I examine the notebook first. It’s more of a journal really, with thick pages and a substantial binding. In a moment of indulgent up-selling, I had agreed for my initials to be blind-embossed along the bottom right of the cover: A.M. Stamped down in proud capitals. Even at the time I wondered if it would seem confusing – did it refer to a person or a morning?
That decision made the book feel too special to use. Too difficult to replace. And so, it has sat empty until now. In a few moments I will bend open its spine and pick a page closer to the back cover than the front. It has to be near the back, because what I intend to write is the endings.
I will pick up my favourite extra black, extra fine tip rollerball and take a deep breath as I write evenly along the top of the page: MY DEAD.
The title isn’t mine and neither is the idea, but I’ve carried it around with me since the year I became a mother. It was the year that in witnessing a first breath, I was confronted with the fact that there would one day be a last breath. It was the same year I learned that a teacher whom I loved carried a notebook which had in it’s pages a list of their dead. It felt beautiful and intimate. I remember the teacher saying that it is part of our duty, not only our love, to intentionally remember those who have passed. To pull out the list and pray for your people by name.
Time passed and my own compilation remained in my head and my heart. I put off writing it down, absurdly confident in my ability to remember every person I thought I should. But then, things changed.
Over the past twelve months, the trickle of names I would have liked to remember became a stream, became a waterfall, became a river, became a sea. A sea of names attached to faces, attached to lives that in ways small and large intersected with mine. I began losing track of them even as I began keeping track of other kinds of absence.
Under this year-long shadow of collective heaviness and grief comes the 27th of Rajab. The night on which our Beloved Messenger was graced with the miraculous night journey to Masjid al-Aqsa in Jerusalem and ascension into the heavens. Over the past few years, in our family, we’ve focused in on the details of what happened, how it happened and why it is important. We’ve made crafts of the Ka’aba, imagined the shape of Buraq, felt excited by prophets and angels standing together in prayer and chuckled over the wisdom of Hazret Musa for his good advice regarding the gift of salat. Most of all we’ve been awed by the meeting between the Blessed Prophet and Allah Most High, the exact same meeting we reference every time we pray.
What’s often left out of the story is that Isra wal-Mi’raj is also the year that our Prophet added to his own list of people he’d lost.
First, his beloved wife Khadija – his comfort, his partner, his ease and his support, became ill and returned to her Lord. Leaving the Prophet in a state of deep and profound grief. Shortly after, the Prophet’s uncle, Abu Talib, also died, taking with him the protection under which he had supported the Prophet for years. His death left the Prophet not only emotionally sorrowful but physically vulnerable to targeted abuse and persecution.
With the loss of his wife, his uncle and his safety, the Prophet then sought to find support and refuge elsewhere. The year of the Isra wal-Mi’raj is also the year that our Beloved Prophet travelled to the town of Ta’if – making the nearly seventy kilometre journey on foot.
Once he arrived, he attempted to speak to the people there and to meet with the leaders of their most important tribes. But the Prophet was ignored, mocked and set upon as they pelted him with insults and stones. So much so, that he began to bleed profusely. What must it have felt like – to be alone, grieving and hoping for shelter but finding only violence and humiliation?
Hazret Aisha once asked the Prophet SAW, ‘O Messenger of Allah, was there any day more difficult to you than the day of the battle of Uhud?’. The Prophet SAW replied, ‘Yes, the day of Ta’if was worse for me than the day of Uhud; that was the most difficult point of my life’.
The year of the Isra wal-Mi’raj is also what we know to be the Year of Sadness. It’s the part of the story we tend not to focus on and perhaps, before, we didn’t need to. Because we didn’t feel then the way we feel now.
But this year, a Year Of Sadness for so many, is the year we need to know that before the miracle came the distress. That before the journey came the sorrow. That before the ascension came the grief. That before the gift, came the heartbreak.
As he left Ta’if and sat near a wall at the edge of town, our Beloved Prophet prayed to Allah:
To You, my Lord, I complain of my weakness, lack of support and the humiliation I am made to receive. Most Compassionate and Merciful! You are the Lord of the weak, and you are my Lord. To whom do You leave me? To a distant person who receives me with hostility? Or to an enemy You have given power over me? As long as You are not displeased with me, I do not care what I face. I would, however, be much happier with Your mercy. I seek refuge in the light of Your face by which all darkness is dispelled and both this life and the life to come are put in their right course against incurring Your wrath or being the subject of your anger. To You I submit, until I earn Your pleasure. There is no power and no might except by You.
He didn’t know then that Allah would answer his prayers in the most phenomenal way – that the Isra wal-Mi’raj would take place solely to honour and assure him of his noble station. He didn’t know at that moment if the sadness of his year was a sign of Divine displeasure.
We too, can never know how our prayers may be answered – in ways beyond anything we can imagine. We too, can call upon our Lord when we feel most broken and feel hope in Divine mercy. We too, can experience our sadness for what it is, without shame or the need to hide.
As for my own notebook – I will name the people I’ve lost, as I always meant to. I will add to each the date that they died. I will organise them starting from longest gone. It will take more space than I expected. The dates will pile up as I reach this year, this month, this week. Afterwards, I will pray for them by name. Closing the pages, I will rub my thumb over the A.M. – A book of Mourning after all, established in a year of sadness.
Read 5 Great Ways to Share Isra wal-Mi’raj With Children
Listen to our Isra wal-Mi’raj Audio Story
Image: Cannon Rock by Winslow Homer