Every Thursday evening the youth lounge at Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center (DAH) is filled with college students eagerly waiting for Fast and Learn. Fast and Learn is a potluck and lecture program started by the youth director and the speaker for the day, Mohammed Kibriya. As always, it was a room filled with energetic youth just coming from their first week of school. They sat as they always did. This evening was different—the first 50 people would receive a gift. They sat conceptualizing what kind of gift it was. A Quran? Subha? A million dollars? Instead they received a wake up call, small enough to fit in their hands, big enough to affect their lives.
“Put all your belongings in front of you,” said Kibriya, “close your eyes. Open them when I tell you to. Don’t open it yet. As soon as you open your eyes you are going to meet someone. This someone is anxiously waiting for you—a stranger, almost like a stalker. This someone is in a hurry to meet you and you are racing to meet them. When you open your eyes you will receive your final gift. Alright, now, open your eyes.”
The youth all opened their eyes to see white fabric and another object lying in the center of the room. “Congratulations, you have just met the Angel of Death. You will not be going home tonight. Were you ready for your gift today?” he said, as he held three white pieces of fabrics and a cardboard casket. The youth director laid in the casket, as a volunteer gave a step by step tutorial of how a body is properly washed and covered; how the body is turned for Janazah and how it is lowered into the ground. Crying echoed throughout the room. Silence crept through the walls, time seemed to have held still. And exams seemed meaningless.
When we watch the news our tragedies have to be bigger and bigger every time just to make an impact. Our hearts have gone cold to the idea of death. This was the last thing we thought we’d see today. Most of us are in college, planning our lives, asking each other what majors we are in, talking about how tired we are, typing hashtags and watching stories, gossiping, dreaming about our future success, and talking about Frank Ocean’s new album. When in reality we were lucky to have waken up to the alarm clock this morning, to receive this gift, to remember that tomorrow isn’t promised or owed to us; that the healthy may die of an undetected aneurysm while the one with cancer lives. How many wake up calls must we receive before we say we are ready for our final gift?