Preparing For A Thing Will Never Be Easy

قال إمام الغزالي في كتابه إحياء علوم الدين في الكتاب العاشر, ذكر الموت وما بعده : لن يتيسر الاستعداد للشيء إلا تجدد ذكره على القلب

Imam al-Ghazāli said, in his opus, Ihyā’ Ulum al-Dīn, the tenth book in the collection entitled, The Remembrace of Death and What Happens After It:

“Preparing for a thing will never be easy without continued reminders concerning that very thing, in the heart.”

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.

More Than A Religion of Deeds – The Importance of Thought In Cultivating Islam

First Khutbah – Main Points

Opening from the Qur’an:

والذين يذكرون الله قياما وقعودا وعلى جنوبهم ويتفكرون في خلق السماوات والأرض – ربنا ما خلقت هذا باطلا سبحانك فقنا عذاب النار
“And those who remember God, either standing, sitting, as well as sitting on their sides and is given to frequent contemplation about the creation of the heavens and the earth respond: ‘O our Lord! You have not created this without purpose. You are without peer or similitude so protect us from the punishment of the Fire.” [Q: 3: 191]

I often hear in modern day discourses about Islam where it is regarded as a religion of actions and not words; deeds, not thought.   Doubtless this comes from a reading of Islam from a particular Christian perspective; it too is also mistakenly seen as a religion of belief, not works.  But Islam is a religion that seeks the middle way, encompassing both.  This misconception has to some degree been perpetuated by Muslims themselves for a variety of reasons [minority status, reaction against Colonialism, etc.), but one of the primary reasons I would like to talk about today is the loss of Muslim thought.  I say Muslim thought, versus Islamic thought, because this word [Islamic] has become a hollow word, or as Uwe Poerksen wrote in his book, Plastic Words: The Tyranny of a Modular Language, a plastic word.  It can be taken wholly out of any appropriate context and used in those in which it denotes nothing what so ever, or worse, is used beyond its scope, reducing or even destroying any efficacy it might convey.

This is also problematic when we discuss the word sunnah.  When you ask many Muslims to tell you what the Sunnah is, they usually begin by saying it was what the Prophet [s] did, said, and so forth.  And while none of these are wrong, however, they fail to convey the nature of the Prophet – his Qur’anic nature, as per A’ishah’s notable recount.  And while we won’t have time today to cover all of the details, it’s the process of thinking anew, thinking deeper about ourselves and our relationship with Islam to produce a more meaningful Islam [or Muslim!], that will serve us as a guide in this life, headed for the Next.

But to return to the above āyah, the Qur’an is instructing us to remember and to contemplate.  And while these are indeed verbs and commands, they are not simply ‘ibadat – religious rituals such as salah [ritual prayer], wudu’ [ablution] and so forth.  They are synonyms of one another that are often used in conjunction and substitution throughout the Qur’an.  This process of developing Muslim thought has a number of beneficial aspects for a healthy Muslim mindset and religious experience.  And it is something that is developed by continually engaging in it, and as the Qur’an says:

طبقا عن طبق
“…stage by stage.” [Q: 84: 19]

Second Khutbah – Main Points

This practice of contemplation, of correct or good thought, is an enterprise that Allah encourages us to and even promises His tranquility:

الذين ءامنوا وتطمئنّ القلوبهم بذكر الله – ألا بذكر الله تطمئنّ القلوب
“And those who profess faith and their hearts find peace in the remembrance of God – Do not hearts find peace in the remembrance of God?” [Q: 13: 28]

This is like the cure, the shifa’ that Allah talks about in Yunus, stating that:

يأيها الناس قد جائتكم موعظة من ربكم و شفاء لما في الصدور
“Mankind!  Surely an appraisal has come to you from your Lord as well as a cure for what is in your breasts.” [Q: 10: 57]

I wish to turn back to the instruction of contemplating God by contemplating the Creation.  There are a number of benefits in doing so:

  • One of the primary ways that God has set up for man to know his Lord, is through seeing His Oneness through the multiplicity of creation.  God as Creator is most keenly seen by reflecting on the Creation. و يتفكرون في خلق السماوات والأرض
  • We avoid trying to imagine God – hence, the part after this āyah, God says: ربنا ما خلقت هذا باطلا سبحانك this use of subhana is very important – a word that is often difficult to translate but vital in terms of Qur’anic language and thought.  For a quick summary, we can think of subhana as a means of removing an anthropomorphic projections or ideas on to the nature of God.  al-Razi says in his book, Mukhtar as-Sihah, that it is making Allah pure in the mind, and it is bound to root of s-b-h, meaning “void”; a tanzih (تنزيه). In sha’Allah, we can explore this more in future talks.

We even have some advice from the Prophet [s] as narrated by Ibn ‘Abbas [rahm]:

إنّ قوما تفكروا في الله عز و جل فقال النبي صلى الله عليه و سلم: تفكروا في خلق الله و لاتتفكروا في الله فإنكم لن تقدروا قدره
“There were some people speculating about the nature of God the Exalted, so the Prophet [s] said to them: contemplate about the Creation of God but do not speculate directly about God for you will never grasp His power.”

But moreover, this tafakkur will help to develop a Muslim thinking that will see the shahādah of la ilaha illa Allah – there is no god but God – in the heavens and the earth.  A more concise and modern word would be pattern recognition.  This is something human beings are actually quite astute at.  Seeing the pattern of God’s handiwork in His Creation.

Allah gives us a number of things to reflect upon:

  • Nature and His Creation.
  • Love and compassion:
  • و من –اياته~ أن خلق لكم من انفسكم~ أزواجا لتسكنو~ إليها وجعل بينكم مودةً ورحمة – إنّ في ذلك لأياتٍ لقوم يتفكرون. و من-اياته خلق السماوات والأرض واختلاف ألسِنَتِكم وألوانِكم – إنّ في ذلك لأيات للعالمين
  • “And from amongst His signs is that He created spouses for you from yourselves so that you may know tranquility therein.  And He has put affection and compassion between you.  Truly there are signs here for people who reflect.  And from amongst His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, with the variations in your tongues and your hues.  Surely there are signs in this for all the worlds.” [Q: 30: 21-26]

This passage continues, repeating a motif of ideas to ponder and reflect upon.  This made me think of how the modern world is obsessed with romance and sex, but how little it’s seen in light of part of the creation, that it was given to us by God, so that we may come to know Him, as well as experience contentedness and joy.

In summary, we should strive to learn how to think as Muslims, so we may stay in a state of remembrance as well as increase or certainty of Allah as the Creator, as well as molding our behavior to conform to the Best of Creation, the Prophet Muhammad [s].

We ask Allah to make us the people of tafakkur and tadhakkur. Amin.

Watch the video.