On the Benefits of the Remembrance of Death

First Khutbah – Main Points

Opening from the Qur’ān:

كل نفس ذآئقة الموت – و إنما توفَون أجورَكم يومَ القيامة – فمن زُحزِحَ عن النار و أُدخل الجنةَ فقد فاز – و ما الحيوة الدنيآ إلا متاع الغرور

“Every soul shall taste death.  You will be recompensed your due on the Day of Rising.  As for the one that is distanced from the fire and is admitted to the Garden – he has triumphed.  And as for this life: it is just the enjoyment of delusion.” [Q: 3: 185]

I wish to open the khutbah today but discussing death.  Modern life balks at an earnest discussion about death.  It is the 800-pound gorilla in the room.  Popular culture propagates the illusion of eternal life with a hyper fixation on youth.  The consequences are drastic.  Not only are people unable to come to terms with the reality of death, it also has societal repercussions, namely the neglect of the elderly and the sick.  Death is treated as an embarrassment – never to be looked in the eye.  If Muslims are to not only adhere to lifestyles that are pleasing to God, but to engage in thought patterns that engender the type of reflection that leads to a God-pleasing lifestyle, then we must try and steer the discourse to include contemplation on our own deaths.

It may seem a peculiar subject to talk about in that many of us here are young and can feel the strength and power of that youth.  The subject itself is difficult for many of us, let alone modern society and yet, God reveals His Wisdom on this subject through the following verse:

وعسى أن تكرهوا شيئا وهو خير لكم – و عسى أن تحبوا شيئا وهو شر لكم والله يعلم وأنتم لا تعلمون

“It may happen that you detest something despite it being good for you and you may love something while it is evil for you.  And God knows, while you do not.” [Q: 2: 216]

And yet, we know that death can seize us at any moment:

اينما تكونوا يدرككم الموتُ و لو كنتم في بروج مشيدة

“No matter where you are, death will seize you even if you happen to be in a barricaded fortress.” [Q: 4: 78]

The practice of the current age is to look upon leaving this world with sadness and regret.  As Muslims, we must always strike the balance between “tying our camel” and overzealous fatalism.  In fact, we are prohibited to long for death, instead having a state of awareness about its immanent reality, and preparing ourselves for The Meeting.  The scholastic tradition has provided a rubric for us to contemplate this contemplation with.  They say there are three types of people:

  1. The one who is engrossed in this world, meaning not only are all his hopes and passions for it, but he loathes to leave it to such an extent, he belittles the reality of death taking him.  This person may even become delusional regarding death.
  2. The penitent believer: while struggling with the trappings of this life, the penitent believer often mentions death as a reminder – in that s/he will be raised up on day by God and will have to have their Account.  S/he may have fear of death but it is an excusable fear for it is that they fear they may not complete their tawbah/repentance before the Return.
  3. The third person is someone who sees the world as false – they are solely concentrated on After-worldly affairs.
    While we strive to achieve number three [as the Prophet always was conscious of this], we, God willing, fall somewhere around number two.  We must be mindful to not slip into such a state of heedlessness that we slide down to the level of number one!

Second Khutbah – Main Points

One of the ways we as Muslims are encouraged to contemplate about the reality of death is through frequent remembrance of those who have passed on before us.  I often think of my friend Ron – who we nicknamed cImrān.  He was a vibrant, gracious and kind young brother who converted to Islam [may God accept his worship].  Ron was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver one evening while riding his bike to work.  We simply never know what lies ahead of us.  This idea of remembering the dead is in accordance with a narration from one of the Companions, Abu Dardā’, may God be pleased with him:

إذا ذكرت الموتى فعد نفسك كأحدهم

“When you remember the dead, count yourself as one of them.”

This is not a suicidal thought, but rather keeping in mind we will all join those who have gone into the ground one day.

The Prophet [s] even recommended starting off one’s day by acknowledging the fact that one is not guaranteed to make it through the day:

إذا أصبحت فلا تحدث نفسك بالمساء و إذا أمسيت فلا تحدث نفسك بالصباح و خذ من حياتك لموتك و من صحتك لسقمك فإذا يا عبد الله لا تدري ما اسمك غدا

“When you wake in the morning, do not speak to yourself about the evening and when you make it to the evening, do not speak to yourself about the morning.  Therefore, take something of your life for your death, and something from your health, for when you are sick.  O’ Abdullah!  You do not know what your name shall be tomorrow!” [collected in Bukhārī]

The idea here, God willing, is that instead of being presumptuous about what we may be or do in the future, would should also be mindful of our impending Meeting – not to cast of fate to the wind negligently, but to keep a balance and awareness that we must stand before the Lord of the Worlds and that we should be conducting ourselves, our actions, while we’re in this life/world that will lead to a pleasing encounter.

