Where are the Tyrants?
I wanted to post another passage from Imam al-Tabari's Tarikh al-rusul wa'al-muluk (History of Prophets and Kings), as it speaks to me at present. The central issue of the passage is the fleeting nature of life and the speedy arrival of death.
'God only accepts those works through which His countenance was desired; so strive for God in your works. Know that whatever you sincerely direct to God is among your [good] works: obedience you have rendered, or a sin you have overcome, or taxes you have paid, or a good work you have sent forward from ephemeral days to others that endure, to the time of your poverty and need. Servants of God, be forewarned by whoever among you has died, and think on those who were before you. Where were they yesterday, and where are they today? Where are the tyrants, and where are those who were renowned for fighting and victory on the fields of war? Time has abased them, and they have become decayed bones upon whom have been perpetuated gossip - "loathsome women for the loathsome men, and loathsome men for the loathsome women' [Quran 22:46]. Where are the kings who tilled the earth and cultivated it?They have perished, and mention of them is forgotten, and they have become as nothing; but God has preserved the consequences [of their evil deeds] against them and cut them off from the desires [of this world], and they have passed away. The deeds [they did] are [still reckoned] their works, but the world is the world of others. We remained after them; and if we take warning from them, we will be saved, but, if we are deceived by them, we will be like them.Where are the pure ones with beautiful faces, captivating in their youthfulness? They have become dust, and what they neglected to do before has become a source of grief for them. Where are those who built cities and fortified them with walls and made in them wondrous things? They have left them to those who follow after them; those are their residences, empty, while they [themselves] are in the darkness of the grave. "Do you perceive any one of them, or hear a sound from them?" [Quran 19:98]Where are those sons and brethren of yours whom you know, whose appointed times have elapsed? They have arrived according to what they sent forward, alighting upon it and abiding for misery or happiness after death. Between God, Who has no associate, and between [any] one of His creatures there is no means of access by which He may grant him grace or divert evil from him - unless it be through obedience to Him and following His command. Know that you are required servants and that what is with Him is only attained through obedience to Him. What seems good is not good if its consequence is [hell]fire, and what seems evil is not evil if its consequence is paradise'(al-Tabari History of Prophets and Kings, translated by F. Donner, I. 1847)