Meditations On The Fragility Of Life

The other day, a lecturer in the Kuliyyah of Architecture and Environmental Design at IIUM was killed in a freak accident. Eventually, the campus community became aware of the unfortunate mishap, although it took some time. A friend who was on campus at the time had heard nothing about it, until he had left campus later in the evening. This news evidently did not travel very quickly.

These days I think about the fragility of life a great deal. With the loss of family members, the passing away of some friends at young age, the recent attacks in Mumbai and some very disturbing news of freak accidents there are plenty of obvious places to remember the precious nature of human life. Not to mention of the countless millions of people whose lives go largely unnoticed as they face death every day through no fault of their own, but have been caught in political, cultural and economic systems which make longevity of life the exception and not the norm. From Palestine to Ambon, we see everyday the terrible wounds of conflict that have left bodies maimed and minds destroyed. Families have been left without fathers.

A few months ago, an Islamic website circulated a video of an Ustaz who fell over dead in the middle of his lecture. He simply stopped in the middle of a sentence and fell off his chair in front of the class. He was gone. Viewing his death was very sobering, which is why some Muslims thought to circulate it on Internet.

This video clip was accompanied, unfortunately, by some really insipid “preaching”, as if each individual viewer couldn’t see for himself how fragile life really is. No matter what our religious beliefs may be, human beings really do not WANT to face the immanence of death every second of their lives.

And yet, Qur’an teaches us to do so. Why is it so difficult? One famous Greek writer put it very well, when the hero of his tale was asked the secret of his still-vital old age. “Zorba the Greek” replied, “I live each day as if I will live forever. I also live each day as if it were my last.”

One without the other can only lead to neurotic anxieties. History shows us two distinct responses to such anxiety, real or imagined. One sort of person gathers together with friends for sex and companionship. Another will pray all day. Which are you? Which am I? It is hard to answer even THIS question until we actually face death’s reality.

Even modern science confirms this fearful fragility of human life. The mathematical balances in the created universe that make human life possible are so precise and exquisite that we can hardly imagine them emerging accidentally. If any of these proportions were to fail, all human life would be extinguished.

A number of books written by recognized scientists confirm the exquisite balance of natural forces needed to support, not only human life, but also the fragile ecosystem of the planet earth that we all need to live even one second.

Why do the greedier among us seem to be destroying our environment in order to preserve their high profits, or their “personal freedom” to drive internal combustion engines or fly incredibly polluting aircraft wherever they may please? Why indeed.

Global warming is hard to prove, however, if one symptom of that mortal agony of our Mother Earth is total unpredictability of weather and climate patterns, it would seem that the real culprits who caused the recent deaths in Kuala Lumpur’s Bukit Antarabangsa tragedy may be those who deny the reality of global warming and refuse to take remedial steps (such as the USA or even Saudi Arabia, who was rated Number One in such disregard in a recent NGO survey).

As the sudden deaths of our brother at IIUM and the residents of Bukit Antarabangsa demonstrate, life is very fragile. Not only must we prepare ourselves inwardly for this inevitable event, we must also STOP “tempting fate” by disrespecting nature’s fragile balances and protections, and by letting corruption and human greed go unchallenged.

Indeed, our race, the human race, alone among Allah’s Creation in the beginning of time, agreed to assume responsibility for the exquisite nature of the balances required to sustain the physical universe. And if we, as a race, fail in discharging this Trust? If we fail as Allah’s Creation?

Let us choose to benefit from our acquaintances’ sudden deaths by considering them as reminders to correct our own attitudes. If we have distinguished ourselves as Muslims, that is, as completely distinct from any other religious group, then surely we will not fail to pray each time as if it were our last.

If we are strong enough, through our Solat and other forms of ibadah, to face Allah swt alone, without what the secular psychologists call “co-dependency” on a spouse or other opposite-gender sympathizer, perhaps we will be strong enough to face Allah swt all alone, as Qur’an says we inevitably must – “On that Day, neither spouse nor children nor riches will avail thee aught.”

Azril Mohd Amin


Friday, December 26 08

Al Fatihah to Dr. Ahmad Shukri Yusof, and a dear friend, Allahyarham Sdr. Lukman Mutalip.

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