A Wonderful Death

Baraka is the Arabic word for blessing (of course, it’s so much more, but you know…semantics).  I feel blessed to speak darija (Moroccan dialect of Arabic) because that means that I can participate in the daily Moroccan baraka exchange.

Each and every thing or action can either have baraka or not.  For example, food that is purchased on an honest income, prepared with love and prayers, shared among as many people as possible is said to have baraka.  Food that  is bought with questionable money, or processed in an unnatural way, or consumed greedily without praise of the Creator, without sharing with or offering to those around us, is said to be devoid of baraka.  The first kind of food makes you healthy, physically and spiritually, will never make you ill, will strengthen your body for doing good things, will strengthen bonds of friendship and unite hearts.  The second kind will weaken you, make you anxious and leave you wanting.

Our daily exchanges can have baraka.  Take, for example, this exchange I had with a man who is a car guardian.  This is when I get in the car to drive away.  I am giving him 20 cents for his car guarding, and he’s helping me navigate out of my parking space into traffic.

Me: Salam alaykom akhoya.  Peace be with you my brother.

Guardian: wa alaykom salam. And with you peace.

Me: bismillah.  In God’s name.  (hand him the money)

Guardian:  Allah ya3teek el khair.   God give you good things.  (another way of saying “thank you”)

Me: Allah y3awnek.  God assist you.

Guardian:  Seeri fid Allah.  Go in God’s care.

And that’s it.  As I type it in English it sounds so contrived, but you have to understand that in Arabic, this is actually completely natural speech.  This is just how people say “hello”, “thanks a lot”, “good luck” and “have a nice day”.  Every utterance is a prayer, returning the speaker to the divine, time and time again.  As I drive away from the guardian I feel so incredibly thankful that this is the case, I feel a little more alive, more humbled, more compassionate.

Most times when I have an exchange like this, I walk away feeling a little more light.  Then there are those exchanges that feel like the person reached in, took out my heart, plain cracked it open, washed it in light, and placed it back in my chest.  A heart unexpectedly broken in the best way possible.  Tears flowing at the most importune of moments.

And it can come from the most unlikely sources.  I’d like to tell you about someone who dazzles me with light.  She’s a woman who sells candy outside my son’s school.  Her name is Naima (not Naima from the baking project, it’s a common name) and she is one of the more joyful, exuberant people I know.  She’s got this cart that she had made, and it’s a child’s delight,  full of every kind of candy and trinket.  She pushes this cart to the school in the morning, noontime and afternoon school, as many as four times a day.  My son is a regular customer, both because he likes candy, and because I really, really want  to support her.  I often stop by after dropping him off at school, just to get a little dose of Naima to start my day off right.  I never know what the topic will be.  So I might ask her a question, like, “how did you get started with this cart?”  She’ll animatedly tell me all about how she got it made and  how she started out, and then she will offer the spiritual wisdom behind it.  “Honey, I’d rather make one dirham the right way than a million dirhams the wrong way!”.  Or if she had a day off, she’d say “Our body has a right over us!  These hands, these feet, they have their rights!  They’re going to bear witness against us if we aren’t good to them”.  She is smiling and animated, and has this amazing faith in God.  I doubt she can read or write, but she has a deep, strong wisdom about life, the human soul and our journey.

About 2 months ago, I came to the school, and I saw Naima dressed head to toe in white.  I was in total shock, because this is the color of mourning in Islam.  Even though I knew exactly what had happened, I couldn’t think of any other way of approaching her than to ask her “Naima, why are you wearing white?”.  She answered, “the man of the house died”.  This is a way of referring to her husband.  I stood there in total shock, and she told me about it.  She said “he wasn’t sick, so it was a total surprise.  He died a wonderful death, he didn’t suffer, his body was completely at peace.”  Her face is glistening with tears and at the same time she is smiling and there is that joy and light in her face.  “And you know, he died during the best times”.  (the first ten days of the Islamic pilgrimage month, considered to be the holiest days of the year).  Then, as usual, she shares spiritual insight, “we’re all just renting space on this earth, and once the rental contract is up, we’ve got to leave.”  But the words that stick with me the most are “a wonderful death”.  I’m amazed that anyone would use that particular combination of words, and I love it.  This woman endured the ultimate loss, the person that was closest to her,  and she was completely accepting of it, and could see that it happened in best way possible.  These are the fruits of a spiritual life.

