“Which graveyard is the burial at?” he asked me. His tanned face was clean shaven with glasses and shoulder length, swept-back hair. But the most striking thing about him was the designer clothes and footwear he was wearing. His shoes alone must have cost several hundred pounds, if not more.
He looked more like a movie star or a professional footballer on his day off rather than someone exiting a mosque. He certainly did not look “devout.”
By now, hundreds of worshippers had come out of the mosque after Friday Prayers and were mingling on the pavement outside. At least outwardly, most of these worshippers appeared to be more devout than the man with the swept-back hair but none of them asked where the graveyard was.
My first reaction was surprise. He certainly didn’t seem like the type who would volunteer to go to a graveyard to bury someone. I wondered whether he was a relative of the woman who had died so I asked him.
“Someone said that the lady only had one male relative and they need volunteers to help with the burial so I thought I would go and help out,” he replied.
Three days earlier I had just finished praying the dawn Fajr prayer at the mosque when the Imam announced that during the night a woman had died across the road from the mosque. Her body was still in her bedroom on the top floor so help was needed to bring her body down to the funeral services van.
It was around 5.30am. Along with 8-9 other men I went to the house. Only three of the volunteers were what one might call “able-bodied men” – the rest were elderly men.
When we reached the bedroom on the top, loft extension floor, there was a single bed in the middle of the room. On the bed was a small body lying on a bed wrapped up in a white bedsheet. There was some liquid discharge near where her mouth was.
We held the corners of the sheet and carried her downstairs. Her body was surprisingly light.
As the others placed the body onto a trolley and prepared to push it into the van, I noticed an elderly woman standing at the door. She was watching the spectacle and weeping quietly.
I went up to the elderly woman and asked her if she was related to the woman who had just died. “Yes. She was my daughter,” she replied. I asked her daughter’s name, how old she was and whether the death was unexpected.
She told me that her daughter was 40, unmarried with no children, and had suffered from cancer for two years. Her death was expected. She left behind her mother, and her brother, who joined us as we were talking.
“She won’t suffer any more pain after tonight inshallah [God-willing],” I said to the elderly woman before I left.
As I drove back home, I told my sister what I had just seen during the last 20 minutes. Ironically, the death took place on the next street to my sister’s house. The bedroom light was still visible from my sister’s kitchen.
“I wonder what special status she must have had with Allah, that out of thousands of people in the community, Allah chose for her body to be lifted only by those few who had just prayed Fajr in the mosque,” my sister commented.
An appeal had gone out in the community that volunteers were needed to help with the burial on Friday. I happened to be free that day so I had come prepared with my boots and rough clothes.
With me was former Guantanamo detainee Shaker Aamer; whenever anyone is in need of help, he is always there. He told me that he had never before attended a burial in the UK.
We arrived at the graveyard. A few cars carrying a total of about 15 volunteers had turned up for the burial, most of whom did not know the family of the dead woman.
Among the cars was a new Mercedes Benz SLK convertible sports car. Out of it stepped the man with the swept-back hair.
Since it was cold, it took longer than normal to bury the body. We were having to break the hard soil with our shoes; or, in the case of the man with the swept-back hair, with expensive designer shoes. He was there in the mud, not caring for a second about his clothes or footwear.
At least I had come prepared for the burial; this man was given no such warning. He had come to the mosque from work, dressed for Friday Prayers and here he was, getting dirty at the burial of someone whose name he didn’t even know.
As soon as the burial was over, he shook hands with the other volunteers, got into the Mercedes and, in a flash, was gone. None of us knew his name, let alone who he was.
After the Eid prayer at my local mosque a few weeks ago, I spotted an immaculately dressed man in a suit easily worth several thousand pounds. It was the man with the swept-back hair.
I embraced him for Eid and reminded him that I had met him at the burial a few months ago. He had forgotten about the burial but remembered after I jogged his memory. I asked him his name and what he did.
“I am a precious metals trader,” he replied.
After exchanging pleasantries we both went our separate ways. I have never seen him since.
Reflecting on the man with the swept-back hair, I thought about the times when we are sometimes quick to judge a person’s character based on their outward appearance.
Outwardly, this man did not appear to be a devout worshipper of Allah. But when it mattered, when others who looked more devout than him fell short, this man stepped up to the mark and fulfilled his duty.
My experience with this man reminded me of what the Prophet Moses (peace be upon him) said to his people:
“I see that you wear the humble clothes of devout people, but your hearts are like the hearts of wolves. Wear the clothes of kings if you like, but humble your hearts towards God.”
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If you have any experiences to share where you wrongly judged someone based on their outward appearance, why don’t you share them in the Comments box below?