By Dr. Aliyu Tilde
Death and Us
“Say, the Death from which you flee will certainly overtake you…” (62:8)
Or as Alhaji Danmaraya Jos said in one of his famous composition, Duniya Ba Ki San Gwani Ba: “Yau da gobe karyar Allah, komai gudunmu ta kamo mu (Time is the hunting dog of God. No matter how fast we run it will catch up with us).”
The nation will receive with shock the death of its President, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’adua. Death, for the second time, has visited Aso Rock. At dawn, cameras will focus on the departure of his body from the villa as it they did to that of Abacha twelve years ago. I will not be there in Katsina for the burial. I, along with millions other Nigerians, pray for the eternal rest of his soul. This is not the time to write about the next president or who will be his deputy. The whole world loses its taste and glamour and becomes nothing in the face of death. In this situation, I was compelled by grief to revisit my reflections on, death, the most obvious thing awaiting us, with the hope that it would, even for a moment, serve as a wake up call.
We often forget about death as we daily become engrossed in our everyday affairs until it catches us unawares. When we are hit by it, all of a sudden, we cease to be what we were. We would wear a different look. The happy becomes sad; the moving stops; and the standing sits. The heads become lowered either as a sign of rejecting the world that meets our gaze when it is raised or in an attempt to hide the tears that attest to the true position of our defeated psyche. The bold becomes weak. He bites his tongue or lips as a calculated measure to maintain his strength. However, he is in contact with a force far beyond his capacity; a hand that is far beyond his reach has touched him. Whatever is his reaction, he has to yield and accept the fact that his loved one has left this world and he will never return.
Death is the most shocking news we can have. Al-Motanabbi was right, metaphorically, when in a eulogy for Muhammad ibn Ishaq al-Tanukhi he compared the shock of his family with that of Moses, when the latter witnessed the Sinai shatter before his eyes.
Different deaths teach us different lessons. I think, apart from the shock, there are a number of things that death helps us to clarify or at least remind us of. It exposes the weakness of our mind once in contact with forces far more astounding than we can imagine. We become helpless and pitiful. Even the most powerful may feel the desire of the eyes to shed their tears.
Another lesson is that death reminds us that we are just soil. Nothing else. God said: “From the Earth We created you, to it We will return you, and out of it We will bring you out another time.” Here, I often remember the much-quoted verse of the greatest woman mystic in Islamic History, Rabi’at’ul Adawiyyah. She once said: “If I would gain Thy Love, every (other) thing would be easy. Certainly, whatever is above the soil is (simply) soil.”
The soul is what makes the difference. It has the capacity to attain unimaginable heights once it is able to transcend the mundane over which the ordinary clamor. That is why she preceded the above verse with another one, saying, “I wish (what is) between You and me is eternal, and whatever is between the world and me is ruin…”
Yes, that is the best achievement. This Love that binds a servant to His Lord was the experience of another mystic. He said: “We drank, upon the mention of the Loved, a wine. We were intoxicated with it before the creation of karmu. They said to me, ‘Describe it (the wine), for you know it well’. Yes, I have knowledge of its features: Purity without water, gentleness without passion, light without fire and soul without body.”
Death also reminds us of our ultimate destiny. As I looked around our family graveyard I remember all those it has consumed. I then recalled the verses Shumaf bin khalif al ‘abdi that I recently came across in al-Hamasat’ul Basariyyah. He said: “My ancestors have tasted death, they have gone, and I see myself, after their departure, as meeting with it. No soul is given a respite even if it wishes to live, once her Caller has come.”
Yes. ‘al-Abdi was right. “But no soul will God grant a respite when the time appointed (for it) has come...” (63:11). Death will be tasted by every one of us. In three different places, this assurance was repeated as divine decrees, as the late Egyptian clergy, Abdulhamid Kishk constantly put it. He observed that the decrees were framed in a language that precludes exemption: “Every soul will taste death…” (3:185 and 21:35); “Everything (that exists) will perish except His own Face…” (28:88); and “All that is on earth will perish, but will abide (for ever) the Face of thy Lord.” (57:26-27).
Death also offers us the opportunity to reach the deepest level of reflection our intellect could dig reach. It is an irony that with this reflection starts the return journey of our strength. It leads us to one point i.e. the conclusion that death is part of life. After all, there is still a chance of re-union in the Hereafter, which will, in sha-Allah, separate us from death forever. “Nor will they there taste death, except the first Death...” (44: 56). At this point, the mind will finally settle and accept everything as the best, given that it was the Hand of God at work.
The famous poet al-Motanabbi, the master of metaphors once said: “Whoever does not die by the sword will die by something else, the cause may differ, but Death is one.” In another place the poet said, “We cry about this world (while) there was no group the world has gathered without them separating. Where are the tyrant Kaisers of early history, they piled treasures and none of them remained…?”
Here at home, ourlate father and Sheikh, Malam Aliyu Namangi was asking similar questions in his famous Infiraji, He said:
“Yau ina Sarkin Musulmi, Bello ko Abdulsalami, Musa ko AbdulKarimi? Sun wuce wannan Makami, Ba a san daya wanda zai rage ba. Ummarun Dallaji Korau, Ya mace a Kumasi Sallau, Ya mace har dansa Kwasau, ba su Dalhatu yau a Zazzau, su Abashe ina Aliyu Babba? Sun wuce sai ambatonsu, sai tunanin arzikinsu, kyan adonsu da kyan hawansu, ba ka kara ganin dayansu, in ba zuriyar da sun bari ba.”
