The very first stage is wakefulness (yaqzah), that is, to awaken from the pre- occupation of worldly engagements and to remove negligence. To awaken is to remember to look after one’s piety, life and spirituality. Many scholars such as Imam Khomeini in his book: Jihad-e Akhbar (the Major Jihad), which is a compilation of lectures given by him to Hawzah students, state that the first stage of self-purification is wakefulness. Indeed some mystics believe that this is only a preliminary stage and that the first stage comes after wakefulness. However, there is no doubt that this is the beginning. The departure point is to become awake. We may say that we are all ‘awake’, but this is a different kind of wakefulness. According to a hadith, the Prophet Muhammad (S) said:
الناس نيام فإذا ماتوا انتبهو
“The people are asleep and only wake when they die”.1
When they die, they wake and never go to sleep again. But then it is too late. Then they are like someone who wakes up when the train has gone, when the airplane has flown. At that time, there is no use or benefit in going to the airport because, although you are now awake, you have already missed the flight. All you can do is to blame yourself and be regretful. You might say that you will catch the next flight but unfortunately there are no more flights. It is the end of the world, that was the last flight and we missed it because we were asleep.
So, let us be awake. If we become conscious only when we die, we cannot do anything, as there is no opportunity to come back. Allah (SWT) talks of the people who ask to be returned, so that they can do something good. He replies:
إِنَّهَا كَلِمَةٌ هُوَ قَائِلُهَا
“This is just some words that this person says” (Surah Muminoon 23:100).
If he is given a chance, he will not change, and even then, there is no opportunity; they just wait for the day of resurrection. Unfortunately, death has become so familiar or naturalised that we do not think we are going to die, and it will always happen to someone else. According to an Iranian poet, “we are like a group of sheep, taken one by one to the slaughter house; each is enjoying, not thinking that they will be next”.
According to a hadith, the Tawrah of Moses says:
عجبت لمن ايقن بالموت كيف يفرح
“I am astonished that someone who is certain that he is going to die, can ever be happy”.2
So we need to become alert and wake up before we die. Sometimes this happens through a significant event such as the loss of a relative, severe illness, or in meeting a pious person. However we should not wait for something to happen before changing; we can just change, as there is no guarantee that something will happen to us.
It is very easy to become awake: it just needs determination and for us to think about how important and significant this life, this journey to get closer to Allah (SWT), is to us. This is the only chance that we have to obtain provisions for our eternal journey. According to a hadith, Imam Ali (A.S.) said:
ان الليل والنهار يعملان فيك فاعمل فيهما
“Day and night are constantly affecting you so you should also try to affect them.”3
This means that your life is passing by quickly. Every day and every night is making you older. In other words every day and every night is bringing you nearer to your end of life in this world so try to do something.
There is a beautiful analogy regarding our situation. Life in this world is compared to a rope for a person who has gone into a deep well and is only holding onto that rope. If he loses this rope he will be finished. There are two mice, one white and one black, at the top of the well, gnawing on the rope. The time will come when the rope will definitely break. The mice are very determined and will not go away. This is our situation. The rope represents our life. The white mouse represents day and the black mouse represents night. Day and night are constantly ‘gnawing’ away at our life and sooner or later we will ‘fall’ and die.
So we must be awake and be very careful with this life, with this golden opportunity that has been given to us.
1 Bihar al-Anwar, Vol. 50, p. 134.
2 Irshad al-Qulub, Vol. 1, p. 74.
3 Ghurar al-Hikam, No. 120.