Finding Faith for Me
Fear had its slender, manipulative fingers curled tightly around my throat. There was no air. Where was the air? WHERE WAS MY AIR? I gasped, clutching strings for breath to enter my body. But the more I tried to grasp it, the further and further it escaped from me. The electricity shooting up and down my left arm was making my whole body burn, and my heart… oh my heart was racing. It pounded so loudly, so powerfully – its speed increasing in every moment as if it were being chased by demons, with the reality being just no chance for survival.
“This is it. This is how I die.” The words repeated themselves over and over and over in my mind – this thick, black cloud of dark thoughts coming thick and fast and heavy; my mind in complete overdrive, my body running to catch up.
I was so, so terrified.
I don’t remember what happened next.
In the early hours of the morning, I awoke on the camp bed I slept in besides my grandmother’s bed to an indigo, velvet sky just outside the window. I peeped over the side of the bed through my heavy eyes and could see her sitting on her armchair, her hands raised in perfect unison to the sky as she prayed her early morning prayer.
“Ya Allah,” I heard her whisper, her voice just about audible. “Ya Allah, merey Babu nu Jannat naseeb kardey.”
As she prayed for her son, my father – who had passed away on a trip back home to Pakistan just a couple of months earlier – the heart-searing pain in her voice could be heard as it bit through her whispers, while glassy tears rolled hauntingly down her cheeks. Yet somehow, with her hands raised to the sky and completely lost in the moment of connection between herself and the God she was praying to, there was this calming sense of peace all around her. It was as if she was in complete acceptance and trusted that this was how things were meant to be.
I didn’t get it. I just couldn’t understand. The pain was just too raw and too real for me. The severe panic attack that I had had the night previously was now just a normal, regular occurrence and I just couldn’t get my mind or my heart around the fact that my Dad wasn’t here anymore: that I would never, ever see him or hear his voice again. I was just 14 years old.
This was one of the most difficult periods of my life. I remember my Grandmother’s house heaving with people in the days following his death, as we awaited my father’s body to be returned to England from Pakistan. I remember people pitying my 4 siblings and I; embracing my mother and bawling at the top of their lungs. I remember everyone throwing around the words “Allah di marzi, Allah di marzi” (it is God’s will) but yet in their actions acting in the complete opposite way to the acceptance that this was God’s will.
Inna Lillahi wa Inna ilayhi Raji’un– from Allah we come and to Allah we will return.
The religion I was born into taught, through these words, that death was the most natural, most beautiful part of life. I see that now. Yet all throughout my life, and exacerbated even more so through the death of my father, I was shown that among my community, death was the worst possible thing that could ever happen to a human being. I was taught to fear death, to fear returning to God, to fear the moment of death itself and to fear the punishment of the hell-fire and the punishment of the grave.
There was no wonder that the pain of my father’s death stayed with me for such a long time. That I suffered from severe panic attacks for over a year. That some days I would wake up and the whole world would be shrouded in darkness, days that I believed that this was the day that I too was going to die.
There was just no wonder.
(Watch out for Part 3 of this 6-part series – coming soon.)
By Sabah Ismail