Preparing for Exams & Preparing for Death
Every year students are faced with the sitting exams. Whether at School, College or University, the outcome will decide whether we have progress into the next year/semester or signal failure. Exams are important for us to succeed, they fulfil the purpose of attending School, College or University and allow us to gain employment in later life.
Hence we have a purpose for coming to university. We seek to achieve certain results, which require effort and hard work, in order for us to attain the degree.
During exam period the purpose of education is made very clear as it is crunch time. Either you make it or you break it. So at this stage we are even more conscious about seeking those results and fulfilling the objective of attending university.
Exam preparation means a total change in activity for students. People stop watching their favourite soaps on television (not that they should be watching it anyway). Some revise in the library till midnight and then return home and continue till 3 or 4 am in the early hours of the morning. Others have to let go of that x-box and shut off their online gamer friends or limit going onto Facebook twice day as opposed to every hour!
We will see people during this time whose health is very bad, because they haven’t been eating properly or at the right times. People who normally take pride in their appearance, all of a sudden are dressed shabbily. Some guys even keep ‘Exam beards’ (What beardo’s!!)
Thinking affects our views/Attitudes
So we can see very clear patterns of thinking here and how it manages to transform a person’s behaviour radically. Everyone clearly realises, that they have to pass. They also realise that if they don’t pass then they still have the option to re-sit during summer time.
However, there is one examination, one test which we all are a part of. The results of this exam are unknown to us presently. Each day that passes, we are monitored and are examined. This is the main focus of my bayaan today
Reality of Death
Brothers and sisters, this is the test which Allah has put us in. It is the subject matter of death and what we will face after death. The day when mankind will stand before Allah (swt) on the day of reckoning definitely, and Allah will question us about our actions we performed in our life. The very life which Allah gave us without our choice and the one which he will take from us without our choice.
This is the exam that every single human who has existed in this dunya, from the time of Adam (as) and Bibi Hawa, to the last person to live in this dunya will face. And on that day we will not have the ability to go back to this world to make our selves better. There will be no re-sits and the decision on that day made by Allah the supreme will be decisive and final, and nobody will be able to change it. Either it will be the Bliss of Jannah or the darkness of jahannam.
Our Attitude to Death
Islam answers the questions about our purpose in life, and gives us a direction in life. So we think about death and remind ourselves and question our actions. Those actions which Allah has given us a shariah for, to guide us to sirat-ul-mustaqim. So let us look at what attitude we should have towards the issue of death.
Allah’s Messenger ﷺ said to Abdullah b.Umar (ra), “If you awoke in the morning, do not speak to yourself of the evening, and if you reach the evening, do not speak to yourself of the morning. Take from your life for your death, and from your health for your illness, as you, oh Abdullah, do not know what your name will be tomorrow” [Bukhari].
Uthman bin ‘Affan (ra), in the last Khutba he gave in his life, said:
“Allah (swt) gave you this world to request the Akhirah, and did not give it to you for you to rely upon, for this world ends and Akhirah is everlasting. So let not that which ends make you disregardful, nor keep you busy from that which lasts. Choose to seek that which lasts over that which ends, for this world will be cut off and our return is to Allah.”
Remembrance of death continually keeps us in check in this dunya. It makes it realise that we have a contract with our creator. A contract with no expiry date specified. It is like a bomb, which is ticking and has no timer but just a question mark. You do not know when it will explode. Allah says
“To every person is a term appointed. When their term is reached, not an hour can they delay it, nor by an hour can they advance it” [Surah Araf 7:34]
Hence Life is limited, and time is short and there are many actions which we need to perform. Allah describes this in the following ayah
“It will seem to them that their life on Earth had spanned only one evening, or one morning” [Surah Naziat 79; 46]
On the Authority of Abdullah bin Mas’ud (ra) who said: Once the Messenger of Allah (saw), slept on a mat made of date palm leaves and when he awoke the impressions of the mat were visible on his body. We (the Sahabah) said: “O messenger of Allah (saw) may we prepare a soft bedding for you?” Allah’s Messenger ﷺ said “I have nothing to do with this world, I am in this world like a rider who halts in the shade of a tree for a short period of time and after taking some rest, resumes his journey leaving the tree behind.” [Tirmidhi]
So what do we do?
Many of us are confused about the subject of preparing for the akhira. Remembrance of death is not crying and wailing and blaming one’s self when one is on the brink of death, or attending a funeral or visiting graves alone. Rather, remembrance of death is when a believer imagines that he will meet his Lord at any moment, and his actions will be cut off, as will his ability for repentance. So he will be aware of himself, careful to obey Allah (swt), wary of his Lord every second of his life.
Anas (ra) said: I overheard ‘Umar b. Al-Khattab (ra) as he entered upset, and there was a barrier between us, and he was saying:
“Oh, ‘Umar b. Al-Khattab, Amir of the Believers, bravo! By Allah, Oh, son of Al-Khattab, you better fear Allah, or he will punish you.”
With the preparations for exams we realise if we fail we have the opportunity to re-sit. But brothers and sisters. Life is limited and there will be no second chances. Allah reminds us
“But when death comes to one of them he says: ‘My Lord return me, so that I shall perform what you ordered of that I neglected’. No indeed! It is only a word he says, and there behind them is a barrier until the Day they shall be raised up” [Surah Al Mu'minoon 23;99]
What is the Bargain?
In this life Allah has given us Islam and the shariah rules to guide us. Allah has struck a bargain with us. What is this bargain? Those of us who obey Allah and his messenger and remain steadfast in the deen of Islam, observe all their actions according to Islam, Allah will reward them with the jannah, and those who failed they will be thrown into the hellfire.
