March 21st 2015 marked the fifteenth anniversary of the death of Mulla Asgharali Jaffer. What better way to mark the anniversary of his death than to visit the site where he is buried.
On a quiet Saturday afternoon in late March, I, along with a small group of others, visited a cemetery in North London where Mulla Asgharali Jaffer is buried.
The day started off fine, the weather was very calm, the company and conversation was stimulating, and the afternoon flew by. Just like that as soon as I had arrived, it was time to leave. I can only describe the atmosphere at the time as one of self-reflection.
There were two reasons I wanted to go and visit the cemetery where Mulla Asgharali M. M. Jaffer is buried. Firstly, I wanted to pay my respects and remember him, but I also just wanted to go.
Mulla Asgharali M. M. Jaffer is accredited as the man who founded the World Federation of the Khoja Shia lthna-asheri Muslim Communities. Mulla Asghar was an active member of the community, a learned scholar, and a relentless social worker always helping those in need.
It does seem unusual to visit a cemetery for no reason other than, just because. This was why on the Friday when my colleagues asked me if I had plans for the weekend, they were surprised to hear I was going to a cemetery.
Visibly saddened to hear of my planned activity they enquired; “Did somebody pass away?” and “Are you going visiting a relative?” It therefore came as quite a surprise to them when I said, “No, I just want to go.”
Going to a cemetery, a place where people are buried, where you have no connection, and know nobody, but still feel like you should go and reflect, may seem strange but in reality it is not.
Self-reflection is important. It is a process of evaluation; personal and spiritual evaluation. It is a way to really make us think about who we are. It makes us ask those hard questions that we try to avoid answering.
The principle function of a cemetery is to act as the final resting place. Becoming acquainted with this place, our final destination is difficult but necessary. These places serve as a reminder for just how short life is, and how we should not squander it.
There is so much more we all could be doing that we do not do; for lack of time, lack of motivation, and even sometimes lack of money. The time we spend on this Earth should not just be about accumulating wealth.
We should be helping others, those in our society and community who feel alone and isolated. Charity in all its forms is one of the best ways to interact and meet people who, just like you, are seeking to do more.
I want to share an interesting statistic about time. Say for example we live till we are 90-years-old. On average, let us say we spend 8 hours a day sleeping. During the course of our life we will have spent 30 years sleeping.
On average, taking a very generous estimate, let us say we spend 45 minutes a day in total on our 5 daily prayers. Over the span of 90 years we spend roughly 2.8 years of our life just in prayer.
Taking an average 9-5 job, with 253 working days in the year and retiring when we are 65, we spend an estimated 15 years working. Leaving us with 42.2 years just for leisure.
All of these estimates are generous and have not taken into consideration the time we spend when we are born, our early life, and when we are old. Nonetheless, it serves as an eloquent reminder; life is so short and the time we have is precious. There is so much more that we could all be doing to improve ourselves, and to help others.
In the Qu’ran it is mentioned in Surat al-Takathur (The Rivalry in Worldly Increase), Chapter 102 Verses 1-2; there are a lot of things which will distract us in this world, until we visit our graves.
“The mutual rivalry for piling up of worldly things diverts you. Until you visit the graves.” (102: 1-2)
In the first verse it is written “Alhakumu attakathur” (102: 1)
The root of the word alhakumu means preoccupied, distracted, or kept busy. Attakathur is from the root kathrat, meaning striving to have more and more of everything, or to increase or accumulate a lot of something.
In this setting “Alhakumu attakathur” takes the meaning; one has become so completely engrossed that there is a lack of attention for the more important things in life. We have become so occupied in our pursuit and acquisition of worldly belongings, in one form or another, that it has distracted us from (a) the world around us and (b) what really matters.
These verses together can be interpreted in three ways. Firstly, when we die we stop caring about the world and our desire to acquire more and more. Secondly, when we die everything we have stays in this world, it does not come with us. Thirdly, go and visit the graves where people are buried (e.g. cemeteries) so that we might be able to understand there is more to life than accumulation.
Visiting a cemetery is just one to remind ourselves; this is where we will all end up one day. The cemetery serves as a reminder; there is no running away from what will eventually overtake us all. Once we come to terms with this and accept it, then we can progress and move forward.
It is not about the car we drive, the clothes we wear, the house we buy, the job we have, or even the money we earn. When it is our time and we arrive at deaths door, none of these material aspects will matter. There is so much more that we could and should be doing, but we just do not do for so many trivial reasons. Helping others in our society and community is just one way to do something extra and take more from this life.
Ultimately, we are all travellers on a journey. There may be many stops along the way, but there is a final destination. Visiting a cemetery puts into perspective the physical destination, but it also allows us to think about the metaphysical destination of our journey.
Written by Hameed Mozaffari