One thing that never ceases to amaze me is the constant juxtaposition created by life and death. We sometimes wonder at the fact that there are births and deaths taking place somewhere in the world every single second, but it only really hits home when you are part of both in your own experience. Just a few days ago, a young man who was related to a good family friend passed away. The night he was being buried, I was attending a pre-wedding ceremony in a house just across the street from the mosque. We were putting final touches to decorations and welcoming guests even as the funeral procession was leaving.
It made me realise that the world truly is a big place, that often we are distanced from each other even when we are standing close together. We feel emotions when we have a personal interest. We celebrate when those we care about are happy and we mourn and feel grief at the pain of those we love. The connection to ourselves is what strengthens our bonds, what ‘involves’ us.
Is that why we also disconnect when things move out of our personal space? We join in the joy of marrying off the young people in our families, but after the ceremony, the couple is left to handle the rest of their relationship on their own – only they can deal with their daily challenges, because only they are so deeply invested in each other. When someone dies, we mourn them for a while. We miss their presence and remember them fondly, however, it is mostly in relation to how they spent their time in this world, how they spent their time with us.
We carry their past along with us into our future, forgetting that they have a current Present that they are living out as well. A Present in which they may need our help and love more than they ever have. Because we are not involved in that area of their Life, we have to be reminded to visit their graves or pray for them and many days pass when we forget they ever existed.
And just as we forget, we will be forgotten too.
This is the hardest reality to come to terms with, I believe. Looking around, when you see the friends that you trust will be there for you through thick and thin, when you look at the man or woman you believe would lay down their life for you, when you see the family that promises that ‘blood will always be thicker than water’, it becomes hard to accept that if you were to be removed from their lives, they would remember you for but a few days before you became a fond memory of someone that once was, but is no longer relevant.
If the people who care the most about us can forget us, then how much did they ever remember us? I’m not writing this to be cynical or critical of people’s emotions. I’m sure we all feel sincerely, we love passionately, we care deeply…but we are human and it is part of the journey to understanding ourselves when we realise that our capacity for depth of emotion will always be a) imperfect and b) dependent on how deeply we have acknowledged our own Self.
As long as we live superficial lives on a material plane, it is inevitable that we will feel things at that same level. This sometimes makes me sad. Yes, our love will never be perfect, but surely, it can be a whole lot more than what it is? If we were to become better at being Muslims – at being human – would we not become better at loving as well?
It is inevitable then as a Muslim, when I question myself about life and how it should be led that I consult the lives of those I believe were sent as examples of what we are expected to be. When I search in history for how the Prophet (pbuh) loved or how the Imams (pbut) loved, I’m sometimes left confused. Why is their love so different from mine?
When I was younger, I would wonder… why did the Prophet (pbuh) show so much affection for his daughter? Why did Imam Husayn (pbuh) so openly express his feelings for his daughters, his sisters and his wives? Over and over, as I heard the story of Kerbala every year, I would sit and wonder why the many levels of love woven within this saga were alien to me. I couldn’t connect to the levels of emotion that needed to be involved for these events to unfold. ‘How?’ was the prefix to many of of the questions that kept coming up.
I was brought up in a culture where showing open affection was not encouraged. It was completely foreign to me that a father should stop in the middle of heading out to battle in order to hug his 4 year old daughter and indulge her in her last request. In my understanding, children would have been kept away from the presence of adults in such tense times and not even told what was happening.
So for me, Kerbala has not just been a lesson in faith and loyalty, in sacrifice and dignity, in Truth and Justice – it has been a lesson in love and humanity as well. Every time I think about how deeply those individuals loved each other, it makes me realise how much greater their love for God was that they were willing to give each other up for Him. There was no resentment on the part of those left behind that they had to fend for themselves against men who had become beasts; there was only a sense of pride in having loved men who were capable of such utter and total submission.
For me, this is the best example of selfless love, an example of a Greater Love encompassing all other lesser loves. When I think of it in this context, it makes sense that it should be so easy for them to show affection for each other. When everything is reflected in the mirror of Ultimate Love, it does nothing but shine out visibly to all around.
As followers of the Tashayyu School of Belief, we claim on a daily basis to love the Prophet and His Holy Household (pbut), and we hope to gain their love as well by becoming the kind of people they would want to be associated with. This would not only be the greatest honour for us, but a saving grace. Only those who know how to love truly would stand by us when we need them most.
Because there will inevitably come a time when we will be abandoned by all other people, and it will be the one and only circumstance in which we will need help the most. God tells us that on “- the day when a man will evade his brother, his mother and his father, his spouse and his sons—“ (Qur’an, 80: 34-36). Who will be left for us to rely on on that day then? “The day that you will see every suckling female will neglect what she suckled, and every pregnant female will deliver her burden…” (Qur’an, 22: 2) Even mothers will abandon their infants… what kind of state will we be in during that time? How desperate will we be for a consoling look or a comforting word? And who else will be able to give those out except the Ahlul Bayt (pbut)?
When I started this post, I thought there would be a cynical grain running through this post. I wanted to write about how it was the way of the world to forget and abandon; that we should never rely on it or expect anything from it more than a superficial level of loyalty or a false sense of commitment. And I still believe this to some extent.
However, I also realise that the world and those who pass through it are not made of the same material. We enter this world and leave it, much as we enter a room or an institution of education or a place of work. We do not become the room or the place, but we are influenced by it and sometimes, we in turn influence it. We can be completely immersed in our place of stay or totally excluded from it. One thing is for sure, the more different we are from our surroundings, the more we stand out.
This is why the Prophet (pbuh) stood out, why each and every Imam stood out and why Kerbala stands out. These people passed through the world, but did not take from it anything that would change their essence. Instead, they left imprints, echoes that we can still hear down the centuries telling us clearly what is right from what is wrong. People whose love was so strong, so all-encompassing that it continues to overcome the boundaries of Space and Time.
If only we could drown in that love, immerse ourselves so deeply in it that we would get carried along with its current to our final destination…