel in this life is temporary, and they look forward to living the eternal life of the Hereafter in bliss.

The sincere believer does not dwell on the death of a loved one so much that he forgets to continue working on righteous deeds for his next life. Rather, he incessantly prays for those who have gone on ahead, knowing that their death is just the first step into their afterlife – the one where their actions will be judged and questioned by their Creator. It is only their appointed term for doing good that has ceased, so they remember them in their prayers to endeavor to improve their lot, now that the latter’s chances of doing good for themselves are gone forever,.

It is those who doubt or reject the Akhirah and live this world’s life as a stand-alone existence without any counterpart, who are most severely hit by the death of a loved one. First of all, since they do not believe in any afterlife, they question the apparent but rampant “injustices” that exist in this world and its temporary life. Next, they question the temporariness of this life itself, not being able to comprehend how or why someone could die in the first place –  much less at the age of 5, or 30, as opposed to 75 or 90? It is sad, but true, that they do not accept death as a reality. Rather, they continue living in this world on a superficial “eat, drink and be merry” basis, never expecting that they or any one of their loved ones can and will die any second. That is why, when death hits them, they go into denial and question this event as if it was not meant to happen at all!

How to make sense of it all and prepare for death, while there is still time

The surefire way of preparing for your death is to remind yourself of it everyday. Reading and reciting the Quran is the best way to do this, even if it is just a few verses every day. Secondly, keeping company of people who proactively work for the betterment of their afterlife, and give it blatant preference over the temporary life of this world (all the while being labeled ‘fools’, ‘extremists’ and ‘weirdo’s’ in the process) is another effective way of never losing sight of the imminence of your own death. Thirdly, striving to gain knowledge of pre-ordainment, which also happens to be one of the 6 main branches of the basic Islamic creed, or aqeedah, is extremely important in making some sense out of why destructive and bad things happen in this world, and what we should do when they happen.

As I sit here typing the conclusion of this post, I have received yet more sad news, of another calamity that has occurred since the crash: a couple of hundred people up North in Pakistan have been swept away in flash floods caused by monsoon rains; the same weather conditions that caused the Air Blue plane crash. To Allah we belong and to Him is our return.

Indeed, to Him we belong, and to Him is our return.

أَيْنَمَا تَكُونُواْ يُدْرِككُّمُ الْمَوْتُ وَلَوْ كُنتُمْ فِي بُرُوجٍ مُّشَيَّدَةٍ

"Wherever you are, death will find you out, even if you are in towers built up strong and high…!" [Quran, 4:78]

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