Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Al Ghazali : Remembrance of Death and the Afterlife

Friends,

I was browsing through my old 'blog' perspective on the issue of 'Longevity' while thinking to write further on the subject, with some philosophical bent.
[Longevity: Some Random Thots, Health section, July 11th and 12th, 2008]
[Longevity: A Muslim's Perspective, health section, July 14th,2008]
I found a third discourse superfluous as the subject matter I want to discuss was already fairly well covered in ' Exercise: Mixing the Profane and the Sublime', Health section, Friday, March 20th, 2009.

Giving the subject of Longevity some further thought, I cannot but come to the paradoxical conclusion that if one wants to live a long, fruitful,carefree, less'kufr'' and ideally 'kufr'less life [for want of better terminology], one invariably has to think a lot about one's imminent death.Paradoxical indeed: If one can readily accept this life's impermanence, one's stress level cascade would significantly decrease, and that contributes to longevity!

When I think deeper on the subject of Death, Abu Hamid al-Ghazali's treatise, 'The Remembrance of Death and the Afterlife' come to mind. It represent a key section of al-Ghazali's Revival of the Religious Sciences, [Ihya' Ulum al-Din], widely regarded as the greatest work of Muslim spirituality.

I got my English copy of the book some 26 years ago at a small book store off busy Praed Street London, near St Mary's Hospital. Ironically I was then a young research registrar in cardiology, a field about prolonging the human life, 24/7,364 days a year.Cardiologywise, heady days: Andreas Gruntzieg, a radiologist from Zurich just discovered angioplasty,Spurrel et al at St Bartholomews down the road from St Mary's, able to put wires in people's hearts with palpitaion problem and burning their 'naughthy extra circuits' with radio-frequency sound wave......'gay' young men dying left ,right and centre in Southern California from 'godknowswhatdisease'. AIDS then was still not yet on the 'radar screen'....etc etc

Imagine Praed Street, off Edgeware Road in gay and liberal London 1981: full of young English 'roses' on the prowl,tugging on to your coat pocket asking for 'business': time was bad in London but I was much younger, vital and full of testosterone! Iman was running thin. I had no choice but to bury myself in al-Ghazali!

Let us friends look at what al-Ghazali had said in the opening chapter of his lenghty discourse on death:

''Know that the heart of the man who is engrossed in this world and is given to its vanities and harbours love for its appetites must certainly be neglectful of the remembrance of death.Thus failing to recall it, when reminded of it he finds it odious and shies away. Such are the people of whom God has said: Say: Lo! the death from which ye shrink will surely meet you, and afterward ye will be returned unto the Knower of the Invisible and the Visible, and he will tell you what ye used to do.

Now, men may be either engrossed [in this world], penitent beginners, or arrived gnostics. The man engrossed does not remember death, or if he does, it is with regret for his world, and he busies himself disparaging death. The remembrance of death increases such a one nothing but distance from God.

The penitent man recalls death frequently, so that fear and apprehension might thereby proceed from his heart, making his repentance complete. It may be that he is in fear of death lest it carry him off before his repentance is complete and before his provisions for the journey are replenished; he is excusable in his aversion to death, and is not included in the saying of the Prophet [may God bless him and grant him peace]: 'Whosoever would abhor meeting with God, God abhors meeting with him'. Such a man does not abhor death and meeting with God, but only fears the meeting with God passing him by as a result of his deficiency and remissness. He is like the man who is made late for a meeting with his beloved by busying himself with preparation for the encounter in a way that will find approval: he is not deemed to be reluctant about the meeting! The distinguishing mark of the penitent man is his constant preparation for this matter and his lack of any other concern. Were he to be otherwise he would associate with the man engrossed in the world.

As for the gnostic, he remembers death constantly, because for him it is a tryst with his Beloved, and a lover never forgets the appointed time for meeting the one he loves. Usually such a man considers death slow in coming and is happy upon its advent, that he might have done with the abode of sinners and be borne away into the presence of the Lord of the Worlds. Such was the case with Hudhayfa, of whom it is related that when death came he said: ' A dear friend has come at a time of poverty. Whoever repents [at such a moment as this] shall not succeed. O Lord God! Should You know that poverty is dearer to me than wealth, and sickness more beloved to me than health, and death more dear to me than life, then make my death easy for me until I meet You.'

Thus it is that the penitent man may be excused the aversion he feels for death, while another is excusable in loving it and longing for it. And higher than either of them is the degree of he that has entrusted his affair to God [Exalted is He!] and no longer prefers death or life for himself, for the dearest of things to him is that which is beloved in the sight of his Lord. By virtue of profound love and loyalty this man has arrived at the station of absolute surrender and contentment, which is the goal, and the utmost limit.

