Ramadhan comes in just a matter of days. The 1.6 billion Muslims all over the world anticipate the coming of the Holy month for a myriad of reasons. It is the time to practice self-discipline, earn manifold blessings as promised by the Almighty for those who observe Ramadan and to be among the faithfuls who submit themselves to the one-month religious test. Back in my hometown in Marawi City, puasa, as Ramadan is known to us Meranaos is always a happy occasion. It is the time of the year when people observe restraint in their manner of speaking, action and thoughts, the time when relatives forgive each other for small infractions and let bygones be bygones. Not only that, it is like a month-long fiesta for us, much to the indignation of our Ulama who remind us of the true meaning of Ramadan. It is much more than foregoing food and drink for the whole day, only to gorge on the earth’s sustenance at sunset. Indeed, some of us Muslims forget if not ignore the essence of Ramadhan and sometimes our religion itself.
To go back to Ramadan in Marawi City, I have to admit that it is a time for family gathering as well as mini-food festival at home. There is that moment of waiting for the azan while everybody is seated at the table, half-listening to the wasiat of Hassan Nor on the radio and to whoever was making small talks and eyeing what food to eat first. When my daughters became old enough to fast, they could not stand waiting for the azan at the table so they would wait outside our balcony and play instead. Usually, the azan from the nearby mosque would come earlier than that from the radio. As soon as they hear the call to prayer, they would burst inside shouting: “Pyagbangaaaan! Pyagbangaaan!” Then everybody would partake of the feast—sampling everything, alternating eating fruits, fruit salad, rice, badak, randang or bread from drinking juice or water and later on wonder how that earlier promise to fill our tummies with a lot of food was not to be fulfilled only minutes after breaking fast. As the Meranao saying goes, our eyes are more voracious than our stomach. My beloved Daddy would then promise his grand children rewards for those who would complete their Ramadan.
Few years back, two weeks before Ramadhan, my sister and I urged our father to sun himself outside. He navigated his wheel chair towards the sun and wore his sunglasses to avoid squinting. He was wearing a red sahal as he used to do so when I was little. Looking at his face lit by the early rays of the sun made me realize how handsome my father was. He wheeled towards the view of Lake Lanao and said: “I want to go home.” We embraced our Daddy tightly and told him that we were already home as we had already checked out of the hospital. We mistakenly thought he was having a memory lapse. Then he repeated: “I want to go home to my permanent place.” I knew then that my beloved Daddy was ready to meet his Creator.
Days before the Ramadhan, Daddy would ask us how far is Ramadhan yet. He instructed us to always make sure that he had performed ablution because, as he said: “I want to be clean when I meet my Creator.” We did as he told us, never showing him our tears and determined to let him know that even if it would take decades for him to be bed-ridden, we would willingly take care of him. Four days before Ramadhan, he stopped eating and drinking anything, not even his medicine although he was in the perfect frame of mind. We begged him to at least take his medicine but he dismissed us.
“Please do not put earthly things in my mouth.”
“But Daddy, you need to eat something.”
“So you think I don’t eat? The wind is my food. It tastes much better than earthly food.”
“You need your medicine Daddy. At least take your medicine.”
“I don’t need medicine. Allah is enough. How far is Ramadhan yet?”
As the day of fasting approached, my family and I were all anticipating the inevitable although not one of us admitted it. I was hoping for a Ramadhan miracle. My Daddy had a weak body but he was still mentally sharp. In those days I kept watch of him while combing his hair or giving him a body massage, he would relate to me how I behaved and acted as a child. It was like listening to a kind narrator’s story, with myself as the protagonist. I prayed to Allah, no actually begged for my Daddy’s life and promised that I will never tire in taking care of him, even if took forever. But, I knew that my beloved father was more than ready and had wanted to meet his Creator in the Holy Month of Ramadhan. How can I get in the way? Daddy more than looked like I usually do when I am about to go back home after living abroad for quite some time. There was unearthly excitement and happiness on his face that could only be brought by an inexplicable emotion that is only his.
I remember feeling that insurmountable urge to go home years ago when I did my graduate studies at the New School in New York City in 2006. I have had enough of my New York life that I immediately went home to Marawi City a day after my graduation. The one day delay was only due to the lack of available ticket on that day. I saw the same excitement in my Daddy’s face two weeks before Ramadhan. But his is much deeper. He had the knowing look that I know I would never be able to understand while I am on this earth. As Ramadhan kept nearer and nearer, he seemed to become happier and more peaceful and laughed at our insistence for him to eat: “So you think it is the food that you eat that gives you strength? It is Allah.” How can you argue with that?
When Ramadhan finally came, he was more than happy. Before day break, he allowed us to give him food to mark the first day of the Holy Month. But it was the honey we fed him that he really loved. On the second day of Ramadhan, my beloved father passed away peacefully while all of his children and my dear mother were holding him. He left as he had wanted to and probably prayed for. In respect to his wishes, we kept calm and composed throughout the gawii and very rarely cried but constantly prayed for his soul. I did not shed so many tears, but my heart kept crying ever since that day. As the Holy month comes again, I remember my beloved father. Any daughter would say that her father is the greatest father of them all. But I guess, very few or none had a father who told them what my dearest Daddy told me: “You are the greatest accomplishment in my life!”
You are home now my beloved Daddy. In life, you exemplified how to lead a life of humility, courage, honesty, dedication and service. In death, you equally displayed courage and showed us a true example of dying. Now, I can only hope and dream that when my time comes, I would be like you–brimming with excitement, anticipation and eagerness to meet the Almighty. I never thought that dying could be so beautiful, gentle and graceful. Eid Mubarak my beloved Daddy. May the smile and happiness you felt in anticipation of your meeting with the Almighty be an indication of your place in the Hereafter. I love you Daddy forever.