Ghazali on remembering death I
The tenth and final chapter of The Forty Principles of the Faith is about death. Imam Ghazali chose to end his book, which is a summary of the great tome, Ihya Ulum ad-Din, with this topic. He mentions that the previous nine principles are not all on the same level. Some of them are sought as a bridge to another end, whereas some of them are sought as an end in themselves. The highest on the list are mahabba and rida – love and contentment, which are inseparable. Whoever loves Allah should translate their love into contentment.
Being angry with Allah is being in the red zone. It’s unacceptable. Never say this. If you are angry with Allah, He will be angry with you. It shows there is a gap. Who dare anyone be angry with Allah?!
Mahaba and rida go together. The rest of the principles, such as tawbah and zuhd (repentance and abstinence from this life) and khawf and sabr (fear and patience) are a means to an end. Tawbah means to turn back to Allah, it takes one from remoteness to closeness. Therefore tawbah is not the end but the path to closeness.
Similarly zuhd is a way of removing distractions that prevent you from being close to Allah. Zuhd is not an end itself. Khawf (fear) is like the whip that drives a servant to leave distractions. It is not the end in itself. Sabr is continuous struggle against your desires, as they take you away from Allah. All of these praiseworthy traits are not required for themselves but for the overall aim of becoming closer to Allah, which is known as al qurb.
In the verses of fasting in the Quran, Allah Almighty tells us that He is close to us:
وَإِذَا سَأَلَكَ عِبَادِى عَنِّى فَإِنِّى قَرِيبٌ
And when My servants ask you, [O Muhammad], concerning Me – indeed I am near. [2:186]
While Allah Almighty is near us, it is us who are far from Him – distracted by desires, family, issues and status. Among the most immensely beneficial affairs is remembering death. If you want to achieve this closeness to Allah, this tool helps you to be close to Allah. Contemplating death is a supersonic vehicle, which brings you close to Him. This is why Ghazali ended with this topic.
There are many narrations on the remembrance of death. In Surat al Jumuah, Allah Almighty says:
قُلۡ إِنَّ ٱلۡمَوۡتَ ٱلَّذِي تَفِرُّونَ مِنۡهُ فَإِنَّهُۥ مُلَٰقِيكُمۡۖ ثُمَّ تُرَدُّونَ إِلَىٰ عَٰلِمِ ٱلۡغَيۡبِ وَٱلشَّهَٰدَةِ فَيُنَبِّئُكُم بِمَا كُنتُمۡ تَعۡمَلُونَ
Say, “Indeed, the death from which you flee – indeed, it will meet you. Then you will be returned to the Knower of the unseen and the witnessed, and He will inform you about what you used to do.” [62:8]
You cannot run away from death. Some people may think they can, but it will come to them even if they sequester themselves away:
أَیۡنَمَا تَكُونُوا۟ یُدۡرِككُّمُ ٱلۡمَوۡتُ وَلَوۡ كُنتُمۡ فِی بُرُوجࣲ مُّشَیَّدَةࣲۗ
Wherever you may be, death will overtake you – even though you be in towers raised high. [4:78]
As Allah Almighty stated in Surat Al Imran:
كُلُّ نَفْسٍۢ ذَآئِقَةُ ٱلْمَوْتِ ۗ
Every being will taste death. [3:185]
The verse goes on to say that this life of this world is the enjoyment of delusion:
كُلُّ نَفْسٍۢ ذَآئِقَةُ ٱلْمَوْتِ ۗ وَإِنَّمَا تُوَفَّوْنَ أُجُورَكُمْ يَوْمَ ٱلْقِيَـٰمَةِ ۖ فَمَن زُحْزِحَ عَنِ ٱلنَّارِ وَأُدْخِلَ ٱلْجَنَّةَ فَقَدْ فَازَ ۗ وَمَا ٱلْحَيَوٰةُ ٱلدُّنْيَآ إِلَّا مَتَـٰعُ ٱلْغُرُورِ ١٨٥
Every soul will taste death, and you will only be given your [full] compensation on the Day of Resurrection. So he who is drawn away from the Fire and admitted to Paradise has attained [his desire]. And what is the life of this world except the enjoyment of delusion. [3:185]
al mawtu haq: Death is a reality.
Whatever you do, you can’t escape death. When we are in the womb of our mother, Allah sends the angel to blow our soul is into our body and commands the angel to write four things: rizq, ajal, amal, shaqiun aw sa’edun, i.e our provision, lifespan, actions, and whether we will be from the people of paradise or hell. Notably, before our birth, our death is the second thing that is written, after rizq.