But whatever the situation may be, in the recollection of death there is reward and merit. For even the man engrossed in the world benefits from it by acquiring an aversion to this world since it spoils his contentment and the fullness of his pleasure; and everything which spoils for man his pleasures and appetites is one of the means of deliverance."

Many Muslims amongst us nowadays decry al-Ghazali for his 'excessive
use of 'hadith hasan' and'hadith dhaif' in his seminal work 'Ihya' ulum al-din' .Al-Ghazali stands above the rest because he started as a 'fuqaha'[ an expert in Islamic jurisprudence] and in his later life 'strayed' into sufism. 'Strayed' is definitely the wrong word, in his case, 'progress' would be the right term.

I am no expert but I feel his'maqam' from us is like that of someone doing a post ,post-doctoral thesis while we are just in post basic. In post post-doctoral situations, the nuances and application of relevant hadiths, be it 'Hasan' or 'Dhaif', are steeped with depth of knowledge and the best of intentions.Even hadith Dhaif, if these do not go against the grain of quranic verses and spirit, who are we, mere midgets as we are then, in a position to pass judgment on a 'fountain of knowledge' like al-Ghazali?

As he rightly put it, we are afterall a spectrum of 'the engrossed, the penitent and the gnostic'. As if these are not enough, there is still the question of 'the already arrived'. So friends, hold your criticism, just enjoy him and then, 'tepuk dada tanya selera'. Allahualam !

[ Al-Ghazali : The Remembrance of Death and the Afterlife . Kitab dhikr al-maut wa-ma ba'dahu . Book XL of The Revival Of The Religious Sciences [Ihya' ulum al-din]
Introduction and translated by T.J.Winter]

27 comments:

Pearls & Gem said...

My nephew Wan Hashim Wan Hassan died last week at home,of unknown cause.
I managed to coax my son to attend Hashim's funeral.The 'talkin' was read by a young imam. I know some progressive Muslims would be 'fairly' critical of the 'talkin' as well as the 'tahlil' that ensues a Muslim's death in Malaysia.Some purist do citing that it was not done in Rasullah's time. I do not want to get involve in the issues of the 'rantings' and the 'twigs' of Islam. There are too many issues out there confronting the UMMah that are more important ie the surge of Liberal Islam etc etc { see Farish Noor and SOS ].
Visiting the grave ,listening to the 'talkin' and the camaraderie with the livings at the subsequent 'tahlil' are for the living,and if there is an ounce of 'penghayatan' there, these are 'bidaah' yang baik.No discussion on these permitted here please!
Another young friend died today: "Dr" Zain, UPM Vet assistant. Of heart attack even while been seen and noted in stable condition in Serdang's GH CCU. he was 46. "Vet" to my horse,Mr Gedebe.
From Him we come, to Him we return.

Pearls & Gem said...
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Anonymous said...

inna lillahi wainna ilai hi rajiuun.Dr Nik, time continues to tick and we cannot really hope death will not come to us eventually. An appropriate reminder indeed!

RahmatHarounHashim said...

A punishment to some, to some a gift, and to many a favor.
Seneca
c. 4 BCE-65 CE, Roman Philosopher, Poet, Dramatist, Essayist, Rhetorician, Statesman

RahmatHarounHashim said...
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RahmatHarounHashim said...
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Pearls & Gem said...

Death, to most, is a relief. even to the loved ones.
Consider the long sffering cancer patients stricken with pain, the old chaps with alzheimer.
Talking about death ,I cannot help but remember Saddam Hussein's forlorn and sad look before the Americans hung him.....At least that old 'tyrant' was able to say his 'syahadah' before his last breath...Maybe God's gift for at least keeping millions of Iraqis
from each others throats for decades....He could have died a totally 'kufr's death but instead ,watched by billions,he said the shahadah,albeit only half of it as the hangman could not wait for him to say...'Muhamadar rasullallah!'T think we all got conned by American media propaganda about saddam. Now Iraq is 300 % worse off,The American s are permanently etched in the middle of Arab lands and billion barrels of oil!.....Some food for thought.
SaddamHussien...Tyrant...Shahadah.
Who are we mere mortals to judge how God plans for individuals?
Cest Qui Duie Direct[ Man plan, God direct]

Pearls & Gem said...
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Pearls & Gem said...
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Pearls & Gem said...

