This article is from Purification of the Mind (Jila’ Al-Khatir)
Listen, for you are able to hear
if you do not take the initiative it will be too late.
Eat as you like and live in ease,
the end of all of this will be death.
Soon, your wealth and life will vanish, your eyesight will deteriorate, your mind will lose its sanity, and your capacity for food and drink will decrease. You will see the pleasures but you will be unable to have anything of them. Your wife, children, and maidservant will hate you and wish for your death. Care and grief will be thrown on you. This world will abandon you and the hereafter will receive you. If you have done good for the hereafter, it will receive and embrace you, but if you have no such works, the grave will be your place and the Fire will be your final abode. It is illusion [that you are in]. The Prophet (Allah’s prayer and peace be on him) used to say: “The real life is that of the hereafter” and repeat it to himself and to his companions (may Allah be satisfied with all of them).
* Use your good health and your leisure time in obedience to Allah (mighty and glorified is He) before the approach of an illness that ruins your health and business and a matter that takes away your leisure time. Make full use of your affluence before you become poor, for affluence does not last forever. Be generous to the poor and share with them your wealth, for what you give them is credit that you have with your Lord and will be useful for you in the hereafter. Woe to you! Take full advantage of your life before your death. Learn a lesson from death, for the Prophet (Allah’s prayer and peace be on him) used to say: “Death is sufficient a preacher.” Death wears out every new thing, brings near every distant thing, and muddles every pure thing. There is no escape from death. It may come in this very hour and on this very day. This matter is under the control of someone else; it is not in your hands. Everything that you have is a loan: your youth, good health, leisure time, affluence, and life are all on loan to you. Therefore, make what really matters to you your concern.
* Death is watching you while you are unaware. You have forgotten to wait for it despite the fact that it is standing in front of you. It will soon come your way — targeting your well‑being and lives. The soul of one of you will go, while his body stays behind like the corpse of a sheep. Who will have mercy for you will bury you in the ground before the earth’s wild beasts and insects eat you. Your family, friends, and enemies will stay with their food, drink, and pleasures, and they may or may not ask Allah to show mercy to you. Many kings were killed by their enemies who then threw them in the wilderness, deliberately without burial, to ensure that they are devoured by dogs and insects. How ugly the king who ends up like this is! How good this piece of poetry of one of them is:1
One that death can remove is not a real kingdom
The real kingdom is that of the One who does not die!
The sensible among you is one who remembers death and is satisfied with whatever destiny brings, thanking for what he likes and enduring with patience what he dislikes. Focus your reflection on matters related to your religion, instead of reflecting on lustful desires and pleasures, and reflect on death and what follows it.
* O people, die before you die. Die as far as your lower selves and your wills are concerned. Remember death frequently and prepare for it before its arrival and then you will have died before you die. Death, then, will be easy for you and will not represent a burden or grief. The arrival of the day of death and the Day of Resurrection is inevitable, so wait for them. These two days have been decreed by Allah (mighty and glorified is He) and cannot be turned back.
* Remembering death is a remedy for the diseases of the lower self. I have spent years remembering death frequently, by night and day. I have prospered by remembering it and I have overpowered my lower self through that remembrance. One night I remembered death and wept from the onset of night until the beginning of dawn. I kept on weeping and saying: “O Allah, I ask You that the Angel of Death does not take my soul away but that You do.” At the beginning of dawn, my eyes dozed off and I saw a handsome old man with beautiful features coming in through the door. I said to him: “Who are you?” He replied: “I am the Angel of Death.” I said to him: “I have asked Allah (mighty and glorified is He) that He not you would take away my soul.” He asked: “But why did you ask Him for that? What is my guilt? I am just a servant following orders. I am commanded to be gentle to some people and rough to others.” He then embraced me and wept, so I wept with him. I then woke up while I was still weeping.
* O you who are in the company of their worldly goods and great expectations! The appointed times of death will soon come and separate you from your hopes. Hurry up before the arrival of these appointed times. Look at sudden death. Death is not necessarily preceded by an illness. Iblīs is your enemy so do not heed to his advice. Do not trust him for he is not trustworthy. Beware of him. He wants you to die while you are standing on the foot of heedlessness, disobedience, and disbelief. Do not be forgetful of your enemy for his sword will not be prevented from hitting the truthful person or the disbeliever. Only a few individuals escape it. He removed your father Adam and your mother Eve (prayer and peace be on our Prophet and on them) from Paradise and he works diligently to prevent you from entering it. He urges you to commit disobedience, sins, disbelief, and noncompliance. All acts of disobedience are attributed to him, after Allah’s decree and His destiny. All creatures are subject to affliction except Allah’s sincere servants who have realized their servanthood to Him (mighty and glorified is He), so he has no authority over them. At times, he can cause them some harm, for when it is time for a decreed matter to take place, the eye becomes blind. His effect on them touches only the body, not the heart or the innermost being; only matters relating to this world, not matters pertaining to the hereafter; only matters relating to the creatures, not matters related to the Creator (mighty and glorified is He). He approaches the creatures mainly through the attachment to this world and the lower self. Seeking this world is a burning fire.
O young men, occupy yourselves with what concerns and is good for you. Preparing for what follows death is of concern to you, striving against your lower self is of concern to you, paying attention to your faults is of concern to you, but attending to the faults of other people is of no concern for you. Remember death and work in preparation for what is after it, for the Prophet (Allah’s prayer and peace be on him) has said: “The intelligent person is one who calls himself to account and works in preparation for what follows death, whereas the incompetent person is one who lets his lower self follow its passion, yet still wishes for forgiveness from Allah.”
1 The poet is the pious Umayyad caliph ‘Umar bin ‘Abd Al‑‘Azīz (682-720).