It is not easy to intellectualise mourning/death and not get rejoinders. This is what Bayero University, Kano’s Prof Ibrahim Bello-Kano, (IBK) may taste after Intervention published his short piece, Symbology and the Discourse of a Death.
The first shot came from Mallam Yakubu Aliyu. Aliyu is an Oxford trained Economist but also a Sufi philosopher. Khalid Iman joined. Iman is a literary activist running a huge Whatsapp ‘Reading Circle’, with texts to his credit. He runs a school based in Kano. The last, so far, is Prof Kamal Aliyu, the University of Edinburgh educated Language Lecturer at Bayero University, Kano. And then IBK’s response. That is it so far.
Surely, there must be something followers of other religions – Christians, followers of Judaism, Buddhists and even animists can pick from this conversation. So, here, we go:
From Yakubu Aliyu to IBK
I am not sure of what Prof. IBK is trying to convey, or the philosophical perspective that underpins his submission, but it seems the Prof’s idea of mourning and grief is somewhat straight jacketed. How did he arrive at the idea of a collective, albeit “secret” fear of death, as the basis of mourning of the death of a famous person, in this case a famous cleric that have touched millions of lives across time and space? Yes, philosophers and even psychologists have talked about fear of our mortality, but this fear is existential, not episodic. It is not a response, it is innate. Even an insect under a threat of death does all it could to escape it and survive destruction. Grief is not the exclusive preserve of human beings. Perhaps grief just brings to surface such innate awareness of mortality. Just watch animals when one of them dies. That’s just how life wires creation, from the lowest to the highest forms. A death might be just one occurrence that reminds people of their mortality, but even a separation or collapse of an intimate relationship can trigger feelings of grief and mourning. Fear of death alone cannot account for people’s sense of personal and collective grief in the event of a single or mass deaths. We need to appreciate the fact that human psyche and how it responds to external events is multidimensional and operate at different planes of existence that it cannot be captured by a singular philosophical perspective.
The collective mourning that follows the loss of a cleric or any beloved public figure connects people to each other, and to an entire community, immediate and far distant, who may also share that suffering. The loss and the grief individuals experience provides an additional opportunity to take inventory of their lives, which whenever they encounter death is something they tend to do, not necessarily out of fear of death, but out of how to confront the existential realities of life, after the death of some one that loomed so large in their lives.
The feelings of grief after a death of a loved one, for example, a favorite cleric is common because people form personal attachments to them, at different stages of their lives and interaction with them. These are people that play important roles in people’s and community’s lives, as spiritual leaders, mentors, helpers, confidants, and support pillars, at different levels of relationships.
Even in situations where by individuals might not personally know them, they connect with them in special ways, making their presence felt in their lives. For many people, it is possible that in some way, the individual was an integral part of their childhood, or their formative days, or adulthood. Maybe they represented an ideal, something people hoped that they could be. Or, perhaps, the cleric held a particular important memory in their life-for example, they held certain religious, social and political perspective that aligned with their core beliefs, or they inspire and motivate them along a particular vision of their faith, and life generally. In those cases, the death can feel like a loss of that particular part of their past, present, every day life, and even the future that has not arrived.
In our part of the world, and elsewhere, clerics can be a big part of people’s daily lives-they may provide people with comfort, a sense of escape, or even excitement, about this life and the hereafter, not necessarily in the sense of the “[G]ood Death that the cleric had spent a life time talking about”, as Prof. IBK puts it. When a cleric the people feel connected to passes away, it is a conditioned feeling of a loss because they may have been integral in some of their happiest or saddest moments. These clerics help people cope with the vagaries of life in ways that psychotherapies and other emotional scaffolds cannot.
When people grieve, no matter how momentarily, which is often the case, because ultimately people come to terms with reality of loss, sooner than later, it is totally normal. Death is just sad for the majority of human beings. It needs not be, but that is just the way it is.
