Kullu nafsin dhā’ikatul mawt thumma ilaynā turja‘ūn
Every soul must taste of death, then to Us you shall be brought back.
(Sūratul ‘Ankabūt, No. 29, Āyat 57)
This world is not a permanent home. This verse declares the truth that every soul will taste death and will end life on this earth. Some will depart earlier, others later. But all will leave. They will return to their original home. Note that whenever Allah talks about death He uses the word to return rather than to go, signifying that death is actually going back to the place we started from.
This verse is preceded by the verse that says the earth is wide and Allah alone should be worshiped. Tafsīr-e Namūne says it refers to those who cannot worship God freely in their land. They should move elsewhere as there are many other places on earth where such freedom would be available. If the fear of death is an obstacle to migrating then God declares in this verse that death is a journey that no one can avoid.
Death has been defined in this verse as a passageway to return to God. This return begins with the report of the journey away. How has the soul fared in the time it spent away, on earth? What beauty has it acquired, or ugliness? Shaykh Mohammad Saeed Bahmanpour says in his book Towards Eternal Life; ‘What kind of experience will death be? Sweet or bitter? This will depend on what kind of life we have led. In truth, everyone will die in the same manner as he lived. This seemingly trivial and fleeting life of dunyā is actually the most important and influential stage of human existence, because from the moment of death onwards, everything that happens to an individual has been shaped and earned in some way during this stage.’
The world and all that it has to offer, be it happiness and comfort or pain and difficulties, should not prevent you from preparing for this eventual journey. To prepare is to:
• Realize that time is limited. There is an urgency to do what must be done before departing.
• Gather all that can be taken with the self on the journey. The Quran says: And take provision, surely the best provision is Taqwa (Q 2:197)
• Perfect the self as much as possible. Life in this world is an opportunity to grow and mature, like the growth of a tree as described in the Quran: Like a tillage that sends out its shoots and builds them up, and they grow stout and settle on their stalks. . . (Q 48:29).
• Keep affairs in order. To be packed and ready, both physically and emotionally, makes the departure easier.
• Look forward to the journey. Believers yearn to meet God. Imam Ali (a) in a letter to Mu‘āwiya describes the sincere believers who were with him: Their most coveted desire is to meet their Lord (Nahjul Balāgha, Letter 29)
Recite this verse to remind you of the transience of life. Nothing really matters in this world except the fulfillment of the purpose for which we have come. That is what will be in the report we take back.
Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūneh;
Āghā Muhsin Qarā’atī, Tafsīr-e Nūr;
Shaykh Mohammad Saeed Bahmanpour, Towards Eternal Life