Prof. Dr. Cihan Okuyucu
Our conception of Death
Many foreign travelers who visited the old Istanbul noted how the graves and graveyards were interdispersed throughout the city. In contrast with western cities which keep themselves distant from the dead, residents of Istanbul live among the dead. Many houses throughout Istanbul are facing graveyards or shrines. Women and children look out from their balconies upon them without fear as if they were gardens or parks. When the men head to their jobs in the morning their path often leads them past grave-stones. During the Islamic Holidays (Bayrams), these urban graveyards become busy and look more like city parks with the children playing hide and seek among the historical grave-stones. The togetherness of life and the after life, which is difficult for a person who is from a different culture to understand, can only be explained through the overall positive outlook upon death that originally came to the people through the Islamic Tasawwuf tradition. And with this understanding, there is surely no doubt that Hazret-i Mevlâna’s viewpoint about death makes an important contribution to this perspective. After this introductory, now we can move on to the thoughts (opinions) and understanding about death in the Masnavi. We can say that there are two main concepts (type) of death that are mentioned in the Masnavi. One of them is the “biological” death and the other one is the “iradi-voluntary” islah-e nafs which is the reformation of nafs-ego.
1. Biological Death
Hazrat Mawlana, like other scholars who were ahead of their times, explains the biological death as the dissolving and returning to its origin of the four main elements that make up the body. The body is the end result of the unification of these four main elements. The soul comes from the heavens and also joins with these elements and the creation of a human is complete. When the time for the death arrives, like a “straw-puller” pulls straw to itself, every element in the body is pulled towards its origin. “The amber loves (the straw) with the appearance of wanting naught, (while) the straw is making efforts (to advance) on that long road. [Masnavi, III: 4447- Nicholson]”
The earth (soil) recalls the earth of the body (flesh) to itself just as water recalls the water of the body, fire recalls the heat of the body, and the air recalls the air of the body all back to their selves. [These elements are four birds with their legs tied (together): death and sickness and disease loose their legs. When it (death) has released their legs from one another, assuredly every bird-element flies away. [Masnavi, III: 4428-29] Thus all of the elements that were bound to each other by their feet in life return to their origin. At this time the soul calls out to these elements which are happy to return to their origins: [The soul says, “O my base earthly parts, my exile is more bitter (than yours): I am celestial.” [Masnavi, III: 4435] Therefore, as the A??k Pa?a (a devout Sufi poet and a religious sheikh) explained, the things of the earth will return back to earth and everything that is pure will return to its pure state, this impermanent union must finish. In short, for each and every part of the body, death bears the meaning of a reunion, not a separation or its annihilation.
Actually death and birth are natural and constant
Hazret-i Mevlana sees death not as a sudden occurrence, but rather the final step of a process. We are not really aware of the fact, but actually the process of death begins with our birth. Therefore, in a sense, life is actually made up of one long agony.
“You have suffered much agony, but you are (still) in the veil, because dying (to self) was the fundamental principle, and you have not fulfilled it. Your agony is not finished till you die: you cannot reach the roof without completing the ladder. When two rungs out of a hundred are wanting, the striver will be forbidden to (set foot on) the roof. When the rope lacks one ell out of a hundred, how should the water go from the well into the bucket? [Masnavi, VI: 723-726]
The ship of (self-) consciousness, when it is utterly wrecked, becomes (like) the sun in the blue vault (of heaven). Inasmuch as you have not died, your agony has been prolonged: be extinguished in the dawn, O candle of Tiráz! [Masnavi VI: 729-730] O you who possess sincerity, (if) you want that (Reality) unveiled, choose death and tear off the veil— Not such a death that you will go into a grave, (but) a death consisting of (spiritual) transformation, so that you will go into a Light. (When) earth becomes gold, its earthly aspect remains not; (when) sorrow becomes joy, the thorn of sorrowfulness remains not.” [Masnavi VI: 738-741]
Through this understanding of Hazret-i Mevlana, both senility and death are natural and immutable laws for everything in this universe. The goal is to realize this lesson in advance and then to allow oneself to flow through life with this knowledge. Let us look at Hazret-i Mevlana’s warning regarding this notion:
In the daytime thou didst deem the countenance of the sun beauteous: remember its death in the moment of setting. Thou sawest the full-moon on this lovely firmament: observe also its anguish (caused by the loss of visibility) during the interlunar period. A boy, on account of his beauty, became the lord of the people: after the morrow he became doting and exposed to the scorn of the people. If the body of those in the fresh bloom of youth has made thee a prey, after (it has come to) old age behold a body (bleached) like a cotton plantation. O thou who hast seen rich viands, arise and see the residue thereof in the latrine. Say to the filth, “Where is that beauty of thine—the savour and goodliness and (sweet) scent (which thou hadst) in the dish?” It replies, “That (beauty) was the bait: I was its trap: since thou hast fallen a prey (to it), the bait has become hidden.” Many fingers that in handicraft (skill and dexterity) were the envy of master craftsmen have at last become trembling. The soul-like intoxicating narcissus-eye (of the beloved)—see it dimmed at last and water trickling from it. The lion (hero) who advances into the ranks of lions (valiant foes)—at last he is conquered by a mouse. The acute, far-seeing, artful genius—behold it at last imbecile as an old ass.
The curly lock that sheds (a fragrance of) musk and takes away the reason—at last it is like the ugly white tail of a donkey. Observe its (the World's) existence, (how) at first (it is) pleasing and joyous; and observe its shamefulness and corruption in the end [Masnavi, IV: 1597-1609]
The main theme in the long descriptions found throughout the Masnavi is this:
This world is the world of “âlem-i kevn u fesád”, which means “world of generation and corruption (decay)”. Every aspect of life is just a natural step in this flow of existence. For that reason, instead of being a sudden occurrence, death becomes a part of life and thus it is something we become accustomed to.