Death, to most, is a relief. even to the loved ones.
Consider the long sffering cancer patients stricken with pain, the old chaps with alzheimer.
Talking about death ,I cannot help but remember Saddam Hussein's forlorn and sad look before the Americans hung him.....At least that old 'tyrant' was able to say his 'syahadah' before his last breath...Maybe God's gift for at least keeping millions of Iraqis
from each others throats for decades....He could have died a totally 'kufr's death but instead ,watched by billions,he said the shahadah,albeit only half of it as the hangman could not wait for him to say...'Muhamadar rasullallah!'T think we all got conned by American media propaganda about saddam. Now Iraq is 300 % worse off,The American s are permanently etched in the middle of Arab lands and billion barrels of oil!.....Some food for thought.
SaddamHussien...Tyrant...Shahadah.
Who are we mere mortals to judge how God plans for individuals?
Cest Qui Duie Direct[ Man plan, God direct]

Pearls & Gem said...
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Pearls & Gem said...
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RahmatHarounHashim said...

Nik, teringak puisi mengenai mati yang pernah ditulis 2 tahun lalu.
Mati Suri (Inapparent Death)

Sesunyi mati (suri)

Sesunyi mati nafas sedangkal henti
Dengupan jantung hilang setuli cuping
Sijil mati ditandatangani
Di liang lahat, jenazah dituruni
Bakal disimpan selamanya mati.

Bagaikan kaleidoskop
arca meninggalkan diri
rhapsodi mati dalam ektasi
seolah terowong kelahiran dilalui kembali.

Seperti arca-arca sutradara
Berputar menurut kronologi
Mengisah diri, dari lahir ditimang umi
Hingga bersemadi ke liang lahat
Laksana bioskop diari kehidupan
Melayang datang klise demi klise
Menayang semula arca segenap peristiwa diri
Hedonisme yang dianuti jiwa-raga.

Di hujung terowong mati
Tampak sebuah taman, sebatang kali membelahnya
Bila ingin menyeberangi, jatuh tenggelam
Lemas, sesak tersedar dari mati suri
Lalu mengoyak kain kapan,
mengorek tanah merangkak naik ke permukaan
Bila tangan muncul di kuburan basah
Yang bertahlil bertempiaran lari resah
Hanya seorang hamba Allah menerpa berani
Mayat mati hidup kembali.

Sekembali dari mati suri
Sifat berubah tabiat terpuji
Menyendiri di sunyi sepi
Dulu pemabuk, kini alim sejati
Dulu di disko, kini di masjid lima kali sehari
Beberapa lama berlalu
Benar-benar mati kaku
dalam keadaan sujud abadi
Bukan lagi mati suri

Banyak yang alami mati ke dua kali
Di liang lahat, sesak nafas, tercekik mati
Subang Jaya. 21.9.2007

Pearls & Gem said...
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Pearls & Gem said...
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Pearls & Gem said...

Thanks Doc Rachmat for your profound insight.
A lawyer friend of mine today,when he read my blog,intimated to me he is quite worried that I am encouraging the 'hereafter' while we Muslims are 'lost children' today by any standard.
He missed my message.
Islam is about excellence: Excellence in mind and body.Excellence in the 'now' and the 'hereafter'.
He is a child of 'today',not yesterday or tomorrow.When he walk the street and notice a'torn' or broken glass in the way he picks it up, does not matter if someone is watching him or not.When he promise to finnish a billion dollar contract within 2 years in Qatar he finnish the project, instead of getting sued for it.He would not partake a share in any multi billion RM scam with the MCA's as in PKZZ because for him he knew before hand he would not be able to answer in the final court of law.Etc etc and etc.
Instead now we have the 'kopiah' as the standard brand for mediocrity.When we say we are goingto Hospital Islam for 'rawatan' we mean we are going to a 2nd rate medical facility.When we take an 'Islamic' loan we have to be ready for a rippoff.When we talk about Tabung Haji,be ready to accept billion RM scam under the selimut.Etc etc and etc.
In the sciences and technilogy the ideal Muslims would be at the cutting edges as Islam was sent 'earth' to debunk superstitions and bring progress to mankind.It is a blessing from God.
I can go on forever on Muslims and mediocrity.......

Anonymous said...

We who are living are terrified about death, those who went through it are oblivious, suddenly they are already in alam barzakh..the other dimension of life, Dr Nik.having gone through coma post MVA in 1994 and 2 attacks of atrial fibrillation witb BP about 80/60 and pulse rate around 145 (you know better since you were there) the sensation was discomfort of breathing and gradual losing of thinking process, and tunnelling of things.wallahuaklam.This is July, I got my attacks in July 2007 and another one last june.only Allah knows what will happen Dr Nik! Salaam!

Pearls & Gem said...
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Pearls & Gem said...

