For the first time in my life, I won’t be able to wish my dad a happy birthday on June 13.
He passed away last August quite suddenly at 64. I wasn’t sure how I would feel when his birthday came around this year. After all, for every year of my life, my dad’s birthday fell on the same week as Father’s Day and two days before my own birthday. I suppose it is natural to sense there is something missing this week.
I remember one of my dear friends called me the day after he passed last Ramadan. Her father had died several years earlier and she spoke of how it had taken a number of years for her to fully come to terms with his death. She eventually found comfort in the idea that her father is her ‘wasta’ in Heaven. Wasta is an Arabic term that refers to people who are connections with clout, able to get you favourable treatment, usually in government offices.
She put a smile on my face when she said that; it was one of a number of ideas that brought me comfort in the first few days of separation.
I continue to get teary eyed when I speak of specific memories we shared, browse through old photographs or hear a sappy song. Sometimes I will cry deeply when I am up in the early morning giving dua’a (supplications) for my dad before the dawn prayer, fajr. There are ever-present thoughts that I could have done and said more during his life.
Yet I surprised myself and many people I know by how calm I was after my dad’s death. My faith in God helped me rationalise, accept and even rejoice at his passing. I know that may sound strange, but it makes perfect sense when you embrace the concept that death is the most-important point along the journey of life. If a person has lived a virtuous life and espouses sincere belief in God and His message, death is a time to celebrate the soul’s reunion with its Creator. Rumi articulates this better than I ever could:
Our death is our wedding with eternity.
What is the secret? God is One.
The sunlight splits when entering the windows of the house.
This multiplicity exists in the cluster of grapes;
It is not in the juice made from the grapes.
For he who is living in the Light of God,
The death of the carnal soul is a blessing.
(Excerpt from a poem by Jalaluddin Rumi, Mystic Odes 833)
Through my faith, it has been possible for me to continue having a meaningful relationship with my father. I certainly spend a great deal more time thinking of and praying for him now than I did during his life.
It was surrendering to Islam, the Arabic term meaning ‘submission to God’, that helped me soften the blow of my father’s passing. There are so many gifts we can continue to give to our loved ones once they have departed from this world. The more I delve into my submission, the more I uncover new layers of this that I had been unaware of.
We have the power as children to seek favour for our parents with God. A person’s soul, when separated from the body, remains in a state known as Barzakh, the interval between death and the Day of Judgement. According to tradition, God opens a window for the righteous that brings Heaven into sight when they enter Barzakh.
The last Prophet, Muhammad ﷺ, said of the deceased: “When a person dies, his actions come to an end, except in one of three ways: A continuing act of charity, a useful contribution to knowledge, or a righteous child who prays for him.”
When I first heard of this Hadith from my brother-in-law the day of my father’s death, it brought me instant comfort. I immediately incorporated dua’a for my father after every prayer. Since I pray five times every day, this means I have been able to keep remembrance of my father frequent and consistent in my daily routine.
When we give dua’a, we ask God with a dedicated heart to fulfil our righteous and legitimate requests for ourselves and others. I ask God to forgive my father for any wrong action, to grant him peace and serenity, to elevate him in the ranks of Paradise, to bless his soul.
We learn from Hadith, sayings of the Last Prophet ﷺ, that our dua’a reach our loved ones. When the deceased receives dua’a from the living, “he becomes so delighted it as if he has something better than everything on this earth. Certainly, Allah (God) confers reward on people in the grave equal to the mountains.”
Imagine that. Just by praying for your parent’s soul, this gift reaches his/her soul and is so valuable to them that it renders the entire world and their lives in it insignificant in comparison.
Another Hadith speaks of how God will elevate the ranks of some believers in Paradise on the Day of Judgement, based on the actions of their children. The parent will ask of God ‘How did I get this high rank?’, and God will say, ‘Your children prayed for your forgiveness, and it is due to the dua’a of your children that I have granted you this position’.
Other than prayer, I have done my best to offer gifts to my father in the form of charity, acts of worship and fasting. Muslims are obliged to provide 2.5% of their income and assets each year to charity, although this is a minimum. Charity should whenever possible be given throughout the year, particularly so at times when God brings us abundant wealth. Since my father’s death, I find myself constantly looking for a new way to give charity, knowing that doing so will benefit not only me, but my father. When I can, I ask the recipient to say a prayer for him.
There are other gifts we as children can give as well. Last December, I performed an umrah, a short pilgrimage in the holy city of Makkah, on behalf of my father, something he did not have a chance to do during his life.
I also continue to read chapters from the Quran daily that are beneficial for the deceased, and I fast regularly apart from the month of Ramadan with the intention of providing some benefit to my dad as well as myself. I typically fast on Mondays or Thursdays, which are blessed days to fast because, as the Last Prophet ﷺsaid, “Deeds of people are presented (to God) on Mondays and Thursdays. So I like that my actions be presented while I am fasting.”
Given the sheer magnitude of gifts we can send our parent’s way after they have died, I suppose I have found very little time for grief. Instead of grieving I am giving generously and graciously to my father’s soul whenever I can. Every time I do something to honour the memory of my dad, I imagine the gift reaching his soul and bringing him peace.
So, on this first June 13 that he hasn’t been here, I will commemorate my dad’s life with extra prayers and wishes for his soul to find peace. I hope that if you have read this, you might also send a good wish to God on his behalf.
“Indeed, we belong to God and to Him we shall surely return” (Quran: 2:156)