Guest post by Mufti Yasir Nadeem al-Wajidi
The 3rd of January, 2023 was a grief-laden and trying day for me and my maternal family.
As the sun rose that day, my exalted grandmother — whose name was also Rafat (Arab. “exalted”) — was living the final moments of her amazing and enviable life. A few days earlier, the general atmosphere had become somber. It was becoming apparent that our family’s foundation was quickly fracturing; everyone had come to terms with the reality that their time with Nani (maternal grandmother), may Allah shower her with His mercy, was coming to an end. But our hearts were unwilling to accept it.
I was involved in the family discussions and physician consultations during her final moments. When a physician would mention that she had only a few days to live and that slowly her body was losing function, my heart felt a stabbing pain. Yet there was no option but to accept and submit to Allah’s system of granting life and death. We were humbled by divine decree.
My beloved grandmother had been ill for the past two years. In the last few months, her ailment worsened. On December 29th, 2022, she was admitted to the hospital, and from the evening of Sunday, January 1st, after maghrib, she remained in a state of somnolence, and eventually unconsciousness.
Speaking of the Prophet’s ﷺ final illness, Ibn ʿAbbas, may Allah be pleased with him, mentioned the Thursday prior to his demise and exclaimed,
“Thursday! What do I tell you about that Thursday!”
That Thursday, the Prophet’s ﷺ illness had intensified. While love for the Prophet ﷺ is a part of our faith, Ibn ʿAbbas’s articulation of his inner state and his heart’s love can only be understood by one who has experienced such feelings himself. That Sunday, I experienced that feeling.
How am I to describe that evening?! In my absence, my grandmother remembered me and inquired as to my whereabouts. When I came to know, I rushed to her side and sat on an empty chair next to her bed. Whenever I think about that evening, my emotions get a hold of me, but my heart calms me down and consoles me, reminding me that the evening was in fact a blessing, one of the best evenings of my life.
It was my good fortune that I was able to arrive in time. She was lying down, gently wiping her hands on my head and face, praying for me. One of the statements she made was:
“My son, may you forever illuminate like the sun and the moon in the sky of knowledge and practice.”
I was vulnerable, and she consoled me, reminding me that this is how people depart from this world; this is Allah’s system. After praying for me and embracing me for a while, she mentioned that she was no longer able to speak. Moments later, she became somnolent.
Within hours, she began to show signs of apprehension but was unaware of her surroundings. Even in this condition, she continuously recited the kalimah, her index finger rising repeatedly. Often we would find her reviewing the answers to Munkar and Nakir’s three questions (It had become her habit over the last few months to revise these questions and answers, stating that this is what she would be asked in the grave. Allah demonstrated those answers on the tongue of His obedient servant even in an unconscious state!). The hospital staff completed her treatment and prescribed a few medications. Thereafter, a complete state of unconsciousness overcame her, lasting for a day and two nights. On the third day, her soul left its worldly body and rose to the heavens.
Shortly after her passing, my wife woke up my nine year old son, Ahmad, from sleep. He attempted to tell her of a significant dream he had just seen, but my wife dismissed it, remarking that they were running late and had to leave quickly for the funeral as Nani had left this world. He explained that his dream was about Bari Dadi (his paternal great grandmother), that he had seen her sitting on her usual bed with two servants seated next to her. Whatever she imagined would immediately appear before her. Allah had bestowed a young child a dream to console our hearts. We understood the message, that the difficulties she had born in her sickness no longer distress her. She is now in everlasting bliss and the otherworldly felicity, a bliss beyond imagination.
We all lose our elders. Some lived lives that are beacons of guidance for the young. Their memories are the ultimate gift. In the mid 80’s, my grandmother migrated from Deoband to the city of Chicago, where she would remain for the remainder of her life. Though she was not a scholar herself, she was a spiritual mother to countless ʿulama and huffaz. The first madrasah in the United States, the Institute of Islamic Education, could never have been established were it not for her.