It was reported by Anas (ra) who said that Allah’s Messenger ﷺ said “Whoever likes the appointment with Allah, Allah will like his appointment, and whoever dislikes the appointment with Allah, Allah will dislike his appointment”.
So what is jannah like that we strive for, and what is jahannam like that none of us want
Allah describes the scenes of entering Paradise
“Those whom the angels cause to die while they are pure, say: ‘As Salamu ‘Alaikum (peace be upon you’ and the angels will say to them ‘enter into Paradise because of what you used to do” [Surah Nahl verse 16:32]
and Allah (swt) describes the bliss of Paradise as
“Verily, for the Muttaqûn, there will be a success (Paradise)” [Surah Naba 78:31]
The ayah continues highlighting the wonders of Paradise that we will be granted for our good deeds and successful Islamic Life
“Gardens and grapeyards; And young full-breasted maidens of equal age And a full cup (of wine). No Laghw (dirty, false, evil talk) shall they hear therein, nor lying; A reward from your Lord, an ample calculated gift (according to the best of their good deeds)”
Sahl bin Sa’d narrated that Allah’s Messenger ﷺ said “A place in Paradise equal to the size of a lash is better than the whole world and whatever is in it.” [Bukhaari]
Allah’s Messenger ﷺ said “When the disbeliever and the sinful servant is leaving the life of this world and going onto the next, powerful and severe angels with black faces descend upon him carrying with them coarse sack cloths from Hell, and they sit from him at a distance as far as the eye can see. Then the Angel of Death arrives and sits by his head and says: ‘Oh foul soul come out to Allah’s wrath and anger.’ The soul spreads throughout his body, so he violently drags it out like multi-pronged skewers being pulled out from wet wool, tearing with them the arteries and the nerves”.
Furthermore Allah’s Messenger ﷺ said informed us that: “If just one drop of Zaqqum (the fruit of Hell) where to touch this Earth, it would destroy it” (Ahmed).
This is the outlook which Islam gives to us prepare for the most important examination.
Exams in Capitalist Societies
In Capitalism i.e. Western societies we see a great emphasis placed on Exams. Hence in High School we are told that your GCSE’s are the most important exams of your life because based upon these you will choose your future career path. We go to college and pursue further education and we have career advisors to help us decide which courses to opt for at university.
When we get to university we do not get the help from teachers like the way we did in college and School. Rather it is up to us to attend lectures and tutorials. This breeds the mentality of individualism within us where you look out only for yourself.
Give me Your course work
People will make and break friendships based upon how beneficial this person is to them in their studies. Social relationships are built to ease the stress of studying. Some relationships are built simply to get help for work, like going to the class geek or brain box who obviously is lacking Social skills to make friends! Youre their best pal now. I Wonder why?
So the whole outlook, which Capitalism builds around preparations for exams, is one of individualism.
Affecting your deen
A student therefore gears his entire activity at university based upon such ideals and neglects all others. So a muslim will make up many excuses of studies so that he doesn’t attend circles of ilm. He or she may even compromise Jum’ah because it clashes with Exams.
Such a mentality, which Capitalism breeds, makes the person live in a cocoon and from the Islamic perspective distances that person away from practicing the deen. So all that person is continually worrying about is assignments, module assessments and practicals
Most importantly, they miss out dealing the most important exam of life- i.e. our purpose and what happens after life ceases to exist. This question has no value in life for people in Capitalist societies. NOT even in their education system.
Exams show us we can change our lives
The reality of death is a subject matter which none of us can avert and shy away from. Death stares in our faces every second of our lives. We have only two types of breath. One, which we inhale and one which we exhale and we do not know which one will take our lives.
The preparation for the akhirah by all means is no simple task but every one of us is capable of achieving jannah, because that is why it was created and indeed every one of us is capable of entering the hell fire because that was also created for a certain purpose.
However, lets look at our attitudes towards preparing for our examinations. Our behaviour radically changes and exams become the life and death issue for us. Our sleeping, eating, relaxing, entertainment, and even family commitments change guided by the thought that we need to pass these exams.
Indeed it is this very thought which needs to be applied to the most important exam of our life, and that is the akhirah. Allah says
“No indeed! When the Earth is systematically levelled down, and your Lord comes, with angels rank on rank, and Jannah is brought near, then man will remember, but how will that remembrance profit him? He shall say, ‘Oh would that I had prepared for my life!” [Surah Al Fajr verse 89:23-27]
We should all ask ourselves the same question. What do we do to keep our ideas in check? Do we value the books of human beings over the book of Allah? When it comes to preparing for exams do we give it our best shot and divert all our energies to studying but when it comes to understanding Islam, making Da’wah, reading books, speaking about Islam and creating avenues in which the correct Islamic ideas can prevail.. Shouldn’t we excel more than we do for our studies?
Exam time clearly shows us that those people who say they can’t change and their iman is weak are lying and fooling themselves. Exam time clearly shows us that Capitalism makes people think individually and makes them avoid the real issues of life.
Islam on the other hand builds a clear vision and a goal in life, part of which is that we seek education and we sit exams, and deem this as something which our deen has permitted.
Let us question ourselves on our attitudes for the preparation of exams compared to our preparation for the life to come which is everlasting and has no end
Let us take today, this time, and this place where we renew our allegiance to Allah (swt) and promise that now will be the change to which the world will stand witness to. And Allah says
“And whoever believes in Allah and carries out His commands, Allah will forgive him his sins, and admit him into the Gardens of Paradise beneath which rivers flow, to live in forever, and this is the supreme success” [Surah Taghabun 64:9]