The tendency to hold dearly to this life is a strong one – no less strong than our sexual drives.  In fact, love of the world is co-equal to wealth, per the Prophetic narration:

يهرَم ابن آدم و يبقى معه اثنتان: الحرص والأمل و في رواية: الحرص على المال و الحرص على العمر

“The son of Adam may grow old but two things remain with him even so: greed and hope for this world” – and in a similar narration: “Greed for wealth and greed for longevity.” [reported by Anas in Muslim and Ibn Abī ad-Dunyā]

As Muslims, following the example of our Noble Prophet [s], we can battle the temptation to be heedless about our impending Meeting of God.  And by his example [s], we can prepare for it as we would a weather forecast.  We do not prepare for the weather itself but for what we need to do in it or after it.  This is not dissimilar to death: we must prepare for what we need to do in this life despite its distractions as well as preparing for what comes after death.

We ask Allah to make us the people remember God often and reflect, remember and prepare for the Meeting with the Lord of the Words. Amin.

Scrupulousness In Islam

 

اقترب للناس حسابهم و هم في غفلة معرضون

“The Reckoning is ever drawing closer to Mankind, yet they are woefully heedless of it, turning away.” [Q: 21: 1]

The Hour is upon us all.  At least that is the way we Muslims should always be perceiving the Hour. None of us knows when it will arrive, be it the Final Hour or our own demise. The previous āyah, from suwrah al-Anbiyā’ demonstrates the sense of urgency that man should have but often doesn’t. This is mainly due to ghaflah, or heedlessness. Interesting to note as well: This āyah does not distinguish between Muslim/non-Muslim. In other words, both Muslim and non-Muslim alike can fall victim to heedlessness – we must be vigilant in watching against it.

In the English language we have a saying: “Strike while the iron is hot.” This aphorism can serve as a great reminder to us all in this day and age. We should not be wasting any time in vain pursuits but rather in perfecting our Islam, our character. For as the hadith says:

أثقل ما يوضع في الميزان يوم القيامة تقوى الله, و حسن الخلق

“The heaviest thing to be weighed on the Scale on the Day of Judgment will be taqwā of God and goodness of character.”

In relation to the above, which clearly articulates the importance of taqwā and good character, we must bring these two aspects of Muslim life and morality into being. And as for striking when opportunity knocks, this is in accordance with the Sunnah of our beloved Prophet [s], where he says this about opportunity/charity:

لأن يتصدق المرء في حياته بدرهام خير له من أن يتصدق بمائة عند موته

“It is better for a man to give a single dirhām in charity during his lifetime than to donate a hundred at his demise.”

No time to waste – strike while the iron is before the Fire is hot!

So now that we’ve heard about taqwā we have to ask, what is it? Let’s examine a couple of aspects:

The scholar, at-Tabrīzī gives us a good starting point:

ألإتقاء أن تجعل بينك و بين ما تخافه حاجزا يحفظك

Taqwā is the idea that you [A] place something [C] between yourself and that which you fear could destroy you [B].”

Taqwā, in a sense, is a type of self-defense or self-preservation system or technique to ward off destruction by placing something between yourself and that impending doom.  For us as Muslims, that pending doom is the ‘adhāb of Allah – the Divine Chastisement.

The word taqwā existed in the Jāhilī times. In the Mu’allaqah, Zuhayr boldly states:

سأقضي حاجتي ثم أتقي * عدوي بألفٍ من ورائِىَ ملجَمِ

“I will satisfy my vengeance [on my brother’s killer by taking his life!], then I will defend myself from their reprisal with a thousand horses, all bridled in support of my cause!”

This idea of guarding oneself coincides with the Qur’ān’s many uses of taqwā. One example from suwrah al-Baqarah:

و اتقوا يوما لا تجزي نفسٌ عن نفسٍ شيئا و لا يُقبَل منها شفاعة و لا يوخذ منها عدْل و لا هم ينصَرون

“Defend yourself against a day that will come where no soul shall be of assistance to another whatsoever – nor shall it put forth an intercessor in its place – no compensation will be taken from it – nor shall there be anyone to come to its aid.” [Q: 2:47]

To summarize, taqwā is a means of protecting and guarding oneself from Allah’s Divine Punishment.

Second part of the khutbah we’ll examine another aspect of the taqwā /akhlāq relationship and that’s wara’.

Taking Stock – Wara’

In order to affect change in ourselves we must first, turn to Allah and ask Him to change us, to make us better Muslims. To make sincere istigfār [asking for forgiveness] and tawbah [repentence]. The second is then to take stock of our mental, physical, and especially, spiritual selves, and seek means to rectify them. In the science of Tasawwuf, one of those means is termed wara’ [ورع].  Some helpful translations would be: scrupulousness, conscientious, critical thinking, fastidious, heedful, honest, meticulous, moral, particular, precise, rigorous, principled, and so forth. In the Arabic language, the dictionary meaning of wara’ itself means: to pause, give examination, or hesitate.