Abdullah ibn Mas’ud reported that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) narrated to them:
عَنْ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ قَالَ حَدَّثَنَا رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ وَهُوَ الصَّادِقُ الْمَصْدُوقُ إِنَّ أَحَدَكُمْ يُجْمَعُ خَلْقُهُ فِي بَطْنِ أُمِّهِ أَرْبَعِينَ يَوْمًا ثُمَّ يَكُونُ فِي ذَلِكَ عَلَقَةً مِثْلَ ذَلِكَ ثُمَّ يَكُونُ فِي ذَلِكَ مُضْغَةً مِثْلَ ذَلِكَ ثُمَّ يُرْسَلُ الْمَلَكُ فَيَنْفُخُ فِيهِ الرُّوحَ وَيُؤْمَرُ بِأَرْبَعِ كَلِمَاتٍ بِكَتْبِ رِزْقِهِ وَأَجَلِهِ وَعَمَلِهِ وَشَقِيٌّ أَوْ سَعِيدٌ فَوَالَّذِي لَا إِلَهَ غَيْرُهُ إِنَّ أَحَدَكُمْ لَيَعْمَلُ بِعَمَلِ أَهْلِ الْجَنَّةِ حَتَّى مَا يَكُونُ بَيْنَهُ وَبَيْنَهَا إِلَّا ذِرَاعٌ فَيَسْبِقُ عَلَيْهِ الْكِتَابُ فَيَعْمَلُ بِعَمَلِ أَهْلِ النَّارِ فَيَدْخُلُهَا وَإِنَّ أَحَدَكُمْ لَيَعْمَلُ بِعَمَلِ أَهْلِ النَّارِ حَتَّى مَا يَكُونُ بَيْنَهُ وَبَيْنَهَا إِلَّا ذِرَاعٌ فَيَسْبِقُ عَلَيْهِ الْكِتَابُ فَيَعْمَلُ بِعَمَلِ أَهْلِ الْجَنَّةِ فَيَدْخُلُهَا
“Verily, the creation of each one of you is brought together in his mother’s womb for forty days as a drop, then he is a clot for a similar period, then a morsel for a similar period, then there is sent to him the angel who blows the spirit into him and he is commanded regarding four matters: to write down his provision, his life span, his deeds, and whether he is blessed or damned. By Allah, other than whom there is no God, one of you acts like the people of Paradise until he is but an arm’s length from it, and what is written overtakes him so he acts like the people of Hellfire and he enters it. Verily, one of you acts like the people of Hellfire until he is but an arm’s length from it, and what is written overtakes him so he acts like the people of Paradise and he enters it.” [Bukhari and Muslim]
مِنْهَا خَلَقْنَاكُمْ وَفِيهَا نُعِيدُكُمْ وَمِنْهَا نُخْرِجُكُمْ تَارَةً أُخْرَىٰ
From it We created you, and into it We will return you, and from it We will bring you out another time. [20:55]
No one will live forever. All the creation of Allah dies with varying life spans.
كُلُّ نَفْسٍ ذَائِقَةُ الْمَوْتِ ۖ ثُمَّ إِلَيْنَا تُرْجَعُونَ
Every being will taste death. Then to Us will you be returned. [29:57]
Every soul will die. In Surat Qaf, Allah says:
وَجَاۤءَتۡ سَكۡرَةُ ٱلۡمَوۡتِ بِٱلۡحَقِّۖ ذَ ٰلِكَ مَا كُنتَ مِنۡهُ تَحِیدُ ١
˹Ultimately,˺ with the throes of death will come the truth. This is what you were trying to escape!
وَنُفِخَ فِی ٱلصُّورِۚ ذَ ٰلِكَ یَوۡمُ ٱلۡوَعِیدِ
and [in the end] the trumpet [of resurrection] will be blown: that will be the Day of a warning fulfilled
وَجَاۤءَتۡ كُلُّ نَفۡسࣲ مَّعَهَا سَاۤىِٕقࣱ وَشَهِیدࣱ
And there will come forth every soul: with each will be an (angel) to drive, and an (angel) to bear witness
لَّقَدۡ كُنتَ فِی غَفۡلَةࣲ مِّنۡ هَـٰذَا فَكَشَفۡنَا عَنكَ غِطَاۤءَكَ فَبَصَرُكَ ٱلۡیَوۡمَ حَدِیدࣱ
You were heedless of this, but now We have removed your veil, so your sight today is sharp [50:19-22]
We see that there are plenty of verses which talk about death. The prophets and messengers warned people about the Day of Resurrection on which they would be held accountable for following their whims and desires and forgetting about the Hereafter. Everyone will be held accountable – people are rewarded for good deeds and punished for bad.
Death is a station. All people have to pass through it, but it is not the final destination. Death is not the end. It is a new start. But we need to be prepared for this. If we did not prepare, we will feel immense regret, because we cannot turn back the clock.
Allah Almighty highlights the scene from this day in many verses, showing how those who were immersed in worldly life rejected the akhirah. This scene has been set before our eyes. The wrongdoers pleading to be sent back. However, Allah Almighty says that they would do the same evil deeds if they were sent back, as they are lying.