When my grandfather, Hazrat Mawlana Saleem intended to establish a madrasah in 1989, he asked his wife if it would be agreeable to her that a few boys study in the lower section of the house. He further requested that she bear the burden of these students’ care on the condition that she could never complain about such a burden. Her reply was the following: “This is the service of the faith (din). How could I ever complain?” She remained firm to her promise for the rest of her life.
At that time, there were only a handful of huffaz and a few ʿulama throughout the United States. People were preoccupied in excelling in material pursuits and were generally careless about establishing madrasahs. They imagined that if their children became huffaz, they would devastate their future. Masjid boards were not prepared to open madrasahs, nor was the public willing to help in such an effort. In such scenarios, the only way to move forward was to teach a few students at home. It is Allah’s blessing that these same students who studied and became huffaz are scholars, doctors, and engineers today. They call themselves the “basement generation” to distinguish between themselves and other alumni. But it is not pride in having studied in a basement, but pride in the connection they enjoyed with their spiritual mother, the love and compassion they received from her that – according to their own testimony – they didn’t even experience even at home. One of such alumni, Hafiz Doctor Kamran Riaz wrote that when his mother brought him to Mawlana’s house, he was very sad and his mother was worried. Mawlana Saleem’s wife told Hafiz Kamran’s mother that she should not worry. He would be made to feel as if he never left home. She fulfilled her promise.
Another student, Hafiz Feroze, wrote that Mawlana Saleem’s wife continued to play the role of their mother from Sunday evening to the following Saturday morning, as all the students would go home for the weekend and would stay the entire week memorizing the Quran in the basement.
Mawlana Doctor Umer Husaini is also one such student who completed his hifz in the basement under the care and affection of this spiritual mother. Today, he is not only a hafiz, ʿalim, and a spiritual guide for many people, but also an oncologist. There are likewise many other scholars and huffaz who are serving the faith throughout America.
In IIE’s long history, everyone who has graduated from the institution is indebted and will remain indebted to this exalted woman, who no doubt is receiving all the reward of her services. It is safe to say that Nani is on the list of those who established the foundations for the religious sciences. The propagation of the faith is not restricted to formal instruction. It requires various modes and methods of dissemination. Limiting it to teaching and writing has resulted in the neglect of many who dedicated their lives to promoting the faith.
One foundational element of Nani’s life was her faithful fulfillment of duties and obligations; another aspect, her spiritual life, was just as rich. She remained constantly in Allah’s remembrance, or dhikr. She performed salat before any and every significant matter. When she experienced any good, she hastened to pray salat al-shukr (the prayer of gratitude).
When Allah blessed me with a son, she performed a hundred rakaʿats of gratitude. She would seldom become angry at her children, but never with her grandchildren (or great grandchildren). One expression of my grandmother’s love was to keep account of the well-being of all of her children, grandchildren, sons-in-law, daughters-in-law, anyone who had a connection with her. She kept an account the like of which can not be found in our era.
When anyone from our family traveled, she would call them beforehand, ensuring that everything was in place. In the midst of travel, she would make sure that everything was proceeding smoothly. Upon arrival, she would confirm that everything was well. This is the connection that we will be deprived of now for the remainder of our lives.
When I traveled, the first or the second phone call I would make after landing was to Nani. If I was driving, she would frequently call, ensuring that everything was well. We were not able to truly appreciate her unique manner of affection during her lifetime, but today we recall all those qualities. Though the supervision of my parents remains with me today—may Allah preserve them—but to think that Nani will never call again deeply pains my heart. We appreciate blessings only when they are taken from us.
None of her children were lacking in the service of their mother, but my mother in particular was continuously in her service the last few months, following her like a shadow. May Allah make my mother’s service a means of immense reward in the Hereafter.
My grandmother first opened her eyes to this world on the 3rd of January, 1947. On her birthday, the 3rd of January, 2023, she departed this temporal realm for the eternal one.
She lived up to her name, reaching the heights and pinnacles, spreading love in the heart of everyone, close or distant. Now, she will live forever in our memories as a paragon and be a guiding lantern on our path. How beautiful are the words of the poet who stated in an Urdu couplet:
“The story has concluded; how remarkable it was!
that people were shedding tears while giving applause.”