To help concretize what it means to do wara’ in our daily lives, and how it relates to taqwā, let’s look at our Intellectual Tradition:

Imam al-Ghazālī and Imam al-Haddād list several of these as steps to obtaining and practicing wara’:

In a sound hadīth, the Prophet [s] said:

من اتقى الشبهات فقد استبرأ لدينه و عرضه

“The one who guards [taqwā] himself from falling into dubious actions has protected his religion and his his honor.”

و من  وقع  في الشبهات وقع في الحرام

“And for the one who falls into dubious actions then he falls into the Harām.”

The use of the word taqwā in this hadīth shows again that taqwā is that self-defense mechanism – in this case, defending oneself from Allah’s Punishment by avoiding “grey areas”. That is the hājiz – the barrierو that at-Tabrīzī spoke of earlier, that can ward off the Chastisment of Allah. For the believer, wara’ becomes a habitual act of being scrupulous, or heedful, which negates ghaflah, or heedlessness.

So we should busy ourselves with what concerns us most – our own demises; our families; our children; our health; our wealth; our communities; our character. In one week alone, Allah showed us clear signs of the Hour, Big or Small: Michael Jackson. Ed McMahon. Farrah Fawcett. Billy Mays. Celebrity is no guard from the Hour. Big or Small. Contemplate on it – prepare for it. Do not wait to give that single dirham on your deathbed – give it now, in sha’Allah.

May Allah make us the people of ‘irfān, the people who realize and actualize Lā ilāha illa Allah in their public and private lives. Amin.

We close now with a du’ah from the Prophet Muhammad [s] regarding the condition of the world we live in, asking Allah to protect us from its fitnah, so our souls may have salvation on the Day of Judgment:

اللهم إني أعوذ بك من قلب لا يخشع
و دعاء لا يسمع
و من نفس لا يشبع
و من علم لا ينفع
اللهم  إني أعوذ بك من هؤلاء الأربع

“O’ Allah! I seek protection in you from a heart that has no humility,
And from a supplication that is not heard,
And from a soul that cannot be satiated,
And from knowledge that has no benefit.
O’ Allah!, I seek refuge in you from all four of these!

Amin.

Man in the Age of Heedlessness

Dear respected brothers and sisters in Islam, I greet you today with the greeting of Paradise, “as-Salaamu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakaatuhu”.

First Khutbah – Main Points

اقترب للناس حسابهم و هم في ذلك غفلة معرضون

“The Reckoning is ever drawing closer to Mankind, yet they are woefully heedless of it, turning away.” [Q: 21: 1]

The times we live in are full of doubt, confusion and heedlessness.  Many people, having capitulated to the false demands of science, have decided to bury their heads in the sand.  Many varieties of philosophies abound about the nature of reality but none of them possess even the merest ability to launch out on this endeavor.  Science is not wholly equipped to look for God, though some of God’s Signs [آيات] are detectable by science.  One of the signs of this heedlessness is over the argument about the Hour, which for some has become either a joke or an unquantifiable determinacy.

One of the flaws that science has is that while it is capable of looking out, it cannot look in.  Even when applied in microscopic terms [which may seem like looking inward but in reality it is not], it is still looking out; a “horizontal” activity.  For Islam, the phenomenon of Revelation is a top-down one.  One may even say that Allah’s relationship with the creation is “vertical”, a top-down relationship.  Thus, for man, if he is to know his Lord, he must reflect, ponder, and use his heart and brain in tandem.  While this process does involve looking out to the cosmos or up at the heavens or at the wonders in creation, ultimately the human being must turn inward if s/he is to understand their role in relation to God.

For the Muslim, the primary means of coming to know about Allah is through His Book and the life of His Prophet [s] and one of the primary avenues of attaining these two is through a sound heart, for we all know the famous hadith in which the Prophet [s] relates to us:

إن في الجسد مضغة إذا صلحت صلح بها سائر الجسد – و إذا فسدت فسد بها سائر الجسد ألا و هي القلب

“There is a morsel of flesh in the body; when it is sound then the body moves to soundness by it – and when it is corrupt, then the body moves to corruption by it – it is nothing other than the heart”.

This statement is not a medical examination – not a cardiovascular assessment of the heart.  For in Islam, the heart does not simply pump blood but it is a sensory organ.  And when it is sound then the actions that the limbs commit will be sound – likewise, if the heart is corrupt, so shall the deeds committed be vile.  It all depends on the state of the heart.