Since then, it’s been so strange to see Naima every day, with her white jellaba, scarf, socks and shoes, busily selling candy to a 100 screaming kids or cheerfully chatting with the mothers after morning drop-off.  She’ll wear white for 4 months and 10 days, the traditional mourning period.  It’s a constant reminder of death.  We talk about it often, revisiting the story of her husband’s death.  And every time I am awed by how real her strength and faith are.  More often than not, we both end up in tears, and laughing for no other reason than that we enjoy each other’s company.  Exchanges of baraka are possible anywhere, anytime, if we are open to them.  If you’re not getting any love then you just have to be the one that gives it.  A kind word, a smile, a sincere prayer are what soften and open hearts.

The sufis say that a saint is one who reminds you of God.  With him or her you experience a higher level of reality, in an instant, effortlessly.  If anyone ever wonders where the women saints of Morocco are, have no doubt that they are there, making bread, raising children, pushing a candy cart around.

15 thoughts on “A Wonderful Death

  1. Such a beautiful thought – a wonderful death! This post gave me tingles all over my body – I have had these moments in Marrakech too, and truly they are the times that we are reminded what life is all about. SubhanAllah! thanks for the post and the nice reminder!

  2. Shaheen says:

    SubhanAllah! Barik Allah Fiki for sharing this touching story. I can’t help but think of how many people may have passed Naima by and not have benefitted from her wisdom like you have. May we all be blessed enough to learn from people like her- Ameen.

  3. Masha’allah what a wonderful post. Everything you write, and the people that you write about gives me so much hope and inspiration. Your words make me smile right inside my heart, and awakens my soul, they make me feel warm, and appreciate that there is so much love and goodness in this world.

  4. Abdurrahman Fitzgerald says:

    Thank you, dear Nora, for sharing this. What Shaheen says is so true, and it may explain why westerners sometimes have trouble with the way things work (and don’t work) here. Someone else might think, “This is a pretty slow way to buy candy (or park a car, or…) ” And Naima and people like her are saying (with their states and their light), “O….you really thought this was about a 50 centime piece of candy? No, no, no, this is about two human beings having a chance to mention the Name of God and give thanks for even the smallest things.” If someone misses that, they kind of miss the whole point.

  5. Cyrielle says:

    AsSalam Alaykoum
    BarakAllahou Fiki for sharing it ! So beautiful remind and lesson :
    I had a lot of efforts to do, to look like Naïma, an example !
    Thanh you

  6. Surya Dharma says:

    Masha’Allah. Sister Nora, may Allah reward you abundantly for sharing your experience. What a blessing to witness & walk amongst those who live in the light of trust in God. May Allah count us in their company.

  7. I read it 3 times, it was such a beautiful text full of wisdom and love that will remain in my head for a long time.
    We all have crossed the road of women like Naima without paying them much attention – May this comes as a reminder and may we connect, exchange and share more in the future with others.
    May it strengthen our faith, and may we see life a bit more with the eyes and heart of Naima.

  8. salam aleikoum sister,
    that is so true and so beautuiful. thank you for putting this reality into so wonderful words.
    may He bless you and Naima for the light you botrh spread, may He reward you with lots of hasanaat and may He increase the good spread by the Muslim Ummah through the love for His sake. ouhabouki fi’Allah.

  9. Thank-you Nora for explaining the meaning of baraka and giving examples of how it is expressed, felt. This post warms my heart. I understand the moments you describe; the heart feeling lighter; a loving, divine presence. You remind me how important spirituality and compassion is on a daily basis. Your friendship with Naima, her lifestyle and outlook, is very touching.

    I live in France and will be visiting Marrakech for one week; I leave this Saturday. It is wonderful to have a bit of insight into the culture. I speak French, not Arabic, but I will try to learn as much as I can of local culture and language. I embrace all cultures with open arms, a loving heart.

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