Lecture for 1st year students, Kulliyah of Medicine,
International Islamic University, Kuantan on Saturday 8th
January 2000 by Professor Omar Hasan Kasule Sr.
1.0 DEFINITION OF DEATH:
A. Moral/Spiritual Death
B. Legal Death
C. Biological Death
D. Qur'anic Terminology For Death
E. Temporary And Permanent Death
2.0 NATURE OF DEATH
A. The Life-Death-Life Cycle
B. Inevitability Of Death
C. Finality Of Death
D. Death As A Transition
E. Good And Bad Death
3.0 ATTITUDE TO DEATH
A. Death In The Hands Of Allah
B. Positive Attitude
C. Negative Attitude
D. Wishing For Death
E. Death As A Trial And A Test
4.0 PROCESS OF DEATH
A. Growth And Degeneration
B. Causes Of Death
C. Lifting The Ruh
D. Qur'anic Description Of The Last Moments
E. Reversal Of The Death Process
5.0 CRITERIA OF DEATH
A. Need For Criteria
B. Respiratory Failure
C. Cardiac Failure
D. Loss Of Consciousness
E. Brain Death
1.0 DEFINITION OF DEATH:
A. MORAL/SPIRITUAL DEATH
There are several possible definitions of death: moral, legal, biological, chemical, and
others. Morally a person may behave so badly that he no longer has human life but has the life of animals or even worse. This
denial of human life is akin to death. In practice moral death leads sooner or later to physical death. Abuse of alcohol leads
to fatal motor vehicle accidents, racial prejudice leads to genocide, promiscuity leads to fatal sexually transmitted diseases,
and lack of purpose in life leads to suicide.
B. LEGAL DEATH
Legally several conventions are adopted by various countries and communities. These conventions
change from time to time depending on the level of technological development and the underlying societal values.
The shariat definition of death is guided by
the fiqh concept of custom or precedent, aadat/'urf.
Thus the shariat definition can change from time to time and also from place
to place depending on the level of technological development. The current debate is about acceptance of brain death as a definition
of death. Definition of death for the lost person, hukm al mafquud, can rely on
the average expected life expectancy which varies by place, ethnicity, and socio-economic status.
C. BIOLOGICAL DEATH
Biologically death is simply defined as irreversible
damage of major organs. This is not an easy definition because the concept of reversibility is relative. New technologies
are showing us that what was previously irreversible is now reversible.
The moment of death is also difficult to ascertain with any degree of certainty. This is
because the process of death in an interval and not a point event.
D. QUR'ANIC TERMINOLOGY FOR DEATH
The Qur’an uses several terms to refer to death such as gharq, halaaq, mawt, wafaat, firaaq.
E. TEMPORARY and PERMANENT DEATH
Death could be permanent, mawt, or temporary,
nawm. Permanent death is irreversible until the dayof resurrection. The Qur'anic reference to death is usually to the permanent death.
The Qur’an has described sleep as a form of death. In this case death is reversible
and is temporary. In some cases people pass away during their sleep (p 1258 39:42).
Animal biology can throw more light on the phenomenon of temporary death associated with
sleep. Animals like amphibians can hibernate for long periods when their body metabolism is reduced to the minimum needed
to preserve life. They can revive and resume normal activity when weather conditions allow. Medical research has yet to research
the phenomena of temporary death and how it can throw light on the phenomenon of permanent death.
2.0 NATURE OF DEATH
A. THE LIFE-DEATH-LIFE CYCLE
There is a continuous cycle involving life and death. Life arises from death and vice versa, ikhraaj al hayat mina al mawt (, 6:95,
Modern scientific knowledge enables to understand this cyclic phenomenon in more detail at the cellular and molecular levels.
Inanimate matter in the form of atoms and molecules becomes the basis for the physical
component of human life. They eventually return to their inanimate nature when they are excreted or on death of the human.
When you study the ecosystem and the food chains you realize that life of some living things
is sustained because of the death of others.
There is continuous recycling of matter between the organic and inorganic. There is also
recycling between the organic and the living.
