A Muslim is lowered in the grave and laid there with these final words: Bismillah wa a'la millati rasulullah which means 'being placed in the name of Allah and as one belonging to the community of the Messenger of Allah'. The dead Muslim is left there in the darkness and confinement of the grave on his final journey to meet his Lord. In this moment of utter loneliness and destitution the only hope and support that remains for him is his claim on Muhammad (sallallahu alyhi wa sallam), the Messenger of Allah (subhanahu wa ta'ala). So this is the Muslim's true and only meaningful identity.
Thus the only sensible course for a Muslim is to acquire for himself the identity that really matters while he is alive rather than merely having it ascribed to him, rightly or wrongly, by others after his death. For no one automatically qualifies for this identity; each person must deserve it through his or her own efforts. With conscious choice, love and labour he has to earn it by cultivating his connection with his Prophet (saws). He has to connect himself in every aspect of his life with the man from whom he derives this essential identity. He can do this by clinging to the Messenger of Allah (swt) just as one's shadow clings to him.
To be in the way of Muhammad (saws) we have to think as he thought, feel as he felt, desire as he desired, love as he loved, shun as he shunned, hope as he hoped, fear as he feared, behave as he behaved, act as he acted. We have to shape our inward and outward life in the mould of the Messenger of Allah (swt). Our life has to resemble his. In other words, we have to follow his Sunnah.
We are fortunate that we have all the details of Muhammad's (saws) life in front of us. Nothing is missing, and so our task is not impossible. Countless others have done it and found joy in it. True, as weak and imperfect human beings we will falter and lapse, we will be found wanting. But surely what Allah (swt) requires of us is that we be sincere, try our best and humbly pray for His mercy, forgiveness and help. When we have done that we have done our part. The rest is with our Lord who created us, offered us His guidance through the noble Qur'an and His Beloved Messenger (saws), and comforts us with His promise of mercy. If we are humble and sincerely strive as we should, He has further promised not only to overlook our deficiencies, but to repay us only for the best of them. "Those who believe and work righteous deeds - from them shall We blot out all evil that may be in them, and We shall reward them according to the best of their deeds."(Surah Al-Ankabut, 29:7). What more does the believer need?
We would do well if we reminded ourselves of what Allah subhanahu wa ta'ala says about Muhammad (saws) and the believer's relationship with him. Here are just a few examples. 'Truly, in the Messenger of Allah you have the best example for him who looks unto Allah and the Last Day, and remembers Allah much' (Surah Ahzab, 33:21) and 'We sent you not except as a mercy for the worlds' (Surah Anbiya, 21:107). To be blessed with Allah's love we must obey the Prophet (saws): 'If you do love Allah, follow me: Allah will love you and forgive you your sins, for Allah is oft-forgiving, most merciful.' (Surah Ali Imran, 3:31). The Qur'an tells us how dear he should be to us: "The Prophet is closer to the believers than their own selves" (Surah Ahzab, 33:6). The words of Allah (swt) are plain and clear.
Every Muslim must be able to say, 'I am pleased with Allah as my Lord, Islam as my deen and Muhammad as my Prophet' (at-Tirmidhi). Joyfully following the path of Muhammad (saws) provides the only clear evidence that someone is indeed pleased with Islam as his deen and Muhammad (saws) as Messenger.
Although the Muslim is asked to worship Allah (swt) alone, the form that worship takes is shown by His Beloved Messenger (saws). As the Qur'an tells us, the Muslim's life is a life of worship: "I have only created Jinn and men that they may worship Me" (Surah Al Dhariyat, 51:56). And again, we can see in this ayah what the Muslim's life is like: "Truly, my prayer and my service of sacrifice, my life and my death, are all for Allah, the Lord of the worlds" (Surah Al-Anam, 6:162). To life this life of worship, Muhammad (saws) alone offers the true model.
All these words of Allah (swt) tell us that the only hope we have of receiving Allah's favour is in the path laid out for us by Muhammad (saws). The beloved Messenger is the gate through which Allah's (swt) blessings flow. Our success with our Lord depends upon our attachment to Muhammad (saws). There is no way we can bypass Allah's Messenger and yet hope to save ourselves and receive Allah's (swt) blessings. This is what Allah (swt) has ordained. There is nothing more to be said about it. The choice is ours.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, let those final words proclaiming your identity as you are lowered in your graves on your way to meet your Lord, bismillahi wa a'la milllati rasulullah, be truly fitting for you, not a shameful mockery. Earn that identity for yourself while you are still alive.
A. K. M. Mohiuddin is a retired university professor of English literature living in Bangladesh. He can be reached at this address: akmm45yahoo. com