By Prof. Henry Francis B. Espiritu, New Age Islam
07 August, 2015
1. Reflection on Death as Potent Cure for our Spiritual Carelessness, as Divine Reminder to our Spiritual Forgetfulness and as Powerful Awakener against our Heedlessness
We all have a divine schedule that cannot be erased nor be delayed by even a fraction of a second of our life—we have an appointment that cannot be rescheduled or ignored, for this appointment is a divinely guaranteed schedule set by Almighty Allah Himself. The Holy Qur’an explicitly proclaims to all members of humanity: “Every soul shall have a taste of death: and We test you by evil and not only by good; by way of trial. To Us must ye return.” (Surah Ambiyaa :35).
Death is no respecter of persons—whether such a one is high or lowborn. The Angel of Death respects no age, wealth nor familial prestige. In the poignant, yet meaningful words of warning coming from the Indian Sufi saint, Hazrat Ashiq Sultan Bahu al-Punjabi: “Remember this oh Ashiq Bahu, whoever comes into this world, Death whispers to him right away; ‘Be careful how you walk in the path of life for I, Death, am right behind your back watching your every move, your every step, and your every turn!’. Therefore, oh, Ashiq Bahu, take warning!” (Abyat-e-Sultan Bahu [Poetic Compositions of Sultan Bahu] Beas, India: Radha Soami Satsang, 1963; p. 18.).
For a moment, let us consider for ourselves what will happen some few years after we die and after we have already been relegated to our lonely and cold grave—deserted by loved ones and family alike. Together let us take heed of the lessons that this short reflection on death (muraqabah-ul-mawt) and the temporariness of life can teach to our heedless and carefree spirits. Years after our death, the grave marker bearing our engraved name whose honor and fame we carefully preserve and protect all throughout our lives will be long gone by now—and we will be hardly remembered by the living unless we live a life worthy of spiritual emulation and remembrance! Our skeletons like forlorn and forgotten remains, already eaten by the “vulture of Time” will be etched upon our wretched weakened frame of dilapidated bones! At this juncture, reflect on a skull of a former beauty titlist, it is now cracked and dry—what was before a face painstakingly decorated by cosmetics or skin-powders, the face which was once beautified by countless shades of make-ups, and makeovers, spa-massaged and meticulously washed by choicest perfumed soaps and lotions had by now entirely eaten by worms and maggots! The impure fluids emanating from the melted face had long blended into dust without any trace of mundane beauty and worldly charm which was once the object of adulation by others and the subject of meticulous yet capricious care by its owner in the past! Consider well how you take good care of your prized hair as the crown of your glory while yet alive, the hair that was once coiffured according to the changing fashions of this world had by now all fallen to the ground, and is now separated from that cracked skull. What will happen to the skeleton of a heedless person in the years to come? It will be scattered in the graveyard of spiritual ignominy, negligence and carelessness of living!
Oh, believer on the path towards our Beloved Allah, please take heed and pay attention for the Holy Qur-an has solemnly warned us by these words: “…the Death from which ye flee will truly overtake you: then will ye be sent back to the Knower of things secret and open: and He will tell you (the truth of) the things that ye did!” (Surah Jumu’ah :8).
Whereas death is a great calamity and a harrowing catastrophe for the unbelievers and the unprepared; it is grace, mercy and a divine favor for a genuine believer and true lover of Allah Almighty. The great Turkish saint and spiritual teacher, Hazrat e Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi tells us: “Death is a Ni’mat-ul-Mu’mineen (grace and favour bestowed on the faithful). Death is the bridge of love connecting the true lover to his Beloved Lord.” (Mathnawi Sharif, quoted in Abyat-e-Sultan Bahu, [Poetic Compositions of Sultan Bahu]; p. 24)
Therefore, it is incumbent upon us believers to prepare assiduously for the eventual meeting of our Beloved Allah at the time of our death. We should not curse nor detest death but consider the Angel of Death (Malak-al-Maut Hazrat e Azrail) as our confidential and close friend that will bring us closer towards our meeting, final encounter and blissful reunion with our All-Merciful Allah.
