On Sunday, after the night prayers were concluded he was found lying dead by a park bench in front of the mosque. He had passed away during the prayer service. We had lost one of the most regular members of our community.
The Prophet said:
There are seven whom Allaah will shade in His Shade on the Day when there is no shade except His Shade: a just ruler; a youth who grew up in the worship of Allah, the Mighty and Majestic; a man whose heart is attached to the mosques; two men who love each other for Allaah’s sake, meeting for that and parting upon that; a man who is called by a woman of beauty and position [for illegal intercourse], but be says: ‘I fear Allaah’, a man who gives in charity and hides it, such that his left hand does not know what his right hand gives in charity; and a man who remembered Allaah in private and so his eyes shed tears.’ Narrated by Abu Hurairah & collected in Saheeh al-Bukhari (english trans.) vol.1, p.356, no.629 & Saheeh Muslim (english trans.) vol.2, p.493, no.2248
He was known to wear a large hat that made him look like a scarecrow. My daughter told me his scruffy overgrown salt-and-pepper beard made him resembled Dumbledoor from Harry Potter. He was an older Iranian immigrant with an accent like a foreign born university professor. Some say he was. His large frame cast a giant shadow and his commanding deep voice made some feel frightened. Yet, he always had a pleasant demeanor except when arguing for justice.
He was an ever present personality. The kind of talkative eccentric that when you see him coming you kind of hope he won’t try to engage you in some esoteric conversation that will invariably last too long. He often rode a bicycle to the mosque, when he had one. He would deliver bread and fruits from neighborhood shops to make them available to members of the community. He was always present and controversially outspoken at town-hall and community meetings and the community leadership always allowed him to have a voice, even though often times his statements did not make sense in the context of our gatherings.
He was a voracious reader and regular user of the public library. He would often come to me talk about articles which he had read on the internet regarding a wide array of social and political issues.
He was a real germophobe, always concerned about physical contact. He would never pray side-by-side with the congregation and never shake hands. He would always greet me by bumping our forearms.
I found it strange that vehemently criticized the mosque for sheltering homeless people of all faiths in the mosque during the winter months. Although, he was poor we never found him begging or asking for charity.
You see, I believe he was chronically homeless and was probably battling some type of psychological or emotional disorder. He was one of those people who refused to be institutionalized (homeless shelter) even for his benefit or to seek treatment. He tried to find a spiritual home at a number of centers in our region but was not welcomed (or tolerated) until he came to Dar Al-Hijrah in Falls Church, Virginia. Perhaps because of the cultural atmosphere of Virginia and with the resources of Fairfax county he was able to make a life for himself.
After his death the authorities tried to find his next of kin. Finally, they released body to the masjid. He had no other family besides us and although he had no assets when it came time to pay for his burial expenses his mosque family came together and in a matter of minutes raised thousands of dollars for his burial. He was the most well-known and loved homeless person in our community. It is fitting that he passed away at place he called home among people who knew him.
Undoubtably he was an ever present part of us. May God have mercy on him and grant the finest home in the highest places in paradise. Those of us who God has given another day need to recommit ourselves faithfully to fight to end homelessness and to provide mental health services to all.
Imam Johari Abdul-Malik
Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center
Falls Church, VA