[Allahummabārik. May Allah bless my writing endeavours, as well as you, the reader. Ameen]
Last week, I was made to share a lift with a dead person. This is fairly normal practice at my local mosque – in most mosques around the world, actually. At the mosque, death is not seen as being anything extraordinary. In fact, it is perhaps the most un-extraordinary occurrence that could ever befall a person. From the very first moment that new life enters this world – bellowing and red-faced, screeching and covered in uterine slime – it is a known fact that the only thing that is true and inevitable about the fate of this child is that one day, he or she will die.
This is not news to we humans – far from it, in fact. From the very birth of humankind, there was death, its adversary, its necessary opposite. And yet, we, the alive, somehow act like death is the most shocking thing that could ever happen to any single one of us. We walk nonchalantly into mosque lifts, after being called by melodious Adhāns (the call to prayer), and are taken slightly aback each time we find ourselves accompanied by closed caskets – wooden, cold, long, hexagonal, solemn. We breathe a quick breath of relief each time we realise just how lucky we are, to not yet be the inhabitants of such caskets. For now, the only space that can claim to confine us is this one: the lift, moving upwards, until the responsibility of transporting our souls is re-granted to our more corporeal vehicles, our legs.
But when we die, we lose any such sense of bodily autonomy. We are forced to surrender to the sudden collapse of our cells; to the abrupt unwinding of double helixes. Life goes on, and then it ends. And then we are washed by others’ hands, and prayed for through others’ words and tears, and lowered into the ground by others’ arms. Worms and bacteria may eat from us; these faces we had spent so long looking at in mirrors, and these somethings we have spent so long making of ourselves… all gone. From dust and clay we are made; to dust and clay we poetically return.
It was one Arthur Schopenhauer who claimed that life is rather like an expanding soap bubble. It is gorgeous, wondrous and reflective of so many colours for a while, until POP! One day, it mysteriously ceases to be. But not even the things that make up other things as seemingly purposeless and inconsequential as soap bubbles are entirely lost once they go POP! The detergent and water that marry to give rise to bubble return to their former states once their passion project is made to pop; they drip from the hands of the bubble-blower, and the air that bubble was formerly filled with flies right back up to who knows where.
Once a human dies, the body loses its animating factor. Muslims call this the soul – the part of us that is immaterial, ever-lasting. Death seems, to external eyes, to be such a pain-inducing, poignant, pointless thing. But to us, it is merely a shedding process – the loss of a corporeal covering, a vehicle, from which the soul exits. Soul goes on to some other life – which is currently inconceivable to we whose only frames of reference can come from this first life – whilst body begins its inevitable rotting process, slowly. Body remains motionless as its loved ones encircle it, their cheeks wet with tears, their hearts heavy with mournful gloom. Body is then made to share a lift with some weirdo Muslim teenager who is inspired by it to go home and write an article on her blog, on the topic of
Sadia Ahmed, 2020