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Decomposition (8)

By Ideal Muslimah.

towardsthegraveBefore we look into the life of al-Barzakh (what it entails and what a believer will face therein) I would like to briefly examine the deteriorating effect of the earth on a human corpse. Currently, as you read this sentence, the process of decomposition of once living creatures is occurring all around you. However, many of us are so engrossed and deluded by the life of this world that we hate to contemplate, reflect, talk or even hear anything about the grave and the decomposition of our bodies within it.

Today, when the fear of Allah, His Accountability and Reckoning does not affect our hearts as it should, such reminders will benefit us and push us towards working for our Hereafter. Allah (the Most Gracious) says in the Qur’an: {And remind for Verily, the reminding benefits the believers.} (Adh-Dhaariyaat [51]: 55)

With this exact aim in mind I am writing this article. It is a reality that every second leads us closer to death and our new home…a dark and murky container. Allah (the Almighty) has clearly stated: {Have we not made the earth a container for the living and the dead?} (Al-Mursalaat 25 – 26)

Indeed the earth is a container for many living creatures; nevertheless many dead creatures also fill its emptiness. In this regard, we find the reality of man within the following verse: {Then He (Allah) causes him to die, and puts him in his grave;} (Abasa: 21)

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said to the Companions: “Show due bashfulness to Allah”. The Companions (may Allah be pleased with them) then said: “O Messenger of Allah! We show bashfulness, thank Allah”. They were obviously taken aback by the Prophet’s statement. The Prophet (peace be upon him) replied: “It is not that (as you think). True bashfulness to Allah is to keep the head and what it contains (i.e. to keep the eyes, ears, tongue, etc away from sins) and to keep the abdomen (away from unlawful foods) and what is related to it (i.e. to keep the private parts and the legs, etc away from committing what is prohibited), and to remember death and decay (in the grave); and whoever seeks the Hereafter should abandon the adornments of the worldly life. Whoever does so will be the one showing due bashfulness to Allah” (At-Tirmidhi and other compilers of Hadeeth).

How many of us are guilty of immodesty towards Allah (the Almighty) in this regard? How would we feel if someone accused us of having this trait? Maybe we would frown and become troubled by this opinion - although, what really matters is how Allah (the All-Knowing) regards us. Let’s take heed from the following saying:

“Judge yourself before you are judged.”

In truth, a day is soon approaching when we will be judged. Therefore, remember death and decay, as stated in the aforementioned Prophetic narration, even if the people of the world wrongly accuse us of being morbid, strange or mentally unbalanced. Not only will this refine our modesty towards Allah, but we will also come to realize the great stations the Prophets, Shuhadaa’ (Martyrs) and chosen Slaves of Allah enjoy in this respect. Allah (the Almighty) does not allow the earth to eat away at the corpses of His chosen and selected pious slaves, something that we will cover in detail soon, Allah Willing. Such a study will make us realize the Magnanimity and Graciousness of Allah (the Almighty) towards these selected groups; May Allah (the Gracious) make us of them, Aameen.

While keeping the forthcoming information in mind, we should also have good and positive thoughts of Allah (the Almighty). The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “None of you should die, except while he is (having) good thought of Allah.” (Saheeh Muslim)

What this means is that we should not give up hope in Allah’s Mercy. We should think well and positively of a Lord who is so Forgiving, Merciful and Gracious. At the same time we should be preparing to meet Him in a good state.

Surely, a bird can only fly with two wings.

***

Despite the fact that this section will include some disturbing images of insects, the purpose of this article is to open our eyes to what may await us in our graves and is not to delve into a deep, scientific study of the decomposition of a human corpse.

After a human being’s death the body is no longer given the same attention that it once enjoyed. This is because it is now an empty shell, devoid of life; hence it is of little benefit to the people. However, there are still some who benefit from the dead corpse … the scavenging insects. These insects will eagerly offer their services and aide to the slow process of decomposition of the entire body. Certain insects are attracted to dead bodies and are referred to as “carrion-eating insects”. This category includes insects such as flies, maggots, beetles and their like.

Although decomposition actually begins straight after a person dies, our aim here is to focus on the decomposition that occurs in the grave. There are five stages of decomposition that the body undergoes in the grave. Let’s begin our journey through them.

1. The Fresh Stage

This is when the body has just been buried and hence is still fresh in its appearance. At this stage no physical appearance of decomposition is present, even though its active change began a while ago when life functions came to an end, causing the beginning of the breakdown of cells and tissues.

After the mud is thrown on the corpse and the body begins to cool to the temperature of its surroundings…the scavenging insects in the soil begin to crawl towards the corpse. Once access to the body is gained they begin to lay their eggs.

2. Putrefaction

At this stage, more obvious signs of decay appear as the corpse changes in color and odour. The body experiences significant bloating due to the chemical processes involved in decomposition, which produce gases. Therefore the face and abdomen swell, forcing fecal matter out of the body. Due to the presence of bacteria in the body, which now enter the veins and interact with the blood, we begin to see red streaking on the skin that will later change into the green marbelization of the skin. In extreme cold, the body’s enzymatic breakdown (autolysis) is inactivated and bacterial activity (putrefaction) slows down.

