Reflections on Grief and Bereavement from an Islamic Perspective (Part II)

6. The end of times is marked by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, natural disasters and massive deaths

Whenever a serious catastrophe hits this world, we see headlines speaking of the ‘apocalypse’. It is surely the weak human’s incapacity to imagine greater damage or his need to justify any of his reactions to what is happening.

Our belief is that the advent of Allāh’s Messenger ﷺ was in itself one of the signs of the end of times. Was not he called the Prophet of the end of times/ākhir az-zamān?

عن سهل بن سعد رضي الله عنه عن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم قال: ”بُعِثْتُ أنا والساعةَ هكذا“، ويُشير بإصبعيه فيَمُدُّ بهما. 

Sahl bin Sa`d narrated: “I saw Allāh’s Messenger ﷺ join his index and middle fingers and say: “The time of my Advent and the Hour are like these two fingers.” 

This means that by all means, we have been living at the end of times for a long time already.

7. The scale of death

We tend to think, collectively as humans, that the end of time may be in a couple of centuries or millennia. People are no longer living in great numbers for 150 years. It is not common any more. 

It may be more ‘practical’ to consider our individual possible life expectancy with a few facts in mind:

  • The average life expectancy is around 70;
  • The age of wisdom mentioned in the Quran is 40 (that is when the human most probably realizes he only has one life and starts living a new, changed one);
  • The time for any human to depart from this life is not known to any existing being (only Allāh’s knows);
  • Life expectancy is our time trickling down the sand timer in our ghafla/headlessness.

8. Ghafla/heedlessness

Our first ghafla builds up when we live as if our modern ease and conveniences replace the truth of this life.

The repetition of our daily life routines, commitments, and habits in the dunya veils our perception. It is a headlessness/ghafla which diminishes our capacity to see the truth of things.

When we lean into these conditions, life starts to feel like it is only getting better, as in

وَكَانَ لَهُ ثَمَرٌ فَقَالَ لِصَاحِبِهِ وَهُوَ يُحَاوِرُهُ أَنَا أَكْثَرُ مِنكَ مَالًا وَأَعَزُّ نَفَرًا (34) وَدَخَلَ جَنَّتَهُ وَهُوَ ظَالِمٌ لِّنَفْسِهِ قَالَ مَا أَظُنُّ أَن تَبِيدَ هَٰذِهِ أَبَدًا (35) وَمَا أَظُنُّ السَّاعَةَ قَائِمَةً وَلَئِن رُّدِدتُّ إِلَىٰ رَبِّي لَأَجِدَنَّ خَيْرًا مِّنْهَا مُنقَلَبًا (36)“

34. And he had [abundant] fruit and said unto his companion as he conversed with him, “I am greater than you in wealth and stronger in men.” 35 And he entered his garden, wronging himself, and said, “I think not that this will ever perish. 36 Nor do I think that the Hour is imminent. And if I am brought back to my Lord, I shall surely find something better than this in the Hereafter.” (Al-Kahf, 18: 34-36)

We can find safety and resort to security in building codes, processes and technologies. Building the means of our ease and safety and being diligent in doing it is the saʿy/striving Allāh enjoins upon us. But the truth is that even in our striving and diligence, our ultimate and genuine sense of safety has to come from Allāh and our consciousness of Him Subhānahu wa Ta’ālā.

As Prophet Noah(Alayhi Salām) said to his son, the truth is:

“لا عاصِمَ اليَوْمَ مِن أَمْرِ اللهِ إِلَّا مَن رَّحِم” (سورة هود، الآية 43)

“There is no protector on this day from the Command of God, save for the one upon whom He has Mercy.” (Hūd, 11:43)

Prophet Noah (AS)  was speaking of that particular day which saw the onset of the deluge but it is a statement which is  true in all times and under all circumstances. 

Trials have the power to remind us of al-Haq and of the One Who has Command over everything.

لِمَنِ الْمُلْكُ الْيَوْمَ لِلَّهِ الْوَاحِدِ الْقَهَّارِ“ (سورة غافر، الآية 16)

“Whose is the sovereignty this Day? It is Allāh’s, the One, the Ever Compeller” (Ghāfir, 40:16)

Sovereignty is Allāh’s on that Day, today, yesterday and at all moments with no exception. No matter what levels of authority we accept, before them all and more than any of them, awareness of Allāh’s sovereignty should be present with us, always. 