DEATH SIGNALING THE END OF THE HUMAN MISSION
All human endeavors cease with death, intiha al
‘amal bi al mawt, inqitau al ‘amal bi al mawt (p 839 4:18, 6:27-28, 7:53, 23:99-100, 23:107-108, 32:12, 35:37,
99:7-8,p 1154 23:99-100, 23:91-100, 63:10). There are only three exceptions
a righteous offspring who prays for the parent, waladu salihu yad’u lahu; knowledge that benefits others, ‘ilm yuntafau
bihi; and charity of continuous benefit, sadaqat
CLOSURE OF THE LIFE-DEATH CYCLE ON THE LAST DAY
Death is followed by questions and punishment in the grave, qabr.
Barzakh is atransitional phase between
life on earth and life in the hereafter. On the last day humans will be ressurrected back to life, ba’ath, ihya al mawta, al hayat ba’da al mawt. The Qur’an has not provided details about this
life whether it will be exactly like that on earth or there will be some differences. The Qur’an makes it clear that
it will be physical life with physical bodies. On resurrection people will be gathered; all generations and all geographical
areas will be together, al hashr ba’da al mawt. Those who committed transgressions
will be punished in hell for a limited time with the exception of those who commited shirk
who will be condemned to stay in hell for ever. Paradise, jannat, will be the permanent abode of the righteous.
There will be no more death in the hereafter (p 1158 , 20:74, 35:36, 44;56, 87:13).
B. INEVITABILITY OF DEATH
All humans will eventually die, hatmiyat al mawt,
shumuliyat al mawt (p 1156-7 3:154, 3:154, 3:168, 3:185, 4:78, 4:10, 21:35, 23:15, 29:57, 39:30, 55:26). There can be
no exceptions now or at any time in the future. Even prophets have to face death (p 1157 3:144, 19:15, 19:33, 21:34, 34:14,
39:30, 3:168, 3;185, 4:78, 4;10, 21:35, 23:15, 29:57, 55:26). All death is by Allah's permission (p 1258 3:145).
In view of the inevitability of death, hatmiyyat
al mawt,it is futile to attempt to avoid death or think of its removal,
istihalat daf'u al mawt (p 1154 3:154, 3:156, 3:163, 4:78, 33:16, 62:8). The human
and death have inevitably to meet, liqa al mawt (p 1045 3;143, 62:8). Death catches
up with the human,lihaaq al mawt bi al insaan, however much the human tries to
escape it. Death can not be prevented, isthalat man’i al mawt, by any human
Death will come to all humans and all living things, shumuul
al mawt kulla shay’I (p 1156 73:154, ).The concept of death also includes non-living things
for example the Qur’an talks about death of the earth, mawt al ardh (p 1153 2:164,
7:57, 16:65, 25:49, 29:63, 30:19, 30:24, 30:50, 35:9, 36:33, 43:11, 45:5, 50:11, 57:17).
C. FINALITY OF DEATH
Human death has a finality to it. Each human has only one death. There is no reincarnation. There
is only resurrection in the hereafter. There will be no more death after the day of judgement; it will all be eternal life
after that (p 1158 , 20:74, 35:36, 44:56, 87:13).
Humans in their arrogance and folly find it difficult to accept the finality of death.
They try various means to achieve some form of immortality. Striving to have children who will carry part of the biological
heredity and family name into the next generation is looked by some as an attempt at achieving immortality. Some humans endeavor
to leave behind physical monuments that will remind future generations of their achievements like the pyramids of the pharaohs
and the aztecs. Many human acts are motivated by the desire to achieve fame or notoriety in order to enter the books of history.
