by Abdul Azeez Tunbosun
One of the most emphasized teachings in Islam, which is also shared by the other Abrahamic faiths, is that life is transient. We came from somewhere, journeying on a mission and will definitely return at an undisclosed time. The reality of the unknown time of return is a mystery which encourages us to make the most of whatever time we might have. The reality of death is an awareness that makes humans reflect and find meaning in life.
In the book “What the living can do for the dead”, the author Shaharul Hussain references a speech by Steve Jobs as thus: “When I was 17, I read a quote that said something like: If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right. It created an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today? Whenever the answer had been no for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something…” he continued. “Right now, the new is you, but someday not too long from now; you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Pardon me for being too elucidative, but it’s quite true. Your time is limited, so don’t waste your time living someone else’s life.” Not sure if Steve Jobs believes in life after death, but the reality of death helps him pursue things meaningfully, knock out distractions and put him on track to achieve his goals as quickly as possible. The concept is not even about the shortness or longevity of life but the reality of the unknown; no one knows when and how. If that message sinks rightly, we will pay less or no attention to 90% of what most of us do with our time.
On one of my trips, I had a 12-hour stopover in Ethiopia. Knowing this before the trip I was excited, not because it is my first time to have a stopover there, but the first time I will have the opportunity to see the landscape of the city. Ethiopia is special to me being an ancient place and because of its connection to many stories in the Abrahamic scriptures, like the Queen of Sheba – Balqis, the Abyssinian king Negus who accepted the Muslim Migrants from Makkah, and the acclaimed origin of the prominent companion Bilal, the first to make the call to prayer and one who maintained that position throughout the life of Prophet Muhammad (SAW).
So, I was nostalgic while anticipating seeing and driving through this ancient city. Due to document clearance procedures coupled with the COVID-19 protocols, we arrived at the hotel late in the night. The city was already asleep, and I was really tired too upon entering the hotel room. While I assessed the facilities at the hotel I had conflicted thoughts of how such facilities are just too unnecessary for me. A space to have a nice sleep and shower the next morning will suffice. Anyway, I tried putting on the TV to catch some programs and just to have a feeling of the Ethiopian lifestyle, but the TV refused to turn on. I did my best to check what was wrong technically but I was unable to fix it. Then, I thought of calling the hotel management to check it for me. I was about to dial the line when a thought rang in my head, reminding me of my tiredness and teary sleepy eyes. I needed to sleep and regain strength for the journey ahead. At that time, I had just 3 to 4 hours to sleep, so I decided to sleep. The next day was a Sunday. I did not only see the city but also saw the Ethiopian Orthodox Christians dressed in their white robes and covered like Muslims attending church service. I paid attention to every detail I could lay my eyes on till we got to the airport. The experience was short but exciting and, to an extent, a fulfilling one. The lesson here is, I listened to my instinct which reminded me the primary goal of my stay in the hotel was to rest and not to engage in other secondary activities. If I had decided to go ahead with watching TV, I don’t know what could have happened to my health. At the least I would have been too sleepy in the car to notice the city activity on the beautiful Sunday morning and maybe too tired to go clear my papers before the immigration for the next trip which may further lead to stress. This is a depiction of a transient experience. Knowing what matters most and not being distracted by flimsy matters, especially when the end time is unknown and every minute counts.
A mentor of mine has taken upon himself every time he has the opportunity to lecture, to remind people the source of our confusion is the neglect of the primary goals laid down in the Qur’an which is calling our attention to how fixated we are in the pursuit of worldly affairs, neglecting the central message of our existence. We indulge in major sins to satisfy our desires without them bothering us. The reality of modern life is such that big sins have become normalized. We engage in all forms of distractions and time-wasters. We police people on tertiary issues. We condemn and damn others for not sharing our perspectives. We are not open-minded. We fall short in the understanding of self, values, responsibilities and things to earn us salvation. When we busy ourselves with being the best of our versions, distractions will naturally fade away. People who have effectively done this are those who actually understand the reality of death and time. This is a design from the Creator and a reminder for every soul.
Before turning yourself into a sniffing police dog that checks who is right or wrong on a path, be sure you have healed yourself of all the diseases of the heart. Every effort to cleanse yourself spiritually and morally helps you stay alive and far from being toxic. The inner cleansing will naturally beautify the outer body. It does not work the other way. I mean, nothing is worth the energy except that which will earn you the pleasure of Allah. Busy yourself with such pleasant activities, and if you are true to yourself, every other thing will naturally fall into place. The gift of wisdom will deepen with every occurrence calling for appreciation.
Remember, you are a traveller. While on your journey, know your primary goal, take care of your survival needs to keep you moving, and every other thing is just like putting salad on a plate of jollof rice that was already adorned with fried beef. Regardless of the salad, the meal is already complete. Understanding this concept enables every other matter or competition to be taken in the spirit of sportsmanship. That is a virtuous spirit that embodies fairness, self-control, courage, and persistence. Stay energized, stay positive, be open-minded and let your faith in your God – the one you are returning to – be unshakable.