[originally appeared on Productive Muslim website]
Imagine, while working on a term paper that is due next week, you get a phone call from your doctor, telling you that you only have a couple more days to live and that you need to start packing up your luggage in preparation for your long journey to the afterlife… what would you do?
Ok, I just said IMAGINE! May Allah protect you and your loved ones and grant you a long life that is full of health, wealth, and imaan, ameen!
So back to our example: You freak out, start calling friends (or posting goodbye notes on social media) and seek their forgiveness; you may rush to do wudhu and start praying and probably make up the ones you missed. You check your wallet and your bank account and start sending donations left and right; you jump to your Qur’an – it has been a while since you last opened it – and begin reading profusely…
While rushing around, you try to remember if you owe money, books, or ANYTHING to your friends, knowing that the amaanah (trust) and the rights of people are no joking matters when it comes to departing from this world.
I usually give this scenario to my students and enjoy their creative answers on what goes on the “bucket list” of deeds for a believer in his/her final moments. I don’t disagree that all of the above are important, especially charity since it is explicitly mentioned as one of the deeds that you would wish to do at the moment of death, as Allah says,
“And spend, in the way of Allah, from what We have provided you before death approaches one of you and he says, ‘My Lord, if only You would delay me for a brief term so I would give charity and be among the righteous.’” [Qur’an: Chapter 63, Verse 10]
What is Akhirah-Oriented Productivity?
There is a unanimous agreement among all of those whom I asked that finishing assignments, or term paper, or any dunya (worldly) work does not make it to the bucket list. We have this dunya–akhirah dichotomy that assumes we should separate our Hereafter affairs from our worldly efforts. We think we’re either in worship OR studying. We are either seeking the pleasure of Allah (swt) by volunteering in an “Islamic” nonprofit setting OR we are trying to work on our resume or planning our next business venture.
The separation between our worldly goals and akhirah aspirations is one of the reasons why our Ummah has been behind for so long, after being the leading Ummah in the past. This separation is causing a lot of people to look down to religiosity and staying away from Muslim organizations and religious people. This separation is becoming a drug that some young Muslims resort to in order to justify their incompetence and their laziness.
After first meeting Br. Abu Productive (Mohammed Faris, CEO of ProductiveMuslim), this inspired me to start writing and sharing my reflections on ‘Akhirah Oriented Productivity‘. As the name implies, it is a lens that helps a Muslim keep his eyes on the Akhirah (afterlife) while moving his feet and hands in the dunya (worldly present life). When we reflect on death, it is normal to feel that strong desire to make changes in our lives. In sha Allah this article will help you take that desire and convert it to useful energy, which spins your wheels effectively and efficiently in this world.
Finish Planting Your Seed
The following hadith is the foundation of the akhirah-oriented productivity; it gives us the correct action items that a believer should have after being reminded about death and the afterlife. Prophet Muhammad said:
“If the Final Hour comes while you have a palm-cutting in your hands and it is possible to plant it before the Hour comes, you should plant it.” [Al-Adab Al-Mufrad]
Think about it for a second: what are the images that are painted in our minds when we hear about the start of the Day of Judgment?
- The sun rising from the west,
- The angel Israfil blowing into the horn (by the way, he has been in a position ready to blow that horn since the time of the prophet Muhammad ),
- The earth shaking, the moon and the sun colliding with each other, mountains set into random motion…
Despite all that, our beautiful religion teaches us to finish planting our seed; one might argue: but most likely no one will eat from that tree! No one will live to be shaded under it or even look at how beautiful it is! Probably no oxygen will be left and no sun will be around to nurture that tree! Again Islam is teaching us: do your part. You are to be judged by how “productive” you were in planting your seeds and won’t be held accountable for the actual fruits.
You may be wondering right now: “OK I get it; I need to plant as many seeds as possible to prepare myself for the Akhirah!” But what kind of seed should I aim for? And where should I start? Is there anyone from our Muslim history who kept on planting the seeds until his/her final moment?
Seek Knowledge Until the Last Breath
Story Time! My favorite story in this regards is that of Abu Yusuf Al-Qhadi, who is the most famous student of Imam Abu Hunaifa and a “founding father” of the Hanafi school of thought. It is narrated that when he was on his death bed, and he was struggling with the pains of death, a group of people was visiting him, and you can assume they were students of knowledge themselves. He asked them:
“If someone is performing hajj, and reached the stage of Rami al Jamarat (throwing the stones during the first three days of Eid), is it better for him to do so while walking or while riding on an animal?”
The others were amazed by his dedication, and they replied: “May Allah forgive you, Abu Yusuf! Even in the last breath of your life, you are asking us about this ruling?”
He answered, “I’d rather meet Allah (swt) while knowing the answer to this question, instead of meeting Him with ignorance about it.”
It will never be possible to gain all the knowledge about our religion in our lifetime, but we should all aim to be seekers of knowledge, so we can die as one, in sha Allah. Attend weekly classes at your local mosque, enroll onto an online course or simply look for a class playlist on YouTube.
Baby Steps Towards an Akhirah Oriented Productivity
I will leave you with some practical tips on how the akhira can help us become more productive:
- When you plan your day or write a to-do list, start with the most critical task (as they say: eat your frog) knowing that you may not live to finish your day and complete all your other tasks.
- If any item on your busy schedule causes you to delay the essentials (the five daily prayers, serving your parents, etc.), then don’t bother with trying to be productive on other things, because you are definitely planting the wrong seed.
- When posting on social media, remember that you are leaving your footprint in this world; try as much as you can not to leave an embarrassing one.
- Perform a self-assessment after listening to a lecture about the afterlife: did the emotional energy and the tears translate into more action, or more depression and helplessness? Try to quantify the outcome and use specific examples, numbers, and incidents.
- Always have a sincere intention and a purpose in your actions. This will, in sha Allah, turn your 9-5 job, weekends, hours of sleep, and fun moments and leisure time to pure ibadah time.
وما من كاتب إلا سيفنى و يبقي الدهر ما كتبت يداه
فلا تكتب بخطك غير شيء يسرك يوم القيامة أن تلقاه
“People walking on this earth are writers who will eventually perish,
But the days will keep what they have written,
So make sure that whatever you write and leave behind,
Will be a source of pride on the day of resurrection.”
I hope this article motivated you to increase your akhirah-oriented productivity, in sha Allah. What are your action items to enhance your akhirah-oriented productivity? Share them with the Ummah in the comments below!
Also to learn more about Akhera and productivity, you may visit my course at Productive Muslim Academy