I Found God IN a Mosque

unnamedIt’s been quite a while since I’ve written a blog. For a gazillion different reasons I stopped writing and then time made it easier to just let it go.

A lot has happened since my last entry. My family moved to a new city. I’ve done a lot of traveling. My cousin lost her battle with cancer. I visited the holy land. I could write pages about all the things I’ve done since the last blog. Of course there are a lot of things about my life that haven’t changed and that list would probably be just as long. Let’s see if I can still pull this off.

My search for God hasn’t diminished by any means. On the contrary, I’ve learned that I find God everywhere, I just have to look. It is I who doesn’t always acknowledge his presence. Another thing I’ve learned is that things don’t just happen. There is always a purpose. Again it’s me who doesn’t always give God the credit for the “bad things”, only the blessings.


Their Story…

Jibril and Savannah met in chemistry class this semester. Savannah is my middle 18 year old daughter. Savannah says their friendship started like this:

On the first day of class she was sitting in the back of the classroom. The professor was going through the syllabus when in walks this cute dark black boy with a stunning smile. Because he was late, he sits in the front oblivious of her presence. The professor hands out a sheet for the class to work on. It was a safety and emergency procedures exercise that required the students to get up and walk around. It was also meant to be one of those “fun” ice breaking things you do on the first day.

Jibril looks around the classroom and as he looks towards the back of the room he notices her. Their eyes briefly lock and they both try to hide their smiles. Savannah says that she knew from the moment that she locked eyes with Jibril that they would become something special for each other.

She gets up from her seat and with the excuse to finish her assignment she makes her way towards the front of the room where his desk is at. She smiles, he smiles and they start to talk about the assignment.

She finishes the assignment before him and gradually walks out of the class. She walks out slowly wondering if he will follow. NO, she shares, she knew he would follow. Sure enough the young man follows and with the pretense of needing a chemistry lab partner, they exchange numbers. A foundation is set for their friendship.

Savannah and Jibril became instant friends, they studied together, they talked for hours, he would take her to school and back home, they went to each other’s homes, they became lab partners.

Every Tuesday and Thursday mornings he would pick her up and they would go to chemistry class together. So the last Tuesday morning when he didn’t show up at his regular time, Savannah walked the 10 minutes to school. She sensed something wasn’t right especially since she hadn’t heard from him since Thursday night. She dismissed that feeling of dread that was creeping up her her spine thinking, hoping that she was being paranoid.

She arrived a few minutes late to her classroom. She took her regular seat in the back and when she looked over to his seat, it was empty. She felt a pang of dread hit her stomach. Again she pushed it away. When the 2 councilors walked in, she said her stomach tightened, she became nauseous and immediately knew something was terribly wrong. The councilors proceeded to inform the class that one of their classmates had been shot to death. Before they even said his name, Savannah bolted out of the classroom shivering, nauseous, and crying. She knew it had been Jibril. When the councilors came out, they confirmed the news. Immediately Savannah’s world irrevocably shattered.

Shaking and crying hysterically she came home. When I reached for her, my daughter broke in my arms.

Later that Tuesday afternoon, Savannah went to his house and joined his parents and his family in their mourning. Jibril and his family are of the Muslim faith. In the muslim faith, when someone dies, their funerals are done quickly. The funeral would be on Thursday.

My Story…

When I met Jibril, the first things I noticed about him were his gorgeous smile and warm eyes. Savannah introduced us and he took my hand into both of his and bowed slightly. (He was from Nigeria and it’s part of their customary greeting.) The second thing I noticed was his beautiful dark brown skin. He spoke a few words of Spanish with us, we laughed and instantly we welcomed him into our home and hearts.

Every day that I saw him after that, his face was always beaming with that contagious smile. I liked the way Savannah giggled and blushed when he was around. He demonstrated that he was a positive influence in her life. We teased them in that sing-songy way that family teases kids about liking each other.

The news of his death hit me so hard that I recoiled from the blow. It shocked me to the core. I cried with such a  sense of loss. I have no words to express the void I felt.

Jibril’s mom invited Savannah to her son’s funeral. I googled “protocol for a muslim funeral”. In my mind, I thought I was ready.

Wednesday came and my girl continued to cry…Wednesday went on forever.