From Khalid Imam to IBK
My understanding or view of or about death may sound conventional or not philosophical, but l what truly feel about it in reality, it is what l expressed and continue to pen. I know what l still feel about death and the experience l am going through since missing my mum. Romeo’s symbolic “love of the corpse”, in my view, is just one way of expressing intimacy or love, and there are many other best ways the living should honour their dead. To bury the dead or commit the departed flesh to mother earth does not in any way symbolize lack of love or strong feeling.
Taking one’s life so that one can be buried together with the departed, the Romoe’s way is not just tragic but the most disrespectful. One should ask, who else would remain behind to mourn and pray or inherit and build from where the dead left since life is like a wheel in motion. And that we return to normal life with some speed after burying our loved ones leaves so much to doubt our sincerity about how deep we love them is not a claim we should generalize.
Even if it is a general case, l believe, that is one of the best ways to love the dead. See, because the leaves of a tree shad, does that stop the tree from growing new ones? My conventional understanding of death from experience, is for the living not only to live watering the memory of the departed but to build on his or her legacy. And one way of honoring the memory or building on the legacy of the dead is for the living not to cling like an ivy to his or her graveyard of his or take one’s precious life to join him or her like in Romoe’s tragic example. Both the dead and the living need each other. Often they share common aspirations or dreams, and the best the living should or must do is to quickly return to life and build on such lofty shared common aspiration, water it from see to tree as a mark of honour or payment of debt to the ones one loves after they are gone and buried.
Our existence remains us of those who left whether we mention it or not. Personally, l know for sure despite the fact that l have returned to living my “normal” life, my intimacy with my mum especially (and dad too) now more than ever before is more enduring. We still live together despite the absence of their physical bodies. To illustrate this fact, take Shiekh Ja’afar and Albani Zuri’a for instance, the investment their students committed in watering the trees of their teachings is legendary. Their students didn’t just mourn them and return to live forgetting them forever; they continue to pay their debt by improving on and sustaining their legacies.
Today, for instance, we have Albani TV courtesy of the efforts of his living students. Therefore, by rushing back to normal life after a period of mourning, we simply live to honor our dead and to pay their debts to us. This, to me, is the most symbolic act philosophers should not avoid in their discourse of death.
From Prof Kamal Aliyu to IBK
IBK!, How you exaggerate! In Islam, sincere devotees do not fear dying or death itself but rather what their hands had earlier in put forward, i.e. their bad deeds. In a hadith it is related that before the final end, all clerics will die. So, the recent death of one reminded the faithful of that hadith and caused them grief (not anger, as you mistakenly thought!) and led them to resolve to do good like the cleric preaching until his death as his choice of the jihad, which all devotees have been enjoined to exemplify. Thus, Hume was ignorant of the Islamic view – and nay have been shivering in fear until his very end. After resurrection, Death itself will die. So, what is there to fear about it? The likes of Hume do not worship any deity, so they have no limbs to stand on in which case fear for them is the only thing to clutch and hold on to.
IBK Replies (first to Khalid and then to Kamal, 1 & 11 respectively below)
Khalid, I think you missed the premise of my previous comment. Your comment on my post may be called a piece of empiricist thinking because you assumed that conceptual questions and enquiries could be resolved or answered by a simple pointing to or reference to empirical illustrations or tradition or sanctified practice. Now, the crux of the matter may be pressed within the following conceptual structure, itself grounded in questions and questioning: 1). Why do those who lost loved ones intern them in a crypt and resort to only memory (at best) as a source of relational emotionalism about the beloved deceased? 2). Why would someone who lost a dear or loved one then go back to normal life and not treasure the body of the deceased ad infinitum? Another set of questions may follow: do we humans bury or cremate the dead, and not see their body as valuable enough in itself as for it to be “kept” as a cultural object of value, and as an infinite affirmation of the value of the dead? Is this valuing a thing in itself or something else not admitted openly because of human nature or cultural valuation? Nietzsche and Freud have argued that forgetting is healthy and makes us to go on living. Perhaps death is an unconscious nuisance to the human sense of being-in-the-world. I’ve observed family members, including my own, wailing over the death of a mother, a father, or an offspring, but the moment they began to engage in conversation or communicative interaction, they slowly began to cease to be mourners. Why is that?