9. Degrees of the sense of fear and safety

وَكَيْفَ أَخَافُ مَآ أَشْرَكْتُمْ وَلَا تَخَافُونَ أَنَّكُمْ أَشْرَكْتُم بِٱللَّهِ مَا لَمْ يُنَزِّلْ بِهِۦ عَلَيْكُمْ سُلْطَٰنًا ۚ فَأَىُّ ٱلْفَرِيقَيْنِ أَحَقُّ بِٱلْأَمْنِ ۖ إِن كُنتُمْ تَعْلَمُونَ“ (سورة الأنعام، الآية 81)

“How should I fear the partners you ascribe, when you do not fear ascribing partners unto Allāh for which He has sent down to you no authority? So which of the two parties has greater right to security, if you know?” (Al-Anʿām, 6: 81)

In this verse, we are informed of two parties: those who are granted security and safety on the one hand, and those who are clearly lacking it on the other. In this verse, Prophet Ibrāhīm, peace and blessings be upon him, explains that he is not in a position to be fearful of those which the disbelievers associate with Allāh. He is also surprised that the associators were not afraid that they in fact associated with Allāh things which He had not sent down any authority to them. Peace and tranquillity are achieved in our relationship and awareness of Allāh. Doubt, hesitation and agitation are the state of those who are not anchored in that certainty.

10. The truth of grief in this life will be revealed to us

عن أنس بن مالك، قال: قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: ”يؤتى يوم القيامة بأنعم أهل الدنيا من الكفار، فيقال: اغمسوه في النار غمسة، فيغمس فيها، ثم يخرج، ثم يقال له: أي فلان هل أصابك نعيم قط؟ فيقول: لا، ما أصابني نعيم قط، ويؤتى بأشد المؤمنين ضرا، وبلاء، فيقال: اغمسوه غمسة في الجنة، فيغمس فيها غمسة، فيقال له: أي فلان هل أصابك ضر قط، أو بلاء، فيقول: ما أصابني قط ضر، ولا بلاء.“ سنن ابن ماجة

Anas ibn Mālik related that the Prophet ﷺ said: “On the Day of Resurrection, the disbeliever who had the best worldly life is brought and it is said: ‘Dip him once in the fire.’ When he is dipped in it and pulled out of it, he is asked: ‘O [his name], have you ever experienced/tasted any goodness in your life?’ He answers: ‘No, never.’ Then a the believer who was hurt the most and went through the worst of worldly trials is brought and it is said: ‘Dip him in the Garden once.’ When he is dipped in it and pulled out of it, he is asked: ‘O [his name], have you ever experienced/suffered any harm or turmoil in your life?’ He answers: ‘I have never been through any harm or turmoil.’” [Sunan Ibn Māja, 4321]

Now, what can we do?

  • The question of what we ‘can do’ is not asked in the sense of how to ‘fix’ the catastrophe or ‘remove’ it. What we ‘can do’ in the sense of how to live through the trial so we reap the insights of wisdom that are embedded like jewels in it and which raise us to the ranks Allāh bestowed on us by His incommensurable Mercy. 

What we learnt in our upbringing, in the Western model of the modern school, is that we are defined by our amplified actions. We also learnt to feel at the loss of how to repair or come to help. 

This is legitimate and, as Muslims – people who surrender to the Will of Allāh – we consider all actions taken to be wājib/duty – do we not answer ‘thanks’ by literally saying in Arabic: 

لا شكر على واجب!

‘No thanks required for an act of duty’.

But the persistent question remains: what can we ‘do’? What we ‘can do’ is to ask Allāh for His luṭf, that is gentleness in His decrees. 

اللَّهُ لَطِيفٌ بِعِبَادِهِ يَرْزُقُ مَن يَشَاءُ ۖ وَهُوَ الْقَوِيُّ الْعَزِيزُ“ (سورة الشورى، الآية 19) 

“Allāh is kind unto His servants; He provides for whomsoever He will, and He is the Overpoweringly Strong, the Almighty.” (Al-Shūrā, 42:19)

His luṭf is there present at all times, but we become more conscious of it when we feel the need for it and even more when we ask for it.

The tradition of reciting the divine Name al-Laṭīf/the Subtle/the All-Kind in times of upheavals was widely spread in north Africa for example. It was known for its efficiency to remedy all kinds of oppression, so much so that the French colonizers banned it and other kinds of supplications such as the du’ā’ an-Nāsirī, the prayer of the oppressed, in mosques and mahdarāt (Quranic schools). The du’ā’ an-Nāsirī used to be recited systematically as the closing supplication of every learning day in Morocco before it was banned.

What we ‘can do’ is to answer Allāh’s call:

فَفِرُّوا إِلَى اللَّهِ ۖ“ (سورة الذاريات، الآية 50)

“So flee unto Allāh” (Al-Dhāriyāt, 51: 50)

Because, in the turmoil as in the absence of it, the truth remains:

لَّا مَلْجَأَ مِنَ اللهِ إِلَّا إِلَيْهِ“ (سورة التوبة، الآية 118)

“..there is no refuge from Allāh, save with Him” (al-Tawbah, 8: 118).

Kaoutar El Mernissi,
New York,

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