My youngest uncle on my mom’s side passed away this past weekend.   It was sudden, unexpected and beautiful.  How can I say this about the death of a man with a quiet smile and a wide heart?  Perhaps this is why I can say it – maybe it only makes sense that a life of generosity and gentleness would end after fajr with the shahadah being the last words uttered over and over on the way to the hospital.  He died of a brain hemorrhage.  Unexpected and sudden.

The first and lasting memory I have of  him is of a thin young man, his arm outstretched with something – fruit, candy, something yummy – being offered to us – his nieces, nephews, the teen girl across the road who played with us.   The spunky, fun girl who would suddenly become shy when she got a glimpse of him.  And pretend she didn’t want those slices of mango all the rest of us were clamoring to get from his fingers.  Then he would look to the side, smile knowingly and say to me or my sister, “why don’t you take a bit extra to share with your friend?”  Oh, that would just make her shy smile glow.  I think that was the first time I understood what love could look like.

They got married soon after and though it must have pained them both, he joined the exodus of young men going to the UAE to work in order to support their families.  And it was here we would often stop by on our visits to India or while on Umrah.  On these visits, we would find ourselves in a surreal situation – watching my uncle in his cramped, simple quarters lay out a pricey feast of food for us – his roommates hovering nearby to help host us with an intense loyalty which surely must have been generated over the years of knowing Sidi Aaka.  It would feel awful at first and make one want to shout: Please don’t pamper us like this! We are overfed Westerners who just got off a plane which suddenly appears luxurious though we had just finished complaining about how cramped it felt! But…then, the sight of his eyes lighting up, his smile glowing as we ashamedly ate would quell these thoughts.  We would once more take from his outstretched hands  because we understood what love could look like.

May Allah have mercy on your soul Sidi Aaka and may your young wife, three children and all of us who love you hold those quiet, gentle and loving hands once more in the life to come.

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