In fact, in each moment that something in us dies, a new and better thing is born and given to us. So what is all this sorrow and regret for? Hazret-i Mevlana provides us with various examples regarding this:
Where is a nurse for the suckling babe?—that with kindness she may sweeten the inner part of its mouth,
And, though she bar its way to her teat, may open up for it the way to a hundred gardens (of delight)?—
Because the teat has become to that feeble (infant) a barrier (separating it) from thousands of pleasures and dishes (of food) and loaves (of bread). Our life, then, depends on weaning. Endeavour (to wean yourself) little by little. When man was an embryo his nourishment was blood: in like fashion the true believer draws purity from filth. Through (his) being weaned from blood, his nourishment became milk; and through (his) being weaned from milk, he became a taker of (solid) food. And through (his) being weaned from food he becomes (a sage) like Luqmán; he becomes a seeker (hunter) of the hidden game. [Masnavi, III: 46-54]
(When) a man grows up, his childhood dies; (when) he becomes a (fair complexioned) Greek, he washes out the dye (swarthy colour) of the Ethiopian. (When) earth becomes gold, its earthly aspect remains not; (when) sorrow becomes joy, the thorn of sorrowfulness remains not. [Masnavi, VI: 740-741]
In short, every loss is actually the creation of something better.
You cannot escape from death.
From time to time in various sections of the Masnavi some beliefs and traditions from that time period are used to make examples. Hazret-i Mevlana, when he explains that no one can escape their predestined death, gives an example of an old Mongolian tradition that he probably witnessed himself. According to the tradition, when someone looks like they are about to die, the Mongolian soldiers gather around him and each shoot an arrow up at Heaven in order to scare away the angel of death. Referring to this tradition, Hazret-i Mevlana addresses the people who are scared of death:
Since, therefore, you have apprehended (the fact) that He (God) will overpower you and beat the mace of tribulation on your head,
Like a Nimrod, repel Him by war (if you can)! Launch an arrow of (hard) poplar-wood into the air against Him!
Like the Mongol soldiery, shoot an arrow at Heaven to prevent your soul being torn (from your body)!
Or flee from Him, if you can, and go (your way); (but) how can you go, since you are a pawn in His hand?
(When) you were in non-existence, you did not escape from His hand: how will you escape from His hand (now), O helpless one? [Masnavi, VI: 373-376]
Since you cannot escape, do service to Him, that you may go from His prison into His rose-garden. [Masnavi, VI: 383].
We need to make peace with death, or in other words, we should change the way we look at death. And “…do service to Him” means to finish your preparations for the afterlife.
Life is a sleep, death is the awakening
In reality death is just an awakening from a sleep that we all call life. Our beloved prophet (pbuh) compared this world to “the dream of a sleeper”. When a person falls asleep, people think that he/she then begins sleeping and dreaming, but in fact they are unaware of being in a second sleep. Since this world is just a dream, its sufferings are ultimately insubstantial, and so there is no need to be scared from them. Hazret-i Mevlana also agrees with this view and illustrates it in a story about the Egyptians. When the Pharaoh threatened to cut the feet and hands off of any astrologers who believed in Hazret-i Moses, they were not scared and did not turn their backs from their faith. The reason they were not scared is because they knew that this world is just a dream and so losing your feet and hands in a dream doesn’t matter. When you finally wake up you will find all the parts of your body in their proper places. If your head is to be cut off, why should you grieve? In fact, many people believe that when someone’s head is cut off in their dream it denotes that their life will be longer.
The reason why the magicians of Pharaoh had the courage to suffer the amputation of their hands and feet.
Is it not (the fact) that the accursed Pharaoh threatened (the magicians with) punishment on the earth,
Saying, “I will cut off your hands and feet on opposite sides, then I will hang you up: I will not hold you exempt (from punishment)”?
He thought that they were (still) in the same imagination and terror and distraction and doubt,
So that they would be trembling and terrified and affrighted by the vain imaginings and threats of the carnal soul.
He did not know that they had been delivered and were seated at the window of the light of the heart;
(And that) they had recognized (the difference of) their (bodily) shadows from their (real) selves, and were brisk and alert and happy and exulting;
(And that), if the mortar of the Sky (Fortune) should pound them small a hundred times in this miry place (the material world),
(Yet), since they had seen the origin of this (corporeal) composition, they were not afraid of the derivatives (which belong to the domain) of imagination.
This world is a dream—do not rest in (false) opinion; if in dream a hand go (be lost), ’tis no harm.
If in dream a pruning-fork has cut off your head, not only is your head (still) in its place but your life is (still) prolonged. [Masnavi, III: 1721-1734]
If in dream you see yourself (cut) in two halves, you are sound in body when you rise, not sick.
The sum (of the matter is this): in dreams it is no harm for the body to be maimed or to be torn into two hundred pieces.
The Prophet said of this world, which is substantial in appearance, that it is the sleeper's dream.
You have accepted this (statement) conventionally, (but) the travellers (on the mystic Way) have beheld this (truth) clairvoyantly, without (relation from) the Prophet.
There is no death for Humans
When a human dies, what is the actual thing that dies? The great Islamic scholar and poet Yunus Emre (1240?–1321?)answers this question in this concise saying:
“Bodies perish and die, but not the soul.”
When the thing that we call death is only the death of the body, then in reality there is no death. For this reason Yunus also tells us:
“Death should give you no fear at all;
Fear not, your life is eternal.”
Why must the physical body die?
