It might have happened for all of us that things get terrible to an extent and the life becomes miserable and unwanted. In such cases many people hope for death. Is death something desirable, and is it counted as success?
There have been schools in which depict the relation between the human and the world, or the soul to the body as the relation of the prisoner to the prison, and the relation of the bird with the cage. Obviously, based on such schools, death would be release and freedom. So suicide is acceptable, and death is a positive value. (1) Therefore death should be desired, and no one’s death is sorrowful, but rather joyful, because it is freedom from the prison, and release from the cage.
Another view is that death is annihilation and vanishing, and on the contrary life is being and existence. Therefore life is preferable to death in all occasions, as it is evident that existence is preferable to nonexistence, and being to nonbeing. (2)
Another theory is that death is not annihilation, but rather transfer from one world to another. However, the relation between the human to the world, or the soul to the body is not like the relation of the prisoner to the prison, or the bird to the cage. Instead it is similar to the relation of the student to the academia. Although the student is far away from home and friends, sometimes away from his homeland, and has to study in a restricted place, but he finds the prosperous life in the society attainable by a successful academic record.
The relation of the world to the afterworld and the body to the soul is like that. Therefore if the people with such attitude do not attain an acceptable standard, and spend their time in useless and wasteful actions they would definitely look to death as a very horrible matter. Such people fear death because they fear themselves and their actions.
But the one with the same attitude who in practice, as well, has succeeded is like the student with an acceptable educational record. A student like this would obviously miss his homeland and his family and friends with a burning heart, but still he would struggle against such quest of returning because he does not want to leave his studies undone.
The saints are similar to that successful student, who the transference to the other world that is called death is a wish for them (3), a wish that keep on their minds. At the same time, they never choose death upon life because they know that the only opportunity for hard work and perfection is what is called life. They know that the more they stay the more they achieve human perfection. Therefore they fight death, and always pray for a longer life.
However, the saints give up praying for longer life in two conditions. First is in martyrdom. The saints appreciate death in the form of martyrdom because it includes both hard work and perfection. Second is in the case in which they feel that if they stay more they not only do not move toward perfection, but also they move against it.
This logic and point of view towards death is reflected in a short but deep statement from the prayer “Makarim al-Akhlaq” taught by Imam Ali Ibn al-Hussain (PBUH). He whispers to his creator as thus, “My God, grant me life as long as it gets devoted to compliance, [but] if my life is to be used by Satan as a pasture, then take me back to Yourself.”
Now, how do you and I look to death?
(Selection taken from the article “Martyr”, by martyr Mutahari (with minor changes and summarization))
Roshd website offers condolences upon the 25th of Muharram al-Haram, the martyrdom anniversary of the Master of Prostrators and the beauty of worshippers, Imam Ali ibn al-Hussain (PBUT) to the Muslims of the world and especially you dear friend.
1. Apparently “Maani”, who claimed being a prophet, had such theory.
2. Some attribute this statement to Galen, the famous European physician.
3. The Holy Quran says to the Bani Israel, who claimed that they were friends of God, “Say to (them): ‘If the home of the Hereafter with Allah is indeed for you specially and not for others, of mankind, then long for death if you are truthful.” Then adds,” But they will never long for it because of what their hands have sent before them (i.e. what they have done). And Allah is All-Aware of the wrong-doers.”