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Being Remembered

It is natural for people to be concerned about how they will be remembered by posterity. This has always been the case. It is why we find people throughout history who possessed great wealth and power have erected for themselves elaborate memorials and mausoleums. This has been the case since antiquity, since well before the time of the Pharaohs.

Islam looks disapprovingly at such practices. It teaches us that everyone’s grave should be the same. No grave should be raised up or decorated. No one should have a tomb or monument built over their grave.

All the same, everyone likes to be remembered in a good way. This is one of the things that encourages us to achieve. It is a perfectly natural feeling, and there is nothing wrong with it.

Like our other natural inclinations – our desire for food, for sex, for accumulating possessions – it needs to be kept within reasonable limits or it becomes something harmful.

I admit I have wondered what people will say about me after I am gone. Most people ask themselves the same thing at one time or another. Our forefathers doubtless thought these very thoughts when they were alive. They made their mark on the world and then passed away, in most cases without leaving a lasting trace.

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This question is part of what makes us human. There is something in our innate natures that makes it so important to us, since from a purely logical standpoint, what people say about us after we die really does not matter.

Most of us will die being remembered only by a small circle of people, like our families, friends, and co-workers. Some of them might give a speech or writ publish a short article in your honor in the local newspaper or online.

A few of us will have their names preserved in a historical work or a bibliographical encyclopedia for one reason or another. In that case, you may find your name connected with some of your achievements.

There may even be some praise connected with your name, if your biographer feels especially moved by your accomplishments or thinks they might provide inspiration for the living.

Readers who come across your name for the first time will wonder how accurate the information is. Did the author do you justice? Did your biographer exaggerate your achievements? If the biographer was extra diligent, your biography might be more comprehensive, containing many interesting details about your life and your achievements. A reader of that work will be led to believe that there indeed was an exceptional life. However, the truth will be that those whose lives were forgotten or not so carefully preserved were just as unique.

life and deathThings will continue as usual. The world will keep turning. People will continue going about their business. Your passage, as well as mine, will prove to be no problem at all. It will simply be an opportunity for others to take our places in the world. They will, in turn, work according to their talents and abilities.

The unavoidability of death should make us more industrious and hard-working with the time that we have. We should strive to be creative, develop our skills, and contribute what we can to the world. We should not allow our inevitable passage make us despondent or listless. We should not hasten on our deaths prematurely.

Our religion teaches us that we should strive throughout our lives. Allah says: {Worship your Lord until the Hour that is certain overtakes you.} (Quran 15: 99)

`Amr ibn Maymun, the eminent student of the Prophet’s Companions, attributes the following advice to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him):

“Take advantage of five things before they pass you by: your youth before you grow old, your health before you grow ill, your wealth before you become poor, your free time before you become too busy, and your life before the arrival of your death.” (Mustadrak al-Hakim (3/306))

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said:

“Be in this world as if you are a stranger or a wayfarer on a journey.”

Ibn `Umar, the Companion who heard this advice from the Prophet, explained how he understood it:

“It means to go to bed at night not expecting to see the dawn, and to wake up in the morning not expecting to see nightfall, but (to strive) taking full advantage of your health while you have it, and taking full advantage of your life while you still live.”

Our passing away is an opportunity for the generations who come after us. It gives them a chance to be themselves and the freedom to make their own distinctive contributions in the world.

Glory be to Allah who gives us our fleeting lives and who Himself remains forever, who brings forth one generation from another and one era after the other.


About Salman al-Ouda
Muslim scholar. Al-Ouda is a member of the International Union for Muslim Scholars and on its Board of Trustees. He is a director of the Arabic edition of the website Islam Today and appears on a number of TV shows and authors newspaper articles.