Is it possible for one to repent sufficiently at the time of death?
A short talk given by M. R. Bawa Muhaiyaddeen from Questions of Life, Answers of Wisdom Volume 2.
Dr. Mohamed Zahir Markar: Is it possible for one who, during his lifetime, has not reached the ultimate state of being united with God and has not completely annihilated himself in God, is it possible for him to repent sufficiently at the time of his death? And will God accept his repentance, so that he could achieve a state of innocence and union with God at that time?
Bawa Muhaiyaddeen: If we make a supplication (du’ä’) to God at the last moment to give us a fully ripe, mature crop, it will not work. What we need to do is water the crop and fertilize it from the beginning. If we fail to tend it at the right time, but then beg of God at the very end, “Please forgive my mistakes and give me a good crop,” He will not grant it. That crop cannot be full grown all of a sudden. Similarly, at the time when a man is about to die, when he is preoccupied with writing his last will and portioning out his accumulated wealth, when he is saying what he wants to give to so and so and to so and so at that time it will be impossible to ask for pardon or to rectify his omissions.
Earlier there was so much time for the crop to be nurtured and made to thrive. He shouldn’t have waited until the last moment, when he is suffering and his tears are owing from his eyes, for at that moment he will be pleading, “O God, will You not forgive me?” and at the same time crying out, “O God, who will look after my wife?”
At that time, he will not be able to speak, for the tongue will not be able to move and the death rattle will be in his throat as he suddenly remembers, “O God, my granddaughter is pregnant. I will not be able to see the baby with my eyes. O my God, I wasn’t able to tell my people where I kept all my money. I didn’t have time to distribute my wealth. I didn’t tell my people who I lent money to.” All these thoughts will be running about in his mind at that time. The thoughts of what he is leaving behind will keep coming, so he will not have time then to talk to God.
Just as the thoughts that come to the mind of a crazy man are thoughts about events that happened earlier, the words he speaks will be words he has spoken or heard earlier, not words about what is happening now. When a man goes crazy, he keeps talking about the past, saying things like, “So and so did this to me or that to me.” He doesn’t talk about the present or the future; he has no notion at all of what is to come.
Like that, in the final stage of life, at the time of the death rattle, it is the old reels that will be playing back for him. It is the things that happened in the past that he will be remembering. At that time he will not be aware enough to ask God for forgiveness. He will not remember to ask about what is to follow. Therefore, earlier on, while there is still time, he must keep on asking for forgiveness with each breath.
Dr. Markar: I was not asking for myself, but for the sake of others.
Bawa Muhaiyaddeen: But it is to you I am saying this. How can the person asking the question speak on behalf of somebody else? This is a question you have to ask on your own behalf. Listen to it as though it is for you. Have you gone beyond this state? If one who has no eyes wants to give eyes to others, how can he do it?
You have to ask for forgiveness every second of your life, every breath, every moment. For this moment say, “Al-hamdu lilläh (All praise be to God),” and for the next moment say, “Tawakkul-‘alalläh (I place my trust entirely in God).” Try to establish this state, at least from now on every one of you. Whatever happens to you at each moment, whether favorable or not, say, “Shakür (I am content). Al-hamdu lilläh.” There is no need for us to worry about what is going to happen in the next moment. We only need say, “Tawakkul-‘alalläh (It is His will and His responsibility).” God is in charge. Whatever happens comes from Him. And when that next moment comes and goes, no matter how it may turn out we must thank God with contentment, and praise Him saying, “Al-hamdu lilläh!”
From this moment on, if each one of you will do it in this way, all your sins will be erased and taken from you, and you will be in the presence of God. He Himself has accepted all responsibility for you. He Himself is doing every one of your duties. He is the One who is acting for you. We have to hand it all over to Him. This is the repentance (taubah) you are thinking might be done at the last moment. This is true prayer. This is the supplication we have to make to Him.
Like that, my child, all the doctors and all the presidents in the Fellowship, all their children, and all the children in the world, every one of us needs to establish within us the state that hands over responsibility to the One who created us, the One who brought us here and protects us here. It is He who will summon us back and deliver judgment. If each of us can establish this state, we will never have sorrow or distress or suffering or agitation. Everything happens according to His will. He makes everything happen. We must reflect on this.
Dr. Markar: The reason I asked this was that I was remembering a murderer who was stabbed and dying and was brought to the hospital, where his dying declaration was, “I no longer want anything. Please leave me alone. I want only the love of God. Please let me die in peace.” And with those words he died.
Bawa Muhaiyaddeen: You saw him die and you thought his death was peaceful. That is all you observed.
It could be that a man who has performed good actions and given endless charity may suffer before his death, while a man who has committed many murders may have a peaceful, easy death. How does God bring about the death of a person who has given charity? It could be that He might make him suffer. A person who has performed meditation, penance, and prayers might have to suffer before he dies. What could be the reason? It could be that for the duty he still must do God wants to strengthen his determination and certitude, to find out, “Is his faith steadfast? Will he abide with Me, or will he give in to his suffering and stray from Me? Will he forget Me because of the suffering, or will he remember Me in spite of it? Is he more concerned with the severity of his illness, or does he continue to look upon Me as his greater concern? Does he look upon his poverty as more important, or does he see Me as more important?” This could be the reason that God allows suffering to good people. He is the One who knows their hearts.
However, it could also be that a man who has committed many murders is stabbed and dies quickly and with ease. He is made to die as quickly as he made his victims die. God says, “In the same way that you killed, you too will die. In the same way that you murdered, you too will be murdered. But after that, the torment you must suffer awaits you over there.”
It is not possible to judge whether a man is good or bad merely by observing the manner in which he dies. Only one who can see his true state can know. And the one who knows will also realize that what is happening is God’s doing.
Consider this. One man dies of a sudden heart attack. Another man is walking along the road and suddenly drops dead. This is not sufficient information for us to declare that those people were good people (just because they died suddenly, without any suffering). Judging good and evil is Allah’s responsibility. He alone knows. He alone understands. Judgment rests with Him alone.
Further, it is up to each person to make such a judgment within himself. Others have no way of judging this. Just because a man gave the appearance of peacefulness at the time of his death, it does not necessarily mean that he was good.
Do you have any more questions? Are you angry that I said this? Anybody else?