2. To give Preference to the Hereafter over the World
After one knows how to strive against himself in terms of gratitude, it should be known to him that to stand straight and firm on the Way of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala has another sign that one should detect in himself. That is, to abscond from the abode of delusion, and rather incline to the Hereafter, prepare for meeting Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala, engage in amending oneself to be qualified for meeting Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala, and follow a right course on that way until he meets his Lord.
No one stands on a right course as such but the repentant one as stated in the verse (which means): “So remain on a right course as you have been commanded, [you] and those who have turned back with you [to Allah].” [Qur’an 11:112] It is only the repentant person who could remain on the right course. The first sign and feature to distinguish those repentant ones is that they abscond from the abode of delusion and rather incline to the abode of eternity, and give preference to the Hereafter over this world. Nevertheless, what prevents man from doing so?
a. Having Extensive Ambitions in this Worldly Life:
What prevents one from this disinclination and preference is having extensive ambitions in this world, and no certainty of the swift movement and departure to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala. That is one of the most important means that the devil utilizes to corrupt the believers, and make them deviate from obedience to the Lord of the worlds. He says to him, “Allah willing, next year you will be better.” The present year is the first thing to be lost by the believer because of that, as he comes out reliant on the assumption that the next Ramadan, he will do such-and-such. Thus, his deeds are lost. Who has guaranteed that you would not be seized (by death) during that period? It is that which the believer should think about in those days. That is the absence of caution about death, by saying: No, I will not die today. I am still young. Tomorrow, Allah willing, I will do such and such, or I will do start from the coming week. Allah willing, from the next year, I will try.
Were he to think that his night/day is the last one he would be alive (in this world), for sure, his state would be quite different. He would decide to end, from this day, all things that may blacken his face in the presence of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala, and conclude his day with repentance, drawing close to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala, amending what was, and compensating what he could do of deeds that he may have missed, until when he meets his Lord, He will be pleased with him for what he did.
So, let no one rely on his youth, that there is still a respite in his lifetime to come after youth, Allah willing. Such a person seems not to think that he would be seized by death, as stated by scholars. If he looks at the old men in his mosque, he will find them few in number, as if he says (to himself) that death attacks the youth faster than the elderly. That is, it is the young men who pass away more than the old men. Where are your friends and companions? They have been arrested by death and buried underneath the earth; however, you have not been affected by that.
Has death not seized any of your young brothers so that thereby you would take consideration and have this view about yourself? If you rely on your health, and that you could do such-and-such, and that there is still a respite in your lifetime, and there remains something of health and power, it may be that death would overtake you, or, at least, disease would catch you, given that disease is always the herald of death, after which you would move to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala. Having no long-life hope is still the unsolved problem. If the devil comes to you to say that you will do such-and-such the next year, or even tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, or the next week, or when you return from your journey, or when you recover from this disease, or when you solve that problem, or when such-and-such takes place: then, say to him, No, “Fear Allah. And let every soul look to what it has put forth for tomorrow.” [Qur’an 59:18] That is, tomorrow is the nearest day to you in the sight of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala, on which you may leave for the Hereafter, and had there been any day nearer, it would have been mentioned by Allah. It is mentioned in this indefinite form because of its great significance and difficulty: “fear Allah . And let every soul look to what it has put forth for tomorrow.” That is, do you know this tomorrow? It is a very significant and dangerous day, on which it is due upon everyone to prepare for the meeting.
It is that state which you should see in yourself, if you are heedless of the remembrance of death, and disobey the command of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ, “Remember the conqueror of pleasures.” [At-Tirmithi] If one remembers death, what is far will seem near to him, and what is near will seem far from him, and he will come to think about the swift departure, which develops within himself the fear of the bad states in which he is. Thereupon, he will try to repent of them, seek the forgiveness of Allah, retract, give up wrongness, and prepare to meet Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala, for fear of Him.
He should then get rid of his wrongdoings from today in between him and Allah, and in between him and people, in response to the Messenger of Allah ﷺ, “Whoever has committed an injustice against his brother, he should make his brother free him from it today before (the coming of a day on which) there will be neither a dinar nor a dirham.” [Bukhari] Thus, if he concludes his day or night as such, he will conclude it with something therewith he could meet his Lord The Almighty, because he could not meet Him with an injustice due upon him whether between him and Allah, or between him and people.