I have spoken before on the connection between responsibility and Reality – on the responsibility each soul will have on the Day of Judgment and the need to get in touch with The Reality [for one of God’s 99 Beautiful Names is al-Haqq, the root of which is a derivative for ‘reality’].  We can see the Wisdom of Allah’s early Revelation in which, through poetic metaphor, He alludes to another reality, His Reality, where the old misconceptions of the world have to be broken up and dispelled.  The world as mankind came to know it was not based on Truth or Reality.  We live in similar times today.

إذا السماء انشقت و أذنت لربها و حقت
إذا السماء انفطرت و إذا الكوكب انتثرت
إذا الشمس كورت و إذا النجوم انكدرت

“When the sky has split itself open, for it has heard its Lord and must make it so!…”
“When the sky is cleft asunder and the stars are scattered…”
“When the sun folds in on itself, and when the stars fall…”

These verses seek to show man that the world he thinks he knows is not the whole story – that there is another greater reality, one in which the life of this world will end, for Allah has ordained it.

Instead, mankind focuses on that which has little benefit for him in this life and none in the next.  Muslims are guilty of this as well, squabbling over matters that are of small importance will ignoring the bounty and opportunities that Allah has given us.  In the words of Ibn ‘Ata Allah [ra]:

اجتهادك فيما ضمن لك و تقصير فيما طلب منك دليل على انطماس البصيرة منك

“Striving for what has been provided [also read ‘not concerning you’] for you while falling short in that which is demanded of you, is proof of the incomprehensibleness of your ability to perceive.”

We spend so much of our time dedicated to things that are of little benefit to our character – that put little weight on our scales.  This is a type of ghaflah [غفلة], or heedlessness that the Qur’ān warns us about. Let us turn to some of the Qur’ān’s commentary on ghaflah:

و لقد ذرأنا لجهنم كثيرا من الجن و الانس – لهم قلوب لا يفقهون بها – و لهم أعين لا يبصرون بها – و لهم ءاذان لا يسمعون بها – ألئك كالأنعم بل هم أضل – ألئك هم الغفلون

“Leave no doubt we created many from amongst the Jinn and Mankind for the Hell-fire.  They have hearts but they use them not to comprehend with – and they have eyes but they use them not to see with – and they have ears but they use them not to listen with.  They are like cattle, no! They are even further astray than that.  They are completely heedless.” [Q: 7:179]

Dear brothers and sisters, the Paradise is real – the Fire is real – the Hour is coming, let there be no doubt about it.  And Allah will surely raise whoever is in the grave.

Let us now turn to Allah, ask His forgiveness, His protection from misguidance and from heedlessness, for He is Oft-Forgiving, the Loving.

الحمد لله, و الصلوات و السلام رسول الله و بعد

Second Khutbah – Main Points

We have to be the teachers of one another and of mankind.  We have to show that there is not simply another reality, but there is only one Reality and it is through conformity to this realization we can bring about a change that will benefit this life and the next.  Make no mistake about the next life where Allah says in suwrah Qāf:

و جاءت سكرة الموت بالحق – ذلك ما كنت منه تحيد
و نفخ في الصور – ذلك يوم الوحيد
و جاءت كل نفس معها سائق و شهيد
لقد كنت في غفلة من هذا فكشفنا عنك غطائك فبصرك اليوم حديد

“And the agony of death will descend upon you in truth – for it is that which you seek to evade!
And the Trumpet has been sounded – that is the Promised Day!
And every soul will attend – with it shall be a driver and a witness,
For surely you have been unmindful in this – therefore we have removed your blindfold – your vision today will be most keen!” [Q: 50:19-22]

Modern man strives to cheat or defeat death but there is not hope for this.  Therefore, instead, let us inform ourselves and the rest of mankind of the life to come, to use the time in this life to prepare ourselves to the journey we all must take.  For when we look at the above example, we can see there will be no excuse on the Promised Day – and all feigned excuses will fall aside, and our sight will bear true that which we wish might be concealed.

Let us play the role we were sent to do – deliver the Message and live lives in accordance with the responsibility and cognizance of “No god but God”, in accordance of “Muhammad is the Messenger of God”, in accordance with the adab and akhlaq of the Prophet [s], seeking Allah’s protection from Shaytan and from heedlessness.

We close now with a du’ah from the Prophet Muhammad [s] regarding the condition of the world we live in, asking Allah to protect us from its fitnah, so our souls may have salvation on the Day of Judgment:

اللهم إني أعوذ بك من قلب لا يخشع
و دعاء لا يسمع
و من نفس لا يشبع
و من علم لا ينفع
اللهم  إني أعوذ بك من هؤلاء الأربع

“O’ Allah! I seek protection in you from a heart that has no humility,
And from a supplication that is not heard,
And from a soul that cannot be satiated,
And from knowledge that has no benefit.
O’ Allah!, I seek refuge in you from all four of these!

Amin.