The following image is of microscopic, intestinal bacteria.

image001

A final process in this stage includes the skin changing from its natural color to orange or black, usually embellished with patches of mold.[1]

Here comes to light the reality of man, his existence and rank. Yet in this world he was so arrogant and boastful, denying the commands of his Lord. Today his true worth and status is evident as a host of insects increasingly invade his body.

3. Black Putrefaction

In the third stage, the body takes on a dark color. The rupture of the abdomen opens the body cavity to a greater variety of insects and scavengers.

The most obvious and abundant insect to arrive in the early stages of decomposition are the flies. They enter the body through natural openings or wounds, eventually feeding over the whole body as the tissues decay. In temperate areas, flies are the first to colonize the body and are responsible for the most dramatic consumption of the organs and tissues. In general, flies deposit their eggs almost immediately after death in the daytime. The adult flies emerge from the pupae in 12–18 days.[2]

Flies lay their eggs or larvae on the actual body, which generates a large number of maggots who live on and feed off of the fluids which exude from the corpse. Juicy maggots provide a plentiful food source for other animals, including other species of flies. At this stage there is considerable competition among the flies for access to the corpse.

The Blowfly, Chrysomya rufifacies, feeds on maggots of other flies as well as consuming decaying flesh. The larvae of the blowfly are covered with protrusions called papillae, which serve as protection against the predatory attacks of other maggots. The adult blowflies use spongy mouth parts to soak up fluids exuded from the body:

image004

(Electron micrograph)[3]

A number of wasp species lay their eggs inside the larvae of flies. The wasp larva then feeds on the maggot, eventually killing it and emerging as an adult wasp. One pupa (which is an insect in the inactive stage of development - in between larva and adult) is host to an average of 12 wasps.

image005

Corpse Fauna - Parasitic Wasp, Brachymeria calliphorae

This black putrefaction stage lasts approximately ten to twenty days and then the bones begin to become visible. At this point, beetles arrive at the corpse. In contrast to the flies, beetles have chewing mouthparts and can manage tougher foods than the semi-liquid material that fly larvae are so efficient at exploiting.

Three types of beetle make their living out of corpses. The early arrivals tend to be predatory adults that feed on fly larvae. Some of these species lay their eggs on the corpse and the emerging larvae - which share their parents' powerful jaws - feed on fly larvae. These species include the rove beetles (Staphylinidae), and hister beetles (Histeridae). The following image is a close up of the mouth parts of a beetle.

image007

(Electron micrograph)

Many mites, spiders, ticks, scorpions and harvestmen can feed on a corpse over the full term of its exposure to the elements. Gamasid mites like Macrocheles are common in the early stages of decomposition:

image009

Adult moths lay their eggs on a carcass after all the fly larvae have finished with it. On hatching, their larvae look around for food on any hair that remains. Some of the familiar moth species (Tineidae) feed on hair during their larval stages. Tineid moths are therefore the final animals contributing to the decomposition of a carcass.

image011

Monopis argillacea. Moth - Corpse Fauna.

4. Butyric Fermentation

At this stage the body begins to dry and preserve itself with organs and tissues eventually, reducing and withering away. Odours fade and the body forms an adipocere, or “grave wax” layer. After the organs and tissues are gone, the final stage of decomposition is dry decay, or skeletonization. This is the longest stage as the chemical structure of bones makes them much slower to deteriorate than soft tissue.

Late-arriving beetles tend to be specialist scavengers that feed on tougher parts, like skin and tendons, as the body dries out. The dominant late stage scavengers include the larvae of hide beetles (Dermestidae);

image013

and ham beetles (Cleridae).

image015

Tyroglyphid mites feed on dry skin in the later stages of decomposition.

image017

When the corpse has dried out, two other groups of flies known as the cheese flies (Piophilidae);

image019

and the coffin flies (Phoridae);

image021

join the beetles and mites in cleaning up the skeleton.

The speed of bone decay greatly depends upon the environmental factors present at the burial location, including moisture, temperature and pH of the soil. In hot climates with many scavengers, skeletonization can occur as early as 9-10 days after burial. However, in most cases this process occurs over many years. Therefore, skeletonization is highly variable.

From the above information we can deduce the following:

  • The transient nature of this world.
  • Shyness from Allah (the Almighty) includes the remembrance of death and decay.
  • The importance of asking for Shahaadah (martyrdom) from Allah (the Almighty).
  • The importance of asking Allah (the Almighty) to protect us from the torment of the grave.
  • The temporary nature of our dominance and supremacy on earth. Today for many of us insects are a small nuisance; we can easily get rid of them whilst they are powerless to stop us. Nevertheless, when we die the insects will be in control of our corpses whilst we will be powerless to do anything.
  • We should refrain from beautifying ourselves in ways that are Haraam, for example by plucking the eyebrows, permanent tattooing, haircuts that resemble men etc. Let’s remember that our bodies will be gone and what will remain are our deeds.
Therefore, let’s place real value on our hereafter and on our souls and not merely on the body,
which will soon be a decomposing corpse... unless Allah Wills.

_______________

References:

[1] Source: reference: DEATH TO DUST (powerphrased)
[2] Reference BASIC FORENSIC PATHOLOGY
[3] These micropraphic  pictures have been taken from http://australianmuseum.net.au/Decomposition-Corpse-Fauna.
 

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