Belief in ghosts in superstitious societies can also be seen as a form of prolonging human existence on earth after physical
D. DEATH AS A TRANSITION
Death could be looked at a transitional event or rite
de passage. Death is a transition to life after death. There is another life after the earthly one al hayat ba'da al mawt (p. 1155-6 2:28, 256, 2:73, 2:154, 2:243, 2:259, 2:260, 3:49, 3:169, 5:110, 6:36, 6:122,
7:25, 7:57, 11:7, 16:21, 16:38, 19:15, 19:33, 19:66, 22:66, 23:35, 23:37, 23:82, 26:81, 30:40, 30:50, 36:12, 37:16, 37:53,
41:39, 42:9, 44:35, 45:26, 46:33, 50:3, 56:47, 7:40, 80:21-22 & 80:21-22, 22:66, 26:81, 30:40).The only way to life after death is through physical death on earth.
Life in the hereafter is better than earthly life. Death could therefore be a welcome event
for good people who look forward to a better life in the future.
E. GOOD and BAD DEATH
Good death is to die in Islam, al mawt ala al Islam (p
1157 2:132, 3:102). The best of death is to die when struggling in Allah’s way (al
mawt fi sabilillahi) (p 1156 4;100, , 33:23).
Death in unbelief, al mawt ala al kufr ( p 1156-7 2:161,
2:217, 3:91, , , 9:85, 9:125, 47:34) is bad death. Death while committing a mjor sin is bad death because iman is temporarily lifted
from a person engaged in sin.
It may not be possible to tell whether a person lived a righteous life by the manner of
death, demeanor or attitude of the dying person. However empirical observation of the death of many righteous persons, salihiin, shows that they generally die in a calm way.
3.0 ATTITUDE TO DEATH
A. DEATH IN THE HANDS OF ALLAH
Death and its occurrence are in the hands of Allah, taqdiir
al mawt mina al llah (2:243, 2:258, 3:273, 3:27, 3:145, 3:156, 6:95, 6:162, 7:158, 9:116, 10:31, 10:56, 15:23, 22:66,
23:80, 25:3, 26:81, 30:19, 30:40, 39:42, 40;11, 40;68, 44;8, 45:26, 53:44, 56:60, 57:2, 67:2, 76:28). The believer surrenders
all matters pertaining to death to the Lord.
B. POSITIVE ATTITUDE
The attitude to death varies according to the spiritual well-being of those involved. The
good people welcome death as a rite de passage to a better existence in the hereafter.
They look forward to death, al shawq ila al mawt as a happy event. The Qur'an challenged
the non-believers to wish for death if they were sure of a good life after death.
Death is an occasion for reminding and remembering the hereafter. It makes the good prepare
better by doing more good deeds.
C. NEGATIVE ATTITUDE
Humans fear death, al hadhr mina al mawt, khawf al mawt
(p 1155 , 2:243). This is basically the human fear of the unknown. It is useless to fear an event that is inevitable and over
which a human has no control. Whereas fear of death itself in illogical, anxiety about the manner and circumstances of death
is reasonable and is expected from a normal human. Death may be feared because of leaving behind beloved ones.
D. WISHING FOR DEATH
Wishing for death, isti’ijaal al mawt, tamanni
al mawt, in desperation with severe painful illness is discouraged. The wish for death, tamanni al mawt (p 1154 2:94-95, 3:143, 19:23, 62:6-7)can be negative
for the escapist who looks to death as a relief from present psychological or physical distress Committing suicide, qatl al nafs & intihar, is definitely forbidden and puts someone
outside the fold of Islam.
E. DEATH AS A TRIAL and a TEST
Death is a trial (ibtila’a bi al mawt (p 1153 , 77:2) and is a
calamity, musibat al mawt (5:106). This trial involves both the person dying and
the relatives and friends left behind. Death is a calamity for the relatives, friends, and the society but not the deceased
(musibat al mawt,). If he is good he is going earlier to his Lord. If he is bad
he has no more time to do bad; however he might have made tawbat and improved his
situation had he lived longer.
Death is a test for humans (p 382 67:2). The test for the deceased is to aware of death
and prepare for it by doing good work, amal hasan. For the relatives and loved
ones death is a calamity calling for patience and forbearance.
