Friday 26th May 2017
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The Hurricane Sandy began as a low pressure system which was later classified as a tropical depression on October 22, 2012. It caused havoc in Haiti, Jamaica, Cuba, Bahamas and Bermuda before moving West in the Atlantic Ocean. The hurricane was called the perfect storm when the weather experts commenced charting its path towards New Jersey and New York. They fed weather data under the prevailing conditions in the computer and traced the path of the hurricane. The data-produced model showed hurricane’s move towards New York as per the predictions and the data. It seems the hurricane was not inching towards New York at its own will but was being forced in the direction of New York by the computer model. The prediction was 100% correct, encouraging weather bureau to declare it as a Perfect Storm.

Hell broke loose when this perfect storm – super storm Sandy, came ashore in New Jersey and New York. The devastation and destruction caused by waves between 6 feet and 14 feet after hitting shores of New Jersey and New York. The wind was blowing at 70 miles an hour which resulted in destroying houses, businesses and dumping more than three feet high sand in coastal cities. Rain added more calamity and disasters, and the indelible live images of this natural disaster made hundreds of thousands of people cry. The first order of emergency was to save lives and property.

The force of the super storm was too much in many cities to save homes and businesses and the loss of human lives was minimal but a part of this great tragedy. Hundreds of thousands of people who evacuated and survived the fury of the storm later saw their own homes destroyed or made inhabitable by the storm, wind and rain. They saw doomsday – the qayamath. For the victims it was the arrival of the day of final reckoning. The rest of the world realised how qayamath will look like when it comes. Apocalypse was here for the citizens of the United States living on the East Coast.

“I was scared to death” was the typical answer by many petrified people who were exposed to life threatening storm. Yes, death is the only fact about life which is irreversible. The Holy Qur’ān has declared, “Every human being is bound to taste death”. This verse appears in the Holy Qur’ān in three chapters – Al-Imran, Ankabut and Al-Ambia. The most appropriate words have been used in the Qur’ān for describing the fact that we all will one day die. God is telling us that the only sure thing in this life is death.

Day to day awareness of death can assist us in living life fully. Many a time when we stand for performing the Salat and prayer in congregation in a Mosque, the imam who is leading the prayer would turn to the congregation and say, “Keep the lines straight for discipline, stand shoulder to shoulder to show solidarity and perform prayer as if this is your last prayer.” Death is in many ways unpredictable, one has no idea as to what is going to happen the next moment in this life. By saying that every human being will taste death, Almighty God is telling us to look at life and reflect on death, not when a dear one is near death or out of it. He is encouraging us to speak of it while we are in the flower of good health. We must envision our life by recognising that it is finite.

An insurance agent, once said, “Insurance is all about death; we talk about everything; paying premiums, settling claims, making payments in hundreds of thousands of dollars, issuing premium default notices, etc., but never mention death or say if you die, your family gets the insured money. Insurance is all about death “.

Most human beings in their lifetime seldom see a dead body. This may happen when a relative or a dear one has passed away. The following example illustrates as to how an individual feels about life and death when he is forced by circumstances to focus on death. In early 1970’s, the only burial place available or known to Muslims in Los Angeles, California, was a specific area in the Forest Lawn Mortuary. The Director of the mortuary told the Muslims that Hollywood movie stars Sabu Dastagir of India and Turhan Bey of Turkey were buried there and it was the most suitable place for Muslim burial. There was no separate burial site or a graveyard for Muslims in Los Angeles or Southern California.

For the burial of a Muslim stillborn girl, the Forest Lawn mortuary was contacted by a Muslim family. A family member was assigned the task of bringing some items to a room on the second floor of the mortuary building, where four ladies were engaged in preparing the girl’s body for burial. He arrived in the lobby and was given directions to go to the second floor. He followed directions and got on the elevator. The elevator door opened, he stepped out, went into a big hall and immediately went into shock. Seven dead bodies were lying on seven different tables in the big hall. His brain fogged and he saw nothing but darkness in front of him. He started breathing heavily. He somehow managed to go to the other end of the hall, turned right and ended up in the room where Muslim ladies where giving burial bath to the baby. After making his delivery, he lowered his gaze, walked back to the elevator, and finally ended up in the lobby on the first floor. He was sweating and shaking. For the next two months, he had trouble sleeping at night, started seeing bad dreams and had nightmares. He felt that he had come face to face with death, and the consolation was that he was spared.

The natural disasters, including super storm Sandy, compelled people to think about death. Eleven years ago, the manmade disaster, the tragic events of September 11 forced people especially those living in the US to think about death. The indelible images on the television screen, the feeling of helplessness and the fear that had taken control of lives of millions of people gave them a chance to think over their priorities in life and to refocus their spirituality. Many couples that were in the process of getting divorce withdrew their cases to start life afresh with their present life partners. It gave them a chance to reflect on the emotional, selfish and egotistic side of their actions that led them to the divorce courts in the first place. Many people reached into the deep recesses of their hearts and discovered that they were alone in their hearts but not lonely. They discovered God, spirituality and the shortness of life and resolved to simplify their lives, restructure their relationship with others and made commitment to devote their lives working for humanity, justice and peace.

On the remembrance of death, and on encouragement to remember it abundantly and because of the prevailing circumstances, the people of faith had a chance to balance their lives and to resolve to remain good in this world and prepare for the next world.

Maulana Rumi, the most read Philosopher and Sufi in the United States, is America’s bestselling poet. His writings are considered symbolic of the relationship of man to the divine, expressing the ecstasies and mysteries of love of all kinds – divine or  friendship – and cover all ’the magnificent regions of the heart’. About death he said, ”If you die before you die, you don’t die when you die.”

Dr. Sir Muhammad Iqbal, the Philosopher of the East, was educated in the West, returned among his own people and made attempts to awaken the Muslim community. He was angry at the community. A philosopher who not only spoke philosophically but also provided solutions about the ills of the community. If a person communicates with God then he knows and God knows it. Dr. Iqbal would communicate with God and then tell the whole community as to what he said. Once he said to God in a couplet: “Neither this world nor the hereafter belongs to your independent and freedom loving worshipers. Here you have placed restriction on life (we all have to die) and in the hereafter the restriction has been placed on death (we will have to live forever).”

One of the greatest Imams, Imam al-Shafi’i in his final sickness said:

When my heart was hardened and my courses constrained / I made my hope a stairway to Your forgiveness; My sin burdened me heavily, but when I measured it by Your forgiveness / Lord, Your forgiveness was the greater.

[The writer is a retired Industrial Engineer and Engineering Proposals Analyst who lives Los Angeles, California, USA]

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