ONE DAY, WE attended the burial of a young man. He had died when life was at its best for him.
As we were waiting for the grave to be prepared I beheld the funeral goers engaged in much denouncement of the life of this world. They blamed a misguided attitude of comfort with the world, a heedlessness of the importance of preparing for life’s end.
I said to them: “What good words you have spoken! But hear from me what you have not heard from each other. The strangest of things, stranger than what you have spoken of, would be the attitude of one who suddenly becomes aware that the end of his life is now imminent. Thereupon, rationality and his fears compel him to anxiety and hasty action. His worry so overwhelms him that he takes to aimlessly wandering the wilds, his days spent in starvation, his nights in troubled sleeplessness. Thus driven, he dwells much in graveyards and quickly he perishes. Yet, by Allah, that which he feared merits conduct of a far more desperate kind than even this!
“Still, we see that the same rationality that impels such anxiety commands us also to what brings us tranquility. Our reason tells us: ‘Indeed, this body has been created to carry the soul, even as a camel carries its rider, and if it is to reach its destination, then it must be given gentle care.’”
Nor does reason adjudge it a good thing that one’s nights are always sleepless and one’s angst ever ceaseless, for the effect of this is deleterious to the body. It would prevent the attainment of almost every good thing one may aspire to.
How could one gain his goals in a state of such sleeplessness and anguish when the human body is so sensitive a creation? To swear off eating meat entirely, for example, would harm the body. To forsake sleep at night would only increase [a need for] this, while continuous sadness will cause the heart to fail.
One must give respite to the body by eating what is beneficial, just as one must reprieve the heart with things that drive away grief, for grieving can harm the heart—and should that mood of harm prevail, deterioration will certainly come sooner than [it would] otherwise.
So comes Islam to charge us with the same thing that rationality has commanded, saying:
Indeed, your body has a right on you. And your spouse has a right on you. So then, fast on some days and skip fasting on others. Sleep some of the night and pray some of it. It is enough of a sin, Islam tells us, for the servant to forsake those who need him for basic provision. Moreover, Islam urges marriage.
A man’s ceaseless anxiety and bodily shriveling makes a living widow of his wife and virtual orphans of his children. More crucial still, no man can exert himself in the path of knowledge with such anxiety.
Whoso seeks validation for what I have said, let him consider the condition of the Messenger œ, for he used to bring his fear of Allah into balance. At times, he was of a playful mood and would race with ¢Âishah g—and he married much. He used to be sensitive to his bodily needs—drinking water, for instance, that had cooled in its sack overnight. [Water in a sack seeps and thus cools in the air. Tr.] He also loved sweets and meat.
Moreover, ironic as it may be, were it not for the presence of “heedlessness,” the scholars would have never composed; nor would knowledge ever have been preserved; nor would the Sunnah ever have been recorded. That is because one whose soul whispers to him: ‘I will die today!”—how can he be expected to write, or give attentive ear to what he is taught, or author his own composition?
So then, be not alarmed by what you see in others, the people’s “heedlessness” of death, I mean, and their lack of “sufficient” remembrance of death as it deserves to be remembered. Rather, it is a blessing from Allah, Most High, for by this “lack” the world functions and religion is rightly practiced.
It is only excessive heedlessness that leads to the kind of neglect that is blameworthy.
And Allah knows best.