2. The Real Purpose (Maqsud-e-Mutlaq) and Ultimate Finality (Maqsud-e-Akhir) of the Believer’s Life and Death is Gaining Allah’s Pleasure, Favour and Love
The Holy Qur’an openly proclaims Allah’s divine character and attributes in these words: “He is the First and the Last, the Ascendant and the Intimate, and He is, of all things, the All-Knowing.” (Surah Hadid :3). Likewise another holy ayah of the Holy Qur’an declares, “Say (oh Muhammad): Truly, my prayer and my service of sacrifice, my life and my death, are (all) for Allah, the Cherisher-Sustainer of the Worlds.” (Holy Qur’an, Surah An’am :162).
The above holy verses declare in unequivocal term that Almighty Allah is our Real Goal in life; furthermore He is the Finality of all our longings and the Answer to all our deepest desires. Our souls long for Allah’s nearness, and we will only be truly satisfied if we reach the intimacy of Allah’s Divine Presence. Therefore, in order to live a life of genuine Iman (faith) and Ihsan (purity) we must always remember Allah as the Real Goal and Aim of our life and existence. The ultimate cause, objective and finality (Awwal-wal-Akhir) of the whole cosmos (Alamin) and of the whole humanity is Allah, the Most Merciful. Because He is our Creator and the Lord of the universe (Rabb-ul-Alamin), Allah Almighty is therefore our true Maqsud-e-Mutlaq (Absolute Goal) and our Maqsud-e-Akhir (Ultimate Finality). Therefore we should make it our daily goal to live and to die for the sake of pleasing Almighty Allah. All things that hinder impede and prevent us from loving and pleasing our Lord should be renounced since these are separating walls that our enemy, the accursed Satan has placed upon us so that we will not be able to reach Allah’s nearness and divine favour.
The accursed Satan always misleads us into forgetting the reality of our death by tempting us with all the illusory charms of this temporary world as his effective tool in preventing the achieving of our proximity with Allah Almighty. By tempting us with the fleeting pleasures of this world and by fixing our minds on the lust of our mundane existence, we become negligent in reflecting the occurrence of our death (Muraqabah-ul-Mawt), thinking of death as something that will not happen to us in the near future. This attitude of carelessness (Ghaflat) will make us more attached to our evil-commanding-self (Nafs-e-Ammarah) and to this sinful world (Dunya); thereby forgetting our True Aim in life—Allah Himself and winning His good pleasure. Our love for this world and attachment to its impermanent enjoyments and temporal goods will make our souls wallow more in sins and wilful disobedience against Allah’s holy laws to such an extent that our hearts detest our final meeting with our beloved Lord. By disliking death which is the opener of the eternal door towards Union with our Beloved, we are in fact saying that we value this miserable earthly life compared to the joys of meeting our Beloved Allah in His Heavenly Abode. This wrongful prioritization will cost the loss of our souls for the rest of eternity! No matter how we try to extricate ourselves from death; this attitude of wanting to escape death is just a wishful thinking, a fruitless illusion, a futile affair, for at the time of death, our selfish ego that lived in negligence and carelessness with respect to following Allah’s commandment may indeed wish so very hard to escape death, but the Angel of Death will catch-up on us and he will drag us to our graves despite our protests! In the words of the Holy Qur’an: “…that day whereon neither wealth nor sons will avail (to help him). But only will he prosper that brings to Allah a sound heart.” (Surah Shu’ara :88-89).
