Death has an uncanny way of rearranging our priorities. Before an early morning text message yesterday from a dear friend, like many Muslims here in the United States, I was preoccupied with an easily recognizable laundry list of concerns. I could list among them the looming anti-Muslim hate rallies being planned today by the so-called Oath Keepers; the unsettling implications of the Russian bombing campaign for an already complicated and bloody conflagration in Syria; the perplexing, serious, but strangely amusing antics of the Republican party, both on the campaign trail and in Congress; and a wide array of similar concerns.
When that text arrived informing me that Salahud-Din Abdul-Razacq, husband of the highly respected teacher and Da’iya, Zaynab Ansari, had died, days after being struck by a drunk driver whose license had been suspended, all of the aforementioned concerns faded into the background. That is so because death, especially when it comes so suddenly and unexpectedly to someone so young, forces us to take stock of our own lives and to ask ourselves timeless questions. Should death visit me this moment, will I be prepared to meet my Lord? Am I proud of my record? What should I be doing with the time I have left in this world? Am I preparing for my death with passionate devotion and selfless service or am I merely marking time in the world? Do I treat every breath I am blessed to take as a gift from God, which I should fittingly honor by ensuring that the time accompanying it is filled with remembrance, praise and service, or do I take it for granted, thoughtlessly assuming it will be followed by another?
In this case, these questions and the reality of death itself, take on added significance owing to the close personal ties I have with Salahud-Din’s in-laws. I have known Mansour and Kafi Ansari, Ustadha Zaynab’s parents, since 1981, when I was a student at American University in Washington, DC. We were all members of an activist Muslim organization, filled with revolutionary fervor. Five-year-old Zaynab, and her younger sister, Sumayyah, were mainstays at the protests and demonstrations we frequently attended. They could be found scrambling along on their tiny feet or riding atop readily availed shoulders. We were all swept up, unbeknownst to them, in what I like to refer to as the heady days of the Islamic Revolution.
Inspired by their then passionate support for the Iranian Revolution, Mansour and Kafi would move to Iran, where Zaynab and Sumayyah would continue their education, eventually becoming fluent in Farsi. Many years later, our paths would cross again in Syria during the late-1990s. Disillusioned with Iran, they brought their two daughters, now beautiful young women, to Damascus to learn Arabic and study Islam more deeply. We would frequently visit each other and occasionally rummage through the shops of the old city in Damascus, as Mansour hustled up deals to support his import export business. In 2001, I moved my own family back to the States after graduating from Abi Nur College in Damascus. Mansour and his family would follow shortly thereafter.
Upon their return from Syria, we would frequently meet at various Islamic programs and conferences, and in 2003, I was called upon by the family to officiate Zaynab and Salahud-Din’s marriage. It was at that time I that I first met Salahud-Din, named after his father, a mild-mannered young man of exemplary character. The impactful nurturing provided him and his sister, Kamila, by their mother, Khadija, was clearly evident. In addition to her old school “home-training” she had the foresight to send him to Atlanta’s Dar ul-Uloom at the young age of 14 where he became one of the first African Americans in Atlanta, Georgia, to memorize the entire Qur’an.
In addition to this religious distinction he was also an accomplished martial artist, so accomplished that some referred to him as an African American Bruce Lee. However, like all truly accomplished and mature warriors, he did not wear his prowess in the arts “on his sleeve.” Instead, he quietly left an indelible imprint on the lives of many young people as a trainer and coach who taught martial arts, physical fitness, and, most importantly, the art of good living.
Salahud-Din, like his learned, wise, judicious and cultured wife, was a gem in every way. At a time when it is increasingly difficult to find young African American men who can avoid being chewed up and then spit out by America’s “Gangsta Factory” devout and pious men like him, true to God and dutifully devoted to family and community, stand out all the more. They are shining stars who should be celebrated by our community.
Now, the reckless action of a thoughtless individual has taken him from us. That is how we explain his passing in this world of effects. However, in the true causal realm, we know that the time of his passing had been decreed, and that sooner or later we will all follow him. Death after all, is an unavoidable inevitability. To his family, friends and loved ones, I say that he is still with us and whenever you are really missing him, go outside on a really clear night. Gaze into the vast firmament overhead and you will see that his star is still shining. Not only that, if you have lost your way, it will surely lead you home.
Originally published on Imam Zaid Shakir’s website, New Islamic Directions.
Please keep Ustadh Salahud-Din Abdul-Razacq and his family in your heartfelt prayers and we encourage you to join others around the world in reciting Quran for him. Sign up to read a portion at this link. If you would like to send condolences via email, please do so at this email.
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