The beautification of death

Beautification of death” denotes a level of maturity where one can neutralize the negative and unattractive aspects of the lower self (nafs), elevating an ordinary person to the level of a perfect human being as recommended in the rule “Die before death comes to you.”

With such maturity one comes closer to the Creator and all carnal desires lose their sway. A person can enjoy happiness in his or her worship, kindness in dealings with people, and virtue in manners. The soul begins to enjoy the pleasure of getting closer to one’s Lord. That is why Rūmī says about the time before he experienced the state of nearness to Allah: “I was immature,” about the period of obtaining divine pleasure: “I became ripe,” and about the period of in which the mysteries of the universe unfolded to him like a book: “I was burned.”

These expressions are the manifestation of the efforts in the way to Allah. Although the ways that lead to Allah are “as many as the number of the breaths of all creatures”, the most effective one is the way of faqr-u fanā’. Faqr-u fanā’ means to remove the ego and mā siwā – “everything but God” – from heart and soul, as a result of divine love. This results in the beautification of death, which turns into an eternal union with Allah as the manifestation of the saying mentioned above, and annihilation (fanā’) in Allah.

To attaining this prized manifestation is only possible if one observes the following conditions, which are valid for everybody:

a) Tawbah (repentance)

Sins are motivated by ignorance, sexual desire, arrogance, anger, hatred, blind ambition, jealousy and extravagance. These tendencies are obstacles which take man away from his Creator. If man becomes truly aware of himself, he can be disturbed by the weight of his vice. The hidden emotion of virtue awakes in his heart, and his heart finds peace in Allah by shedding tears of great regret and sorrow. This sorrow and regret is tawbah (repentance), which means literally turning to Allah voluntarily before the involuntary return of death comes. In other words, tawbah means removing the obstacles between man and Allah through the emotion of regret.

Tawbah is the first step which is necessary for the return to Allah, because sins are obstacles which decrease the sensitivity of the heart and slow it down. This state is just like cloudy images in a dirty mirror. In order to see the reflection in this dirty mirror properly it is necessary to wipe it with a clean cloth. Likewise, returning to Allah makes it necessary to cleanse the heart with tawbah from all sins, which are dross over the heart. That is why in all branches of tasawwuf the first thing to do is to ask Allah for forgiveness (istighfār). This looks just like the subtle point “” in the declaration of Oneness (kalimat al-tawhīd), lā ilāha illā Allāh, which means “There is no god but Allah.” In other words, first it is necessary to remove all negatives and prepare a suitable base for the real objective.

Thus, seeking forgiveness from Allah is almost a requirement for sincere prayers. Rūmī says; “Seek forgiveness from Allah with a heart full of regret and tearful eyes because flowers bloom in moist soils.”

b) Zuhd (asceticism)

Zuhd means freeing the heart from the grip of worldly luxuries, pleasures, property and position. In fact, death wipes out all of these in a moment. The essence of zuhd is to be able to give up life and property voluntarily before involuntary death comes. Human comprehension, between the two momentous realities of birth and death, cannot escape from the world of shadows and proceeds to the world of reality unless it reaches the real understanding of this world and the hereafter, modifying one’s behavior accordingly. A wise man described this world, which exemplifies of divine wisdom, as sayr-i bedāyī for wise ones or “learning a lesson” from the ultimate secrets of Allah, and as “eating and passion” for the fool. If a person cannot put a limit to worldly desires in his or her heart, the consequence is frustration, which leads to destruction.

c) Tawakkul (reliance upon Allah)

Tawakkul means that a servant seeks refuge in his Lord and surrenders himself to Him before death comes. Trust in and submission to Allah’s will does not mean one leaves all causes aside, but it means one realizes that if causes are not in accordance with the will of Allah, all efforts will be futile. Death is the true understanding of cause and fate relationship. Allah says: “If anyone puts his trust in Allah, sufficient is (Allah) for him.”(Talāq, 65:3)

In other words, for the one whose heart is full of love for Allah, tawakkul means to trust in and submit only to Allah. Allah asked Moses about the staff in his hand and told him: “Cast it off!” for the rod impeded his true trust in Allah by giving him self-confidence. Again Allah says: “Put your trust in Allah if you have faith.” (Mā’idah; 5: 23)

Tawakkul is not ignorance of precautions and efforts; on the contrary, it is submission to Allah’s power only after one has taken such steps.

As a result of the Prophet Abraham’s tawakkul and his submission to Allah the fire did not burn him. When he showed his true tawakkul, Allah ordered the fire to “be cool and secure for him!” For, as we said, tawakkul means the choice of submitting everything to Allah willingly before death comes. Rūmī, questioning our ordinary tawakkul and submission says: “Check yourself to see whether you have Abraham’s quality or not. The fire recognizes and will not burn only those who properly submit themselves to Allah like Abraham.”

d) Qanā‘ah (contentment)

Qanā‘ah means to desire no more than what is necessary. A compulsory contentment will come with death. The only cure for jealousy and blind ambition – the most dangerous of character traits – is to acquire the spirit of contentment, because the divine treasures contentment gives to the heart never end. The Prophet (upon him blessings and peace) is reported to have said: “Contentment is a treasure that is never exhausted.” (Bayhaqi, al-Zuhd al-Kabir)

Therefore, the real measure of richness is contentment and satisfaction with the divine allotment. Qanā‘ah means not to be jealous of those who have more. The pleasure of being rich-hearted can only be tested with contentment.