In order to live a life that is fully aware of and truly prepared for our ultimate meeting with Allah Almighty, we must strive to remember the real aim of our human existence and act in such a way that our daily living must be in conformity to the true objective of life—pleasing Allah Almighty and gaining his good pleasure. However, living a life that truly pleases Allah is difficult for as long as we think that this present world is our eternal dwelling place. It is easy to forget the divine goal of our existence in this day-and-age when many forms of forbidden pleasures and sinful activities are readily available and are continually being committed by negligent souls in this world. Our Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) exhorted us in this manner: “Remember Allah in abundance and likewise remember the coming of the Destroyer of pleasure (Angel of Death) upon waking-up and before sleeping.” (Cited by Hazrat Maseehullah Khan Chishti in his book Malfoothat-e-Murideen-e-Chistiyyah Thanwiyyah va Ashrafiyyah [Spiritual Advice for Chishtiyyah, Thanwiyyah and Ashrafiyyah Disciples]. Lahore: Pakistan, 1971; p. 53.).
May we motivate ourselves towards good deeds by constantly reminding ourselves that the only Being that existed before time began and will exist throughout all eternity (Al-Hayy-ul-Qayyum-wa-Al-Baqi) is our Beloved Allah. May we fill our hearts with the thought of our death and non-existence daily, thereby prodding us to live in full awareness of our real Goal which is Allah and our eventual meeting with Him in the Hereafter. Let us remember this very well: irrespective of whether we are ready or not to depart in this world, we shall be dragged permanently from our temporary homes despite our firmest resistance against the Angel of Death. The pitiful wailings and tears of our family and loved-ones will not be able to help us at this hour. All our material wealth and earthly resources will not avail any help to us in the hour of our death.
We must focus on the real goal or purpose of our life—becoming Allah’s obedient slave to win His favour and gain his pleasure. Therefore in order for us to be able to focus on the goal of our servanthood (Ubudiyyah) to Allah, we must constantly remind our hearts and minds that we have an appointment with death; and this eventual appointment with death should make our minds and hearts to fear and love Allah Almighty. Says Allah, the Most High: “Oh ye who believe! Fear Allah and be with those who are true (in word and in deed)!” (Surah Taubah :119).
The above ayah (verse) tells us that we must have respectful fear in Allah and we likewise need to be wary whom we choose as our friends and companions in our journey through life. Why does our Beloved Allah require us to only befriend those who are “true in word and in deed”? This is because our friends have immense impact in our earthly and spiritual life. Wrong friends will lead to wrongful prioritization, wrong belief systems, wrongful habits and bad attitudes with evil consequences that will stretch all the way to eternity. Wrong friends will cause us to forget our real objective and purpose in life. Wrong friends will make us deluded by making us want to be young forever. Wrong friends will confuse us with regards our value systems making us weaken our faith in Allah. Because of our wrongful companions, the temporary will be given preference over the permanent. Enjoyment and relaxation will take precedence over family, and business will be given preference over the demands of our spiritual life. Shamelessness will be promoted, immodesty will be flaunted and prudence (Haya) will be frowned upon because of the influence of our wrong set of friends.
Allah Almighty informs us: “O ye who believe! Guard your own souls: If ye follow (right) guidance, no hurt can come to you from those who stray. The goal of you all is to Allah: it is He that will show you the truth of all that ye do.” (Surah Maidah :105).
We need to cling onto people who are truthful and who will remind us continuously to focus upon our true aim in life: meeting with Allahu Taala. True friends who are also believers (Momin) speak about Allah; remind one another against committing sin and vice. And of course, true believer friends celebrate with us in all those things that are permitted by Almighty Allah and they share with us the joys of life as we journey together on the way to Allah. We need true company of believers in our life of faith, for the companionship of faithful and believing friends inspires us, motivates us, and encourages us towards our goal of attaining Allah’s pleasure.