So, why must the body die? Hazret-i Mevlana explains to us the reason for the disruption of the body by using various metaphors. Let us cite some of them:
When a garment is neat and well-stitched, how should it enable the tailor to exhibit his skill? Trunks of trees must be unhewn in order that the woodcutter may fashion the stem or the branches (and thus exercise his craft). [Masnavi, I: 3205-3206]
He that knows how to sew (together) knows how to tear (asunder); whatsoever He sells, He buys (something) better (in exchange). He lays the house in ruins, upside down; then in one moment He makes it more habitable (than it was before). If He sever one head from the body, He at once raises up hundreds of thousands of heads (for the beheaded person). [Masnavi, I: 3885-3887]
The treasure that lies beneath the house of the body
This house of the body that we bemoan for its annihilation is fiduciary in nature, and is only rented and not owned. The rental period finishes with your death and the landlord moves you out of there. Thou hast rented and hired a house: it is not thy property by any act of sale or purchase. The period of this hiring is till death, in order that thou mayst work in it (the house) during this period. [Masnavi, IV: 2548-2549] This house is explained to have a treasure buried beneath it. Demolish the house. The treasure lies beneath the house, and there is no help (for it): do not be afraid of destroying the house and do not stand still, For from one treasure in hand it is possible to build a thousand houses without suffering toil and pain. In the end this house will fall of itself into ruin and the treasure beneath it will certainly be uncovered; But it (the treasure) will not be thine, since the spirit receives that (Divine) gift as wages for destroying (the house). [Masnavi, IV: 2540-2544]
Ere this lease of the hired house come to an end without thy having gained any profit from it. Then the owner of the shop will turn thee out and will demolish this shop for the sake of the (hidden) mine, (While) thou at one moment wilt beat thy head in remorse, and at another tear thy foolish beard, Saying, “Alas, this shop was mine, (but) I was blind and got no profit from this place of abode. Alas, the wind swept our existence away: (the text) O sorrow for the servants of God is come (true) unto everlasting. [Masnavi, IV: 2557- 2561] In another verse Hazret-i Mevlana compares the body to a patched cloak. What is patch-sewing? The drinking of water and the eating of bread: thou art applying these patches to the heavy cloak. This cloak, thy body, is always being torn, and thou art patching it by this eating and drinking of thine. [Masnavi, IV: 2553-54] And of course there is a limit to how much you can patch this heavy cloak.
Death is beautiful
Turkish poet, novelist, playwright and philosopher Ahmet Necip Faz?l K?sakürek (1904-1983), in the following verses, uses the death of our beloved prophet as a confirmation or evidence of death’s beauty:
“Death is something nice, that is the news behind the veil...
“If it weren’t nice, would the Prophet die?”
Hazrat Mawlana describes below how Rasul-e Akram (pbuh) rejoices and welcomes death: “The decease of Ahmad (Mohammed), (the prophet) of the last (epoch of) time, will indisputably occur in (the month of) the First Rabí‘. When his heart shall gain knowledge of this moment of decease, he will become intellectually in love with that moment, And when (the month) Safar comes, he will rejoice on account of Safar, saying, ‘After this month I will make the journey.’” From this longing for (the Divine) guidance he (Mohammed) was crying, every night till daybreak, “O most High Companion on the Way!” He said, “Any person who gives me the good news, when Safar steps forth from this world, That Safar is past and that the month of Rabí‘ is come—for him I will be a bearer of good news and an intercessor.” ‘Ukkásha said, “Safar is past and gone.” He (Mohammed) said, “O mighty lion (valiant hero), Paradise is thine.” [Masnavi, IV: 2585-2591]
Every person’s death is of the same quality as himself: Death is beautiful for the beautiful, and ugly for the ugly.
By Nicholson’s translation of the verses Hazret-i Mevlana said: “Whilst nothing is better than life, life is precious; when a better appears, the name of life becomes a slippery (futile) thing. [Masnavi, III: 4110] So, a person would not hesitate to exchange their futile life with a precious one. “For He is rich, while all except Him are poor: how should a poor man say “Take” without compensation? Till a child sees that the apple is there, it will not give up from its hand the stinking onion. All these market-folk, for the sake of this (worldly) object, are seated on the benches (in the shops) in the hope of (receiving) compensation: They offer a hundred fine articles of merchandise, and within their hearts they are intent on compensations. O man of the (true) Religion, you will not hear a single salaam (blessing) whereof the end will not pluck your sleeve (and demand something of you). I have never heard a disinterested salaam from high or low, O brother—and (I give) the salaam (to thee) — Except the salaam of God. Come, seek that (salaam) from house to house, from place to place, and from street to street! [Masnavi, III: 3354- 3360] For this reason, a man of the true religion who gives his life on the path of Allah acts without hesitation, and when he is giving his life he makes a beneficial trade in doing so. As an example for this Hazret-i Mevlana tells this epigram about Hazret-i Hamza:
Death in the eyes of Hazret-i Hamza
Whenever at the end (of his life) Hamza went into the ranks (on the battlefield), he would enter the fray (like one) intoxicated, without a coat of mail. Advancing with open breast and naked body, he would throw himself into the sword-bearing ranks. The people asked him, saying, “O uncle of the Prophet, O Lion that breakest the ranks (of the foemen), O prince of the champions, Hast not thou read in the Message of God (the Qur’án) ‘Do not cast yourselves with your own hands into destruction’? Then why art thou casting thyself thus into destruction on the field of battle? When thou wert young and robust and strongly-knit, thou didst not go into the battle-line without a coat of mail. [ Masnavi, III: 3419-3424]
Hamza said, “When I was young, I used to regard farewell to this world as death. How should any one go to death eagerly? How should he come naked (unarmed) to meet the dragon? But now, through the Light of Mohammed, I am not subject to this city (the world) that is passing away. [Masnavi, III: 3430-3431]
Beyond (the realm of) the senses, I behold the camp of the (Divine) King thronged with the army of the Light of God, Tent on tent and tent-rope on tent-rope. Thanks be to Him who awakened me from slumber!”
