A Bigger Picture

by Mohamed A Khalfan (Dar es Salaam, Tanzania)

The other day I came across a group photograph circulating in social media. The group was of distinguished elderly leaders of the community seated in front and standing behind in two rows were other persons, mostly of middle age. In all they numbered forty two. The picture was taken in 1960s at the end of an occasion of a yearly community meeting.

I had seen the picture before – perhaps a couple of times – decades ago at different points of time and there was nothing strange about it then.

It may not be difficult to guess what each person in the group was thinking as he keenly faced the camera. He was most probably thinking that this was yet one more picture for historical records of the position he held; there could have been no other or further thoughts beyond that at that point of time – before the camera shutter clicked.

On this occasion, however, as I watched across the rows of the faces, kept serious in keeping with the decorum, a sudden thought gave me a jolt with a bigger picture splashing before my eyes. I knew almost all in the group; some were friends and some relatives and others were respected elderly leaders of the time. It struck me that “almost” all of the Mu’mineen in the picture were no more – that is, to use the idiomatic English expression – just “no more”!. If the technology of photography had not existed, they would have seemed like they never existed before outside the memory of their families. Mere names mentioned in history do not portray physical images.

If I had also been one in the group, it would not have dawned upon me as I faced the camera that I too would have been explained off casually, through this picture, as having been a transient subject of “once upon a time” – historically, yesterday! How true! “out of sight out of mind” it means, when down to earth – a nonentity!

Lest we forget however; “Every death is timely – in whatever age.” (Ref. Q.3:145). Human beings  recognise death to be more prominent as a human characteristic than life. Yet, if there were to be no “tomorrows”, no one would want to live “today”.

It is said in a Hadith that death of others, as a visual impact, is the most effective Maw’iza – a preaching of warning – in which not a single word is uttered or need be uttered. The occurrence of some 85 deaths in a year in one large Jamaat in East Africa is not a small Maw’iza! The Group Photograph was not a small Maw’iza either.

The Qur’an shareef is stunning in explaining the reality of this mortal life. It is short – a fleeting moment,- no one will escape tasting death; and it is the Hereafter for which we are created, and therefore, it is better and more lasting (“khairoon wa abqa”). (Ref.Q.28:60; 42:36; 87:17)

The Quran further warns those who (already) believe in Islam that they will not be left alone on saying that ‘We believe’ and not be tried (Ref.Q.29:2) – they are required to do more than believing – to cultivate and practice taqwa and fulfill responsibilities so that when dying, to die as a Muslim, and not as we casually know of. (Ref. Q.3:102). The Qur’an tells all and time tells that it did tell all – to those who cared for the fate of their soul after death. Who doesn’t? We?

No one professing and practicing Islam will have ever failed – dared fail – in his entire life,  to read, understand and reflect on the divinely and miraculously Inspiring Qur’an  in its entirety or its translation from cover to cover  – even once in life–  as a simple testimony to Allah s.w.t. that he will return in death as a real Muslim. There is no coming back to atone and amend. The pulpit and the sermons are not and have never been, a substitute for, or alternative to the Qur’an (Ref. Ch. 54, Qamar).

What matters for each at the end in this fast spinning and dizzying cycle of life and death is “what” we were in the sight of our Lord in terms of performances; and not “who” we were in the sight of men in terms of position.

So in silent moments watching old group photographs come by useful as a deafening Mau’iza – and as a side impetus to the Bethak members to enjoin others in authority what is need be undone regarding the Ghulati Ahaadith in Shia Books and what is need be done in its place. Our performances in the sight of our Lord matter. Not a word is uttered and it is not unrecorded (Ref Ch. Qaaf)

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