Truthful companions are like Prophet Noah’s ark that helps us cross the troubled ocean of worldliness to the shore of everlasting bliss. Allah, the Most High knows the importance of being in one accord with faithful believing friends when He commanded us in this manner: “And hold fast, all together, by the rope which Allah stretches out for you, and be not divided among yourselves; and remember with gratitude Allah's favours on you; for you were enemies and He joined your hearts in love, so that by His Grace, you became brethren; and you were on the brink of the pit of Fire, and He saved you from it. Thus Allah makes His Signs clear to you, that you may be guided.” (Surah Ahl-Imran :103).
3. Final Words: Never Forget the Ultimate Objective and Purpose of Human Life and Strive Faithfully (Mujahadah-wa-Riyazat) to Live a Pure Life Pleasing to our Beloved Allah
Says Allah Most High: “O humankind! Do your duty to your Lord, and fear (the coming of) a Day when no father can avail aught for his son, nor a son avail aught for his father. Verily, the promise of Allah is true: let not then this present life deceives you, nor let the chief Deceiver deceive you about Allah.” (Holy Qur’an, Surah Luqman :33).
My dear sisters and brothers in Islam, acting upon the order given by the verse above, we must always place Almighty Allah and his good pleasure as our ultimate aim or goal in life. We must live a life that merits Allah’s love and mercy upon us, his poor and unworthy creatures. Let us daily think of death in abundance; for our meditation on death will effectively keep us away from all sorts of sinfulness, worldliness, arrogant pride, carelessness, and negligence. The inner realization of our temporary human existence will aid us in becoming good Muslims whose sole purpose in life is winning Allah’s favour, grace and love. Let us keep company with the truthful and believing Muslim friends. We must seek-out friends who dedicate their lives in pleasing Allahu Taala and thereby Allah is also pleased with them. We need believing friends who will give us courage and encouragement to live a life of perfect submission and servanthood to Allah’s Rulership. Furthermore, without being rude, unkind, vain and self-righteous, we should discreetly avoid all kinds of people who will distract us from our lofty goal of attaining Allah’s mercy, grace and favour.
Insha’Allah, by making ourselves pleasing to Almighty Allah, both our worldly life and life-to-come will become joyous and peaceful. However if we live a life of obstinacy, heedlessness and sinfulness oblivious of whether or not we have become an enemy of Allah by our actions, then by our deeds of heedlessness, we will be reaping material misfortunes in this world and spiritual calamities in the Hereafter. Is it wisdom of a circumspect person to live a life of so-called worldly fun and play but thereafter followed by misery and torture in the eternal combustible fires of Jahannam (Hell)? Only an unthinking person will decide to choose such a calamitous option! My fellow Muslim brothers and sisters: we must firmly resolve that in this life, we will live and die only for the sake of Allah—only for the sake of gaining His good pleasure, mercy, love and grace. Let us resolve to live a pure life that reflects our being genuine believers in Allah’s Lordship (Rubbubiyyah). While still alive, we still have the chance to please Allah by our good deeds and repent of our failures to live in the manner of godly life befitting true believers of Allah’s Lordship. Now is the time to make Allah the Centre (Markaz) of our life; now is the opportune time to turn to Almighty Allah before we return our insignificant life to be judged by Him—to either blissful reward in Paradise or sorrowful punishment in the Hell-fire. May our Beloved and All-Merciful Allah guide us so that we may make Him the ultimate objective of our living and dying. Indeed, our Almighty Allah is worth dying for and worth living for. Amen, a thousand times Amen!
Prof. Henry Francis B. Espiritu is Associate Professor-VI of Philosophy and Asian Studies at the University of the Philippines (UP), Cebu City. He was former Academic Coordinator of the Political Science Program at UP Cebu from 2011-2014. He is presently the Coordinator of Gender and Development (GAD) Office at UP Cebu. His research interests include Islamic Studies particularly Sunni jurisprudence, Islamic feminist discourses, Islam in interfaith dialogue initiatives, Islamic environmentalism, the writings of Imam Al-Ghazali on pluralism and tolerance, Turkish Sufism, Muslim-Christian dialogue, Middle Eastern affairs, Peace Studies and Public Theology.