The Hundred Letters
Here are some portions from Paul Jackson’s English translation, from letter number 97, on Death:
Hazrat Sharafuddin bin Yahya Maneri (b. 1263), also known as ‘Makhdum Sahib’, was one of the most famous Muslim Sufis of India. He belonged to the Firdausi Sufi order. Qazi Shamsuddin, the governor of Chausa in western Bihar, had frequently petitioned Makhdum Sahib to send him written instructions for his spiritual advancement. Makhdum Sahib complied with this request, writing him a number of letters on various spiritual topics. These were collected together by Zain Badr Arabi and others in attendance on Makhdum Sahib. These letters, in Persian, were translated into English as The Hundred Letters by Paul Jackson, a Catholic (Jesuit) priest (b. 1931) from Australia who has been living in India for several decades.
In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate!
Dear Brother Shamsuddin, men are of three kinds. The first are covetous and greedy; the second have begun to turn to God; and the third have attained the heights of mystical knowledge. Pleasure-prone people simply do not think about death and, even if they do, it is in order to pine for this world and to become further engrossed in its good things. The remembrance of death makes such a person move further away from God. A person who has begun to turn towards God thinks about death as a means of producing fear and dread in his heart and thus be enabled to turn completely towards Him. It often happens that he has a great aversion to death out of fear that it might come before he has turned fully towards God and prepared the provisions necessary for it. Such a person would be excused for such an aversion, and would not come under this threat: “Anyone who has despised the vision of God Almighty does not rest in His favor.” This is because he does not abhor death and the Divine visage, but rather is afraid of losing the very sight on account of some fault of his. It is like a person who delays seeing his beloved and remains engrossed in making preparations to meet her at the time and place that will be most to his liking. The sign of his friendship is that he is always making some effort on her behalf, and is not preoccupied with anybody else.
Sickness to health
The advanced Sufi is forever recalling death, for it is the time appointed for seeing the countenance of the Friend, and no lover can forget the time fixed for meeting the beloved. He would love to be swallowed up by death so that, being freed from this dwelling place of sinners, he might rise to the abode near his Friend, just as Huzaifa relates: “O God, You know that I prefer poverty to riches, sickness to health, and death to life. Make death easy for me, that I might arrive at my reward—You!” Now it will be understood why the advanced Sufi is excused—for loving death and yearning after it. It is said, however, that there is an even higher stage […], when a person makes use of nothing at all, but does his work purely for the sake of God. For himself, he chooses neither death nor life. This is the stage of resignation and acceptance, and it is the final point of those who have reached the summit.
Aisha said: “O Apostle of God, who will appear together with the martyrs on the Day of Resurrection?” He replied: “Anyone who thinks about death twenty times each day and night.” He also said: “Death is a present for the faithful, because the world is their prison, and they are always grief-stricken in it. Death is the release from all that, and release from prison is certainly a much-prized gift.” Again, he said: “Death is an atonement for every Muslim.” Anyone who is a real Muslim, unlike you and me, is in quest of it. A genuine believer is the person from whose hand and tongue Muslims receive peace and security. The behaviour of the believers should edify others. They should not be stained by sins, except for trifling ones. Death makes them pure.
Ready for death
Khwaja Hasan Basri said: “Death has dishonored this world. It has not allowed any sensible man to rejoice!”And Khwaja Rabih said: “The pleasures of this world cut me off from two things: One is the remembrance of death, the second is standing in the presence of God
O brother, it behoves you not to lag behind those who day and night used to recall death at least twenty times. As far as possible, remain steadfast in this practice and be ready for death to come, whenever that may be. Qaqa Hakim said: “I have waited thirty years for death to come, for I have no love for anything here.” It is also related that Imam Suri said: “I saw an old man in the mosque in Kufa who said: ‘I have waited for death for thirty years in this mosque, not knowing when it would come. When it comes, I won’t have to wait for anything else. I don’t want any delay. I have no claims on anybody else, nor does anyone have any claim on me.’” One beloved of God wrote in a letter: “This world is a dream. After it, comes the awakening. Midway between them lies death. We are all perplexed with dreams.”
O brother, the end of one and all is by this way alone, whether you are a beggar or a king, for here it is all the same with respect to the possession of kings and the poverty of beggars. [God Almighty has said: “I am close to those whose hearts are broken out of fear of Me!”
A venerable Sufi has said: “There are three types of sorrow: that of worship—has it been accepted or not? that of sin—has it been forgiven or not? and that of the vision of God—will it be denied or not?” The especially favored ones have said: “There is really only one sorrow—that of being denied the vision of God! Every other sorrow, apart from that, is easy to bear, because it is not destined to last.” Hence it is that the prayer of all the wise in this: “O Lord, do whatever You wish, but don’t cut us off from this!” The secret has been couched in the following verse:
The hearts of all are stirred
In expectation of seeing Your face!
Our bodies, out of fear of separation,
Cry out in the midst of pleasure and comfort!
Without Your beauty, flowers of desire
Turn to thorns in my hope- enkindled eyes!