You Only Scared to Die if You Ain’t Living Right
December 7, 2020
Ibrahim Abdul-Matin is an urban strategist whose work focuses on deepening democracy and improving public engagement. He is also an Interfaith America Racial Equity Media Fellow.
In a reflection on Psalm 8 I referenced a story about Prophet David and in the spirit of chronologic order I offer this reflection on death spurred by a tale of Prophet Solomon.
Perhaps you have heard it?
A man is in the market and he sees the angel of death approaching him. The angel gets so close that he looks directly into the eyes of the man. The man knows instantly that the being that in front of him was in fact the Angel of Death and the prepares for the obvious. The man clutches his chest then at the last second the angel turns away. The man realizes that he is still alive and rushes to the court of Solomon. He explains the situation and requests that Solomon with his extraordinary power and control over djinn take him as far away from the angel of death as possible. Initially Solomon refuses. But the man from the market was adamant and Solomon finally relented. He asked, ‘where do you want to go?’ And the man replied, ‘to the south of India.” Which is just about as far away as he could imagine. He wanted to do everything he could do to avoid death.
A Noble Prophet of God Solomon, who had had a habit of showing shown mercy to the smallest of creatures, obliged this wish and sent him on his way and instructed one of his most reliable djinn to take the make from the market to the south of India. Later Solomon was walking through his garden and saw that the Angel of death was there as well. They gave the greetings angels and prophets give one another. Solomon asked about why he scared the man in the market. To this the angel of death replied that he was surprised to see that soul in that place. ‘why is that?’ Asked the Prophet of God, ‘because I am scheduled to take that soul tomorrow in the south of India’.
When it is your time it is your time. There is no power that you can muster that will prevent death from calling on any of our souls. This has been a year of death. For me it was ushered in before the pandemic when my “Irish twin” sister Jehan passed away last December from the old human villain that lurks inside us – cancer. Her passing was followed by the pandemic’s early days here in the New York epicenter when sirens were the chorus of day and night. When freezer trucks overflowed with bodies, and when city workers were used as gravediggers. Later death visited my good friend Cecil Corbin-Mark, a mountain of a man who was an anchor of the environmental justice movement and deputy director of WEACT. He passed from a stroke. Death also visited my good brother Muhammad who, much like me has a home, a wife and a family – same age as me and one of my companions when I completed the rites of Hajj two years ago – he was gunned down in suburban Atlanta in front of his home for no apparent reason.
It has all been a lot, but it helps to have a framework in place for these moments. There is an ocean of wisdom in the pattern and rhythm of the rites of a Muslim funeral – it is an act of worship. It signifies a step we cannot ignore. An Ultimate reality. As one of her brothers I tried my best to be useful and handle some of what others did not want to handle. When it came to the day of her burial I simply did not want to go and hurricanes dropped out of my eyes. I never stop myself from crying when I need to. I am not one of those types of men. I’ll never stop shedding tears for and missing my sister. Nor will I ignore the reality that as a black man being gunned down, having a stroke, or dying of cancer are real and I should do all I can to prevent them to the extent that I can. The reality is more like the old Talib Kweli lyric, “You only scared to die if you ain’t living right” – we have to face the reality that we have a finite time on this plane of existence.
When I was nine, the same age of my eldest now, I began a process of meticulously writing out a will and testament that I would sign and place inside an envelope. No one told me to do this. Then I would seal that envelope and give it to my sister. “Just in case I die this year” I would tell her on my birthday every year. Ensuring that comic books and various bits and things would be properly taken care of. The irony is that my sister Jehan Abdul-Matin who was born a year later than me, would end up dying before me.
If you read this do one thing: make sure your papers, wills, powers of attorney, etc. all those details are in order. You never know when your time is up.
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