Previous posts in this series: Parts 1 to 7
The Prophet s.a.w. reportedly* advised us to “Remember frequently the destroyer of pleasures” – referring to death. It’s the only certainty we have in life – the fact that we will die; and it’s a fact that everyone accepts – even the atheists. Personally, I would love to live by this hadith – but, sadly, I do not. Once in a while reminders (like this one) move me, but those feelings soon fade, and it’s back to ‘normal’ life again.
When preparing for Hajj, you’re forced to consider the fact that you may die on this journey. It’s common to prepare your final will and testament (if you haven’t already), and when you leave your loved ones at the airport upon your departure, you know that it may be the last time you ever see them.
In both Madinah and Makkah, reminders of death come very often – so often that you may become immune to them. You see, after almost every fard salaah in the masjid, there’s a janazah salaah (which is also why it’s important to learn how to pray the janazah before you get there). And if you’re with a Hajj group, someone in the group may end up being one of those janazahs.
The greatest resting place
In a hadith, the Prophet s.a.w. reportedly** said: “Whosoever is able to die in Madinah, then let him die there, for indeed, I will intercede for the one who dies there.”
Those who die in Madinah are buried in its famous graveyard: Jannatul Baqi (translated as ‘The Garden of Heaven’). The virtues of the place are great (read more here), and being buried there means you’ll be buried with many members of the Prophet’s (s.a.w.) close family, around ten thousand of the Sahabah r.a., and many prominent, pious personalities. Additionally, the people of Baqi are said to be among the first to be resurrected on Qiyamah, and they’ll accompany the Prophet s.a.w. (full hadith on this page).
Making it real
During our tour of the Madinah Multimedia Museum (mentioned last time), our tour leader – who’s extremely knowledgeable and passionate about Madinah – spoke a bit about Baqi, suggesting that we make dua asking Allah to let Madinah be our place of death – so that we could be buried in Baqi. Or, for those of us (like me) who wanted to go home – to be raised with the people of Baqi.
He also told us when the graveyard was open (after Fajr and Asr). And with Asr coming up soon at that time, a relative of my wife (who was with us) and I decided to go in if we could. But we would have to be quick if we wanted to follow the body into the graveyard, because there’s very little time from the time the janazah salaah ends to the time the body goes into the graveyard and is buried – they really do make sure the body is buried as soon as possible. Unfortunately, this meant that we had to pray outside the masjid – quite close to Baqi – and we didn’t pray the janazah, as we didn’t want to risk missing the opportunity. Alhamdullilah – we got our chance.
Going in there, I got tingles when I looked around the first time. Like other graveyards, it was calm and serene – a peace prevailed in the air. But unlike other graveyards, some of the greatest people to walk the earth – of the ‘normal’ people (i.e. non Prophets or Messengers) were buried here. The style of burial was simple – as simple as can be – in the Saudi, Salafi/Wahabi style: just a mound of earth, with 2 stones – one on each side of the mound (or in some cases, just one) – to mark the position of the grave.
We followed the body – and we both got the chance to carry a part of the coffin for a while. Alhamdullilah – it was a good experience, and one that every Muslim (male) should try to do. Carrying another person’s body should remind you that one day you’ll be the one being carried.
The body was then lowered into the grave – down a bit, then into a little chamber, then covering it with stones (cement blocks – the space in these graves is enough for the body to sit up at the time of questioning – which it does); then putting sand in to close it. Alhamdullilah – again, we both got to throw some sand in.
Though I had no idea who the person was, I made dua for him/her – as was fitting for the event. I don’t remember it in detail, but I think I felt a kind of closeness to that person; a desperation for him/her – that he/she was – at that moment – going through a tremendous, tremendous experience, and any duas the still-living could make would, insha-Allah, be helpful. And – of course – it was an immense reminder that I too will be in that position one day (whether sooner or later).
After everything was done and the people moved away, I made more duas – for both myself and my loved ones, including one asking Allah to make this the moment that the remembrance of death finally sinks in permanently. As stated in the intro, I struggle to live by that advice.
Because having knowledge in your brain is one thing, but it’s only superficial if it’s not practiced. For example, a male can know that he should ‘lower his gaze’ when in the company of non-mahram females. But it’s only when that knowledge – that lesson – actually sinks into his heart – that it makes the real impact. So much so that he then lives by that knowledge.
For me, things like this only seem to truly sink into my heart when I experience things that personally teach me the lesson in my own life. So this experience in Baqi was really a perfect opportunity to let the concept of remembering death really permeate my consciousness and heart. I was on the greatest journey I’d ever take in life, in such a blessed place (Madinah, and Baqi) – with the Prophet s.a.w.’s site of burial visible to me from where I stood (under the green dome of Masjid an-Nabawi). If there was any place for the reality to hit me and stick with me, this was it. So I asked Allah for that.
To further try to reinforce the feeling, I later went to look at an open grave – to give myself a visual of what my final resting place will look like. When I was small, I had a dream in which I was being buried – but I was still alive. I could see the people at my grave, and I think I tried to call out to them – but to no avail. Now – all these years later – I know that a scene like that will quite likely become a reality. I will be buried – but my soul will be conscious and awake. And though my body will be lifeless for a period, it will come alive again – and my questioning by the two angels will begin.
I made dua that I will answer those questions correctly in those moments; and that my soul’s journey after death would be the better of the two options; and that things would be easy for me in my grave.
Another amazing image that struck me was when I saw people in the distance – walking along the pathways in Baqi. What I saw brought to mind what our group leader had described earlier that day: how – at the time of resurrection – the people of Baqi would get up and all walk towards the place of accounting. I saw these people – the people of this current world – walking on those pathways in the distance, and I imagined that this very same scene will occur on that Day.
And again, I made dua to be among them – to be among these people of Baqi, with the Prophet s.a.w.
May Allah grant that to all of us.
*Hadith reported in Tirmidhi, Nasaa’i, and Ibn Maajah
** Hadith reported in Ahmad, Musnad; Tirmidhi, and Sunan
Next up, insha-Allah:
Final post/s from Madinah
- Remember death often. Not to be morbid – but as a means of putting this life into the proper perspective, and to help motivate you to live in a way that’ll see you meet Allah in the best possible condition.
- Learn to pray the janazah salaah. You’ll get plenty of opportunities to pray it in Madinah and Makkah – and you should take those chances. It’s a really virtuous act of worship that will benefit you in both this life and the next, insha-Allah.
- Make dua to either die in Madinah, or to be raised with the people of Jannatul Baqi.
- If you can, visit Jannatul Baqi while you’re in Madinah. (And while you’re there, DO NOT carry out any acts of shirk or bidah. Never ever pray TO the dead – only pray FOR them!)
- If you can participate in a janazah, do so – and make it a means of benefit by remembering that you will be in this position one day.
- Knowledge is best when it is internalised and practiced upon. If you can find experiences that will help you internalise beneficial lessons in your own, personal life, use those opportunities to improve yourself.
What happened next?
Update: The entire series (30 parts) is available at this link – post by post. Alternatively, you can download the complete series as an e-book in PDF format. Feel free to share with anyone you think may benefit.
Image sources: The Baqi burial list was taken by me, but all others are from various Internet sources.