NOT TO FORGET MORTALITY

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We do not know how we will meet with the angel of death. How will we go to our final meeting? Are we going to meet our Lord while in a state of prostrating or committing a sin? We should always contemplate that what our last words are going to be.

Junaid al-Baghdadi Says that:

“A day on this world is more valuable than a thousand years in the Hereafter. Because you have the chance to attain the contentment of Allah on Earth, while in the Hereafter you will not have any opportunity to perform good deeds. In the Hereafter there will be questioning for our deeds.”

The Devil and our animal selves are the hardest challenges of this world that we have to overcome for the eternal salvation. Animal self usually represents the negative inclinations that human beings are subject to. Most of these inclinations are the result of “rebellion against mortality” and the desire “to be immortal.”

Certainly human beings never want to lose the blessings they have. They always desire eternity and immortality. Some look for eternity in their children and wish their offspring to continue until the end of days. Some are obsessed with their physical fitness and health. They wish to live centuries in this way. Some look for eternity in leaving monuments and wish their fame continue to live after they die. And some other search eternity in accumulating wealth and depends on the strength of their possessions.

In fact this is stated in the following verse:

“(Woe to the one) who thinks that his wealth will make him immortal.”(104; 3)

Whereas looking eternity on this mortal world or assuming that happy days will never end and blessings will never be lost is an empty imagination and futile hope like seeing a mirage in a desert.

How nicely a friend of Allah states:

“Do not ask eternity from the world. How can it give you something that it does not have?”

Therefore we should not forget that we are the guests in this world and our days on it will end on an unknown date. The real and eternal life is the life in the Hereafter; because, there is not a single creation free from mortality. Forgetting mortality is as foolish as burying someone’s head into sand and thinking that he will be saved from danger. However, unfortunately many people’s attitude towards death is not very different than this. Many people live unaware of this fact, instead of beautifying death with good deeds in this world.

TWO OPPOSITE SCENES CONCERNING DEATH

Wahb b. Munabbih narrates:

Once a sultan was getting ready to travel and he chose his best clothes and his best horse for the journey. Then together with his men, he proudly set out for his journey. On his way, a miserable man with shabby clothes held his horse’s rein. The sultan yelled at the poor guy:

“Who are you? Get out of my way.” The man calmly replied:

“I have a very important thing to tell you. It is a vital issue for you…”

The sultan, half curiously and half angrily, told the man:

“Okay tell me what it is.” The man said:

“It is a secret. I will it to your ear.”

The sultan bent down and the man whispered in his ear:

“I am Azrail, the Angel of Death and I am here to take your life.”

The sultan was scared and began to beg for Azrail’s mercy:

“Please give me a little more time.”

But the angel told him:

“No, you do not have time. You will not be able to go your family” and took immediately the sultan’s life.

Then the Angel of Death continued his journey and met a pious man on his way. The greeted the pious man and told him:

“I have a secret to tell you” and bent down to the pious man’s ear and revealed to him that he was the angel of death. The faithful man became very happy and said:

“Welcome, I was waiting for you. I have done everything I can to make this moment beautiful. I have always been worried about my last moments on this earth.”

The angel of death told him:

“Then finish what you have been doing.” The man replied:

“My most important duty is to meet Allah the Almighty.”

The angel said:

“I will take your life the way you want.” The man asked if this was possible, and angel told him:

“Yes, it is possible and I have been ordered to do this.” The man said:

“Then let me refresh my ablution and begin praying. Take my life when I am prostrating to Allah the Almighty.” And the angel took his life while he was prostrating. (Ghazali, Ihya, IV, 834-5)

Two opposites scenes from the most dreadful moments of life … On the one hand, there is a man who is unaware that one day his life will end; on the other hand a pious servant who is always ready for his final moments and who reaches his final moments in peace and tranquility. For some people death is a nightmare and for others, as it was depicted by Rumi, is a herald of a long-awaited union and similar to a wedding night.

How nicely Abu Bakr (r.a) states that:

“Run away from fame so that dignity will follow you. Be ready for death so that an eternal life can be bestowed upon you.”

Jalal al-Din Rumi depicts the state of the friends of Allah as follows:

“The death of the body is a (welcome) gift to the adepts of the mystery: what damage is (done by) the scissors to pure gold?”[1]

We should think how we will meet with the angel of death. How will we go to our final meeting? Are we going to meet our Lord while in a state of prostrating or committing a sin? We should always contemplate that what our last words are going to be.

