I am early for class, the lights are off, the chair seats sit majestically gowned in grey velveteen, while the dead outside wait for the class to begin and hope for the blessing of the words of Allah to be sprinkled on the ancient graves like fairy dust filtered through the glass windows.
I started today with the Quran Tajweed and memorization class. While memorizing the Quran I am pulled to the window by a subtle invitation from outside. As I look out at the sentinel gravestones, worn down with time, the sun and the rain. suddenly the clouds shift and the sun rays lift the young green grass blades growing over the graves and render them translucent in their finery. The rays light up the aged stone engraved with years which are dated centuries ago.
The dandelions wave to me on behalf of the dead as I stand inside separated by the glass of the windows very much like the insurmountable barrier between the living and the dead.
Can the dead communicate with us? Are they aware of us? Can we gift them the recitation of the Quran ? ( esaal e sawaab) I now know the answers to each of these questions after detailed study and the answer in a short sentence is that yes we can and NO it is not bidah ie if we do it we will NOT be punished.
Today it seems to me that suddenly the graves and their inhabitants at Valide Atik Cami have sprung to life and are no longer inert and inconsequential. They now do not seem to be just disintegrated bones and flesh but sparkling particles of light waiting to come together on the Day of Judgement, and fulfill the promise of resurrection.
I am reminded of my most recent Friday class twhich was a detailed commentary grounded in the Quran and Hadith as to how the dead communicate sometimes with the living. ( we are doing a comparative study of Imam Ibn Taimiyyahs’s works with earlier Muhaddithoons).
Last Friday after the class on the dead and their communication to the living, it brought home a comforting feeling in me, I felt a shortening of distance between me and my loved. ones that lay strewn all over the world buried under the earth.
while I am walking home from Friday class, I look across the Bosphorus at the shimmering blue touched with the gold of the sunset and wonder if Tariq is here with me in beautiful Istanbul? I know he would have loved the deep Islamic roots, the eclectic life, the grand architecture and the view of the Bosphorus from the Sahil walk. I miss both my children and my inability to share the spirituality of this beautiful city with them.
Does geography limit the soul of the dead? Though their bodies are held down under the earth do their spirits roam behind that invisible curtain brought down at death, they seeing us, hearing us and unable to respond to us?
The dead, it seems from my study, pass over to the other side of an invisible veil where they can see, hear and feel us but except for rare occasions cannot approach us. thus, we the living while walking amongst the dead leave our verbal and physical imprints on them and we in our overwhelming grief of parting only feel their absence, and remain oblivious to their current state in Barzakh
Prophet Muhammad pbuh was once walking with one of his companions in the funeral procession, the accompanying companion made a comment about the dead man: The Prophet pbuh said and I paraphrase” this too is recorded” meaning what we say about the dead is written up in their deeds and perhaps brought up when they are questioned In the grave.
It is a heads up to us the currently living to treat the dead with respect not because of the fear that they will haunt us but that we can hurt them with our callous etiquette and earn the wrath of the souls in barzakh as well as the ire of our Lord for this disrespect.
The cats know more about respecting the dead than us. As I wander through the gravestones in the back of the Valide Atik Cami I see tucked into the landscape cats as if they have been painted into the scene, some sleeping, some walking the parapet, some sitting beside the grave. A cat gets up and goes out of the direct precinct of the graves to relieve himself. Even they respect the dead, what about us?
On the wings of memory, I am pulled back to my hometown where when I would approach Tariq’s grave the trees would swing with the breeze, and make music as it shimmered through the leaves. when I went to visit my mother’s grave the children in the school next to the cemetery would have their recess and come out laughing and running just like my mother’s school at recess. Allah gave music of the leaves to Tariq in his final abode and the laughter of children to Ammi even as they lie as scintillating particles in the red earth of Georgia.
How should we modify our behavior to include the respect and reverence for the dead whom we may not see or know but they see us and know us by our actions.
My dear friend S once told me that every Friday the souls wait in the Barzakh for gifts and the gifts come in the form of the surahs recited for the dead. The angels come bearing them and all the souls in barzakh look forward to receiving the gift of the recitation of Yaseen. Some are disappointed as there is nothing for them, no one has recited for them and some are overloaded…………. At this time the soul who has received s a generous amount of gifts by the righteous companions still living. They generously share their gifts with the unfortunate ones for whom no one has recited or is unable to recite the Quran for them this week.
At that time, I thought my friend was just saying this to encourage me to send the gift of yaseen to my mother and Tariq……….. but now as I walk among the dead and having studied what the Quran and Sunnah say about the dead, and about Esaal e Sawaab, I know better, and how to gift them.
A beautiful tradition is followed by the group of Muslims that I travelled with to Uzbekistan. Every evening they perform Salaat al Janazah Ghaib for all those who have fallen in unknown territories away from their loved ones, some in friendless plains, deserts and mountain rocks never buried with the rites of a Muslim. On the wings of love this small group stands in respect and prays their salaat e janazah or funeral prayer in absentia for those not present.
The hush in the garden of the dead seems to encourage me to recite the Quran and the wind blows the words from my lips, swirls them around the grass of the graves, leaving the sacred words for them like a caress.