It is a principle of faith that sustenance is predetermined by the divine apportionment. When this is taken into consideration, it is obvious that blind ambition and covetousness are not only ugly but unreasonable. Yet, some people still cannot give up their blind ambition to become wealthy, although they witness that those who profit and those who consume are usually different people. Such people suffer from terminal egotism. To them wealth means power for themselves as well as for others. Quite often the admiration and attention that they derive from jealous people give them great pleasure.

Contentment is the only divine medicine that can cure all these illnesses. Only with the power of contentment is it possible to be free from the calamities a person can face from possessing great wealth. Contentment should not concern wealth only, but also the attention and admiration that emerge from the power that comes with wealth.

In brief, it is necessary for a person to understand that wealth belongs to Allah, and that man is just like a cashier. The caliph ‘Alī (may Allah be pleased with him) says for those who do not remember death: “Most of the people try to accumulate wealth in order to make their inheritors fight.”

f) ‘Uzlah (isolation or seclusion):

‘Uzlah is a requirement in Sufi training to achieve the highest state. However, seclusion is not meant to cancel all social interaction. For common people, seclusion can be achieved by realizing seclusion internally among the crowds. It consists in isolating the heart from worldly affairs and direct one’s attention toward Allah.

Yet, some saints practice ‘uzlah as actual isolation; however this does not hamper social life due to the small number of these people. Such isolation is in special cases. In general terms, ‘uzlah in religious training does not mean withdrawal from public life. On the contrary, it means isolation while being in public; in other words, being alone with Allah even in a crowd of people. It is being together with Allah in divine manifestations, before retiring into a grave, by leaving out all worldly relations. In short, it is being with Allah voluntarily; whereas death is an involuntary ‘uzlah.

f) Dhikr (remembrance):

Manifestations of divine effusion (fayd) are based on mahabbah (divine love). Mahabbah can be achieved to the extent of the place dhikr holds in the heart and mind. For love to take root in the heart and the mind is possible only by remembering the beloved; the more we remember Allah, the more we love Him.

As a source of divine effusion, Lafza-i Jalāl (“Allah”) is the most effective one among the names of Allah. Because of its strength, it is advised for a devotee (sālik) to continue repeating Lafza-i Jalāl after a period of istighfār (repentance). Remembrance of Allah conduces to advancement in love of Allah (mahabbat Allāh) in proportion with its quantity and quality. In other words, the more dhikr is said and the more sincere it is, the greater manifestations will be attained.

     With the taking root of remembrance of Allah in the heart, the manifestation of the believers’s servanthood gets nearer to perfection. The Qur’an says: “In the remembrance of Allah do hearts find satisfaction.” (Ra‘d, 13:28)

If the Lafza-i Jalāl cannot settle in the heart, man remains trapped by material wealth and carnal desires. Another Qur’anic verse says: “Did you not see such a one as takes for his god his own passion (or impulse)? Could you be a disposer of affairs for him?” (Furqān, 25:43)

Morality, good deeds and spiritual manners settle in the hearts that are full of spirituality. Man gains the quality of being the most beautiful creature. On the other hand, kufr (infidelity), shirk (polytheism), bad deeds, passion and skepticism settle in the hearts that are full of sensuality. Then they start to control the heart: it becomes blind against the objective of creation. Sometimes its possessor even becomes inferior to other species!

The poet Nizāmī describes the end of those who were controlled by their nafs thus: “The pleasures of the world are like scratching an itchy palm. At first, scratching feels good, but it ends up hurting the palm.” By expressing the importance of spiritual life al‑Junayd al‑Baghdādī describes the manifestation of the “beautification of death” and the command to “Die before death comes” as “Allah’s taking your self from yourself then resurrecting you with Himself.”

g) Tawajjuh (inclination)

Tawajjuh is to ignore all attractive calls except Allah’s call. Death is the realization of this state. In reality a pious person cannot have any desire, friend and objective other than Allah. Even for a fleeting moment one cannot be heedless (ghāfil) of His presence. When death comes, one who is heedless of His presence will very unwillingly be taken away from everything he is inclined to other than Allah. Real happiness is to submit and turn to Allah and His consent while one is still alive.

h) Sabr (patience)

Sabr is to submit oneself to Allah by struggling quietly amid events that are undesirable and painful, without changing the balance between inner and outer qualities. The grave will be a place of compulsory patience away from all worldly desires. When we face events that require patience, it is necessary to use some moral qualities such as forgiveness, gentleness, humility, chastity, satisfaction, compassion, mercy, kindness and tolerance. It is very important that we be patient with everything that keeps man away from Allah’s consent. The Qur’an commands us: “and be patient and constant, till Allah, do decide: for He is the best to decide.” (Yūnus, 10:109)

Patience is a great armor against difficulties. Death is the end of diehard carnal desires, and the grave is the compulsory place of patience until the day of resurrection.

i) Murāqaba (contemplation)

Murāqaba means to leave one’s power and strength aside. Death denotes the complete realization of this state. More precisely, murāqaba is to stay away from sins by feeling that one is under the divine observation all the time. Nothing in all of creation is out of His disposal.