DO NOT CRY FOR THE DECEASED BUT CRY FOR YOURSELF …

Hasan al-Basri says that:

“Azrail takes the lives of those who use up their days on this earth. Family members of the deceased cry and wail; however the angel of death is trying to tell them:

“Why are you crying? I did not take this man’s life before it’s time. His days ended, the time for Divine order has come and I did my job. Do not cry in vain. When the time comes, I will certainly come back here and take your lives, too.”

Hasan al-Basri then continues his words as follows:

“If the members of that family saw the angel of death and heard what he said, they would forget the deceased and began crying for themselves!”

Allah the Almighty, who has wisdom in all of His actions, hid the time of our death from us so that we should always be ready for it, but at the same time, we may also fulfill our worldly responsibilities until our time comes. This is because of His endless mercy to His servants.

For instance if a man were to know his time of death, he would have left his work, his friends and family members, and reserve all his time for worship. Life would have lost its balance. Again if people had known their time of death, they would not have enjoyed their lives. Imagine what would have happened if a mother knew that her son was going to die at the age of twenty.

In short, not knowing when the time of death will be a Divine blessing; because Allah the Almighty created life on this world as a trial and because of this He left fate and “the time of death” unknown to us. This is why we always have to be prepared for death.

It is stated in a verse:

“Every soul must taste of death, then to Us you shall be brought back.”(29; 57) There are many other verses in the Qur’an similar to this. These are the most repeated Divine warnings to remind us the mortality of this world.

Ottomans used to build their cemeteries in the middle of the cities and in front of the mosques so people who pas by them remember death, take lessons and correct their mistakes.

We should also remember that the news of people’s death we hear and the obituaries we read in the newspapers everyday will be about us one day. We also have to take lessons from them. Then we may reach our Lord with a heart filled with peace and tranquility.

The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) says that:

“Remember often the thing (death) which will put every pleasure to an end.”(Tirmidhi, Zuhd, 4)

In another saying of the Prophet, contemplation for death during prayer is pointed out as follows:

“Perform your prayers like someone who is having his last moments in this world.”(Ibn Majah, Zuhd, 15)

In other words ritual prayer is like a spiritual journey from this temporal world to the eternal life after it. It is presenting our obedience, submission, fidelity, and servitude to the Lord five times a day. In a way, it is a spiritual method to benefit from the Divine unity in the Hereafter while we are still on this world.

From this perspective, prayer is a journey of miraj (ascension to heavens) between this world and the Hereafter. Those who perform their prayers carefully and in reverence and then turn back to daily lives will lead a sensitive life as if he came back to life after being dead. Such prayers protect us from committing sins and doing wrong. A real prayer is a magnificent way to practice contemplation of death.

Every believer who prays like a person who is about to leave this world can see this world from the window of the Hereafter. When reached such a maturity can these people be the mates of Devil? Can they go under the influence their selfish desires? Can their hearts incline towards worldly desires?

People asked Ibrahim b. Adham about why their prayers were not accepted by Allah the Almighty.

He replied:

“You know Allah, but do not follow His orders. You know the Prophet, but do not live according to his Sunnah. You read Qur’an, but do not perform in accordance with what was written in it. You benefit from the blessings of Allah, but do not thank Him. You know Paradise, but do not strive to earn it. You know Hell, but do not worry about it. You say that there is death, but do not get ready for it. You put your parents, relatives, etc. into their graves with your own hands, but do not take lessons from it. Therefore, how can you expect that such heedless people’s prayers could be accepted?” (Tadhkirat al-Awliyah, p. 40)

THE MOST IMPORTANT UNKNOWN:
THE LAST BREATH

The friends of Allah spend their lives contemplating death and worrying about their last breath; because they know very well that Devil, which tries to deceive humans for all their lives, will do everything he can to cause them to go astray at the moment of their last breath. He manages to deceive those who have doubt in their hearts. The he leaves them alone with their misery and disbelief.

