I came across this thousand-year-old Arabic booklet titled, ‘The final words and the testimonies of the men of God‘ in a small bookshop in the backstreets of Masjid Al-Azhar in Cairo, Egypt. It was written by Ibn Zabr Al Rabie (died 989). I have taken just a handful of the nuggets of wisdom from it and translated them for you.
In our busy, hectic life, overwhelmed by pleasure, giving colourful distractions, then reading accounts of pious people on deathbeds will be a joy killer. The book has been well researched by the publisher and references from authentic Hadith books are given. I haven’t cited them for simplicity, my purpose has been to make this a simple reminder. If you want to know what a lifetime of spiritual discipline looks like, then read these final words.
The devout and pious believers regard death as, ‘the bridge that unites the lover with the beloved’. The life Hereafter is the everlasting life, where the believer is granted paradise, in the company of the Prophets, and the righteous: “whoever obeyed Allah and the Messenger, such people will be in the company of those blessed by God; the prophets, the truthful, the martyrs and the righteous people. What a wonderful group of people to be with” (Al-Nisa: 69). The Hereafter has delights that no eye has yet seen, no ear has yet heard and no human mind yet imagined. Driven by this motivation the believer strives to do righteous deeds, and subdues the pleasure-seeking self, thus confident of securing Divine pleasure. On the other hand, there are those who regard this life as a purposeless stopover and a time for enjoyment. They have one purpose; to pursue pleasure as much as possible. However, the true believer regards this as a probationary period, which God has granted him so that he may have everlasting life, hence he strives and struggles against the bodily lusts, against the pleasures of the world, “so whoever does an atom weight of good will see it, and whoever does an atom weight of evil will see it too” (Al-Zilzal: 7-8).
When pious people sense that the time to meet their Lord has come, it is time to say goodbye to this temporary home. Even in their death throes, they feel compelled to share their wisdom and experience of the worldly life, they wish to benefit others, they are their directives, their wise counsel and reminding us of the deceptions of the fleeting and transient world.
Ibn Umar said, the Messenger of God (peace be upon him) said, “a Muslim who has any inheritance to leave behind him, should make a will and should not spend two nights without having a written will”. The Messenger (peace be upon him) also said, “it is possible that death can come before you make a will”. The mother of the believers Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) said, when the Prophet (peace be upon him) was in his death throes with his head on my thighs, I heard him say “Lord! Forgive me, be kind to me and let me be with you”.
Our Prophet (peace be upon him) often spoke about the horrors of the Hereafter in his speeches, his sermons and actions. He stressed the importance of the Hereafter that touched hearts, filled eyes with tears. He wanted his listeners to become reflective, understand the purpose of their lives and appreciate the temporary nature of worldly life. Teaching them, your real home is in the Hereafter. The Messenger (peace be upon him) wanted his followers to keep the Hereafter in their mind. For him, it was a means of transforming lives, a motivation for the listener to adopt moral values like kindness, patience, generosity, forgiveness and humility. Values for improving character and one’s behaviour. The purpose of these teachings was to make us reflective and meditative.
Ibn Rabie, the author of this booklet lived in the tenth century in Damascus. We don’t know much about him other than the fact that he was an erudite scholar and pious person. In this booklet, he compiled the final words and the testimonies of 64 people including two prophets Adam and Nuh, many disciples of the Prophet and venerable scholars of the first century. His sources include books of Hadith, biographies and history. I have selected a dozen of these pithy and terse sayings that capture whole life’s experience in few words.
How much have you prepared for the Hereafter?
It is reported that when Abu Huraira was on his deathbed, he began to cry, someone said, “why are you crying Abu Hurairah?” He said, “for the lack of useful capital, the remoteness of being successful and the possibility of falling into paradise or hell”.
This is what Rabie ibn Khushaim, a student of the famous disciple Abdulla ibn Masud the disciple – uttered as his final words on his deathbed: “I bear witness there is no God but Allah, He is the best reckoner and the one who rewards his servants graciously, I am satisfied with Him as Lord, Islam as religion, Muhammed as Messenger and the Quran as a guide”.
Always prefer the Hereafter over the here and now
Shuraih al Khadrami reported that when Abu Malik Al-Ashari was on his deathbed, he said to the people around him: “those of you present here, please deliver what I say to you now, I heard the Messenger of God saying, the sweetness of worldly life will be the bitterness of the Hereafter, and the bitterness of worldly life will be the sweetness of the Hereafter”.
The Prophet’s relics are blessings
Makhul reported that when Ameer Muawiya (died. 671) was on his deathbed, he called his children and wife and said to them bring that special chest, they brought it out, it was locked. Makhul said we thought it contained diamonds. Muawiya said, “I have treasured this until today, open it!” When we opened it, there were 3 pieces of cloth. Muawiya said, “this is the shirt of the Messenger of Allah, this is the cloak he wore on the farewell pilgrimage, I also asked him to give me the loincloth he was wearing, so he said when I go home I will send It to you. He then sent it to me. Then one day when he was having his hair cut, I asked ‘please give me these hairs’, he said ‘take them Muawiya’. So, when I die, shroud me in the shirt of the Messenger, and cover me with his cloak, and scatter the Messenger’s hair over me, put them on my face and over my chest, it will attract the kindness of my Kind Lord”.
Sell your world for the Hereafter
Abi Sahl Al Basri, was a student of Hassan Al Basr, when he was on his deathbed, he was asked to give advice. So, he said “sell your worldly life for the Hereafter and you will be profitable in both, but don’t sell your Hereafter for the world, that will make you a loser in both. Yes in both!
What to recite at the time of death
Alqama another student of Abdullah ibn Masud was on his deathbed when he told his students who were gathered around him, “please read aloud the declaration of faith, La-ilaha ill-Allah, there is no God but Allah.”
Ghuzaif ibn Harris was on his deathbed whilst his brothers gathered around him, someone asked, is there anyone who can read Surat Yaseen? A man said, ‘yes I can’, so he began to recite it, all listened attentively when he reached the final verse; “Glory to Him in whose hands is the control of everything, and to him you will be returned” (Yaseen: 83). He quietly passed away. One of his brothers said, “when someone is in their death throes reading Yaseen makes this easy”.
It is reported that when Zakariyya ibn Addi was on his deathbed, he raised his hands and prayed “Allah, I earnestly seek You”.