وَوُضِعَ ٱلْكِتَـٰبُ فَتَرَى ٱلْمُجْرِمِينَ مُشْفِقِينَ مِمَّا فِيهِ وَيَقُولُونَ يَـٰوَيْلَتَنَا مَالِ هَـٰذَا ٱلْكِتَـٰبِ لَا يُغَادِرُ صَغِيرَةًۭ وَلَا كَبِيرَةً إِلَّآ أَحْصَىٰهَا ۚ وَوَجَدُوا۟ مَا عَمِلُوا۟ حَاضِرًۭا ۗ وَلَا يَظْلِمُ رَبُّكَ أَحَدًۭا
And the record [of deeds] will be placed [open], and you will see the criminals fearful of that within it, and they will say, “Oh, woe to us! What is this book that leaves nothing small or great except that it has enumerated it?” And they will find what they did present [before them]. And your Lord does injustice to no one. [18:49]
Reminds you of your final appraisal
Remembering death helps us to focus. Our records will tell us what we used to do. It will be before our eyes, like CCTV. Maybe our Book will come alive and our life will played back in a protected place, so we not exposed. However oppressors and tyrants will have their lives played back and be exposed in public. Other people will have privacy when they read their book. We do not know the reality of that Day but if we try to understand it. they will read the book. They will see what they have done present before their eyes.
Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said:
عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ أَكْثِرُوا ذِكْرَ هَاذِمِ اللَّذَّاتِ يَعْنِي الْمَوْتَ
“Remember often the destroyer of pleasures: death.” [Tirmidhi]
Keeps you balanced
The first reason we remember death is not because we are kill-joys or pessimists, but because we need moderation. Life is not just about being light-hearted or frivolous all the time or frowning and weeping all the time. What creates the balance is remembering the Hereafter. Sometimes we go on autopilot, that is why when we wake up we start the day by thanking Allah ‘Praise be to Allah for giving us life after death and to Him we will return’ as death is of two kinds minor death is sleep and real death is in the grave. Before we go to sleep, we recite the dua ‘O Allah if you were to take my soul, then have mercy on it.’
These duas are a continuous reminder that we may not wake up, so we need to be mindful of what we are saying, rather than merely rattling them off our tongues.
Sometimes we do this in our salah – we recite the Fatiha without thinking about what it means. Until you connect the meaning with the words, you cannot achieve closeness to Allah. Closeness protects you from the ailment of the spiritual diseases of the heart.
Prevents you from wrongdoing
Remembering death, reminds us not to wrong anyone because we are accountable for our actions and we would rather sort it out before we die. It makes us a better person. We will not stay alive forever.
Aisha reported that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said:
عَنْ عَائِشَةَ قَالَتْ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ مَنْ أَحَبَّ لِقَاءَ اللَّهِ أَحَبَّ اللَّهُ لِقَاءَهُ وَمَنْ كَرِهَ لِقَاءَ اللَّهِ كَرِهَ اللَّهُ لِقَاءَهُ
“Whoever loves to meet Allah, Allah loves to meet him. Whoever hates to meet Allah, Allah hates to meet him.” [Muslim]
The one who hates to meet Allah is the one who has unfinished business and issues so they need to sort these out.
Recently an imam, in his khutbah was talking about death and dropped dead on the mimbar. He wasn’t that old. We just do not know when we will die. Be prepared. If you love Allah, then demonstrate it through your actions. Otherwise it is not true love.
In the famous story of the man who committed 99 murders but was forgiven, we are shown that it is always possibly to rectify our mistakes.
Death should be enough of a reminder to deter us from any wrong doing.
In a weak hadith, but one that makes sense, the Prophet (peace be upon him) said:
I have left two reminders one is silent and one is vocal. The silent is death and the vocal is the Quran.
In another weak narration, the Prophet (peace be upon him) also said that those who are the wisest people and the most honourable people are those who remember death the most and are the most prepared for death. They are honoured in dunya and have the blessings of the Hereafter.
Remembering death spoils the enjoyment of the dunya but we have to be moderate – if we are not attached to dunya we are prepared for the akhirah. If we live only for this life and for the moment then we are a victim of delusion and heedless. We cannot connect with the Hereafter.
Allah Almighty reminds us of the akhirah 29 times a day (17 times in our Fard salah and 12 in our Sunnah) when we recite the Fatihah and say Maliki Yaumideen – Master of the Day of Judgement, as this comes after death. So we are being reminded of death and being prepared for that.
Detaches you from this life and desires
Remembering death makes the dunya appear ugly to us – though we have to have this in moderation. It is about realising that this life is not everything. It is merely a bridge to the Hereafter.
Love of dunya is gate to bad deeds and hate of dunya is the gate to achieve good deeds. We choose.