It is stated in a verse:

“Like the Shaitan when he says to man: Disbelieve, but when he disbelieves, he says: I am surely clear of you; surely I fear Allah, the Lord of the worlds.”(59; 16)

This is why we ask from Allah the Almighty to protect our faith at the end of our lives. The last moments of our lives are very dangerous and all our worry must be concentrated on not losing our faith at those final seconds.

This is expressed in the following verse:

“O you who believe! Be careful of (your duty to) Allah with the care which is due to Him, and do not die unless you are Muslims.”(3; 102)

“Um Al-’Ala an Ansari woman who had given a pledge of allegiance to the Messenger of Allah told me: “The Muhajirun (emigrants) were distributed amongst us by drawing lots, and we got ‘Uthman bin Maz’un in our share. We made him stay with us in our house. Then he suffered from a disease which proved fatal. When he died and was given a bath and was shrouded in his clothes. Allah’s Apostle came, I said, (addressing the dead body), “O Aba As-Sa’ib! May Allah be Merciful to you! I testify that Allah has honored you.”

Allah’s Apostle said, “How do you know that Allah has honored him?”

I replied, “Let my parents be sacrificed for you, O Allah’s Apostle! On whom else shall Allah bestow His honor?”Allah’s Apostle said,

“As for him, by Allah, death has come to him. By Allah, I wish him all good (from Allah). By Allah, in spite of the fact that I am Allah’s Apostle, I do not know what Allah will do to us”, Um Al-’Ala added, “By Allah, I will never attest the righteousness of anybody after that.” (Bukhārī, Ta’bīr, 27)

Therefore how and on what state we will die is an unknown to us. Those who lost someone they know should abstain from issuing a definite judgment about him; but they should give charity and do good deeds on behalf of him; and pray for his forgiveness.

It is pointed out in a saying of the Prophet (pbuh) that:

“Human beings die as they live and they will be resurrected as they die.”(Munawi, Fayd al-Qadir, V, 663)

This can usually be observed on the people around us. Other than the prophets and the people who were given the good news about their status in the Hereafter, nobody has a guarantee about how their last breath will be. In other words, nobody should trust their charity and good deeds. Everybody should know that Allah is the only One who can be trusted and taken refuge; and try to perform the deeds which are appropriate to His contentment.

We should not forget that our worship and deeds also need to be accepted just like our prayers. In another saying of the Prophet, last breath is depicted as follows:

“Verily, a person performs deeds for a long time like the deeds of the people of Paradise. Then his last deeds become like the deeds of the people of Hell and, verily, a person performs deeds like the denizens of Fire for a long time, and then his deeds are ultimately ended by the deeds of the people of Paradise.”(Muslim, Kitāb al-Qadr, 11)

One of the friends of Allah, Ali al-Bakka explains why he got the nickname of Bakka (or who he cries a lot) as follows:

He had a righteous friend who worked miracles and possessed high spiritual states. Once they set out for a journey. On foot it was normally a-year-long journey; but they showed miracle and reached their destination in an hour. His friend told Ali al-Bakka that:

“I am going to die at such and such time and such and such place. Be there next to me.” However his friend died with disbelief. After seeing this incident, Ali al-Bakka began to cry a lot because of his worry for losing his faith at the end of his life.

Therefore a believer’s heart must be in the middle point between hope and fear.

Ahmad b. Asim Antaki told to those who asked his advice:

“The most useful fear is the one which holds a person from committing sins and performing deeds that Allah dislikes; makes him sad for losing things related to the Hereafter; and makes him think the state of his last breath and rest of his life.”

Muhammad Masum Faruki says that:

“The fear for the last breath is such a blessing that all friends of Allah love to suffer from it.”

It is a Divine promise that those who live in this world in ecstasy of faith, tranquility of worship, good manners in addition to fear and worry for their last breath will be saved from the fear and pains of the Hereafter. It is pointed out in the following verse:

“(As for) those who say: Our Lord is Allah, then continue in the right way, the angels descend upon them, saying: Fear not, nor be grieved, and receive good news of the garden which you were promised.” (41; 30)

WHAT IS YOUR DESTINY GOING TO BE?

Sheikh Ahmad Harb had an old neighbor named Bahram. Bahram was a fire worshipper. One day Ahmad Harb  invited Bahram to accept Islam. Bahram told him:

“O the wise man of Muslims! I will ask you three questions. If you can answer them, I will accept your religion.” When Ahmad Harb answered affirmatively, Bahram began to ask his questions:

“Why did Allah create His creation? And even though He gave them His blessings, why does He take their lives? And as He takes their lives, then why will He resurrect them?”