For this reason, the Messenger of Allah ﷺ always clarified the case of hopes for a long life by saying: “It is incumbent upon the Muslim, who has anything to bequeath, not to spend two nights without having his bequest written and kept by the side of his head.” [Bukhari and Muslim] Here, the Messenger of Allah ﷺ clarifies the extent of hope of everyone. That is, the believer should have no hope in this world, as stated by the Prophet ﷺ: “Be in this world like a stranger or a wayfarer,” and as said by Ibn ‘Umar, may Allah be pleased with him: “If the morning comes upon you, then, do not wait (to live) until the evening; and if the evening comes upon you, do not wait (to live) until the morning (of the coming day).” [Bukhari]
Strive then during your day, and if you are granted (a life of) a night, then, thank Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala for it, and regard it a new lifetime which you hope to return to if you die; and similarly, if you are at night and then live until the coming morning, you should then thank Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala for it. You should strive during that day or night, because it may be the last one you live; and if you are granted, in your lifetime, a new night or day, thank Allah for (enabling you to do good on it) that were you to go to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala, you would wish for this night or day. That is because Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala says (what means): “And spend [in the way of Allah] from what We have provided you before death approaches one of you and he says, ‘My Lord, if only You would delay me for a brief term so I would give charity and be among the righteous.’” [Qur’an 63:10]
When the angel of death comes to him, he says: Delay me for even a day, so that I would repent and return to Allah. But he says: All your days have been consumed, and no single day is remaining. He says: Then, delay me for even an hour. He says: All your hours have been consumed and no single hour is remaining as stated by Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala who says (what means): “when death comes to one of them, he says, ‘My Lord, send me back that I might do righteousness in that which I left behind.’” [Qur’an 23:99-100] If this day/night is granted to you, it should be the day you will hope for if you go to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala.
If Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala gave you this day/night, then, what would you do in it?
Suppose you had gone to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala, and said: Give me a respite for a day or night to repent and return (to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala), and it was said to you: Take this night or day; and then you have come to this world once again: What would you do in them? Your bad conduct today is to waste the night and day and then return to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala to say: Delay me for a night or a day, thereupon it will be said to him: We have delayed you, and you have done nothing.
For this reason, the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “Pray like the one who is going to leave (the world).” [Ahmad and Ibn Maajah] When one of them was asked to lead the prayer, he rejected and said, “I will not lead you in prayer.” On asking him pressingly, he led them in prayer and then said, “If I lead you in this prayer, I then will not lead you in prayer any longer.” It was said to him, “Then, does it occur to your mind, when assuming the prayer, that you will (live until you) perform a prayer after it?” This is hoping for a long life.
We seek refuge with Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala from hope of a long life which always wastes the best of deeds, when you assume the prayer, thinking that you would perform another prayer, without doubt, you will lose the reward of this prayer. You engage yourself, and come out to the market, your house, your children, your property, and so on, and say: Allah willing, in the next prayer, I will try.
That is not a real prayer in so much as distraction and whispers, where one does not taste the sweetness of faith and approach to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala. It is within this context that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “Pray like the one who is going to leave (the world).” [Ahmad and Ibn Maajah] That is, pray, having the assumption that you are going to leave this world with this prayer. That is your end in which you should conclude your life. For this reason, if the devil comes to tell you that in the next year you will do so-and-so, say (to yourself): “Pray like the one who is going to leave (the world).”
Muhammad Abu Habeeb, may Allah be pleased with him, – one of the righteous predecessors – used to say to his wife every night, “If I die, then, send to so-and-so to wash me, and to so-and-so to shroud me, and to so-and-so to do such-and-such…” She was asked, “Did he see a vision that he would die?” She said, “No, but every night he did so.”
It was the habit of anyone of the righteous predecessors to answer, in reply to the question why he did not sleep, “I feel afraid lest death would take me aback.” That is, he feared lest death would catch him by surprise at night while being in the very state in which he might be.
Thus, one should be in a state which brings about the good Pleasure of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala with him, and leads to his salvation (from His punishment). “If Allah loves a slave, He then will use him.” it was said, “What is intended by using him?”
The Prophet, ﷺ, said, “He guides him to do a righteous deed and then causes him to die on it.” [Ahmad and At-Tirmithi] No doubt, one does not know when he will die and go to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala. So, he should be always doing righteous deeds, until when death approaches him, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala then uses him in His service that He approves of for him, therewith to conclude his deeds, so that it would be the conclusion of happiness with Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala.
We ask Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala to choose us for His service, to guide us to the deeds that please Him and we ask Him for a good end, ameen Ya Rabbil Alameen.