People of knowledge have two benefits -firstly they refrain from dunya and secondly they yearn for akhirah. If you do not connect your heart to dunya you will be successful.
Shaykh Haytham Tamim – Thursday Hadith Class 5th Jan 2023
Umar ibn al-Khattab reported: We were sitting with the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, one day when a man appeared with very white clothes and very black hair. There were no signs of travel on him and we did not recognize him. He sat down in front of the Prophet and rested his knees by his knees and placed his hands on his thighs. The man said, “O Muhammad, tell me about Islam.” The Prophet said, “Islam is to testify there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, to establish prayer, to give charity, to fast the month of Ramadan, and to perform pilgrimage to the House if a way is possible.” The man said, “You have spoken truthfully.” We were surprised that he asked him and said he was truthful. He said, “Tell me about faith.” The Prophet said, “Faith is to believe in Allah, His angels, his Books, His Messengers, the Last Day, and to believe in providence, its good and its harm.” The man said, “You have spoken truthfully. Tell me about excellence.” The Prophet said, “Excellence is to worship Allah as if you see Him, for if you do not see Him, He surely sees you.” The man said, “Tell me about the final hour.” The Prophet said, “The one asked does not know more than the one asking.” The man said, “Tell me about its signs.” The Prophet said, “The slave girl will give birth to her mistress and you will see barefoot, naked, and dependent shepherds compete in the construction of tall buildings.” Then, the man returned and I remained. The Prophet said to me, “O Umar, do you know who he was?” I said, “Allah and his messenger know best.” The Prophet said, “Verily, he was Gabriel who came to teach you your religion.” [Muslim]
عن عُمَر بْن الْخَطَّابِ قَالَ بَيْنَمَا نَحْنُ عِنْدَ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ ذَاتَ يَوْمٍ إِذْ طَلَعَ عَلَيْنَا رَجُلٌ شَدِيدُ بَيَاضِ الثِّيَابِ شَدِيدُ سَوَادِ الشَّعَرِ لَا يُرَى عَلَيْهِ أَثَرُ السَّفَرِ وَلَا يَعْرِفُهُ مِنَّا أَحَدٌ حَتَّى جَلَسَ إِلَى النَّبِيِّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ فَأَسْنَدَ رُكْبَتَيْهِ إِلَى رُكْبَتَيْهِ وَوَضَعَ كَفَّيْهِ عَلَى فَخِذَيْهِ وَقَالَ يَا مُحَمَّدُ أَخْبِرْنِي عَنْ الْإِسْلَامِ فَقَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ الْإِسْلَامُ أَنْ تَشْهَدَ أَنْ لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا اللَّهُ وَأَنَّ مُحَمَّدًا رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ وَتُقِيمَ الصَّلَاةَ وَتُؤْتِيَ الزَّكَاةَ وَتَصُومَ رَمَضَانَ وَتَحُجَّ الْبَيْتَ إِنْ اسْتَطَعْتَ إِلَيْهِ سَبِيلًا قَالَ صَدَقْتَ قَالَ فَعَجِبْنَا لَهُ يَسْأَلُهُ وَيُصَدِّقُهُ قَالَ فَأَخْبِرْنِي عَنْ الْإِيمَانِ قَالَ أَنْ تُؤْمِنَ بِاللَّهِ وَمَلَائِكَتِهِ وَكُتُبِهِ وَرُسُلِهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ وَتُؤْمِنَ بِالْقَدَرِ خَيْرِهِ وَشَرِّهِ قَالَ صَدَقْتَ قَالَ فَأَخْبِرْنِي عَنْ الْإِحْسَانِ قَالَ أَنْ تَعْبُدَ اللَّهَ كَأَنَّكَ تَرَاهُ فَإِنْ لَمْ تَكُنْ تَرَاهُ فَإِنَّهُ يَرَاكَ قَالَ فَأَخْبِرْنِي عَنْ السَّاعَةِ قَالَ مَا الْمَسْئُولُ عَنْهَا بِأَعْلَمَ مِنْ السَّائِلِ قَالَ فَأَخْبِرْنِي عَنْ أَمَارَتِهَا قَالَ أَنْ تَلِدَ الْأَمَةُ رَبَّتَهَا وَأَنْ تَرَى الْحُفَاةَ الْعُرَاةَ الْعَالَةَ رِعَاءَ الشَّاءِ يَتَطَاوَلُونَ فِي الْبُنْيَانِ قَالَ ثُمَّ انْطَلَقَ فَلَبِثْتُ مَلِيًّا ثُمَّ قَالَ لِي يَا عُمَرُ أَتَدْرِي مَنْ السَّائِلُ قُلْتُ اللَّهُ وَرَسُولُهُ أَعْلَمُ قَالَ فَإِنَّهُ جِبْرِيلُ أَتَاكُمْ يُعَلِّمُكُمْ دِينَكُمْ
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