How a rainy-day visit reminded me of my own mortality
Allah will say on the Day of Resurrection: O son of Adam, I fell ill and you visited Me not. He will say: O Lord, and how should I visit You when You are the Lord of the worlds? He will say: Did you not know that My servant So-and-so had fallen ill and you did not visit him? Did you not know that had you visited him you would have found Me with him?
[Sahih Muslim | Hadith 18, Hadith Qudsi]
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My Dad had been asking me to join him in visiting a brother who had been afflicted with cancer. I had been busy with exams, work and frankly, at times, I simply did not have the energy to go.
Yesterday, however, my Dad asked me once more and I obliged. The brother lived in a very secluded area, far from the comforts of the suburbs I was familiar with. He lived in a quiet street, which I soon learned was only home to people with terminal illnesses receiving government assistance.
We knocked on his door and were invited in, and as soon as we opened the door, the brother, whose name I would come to know as Mohammad, said “SubhanAllah, it is raining.” The rain was incredibly loud, and I asked myself, how did this man not hear it?
I greeted the man, and he shook my hand vigorously as he sat against the wall of a barren room; he was cross-legged with a small table and an empty plate in front of him. The room felt empty. I spotted some knee guards that roller skaters would wear, which intrigued me, but apart from that, it was lifeless: a fridge, a couch, and medications were scattered throughout the place. Although I felt as though this was a sad occasion, visiting a man at the end of his life, Mohammad’s disposition was the antithesis. He was overjoyed to see us, and could not stop smiling. SubhanAllah, your eyes would tell you otherwise, the gauntness from his weight loss was evident and his facial hair was patchy and missing.
Before the Maghreb prayer, my father emptied some boxes of food that we had brought into the plate in front of Mohammad. Although he appeared so lean, Mohammad served himself a huge portion of food, equivalent to the amount I would eat for two dinners. It may have been a side effect of the cancer. I laid the prayer mats out to pray, my father asked me to lead and I obliged.
After the prayer, I sat beside him and officially introduced myself. Once again, to my surprise, Mohammad had finished his plates of food and was drinking soup. He was beaming, telling me, “MashaAllah, look how big you are, you would be a soldier back in my country, or a marine.” And we continued talking. We talked and talked, about anything and everything. It seemed as though, just as he was starved of food, he had also been starved of conversation.
It eventually came to light that all the small nuances that I had noticed and thought strange, were in fact effects of the cancer. Mohammad had stage 4 cancer. He was a robust and young immigrant who had already experienced a tough life. After working to the bone for any menial job that would hire him, he would send the money he earned to his bedridden mother who lived alone in Bangladesh. His father had already passed away, his eldest brother passed away after being paralysed by a disease for many years, and his relatives lived in poverty. So Mohammad set off to Australia with the hopes of earning some money to care for his sick mother, only instead, he became sick himself.
Mohammad was raised in a home that was in constant remembrance of Allah, and even after venturing to a secular country, he remained connected to his religion. Even though in dire need of work, he refused to work anywhere that could not accommodate his prayer, or dealt with haram products. He was a regular at the Parramatta masjid and many brothers may recognise him if you pay him a visit. Truly, I felt he was the embodiment of ”If Allah loves a people, then he afflicts them with trials” (Musnad Ahmed).
It started one day after prayer when he felt a tingling sensation in his throat. He tried to cough it out, and the sensation seemed to have subsided. Only then, it erupted. He started vomiting blood in the masjid. The brothers around him were shocked and unsure how to help; they ended up dragging him to the wudu area where he continued to vomit. He described the area as a sea of redness. This was his first symptom.
After several painful biopsies and tests, Mohammad was told he had cancer. Leukemia in the fourth stage, the tumour metastasising from his legs all the way to his head, invading almost every single cell in his body. All of this in an instant. He had never had any symptoms before, nor was he working in a carcinogenic environment. SubhanAllah, just like that, at death’s door.
His idiosyncrasies became clearer to me as the conversation continued. The chemotherapy treatment had paralysed him from the waist down. He could not hear the rain because the whole afternoon he had not moved from that spot. The knee guards on the floor belonged to him, as he required them to move around, using his hands and dragging his knees behind him. The knee guards were to protect them from getting grazed. He explained to me that before getting his wheelchair, he would single-handedly drag himself from bus stop to bus stop, then through trains on his knees. In Australia. Can you imagine that? A brother who lives just a half-hour drive from me had to drag himself using his bare hands and knees, across streets, from Seven Hills to hospitals in the city. He laughed about it. “The bus drivers were appalled,” he said. “People have seen this stuff, you know, in the videos of poor children overseas, but most Australians have never seen anything like this with their own eyes, in their own country.”
As for the amount of food he consumed, he hadn’t purchased food that day because he heard that my dad was visiting with food. The only problem, however, was that his nurse, who would come by every few hours, had put his food from the night before on a shelf that he could no longer reach. So, he had been waiting all day for my dad to come, so that he could have a meal.
Though he did not say it explicitly, so as not to burden my father and I, I could sense that the loneliness hurt him more than the disease or the treatment. Even after describing the horrors of his symptoms, and the excruciating side effects of treatment, Mohammad said with a smile “I won’t quit. I see all these other folk coming in, getting treatment, swearing, and shouting at their doctors. But not me. I know Allah will not place a greater burden than one can handle, and so I can handle this burden.”
I had seen sick people before, but they had always had someone to rely on; a son, daughter, a brother or sister, even parents. But this man had no one. I now appreciated why the Prophet ﷺ emphasised the virtues of visiting the sick. There are many Hadith on the merits of doing so. For me, the most profound benefit was that it served as an awakening. When Allah’s blessings are so abundant, they are more likely to be undervalued. The sad reality was that only after witnessing the cessation of such blessings, that I began to appreciate them. As I left, I had never been more thankful in my life. It is unfathomable to me that I one day may be sitting beside a window, but be unaware that it is raining outside, or that I may have to drag myself across the road using my hands and knees, or that I may be unable to eat food within my sight because I simply cannot reach it.
When I left my house to visit Mohamed, my mind was brimming over with the worries of the coming week. I was worried about missing work, but Mohammad will most likely never work again. Recently, I have been worried about the prospect of marriage, yet Mohammad would probably never marry in his lifetime, nor become a father. “Alhamdulillah” was a phrase that Mohammad had said more in our two-hour conversation than I had that entire day. And I am a young fit man, who rises every morning with food on the table, to meet a family and live in good health. I encourage everyone to start visiting the sick more often, not only for their sake, but for yours as well. The reminder of your own blessings is invaluable.
If you want to support Mohammad, I highly encourage you to visit him. Unfortunately, I cannot retell everything that he shared with me, otherwise, I would have to author a book to do it justice. If you would like to organise a visit, please message the UNSW MSA page and a brother on the shura can put us in touch. Allah’s wisdom knows no bounds. After taking many new brothers to visit Mohamed, the most common reflection is that they felt to have benefited more from visiting him than he has from their visit.
If you are unable to visit him but would like to support him, he is dependent on what is contributed to his account for his daily needs such as meals, bills, and other requirements. He has to travel between two hospitals and multiple other specialists. His account details are below:
Account Name: Mohammad Mussafir
BSB number: 112–879
Account number: 453 429 109
St George bank