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Wayfarers 25 February 2007

Posted by EDITOR in GUESTS, Spirituality.
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Our guest contributor this week is Asma T Uddin, a Philadelphia-based attorney and associate editor at Islamica Magazine.

I work at a large corporate law firm and share a secretary with a senior partner whose office is two down from mine. Today, she informed me that the partner’s father had passed away. I had heard him speaking of his father’s illness, whether in hushed tones or in a loud frenzy as he ran out of the office to see his father at the hospital each day. I guess I knew this was coming.

The inevitability of death is something I’ve come to know really well, actually. When my dad was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer at the age of 55, without a single prior day of any actual real sickness, I started thinking about death. It wasn’t a thought I revealed to others, especially since I knew that they were thinking of it and hiding their thoughts of it as well. Death had always been inevitable but still unthinkable. And to think of it made it real, more palpable, more inescapable. Death was defeatist.

I think in the process of hiding my thoughts of death from others, I fell into a habit of hiding it from myself, too. That’s a weird thing…to hide your thoughts from yourself. I’d be in the midst of my daily activities when the thought would occur to me: “My father is dying.” And then I’d quickly return to my work, afraid to acknowledge the very fact I had thought. I didn’t appreciate my mind sneaking up on me like that.

But now, five months after he passed away, I think about death all the time. I am not afraid of it. I am not even afraid of telling people that I am thinking of it. (Hence, this blog post.) Sometimes I think of it to remind myself of the Hereafter or of the preciousness of the here and now or of the need to think of the big picture and not let the little things bring me down. All those good, functional uses of death-thoughts. But mostly, I think of death because life, in all its glorious redundancy, makes me think of it. Something about all of us living formulaic lives—despite some people’s honest attempt to escape from mediocrity—is reminiscent of death. Or maybe the death-thoughts themselves make life seem redundant. Who knows, who cares.

It seems so ungrateful, so non-spiritual, so unIslamic to think of life in this way. But I can’t help it. I can’t help thinking the modern impulse to embrace and almost worship youthfulness is—besides just an escape from the inevitable—an encapsuling of something sort of pitiful. Being young is overrated. Live life, make the most of it… and be done with it.

I used to think in more ambitious, inspirational terms, appreciating life for its potential and working hard to realize that potential. I still work hard; I still embrace humanity. I just don’t take life so seriously anymore. I no longer see it as inherently deep and meaningful. Life is temporal, the world is temporal, we’re all going to die. The world truly is a mere bridge to the Hereafter, and we are merely wayfarers. I guess I have become blind to the supposed beauty of it all.

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Comments»

1. The Turk - 26 February 2007

well, actually I believe islamically you are not far off. Life is to be spent like we are strangers passing through the night or something like that. Seems you are doing that. Islamically as far I know; we are forbidden to become morbid and fanataise death to the point of suicide or brazen death defying attempts of foolishness to bring death quicker.

2. Asma - 26 February 2007

many people have responded to the piece in a similar way – i.e. by pointing out that the mindset i speak of is quite islamic. when looked at objectively, i agree, though a part of me is still convinced that there’s something unislamic about being a wayfarer who is blind to the beauty of the journey.

still, i realize that this is likely a step to a higher spiritual stage, inshaAllah…

3. Sahar - 26 February 2007

You’re not blinded, Asma–just lost your taste for finite things. God does that for his loved ones every now and then–refines our taste and redirects our desire for infinity.

Death is so real, no? The great equalizer. The cure for materialism, complacency, conceit, forgetfulness. The thing that makes you feel every moment, breath, heartbeat. The thing that really let’s you connect with humanity. The thing that drives you crazy to see people hurt each other or complain about petty stuff, like–Dude, why are you wasting your breath? Don’t you know we’re all going to die?

You’re not blinded. The beauty of stopping to smell the roses does come back. It just takes time. Remembering death is the beginning point of spirituality, and you’ll see, the roses are much more beautiful, and that much greater of a miracle, than you ever imagined before this experience.

4. Asma - 26 February 2007

thank you for your comment, sahar…you make me excited about what’s in store. and it’s fascinating that you refer to the ‘smell the roses’ cliche, since several others have referred to life as a rose in their response to this piece…e.g. Mozaffar said the dunya is a rose and life is about learning to cultivate the rose, while knowing that it will one day die. your reference to the rose reminds me of his and adds a dimension to the age-old adage.

(strangely, sarah said the post reminded her of American Beauty, and though I can’t see the connection, the movie uses the red-rose symbol as well)


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