At the funeral

Three sombre and reflective questions you must ask yourself

There is a new trend at funerals, it’s called ‘a happy send-off’, often accompanied by fireworks and lots of cheering. However, for most of us, a funeral is still a very sombre occasion (serious, sad and solemn) and a time for deep reflection. Death and funeral is a subject that we often avoid thinking about, it seems macabre and too challenging so we leave it for others to organise for us. Often when I conduct a Janaza (a funeral service) it is done in a sombre, subdued and sorrowful tone, and I would say; “Beloved friends, and especially you who are mourners on this occasion, it is not difficult for me to sympathise with you, I am deeply moved by the outpouring of love and sorrow from all around the city because I regard the departure of this dear brother a great loss for all of us …”

Recently I gave a talk at a funeral of a family friend, I asked the congregation three questions to create a reflective mood, these questions may help to make our lives more meaningful and purposeful. The three provocative questions were:

  1. Who will be present at your funeral?
  2. What legacy will you leave behind?
  3. Did you live a life that pleased your Creator?

It is best to realise the only true and worthwhile investment that pays the biggest dividend is when you invest your life in people, especially the ones who will be crying at your funeral. Abdullah made a very large investment in the future of the world. In fact, his life at the end can serve as a model for each of us about where we should invest our life so we will leave something behind that is of value. He left two groups something and by the way, these two groups were probably the only ones who were crying at his funeral. Firstly, his family and relatives and secondly, his colleagues and workmates. When people are on the death bed some remarkable confessions are made. However, no one on their death bed says, “I wish I would have spent more time at the office.”

The second question is regarding what legacy will you leave behind? What kind of investment are you making right now for your future generations? Family and friends, the community, your city and finally, can you ask yourself, did I manage to live a meaningful and purposeful life that was pleasing to my Creator?

The Prophet of Islam Muhammad (peace be upon him) said, “when a person dies his works come to an end since he can no longer do anything, however for three things that continue to accumulate reward for him; an endowment in a charity that he has left behind, knowledge he has spread or a righteous child he has left behind who prays for him” (Muslim).

What we fear most about death is that we will die alone and that we will die without meaning. However, our faith promises that our death need not be lonely nor meaningless. The real hope is not that there is a machine that will save our life but that God is there and will be closer to us than our own breath.

The third question regarding have I managed to please my Lord in my life? When Pir Muhammad Karam Shah was diagnosed with prostate cancer and on the operating table his family stood around him solemnly, weeping and naturally commiserating, he looked at them all and said “I am ready for any eventuality, I have lived for my Lord and if this be the end then I am ready to meet him”. This kind of confidence in the face of death doesn’t happen by accident. Pir Muhammad Karam Shah looked death in the face and said, “I am ready, I have always believed, He created death and life to test who does charitable deeds”.

The Quran’s description of worldly life

Here is a vivid and moving description of worldly life in the Majestic Quran;

Bear in mind that the present life is just a game, an amusement, an ornament, the cause of boasting among you, and desire for more wealth and children. It’s like plants growing after the rainfall, their growth at first delights the farmers, but then they wither away turning yellow and becoming stubble. In the hereafter, there will be severe punishment as well as forgiveness and divine pleasure, the worldly life is only a charming object. Therefore, hurry to your Lord’s forgiveness and a garden, as wide as the heavens, prepared for those who believe in God and his messengers” (Al Hadid: 20-21).

The messenger’s (peace be upon him) prayer, “O Lord there is no life except the life of the hereafter” accurately sheds light on the reality of worldly life. No matter what title I have today whether it’s Mr, Dr, Professor or Allama, in the end, I will be called a body, a corpse, simply a Mayyat. Today I live in a luxurious house with all the comforts of life but in the end, I will be laid to rest in a dingy grave, the qabbar, or the maqbara from which the English word macabre is derived. Today I drive a prestigious car a Mercedes or Range Rover but in the end, I will be taken in a hearse. Today I wear a fancy stylish Gucci suit, they all delight the onlooker but in the end, I will wear the Kafan, a shroud, three pieces of unsewn cloth. Today I fly far and wide all over the world but in the end, I will fly off with the common visa “everyone shall taste death“.

Asma bint Yazid reports that when the bier of Sa’ad ibn Muaz was lifted her mother screamed and wailed, the messenger (peace be upon him) said to her “your tears should stop now and sorrow vanish since your son is the first one for whom God has smiled and the Divine throne trembled. Soon he will be in delightful paradise, the gardens of bliss with streams flowing gently, their banks lined with green lush trees” (Tabrani).

Mohammed Asad gives a moving account of how he became a Muslim in 1926 and he returned home, earlier that day he had been travelling in Berlin underground and all-around he noticed people who were well dressed, well fed, however, their faces were blank as though they were suffering, their sufferings were hidden and Asad says that impression was so strong that I mentioned it to my wife when I got home. Then he says, “I happened to glance at my desk where there was an open a copy of the Quran. I had been reading earlier that day. Mechanically, I picked the book up to put it away, but just as I was about to close it, my eyes fell on the open page before me, and I read: “You are obsessed by greed for more and more until you go down to your graves. Nay, but you will come to know!

Here is another hadith that explains the needs of the dead in the grave. The Messenger (peace be upon him) said “the dead person in the grave is like a sinking person waiting for the prayers of their beloved parents, father or mother, children or brother or sister or friends and whenever they make a prayer for them it is the dearest gift they receive and because of their prayers they receive showering of divine mercy”. The gift a living person can give the dead is to seek forgiveness for them and recite the Majestic Quran for them as well as giving charity on their behalf.