The women gathering around the home
of the grieving family.
As I entered the kitchen this morning, I heard wailing outside my window. A death in the village. I found out through a friend that one of my “Traveling Abiya” ladies, Zeinab, had lost a son. He had been in an accident in Cairo and had died around 2 am. She had received the call shortly thereafter.
Cultural protocol says that it is proper to go visit the grieving family as soon as you hear the news. My friend and I immediately got ready and walked the short distance from our homes.
Already outside were clumps of silent women all dressed in black with their heads low. I made eye contact with them and nodded my head in respect.
As I entered the simple concrete home, I saw Zeinab lying on the bed covered with a sheet. Her headscarf had fallen off so that little shocks of orange hair poked out. Her dimmed eyes and weathered face had experienced many difficult times in her long life, but to lose a son is one of the most devastating.
All eyes were on my friend and me as we knelt beside this dear old soul, took her hands and wept.
I cried with this mother who had received such heart-wrenching news. I cried with this family who mourn the loss of their husband, father, brother and cousin. I cried knowing that in Islam, they all weep because they do not know if Allah will be merciful to this man’s soul.
Other women began entering so I moved to the side of the bed and sat down. The wailing would sometimes erupt and it would almost be more than I could bear, but I’m here to live life alongside them. Life which includes heat, birthday parties, all-night weddings, community, boredom and even death.
Zeinab began recounting the call she received from her son just hours before the accident. He was coming to see her and his family for Eid Al Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice). She had been so excited. Her family would be together. Then she received another call. Her son had been riding a bicycle, a car swerved, he was dead on arrival at the hospital. At this she began crying again asking, “When will I see him again? When? Only Allah knows.” She repeated the story trying to convince herself that it was actually true.
The small room was becoming crowded with more mourners. My friend and I stood to leave but first needed to acknowledge each woman in the room. (The men were in a house next door.) I took the hand of each one, hugged them and whispered, “Robina myik” ("Our Lord be with you") and I truly meant it. Jesus, be with this village, this family, this woman who has little time left on this earth. Show yourself to them as you are…loving, compassionate, forgiving and One who gives hope.
We walked out of the home and greeted the other women who had gathered outside. We then sat with them on a concrete stoop as is custom to express that the village shares in the grief of the family.
I will return this evening for another visit after sunset. Her son must be buried according to Islamic tradition on the same day of death before sunset. Her family was working feverishly to have his body brought to our city which is a 12-14 hour drive from Cairo in time to meet the requirements. His body will be prepared for burial in her home. The family will say their goodbyes and will carry the son out of the village to the edge of the cemetery where the men will then continue on to bury him. (Women are not allowed in the cemetery during funerals.)
Everyone will return to the village and that will be when I visit again. This will continue for three days, but will be most difficult because of the Eid which begins on Thursday. Normally, this most holy of holidays in Islam is one full of feasting and celebration. The village will now have to balance the two events being careful to show respect to Zeinab’s family while also observing this special time of year for all Muslims.
I’ll try to navigate this time as well. John’s traveling so I’ll have to represent the family while he’s away. Please pray that I have understanding and discernment of the language and cultural nuances, but mostly that I would represent Jesus’ heart to this broken family.