prose// the night of ancestral​ longing

On this night, 1400 years ago, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was taken from Makkah to Jerusalem in one night. Space shrank in an unprecedented way. Distance dissolved, the barriers between life and death grew blurry and soft. Prophets who had long been dead rise to pray, Adam and Abraham and Jesus and Moses only some of the thousands behind the beloved messenger of Allah.

As a daughter of diaspora, pulled from the places my family came from, from the earth where they prayed and fasted, I often wish I could fold earth up like an accordion and simple step forward onto Mother Africa and be home again. To be able to return to the origin, the genesis, of my own name, like the valley of the prophets was to our beloved messenger of God.

You see, physical places are important. They hold meaning, cradle within them the spiritual legacies of those before. They may be simply dirt or rock or river to some, but they simply don’t know how to see with more than the eye, how to feel with more than the palm of their hand.

I have tried to imagine, what it would be like to touch down in Khartoum and watch as all of my ancestors, my grandfather, and grandmother, my aunt, my father’s teachers, his grandfather’s tender hands, walked along beside me in the flesh. What a sight it would be to behold, on the shores of a West African nation, maybe Senegal, or Mali, or Ghana, all of my ancestors who are buried in that soil, beaming, smiling, moving, watching. What would their voices sound like? Could they recognize me? Would I see my own reflection in their eyes, hear my name out of their lips and still know it to be the same?

To stand before all of your lineage, sacred and true, blessed and ancient, as Habibullah did on that sacred night, would be nothing short of astounding. What a sense of purpose could fill one’s heart after looking their whole family in the eyes in a lifetime, let alone a nighttime? What sort of dignity, and honor would be felt? What a deep sense of humility and gratitude, for the meticulousness with which God has designed your own family tree: the roots, the trunk, the branches, all to bring you to your own, small, fragile leaf?

Time and space are nothing in the hands of God. He can bend the universe into its own shape, break time apart and put it back together again, pull out of place rules we thought were as rigid as the horizon, and yet with only a bit of perspective, we have learned that even she herself is not the precise line we mistook her as, for centuries.

The greatest promise is Allah’s promise. And I am promised a hereafter, a crossing over of the threshold of life into death, the ending of such barriers, the beginning of an eternal forever after, a promise of heaven, a promise of desires fulfilled, a promise of light and goodness, and nothing but “peace upon peace”.

May Allah grant me Jannah and may He reunite me with all those I love even if I do not know their names. Perhaps we can all pray together, in heaven.

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