That one in whose eyes death is destruction—he takes hold of (clings to) the (Divine) command, “Do not cast (yourselves into destruction)”; And that one to whom death is the opening of the gate—for him in the (Divine) Allocution (the Qur’án) there is (the command), “Vie ye with each other in hastening.” [Masnavi, III: 3432-3435]
It is understood from this story that everyone's death is of the same quality as himself. Death is to the enemy (of God) an enemy, and to the friend (of God) a friend; for those who grieve death, it is a cause to suffer, but for those who see death as the grace of God, it is no cause to suffer, but rather a form of relief. Death is a mirror. The clear mirror does not hesitate to show both good and evil.
In the eyes of the Turcoman the mirror hath a fair colour; similarly in the eyes of the Ethiopian the mirror is (dark as) an Ethiopian.
Your fear of death in fleeing (from it) is (really) your fear of yourself. Take heed, O (dear) soul!
’Tis your (own) ugly face, not the visage of Death: your spirit is like the tree, and death (is like) the leaf.
It has grown from you, whether it is good or evil: every hidden thought of yours, foul or fair, is (born) from yourself. [Masnavi, III: 3440-3444]
(If) an elemental spirit breaks the bastion of a prison, will the heart of any prisoner be angry with him?
(Will they say?) “Alas, he has broken this marble stone, so that our spirits and souls have escaped from confinement.
The beautiful marble and the noble stone of the prison-bastion were pleasing and agreeable (to us).
Why did he break them, so that the prisoners escaped? His hand must be broken (cut off) as a penalty for this (crime).”
No prisoner will talk such nonsense except that one who is brought from prison to the gallows. [Masnavi, V: 1715-1719]
Hazret-i Mevlana gives us an example of this:
Death and migration from this (earthly) abode has become as sweet to me as leaving the cage and flying (is sweet) to the (captive) bird—
The cage that is in the very midst of the garden, (so that) the bird beholds the rose-beds and the trees,
(While) outside, round the cage, a multitude of birds is sweetly chanting tales of liberty:
At (the sight of) that verdant place neither (desire for) food remains to the bird in the cage, nor patience and rest,
(But) it puts out its head through every hole, that perchance it may tear off this fetter from its leg.
Since its heart and soul are (already) outside like this, how will it be when you
open the cage?”
Not such is the bird caged amidst anxieties—cats round about it in a ring:
How, in this dread and sorrow, should it have the desire to go out of the cage?
It wishes that, (to save it) from this unwelcome plucking (of its feathers), there might be a hundred cages round about this cage (in which it is confined). [Masnavi, III: 3951-3958]
So, the ones who fear death are the ones who fear what comes after death.
Is death a separation?
One of the reasons that people make such a big deal about death is the separation that comes along with it. But is death actually a type of separation? No. In a deeper and more pervasive sense death is not distant, and so both the afterlife and the loved ones in the afterlife are not distant from us. Life and afterlife are as close as two adjacent rooms. Therefore, we actually need only to bid farewell to loved ones that we lose as if they are only departing to an adjacent room. Let us summarize Hazret-i Mevlana’s view regarding this subject from the Mathnawi:
Formerly there was a Shaykh, a (spiritual) Director, a heavenly Candle on the face of the earth
One morning his family said to him, “Tell us, O man of good disposition, how art thou (so) hard-hearted?
We with backs (bent) double are mourning for the death and loss of thy sons: Why art not thou weeping and lamenting? Or hast thou no pity in thy heart? [Masnavi, III: 1773 1776]
How the Shaykh excused himself for not weeping on the death of his sons.
The Shaykh said to her (his wife), “Do not think, O gracious one, that I have not pity and affection and a compassionate heart.
I have pity for all the unbelievers, though the souls of them all are ungrateful.
I have pity and forgiveness for dogs, saying (to myself), ‘Why do they suffer chastisement from the stones (which are cast at them)?’
I utter a prayer for the dog that bites, crying, ‘O God, deliver him from this (evil) disposition!
Keep also these dogs in that (good) thought, so that they may not be stoned by the people.’ [Masnavi, III: 1799-1804]
She (the Shaykh's wife) said, “Then, since thou hast pity on all, and art like the shepherd (going watchfully) around this flock,
How mournest thou not for thine own sons, when Death, the Bleeder, has pierced them with his lancet?
Since the evidence of pity is tears in the eyes, why are thine eyes without moisture and tearless?”
He turned towards his wife and said to her, “Old woman, verily the season of December is not like Tamúz (July).
Whether they all are dead or living, when are they absent and hid from the eye of the heart?
Inasmuch as I see them distinct before me, for what reason should I rend my face as thou doest?
Although they are outside of Time's revolution, they are with me and playing around me.
Weeping is caused by severance or by parting; I am united with my dear ones and embracing them.
(Other) people see them (their dear ones) in sleep; I see them plainly in (my) waking state. [Masnavi, III: 1814-1823]
The death of the loved ones is an Ajr (reward)
One of the points Hazret-i Mevlana emphasizes is that death is a cause for an ajr (reward) for the relatives of the dead. Let us read this short story regarding this:
Story of the woman whose children never lived (long), and how, when she made lamentation (to God), the answer came—“That is instead of thy (unpracticed) ascetic discipline and is for thee in lieu of the self-mortification of those who mortify themselves.”
That woman used to bear a son every year, (but) he never lived more than six months;
Either (in) three months or four months he would perish. The woman made lamentation, crying, “Alas, O God,
For nine months I have the burden (of pregnancy), and for three months I have joy: my happiness is fleeter than the rainbow.”
That woman, because of the terrifying anguish (which she suffered), used to make this plaintive outcry before the men of God.
