2021 May 23 – HL – male age 15 – Week #1

            This was our first post-pandemic week of the GISLA program. As a precursor to our first class, we had a potluck the prior week as a way to get together and spend time with some of the families who were already a part of the GISLA program. It is also important to note, however, that Teacherji told many of the students who were well experienced in the class (including myself) that we would need to start recruiting our peers from outside class to join the GISLA as well. Now although some would refer to this as a pyramid scheme, I’d like to think of it more as a multi-level marketing operation in which we can spread the word of God. All jokes aside, however, Teacherji informed me that due to the fact that I had been a part of the program for such a long period of time (this is my third year as an official member) there is only so much that he could teach me, and eventually I would need to start taking up the responsibility of a TA, or Teacher’s Assistant. 

          Despite our directions to recruit new members for GISLA, we were told not to for this week. However, as Teacherji informed us shortly after the potluck, we would be visiting a cemetery for the following class. I chimed in via the Whatsapp group chat and expressed my opinion that a cemetery may not be the best beginning for people’s relationship with GISLA, as such somber settings often times make people uncomfortable. Although I believe there is no reason to be uncomfortable at a cemetery given the fact that we will all end up there one day.

          My final point during the last paragraph was the first thing that Teacherji said to me when we arrived at the cemetery, as we paid our respects whilst waiting for the other two parties to arrive. He explained to me that in addition to paying our respects, praying for the deceased, etcetera, the main reason we were in the aforementioned setting that day was to accept death, and contextualize it for what it is; the end of our physical and spiritual bodies on this earth in preparation for the next life.   

         The cemetery we visited during the previous class was the All Muslim Association of America, located in Fredricksburg, Virginia. The cemetery was about an hour away from where our classes are usually held, so Teacherji picked me up as I didn’t have any means of arriving at the cemetery. During the car ride alone, I learned a lot. One of the major points that sticks out to me from the car ride was the fact that we were headed an hour away just to go to an Islamic cemetery when there were many non-muslim cemeteries in our immediate area. The point Teacherji made (which I wholeheartedly agree with) was the fact that it shouldn’t make a difference what faith the people buried at the site belong to, as all cemeteries have the same purpose. When I asked him why he didn’t just explain this to the GISLA families, however, he went on to explain that some people have trouble understanding this point, and in the interest of not having to reiterate his point to everyone that asked, “why didn’t we go to a muslim cemetery?” He thought it’d be easier to just take the hour-long drive to Stafford County. 

          Once we arrived at the cemetery, Teacherji and I walked around and observed the gravesites to pay our respects as we waited for the other two parties to arrive to help us unpack the van. As we walked around, we eventually reached the section which was reserved for those who passed away as children. As we walked around, I eventually came across one that was of a child who died at only five days old. It’s rather strange to imagine having just had a baby with the expectations of watching them grow up and mature, only to lose them before you ever get to know them. I’ve always been aware of death, and especially with several deaths within my family (and a few friends as well) over the last year, I have really come to terms with the fact that God ultimately decides our fate on this earth. As humans, it is easy for us to get carried away and think that we are in control of anything, but in the grand scheme of things we are capable of nothing without the approval of the Almighty.

            Eventually, C had arrived with J, who was a new member of the GISLA program. Not long after, Q had arrived with his wife, and his kids; Q and D. Q, C, and I unpacked three large boxes from the man, which were all boxes for park tables and benches, which we were going to construct and set up so people who visited the cemetery would be able to sit down as they ate, or grieved for the deceased. Teacherji further went on to explain that this sort of charity is often overlooked, and is very necessary in the world. While yes, it is also great if you feed 100 homeless families, this simply isn’t an act which is practical or viable for most people to do, so small acts such as this will definitely suffice. At the end of the day, it is about one’s intentions, not how much they have to give away.

            After we built the benches, we set up canopies as well so those who sat on the benches wouldn’t be in direct contact with the sun, which is often unbearable for longer periods of time during the warmer months. The last key point from that class that stood out to me was something that C brought up. For some context, C is a former Catholic and converted to Islam roughly two or so years ago. He asked Teacherji in Islam, why do we pray to God in the presence of the deceased who were believed to be saints, or pure-hearted. Although I was unfortunately not able to fully comprehend the answer Teacherji gave, my understanding of the concept is that since the souls of ‘saints’ is believed to remain alive in their graves, they are able to hear our prayers, and their souls may ask God to answer our prayers. Nevertheless, I would take my explanation with a grain of salt as I am still having a bit of trouble wrapping my head around this concept. I will inform Teacherji of my further inquiries with regards to this topic and hopefully I will be able to speak more on the issue during my next essay.

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