“There is a young man in hospital, very sick. People are requested to go and visit him,” was the appeal that went out in the community.

I had grown up living across the street from the local hospital, witnessing many births, operations and deaths in the process. I was used to these appeals and felt responsible living so close to the hospital.

It was the summer of 2003, a year before I went to prison for 11 years.

I made my way to the hospital ward and there lay a young man of 19. A Muslim of Pakistani origin, he was a rapper before he was struck down with cancer. Let’s call him Adil.

Adil’s cancer was spreading fast. It had made his skin highly sensitive to touch so he was lying there on the hospital bed wearing only a pair of shorts. If anything was to touch his skin, it would discomfort him.

His voice had almost gone so he would barely whisper when speaking.

I had learned that one of the things that cancer patients frequently dislike is sympathy. I remembered that as I conversed with Adil about different things.

“I spoke a lot of rubbish with this tongue,” he smiled. “So now Allah [God] has silenced my tongue so that I can only remember Him.”

He told me about his short life, how he regretted all the years he had spent, in a bubble, without a purpose to his life.

I asked him if there was one lesson that he would share with other young people living their lives far from Allah.

“Keep good company,” he whispered. “You are what your friends are. Keep good company and you will be OK.”

As I left, I asked him if he prayed. He replied that he didn’t because he couldn’t make wudu (pre-prayer ablution cleansing) and he was too weak to do all the actions.

I told him that Allah was easy going in these matters and that he could pray lying down on his bed, without washing with water. I taught him how to make the dry ablution (tayammum) and how to pray lying down. Then I left, promising to return.

A few days later I returned. I found that he had started to pray.

We spoke a bit more. He told me about his family and how important they were to him. It seemed that at this stage of his life, his loved ones were all that mattered. By now he was wheezing and needed an oxygen mask to breathe.

Over the next few weeks I visited Adil several more times. On one of these occasions, I told him that I was going to Makkah to perform the umrah (lesser pilgrimage) and that I would surely pray for him.

A week later I was in Madinah when I telephoned home. Adil had passed away.

His cancer had become incurable. The hospital had sent him home, with an oxygen mask, to die. One morning at home he had just prayed the Fajr at home with his family.

All of a sudden, he tore the oxygen mask off his face, shouted “Allahu Akbar” [Allah is the Greatest] three times and then he died.

As I went to the Prophet’s Mosque later that day, I prayed for Adil. I reflected on his short life and how, just before he died, Allah had chosen to guide him so that his last actions were something good.

I reflected on his advice: keep good company, keep good friends. He always used to say that, with a tone of regret in his voice.

Sometimes, the shortest of words are the most powerful.

Keep good company.

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