In this wise twenty children (of hers) went into the grave: a fire (of destruction) fell swiftly upon their lives,
Till, one night, there was shown to her (the vision of) a garden everlasting, verdant, delectable, and ungrudged.
In short, the woman saw that (Bounty) and became intoxicated: at that revelation the weak (creature) fell into an ecstasy.
She saw her name written on a palace: she who was of goodly belief knew that it (the palace) belonged to her.
After that, they said (to her), “This Bounty is for him who has risen up with constant sincerity in self-devotion.
Thou must needs have done much service (to God), in order that thou might’st partake of this repast;
(Hence), as thou wert remiss in taking refuge (with God), God gave thee those afflictions instead.”
“O Lord,” cried she, “give me such-like (afflictions) for a hundred years and more! Do Thou shed my blood!”
When she advanced into that garden, she saw there all her children.
She said, “They were lost to me, (but) they were not lost to Thee.” Without (possessing) the two eyes of the Unseen, no one becomes the Man (pupil of the eye). [Masnavi, III: 3999-3415]
Resurrection after death and Prophet Uzayr
Amongst the teachings of our Nabi Hazret-i Muhammed Mustafa (pbuh), one of the subjects that the mushriks (polytheists) found difficult to believe in was the subject of resurrection. How could a dead person come to life when the body has decomposed and each and every part of it has decayed and been reduced to dust? In the Holy Qur’an these questions were answered through the miracles and the viewpoints that the Prophets put forward in relation to resurrection. The subject of Al- Hashir continued to be a problem for some people after the birth of Islam, and some beliefs and doctrines argued that al-hashr is actually resurrection without body. Among Hazret-i Mevlana’s determinations about death, from place to place we can see his opinions and views about this matter. He believes in the bodily (physical) resurrection, which is quintessential of the Islamic belief, and he shows and gives proofs both from the Holy Qur’an and through his creative stories. For instance, Hazrat Mawlana compares the resurrection of the body to the work of a potter. If the potter breaks a pot, he himself will restore it (to a perfect state) when he wishes. [Masnavi, III: 1738] So, just as a potter restores a broken pot and brings it together, Allah is mighty enough to bring together all the decomposed and decayed particles and create a new body.
In support of the proof that coming of the dead to life again, the Holy Qur'an has provided many examples and among them is the incident related to Prophet Uzayr.
Once Prophet Uzayr, while on a journey, passed through a deserted place, and there he thought to himself, not by way of disbelief but out of inquisitiveness: 'How will Allah bring them back to life after they have been dead for so many years?"
The Almighty Allah kept him dead for 100 years and after reviving him asked, "How long have you been here?" The Prophet replied, "Half an hour or so" Allah said, "No, you have been here for 100 years. Now you look at your donkey, your animal of riding and also your food that you had with you. Now, wonder at the Greatness and Power of Allah, how your donkey died and perished into dust and the food which should have decayed in a day or two is still fresh after 100 years. Now if you want to witness the coming of the dead into life again you may look at the decayed bones of the donkey from which We will bring it back to life again fully intact with its skin, flesh and soul, so that it may serve as a good lesson for the coming generations". (Vide: Quran, 2:259)
As soon as Prophet Uzayr saw his donkey coming back to life and the food remaining fresh for 100 years he exclaimed, "I know Allah has the Power to do everything".
In the Masnavi:
How by permission of God the particles of the ass of ‘Uzayr were assembled after putrefaction and recompounded before the eyes of ‘Uzayr.
“Hey, ‘Uzayr, look upon thine ass which hath rotted and crumbled beside thee.
We will collect its parts in thy presence—its head and tail and ears and legs.”
There is no (visible) hand, and (yet) He is putting the parts together and giving a unitedness to the (scattered) pieces.
Consider the art of a Tailor who sews old rags (together) without a needle:
No thread or needle at the time of sewing; He sews in such wise that no seam is visible.
“Open thine eyes and behold the resurrection plainly, that there may not remain in thee doubt concerning the Day of Judgement,
And that thou mayst behold My unitive power entire, so that at the time of death thou wilt not tremble with anxiety,
Even as at the time of sleep thou art secure from (hast no fear of) the passing of all the bodily senses:
At the time of sleep thou dost not tremble for thy senses, though they become scattered and ruined.” [Masnavi, III: 1764- 1771]
Hazret-i Mevlana gives this example as indication that on the day of hasr (the day of judgment) the parts of the body will come together with no thread or needle needed for sewing.
His other thoughts and metaphors about this subject can be summarized through the following:
The blast of the trumpet is the command from the Holy God, namely, “O children (of Adam), lift up your heads from the grave.”
(Then) every one's soul will return to its body, just as consciousness returns to the (awakened) body at dawn.
At daybreak the soul recognises its own body and re-enters its own ruin, like treasures (hidden in waste places).
It recognises its own body and goes into it: how should the soul of the goldsmith go to the tailor?
The soul of the scholar runs to the scholar, the spirit of the tyrant runs to the tyrant;
For the Divine Knowledge has made them (the souls) cognisant (of their bodies), as (happens with) the lamb and the ewe, at the hour of dawn.
The foot knows its own shoe in the dark: how should not the soul know its own body, O worshipful one?
Dawn is the little resurrection: O seeker of refuge (with God), judge from it what the greater resurrection will be like.
Even as the soul flies towards the clay (of its body), the scroll (of every one's good and evil actions) will fly into the left hand or the right.
Into his hand will be put the scroll (register) of avarice and liberality, impiety and piety, and all the (good or evil) dispositions that he had formed yesterday.
At dawn when he wakes from slumber, that good and evil will come back to him.
