There was one Ramadan a few years ago, during my undergraduate years, that I know I will not forget as long as I live. It was my second Ramadan in a university setting, and I loved the way it brought the Muslim student’s community closer: communal iftars, the numbers of people coming to pray their five daily prayers, the heightened sense of togetherness and family. As the first week of this Ramadan ended, however, the entire community was confronted with a sudden, tragic event: the death of a brother, hit by a drunk driver, while he was changing a flat tire on the road.
This brother who died wasn’t a ‘character’ or a forceful personality or someone you would expect to attract lots of attention. As we all discovered later on he was an activist who believed deeply in his cause, but he was never angry, abrasive, or loud, which is why the depth of his commitment and passion was surprising to learn about. My perception of him was of a polite, friendly brother, who was very involved in the Palestinian student group at the university. Two days before his death, he had approached a group of sisters I was with, to tell them about a movie the Palestinian student group would be showing and invited us to come.
The way he died, during Ramadan, on his way to drop his younger brother home after they had opened their fast and prayed taraweeh, is so beautiful, that we were all left reeling in the face of such a strong example of the love and mercy shown by Allah towards those He loves. There were so many people that attended this brother’s janazah prayer, the largest Muslim funeral of any person in our city, they had to call the police to assist with parking and traffic. Condolences for his family came from every corner of the city, from fellow brothers who were close to him, to students Muslim and non Muslim alike who he had tutored in math. He was only 22 when he died, and he had wanted to be math teacher.
This brother died in a month where the gates of Hell are closed. He had, literally, thousands of people praying for him in a month where dua’s become exponentially weightier. He died in the holiest of months, a month of peace and of reflection, of forgiveness and of mercy: a sign from God, and a comfort to his parents, his family, and those who loved him.
It is a sign of Allah’s favour up on a person when he has the respect, love, and admiration of the people around him. After his death, only beautiful things were said about him, only lovely stories told. Every story that came out after his death made one love his character more, every story was one that illustrated his dedication to assist his community, humanity – every person whom he could humanly help he did. The president of the Israeli’ student’s group personally came to the MSA to tell them how much he had respected this brother, and how sorry they were to learn of his passing. SubhanAllah. It was only after his death, I think, that the community truly realized what kind of a person we had lost.
He wasn’t a ‘big shot’, so to speak, he was only a 22 year old student at our university, but his janazah prayer was the largest in our city’s history. During his life, he was so totally involved in helping the community, he didn’t have time or see the need to let people around him know. Even in death, he was a gift to our city. His death brought our community together, it inspired us to reflect on the kind of person he was to have been taken in Ramadan, and it called us to do something about our own lives before it was too late.
I remember the khutba given on the Friday after his death: the khateeb was a personal friend of this brother who had died, and he talked first about death in the Muslim perspective, and then about the washing of the body, which he had participated in. He said that this brother, his face was so calm and so serene it looked like he was smiling, and that InshAllah, he was in a place of tranquility and peace. He said that modern people are so afraid of death because they look upon the faces of their dead and see terror, fear, and unrest- this is what is depicted in their understanding of death, in movies, in popular thought and culture. But Muslims, we look upon the faces of our dead, and we see peace – so we should not fear death, but rather learn from the lives of people who in death are shrouded in tranquility. May Allah give us such peace and tranquility in our deaths. Ameen.
There was a dinner held for this brother, where the Muslim students invited his family to come. Mashallah, you could see where this brother had come by his faith and his humanity. His 13 year old younger brother who had been with him and had witnessed the accident was, by the Grace of God, so at peace, so firm of faith, so unnerved by death, that his very countenance reduced many of us to tears. He was telling funny stories about his brother, and consoling people around him, SubhanAllah, consoling others about the death of his own brother! This 13 year old boy’s attitude towards death is one that many adults could learn from.
His mother sobbed quietly at times, and talked with the sisters. This woman had lost a son who was approaching the prime of his life – she had lost him before she could have seen him married, finish a degree that was one year away, seen him settle down comfortably with a career and family. To look at a mother who has lost a son, especially in this way – it makes you think about a lot of things, and it stays with you for a long time. What kind of a woman was she to have raised such a son? What kind of a woman was she to be tested in such a way? For God tests those He loves most.
This brother who died was a regular person like you or I. He didn’t have a fancy title, or a reputation for being extraordinarily pious, and he wasn‘t an ‘in-your-face‘ kind of person. He concerned himself with his own activities, and that really explains the number of people who came forward after his death with stories of how he had helped them. We would see him all around campus carrying banners and signs, but for some reason this was so unobtrusive and part of his calm demeanor, it didn‘t jump out at you. He just wasn’t ‘known’ for all of these things to the extent that he was involved in them.
It’s when he died that we all realized, you see, the truth of how only Allah (swt) knows the contents of a person’s heart. This brother was a regular person like you or I, but Allah (swt) hid his sins from the community and exposed his many good deeds. May Allah (swt) hide and forgive our sins. Ameen.
His mother, after embracing each and every sister so that we felt her tears on our own cheeks, thanked us for the love and support our community had shown her son. On the contrary, it was we who should have been thanking her for being such a model of motherhood and love, of resolve and patience. It was we who should have been thanking her for giving our community the gift of her son for 22 years. She kept saying to us, “Please don’t forget my son, please don’t forget my son.” I sincerely believe that all those who met this brother, who were inspired by his simple yet dedicated life, and especially those in the community who had witnessed the events surrounding his death, never will. I pray to Allah (swt), that I never do.