chapter  IX
20 Pages

DEATH

GENERALLY about four or five days before the approach of death the sick man executes a written agreement (wasiqa) or a will (wasiyat-nama), in which he disposes of his property and appoints an executor (wasiy), only one being required. It is not necessary that the will should be in writing, but it must be certified by two male witnesses, or by one male and two females. 2

When he is about to expire, a learned reader of the Koran is summoned and asked to recite in a loud voice the Yasin chapter of the Koran (xxxvi), which the Prophet called 'the heart of the Koran' (qalbu-l-qur'an), in order that, as Musalmii.ns believe, the living principles of his whole system should be concentrated in his head, 3 the result of which is death. It is said that when the spirit was commanded to enter the body of Adam, ' the Chosen One of God ' (safiyu-llah) -on whom be the Peace !-the soul looking into it once said ' This is an evil, dark place, and unworthy of me ; it is impossible that I can occupy it '. Then the Just and Holy God illuminated the body of .Adam with ' lainps of light ', and commanded the spirit again to enter it. It went a second time, beheld the light, and seeing its future dwelling said ' There is no pleasing sound here to which I can listen '. Oriental mystics say that this was the reason why the Almighty created music. The spirit, delighted with the music, then entered Adam's body. 4 Commentators on the Koran, expositors of the

Hadis or Traditions, and divines state that the melody thus produced resembled that of the Sura Yasin, and hence this chapter is recited at death to tranquillize the soul. The 'comfortable words' (kalimatu-t-taiyib) and the 'word of testimony' (kalimatu-sh-shahadat) are also recited with an audible voice to those present. The patient is not required to repeat the Kalima or Creed himself, because he usually lies insensible and cannot speak. But the pious retain their faculties and power of converse till the very last. It is an important rule that if any one desires the patient to repeat the Creed, and he expires without being able to do so, his faith is held to be doubtful, but the man who so directed him incurs guilt. It is, therefore, preferable that those present should recite the words, in the hope that the dying man by hearing them may recall them to his recollection, and repeat them either aloud or mentally. In general, when a person is dying they pour sherbet down his throat to facilitate the exit of the soul, but some, though rarely, substitute water from the holy well Zamzam. ' The death agony is supposed to be the final temptation of the arch-fiend, who greets the thirsty soul as it leaves the body with a cup of sweets. If the soul falli:; into the snare the cup is dashed aside and the tempter disappears '. 1 'The Recording Angels, Kiramu-1-katibin, sit one on a man's right shoulder, noting down good deeds, and the other on the left taking note of evil deeds. Every night, as the man sleeps, they fly up to Heaven, and record on his leaf in the tree of life, called Tiiba', his acts of the day. Each person has a leaf to himself, and when the end approaches the leaf drops off the tree, and the Recording Angels carry it to 'Azrail or 'Izrail, the Angel of Death, who forthwith dispatches them and a third Angel back to earth. to show the dying m.an his life account. On reading it, according as the balance is struck fqr or against him, he dies happily or in torments '. 2

The moment the spirit has fled the mouth is shut because, if left open, it would present a disagreeable spectacle, 3 and the eyes are closed with a pledget of cotton, held in jts place by

a cloth wound round the temples. The two great toes are brought into contact and fastened together with a thin strip of cloth to prevent the legs from remaining apart. 1 In northern India Shi'as put pomegranate or honey syrup in the mouth of the dead. 2 In Gujarat leaves of marjoram, a plant held sacred by Musalmans, are rubbed on the face, and pastilles of aloe wood ('1id batti) are burnt close by. 3

Certain euphemisms are employed to denote the fact of death. Thus we read of the Emperor Babur that he ' departed from this fleeting world for his everlasting abode in Paradise' .4 To die is ' to make a transference ' ( intiqal karna, f armana) ; 'to make a departure' (rahla,t karna, farmana) ; a person is dead, 'on whom God has shown mercy' ·(marhum).