If he has disciplined his moral nature, the same (purified) nature will present itself to him when he wakes;
And if yesterday he was ignorant and wicked and misguided, he will find his left hand black as a letter of mourning;
But if yesterday he was (morally) clean and pious and religious, when he wakes he will gain the precious pearl.
Our sleep and waking are two witnesses which attest to us the significance of death and resurrection.
The lesser resurrection has shown forth the greater resurrection; the lesser death has illumined the greater death.
But (in the present life) this scroll (of our good and evil actions) is a fancy and hidden (from our sight), though at the greater resurrection it will be very clearly seen.
Here this fancy is hidden, (only) the traces are visible; but there He (God) from this fancy will produce (actual) forms.
Behold in the architect the fancy (idea) of a house, (hidden) in his mind like a seed in a piece of earth.
That fancy comes forth from within (him), as the earth bears (plants) from the seed (sown) within.
Every fancy that makes its abode in the mind will become a (visible) form on the Day of Resurrection,
Like the architect's fancy (conceived) in his thought; like the plant (produced) in the earth that takes the seed.
When the sun of the Resurrection rises, foul and fair (alike) will leap up hastily from the grave.
They will be running to the Díwán (Chancery) of the (Divine) Decree: the good and bad coin will go into the crucible—
The good coin joyously and with great delight; the false coin in anguish and melting (with terror).
At every moment the (Divine) probations will be arriving (coming into action): the thoughts concealed in the heart will be appearing in the body,
My object in (speaking of) both these resurrections is (to tell) a story; (yet) in its exposition there is a moral for the true believers. [Masnavi, V: 1783-1799]
After all of this let us finish our point with a remark about the providence of death:
Why does Allah create creatures and then destroy them?
How Moses, on whom be peace, besought the Lord, saying, “Thou didst create creatures and destroy them,” and how the answer came.
Moses said, “O Lord of the Reckoning, Thou didst create the form: how didst Thou destroy it again?”
Thou hast made the form, male and female, that gives unto the spirit increase (of joy); and then Thou dost ruin it: why?”
Then God spake unto him, saying, “O thou who possessest the most excellent (understanding), since thou hast asked (the question), come, hear the answer.
O Moses, sow some seed in the earth, that thou thyself mayst render justice to this (question).”
When Moses had sown and the seed-corn was complete (in growth) and its ears had gained beauty and symmetry,
He took the sickle and was cutting that (crop); then a voice from the Unseen reached his ear,
Crying, “Why dost thou sow and tend some seed-corn and (now) art cutting it when it has attained to perfection?” He replied, “O Lord, I destroy and lay it low because straw is here and (also) grain.
The grain is not suitable (to be stored) in the straw-barn; the straw likewise is bad (for putting) in the corn-barn.
’Tis not wisdom to mix these twain: it (wisdom) makes necessary the separation (of them) in winnowing.”
He (God) said, “From whom didst thou gain this knowledge, so that by means of the knowledge thou didst construct a threshing-floor?”
He replied, “Thou, O God, gavest me discernment.” He (God) said, “Then how should I not have discernment?”
Amongst the created beings are pure spirits; there are (also) spirits dark and muddy.
These shells are not in one grade: in one (of them) is the pearl and in another the (worthless) bead.
It is necessary to make manifest (the difference between) this good and evil, just as (it is necessary) to make manifest (distinguish) the wheat from the straw. [Masnavi, IV: 3000-3027]
2. The iradi (voluntary) death – The islah-e nafs (reformation of the nafs/ego)
Aside from the biological death, the Sufis also talk about a voluntarily chosen (iradi) death that is separate from this. But before we move on to the thoughts of Hazret-i Mevlana about death, let us talk briefly about the understanding of existence from within the tasawwuf in order to better understand his views.
University professor and author of many books on both Islam and other religions Toshihiko Izutsu, in his comprehensive book named “The Concept and Reality of Existence”, uses two key words for the explanation of the concept and reality of existence: “wuj?d” (existence) and “m?hiyy?t” (quiddity). “The actual presence of things, is their existence. They are there. They do exist, as we ourselves exist. On the other hand, they are not there in the form of pure ‘existences’. They ‘exist’ as various and variegated things: man, horse, stone, tree etc.” Therefore all things are one in the reality of existence but their quiddities are different. “The phenomenal world is the world of Multiplicity. Although Multiplicity is ultimately nothing other than the self-revealing aspect of the absolute Reality itself, he who knows Reality only in the form of Multiplicity knows Reality only through its variously articulated forms, and fails to perceive the underlying Unity of Reality.” The opposition of wahdat al-wuj?d (unity of existence) and kathrat al- ‘ilm (plurality of fixity) pertains to the level of Reality’s differentiated unity and oneness. The Real (absolute Reality) finds itself as one single entity, but knows itself through different names and attributes.
The mystic, philosopher, poet, and sage, Muhammad b. 'Ali Ibn 'Arabi, was one of the world's greatest spiritual scholars and is known for having spread the notion of a “unity of existence” to the Islamic world. His doctrine, known as “Unity of Existence”, is centered on the absolute unity of the Being. ‘Existence is a single reality: if we look at it from one angle we consider it to be the existence of created things and if we look at it from another, we consider it to be the actual existence of God. Reality is therefore no more than one thing appearing in many forms.’