4.0 PROCESS OF DEATH
A. GROWTH and DEGENERATION
Human cells show signs of aging and metabolic processes get weaker with time. Thus humans
have both degenerative and regenerative processes at the same time. Death overwhelms them when the degenerative forces have
the upper hand.
B. CAUSES OF DEATH
Death is inevitable; it will occur. What are called causes are actually associated factors.
These may be trauma, infections, metabolic impairment, and neoplasms. Humans may not be able to ascertain the immediate cause
of death in some cases.
C. LIFTING THE RUH
The process of death is long. It starts with the humanly-understood causes like infection
or trauma. The body progressively fails until a point of no-return is reached. There is a point during this process when the
angels take away the ruh thus separating the essence from the body, al malaika wa qabdh al arwaah, malak al mawt (p 1145 4:97, 6:61, 6:93, 7:37, 8:50, 16:28, 16:32, 32:11, 47:27).
D. QUR'ANIC DESCRIPTION OF THE LAST MOMENTS
The Qur’an has described the process of death using terminology such as sakrat al mawt (p 1156 6:93, 33:19, 47:20, 50:19, 56:83-85, 75:26-30, 79:1), ghashiyat
al mawt (p 1157 33:19 and 47:20) and ghamrat al mawt (p 1157 6:93).
E. REVERSAL OF THE DEATH PROCESS
The process of terminal death following Allah's laws, sunan
al llaah, can not be reversed except in exceptional cases of divide intervention such as when Allah gave the prophet Isa
(PBUH) the ability to revive the dead.
5.0 CRITERIA OF DEATH
A. NEED FOR CRITERIA
In general death is defined as irreversible loss of the integrated functioning of the organism
as a whole. For most of human history, death has been defined in a more subjective way with little attention being given to
objective criteria. There were not legal or practical necessities for early diagnosis of certification of death. They had
the luxury of waiting until all signs of life disappeared before pronouncing death.
The earliest criteria of death that humans used were respiratory arrest. The Qur'an and
sunnat describe death mostly in terms of respiratory failure. Later circulatory/cardiac
arrest as absence of a heart beat or a pulse was also used. Unconsciousness was another criterion used and it related to the
Technological developments in intensive care units has blurred the demarcation between
life and death that was taken for granted before. Many brain-dead people can be kept apparently alive on artificial respirators.
The increase in transplantation has given momentum to the need to develop new criteria
for death. This is because organs have to be harvested quite early in the death process to prevent them from further degeneration.
B. RESPIRATORY FAILURE
C. CARDIAC FAILURE
D. LOSS OF CONSCIOUSNESS
Brain death is quite an early event and was first proposed as a criterion for death by
an adhoc committee of the Harvard Faculty that redefined death as brain death in
1968. Use of brain death as a criterion gives rise to ethical and legal problems because in cases of brain death, many other
organs and functions of life are still alive. There are also controversies about the definition of brain death as a pathological
entity. There is controversy whether it is death of the whole brain or specific parts of it. It is not yet possible to agree
on what constitutes irreversible brain death. There is also disagreement whether criteria used for adults can be used for
Brain death is assessed clinically and by use of laboratory and electrical assessments.
Clinically brain death is indicated by: absence of pupillary reflexes, dilated pupils, absence of the corneal reflex, absence
of eye movements, absence of spontaneous respirations, absence of cephalic reflexes, absence of motor response to pain, absence
of the cough reflex, and absence of the gag reflex. These clinical criteria are considered less accurate that laboratory measurements.
They also are sometimes too late for purposes of declaring death to enable harvesting organs for transplantation.
Laboratory assessment are considered confirmatory and include: electrocorticogram measurements,
electo-retinography, cerebral blood gas analysis,cerebral angiography to show
cerebral circulatory arrest, retinal fluoroscopy,assessment of brain stem auditory
responses, and orbicularis oculi reflex.
1. What is the customary definition of death in your community
2. What do you understand by the term moral death
3. Describe the attitudes to death in your community
4. Describe what you understand by the expression ‘death is a transition’
5. What is the origin of the false belief in ghosts and spirits of te ancestors