Again we return to the eulogy of al-Tanukhi where al-Motanabbi said: “I really know, just like any intelligent person, that life, even if desired, is a deception. I did not expect, before your burial in the ground that the stars sets in the ground. I did not hope, before your funeral procession, that I would see (the mountain of) Radwa carried in the hands of men. They brought him out, and with everyone behind him was the shock of Moses (on) the day the Mountain was shattered. The Sun was sick in the heart of the sky, and the earth was shaking, almost tearing...” In a second composition for the family he said: “Endure, the sons of Ishaq, in honor to him; certainly the great endures on the (loss) of a great one.”
.A deeper reflection would go to the first two verses of Surat’ul Mulk. “Blessed be He in Whose hands is Dominion; and He over all things hath power; He who created Death and Life, that He may try which of you is best in deed; and he is the Exalted in Might, Oft-Forgiving.”(67:1-2)
The word “blessed” above is mentioned in a place where God asserted His Dominion, His power, His creation of the heavens and the earth but which, unlike in Surat’ul Furqan, were preceded with the mention of death and life – not life and death, as we would like to say. Why did He end the second verse with “Oft-forgiving”? Does it mean that death is a blessing? Is death a precursor or a pre-requisite of life? Does beginning with it imply that death is a greater blessing than life, greater than even the heavens and the earth?
The answers would come, as fast as did the questions, from various parts of the Quran. Yes. It is a blessing that in God’s hands lie all powers. If it were in the hands of any mortal who is characterized by shortcomings like vengeance or limited lifespan, humanity and all other creations would have perished. Hence, He chose to conclude the first verse, as He traditionally does in all verses of the Quran relating to His Dominion, with “He over all things hath power.”
Yes. Death precedes life because anything living was created from nothing. And since it will cease to be, then its existence is only transitory. Also, life, obviously, is less certain than death. No one knows whether he will survive the next minute. However, he is sure that death will overtake him, sooner or later. Finally, death is a blessing wherever life exists. Without death, life will suffocate, even for microbes. We thank God for creating it and apportioning it among us. It is a relief, we always hope.
The verse that mentioned trial and good deeds as reasons for death and life was concluded with the proclamation of His Might and Forgiveness. With His Might, we are conquered by death and become vulnerable to His Will. With it also we are assured that the Judge has overcome every need or fear that bedevils our mortal judges, compelling them to perpetrate injustice. Finally, His forgiving attribute was mentioned to assure us that he will overlook whatever wrong or mistake we might have committed as a result of our inherent fallibility. The perspectives are just too many to exhaust.
The funeral prayer is undoubtedly powerful. Before the dead is buried, the grief appears endless. But as soon as the body is returned to the earth and buried in soil, relief suddenly begins to takeover from where the grief stopped.
As for the dead, it is the beginning of a very long journey. As we turn away, leaving him alone, the dead could hear two voices. One, that of God who said, “Oh son of Adam! They have brought you and left, and in the soil they buried you. Had they remained with you, they would have been of no benefit to you. None is left for you except Me. And I am the Living that does not die.” The second is ours. We pray that God grants the dead eternal rest, give us the ability to endure the loss and to take over the responsibility he left behind!
Then comes the source of real worry: accounting for the sins and wrongs that we committed here on earth. Certainly, the late Alhaji Mamman Shata was right in Domin Sayyadina Tijjani when he said, “Ni dai abin da ke ban tsoro, ni dai abin da ke ruda ni…. ba irin saduwarmu da Allah gobe, don ko yar gaskiyarmu kadan ce Shata (Nothing shakes me like the meeting with God in the hereafter because our good deeds are few)”.
Yar’adua has gone. We who remain would not stay long after, as Shata again said in his eulogy of Garkuwan Gombe: “Kowa yam mutu bai sauri ba, mu da muke nan ba mu dade ba…(Whoever dies is not in haste, we who remain will not tarry for long.)”
We pray that God in his abundant Mercy will forgive our sins – which, by the way, are plenty – and overlook our inequities. Otherwise, if we were to be taken on account of our deeds, failure would be certain. But happily, His Mercy is greater than our sins. An ancient poet once said: “My provision is little; I do not see it as sufficient. Would I cry over the (insufficient) provision or over the length of my journey? Would You burn me in Hell, Oh the epitome of ambition? Then where is my hope in You, where is my love?”
As the day breaks in just an hour, Nigerians will be covered by sympathy for their past President. We had wished that he remained with us to realize his seven point agenda and other presidential stuff. Before now, we have waited for his recovery and quarreled over his illness. Now, everything is over. “Allah mai maganin wahala, mutuwa mai maganin gaba.”
We hope those whom he hurt during his life will be large-hearted enough to forgive him. They should better apply their mind to the future before the “hunting dog of God” catches up with them too. We extend our condolence to his family and the nation at large. May God grant Umaru mercy, overlook his shortcomings, forgive his sins and reward his good deeds and intentions generously. Amin.
6 May 2010