“Almighty Allah in the verse, “And among His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the living creatures that He has scattered through them: and He has power to gather them together when He wills” says that the heavens and earth and animals which are scattered upon them are the signs of the existence and, thereby imparted this shining truth to us. Let it be it known that the existence’s self-disclosing to the various stages in the manner of descent is possible only through the “inclination” to becoming manifest. Further, the “inclination” is identical to the will. Since the will is a quality and relation, the existence, from which all relations and attributes are negated, is far exalted above the quality of willing too. That is because the Absolute Existence is absorbed into His essential beauty and, there exists no will. Therefore, the descent of the existence to the stage of Oneness, i.e., the stage of Divinity, is identical to the course [which moves] from its absorption in its essential beauty toward the stage of self-consciousness. This occurs through the essential necessity (iqtid?a-i dh?t?), not by will alone. It is impossible to speak of cause and effect within the essential necessity. The existence has seven stages of self-disclosures.” [The Reflection of the Wahdat Al-Wuj?d Doctrine (The Oneness of Being) in the modern Turkish thought: Ahmed Avni Konuk and his FUSÛSU’L-H?KEM Tercüme ve ?erhi (Translation of and commentary on FUS??S? AL-H?IKAM) Tahir Uluç]
According to this understanding, the duty of the human, who has a duality of existence amongst various stages of existence, is islah-e nafs, which is the reformation of nafs/ego and climbing up through the stages of the existence. According to the tradition the biggest problem in life is the act of being born again in the al-wuj?d al-haqq, the Real Being (Allah). Life is a hajj journey performed leading towards the Real Being. As Hazret-i Mevlana also describes in metaphor through “the ney that is severed from its reed bed”, this journey can be perceived powerfully throughout all Islamic arts. So, iradi (voluntary) death is one of the steps on this hajj journey leading towards the Real Being and rebirth. Thus the following verses from the Divan of Hazret-i Mevlana invite us to such a death to then be reborn:
“Die, die in love so you can gain an eternal soul. Cut yourself from this earth and be unleashed from this chain of a body, so your hands can reach the heavens.” [The verse translated from Turkish by Semazen.net]
Since humankind is imprisoned in the cage of the body in this world and surrounded with it’s needs, his or her salvation can only be possible with iradi (voluntary) death. Every desire or ambition and every aptitude would return to him or her as agitation. But for a dead person there is no danger. Therefore people should voluntarily die a spiritual death so that they can then gain their salvation and freedom. Hazret-i Mevlana shares this idea through this beautiful story:
The story of the merchant to whom the parrot gave a message for the parrots of India on the occasion of his going (thither) to trade.
There was a merchant, and he had a parrot imprisoned in a cage, a pretty parrot.
When the merchant made ready for travel and was about to depart to India,
Because of his generosity he said to each male slave and each handmaid, “What shall I bring (home) for you? Tell (me) quickly.”
Each one asked him for some object of desire: that good man gave his promise to them all.
He said to the parrot, “What present would you like me to bring for you from the land of India?”
The parrot said, “When thou seest the parrots there, explain my plight (and say),
‘Such and such a parrot, who is longing for you, is in my prison by the destiny of Heaven.
She salutes you and asks for justice and desires (to learn) from you the means and way of being rightly guided.
She says, “Is it meet that I in yearning (after you) should give up the ghost and die here in separation?
Is this right—(that) I (should be) in grievous bondage, while ye are now on green plants, now on trees?
The faith kept by friends, is it like this?—I in this prison and ye in the rose-garden. [1546-1557 Mathnawi I]
When he reached the farthest bounds of India, he saw a number of parrots in the plain.
He halted his beast; then he gave voice, delivered the greeting and (discharged) the trust.
One of those parrots trembled exceedingly, fell, and died, and its breath stopped.
The merchant repented of having told the news, and said, “I have gone about to destroy the creature.
This one, surely, is kin to that little parrot (of mine): they must have been two bodies and one spirit.
Why did I do this? Why did I give the message? I have consumed the poor creature by this raw (foolish) speech.” [Masnavi, I: 1586-1593]
The merchant finished his trading and returned home glad at heart.
He brought a present for every male slave, he gave a token to every slave-girl.
“Where is my present?” asked the parrot. “Relate what thou hast said and seen.”
“Nay,” said he, “indeed I am repenting of that (which I said), gnawing my hand and biting my fingers (in remorse).
Why, from ignorance and folly, did I idly bear (such) an inconsiderate message?”
“O master,” said the parrot, “what is thy repentance for? What is it that causes this anger and grief?”
“I told thy complaints,” said he, “to a company of parrots resembling thee.
One parrot got scent of (understood) thy pain: her heart broke, and she trembled and died. [1649-1656]
When the bird heard what that (other) parrot had done, she trembled exceedingly, fell, and became cold.
The merchant, seeing her thus fallen, sprang up and dashed his cap on the ground.
When he saw her in this guise and in this state, the merchant sprang forward and tore the breast of his garment.
He said, “O beautiful parrot with thy sweet cry, what is this that has happened to thee? Why hast thou become like this? [Masnavi, I: 1690-1694]
After that, he cast her out of the cage. The little parrot flew to a lofty bough.
The dead parrot made such a (swift) flight as when the orient sun rushed onward.
The merchant was amazed at the action of the bird: without understanding he suddenly beheld the mysteries of the bird.
He lifted up his face and said, “O nightingale, give us profit (instruction) by explaining thy case.
What did she (the parrot) do there (in India), that thou didst learn, devise a trick, and burn us (with grief)”?
The parrot said, “She by her act counselled me—‘Abandon thy charm of voice and thy affection (for thy master),
Because thy voice has brought thee into bondage’: she feigned herself dead for the sake of (giving me) this counsel,
Meaning (to say), ‘O thou who hast become a singer to high and low, become dead like me, that thou mayst gain release.’” [Masnavi, I: 1825-1833]. And now let us narrate a couple of Hazret-i Mevlana’s verses about Hazret-i Abú Bakr, who he sees as the most beautiful example of “Die before your death”.
