It states in a Hadith that every morning an angel calls out: “You are born to die, and construct buildings that they may be destroyed.”1 I was hearing this truth not with my ears, but with my eyes.
Ten years later I still weep when I think of that situation, as it made me weep then. Yes, the ruins of the houses at the foot of the ancient citadel, thousands of years old, and the town ageing eight hundred years in eight years, and the death of my once-flourishing medrese which had been the gathering-place of friends, all indicated the vastness of the immaterial corpse of all the medreses in the Ottoman Empire, which now had died; the great monolith of Van’s citadel had become a gravestone to all of them. It was as though my students who had been together with me in the medrese eight years previously were weeping in their graves together with me. Indeed, the ruined walls of the town and its scattered stones were weeping with me. I saw them to be weeping.
Then I understood that I could not endure this exile in my native land. I thought that I would either have to join them in the grave, or withdraw into a cave in the mountains and await my death there. I told myself: “These unendurable, searing separations which destroy patience and resistance surely make death preferable to life. The pains of such a life are unbearable.”
I then cast a glance over the six aspects and saw that they were all black. The heedlessness resulting from my intense grief showed me the world as terrifying, empty, desolate, and about to collapse over my head. My spirit sought a point of support in the face of innumerable hostile calamities. Its endless desires which stretch to eternity were seeking out something to satisfy them. While awaiting consolation in the face of the sorrow arising from those endless separations and deaths, that endless devastation, suddenly the truth was manifested of the All-Wise Qur’an’s verses:
Whatever is in the heavens and on earth—let it declare the praises and glory of God; for He is Exalted in Might, the Wise. * To Him belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth: it is He Who gives life and death; and He has power over all things.(57:1-2)
It saved me from that pitiful, terrible, sad, separation-stained imagining, and opened my eyes. I saw that the fruits at the tops of the fruit-trees were looking at me as though smiling. “Note us as well,” they were saying. “Do not only look at the ruins.” The verses’ truth brought the following thought to mind:
al-‘Ajluni, Kashf al-Khafa’, ii, 128, No: 2041; al-Munawi, Fayd al-Qadir, v, 483, No: 8053; al-Haythami, Majma‘ al-Zawa’id, i, 94.