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Until you visit the cemeteries

8May 2016
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Until you visit the cemeteries

This is Part 2 of a 4-part series on leading fuller lives by increasing our awareness of our death.

The Quran contains a very short chapter called Al-Takaathur, containing only 8 verses, the first two of which say:

“The mutual rivalry for piling up of worldly things diverts you. Until you visit the graves” (Quran 102:1-2)

When I tell my work colleagues that I visited a cemetery with some friends last weekend, I receive a queer look. “Did someone in your family die?” asked one of them. “Why did you go with your friends, isn’t that weird?” asked another. I answered “No” to both of them; “Why should I need a reason to go to a cemetery?”

Visiting a cemetery is to become acquainted with what our final destination looks like. It helps put our lives in context. Why is this so? The Quranic verse above starts simply with two Arabic words – al-haakum al-takaathur – that can be translated in multiple ways:

  1. al-haakum – to be distracted, diverted, or to be kept busy – much like a robber may distract you while his accomplice takes your valuable possessions. The root word il-haa is used multiple times elsewhere in the Quran in a negative context. So what can put us in this state of being distracted or busy?
  2. al-takaathur – from the root word kathara which means to increase, to accumulate or to have a lot of something. Elsewhere in the Quran this word is often combined with increasing one’s wealth and children, such as in (57:20) and (34:35).

These two words combined together are perhaps Islam’s simplest yet most powerful rejection of materialism – the constant piling up of material possessions. So what is the solution to avoiding this state? The following verse says, “Until you visit the graves”.

What does this mean?

These two verses can be interpreted as either: [1]

  1. When we die, we will finally stop caring about this world. We will no longer be able to increase or accumulate things anymore.
  2. Physically visiting a grave – since the root Arabic word zaar means to go meet someone.

The first interpretation is almost a statement of the obvious. The second is perhaps a call to action. Much as how the Quran itself is merely a reminder to mankind, a cemetery is a very powerful reminder to each of us that our lives are short and limited, and thus our time on this Earth is precious and valuable.

How do you go about visiting a cemetery?

It’s simple – just go to one! No excuse needed and no need to wait for a funeral. A couple of practical points you may want to consider:

  1. Most cemeteries will be out of town with limited public transport, so you may need a car to get there.
  2. It may help to bring a friend, so you can help each other reflect and bounce ideas off each other.
  3. While there is no restriction to visiting only cemeteries where Muslims are buried, there are many cemeteries with a dedicated section for Muslims. [1]
  4. There are several optional etiquettes to consider when visiting a cemetery. [2]
  5. Make it something regular – I personally put a reminder once every 4 months in my Outlook calendar.

If we want to avoid continuously running the rat race of this world, “al-haakum al-takaathur” in the words of the Quran, then a pause, a rewind and a reality check, is a good place to start.

I truly believe that if more people made an effort to visit a cemetery every now and then, we would realise how short and valuable our time in this life is, and how we are all just travellers on a journey. And after all, what kind of traveller am I, if I don’t know my destination?

Written By Hassan
Hassan is a mechanical engineer in the energy sector. He regularly blogs about faith, community and current affairs at This article was originally published on


[1] Exegesis of Quran, Surat Takathur

[2] Merits and etiquette of visiting the deceased, Az-Zahraa Islamic Centre

Previously in this series: 

Part 1: Let’s Talk about Death

Prayer Time Table Monday 20 May 2024

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