moderation in death
So we didn't have a snowday afterall. But we managed to have a blast anyway. To see our winter fun album, click here
After sledding, sipping, baking, decorating, and snarfing snow icecream, we headed off to Qur'an group. Today's uplifting topic... death and the remembrance of death. Now this is not as much of a downer as one might surmise... think Tuesdays with Morrie
, a living record of a man's death and a surprisingly uplifting book.
The impetus of the discussion was a quote from Al-Ghazali's Remembrance of Death
the gist of which was you should remember death often, and think upon it.
Sounds rather gruesome, but the point was that remembering that you can't take it with you, and that status, wealth, career, etc will seem rather unimportant when you're confronted with your deeds -- good and bad as weighed by Allah -- in the hereafter.
The discussion was wideranging, from why do children die (I always think of the story of Khidr when confronted with this situation (see below) Since no one, not even the Prophet, is exempt from making errors/sinning, an early demise may have to do with the Mercy of Allah rather than His wrath at whatever the innocent child has done) to how can thinking about death help us sort out our true priorities. (why are you a doctor, engineer, lawyer, writer -- to make a lot of money? (ok, not if you're a writer) so people will be impressed with you? to help people?)
The thought that struck me was that one should also consider death in moderation. Moderation is one of the things that attracted me about Islam. Muslims should not be profligate, but neither should they be ascetics. Being wealthy, and enjoying the blessings of the Lord are not sins in Islam, but at the same time, one should use one's wealth to benefit society and less well off individuals. We eschew sexual relations outside of marriage, but within marriage they are an act of worship, and there is no monasticism in Islam, nor is divorce forbidden. We pray and fast, but not constantly. Everything in balance.
So too our view of the world in light of death should be balanced. Considering our own deaths can help us achieve a healthy distance from worldly problems. Spats with one's spouse seem trivial, slights from a co-worker are less important, whether you get that big screen tv or a slightly smaller version doesn't really make much difference, when you really think about the ways of the universe. The connections we have with people, the joy we bring into their lives, the happiness and justice we help generate -- these are important things, who wins the game this Sunday... well... need I say more?
At the same time, we should not let this contemplation of death make us disdainful of the world. Islam doesn't ask us to ignore Earth, or to despise our lives. Rather, it asks us to engage with it, to be caretakers and guardians, to be bastions of virtue who stand up for the downtrodden and oppressed. In particular, contemplation of the hereafter should not make us devalue the world, and other human beings so completely, that we consider their lives worthless, expendable. Allah loves the world It has fashioned, and tells us in the Qur'an that killing a single soul wrongfully is like killing the entirety of mankind. How then are we to take lightly the life that has been given to us and to others?
Unfortunately, we are living in a day and age where many people lack this sense of balance (Muslims and non-Muslims). Where what you call God and how you perform your prayers is a matter for slaughter. Where oil wealth is more important than human lives. Where a cheap sneaker is more important than inhumane working conditions. I suspect we are not going to see an end to this inequilibrium anytime soon, but one can hope, and pray.
*The story of Khidr is a longish tale in which Moses seeks out Khidr who is known to be wise and to receive knowledge from God. Moses wishes to learn from Khidr. Khidr reluctantly allows Moses to follow along, although he extracts a promise that Moses should not question his actions. Well the first thing he does, as they walk along the seashore is stave in the boat of some fishermen. The next thing, he kills a young boy. Then, they enter a town, and seek lodgings at various homes. Only the poorest family has the kindness to welcome them in. In the morning, Khidr pulls down a wall in the back of the house before they depart. Moses is, naturally, outraged at Khidr's behavior, and each time he does something that appears to be completely evil, he asks Khidr how can he do such a thing. At last Khidr is fed up with Moses's questions, and says Moses must go his own way, but he will explain why he did what he did. Allah had showed him that there was a navy fleet sailing the morning before, conscripting ships for their war. The fishermen, busy on shore repairing their boat, were spared being drafted into warfare, losing the livelihood their families depended upon. The boy, Allah had shown him, would grow up to give his parents much grief and to wreak havoc on the world, so Allah had shown mercy upon his soul and taken him before he could do such things. As for the wall, beneath it lay a treasure that had belonged to the ancestors of the family, but which had been forgotten about, and when they repaired the wall, they would find it.
One of the