To see the ones I love

by Aqeela Naqvi

‘Wouldn’t you want to see the ones you love?’

As I sit in my room packing my suitcase and checking things off scrambled lists, this question, articulated at many a dinner-table discussion by my dad, echoes through my brain. I will soon be leaving InshaAllah (God-willing) to visit for the first time the holy lands in Iraq and Iran where, among others, Prophets Adam and Noah, and the descendants of Prophet Muhammad are buried — not only some of the most respected figures in Islam, but also some of the greatest revolutionaries — social, moral, political, intellectual, spiritual, and otherwise – to have left their marks on human history.

When great spirits live, there is a certain energy that draws others to them like a magnet. Individuals who rise above the crowd — selfless in their dispositions, kind in their actions, moral in their decisions, honest in their speech; seekers, not settling for anything but the ultimate core of perfection; venturing through darkness with lanterns, pulling back veil upon veil upon veil until all they seeheartouchtastebreathe, is God.

There is a commanding nobility to their gaze — the gentle fortitude of lions and lionesses — such that when you first speak to them, nerves rise and the tongue is incapacitated in awe. But after a few moments, the reassurance of their smile puts you at ease, and you find words flowing as easily as if you had known each other a lifetime. Even when minutes turn to hours and suns make way for moons, you find yourself wishing the conversation might last a moment longer. Because no longer how many times you meet or speak, it is never enough; this water does not leave the parched roots of your soul quenched, but with each fill, keeps them yearning for more, more, more.

In life, it is only the great spirits that truly live. And it is perhaps our catching of glimpses of their vitality that causes us to run towards them, finding them beautiful fires at which to warm our hands and feed our souls in our most barren winters.

Great spirits live, yes. But what happens when they die? What happens to their energy? Does it disappear? Does our connection to them end? When we stand near their graves, do we find that the familiar touch of their hand upon our shoulders lessened? Or…when we are in our most quiet moments, do we still feel its soothing weight; still hear echoes of their voice; still smell remnants of their fragrance?

If we truly believe that there is a force that exists within us when we are alive that guides us to our most exalted moments — moments when we, if only for a short while, rise to be the best versions of ourselves — then when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, does not that force endure? Where once that energy of inspiration was contained by a shell of flesh, does it not now expand and burst forth into the cosmos in stellar glory, swirling and echoing with laughter and this call: “In life and in death, successful!”

If the actions of great spirits who have passed on can still inspire us to do good, if their words can still send chills down our spines, then even in death, can great spirits be anything but alive? Even if we have not met them in this lifetime, can we not meet them through letters and stories and history, until they are no longer strangers of another time, but dear friends of our own? For them and us, the timeline of existence loses its linearity, and we find we can reach out and grasp their hands. We can speak with, admire, befriend and love those who have lived before us; we can still be by their side even when they have moved beyond this earthly realm.

A call has come through the mist, whispering, ‘Aqeela, wouldn’t you want to see the ones you love?’ And in the billowing fog I have selfishly allowed to surround and blind me to the reality of what I am and where I am going, I reach out my hand — undeserving of the blessing and honor of this invitation, but with a restless heart to reply.

But before I can do so, there is one thing I must do. As I pack my bags and check and double-check the items I am carrying with me, I find I cannot leave without double-checking what I’m carrying inside me. Just as I empty my bags of excess weight, I find myself now — requesting you all — to help me empty my heart of all the wrongs I have committed that will only serve to burden me on this journey. Slips of the ego and pride, hardening of grudges, unkind words or acts…anything that might merit a turning away of disapproval, an unbearable feeling of shame, when standing in front of those whose teachings — relayed from the Prophet, who relayed them from God — have commanded from me only goodness and love.

So, if there are any who are reading this who I may have hurt or wronged, intentionally or unintentionally, I sincerely seek your forgiveness. If you are able to forgive me, please do, and if you are unable, please reach out to me so you may have justice. I am in need of your prayers and you are all in mine, but if you have any specific requests or prayers, please feel free to message me. I would be humbled to relay your wishes in person. May God bless us all with their acceptance when spoken in the presence of the ones whose every breath, living and dying, was spent in His service. Those who loved Him, who He has loved in return, and with whose visitation He is pleased.

. . . In the name of God, I begin this journey, wanting to see you, O ones that I love. “One who visits us after we have passed away is like the one who has visited us while we were alive” (Imam Jafar as-Sadiq, peace be upon him). “And do not say of those who are slain in God’s way as dead; no, [they are] alive, but you do not perceive” (2:154).

You live. And all that truly exists between you and I is a veil that will one day be lifted. When that day comes and my eyes are opened to seeing things and myself as they truly are, I pray will have lived life in such a way to make you and my Lord proud… Right now, my limbs shake and my heart trembles at thought of being mere lengths from where your bodies rest, and my tongue is silenced, feeling itself unworthy of speaking to you. But I hope with an ardent hope that God may give me guidance, strength, and sincerity to walk in your footsteps, so that my wavering might give way to ease — so that in this world, I might come to know your greatness, and in the next, we might meet as old friends.

Through city and desert, over horizon and sea, through the very tapestry of time;

to see you, O ones that I love…inshaAllah, I am coming.

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