The ultimate journey
In the Name of Allah, the Beneficent the Merciful
Surely the Almighty alone has the knowledge of the Hour… He knows what is in the womb; No soul knows what tomorrow will bear; and no one knows in what land he will die. Surely, He is all-knowing… (Q. 31:34)
BRETHEN, attend any prayer in your neighbourhood and you would hear the Imam supplicate passionately to the Almighty on behalf of the congregation for more of His favours. One of the ‘prayer points’ is usually that the Almighty should protect the congregation against ‘sudden death’. You would likely hear him as he says: “Protect us O! God! from accidents on the road, from death while in sleep, from …”. The Imam usually supplicate against all possible predisposing factors to death though human experience shows that all these incidences are usually deployed by the Almighty as causes in order for His decree to come to pass. We all also know, dear brethren, that each day the sun rises, it signals the birth of a child and the death of another; the rise to fame of a group and the descent of another into infamy. Since the primordial period, my dear brethren, humanity has learnt that to be born is to keep a date with death; to emerge from the womb into life is to book a space in the tomb.
Brethren, that brother probably travelled to Saudi Arabia to perform the Umra. He could have begun the spiritual journey in Makkah, before his onward journey to Madinah to visit the Prophet’s mosque. He could even have been a citizen of Saudi Arabia who enjoyed the uncommon privilege of being a neighbor to the holiest sites in Islamic weltanschauung.
No matter the tenor of the narrative and notwithstanding the possibilities in his biography, that brother of yours and mine actually entered the Prophet’s mosque that particular day like other worshippers. He took his position amidst the worshippers of the creator of the heavens and the earth; he joined the congregation in order to raise his voice and glorify the name of Almighty Allah. Yes, he raised his voice and said Allahu Akbar- that the Almighty is Great: that the Almighty is greater than everything he owned in the world; that He is greater than everything humans covet in this perishable planet. He raised his two hands in an expression of his nothingness in relation to His majesty; he raised his two hands to affirm his awareness that he came to the world with nothing and that when the ‘hour’ comes he shall leave with nothing except his worship of the Almighty and the good deeds he puts forward.
Brethren that brother of yours and mine said Allahu Akbar. He could have recited the first chapter, Surah al-Fatiha, and another chapter from the Qur’an, the last testament. After a short while he bowed his head, in the ruku’ posture, like other worshippers in the mosque. There he said ‘subhanna Rabbi al-Adhim”- glory be to my lord, the Great. According to al-Ghazalli in his book al-Maqsad al-Asna, when reference is made to an entity as being great, two possibilities come to mind: that entity whose greatness is receptive and perceptible to the eye and that whose greatness is inconceivable for human vision to encompass such as the heavens and the earth. He goes further to say that when reference is made to the Almighty as The Great it is because His essence (Kunh) is beyond perception. Thus any greatness applied to one other than the Almighty is deficient and invalid.
Thereafter, dear brethren, our brother proceeded from the rukuu’ to the sajdah. The sajdah posture, you would remember, is the closest station the servant can reach on this planet earth in relation to the Almighty. In the sajdah posture, dear brethren, our forehead, our two palms, our two knees and the toes of our foot (the seven points of submission to the Almighty) should touch the ground. The sajdah posture is usually observed twice in our prayer and each of them carries great lessons for our contemplation.
When the Muslim worshipper puts his forehead on the ground in obeisance and in submission to the Almighty, he practically humbles himself. By bringing our forehead to the ground, Muslims engage in willful self-immolation in front of their creator. The Muslim worshipper who brings his forehead to touch the ground enters into a covenant with the Almighty; such a Muslim is saying she would not, no matter how austere or prosperous the circumstance becomes, serve any other principal apart from His Majesty.
In the sajdah posture nests one other important lesson. When the Muslim worshipper puts his head on the ground and raises it, he brings to mind the fact that it is from the earth he was created; when he goes back to put his forehead on the ground, he becomes attentive to the reality that sooner or later he shall, at his demise, be returned back to the earth; when he raises his head from the ground once again, he is aware that no matter how long he stays in his grave or tomb, he shall be resurrected from the earth on the day of judgment: “We have created you from the earth, into it We shall return you and from it We shall bring you back to life once again (Quran 20: 55).
Dear Brethren, after a long while during which he remained transfixed on the same spot, his forehead firmly glued to the ground, his hands spread out as if they had become wings like that of the bird in space, his fellow worshippers became aware that their brother had departed this world. He had died while in Salat, in prostration to the Almighty Allah, in the hallowed space of the Prophets mosque in Madinah!!!
What are the matters arising from the incident, dear Brethren? I thought the nodus of the matter is exemplified in the preface to this sermon. Thus I call on you to read and ponder Surat Luqman, verse thirty-four. The Almighty reminds us that the knowledge of five entities in our world has not and will never be given to anybody: the knowledge of the “hour”- the hour in which you and I will depart this world, the hour in which resurrection will take place; the knowledge of the means and time by and in which our sustenance will come to us; the knowledge not only of the gender of the fetus in the womb immediately conception takes place but more importantly the destiny and trajectories of its sojourn on earth; the knowledge of what lies ahead of each one of us each time the sun rise; and ultimately the knowledge of where our death will meet us. All these realities are firmly under the control of the Almighty.
Brethren in faith, let us compare the destiny of that man who died in his prayer with that other ‘big’ man who died in an hotel while engaging in illicit sexual relations with an harlot? Who between the two stands a chance of enjoying eternal redemption? Ask yourself this question: whenever the Almighty ‘knocks on your door’, would you confidently say ‘come in the door is unlocked”?
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