Perhaps humans cannot mourn in a deep sense. Perhaps the living are only concerned about their own being-in-the-world. Sometimes, the death of a loved one turned out to be beneficial to their relatives, not just because of potential inheritance claims but also because we humans can’t love anyone forever, even our dearest ones. Indeed, I suspect that death is a great reliever of the nuisance called “eternal love”. Who wants their parents to live forever? When someone we culturally identify with dies, we tend to be emotionally distressed. We follow the corpse to the cemetery, and offer effusive prayers for the repose of their “soul” (not the dead, decaying body). However, a day or two later, we recover from the emotional turmoil and go about our business again. Why do we do that? Is it because Nature says so, or that we humans have evolved a deeply cultural code to cope with loss and bereavement? Perhaps humans can’t care about any one’s death but their own? Perhaps humans have cultural strategies for hiding their secret anxiety about death as the ultimate spoiler? Finally, empirical illustration of a single case cannot answer for large, metaphysical or conceptual ones. Thanks. IBK
There’s abundant scientific, empirical and metaphysical evidence that human beings have a natural, deeply instinctive fear of death and physical extinction, whatever their ideological identifications. Only suicides, or those with a deeply troubled psychic situation, seek to die or wish to die. Of course, history is full of people who didn’t flinch at the moment of their death. But that in itself does not justify the notion that religiously saturated people don’t fear death. And this for a number of reasons: 1). The heaven or eternal repose in the afterlife promised by many religions is only a promissory note, so to speak. Even the deepest, most trusting believer, knows that it’s not a cut-and-dried case. Because God is presumably omnipotent, some things, some hoped-for affirmations, have to be accepted as “undecidable”. No one is absolutely sure that they will end up in Paradise. 2). The promise of Paradise is contingent on a set of conditionalities that are largely outside the control of the human subject. Example: religious beliefs and practices are effective and efficacious only on a set of conditions that only Reality or the natural world can gurantee. That is, one could possibly only achieve Paradise in the real world itself and not BEFORE. Why is that? One reason is that the real world and religious faith are two sharply different things. No one “achieves” Reality or the Real: it’s simply there like the mountains or the oceans or the Earth itself. But religious faith is what one has to be got at via rituals, faith, or a certain way of living in nature and society. 3). For a believer to clinch Paradise, they must first die this very life. Why is that? It is because the Real alone is substantial; the Real sets the terns of the parasidical “promissory note” and one has to die before it is clinched. In this sense, Death is the spoiler because when death comes, it terminates the credit system that drives religious devotion in empirical life. Humans naturally fear death because it inaugurates the known “unknown”. The faithful may believe in conscious life that there’s a much better life out there in heaven but the human unconscious reserves a space of doubt, hence the demand that Paradise be “achieved” by the faithful on pain of duties, devotions, and commitments. 4). It’s perfectly justified to say that human beings have a deep desire to live forever, and not face death. But death just can’t be evaded. For this reason, humans look forward to yet another life, an eternal life in which there would be no death or mortality. Yet the paradox is that normal humans, even those who are willing to carry a suicide belt or kilogramnes of explosives in their underwear, fear death, or rather seek to attenuate or kill off or alleviate that fear of death and dying by finding a transcendental reason for it via faith, religious identity or the deep yearning for a post-death repose, a post-mortality condition beyond the Real. Death necessarily inagurates or brings on for the believer, even the most fanatical, the condition of Fear and Trembling. Death is not nice; that’s why even religious devotion is a way of reconciling with its inevitability, it’s dreadful presence in the Unconsious. Finally, there are stories of the founders of the great religions being humbled by the death experience. Death is extinction in the Real. Perhaps it’s also the hoped-for state of bliss that humans hanker after but must first die, be extinct in body and mind, if only to settle accounts with the Real.