Well Fiz,
You and I , we know it is never politically correct to talk about 'death' with our patients, with anyone for that matter.Yet, we cardiologists do that mental sum as we see our patients, all the time...what is the probability of A, with his 'grotty' coronaries not making it to next year. What is the probability of that old chap B who just came in with 'unstable angina' and frightening looking ekg in CCU bed 9,not surviving the night if I cannot persuade him [and his relatives] to agree to undergo urgent coronary angiogram with a view to interventional angioplasty and stenting ,NOW?...What is the probability of him dying on the table while I am doing it?...if he survive to nite without doing it,what is the probability of him getting another infarct in the next one year?....
In an American setting doctors are required to churn out these figures [to save their assh....from expensive litigations later] to their patients rightaway. From my 30 over years of experience,in our Malaysian setting 90 % of our patients and relatives give the 'non verbal' que that they do not wish to know!
That poses a heavy burden on us doctors!If you tell them you would be damned and if you do not tell them and things happened you would be damned! That is some of our problem here where we gingerly have to 'walk lightly' on the issue of death and mortality...a taboo subject
The clever Muslims though should have no qualm about thinking a lot about death.He will be a better individual 200%! That is not my conclusion.Prophet Muhammad said that some 1400 years ago![...not the 200% of course,that is mine!]

Pearls & Gem said...

Dont worry, I am not deleting anyone's comment here ,it is just my computer duplicating +++. It is terminal, I think.

Anonymous said...

after reading Dr Rahmat's poem, I thought a while and agreed with the meassage it was trying to deliver..if only we are aware of the warnings and make amend for our past mischiefs and ignorance, then we would die a bettr person in the eyes of Allah!salam dr Nik!

Pearls & Gem said...

....and by remembering abot death and the afterlife a lot,using the 'God given grace' and avenue of 'taubat',doa and'self accounting, we can put 'our death' on the back burner and live fully and'cleanly'...longer as well if you ask me
Back to the Hunzas, People of the valley of Vilcombe and the Okinawans...with an additional clause added to the equation: God's grace.

Anonymous said...

T J Winter [aka Hakim Murad] was fortunate to have met the sufi Al Haddad, hence, perhaps, was taught the "things" that al ghazali used to teach to ONLY some of his nortunal students.

And there's this Dr M Afifi al Akiti DPhil[Oxon] and probably the first Melayu to hold a lecturership and fellowship of Worcester College, Oxford, has done a marvelous job of submiting a doctoral thesis on al ghazali extremely rare manuscripts.

The good thing about this chap al-Akiti [most likely coming from Kati, near Kuala Kangsar and likely the son or grandson of the renowned Qadi of Kati, sort of a Wali]; he studied the traditions obediently sitting before the feat of scholars in Java, Maghribi, Syria and Hadramaut, it is said!

BA [First} in Medieval History and Philosophy, Belfast he proceed to to Oxford to complete his MA and that rare al ghazali manuscript ... something Madnun [not Canon as in Avicenna].

Funny thing, what we are about to see the coming of scholars like those TRAINED by Prof Dr Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas [well he actually acknowledges ONLY a few of the PhDs from ISTAC ] and rare scholar like this Dr M Afifi al-Akiti.

What is still missing is{are) the grand cosmologist that can contribute to the search for Higgs Boson , or is there a need for it!

[anyway thanks for "scolding" Sanusi for destroying ISTAC]

qalbu.

Pearls & Gem said...

Prof ,
If you can go back to my 2nd article in this blog[ Surah al-Anbiya:Big bang and a Century of Science],knowledge is certainly double edged!It can 'enlighten', and it can also 'lead one to more 'kufr', like what happened to most of the cosmologists and Western physicists who are/were gifted with talents and very bright enought to even be able to see 'God's finger prints' on the formation of this universe and the physical laws and 'qadar' that God delineates for His inanimate 'things', including TIME and SPACE, to obey,BUT yet they got lost in the twigs and the branches and land up lost!
I find this 'global' inertia to be enlightened by us so called Muslims to be knowledgeable, and I mean it in both the 'religious' as well as the seemingly 'non religious knowledge' on the basis that there was a hadith purporting to acquiring knowledge without facing a 'guru' face to face would tantamout to learning from 'syaitan'!, this to me limits the majority of us from real enlightenment.One can still get lost reading the whole gamut of Tafsir al Azhar,Naquib,Raniri, Qadir Jilani and Ibnu Arabi,al Ghazali etc etc but that would be a better and in my humble opinion grander way of getting lost than say limiting oneself to only one guru teaching you tajwid in the kampong surau at the grand pensionable age of 55!As most of us would tend to gravitate.
I know Prof you are going to say I have limited my myself by dividing knowledge into the 'sublime' and the 'profane':Indeed trie knowledge has no division.It all lead to Mekkah!

Welcome to Islam said...

Assalamualaikum

Its a very good book and I reckon every Muslim household should have one.