Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)
Chapter 2, Verse 95
But they will never wish for it, ever, because of what their hands have put forth. And God is Knowing of the wrongdoers. (Chapter 2:Verse 95)
Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, faced much hostilities from the Jewish leaders in Medina who claimed that they had more than sufficient guidance from God, and were in no need of new heavenly teachings. They went as far as to claim that they are guaranteed paradise, exclusive to their faith. In the previous verse, God taught prophet Muhammad to challenge those who claim that they are guaranteed God's mercy and paradise in the hereafter.
Say: "If the abode of the Hereafter with God is reserved for you alone, excluding other people, then long for death, if you are sincere and truthful in your claim." (2:94)
In the verse under study, Allah gives us the true answer to that challenge: Anyone who knowingly and repeatedly transgresses against God's teachings, has true fear of death and of meeting his or her Lord on the day of judgment. Keep in mind that Allah revealed this verse before the prophet had a chance to confront those who opposed him. In other words, God, with all His knowledge and wisdom, knew beforehand exactly what their responses and actions were going to be. The Jewish leaders who opposed and fought the prophet will never look forward to death because they truly fear it. They know that they had altered God's word and changed the scriptures.
This also means that when prophet Muhammad challenged them, he gave them a golden opportunity to discredit the Quran. They could have accepted the challenge and wished for death, even out of hypocrisy and mockery. They had the chance to create doubt about Muhammad's message. Because God had predicted that they would never look forward to death, all they would have had to say was: ‘O Muhammad, invoke your Lord to give us death.’ But they could not bring themselves to do that. God, who has the best knowledge of His creation, had already concluded that they would not.
Let's look at another example in the Quran, where Allah predetermined the outcome and behaviour of those who opposed His message. God says:
The foolish people will say, ‘What has turned them away from the prayer direction they used to face?’ Say, ‘East and West belong to God. He guides whoever He will to the right way.’ (02:142)
This verse quotes the statement of the disbelievers before they even said it. The verb ‘will’ points to future actions. Moreover, God described those who will say this as fools. All the disbelievers had to do when they learned that the Muslims changed the direction of their prayer -Qibla- was to remain silent. If they had remained silent, they could have discredited the Quran. They, however, could not help themselves. The disbelievers said exactly what the Quran had predicted. The thought of not saying anything did not even occur to them. Thus, the label of 'fools' is a perfect description for them. Allah is indeed best aware and has full knowledge of His creation.
Similarly, if the Israelites were true in their claim of guaranteed paradise, they would have wished for death so that they may be transferred to the world of ever-lasting bliss. But God had already determined that this will never occur. Each one of us knows the true nature of our deeds, and the Israelites knew the terrible sins they committed.
Ammar ibn Yaser (may God be pleased with him) was one of the ten companions of Prophet Muhammad who were given glad tidings of paradise. Let's see how he faced death. In the battle of Hunain, after he was mortally wounded, he was heard chanting: 'now I will meet the beloved ones; Muhammad and his companions'. Ammar was content and tranquil, because he was certain that he will be with his loved ones in paradise. One can only be in such a state if he is assured paradise and its pleasures.
In another example, in the battle of Hunain, imam Ali (may God be pleased with him) was wearing a very light armour, which barely provided protection. His son Hasan approached him and said: father, this is not the attire of war. Ali replied: My son, your father does not care whether he tumbles upon death or whether death tumbles upon him.
And lastly, during the battle of Badr, one of the companions asked the prophet (peace be upon him): O Messenger of God, Is all that is between me and paradise that I fight these people and be killed? The prophet replied: yes. The companion discarded some food that was in his hands -as if it was a distraction from his true goal-, and fought the enemies tirelessly. He was honoured with martyrdom on the battle field.
These were some examples of people who were certain about the hereafter when they faced death.
Here we should question whether expressing the desire for something is done by the tongue or the heart? Maybe the Israelites had wished for death in their heart when the prophet challenged them. We answer that Allah knows what we say, and what we keep to ourselves. If the Israelites had wished for death within their hearts, God would have known it and He would have granted their wish. But He had already informed us, and them, that they will never wish for it neither with their tongues nor their hearts. Their claim that the hereafter is exclusive for them is similar to their previous false claims they made in the following verse:
They say, ‘The Fire will only touch us for a few days.’ Say to them, ‘Have you received a promise from God- for God never breaks His promise- or are you saying things about Him of which you have no real knowledge?’ (02:80)
Why are they running away from the hereafter? God answers ‘Because of what their hands have put forth.’ In other words, it is their own sins that truly frighten them from death. Contrast that to a person who had done righteous deeds, and did not wrong people, he or she faces death in peace. Take the example of a situation, such as a terminal illness with no hope of recovery, where a person becomes aware that he or she will die soon. Here, you often see the difference between the one who did pious deeds and the one who wasted his or her life. Each will face death according to his or her actions. More telling, however, is at the moment of death. As the soul is departing the body, God reveals to the dying person his or her destiny. God says:
Indeed you were in heedlessness of this, and now We have removed from you your veil, so your sight today is sharp. (50:22)
The face of the righteous person will shine as the hope and joy of eternal pleasure comes near. He or she is received by the angels of mercy. At the moment of death, any chance of repentance is lost. So, if a person is burdened by evil deeds or disbelief, he or she will be greeted by the angels of punishment and shown hellfire as the final destination. Thus, the dying person's face will show stress and misery. As for the one who lived life mindful of the Lord, he or she longs for the moment of their meeting.
Here we should note an important point the Prophet warned us about. He, peace be upon him, said: ‘No one of you should wish for death or ask for it before it approaches him unless he is certain of his deeds.’ In other words, you should not wish for death out of fear of the future, nor out of despair of your current problems. Rather, you should try your best to be patient over what God has destined for you. When you despair, it is a sign that you cannot bring yourself to bear what God has chosen for you, and you want to rebel against His wisdom. In this situation, it is prohibited to ask for death. If, on the other hand, you have done good deeds, and you feel at peace with yourself, then you can look forward to meeting your Lord as the following verse narrates about prophet Joseph:
My Lord! You have given me authority; You have taught me something about the interpretation of dreams; Creator of the heavens and the earth, You are my protector in this world and in the Hereafter. Let me die in true devotion to You. Join me with the righteous.’ (12:101)