There was one Ramadan a few years ago which I know I will never forget. It was my second Ramadan in a university setting and I loved the way it brought the Muslim student community closer: communal iftars, the increased number of people coming to pray their daily prayers, the heightened sense of togetherness and family. As the first week of Ramadan ended, however, the entire community was confronted with a sudden tragedy: the death of a brother hit by a drunk driver while changing a flat tire on the road.
The brother who died did not have a forceful personality, nor was he 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. 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 that he was a polite, friendly brother, who was very involved in the Palestinian student group on campus. Two days before his death, he had approached a group of sisters to invite us to a movie the Palestinian student group would be showing.
The fact that this brother died during Ramadan on his way to drop his younger brother home after opening their fast and praying taraweeh (extra night prayers performed during Ramadan) 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 (funeral prayer); it was the largest Muslim funeral of any person in our city. They even 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 Muslim and non-Muslim students alike who he had tutored in math. He was only 22 when he died, and his goal was to be a 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 du`a’ become exponentially weightier. He died in the holiest of months, a month of peace and of reflection, of forgiveness and of mercy. This was a sign from God and a comfort to his family, his friends, and those who loved him.
It is a sign of Allah’s favour upon 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 and all of humanity. Every person whom he could humanly help, he did. The president of the Israeli student group personally came to the MSA to tell them how much he had respected this brother and how sorry he was to learn of his passing. Subhan’Allah (exalted is He). It was only after his death that the community truly realized what kind of a person we had lost.
He wasn’t a “big shot” – he was only a 22-year-old student at our university whose janazah was the largest in our city’s history. During his life, he was so absorbed in helping the community that he didn’t have time or even 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, inspired us to reflect on the kind of person he was to have been taken in Ramadan, and called us to do something about our own lives before it was too late.
I remember the khutba (sermon) given on the Friday after his death. The khateeb (person who gives the sermon) was a personal friend of this brother who had died. He first talked about death in the Islamic perspective, then about the washing of the brother’s body which he had participated in. He said that this brother’s face was so calm and so serene that it looked like he was smiling, and that Insha’Allah (God willing) he was in a place of tranquility and peace. He talked about the fact that modern people are so afraid of death because when they look upon the faces of their dead, they see terror, fear, and unrest—this is what is depicted in their understanding of death, in movies, in popular thought and culture. But often times when Muslims look upon the faces of our dead, we see peace. We should not fear death but rather learn from the lives of people who are shrouded in tranquility in their deaths. May Allah give us such peace and tranquility in our death. Ameen.
A dinner was held in memory of this brother in which the Muslim community on campus invited his family. Masha’Allah (Allah has willed it), 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. Subhan’Allah, 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 marry, finish a degree that was one year away, settle down comfortably with a career and family. To look at a mother who had lost a son, especially in this way, makes you reflect on a lot of things and 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. He concerned himself with his own activities – which 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 so typical of his calm demeanor that 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 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 too. 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, we should have been the ones 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.