Saturday, 25 September 2010
Visiting the Dead
بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ
I have always had an affinity of sorts with the cemetery. I believe the dead are nicer than the living. After my shaykh passed away, I realised I spent more time there. There are periods where I go once a month. And there are times I go twice or thrice a week. It has become a walk in the garden. And most of the time, I go at night or early in the morning. The other place I love to go to is Maqam Habib Nuh (q.s.). It is like visiting an old friend.
The dead are not so dead. Perhaps, they are more alive. We are the dead. We are the sleeping. We are the heedless. We are the ones immersed in dunya, heedless of what comes after. We live as if this world is forever. This world is a dream. It is but a mere moment in time. For even if we lived a thousand years, it would still end. There is no life. There is only the interval between waking. Before we were born, we have been in the Presence. And then, there was the Day of Promises. We affirmed that He is One. And that we will come back to Him.
When thy Lord Drew forth from the Children of Adam - from their loins - their descendants, and made them testify concerning themselves, (saying): "Am I not your Lord (Who Cherishes and Sustains you)?" - They said: "Yea! We do testify!" (This), lest ye should say on the Day of Judgment: "Of this we were never mindful." (Surah al-A’araf:172)
What liars we are. We are the cheating lovers, the whores of dunya. And like the tragic Beloved, He Knew. But for Love, we are still here, with a chance of Redemption. Everyone reading this knows what is like to lose in love, to have been cheated on, to have been dumped, to have been lied to. We are all the owners of shattered hearts. And yet, we are its purveyors also. What are the cuts of this world when you have turned away from the Ultimate Truth, the Beloved, the Hidden Treasure that Created us and Invested in us the Secrets and the Names?
We look with the eyes of the heart when we visit the dead. And see them as if we are one with them. Some of the graves have become beautiful monuments, visions of colour, tributes of affection, the promise of remembrance. The grave beneath is lonely. Not a prison, but a cage. And how many generations remember those that came before? We look at those graves as they decay, how the plants are overgrown, how the marble is cracked, how the mold has effaced the etchings. That is fate. To be forgotten by those that forget. To be Remembered by the One Who Remembers. The Beloved has never forgotten us.
There are graves, where the dead line up. No longer kings, or directors, or presidents, or anything of any sort. Their vestments of honour are rags. Those that can come out, they line the path of those who visit. And they are beggers. Not for our money. Or our wealth. Or our life. They want a du’a. Our al-Fatihah, your YaSin. It is the food of the soul. And the soul that has neglected ‘ibadah is a starving soul. They have wasted their lives feeding the body which is dead with all that is dead. And the soul which is alive has been starved of food for the living - the dzikrullah.
There are those inside, they sit in a half-squat. And there they wait for our du’a. That they may sit during its duration. And these are the milder punishments. There are those who scream in such terror that if the living were to hear, they would fall sick. Can we not hear the moans? And the pain? It is not a physical torture. It is the Knowing. We know where we are most likely going from the moment we die. We know we have been Away, and now, the Beloved has Turned from us if we have not repented ad remembered in time. Once, when I was with Raden Sayyid (q.s.), I asked about the grave. And he replied, “If you were to see the tortures of the grave, you would go mad with terror. You will not be able to live your life.”
There are parts of the cemetery, where the air is cold. There are parts, where it is warm. This is regardless of the weather. There are parts that smell of flowers and the scent of the Garden. And there are parts that smell of decay regardless of how long the bodies have been there. Every grave has guardians. They are the watchers. There are those Sent by Allah (s.w.t.) to instruct the occupants within on Sacred Knowledge that they sought in life. And there are those whose good deeds have been made manifest. There is Light for those of iman, ‘ilm and sincerity. And their graves are as wide as palaces. And there is a window to the Garden. And just as there are infinite Gardens for the Believers, there are infinite delights for them in the ghayb. They are in a constant state of worship and supplication. They are free to leave with permission and the awliya’ spend much time in the company of the Blessed, in the Association of the Prophet (s.a.w.) in the Divine Presence, just as they did in life. From Ramadhan until the Day of ‘Arafah, most of them are in Makkah.
