By Imam Zaid Shakir
This past Tuesday, Muslims celebrated ‘Id al-Fitr, one of Islam’s two great festivals. For me, it was a beautiful day that began with a truly warm and vibrant ‘Id gathering at the Zaytuna Institute. God afforded me a wonderful opportunity to see friends who had been “missing in action,” to meet enthusiastic new converts to Islam, and to kiss so many babies I felt like a politician. During that time, I was also able to break away from the gathering to visit the graves of some distinguished Muslims buried in a nearby cemetery. Visiting the local Muslim cemetery on ‘Id day is a practice I have been able to maintain since my earliest years in Islam. They serve as a solemn reminder that all of us have an appointment with the Angel of Death.
I was blessed to stay at Zaytuna until the early afternoon when I departed to attend a meeting at a local school, a reminder that we are in America and sometimes, despite our best efforts to clear our schedules on the day of our festivals, the requisites of our everyday duties intervene. After that meeting, I was able to visit some of the Muslim families in the area. All of those visits filled my heart with awe at the simple dignity of ordinary Muslims, many of whom are struggling valiantly to survive in this sometimes cruel, always challenging and complicated society.
The last of those visits was to the family of Alia Ansari, the Afghani-American mother of six who was gunned down in central Fremont last Thursday as she walked to pick up her children from school. The Ansari family are everyday people—and, they are proud people. As I talked with Alia’s husband, brothers, and cousins who were gathered in the family’s humble apartment, it became clear to me that, most of all, they were proud to be Ansaris, descendants of the companion of the Prophet Muhammad, peace upon him, Abu Ayyub al-Ansari, and the great Muslim mystical sage, Khawaja Abdullah Ansari. In Afghan society, they are people who are identified with piety and they endeavor to live up to that identification, in their various ways.
Alia Ansari migrated from war-torn Afghanistan at the age of 17. When her father died shortly thereafter, she became a second parent to her younger siblings. A life of hardship could not suppress her inner beauty, expressed most readily in an irrepressible smile. Her husband, Ahmadullah Ansari, an auto mechanic struggling to make ends meet for a family that includes six young children, five of them girls, spoke glowingly of Alia’s martyrdom and the place God has reserved for her in Heaven. Her story impressed on me the truth embodied in the words of a poet who said, “Be yourself beautiful, and you will find the world full of beauty.”
Her husband, contrary to the caricature of the vindictive, hateful, enraged Muslim, mentioned how the family did not wish her martyrdom be treated as a hate crime, because he did not want her death to be a source of agitation in the area’s large Muslim community. He also mentioned that the family would not want the murderer executed, because that would not bring his wife back. His wife was a martyr, her place in Paradise secure—for him that was enough.