2 Ramadan 1441
Once upon a time—when I was a tweenager—I memorized a prayer to recite before falling asleep.
اللَّهُمَّ بِاسْـمِكَ أَمُوتُ وَأَحْيَا
God, in your name, I die and I live.
I was taught “I die” precedes “I live” because “Sleep is the sister of death.”
Later, someone explained that the sisterhood of sleep and death is attached to the idea that our souls have the ability to roam the world of imagination when we sleep. The only difference between the two is that in death, the soul does not return.
Sometime after that, I heard the translator of The Remembrance of Death say—The beginning of an authentic spirituality is rooted in accepting one’s own mortality.
Still later, I’m pretty sure I heard another Sufi say—All the world is in a state of slumber. When we die, we awake.
And surely I read on some DJ’s MySpace page when MySpace was a thing, Die before your death.
Over the last two years, three of my uncles died in no particular age order. The last death, in particular, made me feel over the last 8 months that the Angel of Death was coming with its scythe for all I loved.
And then a former student took his life.
I couldn’t conceive that it could get any worse than that.
But it did.
Two years ago, a friend of mine texted me after a particularly stressful week, “Tell me happy things.”
I immediately responded, “I went to a funeral on Sunday. It was very beautiful.”
I meant every word of it, because when I attended that funeral, I kept thinking—Now here is a man who knows how to die.
The funeral was for my cousin’s father-in-law in the Bronx. Before his body was taken from the mosque where he used to pray, I walked through a set of doors to see his shrouded body peacefully resting in a room. I took a deep breath and immediately recited the Fatihah. Not long after, other Bangladeshi women and men came and gave their greetings. I couldn’t keep count of how many were present, but I learned it was at this mosque that he prayed daily until he fell ill because it was within walking distance of his home. I knew from the tears on their faces that here was a man who had died among his community where he was not only a regular face but a cherished presence.
He died on a Saturday night at 8 pm. He was bathed by Zuhr on Sunday. He was taken to the mosque where his neighbors who saw him everyday could see him one last time. He was buried by Asr at 4 pm.
It rained all day.
That day, I learned where New York City Muslims get buried when the burial process is expedited. They get buried in New Jersey.
I found the cemetery impressive. The Muslims who purchased the land also bought a little house on that land, made it into a prayer space, and kept it clean.
After my cousin’s father-in-law was buried, people began to shuffle back into their cars while the closest family members and friends lingered. I recited Surah Yasin as I waited with them.
When we drove out, I noticed a small corner with tiny plots. I would say there were about ten to fifteen. For babies and children.
I scanned my eyes over the new graves observing the relative emptiness of the land surrounding them, and then made a mental note–the plots will fill up soon.
I had no idea how right I was.
On a single Thursday just one week ago, thirty Muslims were buried in that cemetery. I know this because one of them is a family friend. He was a doctor, and he died of the virus. I imagine many of the other 29 buried with him did, too.
Two years ago, at another funeral in Florida, one of my favorite spunky aunties told me she is booking me in advance to attend her funeral and recite Qur’an for her. I told her recently she is not allowed to die in pandemic times considering I accepted her booking request. So I’m pulling a page from her book and booking all of you, with the caveat—If you happen to find yourself in a global pandemic, stay home.
In conclusion—when I die, I want you to announce the news to the world and tell everyone and their pets to read Qur’an and make du’a for me. Regarding prayers for me before and after my burial, friends, I really don’t care if you’re agnostic or atheist—I will haunt you in your sleep when your soul roams the world of imagination and say, I’m pretty sure I told you to recite Suratul Fatihah for me and yet here you are, playing Animal Crossing.
If you didn’t know that our friendship is really just a part of my strategy to cast a wide net to capture the most efficacious prayers, now you do—and now that you’ve read this, you are stuck. If our souls roam while you are asleep and I am awake, I will haunt you wherever you are.
I have high aspirations.