But more graves have jailers. There are those punished in the grave that Allah (s.w.t.) may Say they have had enough there and thus may enter the Garden. And there are those whose punishment in the grave is only a prelude to the real terrors of the Fire. Where do we want to be? There are some graves that are bare. Even the grass is not permitted to grow on them and dzikr for their relief. There are graves covered in thorns, no matter what one may plant on it. And there are graves infested by centipedes. There was funeral once, where the mourners ran away when a swarm of wasps appeared. Until a man came and said, “Bury the body. They are not here for you.” And when they put the body in the grave, there was a black snake at the bottom of the grave and it crawled in with the corpse.
There was another funeral, of a man who died young. But they could not bury the body. The earth refused to accept it. And then a man came and said he would deal with it. But they mourners had to walk away and not look back. And they did. But the younger brother of the deceased was curious. And so he crept back to see and saw the corpse burn. And the left side of his face had a scar as if he was burnt for disobeying Divine Instructions.
There are bodies, when washed, the forehead is black, and the hands are black and the eyes refuse to close. At the moment the Angel of Death comes to take our soul, we know the Truth of your State. It is Affirmed. If we have neglected the soul, it feels oceans of thirst, for all the ‘ibadah we missed. And the soul is torn from the body with such force that the pain will shake a mountain. And there are those, like Shaykh Zakaria (q.s.), where the soul was eased out from the body over several days from the head down. And thus memory was the first to go. It is the waking from a dream. How Gentle is He with His Believers. Allah (s.w.t.) may Have a soul Taken like the tearing of silk from a thorn bush, or like the removal of a thread from a bowl of flour without moving so much as a tiny grain of that flour.
For ten years, I went to the Maqam of Habib Nuh (q.s.). I was always there at the lowest points of my life as a Muslim. And then one day, I actually met him. And I asked, “How come after all those years; you never said anything?”
He replied, “Because until now, although you gave salam, you never introduced yourself.” And Habib Taha Albar taught me to sign my name. Habib (q.s.) also requested that for those who visit his maqam, to pay respects to the maqam of Habib ‘Abdur Rahman bin Salim al-Habshy (q.s.), just behind. He is dear to Habib Nuh (q.s.). He was Singapore’s first qadhi, an ‘alim in his own right. And he says he is lonely sometimes.
There was once, a few months ago, when I was in a state of loss. And I sat there and I chanted the Names, thousands upon thousands upon thousands of times. I was there for several days from morning until maghrib. I had made ni’at to do a certain recitation 10,000 times. Shaythan came and whispered into my heart that it was all in vain. I felt despair and I walked out. In the rain. Along the road, a car stopped. And it was someone I knew and he was visiting the Maqam and asked if I wanted to go there. So I got into the car and we drove back.
When we got to the Maqam, the shaykh there was searching for me. He said that Habib (q.s.) was asking where I went since I did not have permission to leave the Maqam. And so I stayed and completed what I had intended. Keep your promises to Allah (s.w.t.) that He is Pleased to Keep His Promises with you. And how Magnificent is His Pleasure. It is but waves of Ecstasy from His Oceans of Pleasure.
So we should visit the dead. And often. For we will join them sooner than we often think. And perhaps do a bit of gardening. Especially the graves of those we do not know. See the signs and remember. Put flowers and plants on the graves for as long as they are green, there is dzikr for those beneath and their punishment is lifted. Avoid putting ayat of the Qur’an on the tombstone for the words disintegrate and that is not the way to treat the Words of Allah (s.w.t.). The secret is in the recitation, not fancy calligraphy. And whenever we pass a grave, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, give them salam for they know the Truth. There is no such thing as non-Muslim dead. The dead all know who their Rabb is. And if we can, recite for them, al-Fatiha or swalawat. For there is a Blessing in that which most cannot see.