There is no death for the ones that die before their death
Hence Mustafá (Mohammed) said, “O seeker of the mysteries, (if) you wish to see a dead man living—
Walking on the earth, like living men; (yet he is) dead and his spirit is gone to heaven;
(One) whose spirit hath a dwelling-place on high at this moment, (so that) if he die, his spirit is not translated,
Because it has been translated before death: this (mystery) is understood (only) by dying, not by (using one's) reason;
Translation it is, (but) not like the translation of the spirits of the vulgar: it resembles a removal (during life) from one place to another—
If any one wish to see a dead man walking thus visibly on the earth,
Let him behold Abú Bakr, the devout, (who) through being a true witness (siddíq) became the Prince of the Resurrected.
In this (earthly) life look at the Siddíq (Abú Bakr), that you may believe more firmly in the Resurrection.” [Masnavi, VI: 743-749]
Dear reader! Let us finish this discussion about death by sharing some ethical conclusions on the subject.
1- Feel also for the living ones.
As angry as someone gets at a person when they are alive, when they are dying people feel a fondness for them. So death masks all of their flaws and faults. But if life is actually just a gradual path towards the final step of death then we should treat the living with the same fondness that we show to the dying. Hazret-i Mevlana explains this situation through the following story:
“(All), whether men or women, in the whole world are continually in the death agony and are dying.
Regard their words as the (final) injunctions which a father gives at that moment to his son,
That thereby consideration and pity may grow (in thy heart), so that the root of hatred and jealousy and enmity may be cut off.
Look on thy kinsman with that intention, so that thy heart may burn (with pity) for his death-agony.
“Everything that is coming will come”: deem it (to have come) here and now, deem thy friend to be in the death-agony and in the act of losing (his life).
And if (selfish) motives debar (thee) from this insight, cast these motives out of thy bosom;
And if thou canst not (cast them out), do not stand inertly in a state of incapacity: know that with (every) incapable there is a goodly Incapacitator.
Incapacity is a chain: He laid it upon thee: thou must open thine eye to (behold) Him who lays the chain.
Therefore make humble entreaty, saying, “O Guide (in the ways) of life, I was free, (and now) I have fallen into bondage: what is the cause of this?
I have planted my foot in evil more firmly (than ever), for through Thy omnipotence verily I am (engaged) in a losing business all the time.
I have been deaf to Thy admonitions: while professing to be an idol-breaker, I have (really) been an idol-maker.
Is it more incumbent (on me) to think of Thy works or of death? (Of death): death is like autumn, and Thou art (the root which is) the origin of the leaves.”
For years this death has been beating the drum, (but only when it is) too late is your ear moved (to listen).
In his agony he (the heedless man) cries from his (inmost) soul, “Alas, I am dying!” Has Death made you aware of himself (only) now?
Death's throat is exhausted with shouting: his drum is split with the astounding blows (with which it has been beaten).
(But) you enmeshed yourself in trivialities: (only) now have you apprehended the mystery of dying.
[Masnavi, VI: 761-776]
2. Cry for yourself not for the other
People cry and moan over their deceased loved ones, but actually most of the time they should be crying for themselves. Hazret-i Mevlana explains this situation through the following story:
“On the Day of ‘Áshúrá all the people of Aleppo gather at the Antioch Gate till nightfall,
Men and women, a great multitude, and keep up a constant lamentation for the (Holy) Family.
During the ‘Áshúrá the Shí‘ites wail and lament with tears and sobs on account of Karbalá.
They recount the oppressions and tribulations which the (Holy) Family suffered at the hands of Yazíd and Shimr.
They utter shrieks mingled with cries of woe and grief: the whole plain and desert is filled (with their cries).
A stranger, (who was) a poet, arrived from the road on the Day of ‘Áshúrá and heard that lamentation.
He left the city and resolved (to go) in that direction: he set out to investigate (the cause of) those shrill cries.
He went along, asking many questions in his search—“What is this sorrow? Whose death has occasioned this mourning?
It must be a great personage who has died: such a concourse is no small affair.
Inform me of his name and titles, for I am a stranger and ye belong to the town.
What is his name and profession and character? (Tell me) in order that I may compose an elegy on his gracious qualities.
I will make an elegy—for I am a poet—that I may carry away from here some provision and morsels of food.”
“Eh,” said one (of them), “are you mad? You are not a Shí‘ite, you are an enemy of the (Holy) Family.
Don't you know that the Day of ‘Áshúrá is (a day of) mourning for a single soul that is more excellent than a (whole) generation?
How should this anguish (tragedy) be lightly esteemed by the true believer? Love for the ear-ring is in proportion to love for the ear.
In the true believer's view the mourning for that pure spirit is more celebrated than a hundred Floods of Noah.”
“Yes,” said he; “but where (in relation to our time) is the epoch of Yazíd? When did this grievous tragedy occur? How late has (the news of) it arrived here!
The eyes of the blind have seen that loss, the ears of the deaf have heard that story.
Have ye been asleep till now, that (only) now ye have rent your garments in mourning?
Then, O sleepers, mourn for yourselves, for this heavy slumber is an evil death. [Masnavi, VI: 779-796]
3. Keep your love (fixed) on the living ones
“When a mother. Distraught (with grief) beside the grave of a child newly dead,
Utters heart-felt words earnestly and intensely: the inanimate (corpse) seems to her to be alive.
She regards that dust as living and erect, she regards that rubbish as (having) an eye and an ear.
To her, at the moment when she is crazed (with grief), every atom of the earth in the grave seems to have hearing and intelligence.
She believes with all her might that the earth is hearkening (to her) : look well at this Love that works magic!
Fondly and with tears she lays her face, time after time, on the fresh earth of the grave in such wise
As during his life she never laid her face on the son who was so dear to her;
(But) when some days pass in morning, the fire of her love sinks to rest.
Love for the dead is not lasting: keep your love (fixed) on the Living One who increases spiritual life. [Masnavi, V: 3264-3272]
Translated by Semazen.net