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]