As I was reading today the last section of al-Ghazali’s Ihya ‘Ulum al-Din (The Revivification of the Religious Sciences)- Book XL, Kitab Dhikr al-Mawt wa-ma Ba’dahu (The Remembrance of Death and What is After It), I was struck by how apropros the following two passages seemed in light of the past couple weeks’ spate of well-publicized deaths and funerals:
1. ‘Know that funerals are a lesson to the man possessed of insight, and a reminder and a counsel to all save the people of heedlessness. For these latter are increased only in hardness of heart by witnessing them, as they imagine that for all time they will be watching the funerals of others, and never reckon that they themselves must needs be carried in a funeral cortege. Even if they do so reckon, they do not deem this to be something near at hand. They do not consider that those who are carried now in funeral processions thought likewise. Vain, then, are their imaginings, and soon their allotted lifespans will be done.
‘Therefore let no bondsman watch a funeral without considering that he himself is the one being borne aloft, for so he will be before long: on the morrow, or on the day that follows: it is as if the event had already occurred.’
2. ‘The properties of attending funerals include meditation, heedfulness, preparedness, and walking before the pall in humility… One of these proprieties is to have a good opinion of the deceased even if one he had been corrupt, and to have a poor opinion of oneself even if one may outwardly be pious. This is because the last moment is a perilous thing the true nature of which is unknown.
‘It is told of ‘Umar ibn Dharr that one of his neighbours once died. He had been extravagant with himself, and for this reason many people refused to attend his funeral. However, Ibn Dharr attended it and took part in the prayers. When he [the neighbour] had been lowered into the grave he [Ibn Dharr] stood beside it and said, “May God show you mercy, O father of So-and-so! For throughout your life you kept with you the testimony to Divine Unity, and begrimed your face with prostration. Although they called you a sinner and a transgressor, which one of us is not a sinner and has no transgressions to his account?”‘
Abu Hamid Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Ghazali, in The Remembrance of Death and the Afterlife (Islamic Texts Society, 1989), 97, 98.