Sheikh replied as follows:

“He created His creation in order to make them be aware of His Oneness, Existence, and Greatness. He has given them His blessings so that they may know His mercy and that He is the Provider of all their needs. He takes their lives so that they may know His overwhelming power. He resurrects them so that they may know that He is Everlasting. In short, in every step of their lives they can see that He is the Allah the Almighty.”

As soon as Bahram heard these answers, He converted in Islam. Sheikh Ahmad Harb got horrified and fainted. When he got back to himself, he was asked:

“O Sheikh! What happened?” He said:

“At that moment I heard that: Bahram was an unbeliever for seventy years and he has become a believer now. You are a believer for seventy years; do you know what will happen at your last breath?” (Tadhkirat al-Awliya, p. 97)

Therefore we should make every effort to spend our lives in goodness so that we may give our last breath in faith. In addition to this, we should also take refuge into Allah’s mercy and forgiveness.

Junaid al-Baghdadi saw a hunting dog, while wandering around in the deserts of Yemen. He saw that the dog became a toothless, old, miserable, and weak animal unlike its early ages. While once it could attack and catch wild oxen and deer, now it did not have the strength to beat a weak sheep.

Junaid felt sorry for the dog and gave it a piece of his bread. And He told the dog:

“O dog! I don’t know which one of us will be in better shape tomorrow. If you look at the appearance, today I am in better shape than you are. But I don’t know what kind of plans fate holds for me. If I can protect my faith, I will put Allah’s crown of mercy on my head. If my spiritual knowledge is taken from me, I will become lower than you are; because no matter how bad mannered a dog is, it will not be sent to Hell.”

A believer who has the above mentioned feelings lives in this world like he walks in a mine field. In order to make Paradise his final destination, he takes the necessary lessons from the cemeteries. He knows very well that getting ready for the moment of death does not mean to prepare a grave for himself/herself but it means to prepare himself/herself to the grave.

After his death, one of the followers of Bahauddin Naqshiband saw him in a dream and asked him:

“Tell me what kind of deed should I do in order to reach eternal salvation?” He said:

“Do what kind of deed is necessary for the last breath.”

When death comes, even the most skilful hands become useless. After that moment, there is no sweating, getting tired, feeling cold, or laziness. In other words all humanly excuses which prevent us from worshipping and performing our duties towards our Lord end with the last breath. Now it is not the time for worship and efforts but it is the time for Divine questioning. The chance to perform deeds for the contentment of Allah is given in this world. When it is gone, there is no getting it back.

Junaid al-Baghdadi says that:

“A day on this world is more valuable than a thousand years in the Hereafter. Because you have the chance to attain the contentment of Allah on Earth, while in the Hereafter you will not have any opportunity to perform good deeds. In the Hereafter there will only be questioning for our deeds.”

In this respect, righteous believers regard this world as the field of the Hereafter. They know that whatever they sow in this world, they will harvest in the Hereafter. Thus they spend their lives by performing good deeds.

According to the narration, when Elijah –Aleyhisselâm– met the angel of death, he became a bit frightened. The angel asked him:

“O Elijah! You are a prophet. Are you scared from death?”

Elijah replied:

“No, I am not scared of death. I am just sad that this is the end of my life time; because I was spending my time in worship and conveying God’s message to humans. I was enjoying my servitude. But from now on I am a prisoner in my grave till the Judgment Day. This is why I am sad.”

Therefore the important thing is to be able to perform good deeds, to give in charity, and to leave a nice sound in this world before closing the book of our deeds. Arriving the presence of Allah with a peaceful soul and a sound heart is the greatest happiness for a servant.

We have a wonderful saying in Turkish “the one who laughs last laughs best.” Interpretation of this saying is that there is no better smile than the smile at the last breath when a believer will be shown his station in the Hereafter.

May Allah the Almighty make us among those who smile at their last breath. May our Lord bless us with the wisdom and insight to question our inner selves and to correct our mistakes. May He bless us with the peace and tranquility of the eternal unity in the Hereafter.

Amin …

[1].      Mathnawī, IV, 1681

Osman Nuri Topbas

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