Thursday came too fast.

The prayer service was at a mosque in Oakland. When Savannah and I arrived we were directed to the second floor to where the women were. The men were on the first floor, separate from the women. I had informed Savannah that we would not be viewing Jibril’s body. (Something that I now feel that as Christians we take for granted, viewing the body one last time.)

We took off our shoes, covered our heads and went upstairs to where his mom was. As we got to the top of the stairs, God welcomed us into this huge space. The room was dark except for the light that invaded the second floor through a small window on one side. There was also some light from the floor below us that shined through an opening in the floor at the front of the room.

His mother surrounded by a handful of women, sat on the floor in the corner to our left. We walked over to her and knelt down to greet her. She hugged my girl and a gasp of pain escaped both of them. I held out my hand, she took it in both of hers just like her son had. She asked Savannah, “Mom?” and when Savannah nodded, she drew me into her embrace and for a brief moment we connected and cried.

They invited us to sit down with them. There in the dark blanketed in silence we sat. This tragedy had brought us together to this mosque and yet I sensed God’s presence amongst us. In a moment of reflection the little voice in my head whispered …”you know you don’t need to see the body to mourn with the family. Many mothers have mourned in the dark surrounded only by other women, united by the loss of a child. Just be still and mourn.”

Now, we could very easily loose focus of the loss that brought us together by discussing religious differences, or christianity and muslim beliefs. That’s not the reason I share this with you. I share this with you because I felt God lead Savannah and me through this trail. God was holding us up just as he was holding up Jibril’s family and friends in that mosque.

Without warning a man’s voice came over the loud speaker and began to sing the call to prayer. It was beautiful. I didn’t understand a single word, but what a wonderful way to call everyone to prayer. We were not included in the proceedings downstairs, not even during prayer. It was like worshiping God with our mind and ears but definitely not by our sight.

Some 25 women that had joined us, formed a line from wall to wall across the front of the room. They knelt, rose and bowed down again several times as they prayed. There was a pause and a women from the line walked over to the rest of us and invited us to join them in prayer according to our own faith. “Please, just pray fro Jibril.” The little voice whispered…”just pray.”

Just as quickly as the prayers had started they ended. The women began to leave and the directions to the cemetery were shared. I hadn’t realized how intimate that time for prayer had been until we got outside. There were about a hundred and fifty people standing outside the mosque waiting for what they thought was the memorial service. They had not been allowed to enter. Instead the group was instructed to go to the  cemetery.

In the 45 minutes it took for us to drive from Oakland to Livermore, Savannah and I drove for the most part in silence. When we were about 10 minutes away from the exit I began to ask her about her friendship with Jibril. That’s when she shared their story. She laughed in that way, like when you fondly reach back into memory, just before sadness and reality bring you back to the realization that the other person is gone. My girl knew real pain.

She recalled their first kiss. He had asked permission to kiss her. She blushed and the smile disappeared. She took a deep breath, a tear rolled down her cheek as she looked out her window. My heart ached for her, for this senseless loss.

I’d been holding my breath since Tuesday because I’ve never not known how to get help for Savannah when she wasn’t feeling well. This was so different from all her other aches. I couldn’t take her to a hospital for a neurologist to fix her and return her home. I reached out to the little voice…”What do I do? How do I fix this?”

We exited the freeway. We drove for a few minutes and after we turned onto a dirt road, we realized that we were in front of these beautiful green hills. I felt my mind empty. I parked the car and as we walked up another dirt road to the gate, we realized it was a muslim cemetery. The little voice whispered…”just love.”

I don’t know if when you googled “protocol for a muslim funeral” you read all the info to the end. The explanation that I found sort of prepared me? It said that the men prepare the body of the deceased by cleansing it and then covering it in a shroud. There is no memorial service like the christian service we were accustomed to. Muslims just pray on behalf of the deceased. The men and women are separated during the prayers and again at the funeral. The men bury the body without a coffin. Even though I had read this, I really had no idea what to expect.

There was another funeral taking place so we waited. When the time came to bury Jibril, the men removed a cardboard box that contained his body from the hearse. The women were instructed to keep to the side away from the grave. From where we stood the grave and the cardboard box were all visible. I braced myself for the unexpected. I stood behind Savannah and held her. We watched as they removed Jibril’s shrouded body from the box. A ladder was placed into the grave and 3 men climbed down. Two other men then handed Jibril’s body down to them.