Nothing can escape from death and resurrection. Existence and nonexistence, death and life, mortality and immortality are always interrelated. Every moment, thousands of cells die in the human body and thousands of them are recreated. Every moment, thousands of babies are born, and thousands of people die. Every moment, while lots of heedless people are enraptured by worldly pleasures, lots of pious people are in a state of supplication, seeking refuge with Allah. The grave – the last stop of the world – is waiting for everybody. All over the world there is only His disposition, sovereignty and divine arrangement. In order to enhance the attribute of servanthood in oneself, it is important to be aware of this divine observation before one dies. With imagination and thought, man can direct himself toward Allah, as it is stated in the wise saying: “Whoever knows himself knows Allah.”

j) Ridā (contentment)

Ridā means living with the contentment of Allah by leaving out one’s self-approval. Death means the realization of this state. Ridā is the maturation of comprehension through a process of purification of the heart and self. Man submits himself to Allah by escaping from the captivity of transitory and delusory things. With great spiritual happiness, a person realizes the fineness described in the expression below:

Whatever comes from You is fine with me

Whether it is a budding rose or thorn

Whether it is a robe of honor or a shroud.

Your grace and Your wrath; both are fine!

k)- Tafakkur-i mawt (reflecting on death):

The world is a school of faith in the fact that death is a law of obligatory transition. Rūmī says: “Die in order to resurrect.” Reviving the heart is only possible if one gives up sensuality. The Prophet (upon him blessings and peace) says: “Remember the destroyer of pleasures often – death.” (Nasa’i,Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah)

Taffakur-i mawt is to remember death voluntarily before it comes to you against your will. Thus, it is to be ready for the presence of Allah by abandoning sensuality. This is contemplation and consciousness based on faith (īmān).

Worldly desires, transitory hopes and consolations are like tree leaves falling on top of the graves. Every gravestone is a fiery advisor speaking with eloquent silence about death. The reason for building cemeteries inside cities, near roads, and in mosque courtyards is, in a way, to facilitate the contemplation of death.

Words cannot fully capture the frightening weight of death. All of a person’s powers end when death comes. In the presence of death, the only response that comes from the world is tears and helpless sadness.

If man gives up sensual attributes voluntarily, Allah will certainly recreate him with His kindness and grace. In fact, Allah Most High says: “Can he who was dead, to whom We gave life and a light whereby he can walk among men, be like him who is in the depths of darkness, from which he can never come out? Thus, to those without Faith, do their own deeds seem pleasing.”(An‘ām, 6:122)

The true servant joins those whose hearts are recreated, for he gives up the sensual pleasures of this world. The Prophet (upon him blessings and peace) said: “Be careful of the discernment (firāsah) of the believer, as he sees with the nūr (light) of Allah.” (Tirmidhi)

All the above-mentioned expressions are the conditions that have to be practiced in one’s spiritual life in order to fulfill the advice to “Die before death comes to you.” The believers who are trying to follow these commands progress to the extent of the seriousness of their efforts and their steadfastness on the path. A sincere effort yields happiness with the help of divine support.

The world is a deceptive mirage and the hereafter is everlasting life. Death is the personal Judgment Day of a person. Let us wake up before our own reckoning so that we not become regretful. It is an unavoidable fact that every transitory creature is going to meet the Angel of death at an undisclosed place and time. There is no place where we can flee from death. Mankind just has to accept Allah’s compassion and mercy as the only shelter by benefiting from the meaning of the verse “Therefore flee unto Allah [from all that is false and evil]” (Dhāriyāt, 51:50).

If a man lives under the commands of a carnal mind as if he only believed in this world, the grave is to him a dark corridor. The terror of death makes him feel such a pain that he cannot compare it with anything else. Yet if he applies the principles mentioned above, going beyond his worldly self and proceeding toward his angelic side hidden within, then death would be seen as a condition of communion with Allah. Thus, death, which causes shivers in most people, is transformed into eagerness of union with “the highest friend” (al-rafīq al-a‘lā). This kind of death is like “Shab-i ‘Arūs,” the wedding night as expressed by Rūmī, one of the greatest Sufis. Death has transformed from a terrible reality into something beautiful. The only way for such “beautification of death” is to increase in spirituality by following the conditions we have described. The best way is expressed in the verse “And serve your Lord until there comes to you the hour that is certain.” (Hijr, 15:99) That is, be a proper servant to Him to the last breath. How happy are the ones who can return to their Lord before death comes!

O our Lord, let us wake up to the real world by catching the essence of “Die before death comes to you,” and behold the universe with consciousness.