Sunday, October 12, 2014

On death and why I do what I do

Last night, I was having a heart-to-heart with the Dutchman about ideas of death, and God. While we both have wildly varying ideas, we take comfort in the fact that we are at least impossible to understand by much of the mainstream.

He told me that as a kid, he prayed extra hard during funerals that were held in churches because he felt like there was a stronger chance that God was there during that sombre moment. Helping to create the atmosphere was some serious organ music (playing Ave Maria), flowers, people wishing each other "Gecondoleerd", crying because he felt sad that other people were crying, and the ubiquitous and uniquely Dutch "coffee table" of sandwiches and cakes served after the memorial service.

I told him about the time I waited in the living room of a late grandaunt as a jenazah professional (JP) prepared her body for burial. She removed the wads of cotton wool that had been stuffed into the body's ears and nostrils (after being washed, to trap excess fluids), applied makeup (loose powder, eyeliner and lipstick) to the exposed face, and sprinkled drops of attar perfume. Her face was the only part of her left exposed, and JP asked the attendees if anyone wanted to give their last kisses to my late grandaunt.

A few persons away, my mother nudged me to come forward. I must have been about 7 years old and I tried to silently, telepathically communicate to my mother that I didn't want to kiss a cold face. (She looked so cold.) I had no idea if she was going anywhere else after she was placed in the ground.

I've been raised to fear a Hell (and dang those Sunday school teachers know how to describe it), but not to love a Heaven. As I grew older, I often found myself making decisions based on the fear of "going to Hell", even as the idea of a hot place grew less and less real to me.

A very good friend said to me once, "What if it was an all an illusion? What if, on Judgement Day, God said everyone gets to go to Paradise?" While my idea of justice makes me lean to the other side of this argument (how can evil people get away with it in this world and the next?), I do wonder if the version I was sold tells just a tiny part of the story?

Then I think, it could have been so easy for me. If I just prayed, fasted, wore a hijab, married an ustaz, got a stable job, had a few kids, saved up for hajj, spent my retirement reading the Qur'an and doing dhikr non stop, and spent the rest of the time advising others to do things just like I do, would it have been enough? If life is - as they say - about pleasing God, and the formula has already been decoded into a simple series of steps, would that guarantee me (or at least give me a pretty good chance of) Paradise? Is living life without rocking the boat the key?

The Dutchman can hear that I am asking rhetorical questions. "Obviously, you don't think this is the only way."

That's true, I don't. I'd like to think that rocking the boat, creating shit storms when trying to defend the oppressed and upsetting people into thinking differently matter too. This was not taught to me for many reasons: patriarchy and authoritarianism are the most important. I was taught that authority is only to be obeyed, not to be challenged or God forbid, usurped.

So where does that leave me? On days when it seems everyone hates what I write and what I do and can't stop calling me names, I try to remember the reason I believe I am living for: I am a creation of Allah, and this is my testimony of faith.

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