A woman cried out and began to scream out for Jibril, his sister. The 3 men climbed out, she was quiet again. A concrete slab was lowered into the grave and sealed the vault. We waited.

I inhaled. The silence was thick as we continued to stand there waiting. The tractor that had lowered the concrete slab into the grave switched into gear. It backed up and when it headed forward again it pushed a giant mound of dirt into the whole. In a flash the realization that the dirt was being poured over Jibril’s body came crashing down. His sister let out a scream of agony as the tractor continued to drop more dirt onto the vanishing whole.

She pleaded for her brother to get up. As she continued wailing, we began sobbing. As we stood trying to stifle our tears I felt God hold us up against the waves of realization. She continued crying out to her brother and then to God. I felt my girl break one more time. The women seemed to huddle closer, holding on to the pieces of this family.

As the waves continued until the tractor was switched off, I felt God hold us up. I FELT IT. I felt him hold us up and stand before the devastating waves. I heard him whisper once again to just love.

Jibril’s father had been standing alongside his son’s grave. When silence once again covered the group, he dropped to his knees, picked up a handful of dirt and cried out one last time to his son. And just as quickly as he had knelt, he got up and walked away.

Once the men were gone someone led Jibril’s mother over to the grave. She too dropped to her knees, cried out one last time for her son and said goodbye. Lost in agony, she was gently led away.

We remained there for some time dreading the moment we would have to walk away. Finally when the marker with Jibril’s name was placed over his grave, Savannah turned, locked eyes with me and I knew it was time for us to go.

We walked down the road back to the gate where his parents were. There was a small group of women there and when Savannah came by they hugged her. Someone whispered, “that was his girlfriend.”  When we came to Jibril’s father he hugged Savannah and thanked her for everything. He then hugged me and said…”Jibril’s journey is done.”

I followed Savannah to where his mom was sitting in a car. Savannah reached in to hug her, they embraced crying and said their goodbyes. When we got to the car we sat in silence once again.

Thursday evening came quickly.

Jibril’s grave is on a beautiful hillside. There are several graves there. The 580 interstate can be seen from this hillside. Just north of it there are more hills and in the distance you can see the giant white windmills that produce electricity. If you turn to either side you see tall grass gently swaying in the wind. It’s very peaceful. There is a lone tree a few hundred yards from Jibril’s grave. The tree seems so small and defenseless.

Today is Sunday. My mind is still processing what just happened. I talked to one of my coworkers who is muslim so he could explain to me what I had been a part of at the mosque and later at the funeral. I think all of it was beautiful. I am deeply honored to have been allowed to be a part of it. I am deeply humbled by the fact that love transcends  everything especially when we mourn.

The Imam said something that reminded me that God is in control of everything. He said that nothing happens without God allowing it. He said that justice was God’s alone and that we needed to forgive…and love.

The little voice has been quiet. My mind and my heart are adjusting to the ripples that have affected my family. I am deeply saddened by Jibril’s absence. When I look over at Savannah, oh I see the pieces…but I also recognize in her eyes the little voice.

Today I heard her hum faintly and ever so briefly. She’s staying hydrated and barely eating. She has been writing in her journal for hours on end since Tuesday when she got the new. My girl will be ok.

I am comforted by a quote she shared. She said…”Mom, God gives the hardest trails to his strongest soldiers.” She says it with tears in her eyes. I’ve promised not to constantly bug her and to give her space. Today she accepted my invitation to sit and write.

Yes, my girl will be alright.

Through all this, as difficult as it has been, I am eternally grateful to my Lord for this opportunity to “just love.”

One thought on “I Found God IN a Mosque

  1. Kitty.. Just beautiful! God shows us even in our deepest darkest moment he is there to lift us up and carry us through to find the light.. Its not easy but in Christ all is possible! My prayers go out to jibril’s family, to Savannah and to you.. So happy you started the blog again… Yes! Yes! God is found! He is everywhere even when you not looking.. We all are his children, no matter if we are Christian or Muslim because we are created in is imagine and made by his love… Love your writing it inspires me,.. Thank you for sharing…


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