Die Before You Die: The Different Colored Deaths in Tasawwuf

Ironic, but one of the most intimate acts
of our body is

So beautiful appeared my death—knowing who then I would kiss,
I died a thousand times before I died.

“Die before you die,” said the Prophet

Have wings that feared ever
touched the Sun?

I was born when all I once feared—I could love.

Rabia of Basra

A famous hadith is attributed to the prophet Muhammad (ﷺ): “die before you die” موتوا قبل ان تموتوا. Though it has no sanad (chain), some scholars of hadith and tasawwuf say this is in the “other vessel of knowledge,” per the hadith of Abu Hurayra (may Allah be pleased with him):

I have memorized two kinds of knowledge from Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) . I have propagated one of them to you and if I propagated the second, then my throat would be cut (i.e. killed).

حَدَّثَنَا إِسْمَاعِيلُ، قَالَ حَدَّثَنِي أَخِي، عَنِ ابْنِ أَبِي ذِئْبٍ، عَنْ سَعِيدٍ الْمَقْبُرِيِّ، عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ، قَالَ حَفِظْتُ مِنْ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم وِعَاءَيْنِ، فَأَمَّا أَحَدُهُمَا فَبَثَثْتُهُ، وَأَمَّا الآخَرُ فَلَوْ بَثَثْتُهُ قُطِعَ هَذَا الْبُلْعُومُ‏.‏

Sahih al-Bukhari 120

Being familiar with this Hadith, a man asked Shaikh Abdul Qadir Jilani (r.a), “How do I die?” He (r.a) replied:

Cease following your mind, desire, carnal self (nafs), passions, karma and common habits. Abstain from seeking the people, desiring what they have or asking them for alms.

Give up on them and stop associating them with Allah’s Will in the giving or withholding. Ask nothing from anyone besides Allah Almighty. Let all your deeds be done for Allah’s sake and for the pleasure of His Divine Countenance, not for the sake of reward or favor. Accept His Management, Judgment and Doing. When you do so, you will be dead to yourself, but alive in Him. Your heart will become His abode. He turns it as He Pleases, and your heart will be transferred to the Ka’aba of His proximity. You will hold fast to its covering cloth (sitra), always remembering Him, praising Him and forgetting about anything else. Today the key to Paradise is the proclamation:

La illaha il-Allah, Muhammadur-Rasul Allah

(There is no god but Allah, Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah)

Tomorrow, the key to Paradise is to die to your carnal self and anything besides Him, while observing the boundaries of the Divine Laws. Proximity to Allah Almighty is the Paradise of the true believers and distance from Him is their Hell. They seek no other Paradise and fear no other Hell.

The Endowment of Divine Grace and The Spread of Divine Mercy (Al-Fathu Rabbani)

Hazrat Mevlana Rumi (r.a) describes the same Hadith in the below peom:

“O Generous Ones,
Die before you die,
even as I have died before death
and brought this reminder from Beyond.
Become the resurrection of the spirit
so you may experience the resurrection.
This becoming is necessary
for seeing and knowing
the real nature of anything.
Until you become it,
you will not know it completely,
whether it be light or darkness.
If you become Reason,
you will know Reason perfectly
If you become Love,
you will know Love’s flaming wick.”

(Mathnawi VI: 754-758)

The Different Colored Deaths

The white death: Bodily pain and agony. Allah may send us trials in our health or being unable to eat or drink. Eventually you may learn to love it. “I can do this, I can take it.” You may even look forward to it. They’ve dealt with that pain and agony, and they have then died that death. Now they can be strong.

The red death: A psychological death. The death of psychological agony and pain. Comes from breaking the hold of the ego. One of the main things adab does for us is it enables us to break the fetters of the ego. Even though I may be humiliated and people may treat me in a way I cannot stand, even though I may love to have this position or fame, I am willing to accept that agony and pain and I am able to forgive as well. This is the red death, the psychological pain of going against the ego.

The black death: Breaking the fear, pain, and agony of humiliation. This is a mental pain. Maybe people look at you in a way that is almost unbearable. We’re social animals, we’re precarious, and we need people to respect and help us. We want people to be our friends, but things happen, and we’re in humiliation. We have no standing in their eyes. We lose that respect they have. And for many people this is worse than death. They cannot lose that position, which may be illusory, that they feel they have in other peoples’ minds. This is the black death, the mental pain of that humiliation. And they take it. And then, once the agony has been taken, it’s gone. After that it won’t come back.

The green death: The death that is brought to you by harm, especially the harm that people cause. Such as backbiting you, slandering you, maybe they hurt you physically and abuse you. It’s a spiritual pain, even though it may be physical. What really hurts about that is that this brother or sister did this. They harmed me/us.

These are the people who have died those 4 deaths, the white, red, green, and black. They do not talk about the other types, because these are the main categories of pain and agony. By learning to overcome these pains, not fearing these pains, and especially not being checked by these pains, having the courage to face up to them, then they are able to break every kind of pain and adversity. Then they become free. To do what? To worship and love their Lord–nothing stands in their way. There is no obstacle in their way to stop them.

These are the metaphorical deaths that we want to die before we die, so we can live and be free. They are a special gift that Allah gives them through affliction, and He gives it only to the best of the believers. They become the people with His special love, and He gives them disposition in this world. When the sister who is a faqirah (needy before Allah) like this raises her hands, He will give her what she wants. When she seeks refuge in Him, He will give her refuge. But she paid a huge price for that, but she was courageous, and she was willing to do that.

There is no price that they weren’t willing to pay. It may play out in the drama of your heart. Maybe you did not do great and astounding things, like standing in line for battle. Maybe you never faced a worldly enemy. But you faced these agonies and pains, and so now you’ve won the love of Allah, and you’ve been given unadulterated freedom (حرية صريح). These are the people of principle, who are bound by principle, and therefore they are the ones whom Allah will give everything. No baqiya (بقية), no remainder of their nufus (selves, نفوس), is left behind.

They are in complete servitude. They may turn over in their sleep and say “la ilaaha illa Allah.” And Allah lets this freedom appear on them, with this freedom then comes the supreme amana, and may Allah crown you with it: khilafa. Divine stewardship. This is because the haqiqah (ultimate reality) of ubudiyya (servanthood) has released them from the qualities of bashariyyah (humans/humanness).

Their bashariyyah is their humanness. They may snore when they sleep, they may get sick, they may do things others do when they eat. They are bashar, human beings, not angels. They have issues to face, like family problems. They are not infallible, ma’sum (معصوم), but they are protected, mahfuẓ (محفوظ). But these qualities are all of their bashariyyah.

Their khususiyyah (خصخصية) is their special qualities. They devote themselves to the guidance of humanity. Not because of their bashariyyah, but because of their khususiyyah. Every salik has khususiyyah. Have adab with every single person, because you may know their bashariyyah, and you may not like it, but you don’t know their khususiyyah. And their khususiyyah is why Allah loves him or her. And that is the foundation of their wilayah (sainthood) and ḥurma (حرمة), their sanctity.

Everyone who sees them is felicitous. They are not just happy, but people of felicity in this world and the next. The seeing of these people is not just that you see their outward form, but you see their khususiyyah. Because you believe in that, and you have adab, and you watch their heart. Therefore you see about them things that some people would say “that’s not realistic, he’s not really like that,” but he is like that. And from this comes great sa’ada, great happiness for you.

(From a lecture delivered by Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah)

Recommended series: http://qadriyya.org/lessons/what-is-sufism

One thought on “Die Before You Die: The Different Colored Deaths in Tasawwuf

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