On one of the salah time tables I saw a remarkable statement by Imam Rumi. He said: “When we die, don’t look for us in the graveyards but look for us in the hearts of those people whose lives we have touched.” Allah Almighty has given each one of us different skills and graces, which, when properly applied, can be used to help others who are not so fortunate to have such skills and graces. Many of us, as we live on this planet, are able to leave footprints behind because of what we do for others. Those footprints are never erased, and even when we are not here anymore, those footprints continue to be planted for us. This is Allah’s (ﷻ) work.
Many years ago, while I was principal in Steenberg, I was asked to deliver a speech on behalf of another principal who was leaving the profession. In my address I said that the contributions that he has made would continue to last even well after his death. Whatever he taught or whatever he made others teach would go down in the course of history of the community in which he worked. I remember me saying that people will forget his name but the contributions that he has made would last and last. That man, like many others, left permanent footprints in the course of time.
One looks at our work and one sees deep everlasting footprints; of those of us who in our day-to-day work with others, in the food that we distribute, the mosques we build, the adhkar we make, and the talks we give. The importance of our footprints lies in the fact that we are busy with the work of Islam. These are very special footprints, because they have to do with Allah Almighty, and this is what makes them so special. They are footprints on behalf of Him and for Him.
More than 1400 years ago, Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ), under instruction from his (ﷺ) Lord, made the first footprints for Islam. His (ﷺ) footprints followed those of his (ﷺ) brother Messengers (a.s.) who had come before him (ﷺ). These Messengers (a.s.) changed lives; in some cases these were very dramatic changes, taking people from unbelief to belief, from darkness to light. When our Messenger (ﷺ) came, there were already footprints left behind, but his (ﷺ) prints were going to be the most blessed and most glorified. His (ﷺ) changing of the lives of people has never been equaled in the course of history, and as a consequence of his (ﷺ) work, hundreds of millions of people today have his (ﷺ) name in their hearts. And so, according to Imam Rumi, we should not look for him (ﷺ) in Madinah only but we should look for him (ﷺ) in the hearts of hundreds of millions of people who remember his (ﷺ) name. It is not through his (ﷺ) grave that his (ﷺ) memory survives, it survives in the hearts of all those who accepted his (ﷺ) Call. And so, although his (ﷺ) body is in Madinah, he (ﷺ) is wherever Muslims are, because his (ﷺ) name, attached to the Name of his (ﷺ) Lord, are deep in the depths of their souls. Part of the remembrance of our Lord is the remembrance of him (ﷺ). In a certain sense we come to remember him (ﷺ), because his (ﷺ) Lord remembers him (ﷺ) and because we remember his (ﷺ) Lord. The reciting of Salawat is part of the recognition of the footprint that he (ﷺ) has left on the course of human history; from “whatever time” his (ﷺ) Lord decided and to “whatever time” his (ﷺ) Lord has decided. I do not think that there is a footprint of greater historical value than his (ﷺ). When Allah Almighty engaged him (ﷺ) in His Call, the footprint was made. I can understand today why he (ﷺ) is the greatest of all and the most praised of all. It is all because of the extent that he (ﷺ) has impacted on the lives of others and the registration of his (ﷺ) memory in their hearts.
What about us? We are all very ordinary human beings living at the southern tip of this continent. Are there possibilities for us in the planting of footprints? Are there possibilities for us to impact on the lives of people so that the memories of our names can also go down in the history of time? Are there things that we are doing that are so dramatic that they impact on the lives of others to such an extent that others remember us and will continue to remember us? Is there a possibility that, that remembrance of us in the hearts of people is part of their supplication for us, and has all been decreed by Allah Almighty? My whole understanding of things tells me that the answer is “yes”.
We have to understand that despite the smallness of our group, the work that we engage in has to do with Allah Almighty, has to do with His work in the course of history. When people recite Shahadah in our presence, this is God’s work, and what we have done becomes part of the historical memory of this community. It is through these historical memories that we bring about, that memories last. When we build mosques and an Adhan goes off and when we provide facilities for people to make dhikr and to pray, we impact on their lives. This impact has to do with changing the ways they lived previously; whether they remember our names or not, the changes in their lives will last, and will bring changes in the lives of their descendants. And with these changes, the memory of at least our work lives on. In future time they need not look for us in the graveyards. Our bodies will be there but in future if people want to find us or want to know where we are, they will find us in the hearts of others; those whose lives we have impacted on.
As I sit here dictating, I do not know whether there is a greater legacy for anyone to leave behind. This is not a legacy of goods or material things, but it is a legacy of having worked in our Lord’s Cause, a legacy that lives on and on, continuing to impact on the lives of others. There is sometimes talk of leaving material things behind from which others can profit, but the greatest things to leave behind are those legacies which have changed the lives of others. Our legacies are religious ones, because it has to do with the hearts, and so as long as hearts beat, our legacies will be there; the legacy of the Naqshbandiyyah-Muhammadi Tariqah of Southern Africa, amin.
[Letters to Seekers on the Spiritual Path Vol 2 – Unpublished 2012]