Ash-Shaykh `Ali at-Tantawi related that a man who drove a truck in Syria once picked up a passenger to give him a lift. The passenger sat in the back where there was neither roof nor cover. There was, however, a coffin that had been prepared for burial. It started to rain and the man, noticing that it was a large coffin, decided to seek shelter inside of it. Another passenger came onto the truck and he also made his way to the back. He happened to choose a seat beside the coffin. While it continued to rain the second passenger thought that he was alone in the truck. Without warning, the first passenger stuck his hand out of the coffin to see if the rain had subsided. On seeing the hand, the second passenger became terrified, thinking that a dead man in the coffin was rising to life. From the sheer terror and shock of the moment, the man stumbled backwards, fell out of the truck, and smashed his head on the pavement, dying instantaneously.
This unexpected way of dying is how Allah had written for this man to die.
“Everything happens according to a Divine decree, and in the deaths of others are morals and lessons.”
It is incumbent upon everyone to realize that death is hovering above us. At any moment, day or night, death can come. Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) expressed in lucid terms the reality of our life:
“The Hereafter is traveling towards us and this life is traveling away from us, so be from the children of the Hereafter and not from the children of this world. For today is action without reckoning (judgment), and tomorrow is reckoning without action.”
From this saying, we can learn how imperative it is for us to improve ourselves, to renew our repentance, and to know that we are dealing with Allah, Who is most generous and All-Powerful.
Death does not ask a person for permission prior to arrival, nor does it give one an early warning about its being on its way:
No person knows what he will earn tomorrow. And no person knows in what land he will die. (Qur’an 31: 34)
...the Appointment to you is .for a Day, which you cannot put back for an hour [or a moment] nor put forward. (Qur’an 34. 30)
At-Tantawi related another story that equally illustrates the unexpectedness of death. A bus full of people was moving when the driver suddenly pressed on the brakes. The passengers asked him what was wrong. He said, “I am stopping for this old man who is waving so that he can get on the bus.” They all said in wonder, “We do not see anyone.”
He said, “Look at him over there.” They repeated that there was no one to be seen. He said confidently, “Now look, he is coming to get in.” Now the situation was beyond wonder, and they exclaimed, “By Allah, we don’t see anyone.” Then, in an instant, the driver died in his seat.
Thus death came to him in the most bizarre and unexpected of scenarios:
When their term is reached, neither can they delay it nor can they advance it an hour [or a moment]. (Qur ‘an 7: 34)
Man is cowardly when he faces danger; his heart begins to thump when the possibility of death arises, and then, without prior warning, he dies at a time when he feels most safe.[They are] the ones who said about their killed brethren while they themselves sat [at home]: `If only they had listened to us, they would not have been killed. ‘Say: `Avert death from your own selves, if you speak the truth. (Qur’an 3: 168)
The strange thing is that we do not think about meeting Allah or about the transient nature of this life.