Peace Be Unto Those Who Follow Right Guidance.
On Monday 20 May 2013, my elderly father, (Al-Hajj Al-Haafidh) Syed Shahid Ali, aged 82 years passed away in a South London hospital.
His funeral took place two days later on Wednesday 22 May at the Gardens of Peace Muslim Cemetery in Hainault, Ilford.
In what follows, I should like to share with interested readers a brief account of his life and death.
My father was born in 1930 in Jodhpur, India to a large and relatively affluent family tracing its ancestry to Iran. However, while my father led a rich and interesting life, it was not an easy one.
To begin with, he was sent alone to Saudia Arabia by his father at the age of 8 years to memorize The Qur’an (i.e. become a haafidh) and only returned to India 4 years later, speaking fluent Arabic yet having almost forgotten his mother tongue (Urdu). Unfortunately, during his stay in Saudia Arabia, my father was treated like a servant and sometimes beaten. This experience left behind a number of deep scars, not least of which was the sense of abandonment associated with him being sent as a very young child to a foreign land.
Another traumatic episode in his life took place in 1947 during the partition of India and the creation of Pakistan. My father was 17 years old at the time and the last member of his family to leave India for Karachi when he was arrested and imprisoned. Apparently, my father was good at making crystal radio sets and this ability led to his being suspected of spying for the Pakistan Muslim League. During his time in prison, he was tortured by Hindu officers and was only able to secure his release through the intervention of a Sikh prison guard. Again, this traumatic experience haunted him throughout his life, resulting in a dislike, if not outright hatred, of Hindus and a resolve never to return to India.
After studying at the University of Karachi, my father spent a brief time at Al-Azhar in Egypt attending various Islamic conferences as a member of a Pakistani delegation before traveling to England to attend the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1952. Seven years later, he married my mother, a white revert to Islam; nine years after that, I was born, followed by my sister three years later.
I remember my father as a very organised and punctual man who worked hard to provide for his family. During his period of residence in the UK, he had a number of jobs including working part-time in a bakery and in London’s Science Museum. Finally, he became a Civil Servant and it was during this part of his working life that he was subjected to a prolonged campaign of overt victimisation by a Racist (White Supremacist) who prevented him from obtaining promotion. This resulted in my father suffering a period of depression which was deepened by the death of his elder sister in Pakistan who had been a strong maternal figure in whom he had confided and from whom he had always sought advice.
Towards the end of his life, particularly during the last few years, the memory of these traumatic episodes increasingly plagued my father and contributed to a decline in his mental and physical health. (In addition to suffering from depression, he had a number of physical ailments including prostrate cancer and was later diagnosed as suffering from Paget’s disease.) Even my mother, who cared for him unstintingly throughout their married lives, was unable to get him to talk about his unresolved issues. It is my belief that his eventual refusal to talk, even to close members of his family, was a consequence of his inability to obtain answers to the same question that he wanted to ask each of those who he felt had wronged him: “Why did you do this to me?”
Yet there were many brighter aspects to his very full life.
Foremost of these were the fact that my father was a deeply religious man. In addition to being a haafidh, he had performed the Hajj (i.e. pilgrimage to Makkah) and was regular in his prayer (salaat). On another important note, he was an avid reader and had a small ‘library’ of books at his home covering a range of subjects, principal of which were Islam, the history of the Arabs and the natural world. (My father also enjoyed watching natural history programmes on television.) One of the most memorable events in my life, which I think occurred when I was about 14 years old, was when my father brought home a copy of The Autobiography of Malcolm X and proceeded to inform me that he had briefly met the late Al-Hajj Malik Al-Shabazz when the latter had visited London in the 1960s. This event triggered my desire to find out more about the NOI (Nation of Islam) and the “Black Muslims”, reinforced by our family viewing of the television adaptation of Alex Haley’s Roots some years earlier.
In addition to being a very fit person who exercised regularly, went for daily walks and ate a healthy diet, my father also had quite an infectious personality. Despite his many trials and tribulations, he had a good sense of humour and was somewhat of an extrovert. (He was also one of the most smartly dressed people I have ever known, a trait that I have not inherited.) He was very sociable and both my parents always made people welcome at their house, including my and my sister’s friends.
Although there was almost 40 years age difference between us, and many differences in taste and cultural outlook, as I grew in years and learning, I like to think that we became closer, at least insofar as we had more things in common, things that we both regarded as of decisive importance, viz. God/Allah, Al-Islam and The Qur’an. In addition, our political views began to converge, my father becoming increasingly critical about the Pakistan movement following our discussions and more radically ‘Islamist’ in orientation: I recall how much he enjoyed reading Sayyid Qutb’sMilestones which I had recommended to him (he purchased a number of copies of this book to give to people) and also World Arrogance by Ahmed Zidan. He also abandoned his former ‘rosy-tinted’ view of his adopted country, England, seeing it for what it is – a Racist (White Supremacist) land whose successive governments were/are committed to “Empire” / “Pax Britannica”, viz. maintaining, expanding and refining the subjugation of all non-white people, especially those in the so-called “Middle East” through its establishment and continued support of the Zionist [=WS/R] “settler state” of Israel.
As my father’s only male offspring, I was given – rather, honoured with – the responsibility for arranging the funeral and afforded the opportunity to perform all the Islamic funeral rites, which commenced with preparing my father’s body for burial. This involved washing his body (ghusl) in accordance with prescribed rites (manaasik) and then perfuming it before placing it in a shroud (kafan). After this, female members of the family including my mother, sister, wife and daughters and family friends were invited to pay their last respects. I then led the congregation in the ‘noon’ prayer (i.e.salaat-ul-dhuhr) before carrying out the funeral prayer (salaat-ul-janaazah). Male members of the congregation were then invited to pay their last respects to my father before his body was taken to the grave site (qabr) in a coffin carried by myself and other males. I was permitted to enter the grave and lay my father to rest with his body facing towards Makkah. A number of wooden boards were then placed inside the grave at an angle so that the earth / clay piled on top of it did not disturb his body. Those at the burial site, all of whom were male, were then invited to cast three pieces of earth / clay into the grave – symbolising life, death and resurrection – before the grave-diggers piled up the remaining earth / clay into a mound. I then made a short supplication (du’a) to God/Allah, seeking His forgiveness for my father’s faults and mistakes in life and petitioning that he be granted a place in The Garden (Al-Jannat), and similarly for other recently deceased. I also invited the congregation to reflect on my father’s love for and commitment to God/Allah, The Qur’an and The Deen of Al-Islam. After this, I received condolences from the male members of the congregation before they disbursed and I brought the female members of the congregation to the grave in order that they might make supplication for the ‘self’ (nafs) of my late father.
All gratitude (shukr) and praise (hamd) are due to God/Allah who made it possible for me to remain in a state of serenity throughout the entire proceedings which took place in a dignified and peaceful manner.
I have too much to thank my father for: giving me life by the permission (idhn) of God/Allah, nurturing me, supporting my primary, secondary and tertiary education, instilling in me the love of knowledge, God/Allah, Al-Islam and the Arabic language. I only hope that, by the Grace of God/Allah, I can build on the solid foundations he provided me with and try to contribute something of constructive value in this, the “nearer world” (ad-dunya).
I shall miss his company, our conversations, his smile and laughter.
May Allah (swt) forgive him his mistakes and grant him a place in The Garden (Al-Jannat). Ameen.
In closing, there are no better words than those given in The Qur’an [=Final Proclamation of God/Allah to Humanity]:
(2:156) “Truly! To God/Allah we belong and truly, to Him we shall return”